Lisa Larson-Walker

Future Tense Fiction: “Mr. Thursday,” by Emily St. John Mandel

This lovely, meditative short story about time travel was commissioned and edited jointly by the Center for Science and the Imagination and Future Tense, a collaboration among ASU, New America, and Slate magazine. It is the second in Future Tense Fiction, a series of short stories about how technology and science will change our lives. “Mr. Thursday” was written by Emily St. John Mandel, the author of four novels, including the National Book Award finalist Station Eleven. The story is accompanied by a response essay by theoretical physicist Paul Davies, director of ASU’s BEYOND Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science and author of How to Build a Time Machine. A short excerpt follows below; head over to Future Tense to read the full story.

The sleep deprivation had made her mildly deranged, Rose decided, and that was why this moment felt like déjà vu. She’d been here before, hadn’t she? Here, in this moment, exiting this train? The woman beside her wore a beautiful blue wool coat, and Rose was certain that she’d seen this coat before, but not somewhere else: She’d seen the coat before in this moment, exiting this train, here. Every face in the crowd looked somehow familiar. She was dizzy. The train doors closed behind the last of the passengers, and the cars stood empty and alight. The crowd swelled dangerously on the platform, a mass of damp coats and hot, stale breath and tinny music from headphones, scents of hairspray, coffee, cologne, a McDonald’s bag, a cloying jasmine perfume that made Rose want to gag. The out-of-service train didn’t move, and no trains arrived on the opposite platform. Rose had never liked crowds, and it seemed to her that if she didn’t get out of the subway she might faint in the crush, so she began inching her way toward the stairs in a series of tiny half-steps, excusing herself again and again. It was difficult to get enough air. Rose couldn’t shake the terrible sense of following a script, of being an actor in a movie she’d already seen. She fought her way up the final staircase out of the station and emerged gasping into the evening air.

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