By Hari Sriskantha
Sterling Connor was staring intently at the room. He was trying to commit it to memory, in the hope that his future self a.) stumbles across a time machine and b.) remembers to come back to this exact moment in space and time to tell his current self what to do. (He had made this pact before, but had long forgotten for where and when. He’d definitely remember this time, though.) For he was five minutes away* from making his big announcement, and — unlike the usual protocol for people in such situations — he had no idea what he was going to say.
He had many strengths, but imagination was not one of them. When he started his corner shop sixteen years ago, he couldn’t think of a better name than ‘The Corner Shop’ despite spending a long afternoon with a pen and a blank pad of paper. (You would’ve thought he could’ve at least come up with ‘The Connor Shop’, a witty but ultimately simple pun on his last name, which sounds like the word ‘corner’.†) The shop was founded on the promise that it would be an antidote to the large, soulless chains that populated almost every shopping street in Quarkwood. Unfortunately, that promise was becoming increasingly difficult to keep, now that — sixteen years later — The Corner Shop was a large, soulless chain that populated almost every shopping street in Quarkwood.
It wasn’t his fault, though. And unlike most people who claim it wasn’t their fault, he could actually mean it. He wasn’t that good at negotiating with suppliers, so everything was way more expensive than the competing corner shop down the road. (They opted to carry advertising, and so their sign was just the logo of The Quarkwood Chronicle. Which was a shame, because the owner, Conor Shoppe, was much better at spotting aptonym-based puns.) He hadn’t quite figured out stock control, so he was always running out of popular items. He didn’t even spend that much on marketing or visual pleasantries. It just so happened that a bunch of trendy, young offices sprung up nearby, flooding the store with trendy, young office workers perpetually looking for skipped breakfasts, unpacked lunches, or dinners where you don’t plan anything in advance and hope what you’ve bought and what you think you’ve got at home could just about be combined into some kind of meal-like experience. It wasn’t his fault if they interpreted his expensive prices, limited choice and minimalist marketing as some kind of cool prestige thing rather than a failure to grasp basic business skills. Before long, he had enough capital to start another store, and then another, and the rest was a combination of history and uninteresting exposition.
Two minutes to go, and still no Future Sterling. Maybe there was some rule about not interfering with your own timeline. He knew what he was going to say one week ago, when he invited everyone to this press conference. Of course he did, because otherwise organising a press conference would be a weird thing to do. But things had changed since then. And he knew his audience were not going to be happy.
* It was more like six-and-a-half minutes if you used the clock on the wall, which everyone knew was one-and-a-half minutes slow‡ but had subsequently and independently decided that doing the mental adjustment every single time was less effort than actually changing it.
† It would be nice if narrators were allowed to point out such things, but that’s both against the rules and impossible for a fictional story.
‡ Unless, of course, it was daylight savings time.