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The Yesterday Men

They say I’m crazy. I hear ‘em, they try and hide it from me, but still got good ears, I can hear ‘em whispering behind my back.

While I might be old (pretty sure of that!) I’m not crazy. They just don’t remember the Yesterday Men. I do, they forgot. It’s them that ain’t thinking so good, not me!

You don’t remember ’em either, do you? Maybe you weren’t even born then – I forget when they came, why they came. Then again, amazing I can remember them at all.

You could always tell a Yesterday Man. You could see ‘em a mile off. Tall and pale, a certain type of turned-up snub nose, shock of white hair. Big green eyes – there was something to their eyes, guess you could call ‘em ‘otherworldly?’ I dunno. They always looked like they were looking at something beyond what we could see.

Probably was. Them Yesterday Men, well, everyone loved what they could do for you, free to all. Never needed anything from us – but that don’t mean we were ungrateful ingrates, we tried to give ‘em something back but they never took anything. Just smiled and shook their heads.

They never spoke, the Yesterday Men. Dunno why, maybe they had nothing to say to us. Who knows? Guess it don’t matter now, anyway, more’s the pity.

What they could do for you, though! It was a miracle, a real miracle. My wife Myra, bless her soul, asked the Yesterday Man to fix this plate. I told ‘er, “It’s only a plate! More important things than a damn plate.” The plate was real important to ’er, Myra argued, been in her family for generations. She’d stumbled against the shelf where it was sitting; tumbled down and smashed. Myra came to the Yesterday Man in our area and gave him the shards.

There was something that happened when he held the shards of the plate and concentrated. I always thought it was like when you bang the side of the TV set hard and the picture wobbles. Except we were in the picture when someone whanged the box from outside.

Then the Yesterday Man handed Myra the plate back, just like it was before it smashed. She was so happy she was crying, she carried that restored plate home like it was our next child. Then she got me to make a cabinet to keep it extra-safe for later. Really good cabinet, beautiful wood, very sturdy; stable as a rock. Still got it and the plate, somewhere back home. Might give it to my eldest, she’s just like her mother, she’d really like it, I reckon.

Anyway, where was I? That’s right, my first experience with the Yesterday Men involved a cat. Damn cat didn’t move off the damned road. I wasn’t going that fast but fast enough. Even knew whose cat it was, was our neighbour’s cat, their daughter Jess was always carrying it around and playing with it.

Ain’t a coward, served my country in the war, but I woulda preferred to go back to the battlefield than face little Jess and tell her I hit her kitty. So I went to the Yesterday Man.

Didn’t have to say a thing, he took the kitty and smacked the side of the world and then the kitty was squirming in his big, soft hands. He gave me that smile, that looks so natural on ‘em, a kid’s smile.

Little Jess was none the wiser, been a bit upset being without her kitty for a day but that went away when said kitty came back, giving that cat such a cuddle! Heh-heh.

Went extra-slow around the neighbourhood after that, just for that damn cat. Eh, a few minutes late sometimes were a small price to pay. You’d think that it woulda made me more reckless, like “Well, I can always take the cat back to the Yesterday Man” but nope. Made me far more aware of what would happen if I was careless. Learned my lesson. The Yesterday Man had taught me, taught Myra too.

Didn’t know how they did it, but they were a godsend. Heard from friends and family all over about the Yesterday Men. Fair few folks just dismissed ‘em as ‘urban legends’ – whatever that means.

But what happened with Cole’s son Bobby… after falling headfirst off the high diving board and hitting the concrete siding on the way down, the docs shook their heads and pulled the white sheet over his face. Cole’s wife Petra couldn’t believe it, couldn’t accept it. Was only a little slip of a girl but she picked up Bobby from the stretcher with the sheet wrapped around him like a shroud, blood from his broke skull leaking all over ’er. Didn’t care, Petra was a woman possessed; she made a beeline for the Yesterday Man.

We followed her, half in shock, half in sympathy for the poor woman. Even if some of us had issues with the little rascal, the death of a child rocks the whole community. It wasn’t damn fair, especially for poor Cole and Petra.

Petra gave up the body almost reluctantly to the Yesterday Man, her hand trailing on one of Bobby’s limp arms. Then the Yesterday Man concentrated, the world wobbled then we hears a voice saying, “Why is there a sheet over my face?”

I swear, there wasn’t a dry eye in sight, except for Bobby, pretty confused to have his mother holding onto him so tight that if she was any stronger she’d have squeezed ’im in half.

That’s when I worked out what was really happening with the Yesterday Men. The blood was gone from them sheets, from Petra, from the floor where it had spattered a trail from the pool. The Yesterday Man hadn’t resurrected Bobby, he had made it that Bobby had never died.

Later on, when folks talked to Bobby, he only vaguely remembered it. “Yeah, I was gonna dive from the high board but then I thought about if I slipped so I went on the low board.” It was something as simple as that with such a consequence! Between Bobby dead and alive, one little choice. High board or low board, death or life.

Things like this were happening all over, on the news and TV specials, newspapers, magazines. Became real popular then, but the Yesterday Men never complained, never took a break. Just those open smiles, satisfied with correcting our mistakes, reversing our misfortunes. Everything back to the way it was, just our memories left behind, almost like bad dreams. It never had happened.

The higher ups, the brass, eventually realized that the Yesterday Men were no charlatans. The government and private industry groups were divided about the Yesterday Men: bunch of ‘em wanted to somehow exploit ‘em for their own gain, but the Yesterday Men gave to everyone. An independent public service and those higher-ups didn’t like that one bit.

Other groups pushed the line that someone could use the Yesterday Men as a weapon – if they could make something not happen or happen differently in the past, could they kill instead?

Bunch of old hooey. The Yesterday Men were as peaceful as newborn lambs. They wouldn’t have hurt a fly – if they did, they woulda slapped the TV set of the world and made it live again.

But governments will be governments, corporations will be corporations. There was this big smear campaign against the Yesterday Men, they were calling ‘em “threats to national security” or some malarkey. I fought for my country, dammit; it’s one thing to say some screaming fanatic firing a rifle at you is your enemy, it’s a different thing to squarely put that label on a strange-looking fella that helps everyone. As I said, a bunch of old hooey.

While governments will be governments and corporations will be corporations, people will be people. And people are stupid. Enough idiots believed the campaign and stopped going to the Yesterday Men. Pretty damned ungrateful, some of ’em. I kept going to ‘em, sometimes just to give ‘em a smile and a nod of support. Was hard sometimes to read that faraway gaze, but I reckon they were sad when most of the people stayed away.

Then the powers that be said something about “neutralizing the threat to national security” and I was ready to go on the warpath. Threat, HAH! Could never hate my country but I could hate the idiots that were running it. If I woulda been a younger man, I probably woulda done something stupid and rash and got myself in the clink. I wasn’t that young and dumb but there was something I could still do. Went to our local Yesterday Man that night.

“Listen,” I told him “the government thinks you Yesterday Men are a threat. I know you’re not and I reckon they’re damfool stupid, but I can’t stop ‘em. They’re not gonna negotiate with you nicely, the only way they’ll negotiate with you is with hot lead.”

The Yesterday Man blinked, the normally unfocussed gaze focusing on me, he was listening intently to my words.

“You gotta get away, all of you, coz I reckon you folks aren’t up to fighting. Fought in the war and I know how the brass do things.”

He looked at me sadly and I could tell, for the Yesterday Men something like the war was a truly horrible thing. They would have undone something like that if they could’ve. At that moment, felt pretty ashamed of the enemies I’d shot in the war. Didn’t feel like a war hero or anything like that any more, just felt like a murderer.

He then did something pretty darn strange then, at least for the Yesterday Men, pretty normal for us folks though. He looked at me again, shook my hand and nodded. Turned away, concentrated really hard for a real long time. Thought it would be best if I left ’im alone and go home.

Threw out all my medals that night. Weren’t anything much to speak of, but couldn’t look at ’em without feeling the Yesterday Man’s gaze on me again.

Didn’t sleep much that night. Kept waiting for the “solution to the Yesterday Men” to come. Kept waiting for shots ringing out in the night but just silence. Lost a night’s sleep for nothing.

Skipped work the next day, called in sick. Got the paper nice and early and watched the TV for any news.

Nothing. Not a damn thing. I swear, the damn waiting was gonna give me a heart attack.

Myra came home from shopping to find me glued to the TV.

“What’s wrong, George? Why aren’t you at work today?” she asks.

“Been worried about the Yesterday Men,” I says to ’er.

“Yesterday Men?”

“The … final solution the government was saying.”

She puts the back of her hand to my forehead and tells me doubtfully, “Well, you’re not running a fever, the doctor will know more. Get dressed, dear.”

“Dammit, woman, do you have the memory of a blasted goldfish? The Yesterday Men! Remember when your damn heirloom plate broke?”

Myra pointedly looked towards the pristine plate in the cabinet I made for it and gave me a stern look.

“Blast it, Myra – remember Cole’s Bobby?”

“Oh, George. What’s he done now? Don’t be so hard on him, boys will be boys – you were just as bad when you were his age-”

Was damned confusing at the time, I thought Myra was playing a joke on me and I wasn’t any mood for games. “Listen! When Bobby died-”

Myra goes stark white, leaned on my chair for support. “Oh, God, George; what happened to Bobby?”

“-and the Yesterday Man made him not die-”

At this point, Myra thought I was telling her a joke in really poor taste. “Get your clothes on now or I’m dragging you to the doctor like that. You’re delirious.”

Got dressed and she took me to see the blasted quack but he couldn’t find anything. I wasn’t damn sick.

The Yesterday Men had used their ability on themselves. Except this time, we didn’t remember ‘em ever being here. They had never existed.

I still remember. I don’t know why. Wasn’t sick and I’m not crazy.

The Yesterday Men were real and then they never existed. You believe me, don’t you? Don’t you?

The Yesterday Men

Stewart Wymer

Adelaide, Australia

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