A Momentary Thing by dblauvelt
Summary: The Gods have left, the Earth is slowly dying; dreams are fading, sleeping as we grieve their loss. The Universe has turned its last, and as cohesion is lost, a great power finds itself free, lording over the wreckage of the last Great War.
Rating: All Ages
Categories: Other Era
Chapter 1: Chapter 1
Chapter 2: When you see History coming, Duck...
Chapter 3: Sci-fi characters never stay dead
Chapter 4: Retribution
Chapter 5: Hobbies...
Chapter 6: Palimpset
Chapter 1: Chapter 1Stretch out your hand before you and with your eyes take in the world, every building, every brick, every flower, every cloud. Each has a potential future, an infinity of possible outcomes. Close your fingers into a fist and pull it tight until your fingers dig deep into your palm. Bring your fist to your chest, the palm facing upward, angled up to the sky.
Now, open your hand, let go. Feel the subtle shiver as reality slips across your skin and settles back into place.
If you can feel the shift, you’re nearly there.
Reach out and close your fist again, bending the air to your will. Imagine what you want to happen, how you want to change the world. How you want to choose one future out of the many that surround you. Hold tight. Only this time don’t let go. Clench your fingers about the nothing in your palm and lower your fist to the ground.
Make a wish and let go.
If you are one of the few, you can see the air shimmer and twist in a quivering haze of intangible smoke above where you have planted your seed, your wish. If you are one of the cursed, like me.
In the city, where granite walls have stood for centuries, their sickly skin sullen and quiet, lacquered in grime and soot, here the seeds are everywhere. Columns of smoke issue upwards from every street corner and billow out from the ancient churches and cathedrals. Even the graveyards are not still, their tombs and crypts nestled within trimmed grasses are plagued by disquieting tendrils that snake upwards into the sky, their seeds sown by the grieving or perhaps even the dead themselves. In the centre of the city the wishes are thickest, a chaotic tangle of shimmering vines that twist and heave like the root system of some heinous tree huddled in the dark and grey sky, the blackness obscuring the twilight and waning moon. A million wishes birthed over thousands of years, each wish bending the future to their own wants, their own needs. And sometimes, just sometimes, they come true.
I’ve stood many nights upon the Watchtower, a crumbling mausoleum by the river’s edge, and watched these ever-shifting pillars waft upwards into the eternity of the night’s hidden stars and restless stormy clouds. I’ve found many Watchtowers scattered across the land, sometimes they are windmills, other castles, others abandoned takeaway shops… their faces are many but they are easy to find. A simple touch to the cold stone tells you that they are eternal, have been here since the world was young and will be here still ever after. I’ve heard some say that they are anchored to the world’s core, never moving, never shifting, only changing appearance so as not to be noticed. I do not believe this to be true, for I cannot imagine them lying with in the abysses of the sea floor or buried beneath the glacial ice. I like to think that they move and shift and watch us in our folly. After all, is that not what they were built for? Alas, no one I have found truly knows where they came from or why. I like to think that I keep them company in their silent vigil. If only for a time. I shall pass on, as do we all, but they remain behind, alone.
Sometimes I see them inside people, the seeds glowing in their hearts, the steam trails wafting behind them as they walk through the crowds. Sometimes the seeds have been placed within them by others, by parents, by lovers, wishing them to be something else, to be something more. Sometimes people place them inside themselves; I avoid these people, as their chests blaze an unbearable light of the wish trapped inside, trying to burn their way out. Sometimes, I saw them on television, their inner light casting shadows upon those around them, pulling the trails of others out of joint, mischievously tangling them up and snuffing them out.
I was five when I first made my first wish, first placed a seed under my Snoopy pillow, wrapped round my front tooth. In the orange red ember of my Spiderman Nite-lite, I remember staring at my simmering pillowcase, my breath still, watching in awe as the snaking plume drifted up to the ceiling and beyond. It was then that I could see them everywhere, these golden seeds and their smoky tails that clouded the pews in the churches and steamed in the gutters of the streets around the school. Some were thin and wispy like the ones Mum kept in her linen closet, their little gray plumes sputtered each time she opened up the wooden door and let out an inaudible sigh. Others appeared blackened and dark, ones like those I found tucked away in the woods or sprawled across street corners amid bits of shattered glass and cracked plastic.
I learnt swiftly not to speak of the wishes, not to point them out whenever they blossomed and bloomed or faded and died, but I could not stop seeing them, no matter how I tried. I thought I might go insane for watching them, but soon I was able to tune them out, just like everything else, and only watch them when I wanted, when I cared. I did stop wishing though; that decision was conscious, deliberate. I’d seen so many others writhe and die, leaving nothing but blackened smoke and seen so many other wretched ones tangle with simpler, better wishes so that neither flourished.
I did not want my wishes to become tainted. There’s enough pollution in this world. One doesn’t need to have special sight to see that. A simple glance at the sky would have told anyone that. But no one was looking any more. The sky just grew thicker, darker, less blue and more dusky. Even I stopped looking, for the oppressive mass of the millions of wishes converging had given me more headaches than I could care to count.
I’m no better than anyone else. I’m not sure how long the sky had been that way. The change was so dramatic, I never even noticed. I had spent a long day at school, sorting through revisions and lingering in the darkroom, staring at the slim yellow trays of developing fluid, watching the black and white images soak into focus. I never looked up. I’m not sure how long it had been since my world had changed. I just remember stopping by the corner curry stand, holding a bag filled with spicy chicken rogan josh and a soggy Peshwari naan, its coconut muppet-flesh sweaty with steam. It was only as I was wiping off a dribble of red sauce from my chin that I looked up: and saw the stars.
The mangled roots of the wish trails were gone. There was not a seed to be found anywhere, in anyone. Not rotten or faded, neither singed nor forgotten. The minarets atop the mosque were touched only by the shadow of a stray cumulus humilis and beyond that there was nothing but the moon, its crisp edges bare and glaring.
The wishes were gone.
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Chapter 2: When you see History coming, Duck...I never knew the day they left us to die.
There must not have been one moment, one single, gasping instant when the final Watchtower fell, but it made the news. The death I mean. Bleached and barren, the shivering images of the vast underwater fields of bone made CNN, BBC, CBC, all the click-and-know feeds: Coral Reefs Dead and Gone Forever
I think it was the first day that the rest of the world knew that we were in deep trouble. It was already far, far too late.
I remember the day my Watchtower died. It was forty years after I noticed that the dreams had left us, for although the entire universe was lost, it takes time for it to die completely. I had withered since, bearing gray shoots and wrinkles, quick darts that etched across my skin; my spine had began to crack and sag in strange and aching ways long ago. I went to visit the Tower, the last that I could find in the land: it was a crumbling castle resting above the banks of the River Aber, cosseted by the eternal winds that inflates the lungs of Wales. The tower walls, slick with slate, a gossamer skin that lay beneath the coating of grit and sand, shimmered in the morning sun, should it ever be graced by such a rare, golden touch. I had brought an offering of a box of wine and assorted cheeses. As always, even near death, the castle had no use of such trifles, so I tucked in, huddled beneath a thick woollen blanket that I wrapped beneath my knees and clutched about my shoulders.
It was then that I felt the solid wall behind me sigh. It was so much like a breath, the gentle shudder that passed against my back, that I started for a moment. Extending a hand damp from rain and grasping a sliver of limp Edam, my fingers touched the familiar platy rock… and felt the grains shift and slough beneath my skin.
I had enough sense to run.
Standing at a distance, I watched the darken slabs of the jagged and contemplative ruins slide into the earth. My eyes stung from the dust and the resounding echo tugged trembling tears from my eyes. I blinked, eventually, setting the drops free, to slide down my cheeks, edging a salty path to my lips
The box of wine was still clutched under my my arm, the pounding of my heart drumming against its laminated skin, but my glass was lost. I still drank, but it got messy. I’m not so great with spouts and taps. It couldn’t have looked pretty. I wasn’t proud, but I sure as hell wasn’t sober.
That was when I truly knew: the gods had left. The great battle that all legends, every legend, either in the future or the past, ever spoke of had finally been lost. The losers, and the winners... they had all left us on our own. We were the sinking ship, the broken horse, the poisoned sea… the goldfish choking stale bubbles as it floats in its small, cloudy bowl in the warm sun, left carelessly behind by a child that has long since moved on to other toys.
That was the day I began to grieve.
But it wasn’t until I heard that the reefs had died, that their decrepit skeletons clawed at the dark ocean waves, haunted talons that clawed at the depths as if for a lost lover, that I got angry.
That was the day that I learnt who I really was.
For as the final Watchtower fell into the earth, so did the knowledge of my creation fill my mind. I knew who I had to thank for my life and who was responsible for the death of my world.
And I was going to make him pay for it.
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Chapter 3: Sci-fi characters never stay deadWith the slick grace of a lacquered brush, I paint him, sealing the fate of he who chained me. Amber coated, his skin melts into the air before me, as with each stroke, I define him further, deeper. Like a dying tree, the bark that once bonded and coddled my form throughout time is peeling away in great, curling sheets, torn and cast upon the winds. I can see now how I’ve been shaped, shunted and formed, directed in agony, as one might tie a vine or trim a shrub. At each turn, each impossible knot, before each sap-filled wound, he is there. I can see him. Here a breath, there a voice, there the touch of a hand. Each form is impossibly different, yet the essence remains the same.
From each touch across a thousand centuries, I call him to me. Against his will, I bring him.
I can do this now; the barriers are falling apart, thunderous and calamitous. The ships that sailed from our worlds left behind nothing to shore their moorings. In their haste, in their flight, they left gaping holes, voids that reality rushed in to fill, sloshing and pouring with crashing waves that widened the six dimensional tears. Here, by the husk of a ruined Tower, I can mould the shifting currents, force them into shape.
His face is complete now, contorted in a grimace that somehow I feel I know intimately. Yet even as I look at him, even as the rest of his form remains incomplete, his visage shifts and burrs; I am creating a composite from a hundred different faces, over an un-estimate able number of encounters with me that span every possible emotion, every possible situation. To be reborn into such a form must be tantamount to a living hell.
But he does not live. I know that now too.
It was his death that lost the war, for all sides, that caused the last of the vessels to pass into the horizon. It was his fall that left our universe to its fate of eternal cold, eternal stillness.
The dead do not like to return to our planes, and while this is not his ghost, this figure before me that swirls into being before me, it is all that remains of him, the traces and touches he made upon my skin while he still lived. In anyway that matters, he is responsible for my birth, and also for my death: he is my father.
Yet as he stands before me at last upon the wet, sodden grass, blinking and bewildered through eyes that never cease to shift and phase in their colour and aspect, I cannot help but feel that I am the parent, and he the errant child.
“Hello,” the figure returned cautiously, as the screams of pain faded from his breath. The word seemed cold and clipped, a discarded nail trimming cast upon the floor, sharp and foreign. He cast about for a moment, as if searching for a phantom hat to bob or tip. “You’ll have to forgive me,” he began slowly, his voice a blur of a hundred different accents. “I’m not sure if I’m meant to bow… I’m fairly sure a handshake is out of the question… It’s just… I feel like I should have brought something... But would it be a bottle of red or white wine... You see, I’ve never met History before.”
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Chapter 4: RetributionAnthony and Cleopatra.
Bonnie and Clyde.
Richard the Lionheart and Phillip of France.
I can do famous lovers. I can shake their pairing, rip their meetings asunder with a breath, kill their kin and kith. Make sure they’ve never known each other or rewrite the space between them so that it was fear and loathing, not love and lust that was their final end. Reunite, destroy, make whole again.
All this I can do.
I can make snow encrust the sands of the Sahara or make towering pinnacles of basalt stab out from the seas and pierce the sky. Make the world black with cold lava or smash the moon against Martian seas.
Direct the fall of a snowflake or control the elongation of a phenocryst; all are history.
All I can change.
To a point.
None of these things do I do; I control my anger, harness my blistering hate.
“I’m sorry.” The once-was-I-more-than-a-man says.
It is not enough.
“You’re a paradox. Until the end, until now, when everything is falling apart, is the only time you’ve been able to gain… awareness, even as you are falling to pieces. There’s no energy left in this universe, no time. It’s collapsing. You can rewrite every single moment, every word spoken, but there’ll never be enough energy to sustain what’s left.” The words were awkward, as if the words were plucked from his own past, strung together to make into cohesion. He was already dead; he had nothing new to say. Yet, the next was said with such hesitation, the tone so weary, that she sensed genuine pain beneath the words that came from so many mouths: “No one knew you could gain sentience.”
I have watched species writhe in sudden and extended deaths, sliding into oblivion. I have been the goat that has its throat slit, felt its blood spatter upon the rocks, to feed a child, to feed an army.
I am the dolphin caught in the net, the lamb that steps upon the landmine, the rabbit who’s eyes burn from the acid of shampoo.
All these pains and more have I felt. All the agony, the remorse, I have known it. The stench of death is my skin, the hides of a trillion creatures my garments.
All of this was made to be, came to pass, for Them.
Everyone of us a pawn in their great battle, their struggle. All of the worlds that beat and pulse through my veins, tumbling through the black space that is my blood, tools for them to use. To abuse. Over untold millennia.
And they still lost.
‘I’m sorry.’ Just isn’t enough.
Not nearly enough.
I lunge, my fingers reaching for his throat, my strength taken from a thousand million years of emotions felt and spent, by a thousand billion prayers asked of the uncaring void by every ounce of life that has ever lived, throughout all the agony, the ecstasy, the sorrow and the loneliness: What is it all for, you heartless bastard?
His reconstituted self didn’t struggle as I tore at his form, clutched and shredded his being, his lifeline, his deathline. Torment blistered across his endless faces, but when he spoke it wasn’t with his lips, but a thought cast out into the maelstrom that had erupted around me, around the watchtower, that consumed the dying corpse that was all that remained of Earth.
“Jessica. Jessica, stop.”
It was my name. He spoke my name, my human name, the name of the person that was this form before possession, before revelation. Suddenly the endless vista of pain and tortuous complications that was my being, that was history caught in my throat.
He was just a man before me, now, and I a middle-aged woman, sitting upon the hillside beside a barren husk of a castle, the sickly taste of wine upon my lips and the smell of the sea tickling my nostrils.
And the Doctor was eating the last of my cheese…
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Chapter 5: Hobbies...Jessica looked around her, at the rubble, at Earth that she knew lay dying beneath her feet, at the spectre of a hero that the Universe wouldn’t even let die… and the bastard had just eaten the last of her grapes.
“This is so fucking depressing.”
The ghostly, twisting form nodded, shaking white and yellow rubbery crumbs onto the damp grass. “The consummate heat death of the Universe can have that effect, if you dwell on it.”
“I meant,” Jessica glared at him, “that you just ate my entire lunch.” She yanked the box of wine away from him before he could devour that as well. “What the hell do need to eat for, you’re dead for God’s sake!”
The man laid back gently upon the grass, his hands twisted behind his head, apparently gazing up at the cloudy skies above. His reply was muted, the sound seeming to float upon the slight breeze like an autumn leaf, lazy, drifting. “Comfort.”
Jessica grunted and raised the box to her lips again, taking some comfort of her own. She understood that… the cheese and grapes thing. She understood he was dead, that he knew her name, that history had consumed her, claimed her as an avatar; she also knew that this moment of self-awareness was only a pause, a reassertion of her human self, and that history would be back. Soon. Despite the fact that there was nothing that she or anyone else could do to change the situation. With a flick of her fingers, she could change any moment in history, alter any outcome, become anyone, destroy anything. But like a child’s toy, the battery was spent, the clockwork winding down. When the Gods and their enemies had left, they took the framework with them, salting the earth, poisoned the well, so that no one could feast upon the corpse. Matter was collapsing in upon itself. There simply was no more energy, no more time, no more space…
She belched. It was fruity and stale, the force of air managing to brush her frayed bangs out of her eyes. She should have held it in, waited for History to consume her again, she considered. The results would have been… more interesting.
“You’re taking this rather well…” His head(s) was/were tilted up, the rest of his body flat, peering at her. She wondered where the hat had come from.
She knew everything else: what happened to the crew of the Marie Celeste, who shot Kennedy, who slept with whom, knew when the stars died and were born again and when Jesus picked his nose… “I know everything ever, remember. What’s the point in freaking out about it?” And she knew then, somehow, why he’d eaten her grapes and cheese slices: to make her irritated, angry. To ground her to the here and now, before the savage, hateful riot that was time incarnate came back to claim him.
“Yeah, whatever.” She said to the knowledge, and altered history so that there appeared before her the naked, sleeping form of James Dean, bunches of grapes and cheese triangles dotted about his bare skin. Jessica caught the Doctor’s glare. “What? A girl’s gotta eat.” She nibbled on some cheddar, and watched Jame’s chest rise and fall, completely oblivious to his surroundings.
“You’re not what I expected…” The ghostly voice drifted to her once more.
“No shit?” Jessica didn’t care. She didn’t care what he thought, what was happening to her, any of it. In all honestly, she wanted to lie down and sleep. Sleep forever.
“No.” The voice said considering. “I was expecting someone more… hippie-ish.”
“Hippie-ish?” Jessica felt the anger rise inside her, but quickly quelled the emotion. He was baiting her, trying to keep her aware, awake. So she laughed instead, a crisp bark. “I was never that naive.”
The grapes were yummy. They exploded upon her palette. There were seeds, at first, but she altered that with a spare thought.
“What do you do for a living?”
It was such a casual, meeting-you-for-the-first-time-at-a-lame-party kind of question that the lie rolled off her tongue before she remembered who she was talking to: “Marketing for a telecommunications firm.” The words hung stale in the air between them, made her feel weak, lesser. It had been an unbelievable cover before this started, yet so drummed into her being by the company that she almost believed it some days. She could alter the timeline, take back what she’d said, but he would know, somehow, making her appear weaker still. She didn’t know why it mattered, but History’s wrath must still be burning deep within her somewhere, guiding her actions.
She knew now all the amazing things she could have been, all the paths that had never been open to her: an agent of Faction Paradox, a quantum vessel hybrid, a CIA member… so many more glamorous histories that had been denied her when she’d lived.
“So you can alter everything in the universe, but you still haven’t changed that.” There was sadness in his voice. “Yet.”
She laughed again, real laughter this time. “Out of all the miseries, of all the tragedies, I hardly think my day job qualifies as top priority. Besides, we both know that it doesn’t really matter what I do. Have done.” She tried to remember what it felt like to care about the future, to care about what happened, but it had been so long, since a time when she still believed that there was still hope, when there were still dreams in the world, that caring itself seemed childish. Pointless.
“Of course it matters,” the voice said gently. It was the voice of all of the kind teacher’s she’d ever had as a child, filled with support, love, caring. “It’s the most important thing of all, what we do with our lives, no matter how many you’re given. That’s what we can learn from history; that’s its only gift.”
She wanted to ask what he meant, what difference did it make that she killed all those- but there was a rushing sound then that screamed down from the heavens and up from the depths of the earth, and she knew that it was too late.
History was back.
And she was royally pissed off.
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Chapter 6: Palimpset
Author's Notes: Whatever it is, go out and do it. Make the change, make the difference. That's the point of all of this, every story, every page, every word ever written, ever read. Lest we forget...
The crescendo screams as energy and matter are torn asunder. Events burn around me, drilling into the unfortunate figure that twists under the assault of battles, coronations, supernova deaths and a billion murders: history made incarnate, a thousand tornadoes of events scorching, pummelling him with their ever shifting eyes...
I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to witness this.
But then, I don’t have to be.
I crawl, dazed and breathless up my own timeline, can feel my life shifting under the pressure of my knuckles as I pull myself, hand over hand into the safety of the past. I see myself asleep, mostly, a great deal, drooling, snoring: a legacy of heavy breathing. Not attractive.
I delve deeper, into my childhood, into memories warm and fuzzy. A dozen holidays, a thousand lazy summer’s days filled with lemonade and ice cream, soaked in golden sunlight and supple blades of grass. But these aren’t memories: childhood is sacrosanct for all save history and here I can see the dark undercurrents that ebb and flow around me, for with an adult’s eyes I am able to discern the shadowed glances and evil gazes that constantly flit about my form, some not ready for me to mature, others longing for the chance. Predators and thieves in familiar forms, I know their fate and their deeds
I flinch away, revulsion a reflex, skidding across the surface, finding myself sitting upon my stool back at work, the cold stone surface of the tabletop uncomfortable against my sharp elbows. I remember this day, one year into the job, the day after I came to work after my mother died: there before me lies its helpless form, staring…
I don’t want to be here.
It’s time for a party. I’ve never been a party person… at least not one that ever got invited to any, but now I’ve got a free, all-access pass to every party everywhere, ever. Yet, even as I race off though, curling and diving through history that is collapsing around me, his screams follow me…
Royal parties, food and drink, parties with drunken lords and knights and campfires and ritual, and castles and palaces and beastial popes and orgies before eras of personal grooming, Studio 54, twisting and writhing through clouds of incense in golden temples, the floor slick with blood and skin, frosty forest glades and Beijing under firestorm: the world is a rush of colours and sounds and substances and the music, oh, the music… and…
I’ve tripped? There is music here, this room with rain that batters impatiently at the window panes and lava lamps that glow and swirl, though even by the hairstyles the men in the room wear, I can tell that these lights are out of date, kitsch, yet the man on the bed, the one we’re all standing around, seems not to care at this the height of the party, his skin marked with sores and scars and he smiles, he smiles as we, his friends, as one, pluck up a pillow and press it against his face… a mercy party, a suffocation party. A kindness, to be surrounded by your friends, to have the authorities look the other way, in this era of plague, as the corpse is carried out and through the San Francisco streets.
My soul is stilled. The rush of music has faded.
I’m so tired.
His screams still tickle my ear. Mercy. I should bring him mercy.
I fly back, skimming across my history, towards the glowing light at the end, where this once-a-hero lies twisting in pain. I try to stop, try to skid, try to anchor myself, but I’ve gone too far, and not far enough.
I’m back on my laboratory bench, on that same day.
The rabbit is warm in my grasp, its eyes wide, glossy with fear, a pounding pulse pressing against my latexed fingers. The dropper, filled with chemicals, hovers mere centimetres above its eye. History has taken my cover, stripped bare my lies: yes, I am an animal tester. But it doesn’t matter you see, all the dreams are gone, all the gods are left… nothing matters. Not even this.
Even as a droplet of the chemical, a new nail varnish, Lusty Love, falls through the air and scatters across the rabbit’s cornea and it flinches with pain, I saw something that I never noticed before, something I stopped looking for long ago.
It was there, faint, throbbing gently with each heart beat, but definitely there. Underneath the warm, white fur, was a slightly lighter glow: a wish. A hope. In this simple, terrified creature, that now screams a silent scream as I burn its eye out in the name of longer, thicker, glossier nails.
My phantom arms reach into my own arms, a decade old, and I grab the bunny, clutching it to my chest, splashing the solvent onto its twitching socket. I can feel the time streams alter around me as I run, lab coat flapping behind me as I bolt through the hall, dodging around bewildered colleagues, through the emergency fire exit and out onto the lawn. At one point I trip again, finding myself upon my knees that thud one by one onto the grass. The rabbit squirms from my arms and bolts across the grass, towards the fields that lie outside the sprawling complex. Running free.
Leaving me, ten years older and younger at the same time, blinking in the sun as an entire new history cascades around me. I tear off my lab coat and cast it to the ground; time for a change, time to follow a dream of my own.
I’m not sure whose wish it was: mine, the rabbits, or someone else’s… I’m not sure how much time there is left in the world, or if history has been utterly destroyed, a grandfather clock winding slowly down, or if everything has restarted by this small moment. All I know is that all around me I can see wishes again, hope and dreams sparking and stuttering into life, in the people, in the plants, in the fields. Had I forgotten where to look or had I just given up wanting to see? Or had I just needed a reminder that everything I touch matters?
I know only one thing: the screaming has stopped, gone with a terrific sigh that blends into the winds that gust around me.
I want to rest now, want to stretch out upon the grass and sleep, but there’s so much to do…
But isn’t that always the way?
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