Ed slammed through the front door and looked wildly around the tavern. "Quick! What year is this?"
A dozen people broke into raucous laughter. At the nearest end of the stained oak bar, Ed raised his glass. "What year did you leave from, youngster?"
"2025." Ed stopped, staring at Ed.
"Well, then — if it makes you feel better, you could call this 2035. Maybe 2045 would make you feel even better than that." Ed turned back to the bar, as the laughter gradually died down.
Ed squeezed his eyes shut. When he opened them, he was still not looking at a mirror.
On the other side of the bar, as he poured a whiskey for Ed, Ed spoke. "Don't mind them. Having an Ed step through the door is like one of those old jokes that never get old. Like a Henway."
"A Henway?" Ed, still frozen in his spot, frowned. "What's a Henway?"
Across the room, piano player Ed called out, "About five pounds."
Eds broke into laughter again. Except for the new one, who shook his head. "I don't understand."
"It's an example of a joke that never gets old, Ed," said Ed, from one of the tables. "It's the reaction that makes it funny."
"No, I mean …." Ed paused, having completely forgotten what he meant.
Ed handed the whiskey to Ed, then started on a whiskey sour for Ed, who'd turned to look at Ed. "We can explain … kind of. Why don't you take off that coat and hang it up? This might take a bit."
Mechanically, Ed pulled off his tan trench coat and turned toward the coat rack. It was full — of tan trench coats. More hung from a series of hooks along the wall.
"Don't worry about losing it," Ed called from the piano. "They're all exactly the same, although I'll bet some of us won't fit into them anymore."
With a deep breath, Ed hung the coat on another hook, then turned back. Everyone in the room wore dark slacks, a white shirt, and a black tie, just like him. All the ties had been loosened, though. "How — what — you're all me?"
"How long have you been here?"
The Eds laughed, louder this time. A few slapped their knees.
"Okay, but — why don't you just go back?"
"Try it," suggested an Ed, as he took his whiskey sour from Ed.
"What — I can? I will." With determination, Ed turned, not bothering to take his coat back, and walked out the bar's front door. The door slammed shut.
The door slammed open. Ed walked in. "Now, where's my machine? Oh."
The Eds seemed a bit more sympathetic, this time, and Ed reached under the bar for a glass. "You're going to need a whiskey."
"I don't drink much." But, as if propelled by the same unknown force that brought him here, Ed drifted to the bar and sank onto a stool.
"You will." Ed filled the glass and handed it to Ed. "See, we've all tried going back through the door. Running, closing our eyes, walking backward, holding each other's hands, and walking in a line. We tried going out the back door, too … and just come right in the front door again."
"At least there are breadsticks," said Ed, who sat at a table eating breadsticks "Sometimes, when I get tired of them, pretzels appear."
"How do pretzels …." Something bartender Ed said got through to Ed. "You held hands?"
"We can touch each other." Bartender Ed shrugged. "Causality, paradoxes, all those time travel traps we worried about? They're all gone here."
"Gone … where?"
"We debated that plenty," said Ed from a table, as he took another breadstick "We think this is a place where time travelers go so we don't mess up everything. Like … a pocket universe, or maybe a prison for people who break the laws of nature."
Across the table from him, Ed nodded. "You'll remember after a while that this is a tavern we used to go to in college." He pointed toward the old dartboard on the wall, next to a sign that said "Samuel Adams Summer Ale".
Ed's eyes widened. "This … this is that place down the street from MIT."
"That was faster than usual." Ed played a snappy tune on the piano. "We were so full of ourselves, then."
Ed stared at him. "I don't know how to play the piano."
"You'll have time to learn."
Ed took a huge swallow of his whiskey and spoke again after the coughing eased. "So, none of us ever leaves?"
"Number Four did." His face dark, Ed crammed another breadstick into his mouth.
"At first we numbered ourselves," said whiskey sour Ed. "Then we started making jokes about which number was better. You know how much we loved Doctor Who … of course, everyone said Four was best. That kind of faded away between the time he left and number fourteen dropped in."
"But … he got out?" Excited, Ed leaned forward.
"Kind of." Eyeing the other Eds, Ed refilled Ed's whiskey glass. "He's in the basement. You can go to the basement, by the way. But there's not much of anything down there, except a couple of shovels and the grave."
Ed fell back onto his stool. "Oh. So … we don't even know if we traveled in time at all. But how can we all come from the same Earth?"
"We don't." Ed pushed Ed's glass toward him. "One thing we're sure of is that we came from different Earths. That explains all of us being together without blowing up the universe, and why I asked what year you're from — I didn't perfect my process until 2027. Maybe there are hundreds of places like this — thousands — each holding dozens upon dozens of the same wannabe time traveler. The mind boggles."
Ed drained his whiskey, put the glass back down, and loosened his tie. "This couldn't possibly get any weirder."
From a corner of the bar came a high, feminine laugh.
"Oh, yes it could," said Edwina.