Today, the world ends.
Tuesday last, Reed grabs his best friend’s shoulders and says, “You’ve got to stop this.”
Luke looks at him and wonders why Reed is the only person in the world who hasn’t changed.
Three years ago, it starts with Luke covered in blood that is not his own and the life that should be his laying dead at his feet.
It starts in that split second, born of grief and rage and madness. It lights a fuse.
Luke looks up at the sky and screams wordlessly.
What he means is: I will fix this.
Six days ago, Luke the present looks at Luke the once was.
They say in unison, “This is bad.”
Sixty six years ago, Ray Bradbury writes a short story about stepping on butterflies.
Two hundred and sixty six weeks ago, Luke puts it down in favor of Jurassic Park.
One year ago, Reed is sitting on the washing machine when Luke skids inside. “I figured it out.”
Reed’s darks are going round and round and round in the wash and the cycle’s a special kind of hypnotic, product of fabric softener and the slow slosh of hot water. “Figured what out?” he asks.
“I can fix it,” Luke says.
“But there’s nothing wrong,” Reed says but the ghost of Olivia is bleeding in Luke’s eyes. “At least nothing we can fix.”
“Dude, that was two years ago. I hate to be the one to say it but it’s past. It’s over. Move on.”
“I can change it,” Luke says.
“I need your help,” Luke says.
Three hundred and sixty six days ago, Luke is at his breaking point. The equation is impossible. The physics don’t exist.
“Having trouble there, son?” a man asks.
He is not an impressive man. He is five-foot six with a gray suit, gray hair, and a bowler’s hat. “I don’t think you can do anything to help.”
“Don’t be so sure of that son,” the man says. “I’d be most pleased to offer my services.”
Luke meets his eyes. “What’s it going to cost me?”
“Lucas, my boy,” the man says, baring his teeth like a rabid dog, “it’s not going to cost you a damned thing.”
Two years ago, Luke sits in the viewing room of an executioner’s chamber and watches Samuel Charles Whitney put to death for the murder of Olivia Prescott. His face is hard and his heart is harder but he doesn’t look away as Whitney’s body twitches.
“It’s going to be all right.” Reed squeezes his shoulder. “It’s over.”
But it isn’t over. He doesn’t know how it could possibly be finished. Samuel Charles Whitney is dead, but so is Olivia Prescott. He didn’t know Whitney and he doesn’t feel any different.
Day before yesterday, Reed finds Luke at the top of the mountain watching the gaping hole of nothing that threatens to swallow existence itself. “You’ve got to put it back,” he says. “Don’t you see what you’re doing?”
“I can fix that,” Luke says.
On alternate Tuesdays, Reed has a pet tortoise, a guinea pig, and a brother.
“Luke,” he says. “Been a while.”
Three hundred and sixty four days ago, Reed stands in the unfinished basement of his best friend’s house. “I think you lost it.”
“It’s a time machine,” Luke says. “I’m going to fix it.”
“I know you’ve lost it.” Reed surveys the contraption. “Christ, Luke, even if it were possible, there’s no way you’re smart enough to pull it together. Not on your own.”
“I had help.”
“I don’t even want to know who.”
“Are you going to stand there and wisecrack or are you going to listen?”
“I’m thinking wisecrack.”
“Reed, I really need you right now. Are you with me or not?”
The humor floods out of the situation and Reed feels his back pop as he straightens out of his habitual slouch. “You know I am.”
Eighteen years ago a boy spits blood onto the grass and holds out his hand. “Those kids are assholes,” he says.
Luke grins up at John Reed and every single time, it’s the same, it’s the same, it’s the same.
Six months ago, Reed bumps into a gray-haired man in gray suit and a bowler’s hat.
“Excuse me,” he says.
Two weeks ago NASA notes an anomaly over the North Pole. They dismiss it as random noise caused by the aurora borealis.
Then it starts growing.
Ten years ago a guidance counselor writes the following recommendation for Lucas G. Russell: Lucas is an intelligent young man with a drive to achieve I have seldom witnessed. His dogged persistence and unwillingness to accept defeat will serve him well in future endeavors. I have no doubts that Lucas is destined for great things…
Ten days ago, NASA sends an exploratory team through the fissure growing over the North Pole. They lose contact ten seconds after entry. Attempts to reestablish contact fail.
Greenland is evacuated.
Last night, Reed stares through the fissure and sees the worlds through it: this world a hundred times over with a hundred different John Reeds and a hundred different Lucas Russells and a hundred different lives he has lived but shouldn’t have.
“I think you broke time,” Reed tells Luke. “I’m almost impressed.”
Half the world looks and sees Heaven opening up for them. The other half sees Hell. Reed doesn’t see that. Reed sees the failings of man and his best friend’s biggest mistake.
“I can fix this,” Lucas says and disappears.
“No you can’t,” Reed answers.
Today, a little man with gray hair, gray skin, and a gray suit watches the fear crescendo around him. A bit of fire seeps into the gray eyes.
“Kaboom,” says the Devil, and smiles.
Paige Gardner is a college junior who spends a good portion of her time scribbling stories in the margins of her chemistry notes. During the rare times she’s not in class, she enjoys reading, playing basketball, and zombie movies. She works weekends refereeing soccer but is planning to upgrade to a career as a forensic scientist after graduation.
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© 2015 Paige Gardner