The second row of keys didn’t work either, and to make matters worse, I got caught again. The most frustrating thing was that I was prepared this time. I looked over, made sure Bookie was still occupied, and when I tried to open the door, she noticed me.
That meant I either needed to get back to the door faster, or wait longer before trying. Something about that particular window of time was hardcoded, and Bookie was going to look at the door no matter what I did. Tomorrow’s iteration I’d have the right key, and I’d nail the exit.
* * *
I had the third row of keys in my hand, and I was just feet from the door, but I needed to wait another minute before trying. Without knowing the exact moment that Bookie was going to look at the door, I couldn’t move with the precision that I’d become accustomed to in the rest of my school routine.
I also needed to consider that I couldn’t wait too long, because then Deskie might catch me either leaving the library or trying to open the lab with the keys I’d pilfered. The thought of repeating this sequence of events again was just about the least appealing thing I could think of at that particular moment, so failure wasn’t an option.
Alright, enough time had passed. It was time to make a move. Bookie had moved over to another shelf, which wasn’t something I’d seen her do in either of the previous iterations. This made a ton of sense, as she had probably noticed me before when she was moving around.
Without thinking about it too hard, I bolted for the door. This time, there was no accusatory voice from behind me. I’d finally made it.
I closed the door behind me, nodded at Hay, and we scurried across the hall. There was no time to pat ourselves on the back or think about anything else; I just started shoving keys into the lock as quickly as I could. Like some kind of cruel joke, the very last key was the right one. Key 3E, just in case we needed it again.
We went into the computer lab and locked the door behind us, keeping the lights off. I even dimmed the monitor so no one would notice a glow coming from within the room. Hay sat beside me and watched as I once again attempted to break into the school’s network, which I suppose could’ve been interesting in some cases, but not particularly in this one. I’m sure she felt more frustrated than anything since she couldn’t really help.
It took about 30 minutes, but I was finally able to get the access I needed. The problem now was finding the right computer that housed the video file. I was once again working in theory, but all I could do was try. With my new domain admin access, I downloaded and installed some directory software that showed usernames, computer names, and a bunch of other stuff I didn’t care about.
The directory was all hierarchical, so from the top, starting at the name of the school, I clicked on Member Servers. From there, I could pick from an assortment of categories: Domain Controllers, File Shares, Application Servers, and Multimedia. Would it be on a file share? I scanned through the list of server names and descriptions, but none of them struck a chord with me.
Admin Shares, maybe?
I turned to Hay. “If you were Principal Groves or Vice Principal Daniels, where would you put the morning announcement video files?”
“Only from that list on the screen?”
I went back up a level. “It could also be somewhere in one of these folders, I guess.”
“What about multimedia?”
“Hmm.” I clicked on the Multimedia category, which expanded into a whopping two server names: NHSLibrary and NHSTV.
“Bingo, that’s gotta be it!”
I opened Remote Desktop, typed “NHSTV” into the remote computer name field, then pressed Connect. The program paused for a moment, then began connecting to the computer named NHSTV. This had to be the right computer, so now all I had to do was find where the video files were stored.
I poked around the desktop, in the documents folder, the videos folder, and a few other unlikely places without any luck. I was so close, but I was missing something. Where were the files hiding?
“On our computer at home, we have separate usernames and all of our files are separate. Could that be the case here?”
I smacked my forehead with the palm of my hand. “I’m so dumb. Thank you.”
“Did that help?”
I drilled down into the folder structure from the root of the local drive until I found exactly what I was looking for: user folders for the principal and vice principal. If the files weren’t there, I was stuck, and the entire plan would have to be changed.
I double-clicked the folder for the principal and then opened his documents. The folder was unsettlingly empty. I thought for sure that would be it.
Wait though, I was thinking too much like myself. In the principal’s shoes…
I opened the folder for his desktop and was met with a list of 20 or so video files. Hay was right to think about how her family computer worked. My parents threw everything on their desktop, and my hunch that Principal Groves operated in the same way had proven true.
“Did you find it?”
“Maybe…” I said as I scoured the filenames. They were all default names from the camera that had taken them, all of which included a date and time. One of these had to be it. One of them was certainly-
This was it. I was staring at something that could hold a clue to our hopeless situation. It was exciting, and it was terrifying.
I copied the file over the network to the lab computer I was using, then closed the remote connection and copied the file from the computer to my thumb drive so I could take it home. That was for deeper analysis later today, since after all, it would disappear at midnight.
But for now, I plugged in earbuds and handed Hay the left earpiece, putting the right one in my ear nearest her. I opened the file, the computer churned over the idea, and then it began playing.
“I will be reading the morning announcements today due to yesterday’s unfortunate events.”
I slammed the space bar down and turned to Hay. She turned to me and we just shook our heads at each other in disbelief. I didn’t have ability to put into words how confusing this was.
“I…I don’t understand.”
I think we both expected the file to be as we remembered it – that is, lacking the word “unfortunate.” Had that been the case, it would imply that the file could’ve been somehow altered today, which absolutely made the most sense. After all, only August 28th could change. That was the hard rule of our entire world for the past 40-something years’ worth of iterations.
But with that one word in the morning announcements, all of that came into question. Something from August 27th had changed.
* * *
We sat on my bed playing the video over and over on my laptop. It had looped four times, and we were sure that there was only the one difference. Yet, that one difference meant everything to us, and somehow also nothing.
The path to figuring this mystery out started and ended with Principal Groves, and there was no easy way for us to get the information we needed. We already knew how barging into his office and demanding answers would go, and it’s not like we could take time to befriend him or something to gradually get the answers we needed.
“What if time is actually rewinding to August 27th, but not for us?” I said.
“I guess that’s possible. Maybe we’re sleeping through it.” We had no way to wake up earlier since our alarms couldn’t be reset.
“The only way we can know is to ask someone else every day to detail the evening of August 27th.”
“Who could we ask? Principal Groves?” Hay asked.
“I mean, it has to be, right? Something changed and it involved him, so he’s our only lead.”
“We have to get him to trust us somehow…”
“…every day, over and over, until we get something valuable out of him.”
Hay frowned. “That seems impossible.”
“Maybe not. I think we just need a very specific victory once, and then we can ride it out from there.”
“And that victory is…?”
“A password. Something that only he knows. Something that once the day resets, we can go back to him with and he’d have no choice but to believe that we’re telling the truth.”
“You mean like what we did with Mrs. Chen forever ago?”
It was true. We’d failed with the password strategy before. The key was in getting our subject to trust us once by providing them some big secret of theirs that we knew, and then the other dominos would fall. But how did we get an adult to trust us with a major secret?
With Mrs. Chen, we’d tried with smaller secrets. I pulled her aside before class and told her I knew about the presentation she was going to show us, even giving very detailed descriptions of it and the photos she included. Her reaction was to accuse me of hacking her, then sending me to the principal’s office. Of course, I just bailed on school for the rest of that day, but the point is that we’d learned early on that people that have no good reason to believe you will always find reasons not to, despite evidence pointing otherwise.
However, there was one time that the password strategy did work, but it required very specific circumstances. Early on, Hay and I had a theory that maybe the day had been repeating for much longer than we could remember and that something had snapped both of us out of it at the same time. We figured that maybe once you somehow became aware of the repetitions and believed they were real, that it could trigger whatever phenomenon it was that made Hay and I able to remember.
We tried the password strategy on my friend David. He was the easiest possible person to try with, because we’d been best friends for a long time and there were lots of things that only I knew about him, and perhaps just as importantly, lots of things that only he knew about me.
Hay and I got to school early, confronted him before homeroom, and I explained what was going on. I told him I knew it sounded unbelievable, but I had proof. I went into detail about how homeroom would go, then the beginning of the class, and the major bullet points of Mrs. Chen’s lecture.
I told him, “For now, be as skeptical as you want, but after class, you’ll believe me.”
He looked me in the eyes and said, “This is crazy, but…I believe you.”
I was shocked. “Why so quickly? I gave you proof, you can wait and see before-”
“You’re close with this girl, Hayley?”
“Yeah, we’re dating.”
“Dude, I’ve known you forever. I’d know if you liked this girl, and I can tell right now that you do. But yesterday…no, you didn’t like her. You never mentioned her, you didn’t even know her.”
He believed me because of how unbelievable any other possibility would’ve been.
David believed me.
And then the next day, he didn’t remember a thing. I could’ve gotten him to believe me again, I could’ve done it every day to have my friend back, but it was too painful. There was nothing in it for him, as there was nothing he could do. He’d feel bad for us, then the day would end, and I would feel bad that I lost my friend again. Sadness followed by pain, over and over. It was easier to just leave him obliviously happy.
Nothing like that would ever work with Principal Groves, though. He didn’t know me. I was just some kid that went to his school. David believed me because of a preexisting relationship, which I could never have with Principal Groves. Anything we tried with him would be incredibly difficult, but we had to give it a shot. There was nothing else to go on, and this was the first real hope we’d had in ages.
“We could try with the announcements,” Hay said, shrugging.
“He’d accuse us of hacking or something, just like Mrs. Chen did.”
“So we don’t even try?”
“No, we try. We just use a different approach.”
* * *
Principal Groves was an intimidating man. He was tall, burly, and seemed to almost never smile. Approaching him in a friendly manner would’ve been difficult even if I hadn’t long ago forsaken my social skills.
Yet, there we sat, waiting in the secretary’s office to see him instead of sitting in homeroom. It wouldn’t be easy, but if he would hear us out, I had an idea that would at least give us a chance.
The door swung open, and he walked out, at first staring at Hay, then at me. His eyes locked onto mine, like he was annoyed to see me, but he ushered us into his office anyway.
“Come in. Brendon and Hayley, is it?”
“Yes sir. Thank you.”
It should’ve been strange being so polite to someone that we’d had a particularly bad confrontation with just a handful of iterations ago. But it wasn’t.
“This must be pretty important if you’re here instead of in homeroom. Do you have permission from your teacher?”
“There wasn’t time, sir.”
“I see. Well, what seems to be the problem?”
“We want to tell you about a situation we’re in. A situation we’ve been in, actually, for a very long time. It’s, um…unbelievable, I guess, but we need some information from you desperately enough to be seeking out your help like this.”
“Before Brendon continues, I just want to make sure your expectations for this situation are set appropriately, sir. Whatever you think this could be about, I can promise you, it’s not about that. This is about something that will probably make you angry. You’ll want to tell us to stop kidding around and get back to class, but none of this is a joke. We are desperate, and we need your help, so please, hear us out.”
Hay made a face I’d seen her make before. Her eyes were sad. Her lips quivered just enough to notice. But unlike the last few times I’d seen her make this face, I could tell that this time, it was for real. She was pleading with every ounce of her being.
“This sounds serious,” Principal Groves said.
“It’s serious,” I said. “But it’s going to sound like we’re messing with you. I don’t know any better way to set it up than that, or than what Hay already told you.”
“Okay, well, I can’t make any promises other than that I’ll hear you out.” He leaned back in his chair.
I sighed and cleared my throat. “To you, today is August 28th, 2018, and yesterday was August 27th, 2018. But…” I hated this part. It was so ridiculous, so unbelievable. He’d kick us out immediately. “…to us, every day for the past 40-something years has been August 28th, 2018. We’ve relived this day over and over and over. It’s been-”
“Around 16,865 times,” Hay interrupted. “Just over 46 years.”
Principal Groves narrowed his eyes at me, but I continued before he could get a word in edgewise.
“We are the only two people that retain our memories. Every night at midnight, everything resets. Everyone else loses their memory, and if we’re awake, we black out until our alarms go off in the morning.” He didn’t look impressed, but he didn’t look as angry as I thought he would. “I know it sounds entirely unbelievable, but to be honest, we don’t really need you to believe that we’re telling the truth about that. At least, not now. What we do need from you, though, is information.”
“We’ve watched this morning announcement broadcast countless times.” Hay pointed at the muted TV hanging on the wall to our left. “Up until a few iterations ago, the broadcast said, ‘I will be reading the morning announcements today due to yesterday’s events.’ But a few days ago, it changed, and you added the word ‘unfortunate’ to the sentence.”
There was no way he believed us, judging from the look on his face. Yet, he seemed…interested? Maybe he thought this was some elaborate prank to get out of an assignment or something and he just wanted to see where it went, but whatever the case, we kept explaining.
“We confronted you shortly after, and you told us that the announcements were recorded yesterday evening. So, to you, that would be the evening of August 27th.”
“To us, that is huge, because we only relive August 28th, but if the video changed, then something changed from August 27th, and that could be a clue for us to find out how to end this nightmare we’ve been stuck in.”
“So, we’d like to ask you some questions about the evening of August 27th, if you don’t mind.”
We looked at him, and he looked back at me, then at Hay. He leaned forward, put his elbows on his desk, then crossed his arms. “Look, kids, clearly I can’t believe a story like that, but I’m oddly impressed by the gumption that drove you in here to concoct this tale. Did someone put you up to this?”
“You don’t have to believe us, sir. We just need to know the circumstances surrounding your recording of that video.”
“I’d love to keep entertaining this little story, but really, I’m busy, so I’m afraid I’m going to have to send you back to class.”
Hay nodded. “Yeah, we knew you were going to say that. See, this isn’t the first time we’ve had this conversation.”
The principal arched an eyebrow.
“It’s actually the fourth time we’ve made this appeal to you. We knew you’d never give us the time of day after hearing such a strange story, so the first time we talked to you about this, we asked you for something that would make you believe us, 100%, without fail. Something we could observe on this day, if we really were repeating it, and then tell you to make you believe us.”
“And that’s exactly what we did.”
Principal Groves chuckled a bit. “You kids must get amazing scores in your creative writing courses, but listen, really, I have to-”
“You’re expecting a call from your wife. She went to the doctor on August 27th, and she’s expecting some test results.”
Groves frowned at me. “How did you find that out?”
“We stood outside of your office and listened to the call. You really shouldn’t put your personal calls on speakerphone, but I guess it’s lucky for us that you do.”
“The call hasn’t happened yet, how could you…” He trailed off. “Okay, well, even if you know that I’m expecting that call, it doesn’t really mean anything.”
“She’s pregnant,” Hay said flatly.
He cocked his head to the side. “What?”
“Your wife is pregnant.”
Now, Groves was getting annoyed. “I’m glad you two think this is some kind of game, but I’m done with it. Get out of here before I get mad enough to suspend you.”
“It doesn’t matter if you suspend us. When we wake up tomorrow, you won’t remember.”
He stared at me incredulously, like the words I’d uttered were sacrilege.
Hay groaned. “Brendon, be nice.”
“Ah, sorry Principal Groves.”
“That’s not going to get you off the hook here,” he said.
“I know you think what we just told you isn’t true, but there’s no way we could know, right?”
“Kid, my wife is 46 years old. There’s no way she’s pregnant.”
“Which is incredibly convenient to us,” I said. “Because when she calls and tells you that she is pregnant, you’ll believe us, and when that happens, we’ll be outside your door again, waiting to talk.”