by Naethan Pais
His eyes opened rather swiftly for a man his age. It was painful. The sudden overload of information flooding through, rendering his surroundings as smoked glass. His frail frame rose up, painfully, registering the environment. His heart was still beating, face was still sweating. Beside him lay the forbidding silhouette of a gun, smoking, with the faint smell of gunpowder emanating from it. He appeared to be on a vast rooftop. The man unable to recall any memory, stood motionless against the unfamiliar backdrop of buildings reaching for the sky. What am I doing? he asked himself.
Stumbling around, vaguely aware of anything, the poor soul managed to get on the streets of the bustling city.
My name? Am I Joseph, Tobey or Rick? Or God forbid, Jim. Rummaging his pocket, he found a well-worn wallet.
Couple of coins. Not enough for a meal. Following the address, the man found himself in a remote area, far from the city. It was an intense quite. Smoke and morning mist hung around as he waded through and arrived at a ramshackle old place. With his joints screaming for relief, he steadily scaled the winding stair-case and eventually arrived at a meticulously arranged office. The classic, musty smell of books was predominant. Paint-speckled old chairs, a table with its three legs splayed out under the weight of books and a tidy bed with unironed sheets gave the room a minimalistic feel. Not really my style, he thought. The space had the vibe of a man down on his luck, trying to pull his life together, and still be among the elite of society. A man who still wanted to live, but couldn’t. While the old timer might have forgotten himself, his brain hadn’t. His instincts took over as his well- trained eyes skipped the obvious, and saw the underlying, morbid details. The cold, impersonal touch, the lack of family photos and hundreds of little implications scattered throughout. Oh God! He saw a police badge, with a gold rim and faded blue design. A little blood splatter corrupted the otherwise beautifully sculpted piece. Blood splatter. Looking around, he saw several notes and books filled with orderly writing, no space left untouched by incomprehensible equations.
The only evidence alluding to the modern age was a laptop with a dim screen. Several videos playing simultaneously, contributed to the growing sense of dread. Because, from everything in the room, the old man concluded… he was a murderer. For a second, the man thought of turning himself in. He didn’t remember any crimes he had committed. After hours of research, the man found out, he was the most wanted man on the planet. The computer held detailed records of every single one of the three thousand murders.
After surfing through, he came to two folders. Original Timeline and Altered Timeline. Reasonably confused, he opened them. And stared. No…no, this shouldn’t be possible…I can’t kill…please…no. Time waits for no one. Until now. The man saw it firsthand. Billions have been saved. Countless crises have been averted. Because we have found a way to move through time. The ones above us, the ones who rule us have been altering history to save billions. He was stunned. All of his supposed three thousand victims were still alive. A single, bittersweet tear cascades down, a symbol of the renewed hope in him. This is a chance to restart his life, save everyone. Wait…how are they alive? He drags the little, arrow of pixels and clicks on the Altered Timeline folder. His weak eyes skim over and he leans back into the rickety chair. This was exactly what he feared. The rulers altered the timeline by arresting him before he killed anyone. He had been in jail for a miserable twenty years. Twenty years. He sighed, a long drawling one. Then, how could I be on the rooftop? The gun. There’s still gunpowder residue. Did I kill someone? The man had been incredibly prolific in his gruesome career. He had been trained to think, to get out of any situation, to improvise and live. The old body suddenly jerked to life, full of raw emotion. He stared for one, two seconds slowly analyzing the idea. With a relishing smile, he pounced upon the machine and worked like a maniac.
Three days later, the nameless man was ready. Even with no memory of his life, he knew that right now, his heart was beating faster than ever before. He raised his sweaty palms and rotated a rough, handmade dial to the number twenty. With a bony finger he pressed the button that would change his life. The button lit up and the man was gone.
He had gone back twenty years in time. Before he killed and sinned. Before his life went to hell. When he still had control. The man landed on the hard, grainy asphalt. Nothing significant had changed. His knees creaked under the weight of his own body. He straightened up and came face to face with a young lad. The boy had the air of ambition around him, bright, full of life. His face had the emotion of fear, surprise and a hint of curiosity. Unlike the old man. But… this was the old man, twenty years younger… The boy, unbeknownst to him, was staring into the face of the man and monster he would become.
He was wearing a badge with a name on it. The old man eagerly read it. The boy’s name was beautiful, poetic. Finally, the man had a name to call himself…
Jules Henderson. Their name is Jules Henderson.
The coffee had just hit the critical spot, where it was beginning to cool down and was still warm enough to drink. It brought out the bitterness, nearly offending the tongue, and giving a distinct sweetness that could be felt along the throat. Jules loved it. The older one did. The younger Jules ordered a chocolate shake, hammering home the vast growth between the two generations. The café provided a warm, familiar environment which was immensely helpful for the young boy to prevent a mental breakdown. Jules thought that this was a relatively simple task. Prevent the younger version of himself from going down the path of a deranged slaughterer. Simple. Now what? Do I come across as a fun guy…or…Talking to himself was way more complicated than Jules expected. Is this conversation going to make him a murderer?
“This is really unexpected” the boy softly began. “Time travel is real? Did I invent it? Please, tell me I did. Do I become a scientis-?”
“Yeah, sure! You…You’re really…famous!” Jules felt his eyes avert.
Jules spent the rest of the day listening to the brat narcissistically talk about every single one of his supposed achievements, while he sat nervously fiddling with his fingers.
“We have got to give you a nickname. It’s getting ridiculously confusing. Something like …” said Jules, trying to get on friendlier terms. Nicknames always lighten the mood. Right?
“Julius” said the boy “Julius is fine. Pa loved the name. Mama didn’t. So…”
Great, Jules thought, murder runs in the family. After re-christening the boy, Jules proceeded to interrogate Julius.
He always had been the genius. God-gifted. Ambitious. Too ambitious. He had problems in school, no friends- a typical intellectual outcast, misunderstood by the world. Traits of a future psychopath. Jules was utterly shattered. The future is already set in stone. Swallowing hard, his ears were oblivious to the innocent chatter of Julius. I should tell him. I shoul-
“… What?” the name instilled an unexplainable cold fear in Jules. Something clicked. “Pardon, who is that?”
“Epostimi Sue. Smartest woman in the world, in her opinion. Kind of repulsive, but she gets the work done. Barely put up with her. They’re all the same, these so-called geniuses. Always so…”
Epostimi Sue…Jules remembered her. Yes! Yes, she was on the videos on the computer… Oh no!
“Julius, what exactly is your relationship with her. This… Epostimi.” Jules tentatively asked.
“She was my high-school teacher.”
“No, what is she now…tell me everything, Julius. I am you…do you trust yourself?”
“She… is my partner. We are working on a… theory for time travel. Imagine the billions we could save…imagine…” Julius droned on for an eternity. Jules, however, was thinking. He must tread carefully. Something wasn’t right. His instincts pointed to this woman. Epostimi Sue.
Jules had been living with Julius for a month now. Throughout this period, he had been functioning more as a machine that a man. The remaining time was spent in constant surveillance of Julius. He had to be there when the boy snapped. Jules had to stop himself from killing. Julius seemed fairly normal for a hyper-intelligent young man. He carried on with his work and mostly kept his head down, waiting for a major breakthrough. Jules, meanwhile, had gained valuable insight into how everything pieced together. In the present day, Epostimi Sue had become famous as the person who invented a method to journey through time. Where am I? Jules wondered, I should be the one who discovered time-travel. All that the brilliant, well-aged mind could think of, were two options, both of which Jules was in complete denial of.
He had met Epostimi Sue and she seemed to be a nice woman. Plain, simple and no defining characteristic other than her outrageous name. She definitely did not resemble the type of woman to betray a close confidant. Julius got along fairly well with her at school and they both were similarly obsessed with the idea of time-travel. But, Jules knew that he had to expect the unexpected. So, continuing to be vigilant he kept a close watch on both of them. Until he found Epostimi, fervently searching the notebooks of Julius.
Time to come clean, thought Jules. He was desperately coaxing himself. This was the day that Jules would tell Julius everything.
The coffee tasted more bitter than usual. It had lost all of its earthy flavor and descended to a cold liquid. After three hours of stammering his way through the truth, Jules sat in agony as he watched the painful reaction of Julius. Jules could very well relate to the confusion of finding out you are a killer. Julius finally raised his eyes and stared deep into the ones of his older counterpart.
“Just answer, no running away. Epostimi really stole my work? Don’t try to weave your way out of this. Answer” Julius seemed more annoyed than confused. Jules took a moment to recover and answer. This is very bad…
“Yes.” No use trying to hide the truth. But why was he more concerned about Epostimi, than the fact that he would have three thousand victims? Jules just couldn’t comprehend the human mind. He suddenly became aware that he was talking to himself. “In the future, billions have been saved because the government altered history. Epostimi did it. Not you… I’m sorry, I tried to be better.” Jules realized he had been hanging his head. He saw the dead eyes of his younger self as he stormed out of the quaint, peaceful café. The coffee was undrinkable.
Julius loved the color blue. It symbolized peace, calm and tranquility. Right now, it was anything but that. His mind currently resembled his room more than ever. An unorganized, chaotic dump. He stared at the ceiling until it had lost any meaning and was a whirlwind of color. His life was over. No hope, nothing. He felt a jab of pain run up his leg. Glass pieces. Blood all over the floor. A broken picture frame was under his foot and the newly printed photo greedily absorbed his blood. It was a great photo of his high school days. Life had infinite possibilities until your dream becomes your nightmare. At the corner of the lovely, picturesque photo stood a plain, simple girl with no defining characteristics…
Jules considered it against his moral ethics to leave a depressed young man alone. However he had a horrible dread that he would drastically change the timeline if he interfered too much. That was until; he came home and saw that Julius was missing. The genius level mind finally understood. Today was the big day. Today was when everything was going to change.
Epostimi was terrified. She had locked the door in every conceivable way and hid in the furthest corner of here cramped room. The door threatened to break under the continuous hammering. Julius was going to kill her. She was sure of it. Julius was furious. He had grabbed the sharpest object in the room and was slowly chipping away at the wooden door, relishing the picture of the woman behind the door. He patiently worked his way through. The door would eventually open.
Meanwhile, Jules ran to Epostimi’s house, slipping and sliding all the way as the first drops of rain hit the road. The cold and heavy body of the gun in his hands comforted him, reassured him. He was going to stop himself from murdering. Even if he was going to kill Julius to do it. His life would mean something.
Julius was halfway through turning the door to scraps. A policeman with his bright, radiant badge came around the corner, a brave beacon of hope. Seeing Julius, the guardian ran over. Julius went borderline insane at this point. He heard the menacing cry of justice and stopped. His eyes were dead. No light. He seemed to blend in with the gloomy mist that hung around the city. His knife caught the solitary ray of sunlight as he lifted it, and rammed it into the innocent man.
“I never killed anyone… Epostimi! EPOSTIMI!” the paranoid voice of Julius cried out, cruelly ironic as the silver blade pierced the policeman and snuffed out all hope. Jules arrived at the scene, breathless, heaped on adrenaline, ignoring the pain of his rusty joints. He took aim, right at Julius’s head. So, this is how it ends he thought. Julius dies and Jules would cease to exist. It would be a wonderful redemption. His finger slid into place. Forgive me…he dragged the trigger. And stopped. On that day, Jules went on the path of a killer and Jules let him live.
Jules finally understood the human mind. He would truly find forgiveness when he placed the needs of others first. Everything fit into place. On that day, Jules let the young boy live and murder. He finally understood… the time machine was built to save Jules. Jules watched as Julius began his murder spree. He watched silently, as Epostimi, determined to save Jules built the time machine. Jules placed the needs of others in front of his own. By sacrificing his good life, he would let the time machine be built and billions more would be saved. He realized that if his own life did not go to the farthest depths of hell, Epostimi would not build the time machine. This was the painful truth. Using the time machine, Jules watched with bittersweet pleasure as the government from the present day prevented the deaths of three thousand by arresting Julius and finally fulfilling the timeline.
The one upside to all of this was that Jules got to relive his life. Each day was torture, as he contemplated the idea of visiting himself, rotting in jail. He surprisingly enjoyed the anonymous life he was living. Messing with time had given him a new chance. Each year passed by, silently, as twenty years lapsed.
Jules was rudely roused from his deep sleep, by an endless orchestra of beeping noises. Julius had escaped jail. Realization woke Jules up unlike anything ever before. Grabbing a gun, he sluggishly made his way up to the terrace of his flat. Everything was coming together. After twenty years, everything made sense. He jumped from rooftop to rooftop, following the sprinting figure of Julius. With a superb aim and using every last bit of his dwindling supply of willpower, Jules pressed the trigger. The gun recoiled with astonishing force as the bullet raced by. A soft sound was heard as the lifeless body of Julius hit the muddy ground.
Jules stood on the rooftop, surrounded by buildings reaching for the sky. He stood there, as his body tried to push out last night’s lavish dinner. The sight of Julius-himself, sprawled on the ground while a red mess spilled out around him was the last thing he remembered. It was truly a wonderful redemption. The buzzing sound in his ear grew louder and the world toppled over.
The buzzing hadn’t stopped. He could smell the sour odor of vomit as his eyes opened rather swiftly for a man his age. It was painful. The sudden overload of information flooding through…
About the Author:
Naethan Pais is a 14 year old author and artist, whose head is figuratively in the clouds. He aims to subvert tropes present in all genres and spends the rest of his time pulling his hair out, frustrated at the fact that everything has been done before. Naethan made his debut in the Adelaide Literary Magazine and hopes to surpass Shakespeare in the future. Not joking.