He couldn’t see the sun from where he sat, which somehow added an air of wonderment to watching the world around him get brighter and brighter with every passing moment, though he understood the science behind it. He checked his cell phone for the time.
The days were getting shorter again, winter wouldn’t be long in coming. He then checked the forecast app, to test its accuracy. “off by one minute.” He muttered, and made a note of it in his chart.
He was on his own today. Helene was off visiting the grandkids for the weekend, and he couldn’t come with because of a meeting at Concorde TV the next day. He’d long lost his interest in the entertainment business and would have been content to sell the damn company, let someone else worry about it, had he not promised Bård to keep an eye on it’s progress and endeavors. “Make sure they’re not producing too much shit” as he put it.
But that was tomorrow, and right now there was an entire day left to fill. He’d decided earlier that it was time for a trip to the basement. It would be a nice surprise for Helene when she got back, to find that he’d reorganized the entire place. It had been quite a mess since they agreed to store a bunch of stuff for their eldest and her family when they moved to a smaller apartment.
He opened the door below the staircase on the bottom floor and carefully went down the steps underground. One of his knees wasn’t very good at bending anymore so it was a slow process, but in a few minutes he was blending in perfectly amongst the dusty clutter with his pepper colored hair and grey jumper. He felt around the wall for the sensor-pad until his finger brushed over it and the light came on.
The first thing his eyes landed upon was a guitar case.
Bård was usually reduced to a dull ache in his memory, a momentary twinge somewhere deep inside himself, presumably his heart but that was absurd. Every once in a while, though, he would hit Vegard like a freight train. Bård the little brother, Bård the colleague, Bård the life partner, their entire combined existence would come crashing down on him all at once and his absence was so crippling his whole body froze and then convulsed until he doubled over as if he’d been kicked hard in the stomach. It felt like, he even kind of hoped that, he was finally dying. But in a minute or two it passed, and somehow he was always alone when it happened.
It used to be that the number of years Vegard had existed without Bård was three. It had always been three and it was an easy and comfortable number to remember. It was also so small a number that Vegard couldn’t remember almost anything of that Bård-less time. But that number suddenly changed, and it kept changing every year that went by. This was something Vegard had never expected himself to have to remember a new number for every year. His own children’s ages, new birth dates, last time the cats got their vaccinations, yes.
Years without Bård? That number should have always been three.
He supposed it was better this way, though. Bård had literally never existed without Vegard, it might have been harder for him if he went first, and Vegard was more than willing to bear this burden in his stead. But why did either of them have to exist without the other? Vegard found himself wondering.
It just didn’t seem right. After all this time it still seemed simply illogical to Vegard that he kept on existing when Bård did not. Without realizing it, in his own mind they’d become that two headed monster they so hated being perceived as. And now he was just a monster with one head and a stump where the other one used to be, a half of a whole, and there was no good reason for it. It didn’t hinder him too much, he learned to live and function well enough without it, but he just couldn’t understand why he had to.
And he didn’t like it. He didn’t like himself without Bård, and he didn’t like the idea that he couldn’t watch over Bård anymore. The responsibility of eldest brother never left him even though there hadn’t even been much practical use for it during most of the years Bård was around. Thankfully there was still at least Bjarte to worry about sometimes, but one of the pieces, the Bård piece, was missing. He couldn’t help but feel a bit of a failure for losing one of them, even though it was in no way Vegard’s fault. Bård was nothing now. He was nowhere, except in the memories of countless people around the world, and there was nothing Vegard could do with that.
When he straightened up again he scanned the room, taking care to not focus on the guitar again. He spotted a closet at the far end and it occurred to him that he could possibly rearrange things in there to have more room for some of the stuff outside. He opened the closet doors and scanned its interior. Books and boxes mostly. One brown cardboard box was labelled, “Warning: Vegard’s boring crap” in Bård’s handwriting. He remembered him writing it and both of them laughing. He also remembered why Bård had chosen to label it thus, though he wasn’t sure what was inside anymore.
“Now no one but you will ever open it.”
With a closed-mouthed smile he took hold of the box and slid it off the shelf. Sure enough, upon uncovering the lid he found a pile of papers, pictures, postcards, newspaper cutouts, all having to do with aviation devices and technology. He was actually surprised to see how much he had, he didn’t remember collecting enough to fill an entire box. He dug around a bit in the papers until his fingers hit something cold and hard deeper inside the box. He gripped and pulled it out. A thin rod that split into four handles connected to each other by smaller rods, centering at a small hour-glass that held it all together.
Vegard stared at the time machine for a long minute, every single time travelling adventure he’s ever experienced from all angles, the traveller and the travelled to, suddenly rushing back to his memory.
All, save one.
Everything clicked into place clearer than it ever had before.
He knew where he was going, and he could barely contain himself for the thought of seeing Bård again as he gripped a handle and gave the hourglass a spin.
When the world stabilized once more around him he was in a deserted cobblestone alleyway. He loved how the time machine somehow always knew to be inconspicuous. He looked around and kind of regretted not thinking to bring something to put it in, but he figured it didn’t look too extraordinary anyway, so he gripped the center pole and started walking in a chosen direction. Soon he reached Stavanger’s center square. The hour was early, and the stage on which he performed the last show of the Expensive Jacket Tour stood at the ready before the harbor. He just caught a glimpse of his 35 year old self going backstage, leaving two men to carry the old structure around the time machine away. By the time his bad knee allowed him to finally reach them, they were outside the performance enclosure and heading towards a dumpster.
“Hello, I see you’ve found my prop!” He placed a hand on the rusty box to get them to put it down, huffing and puffing from the hurry.
“Oh, is this yours?” One of the men asked.
“Yes, I’m sorry. I don’t know why it’s been delivered to the stage, when it needs to be put in storage at the Næringslivets Hus. Could you please move it there for me? I’d do it myself, but even when I was your age I had trouble lifting the thing!” He rambled on, hoping the joke would mostly go over their heads as they exchanged glances, considering his request.
When one of them opened his mouth with an expression on his face that suggested he was about to object, Vegard pulled out his wallet. Thank goodness they hadn’t changed the design of the bills all this time.
“I have 1,000kr for each of you in here. Will that be enough your time and effort?”
The two workers shared another glance before one of them nodded his head and said, “uh, yeah! That’ll work!”
So Vegard parted with his money and told them exactly where to take the time machine. Now all he had to do was catch his younger self alone and outside the enclosure, since there’s no way he’d be allowed backstage and he didn’t want to draw more attention to himself than necessary.
He found a shaded place to sit in the small circular park across the street and listened to the rehearsal. It was very odd to listen to his own voice, years younger, echoing across the area. He was good , he had to admit to himself. He didn't quite have that vocal range anymore, but could still do Stonehenge when the situation required it. Jan Egeland was totally out of the question now, though.
He mused about the passed time while he listened to himself and his brother get ready for the night ahead of them. He'd considered going to find the boy versions of themselves, but thought that no real good would come of it, possibly he would just confuse them more. There was only one person who ever bore the full brunt of this confounded mess, and that was himself. When sounds seemed to die down, he got up and watched the back exit of the stage enclosure. Sure enough, within minutes they were out.
He fought back another convulsion at the sight of his 32 year old brother. He had yet to develop the slouch that accumulated over the years due to his problematic neck, in fact his upper half was practically rigid in an effort keep his back straight. Vegard couldn't remember exactly when he'd given up on that. He looked so healthy.. Vegard found himself fighting the urge to run up to him, and instead focussed on etching this better version of him in his mind, to perhaps ease the latest memories. A rush of panic, of all things, surged through him when Bård turned and went the other way. He had to remind himself this wasn't his last chance. He would see him again before the day was over. Only when he disappeared from view did he turn his attention to the black haired man crossing the street towards him.
He remembered it feeling awkward, when he was the younger version of himself standing opposite of him. At his point of view, though, he was quite used to it.
"Are you here to help?" He asked.
A moment's hesitation in the younger man's face, and he knew exactly what he was afraid to ask.
"Bård isn't here. Not my Bård anyway, but I'm sure we can both agree that two of him is enough to have to deal with."
His younger self half smiled and nodded his agreement. He chose to keep the ambiguity of his answer and not wonder why the third Bård hadn't come.
"I sent the men with the time machine up to Næringslivets Hus. They're putting it in a storage room for us." Vegard cut right to the chase.
"Really? That's great! We're about to go find the kids, and then we can just send them back and the nightmare will be over!" Excitement at the ease with which the solution came bubbled through him but was soon diminished by the old man.
"Not so fast, man. Curious eyes are everywhere, you can't just walk around with a couple of boys, let alone ones who look so amazingly like yourselves without raising questions you don't want to have to answer."
He was right, of course.
"Then what did we do?"
"You'll find a couple of empty crates backstage, bring them in as more equipment for storage."
"Okay.. So I need to find crates." This made sense to him actually, he had some vague unpleasant memory of being cramped up in the dark, being very worried about Bård. He wasn't looking forward to the idea of putting them through that again (well, not really again).
"Yes. I suggest you figure the crates out before the show so it all goes smoothly afterwards. I'll meet you th-"
"Not after the show. Why after?" The younger man interrupted, only to get a dismissive wave.
"The boys will insist on seeing it."
"Well, I don't care! It's not up to them, how will they watch it anyway without being seen? No, I can't worry about them the whole show, they have to go before."
"They'll be in a crowd of thousands, nobody will notice them. You know how inconspicuous we could be."
Vegard's brow furrowed, still not liking the idea.
"They're curious about their futures. Can you blame them? I wouldn't mind seeing it again myself. It's been years..."
They rested in each other's eyes for a moment. Vegard found himself wondering irrelevant things; how active he was in his old age, whether he was wearing contacts or if he got some other futuristic solution to his imperfect eyesight, how things were with Helene, the kids and Concorde TV. But he wouldn't ask. People weren't meant to know these things in advance, it was bad enough that they were in this situation at all.
"I just don't think it's a good idea."
"I know you don't, I didn't either."
Another quiet moment let the comment sink in and then the younger Vegard smiled. It'll all work out, one way or another, he reminded himself.
"Okay. I'll go see to the crates."
"You do that. I'll hang about until it's time. We'll meet in the building afterwards."
Vegard nodded and headed away, back to the stage enclosure.
All he had left to do for now was wait. He wandered around the town, enjoying the peace and quiet of not being recognized in a time before his own. It was damn near impossible for him to go around Norway unnoticed anymore, though at least people seemed to be more respectful of him now, in his old age, and didn’t approach as much. The crazy days were definitely these, where he was at that moment in time. He thought this to himself as he strolled past what could only be a flock of girls waiting for the concert, since they seemed to be speaking to each other in English with various accents, and some even wore t-shirts with what appeared to be his own face on them.
‘Insane.’ he thought. The idea that complete strangers were obsessed enough with him to travel hundreds of kilometers, show up hours and hours before the show even started, all just to see him and his brother would continue to baffle him to the day he died. Some persistent streak of modesty ingrained in the very root of his culture would never allow him to understand such a phenomenon.
Time ticked away as he purposely avoided anywhere he knew any of the others would be. Something inside told him they were all better off with as little contact as possible.
The concert was very good. Yes, he still caught himself counting the mistakes and making pointless notes for improvement because old habits die hard, but he thoroughly enjoyed it, especially the memories of having enjoyed being on that stage, as well as enjoying being the boy in the front row scarcely believing his own eyes. He didn’t stay to watch The Fox, for he knew it would take him longer to reach their meeting place than it would the others, and it was important that he be there to greet them. He listened to the ridiculously fateful song as he made his way through crowds of people around the stage. He’d be damned if he didn’t still kind of like that silly thing after all this time. If it had been up to him they’d never have even made it, he thought it was too stupid an idea when it first came up, and therein lay the real key to their success over the years. Neither one of them would possibly had made it as far as they had on his own. It was their cooperation, their near-perfect sync, that made them truly great in their time.
Now he just didn’t trust anything he created anymore. There was no one, other than Bård, he relied on enough to tell him when a joke wasn’t funny or a lyric was bad. His own intuition and taste only got him so far. Other people still seemed to like what he produced, but as time went by he just became less and less sure of it all without his trusty sounding board to confirm. These days he all but stopped creating his own performance material. Sometimes he would do a little improv at family gatherings with the piano, which also felt lacking to him without Bård, but was always a big hit with the relatives. He monitored other’s work at the office, and picked up hobbies to keep himself occupied. Ylvisåkers always know how to keep busy, one way or another.
“There you are.” He greeted the ‘rockstars’ as they barged into the lobby, surrounded by bodyguards and followed by a trail of excited fans who were left outside.
“The crates are already downstairs, as you requested.”
“Good. Thank you. Shall we then?” His younger self was practically glowing. Ah, the rush of a good performance…
Bård stared at him shamelessly as they all gathered into the elevator together. When the doors shut behind them he asked, “Are we expecting any more Vegards tonight?”
“I’m the last one, as far as I can recall.” He replied with a cheeky half-smile.
“So is another one of me going to join us as well?”
“No, not this time.”
“Shut up, Bård.” The black haired Vegard shot, making the other two men turn to look at him, but he kept his eyes fixed on the buttons on the wall. He didn’t want to know why Bård didn’t come along. He didn’t want to be told anything about the future, good or bad.
The elevator came to a stop and they hurried out of it, looking around them for the crates with their precious cargo. It didn’t take them long to find them in the cluttered room storage room, following the sound of banging against metal. The two crates were set horizontally (though the boys had originally gone in vertical). It sounded like Bård was crying in one, while Vegard was frantically trying to kick his way out of the other. They each instinctively rushed to open the other’s crate, Vegard scooping up the sobbing 9 year old and Bård trying to calm down the 12 year old while helping him out.
“What happened?” Bård asked him, looking from one boy to the other.
“He got scared.” The teen shrugged him off and hurried to his little brother, who was still cradled in the 35 year old’s lap, “They dropped us on the side, he says he hurt his arm..”
“Let me see..” Vegard said quietly, turning little Bård’s arm to find the bruise in question.
The oldest Vegard watched a short distance away, sensing the bubbling resentment coming from his youngest self, knowing it affected all three of them. He remembered what was coming, and he wasn’t looking forward to being either part of it.
“Why did you do this?! This was your stupid plan and now look what you’ve done! You’re supposed to help, but all you do is get him hurt!” Teen Vegard yelled his frustration at the men.
It was self doubt, of course, at the root of the accusation. Fittingly, projecting his frustration onto the man in front of him was exactly like scolding himself. Guilt from having possibly handled things wrong always haunted Vegard, pretty much from the day he became an older brother.
“I said I wanted to be in there with him! Why did you have to separate us?!”
The advantage of being himself in all three of these versions, was that at this point, he knew exactly what needed to be said. The old man closed the distance between them and placed a hand on the teen’s shoulder.
“Vegard, there were no other options. We all did the best we could. Bård will be fine once he calms down, and once you do too.”
The boys looked up at him, noticing him for the first time. He knew Vegard knew who he was right away.
“I do everything wrong..”
The poor kid was so tired, all his defenses were lowering.
“No, you don’t.” The eldest reassured softly, “You always do your best.”
“This is all my fault.” The boy insisted.
“You know,” The 32 year old Bård suddenly interjected, “Somewhere along the way you and I learned that blame is not really important. It doesn’t actually matter who’s fault it is if something bad or unfair happens, so long as we get over ourselves and work together to get past it.”
The young brown eyes stared into his, taking in his words, wanting desperately to believe them. “Things got much easier to handle once we figured that out.” he added.
They all stood around in silence then, letting the life lesson sink in, until little Bård got up from Vegard’s lap and clung tight to his 12 year old brother, hugging him around the waist. Vegard looked down at the top of the boy’s head and reciprocated the hug, accepting the reassurance.
A minute later, little Bård looked up with his big blue eyes and asked, “Can we go home now?”
All eyes were then cast in the oldest man’s direction, his own still resting despondently on the smallest boy. He nodded and turned away from them all, adjusting his grip on the time-rod in his hand and walking towards the old water closet standing in the corner by the elevator entrance. It was almost over. He hoped the sadness he felt wasn’t too apparent to them all, though he knew the other two versions of himself were sensing it to some degree.
When the boys were in position inside the time machine, Vegard told them he’d spin the hourglass himself to be sure they would go back to where they came from.
“I’m going to spin it and then close the door on you very fast, so don’t be alarmed. You’ll come out exactly where and when you came in, for mama and papa no time will have passed, so there’s no need to come up with excuses or anything. Just go home as if you just came back from school, okay?”
The boys nodded their understanding, young Vegard taking a deep, meaningful breath. He leaned in closer to them and whispered, “Now just one more thing. You,” he pointed a wrinkled finger at Bård, “make sure this one,” he pointed at Vegard then, “goes to audition for the theater group at school in a couple of years. He’s going to change his mind about it in the last minute, but you get mama to help you convince him to go anyway. Got it?”
Bård grinned and nodded.
“Good. Everything should work itself out from there.” He straightened up with a grunt, feeling the effort in his knee.
There wasn’t anything more to say. Everyone exchanged meaningful glances before Vegard finally placed his hand on the hourglass, gave it a calculated spin and slammed the door on them quickly. The structure shivered and shook, rapidly sinking into the ground. And that was that.
“Okay, just tell me one thing.”
Vegard turned to the sound of Bård’s voice and faced him.
“Do I still have long hair?”
The 35 year old dropped his head and shook it, not sure whether to laugh at the excellent ice breaker or be embarrassed by the stupid shallow question. The oldest Vegard just narrowed his eyes at him, a smile tugging at one corner of his lips and said, “I guess you’re just going to have to live your life and find out, huh?”
They all laughed awkwardly for a second, until Vegard looked at his watch and said, “we really should be getting to that after party…”
“Right, yes. And I have to get back to, um..” His voice trailed off, raising the hand in which he gripped his own compact version of the time machine..
When Vegard laid down in his bed that night, the entire basement was spic and span. There was plenty of room down there for whatever Helene would want to do with it now. He timed the sunset, texted his wife goodnight and left a message at the office that he wouldn’t make it to the meeting tomorrow, assuring them that he trusted whatever decisions they came up with. All loose ends neatly tied, he was practically excited as his head sank into the pillow and he closed his eyes.
He had no intention of ever waking up again.