By Cecil Adkins
Previously published in Allegory,
Volume 10/37, Fall 2009
PART TWO PART
He didn’t know it yet, but Erik Waterson was going to kill quite
a few people. The first one was the hardest, and as the guard’s
head flipped backwards from the bullet’s force, spraying blood and
brain and bone all over steel walls, Erik couldn’t believe he’d
actually done it. That it was something that was forced upon him made
him feel no better about it. Bypassing the security system had been child’s
play, but there was only one way to get past the soldier guarding his
His time machine. The one that he began designing when he was fifteen
years old, thanks to the gift of future knowledge given to him on 28 DVDs
by an old man who claimed to be his future self, come back to the past
to force the creation of time travel a few decades early. The man claimed
that the End of the World had finally come in his time, and the only way
to prevent it was to make time travel technology available decades before
it had originally been invented. Erik had dismissed the entire encounter
as too bizarre to be taken seriously, until he actually looked at the
information on the discs. He’d spent all of his high school and
college years secretly working through the nearly insurmountable knowledge
on those discs, while molding his education into something that could
actually help him to use and understand his gift from his future self.
He hated that he had to sell his gift to the great and terrible United
States government, but they were the only people who had the funding necessary
to actually build and test the thing. A special session of Congress had
been convened just to debate whether or not the time machine should be
used. Despite the heartache that the time device had caused Erik, he felt
a bitter ache at being reduced to a consultant on the project, at being
told that, even if the government determined that someone would make the
historic first time travel trip with his device, that someone would never
be him. His future self – however intelligent and wily he must have
been to get his hands on the device and use it for his own ends –
must have been insane to not think of bringing back a few billion dollars
to go along with the time machine’s design docs. He made a mental
note to remember to do that, if he ended up becoming that old man.
Erik ran his fingers over the device, the aluminum cool and smooth to
the touch. Mankind’s ultimate technological achievement was a lightweight
metal backpack. Inside the pack was a tiny artificial wormhole capable
of generating a negative time field. He couldn’t help but stop to
admire the finished product, even though he knew alarms must be going
off all over the base. He had to hurry – as soon as the guards got
here and saw that he had killed the soldier guarding the device, it would
be all over for him.
He wasn’t a murderer, despite the current evidence to the contrary.
One of the guard’s vibrant green eyes had been replaced with a bullet
hole, but the other one seemed to be staring at Erik. Erik felt dizzy,
his stomach churning. The only thing that kept him on task was the knowledge
that when he was done with his device, the guard that he had killed would
never die after all.
He strapped on the backpack and pushed the large button on the strap that
wrapped across his chest. A virtual keyboard and screen shimmered into
existence in the air in front of him, and he hurriedly typed in the parameters
of the time trip, specifically the duration. Then he activated the wormhole.
The backpack emitted a slight humming sound, and he knew a green glow
had begun pulsing in its middle as the wormhole powered up. Immediately,
an invisible field sprang up around him – he could feel it if not
see it. Seconds later, fifteen heavily armed MPs burst into the room,
but by then he was gone from their perceptions.
The shift to negative time threatened to help Erik’s nausea win
its war, and he wondered whether or not he’d actually taken the
anti-nausea pills he thought he took.
He’d known what to expect, but that didn’t help prepare him
for the reality of it. In order to travel backward in time, the field
generated by the pack caused the wearer to experience time flowing backwards.
The wearer could either stand still and wait until arriving at the proper
time point or could move around freely, observing – the field rendered
the wearer completely invisible to the outside world. However, no one
had found a way to accelerate the negative-time field, so if you wanted
to travel backwards in time four days, you actually experienced four days
of time. Which meant that you would be treated to four days of people
walking backward, of rain falling upward, of the sun setting when it should
rise and rising when it should set. Your body would be in a kind of stasis
– you’d never get hungry, sleepy, or need to relieve yourself
– but you’d always be aware of everything going on around
you for however long it took to get to when you were going.
Thankfully, Erik only had to travel backwards to the day before yesterday,
but it was still overwhelming at first. After a little while, he got used
to it, and he made his way to the place he’d need to be when he
came out of the negative-time field – his own apartment. Then, he
settled in and waited for the perfect time to prevent the end of his world.
Erik’s apartment was sparse. The walls were all painted white, the
thin carpet that covered the floors of every room except the bathroom
and kitchen a dull gray. He had no decorative pictures, although there
was at least one clock on the wall in every room. The furniture was inexpensive,
ugly, and efficient. The only thing he had in the entire apartment that
didn’t serve a practical purpose was Alexandra’s photo, displayed
in a cheap frame on his nightstand.
Alexandra often complained about the lack of decoration, but he just didn’t
feel any need for extravagance. He spent nearly every waking hour at work,
developing an improved version of the time device. Even when he was home,
he spent much of his time hunched over his laptop, obsessing over the
problem of speeding up the negative-time field. Looking at his apartment
now, with what he’d lost on this day, he was overcome by how empty
it looked, and how hollow it felt, and realized that it was very much
a reflection of his own life. The symptoms of his sickness – that’s
what Alex called it – were around him all along.
The storm outside was picking up, the thunder intensifying. That, even
more than his surroundings, brought home to Erik exactly where he was
– exactly when. He would hear those peals of thunder in his nightmares
for the rest of his life if he didn’t succeed here tonight. He glanced
at the clock on the wall above his bed. It was almost 1800 hours. Almost
time. He heard a key turn, a door open, footsteps in the living room,
heading for the bedroom.
He tensed, watching himself walk into the bedroom. He was surprised at
how much his own appearance, viewed from outside himself, disturbed him.
His dark hair was disheveled, oily. He had more fat in his middle than
he felt like he had, and his pale skin was littered with small red splotches.
How could someone like Alexandra even bear to look at him, much less fall
in love with him? In his new life, he’d make it a point to take
better care of himself.
He had been crouched behind the bed, out of sight. Now, he rose to his
feet to face his slightly younger self, his silenced 9mm pointed at his
The younger-by-two-days Erik jumped back, attempted to mouth his surprise.
No words came out. Erik felt a tingling sensation at the base of his neck
as he realized that in causing this divergence he was creating a new timeline,
a new universe, and his old one would be forever lost to him. He was surprised
at how little he cared about that.
“I guess this does look funny,” Erik said. “And I probably
should have shot you in the back or something, so you wouldn’t know
who had killed you. But, you know, you are me, and I just had to let you
know that even though you’re going to be dead, you won’t really
be dead, you know?”
“What?” the other Erik finally managed, over his surprise.
He had, after all, already met one of his future selves in the form of
an old man, so it stood to reason that meeting another might not incapacitate
him for too long. “You can’t kill me – you’ll
Erik rolled his eyes. “Don’t try that paradox nonsense with
me, Erik. Don’t tell me you don’t believe in the multiple
worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. Don’t tell me that I’d
be so cowardly at my moment of death to resort to lying to get out of
“What possible reason could you have to kill me? To kill yourself?”
“Because you let her go.”
“Alexandra. In ten minutes, she’s going to knock on that door.
She’s going to ask you to choose between her and your work, and
you’re going to hesitate long enough to give her the impression
that the work is more important. She’s going to give you back your
engagement ring and walk out of your life. When she pulls away from the
curb in her car, she’ll do so without thinking, without looking
in her mirror, and a passing truck will hit her. The accident won’t
look too bad, but she didn’t buckle her seat belt because she was
so upset over you, and she will hit her head just hard enough to end her
The younger Erik thought for a moment and said, “Okay, all right.
If all this is true, I swear I won’t hesitate. I’ll tell her
I love her – because I do, right? I mean, I can’t give up
the work – I’m so close to a breakthrough, but you’d
know that, right? But I can stop her from leaving and getting killed.”
Erik shook his head. “That’s not good enough. Telling her
you love her isn’t what she wants to hear. And I’m afraid
I just don’t have time to argue with you. You know how it is –
if you want something done right, do it yourself.”
Seeing his own ice blue eyes pleading with him made him hesitate, despite
his mission. He’d known there would be deaths – murders –
once he started down this path, but he hadn’t taken the time to
imagine what toll it would take on him. He couldn’t get the image
of the man he had already killed – the one whose face had one green
eye and one gaping red hole – out of his mind. His younger self
turned, as if to try to leave the room, and Erik came to his senses, pulling
the trigger. The other man – the other Erik – slammed into
the wall, his blood spattering the white paint. There was a lot more blood
than he’d prepared himself for, and it took him a few moments to
take his eyes off the rivulets of red racing down the wall.
Through the sound of the thunder, another sound came – a knock at
the door. Erik quickly left the bedroom, closing the door behind him.
It wouldn’t do to have Alexandra see his handiwork – she’d
be more convinced than ever that he was obsessed with time travel.
With a trembling hand, he opened the door, and was at once rendered breathless
by the sight of her. She was very pretty, of course, with green eyes bursting
with energy and full, juicy lips. But her beauty alone wasn’t what
caught him off guard, his skin sweating. The idea of seeing her alive
again – even through the miracle of time travel – was almost
too much to bear.
She noticed his nervousness right away. “What’s wrong with
you?” she asked.
“I’m just glad to see you, is all,” he said.
She walked into the living room. “Well, that’s what I came
to talk to you about. I’m just not sure we can go on seeing each
His first impulse was to skip ahead in the conversation, profess his undying
love for her, beg her to stay with him, plead with her to not get in her
car in exactly eleven minutes and pull out from the curb. But he knew
he had to act out his role, had to play the part of Erik-of-two-days-ago
and then change his lines at the right moment.
“What do you mean?” he asked, realizing he wasn’t exactly
recreating the moment. The first time around, he’s said this while
staring intently at his laptop screen.
“It’s your work,” she said. “I know how important
it is to you – and I appreciate that you’re dedicated to a
cause you believe in. But I want you to be dedicated to me, too, to the
cause of us.”
The cause of us. He’d rolled his eyes when she said that the first
time. Now it sounded like poetry, and he realized that everything Alexandra
said sounded like poetry. He realized now how he’d always taken
her for granted and the lyrical quality of her voice had been just another
thing to ignore. After having experienced her death, he felt very lucky
to be able to hear that voice again.
“I am,” he said. “I mean, I will be.”
She blinked, obviously surprised. “You’d be willing to give
up your work?”
Despite himself, he hesitated. It wasn’t that he wasn’t prepared
to give up his work, but the irony that his work was the reason that he
was standing here talking to her, that it was the means of her resurrection
made him smile and he forgot for a moment what he should be saying.
His momentary hesitation had the same effect it did the first time around.
Tears started welling up in her eyes. “I see,” she said. “I
guess I already decided what to do before I came over, but I just had
to confirm what I meant to you before I did anything drastic.”
Crying now, she slipped the engagement ring off her finger and handed
it to him.
“Please, don’t do this,” he said as she turned to leave.
“I love you, I really do, and I’ll give up all my work. I’ll
get a job flipping burgers or something if it’ll make you happy.
Please, just don’t do this.”
She wiped at her face with her hand and half-turned towards him. She said,
“I’m sorry, Erik. You’ve said you’d change before
and you were a liar every time. You can’t stay away from your work.
Even when you try, they always call you when they have some kink they
can’t work out, and every time you’re right back in the thick
of things. You can’t help it, I know that, but I can’t help
the fact that I’ve got to start living my life. Goodbye.”
And with that, she was out the door. Erik glanced at the clock on the
otherwise bare wall with hope. The numbers on the clock’s holoscreen
– bright red, the same color as his own blood, which he imagined
must be soaking into his bedroom carpet – told him he’d at
least delayed her leaving by two minutes, which meant that she wouldn’t
die pulling out from the curb. He might have a chance to win her back,
now that she would live.
But a moment later, he heard the terrible sound of tires screeching, of
metal twisting, of glass breaking, and he knew that, despite the incredible
feat of adding two minutes to Alexandra’s life, he had failed after
Erik had long been convinced that emotions weren’t worth the damage
they could cause. Every example of a romantic relationship he had ever
seen had been an exercise in futility. His parents had been separated
more than together during their union, and they’d only finally divorced
after his father had a heart attack that he was convinced was brought
on by the stress of his marriage. His sister had found a nice enough husband
after a long line of abusive boyfriends, but then lost him soon after
the wedding when he fell off the forklift at the warehouse where he worked.
Erik’s maternal grandparents supposedly had a long and nurturing
marriage, but they were both dead before Erik was born, and he considered
their love story to be the family myth.
He met Alexandra after his first news conference where the world learned
about his time device. She was covering the story for the newspaper, and
unlike so many others she took his ideas seriously. She asked him to have
dinner with her so she could ask him some questions, and it didn’t
take long for him to begin falling for her. It wasn’t just that
she took his ideas seriously – she took him seriously, which was
something very few people had ever done. He soon came to the realization
that she was the half that could make him whole for the first time in
his life, and every alarm inside his carefully guarded heart went off.
He became two people, one trying desperately to shut down whatever faulty
mechanism that was allowing his emotions free reign over his intellect,
and the other trying to make him believe it was okay to feel what he was
The cold, emotions-fearing Erik won out over his other self, and it had
done more than just cost Erik love and companionship. It had cost Alexandra
Erik didn’t realize any of this until it was over, until Alexandra
was lying cold and lifeless as the mortician prepared her body for burial.
He had thought about waiting until after the funeral to begin his rescue
mission, but decided against that. If he didn’t see her lying in
her coffin, then she wasn’t really dead after all. Because if he
thought about her being dead, he couldn’t contain his emotions anymore,
and he knew he’d be worthless then. He had to convince himself that
she was still alive, that she was merely waiting back there, back then,
waiting on him to come and find her.
to PART TWO
2011 Cecil Adkins. All
inquiries to email@example.com
to my wife, Tiffany Adkins, and my friend Vox Anon, for their advice while
writing this story. Visit Vox
Anon's website only if you're prepared for awesome poetic verse and
Like this story? Hate it? Cecil would love to hear any comments you may
have. Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org