Bar Scenes with Time and Entropy
by Laura Pearlman
Read by Alethea Kontis
Listen to the audio version
October 21, 2018
A time elemental and an entropy elemental walk into a bar, because apart from their inborn
ability to influence forces of nature, they're perfectly ordinary people who enjoy an adult beverage
every now and then. Time is a man, tall with dark brown skin and handsome features, wearing the
kind of classically-styled suit often described as "timeless." Entropy is fair-skinned with freckles
and hopelessly tangled hair, wearing a dress whose design resembles the pattern of water spots
thrown off by an Afghan hound shaking itself after a bath, only more colorful.
The bar is crowded; it's the first clear night after a week-long thunderstorm. He orders a
Scotch on the rocks, she orders a strawberry daiquiri. He raises an eyebrow.
She shrugs. "I just need something that's been through--"
A shot rings out. Time falls, bleeding but still conscious.
Entropy kneels by his side and grips his hand. "Go back," she says. "Don't think, just go
April 8, 2013
A time elemental and an entropy elemental walk into a bar. Separately, because they
haven't met each other yet. Entropy is celebrating her twenty-first birthday. She and her boyfriend
have been working on a project for their Stochastic Processes class, and they spend most of the
evening arguing about it. She likes arguing with Seth about these things. They both do. The
sparks that fly from these arguments ignite their most brilliant ideas and, if not actual passion, at
least something that approximates it.
On her way back from the bathroom, Entropy bumps into a handsome stranger. The rest
of the bar falls silent, frozen in time. For a moment she thinks it's love at first sight, like in the
"Nice trick," she says. "Time elemental?" She's never met one before.
He nods. "Entropy?"
"Your freckles. They're--"
She nods. "Brownian motion. Most people can't see it, it's so slow."
They exchange phone numbers. The flow of time returns to normal.
Later, the time elemental googles "Brownian motion," hoping it will explain the weird deja
vu he's been feeling all night. It doesn't.
April 14, 2013-April 3, 2016
A time elemental and an entropy elemental walk into a bar 127 times, sometimes with
friends, sometimes just the two of them, sometimes before dinner, sometimes after a movie or
concert or show. Three of those times are for wedding receptions, one of which is theirs.
April 6, 2016
A time elemental and an entropy elemental walk into a bar. A staticky rendition of Hotel
California plays in the background. Entropy closes her eyes for a moment and the static clears.
"It's not too late to back out," Time says.
Entropy rolls her eyes. "We've been through this. It's a good idea. Seth and I worked
really well together."
"That was a long time ago."
"Exactly." She wants to say, "time heals all wounds," but she knows he hates that
expression. "Look, it'll be a little awkward at first, but we're all adults, and--there he is!"
They join Seth at his table. He's already ordered a pitcher of beer, the kind he and Entropy
used to drink. They make awkward small talk, and then Entropy explains their plan.
". . . So it'll just be us at first. You and I will run engineering, and Time will take care of
the business end of things. And if we ever find there aren't enough hours in the day," she pauses
and looks at Time, "well, that won't be a problem."
She feels Time flinch. "Seth knows about me," she says. I helped his grandmother sort
through some memories once."
"You reduced the entropy in her brain?" Time says.
"Not her brain, exactly. Her mind. Not everything is physics. Anyway, I don't do the
memory thing very often. When I helped Seth's grandma, I had a raging headache and vertigo for
weeks. Not to mention the vomiting." She shudders. "And Bernice's memory wasn't even that bad.
Her semantic memory was fine; she remembered facts, like her wedding anniversary and
bridesmaids' names. She just couldn't recall experiences, like her actual wedding."
Entropy takes a swig of beer. Talking about weddings isn't making the conversation any
less awkward. "Or holding her baby grandson for the first time," she says. "She remembered
Seth's birthday, but--"
"I get the idea," Time says. "So. Seth. Are you in?"
Seth glances at Entropy's wedding ring, then at Time's. He smiles a tight smile and turns
down the offer. He chugs the rest of his beer and walks out.
Entropy stares at the condensation on the bottom half of her glass, the part that still has
beer in it. The water molecules move under her gaze, coalescing to form a grid of perfectly round
"Okay," she says. "That may not have been my best idea."
"I think we dodged a bullet," Time says.
"It's been three years. I thought it would be okay."
"No. It wouldn't. I've had this feeling that this all happened before, and meeting Seth--it's
stronger now, almost like a memory."
"Do you want me to try to--"
He shakes his head. "I don't want to put you through that," he says. "Besides, he said no.
April 7, 2016
A time elemental walks into a bar exam. He's late, which is odd, because Time is never
late. He hasn't studied. He hasn't even gone to law school. He wakes up in a cold sweat.
July 20, 2017
A time elemental and an entropy elemental walk into a bar, triumphant after a head-to-head competition at a high-profile trade show. Their system didn't just outperform all the others; it
blew them out of the water.
Seth was the lead designer for one of their competitors. He lurches over to them, red-faced and reeking of whiskey, and accuses them of funneling entropy out of their system and into
his. No one believes him. Time and Entropy know they're innocent; no one else in the industry
thinks such a thing is possible.
July 21, 2017
A time elemental and an entropy elemental walk into a bar. They're both upset, but for
"It's like I don't know Seth at all anymore," Entropy says. "He knows how hard I worked
to get away from all that."
Time nods. He's heard about the crowd she grew up with: elementals who'd use their
powers to spy, cheat, and steal. Rumor has it there was even an electrical elemental who would,
for a price, arrange a lethal lightning strike.
That's not what's bothering Time, though. His feelings of dread have been getting
stronger. He's sure now they're memories of the future, or possibly several futures. He's about to
tell her about them when the bartender comes over to take their order.
Entropy wants a Tequila Sunrise, but the bar is out of grenadine. Time suggests a
Butterfly Wing. The bartender has to look it up: tequila, orange juice, and raspberry liqueur.
Entropy loves her new drink. She asks Time where he heard about it, but he doesn't
August 15, 2018
A guy walks into a bar. He's just lost yet another competition to Elemental Systems. This
has been going on for a year now. He's sure they cheated. They always cheat. And they have the
gall to celebrate afterwards, crowing over their victory and flaunting their perfect marriage. Even
their company name is an affront, rubbing his nose in their unfair advantage. He pushes his way
through the crowd and punches Time in the face. He loses his job and gains a reputation for
violence and instability.
August 23, 2018
A time elemental and an entropy elemental walk into a bar. When they leave, they discover
their tires have been slashed. Over the next few weeks, they're subjected to a campaign of
escalating harassment: phone calls at all hours of the night, attempts to hack their social media
accounts, rocks thrown through their windows. With each incident, Time's future memories
October 9, 2018
A time elemental and an entropy elemental walk into a bar, deep in conversation.
"Can't we just go somewhere else that night?" she asks.
"It gets us an extra week or two, but then he finds us. "
Their drinks arrive: Scotch on the rocks for him, a Butterfly Wing for her.
"I could make his gun jam," she says. She glances at her drink, and the layers--bright red
raspberry liqueur on the bottom, clear tequila, orange juice on top--blend into a homogeneous
mixture. She takes a sip.
"We've tried that. And bulletproof vests. And anything else you can think of to physically
block his attempt that night. None of it works in the long run."
"What if we--"
"We've tried avoiding him, befriending him, threatening him, helping him. Nothing
changes, except sometimes he kills you instead of me."
Layers form in her drink. Raspberry liqueur at the bottom, then tequila, then orange juice,
then more raspberry, then tequila on top. "We could pack up and--"
"It's too late for that. The more times I go back, the more memories there are to sort
through. It takes longer and longer. This time around, I didn't realize what was going on until
He shakes his head. "It doesn't matter how far back I go. The extra memories are barely
noticeable until I meet Seth, and even then, they don't seem urgent."
The layers change. Tequila, then an orange-and-raspberry pinwheel, then more tequila,
then another pinwheel. "That's okay," she says. "I'm good at sorting things. I could--"
"No good," he says. "By the time we realize I need that kind of help, it's too late."
Entropy sighs. The layers dissipate. "How many times have we had this conversation?"
October 18, 2018, 8:39 p.m.
A time elemental walks into a bar. It's raining; thunderstorms are expected for the rest of
the week. Time is wearing a dark gray trench coat with $100,000 in crisp hundred-dollar bills
divided into two stacks, in two envelopes, in each of the coat's two pockets. Each envelope is
only an inch thick; they're not conspicuous. He hangs the coat to the right of an almost identical
one, then orders a drink. His phone vibrates, but he's shaking so badly he doesn't notice.
An electricity elemental gets up from the bar and strolls over to the coat rack.
Time knows what he has to do. Just sit here. Wait for the guy to take the coat. Don't
stare. Finish the drink. Order a second drink. Stay at the bar at least ten minutes after the guy has
left. Act casual. Order a third drink if necessary. Leave an average-sized tip. Take the remaining
gray coat, the one with the empty pockets, and go home. Breathe.
He can't do it.
The guy puts on the coat. Time approaches him. "Excuse me," he says, "I think there's
been a mistake. That's my coat."
A flash of anger crosses the electricity elemental's face, but just for an instant. He's a
"Yes," Time says, "definitely a mistake." The electricity elemental gives Time his coat
back, puts on his own coat, and leaves. Time sits back down to finish his drink.
October 18, 2018, 8:52 p.m.
An entropy elemental runs into a bar. She sees a coat that looks like her husband's. Only
one. Her heart falls. Time is at the bar, nursing a drink. She sits next to him.
"You didn't answer your phone," she says.
"I couldn't go through with it," he says. "I'm--"
He was going to say "I'm sorry," but he can't, because she's kissing him.
"I was going to tell you to call it off," she says, after the kiss. "I have an idea. I think we
can send a message back."
"We've been over this. I don't remember things until it's too late."
The bartender comes over. She orders a Butterfly Wing.
"You don't remember events until it's too late. But there are other kinds of memory.
What's in my drink?"
"What? It's like a Tequila Sunrise, with raspberry liqueur instead of grenadine."
"And when did you first learn that?"
Time thinks for a minute, then shrugs.
"Right. You remember the information--the recipe--but not the experience of learning it.
I think you retain facts more faithfully than experiences when you go back in time. That would
explain your intuition about Seth being dangerous, the way you always seemed to know your way
around conference cities last year, and maybe even the Butterfly Wing recipe."
"So you want me to memorize a plan--"
She shakes her head. "With this kind of memory, you don't find it until you look for it. So
we need to replace something you'll access before that first meeting with Seth. I can help, but this
is trickier than sorting out experiences. I can replace a very small amount of
information--something like a single word--with another, but that's about it."
October 23, 2014
A time elemental and an entropy elemental walk into a bar. A waitress comes over to take
"Bernice on the rocks for me," Time says, "and a Butterfly Wing for my fiancée."
"Bernice," the waitress says. "That's a new one for me. What is it?"
Time laughs. "Bernice. You know, whiskey. From Scotland."
"I don't know if we have that brand. I'll check."
"Brand?" Time says as she walks away.
Entropy quizzes him. Apart from that one word, his language abilities and vocabulary
appear to be unaffected.
"Why Bernice, though?" Entropy asks. "Do you know anyone named Bernice? Or, uh,
Time shakes his head.
"I knew a Bernice once."
January 5, 2015
A time elemental and an entropy elemental walk into a bar. The bar is closed, because it's
Monday and the bar is closed on Mondays. They sit at a table with the owner and a guy from the
bank. They sign some papers and drink a toast.
January 6, 2015-February 12, 2056
A time elemental and an entropy elemental walk into a bar six days a week, except for
major holidays and occasional vacations. She makes amazing layered drinks. Customers love the
place. They say time just seems to fly when you're there.