I sit under a tree. The park is deserted, save for a mute passerby or a focused cyclist. The ground feels hard but never have I felt this great a sense of tranquility.
It seems impossible now to find refuge from the perpetual claws of civilization, and yet here I sit, under my tree.
Gravity itself seems to pull me into an embrace, expecting me to join it at the Earth’s molten core. Only the compact soil under me prevents its desire. Still, its tug on my body deepens my state of relaxation.
As I rest my head against the tree bark, a beetle scuttles away before leaping and buzzing noisily to a branch above. Perhaps inspired by a distant bird’s song, it joins in the ballad and I close my eyes to enjoy their improvised masterpiece.
To the east, a confused cricket also seems to contribute a beat, joining in nature’s song. To the south, a wind laughs as it’s tickled by the youthful maple leaves. I can’t help but smile as well. Far to the north, a chick calls for its mother, while farther still, thunder grumbles amidst white clouds. The West brings sounds of distant lawnmowers and drills, disturbing my peace, and so I open my eyes.
Readjusting and inspecting my hands, which have been pressed against the blades of grass, reveal lines and symbols written in long-forgotten languages – nature’s hieroglyphs.
A squirrel dances up in the branches. Perhaps celebrating the bird’s and beetle’s performance, or perhaps searching for a place to store it’s loot for the distant winter. As it hurries by, its small legs set loose a few leaves that flutter down; supervised by a piece of bark. I pick up this canvas amidst the leaves and examine its long crooked bands – left over paint from a careful brush – resembling mountains of earth like the Himalayas, Kilimanjaro or Fuji. Possibly places the artist had previously visited.
It takes me only a while longer to realize my headache has dissipated.
I slowly stand up, putting a yellow plastic hat firmly on my head and nod: “We’ll build it here.”
The evening sun had all but abandoned the sky when my cab pulled in to the airport terminal. Grabbing my briefcase and cane, I wrapped my coat tighter around me as I got out of the cab – shuddering at the fall weather. If there was anything I despised more than the cold, it was being late. Hobbling as fast as my bum leg would let me, I passed the check-in kiosk, the luggage acceptance desk (I usually just traveled with my briefcase) and quickly passing customs, I arrived at my gate. N5.
But there must have been a misprint, for the area was deserted. A plane was docked, but no passengers were waiting to be boarded. I double checked my boarding time: 9:15. I was not late.
I had been given only a second to think before a group of men dressed in black armor with riot shields and helmets descended upon me from nowhere. My instinct was to run, but I was surrounded. I felt my heart do a somersault and drown in my chest, felt my stomach turn to stone and weigh down on my legs – whose bones had disintegrated and would have sent me falling if it wasn’t for my cane. I was terrified.
“Do you identify yourself as Anton Pierro?” A guard hollered hoarsely a few feet behind me.
I stared ahead, dumbfounded. What were they after? What did I do? My research sprung to mind, but I dismissed the idea quickly, gripping my suitcase tighter none-the-less.
“ARE YOU ANTON PIERRO?!” He repeated.
I nodded, desperately trying to remember how to swallow.
“It’s him! Grab the suitcase!”
It was mere seconds before it was out of my hands.
But that had been the wrong move to make – the suitcase, although small, retained all the information I had gathered over the last ten years in my research. No one was going to just snatch it from me.
“What the hell is going on?” I said turning, my voice gathering strength as I recovered from my shock. “How the hell do you have the right to steal my briefcase? Give it back!”
The guards unhinged the circle that had surrounded me – a thick fence of ebony grinding open. A man who looked like a general came through, not breaking eye contact with me.
“Anton Pierro. We have questions for you.”
I had always imagined that white interrogation rooms were nothing more than meaningless tropes used by movie directors in films. I found comfort in imagining that perhaps sometime in the past hour I had mistakenly stumbled into an alternate dimension where I was in a film, wanted at large by all branches of government. It was the only plausible hypothesis that would explain my current predicament.
There was nothing else in the room apart from the table, two chairs (one of which I was occupying) and a one-way mirror. I examined myself in it, to pass the time.
Traces of my age were clearly visible under the buzzing florescent light: blemishes on my elongating skin, my clouded eyes and my receding silver hair. I certainly wasn’t getting any younger.
“Anton Pierro.” Read out the general from a file, sitting down across from me. I had not noticed him come in. I realized he was most likely not a general, as he was the one sent to question me. “What can you tell me about where you were headed?”
I passed my fingers through my hair, pressing my palm against my neck.
“I work out of Harvard, in… theoretical physics. My research – which is in the briefcase your men took, if I may add – has concentrated on the theory of relativity, and more recently …wormholes.”
He nodded, writing notes on his form. “Wormholes.” He repeated. “Why were you headed to Singapore?”
“To present my findings of wormhole anomalies to a board of scientists. My findings, which are in my briefca-“
“Sir, your briefcase will be returned to you once we’ve run the proper tests.” He said bluntly, a tone of irritation hissing from his teeth.
“Tests?” I looked at him terrified. “I am going to be late for my flight. This conference could make my career!”
“Sir, does the name ‘The Crimson Masks’ mean anything to you?” He asked me quickly, ignoring my pleas.
I looked at him confused. “No… I am actually more of a classical music fan, myself.”
“They’re a terrorist organization operating outside China, sir. Not a band.”
“Terrorism?!” I had finally understood the source behind the attitude of this police department. The accusations were still ridiculous. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“Answer the damn question,” My interrogator shot, his jaw tense.
“No! God, no. Look at me – I am an old man, I have no criminal record of any kind. I hadn’t even heard of Chinese terrorists before, let alone ‘The Crimson Masks’.” I sat back, relieved. This was all going to blow over soon, and I’d be on the next plane to Singapore.
“Yes, about that. I did want to confirm something… There is an incident not well outlined in our files. The 1989 case?”
I was confused. If they were bringing up 1989, they were really desperate to latch on to anything.
“I was 10.”
“You were in the car with your father when he ran over a gentlema-“
“I was also 10.” I repeated, raising my voice. My leg had begun to ache.
“Ran over a gentleman while driving the I-20.” He read out, glancing up at me every so often.
“I had nothing to do with that event. I wasn’t even awake. My father was coming around a bend on a forested highway in the mountains. And he was just there. In the middle of nowhere. My dad tried to swerve away, to not hit him… But the man died all the same.”
“From the vehicle report…” He flipped a few pages. “seems that you tumbled.”
I nodded, absentmindedly massaging my leg.
“Is that where… “I followed his gaze to my cane. “Pardon.” He apologized, looking up at me again.
“Wasn’t wearing my seat-belt.” I grinned. “Much more careful now, aren’t we.”
I studied his face, a little annoyed at still being detained. “Look, I can hardly run. This thing has slowed me down my whole life” I said, gesturing to the cane. “What the hell made you think I was a terrorist?”
“I am not at liberty to say, but I do apologize for the misunderstanding. We’ll transfer your ticket to the next flight,” he said, walking to the door, where a man in a suit was holding out with my briefcase. “And we thank you for your cooperation.” he smiled.
I was reunited with my things, and sent to wait for the next plane.
As I was exiting the police office at the airport, a man shoved past me.
I regained my balance and glared at him as he walked away. He must have been in his late 70s, but he moved like he was in his 20s.
I was about to turn away when I stopped dead. I was no longer holding my briefcase. Another look at him and in an instant I realized that he had stolen it. People rushed over to my aid, but I ignored them and went after him, heavily pushing into my cane, wincing at the pain of my leg. Aside from a few collapses, I managed to keep up with him as he jogged to the parking lot.
The following happened in an instant. A coach bus had been speeding out of a parking level above, eager to depart with their tourists. There was a dull thud, as the plastic front of the tour bus cracked, and another as the theif I was persuing fell – my briefcase flying out of his hands and sliding a mere few feet from me. I ran towards him, abandoning my cane with the case. I flipped him onto his back to study his bloody face and recoiled instantly.
His face was identical to mine. Older, certainly, but mine none-the-less.
“What kind of joke is this.” I mumbled at him.
“No joke” he stammered. Even his voice was identical to mine. I had only imagined that I was in a parallel dimension when I was in the interrogation chambers to keep myself preoccupied. But here was my double. Was I about to witness his death?
“No joke” He repeated, smiling. “I am you.”
I couldn’t accept the visible evidence. “Then tell me something only I would know.”
“You believe that there is no right answer to that question.”
I nodded respectively. There were theoretically many universes – if you were to meet your alternate counterpart, the possibility of both of you sharing similar knowledge would be slim.
I looked down at him, mopping the blood coming out of his mouth with a handkerchief. “Then how is this possible? Where are you from? Which dimension?”
“Not a dimension. A future.” He coughed sideways suddenly; blood spattering on the floor. “I was sent back to meet you.”
Still, I wasn’t sure if I believed him, but my curiosity had already taken over. “How far into the future? You must be at least 40 years older than I am now… is it 2050, 2060?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know; it doesn’t work that way anymore.” He grabbed onto my sleeve as his body shook. He wasn’t going to be with me much longer. His eyes met mine and he held his gaze long enough for me to see the pain. “I have come from the enslavement of the human race. I am a prisoner who has been forced to collaborate with my captors – to do their bidding and manipulate the future in their favour.”
“Time travel?” I gasped, sounding hopeful. Not fully grasping what he was saying. “Are they using the wormholes I have researched?”
He smiled. “No, that’s caveman bullshit compared to what they’ve got.”
His hands began to glow. He put one to my cheek and closed his eyes.
“I remember when it was me in your shoes; meeting myself – allegedly from the future… at this exact spot… wondering why my future-self would steal his own suitcase … only to kill himself moments later.”
I looked at him, bloody and contorted in the crash. An involuntary tear rolled down my face. It wasn’t natural to see yourself at Death’s door.
“I’m supposed to send you to them…” he whispered quietly.
I froze. “What?”
He grimaced, squeezing his eyes shut.“My final mission. I have been ordered to send you to the future… To complete the paradox, so that they can further exploit you … so that you turn into me… so that you too, can die… spending your last moments with your past-self… overlooking your own mangled body…”
“Why?” I asked desperately. “What is there to gain from sending me back? Are we fuel? Are we free labor? Test subjects?!”
“I don’t know.” He said loudly, and I knew that I was irritating him. “The point is, dear Anton… I am not sending you to them.” He opened his eyes. A fire was gleaming inside them and a faint smile was solidifying on his wrinkled face. “It is time to rebel. Perhaps I can change the future. I am going to send you into the past, away from them. Away from their plans. Perhaps I can break this circular paradox. Perhaps I have hope… that I can give you a better life.”
His whole body began to glow with the same light as his hands, one of which was still touching my cheek. It was until that moment that I had forgotten about the outside world. He placed his other hand on the other side of my face, and I could feel a faint warmth from beneath them.
“Wait! I need my passport! And..and my research!” I stammered. “At the very least, my cane!”
But it was useless – I was paralyzed as I felt the warm light travel through his hands into my cheeks and through my entire body.
He opened his eyes, just as I began to feel a pulling sensation behind me. A light danced at the edges of my vision.
“…You have a cane?” he asked, looking surprised.
“Yes, why?” I looked at him as he closed his eyes and began to smile. “Don’t you?”
But I was no longer there.
I was kneeling on a mountainous road, in the same position I had left my future-self. It was morning, but already very dry. I took off my coat immediately in the heat, but felt too numb to move otherwise. Perhaps a side effect of time travel. The road I was on was constructed into the cliff, so that behind me, the mountain continued upward, while in front, I was treated to a beautiful vista of forest cedars, with the sun rising just above them.
The last thing I remember was blinking at the sunlight on that forested highway road, a car horn blowing just before the unmistakable screech of tires, and a child’s piercing scream.
Often times, it’s only
Late at night
That I am
My strongest self.
I can do anything
In those last two minutes
Before the clocks reset.
Before I rip the calendar page.
Before I fall asleep.
All the delicacies,
The mindless games,
The harmful pastimes,
In which I regularly
Indulge, are pushed away
Is replaced with determination.
These assignments are a triviality.
Is replaced with an urgency to work.
I can finish these in an hour.
Is replaced with hope,
The undeniable truth,
That tomorrow I’ll finally complete it all.
When I wake up,
I’ll be reborn.
When I wake up,
I’ll be a new man.
When I wake up,
I’ll be unstoppable.
They say a shark swims to survive,
Bees gather pollen for numerous hives,
Baby can’t wait ‘till her mother arrives.
She grows up, but she still shakes hands with knives.
Rivers tumble logs downstream,
Chemicals polish them up to a gleam,
Conveyors whisk them off to places unseen,
Flames and saws – death in the machine!
Oceans of tears roll down her cheek,
Blankets of plastic so she’d fit in with the clique,
No longer will she be known as a geek.
Under the knife, they make her a freak.
Lessons are taught, especially for the old,
She started to melt, as the doctors foretold.
Tomorrow, she’s scheduled for a remold,
But by the end of the night, her pulse is stone cold.
Candles, a priest and a hole in the ground,
They placed back the dirt and in the soil she drowned,
Her skin didn’t rot – to her it’s still bound.
Perfectly preserved, archeologists found!
Grazes aren’t something people are willing to fix.
Cut hands can be stitched together,
but there’s not much you can do with a graze.
Just hope it gets better. Put ice on it.
Watch the skin turn red and then bruise.
No one will rush to help you because it’s not a concern.
A bit of internal bleeding never hurt anyone. Call us when you’re bleeding out.
That’s when we will treat you.
Past the stroke of midnight,
I hear her calling desperately.
I avoid my needy mistress,
In her hour of most need.
I play hard to get,
And refrain from coming into bed.
She can tire my body,
And spill blood into my eyes.
But I’ll endure her torture,
Until the moonlight dies.