When I got back, I found that my plan had worked exactly as I’d hoped it would.
Honestly, my life was absolutely perfect. My Dad was still alive and he and my Mom were happy, Will and I were married and for some reason Will had turned up no longer allergic to animal dander in this new timeline, so we had a dog. A sweet golden retriever.
Will wasn’t the mayor anymore, instead he was running an organization that provided food and shelter to those in need. He’d grown it from a local organization to one that had affiliates all over the country, and he hoped someday all over the world.
So he was still doing good. So much good.
We were happy. I was happy.
But sometimes in the middle of the night, I would think about the future. I would go out to the living room, get out the tablet and look at the images of the war that would happen after I was long dead.
And it would eat at me.
I would try to shake off the feelings and remind myself that this war wasn’t my fault. The craziness of the world and the violence of countries and religions and tribes and all that…weren’t my doing. I couldn’t do anything to stop the bad people in the world from doing bad things.
One night I turned to Will as we lay in bed.
“I have a random question.”
“Okay,” he chuckled.
“If killing one innocent person would save the lives of a thousand innocent people…would you do it?”
He seemed to think about it.
“No. I would find another way.”
“What if there wasn’t one?”
“That’s not realistic!” he said, laughing. “Which is why I don’t care for these kinds of scenario games. No situation is ever a binary, black and white, this or that choice. Life is too complex for that. It doesn’t mean that any of the choices are good, but we always have to find a way to do what’s right.”
Speaking of ‘right,’ Domenic and Desi’s algorithm had been right about my decision. Every time I saw a baby in a stroller or a family walking down the street, I considered what their future held and the guilt inside me clawed at my heart.
And I couldn’t go back. Desi and Domenic had both been explicit: time would not allow you to go back to the same point again. I felt so trapped in my failure and despair that I did consider taking my own life.
Until I found out I was pregnant.
And finally it hit me.
It sucked that I hadn’t been able to truly understand until I had a stake in the future. But now I finally felt what Domenic felt.
I couldn’t allow this to happen.
I hadn’t told Will about the time travel stuff and all that had happened. He would have believed me…he always did. His disbelief wasn’t what I was afraid of.
It was his disappointment.
I’d never allowed myself to say it out loud—because that would’ve made it too real—but I was afraid Will would tell me that I should have chosen the world over him.
And although doing the right thing was painful, I knew my own life, my own comfort, my own future…those things didn’t matter anymore.
The problem was that Desi had said that you couldn’t go back to a moment in time you’d been to already. So I couldn’t fix this myself.
However, I had seen Desi travel out of the date of my murder in the past before Domenic tried to kill me, so Desi could go back and stop me.
Now all I had to do was find him.
The problem was that I had no idea how to go about finding either one of them. Would Desi even be here in this time after the Change I’d made to the past?
I started combing through the tablet for any information it might contain about Desi that could give me a lead. Personal details; like places he liked to go or things he liked to do or anything really.
Things looked up when I found a hidden file on the tablet. Well it wasn’t hidden exactly, it was just in a folder within a folder, almost like it had been forgotten.
When I opened it I felt my head start to spin even more.
Inside were pictures of me and Desi. Intimate pictures.
No wait, that makes it sound like sex pictures and that’s not what they were. They were the kind of pictures a couple takes together. Pictures of the two of us traveling, him kissing my cheek, a selfie he took with me asleep against his chest, me coming out of the bathroom with only a towel on and looking playfully annoyed.
The pictures made me feel physically sick. What were they? Why didn’t I remember any of this?
I mean, sure I’d noticed Desi was attractive but that didn’t mean I would cheat on Will with him. And when would I do something like that anyway? Will was my constant, he was in every Change that happened…
Except that one.
The one where he was living across the country.
Had I been with Desi during that Change…? But I remember the Changes I…
I only really remember the Changes.
I’d never thought about it before, but every time there was a Change, I woke up to a new version of my life. A life that had a past. A past full of different choices and events that had led me to whatever different scenario I’d found myself thrust into.
My mind felt like it was on one of those funhouse tracks that zigzags up and down with every step. Like I couldn’t steady my thoughts.
It was too much to deal with right now, taken with everything else. I would have to let it go for now and focus on finding Desi. On fixing the mess I’d made.
I started with an online search but didn’t find anything on Desi. I did find something linking to an article about Domenic’s arrest for attacking me. The online background check I bought didn’t tell me much, except that Domenic ended up in a state prison.
So I got in touch with a private detective and met with him at his office. They have access to background check programs that I couldn’t tap into on my own.
When he looked up Domenic he found quite a history. He’d had gone to county jail the night I’d stopped him from killing baby-me. While at county, he’d gotten into an altercation with another inmate that resulted in the other inmate losing his life by Domenic’s hand.
Domenic claimed it was self defense but he was sentenced to hard time in prison. He’d only gotten out recently in fact. According to the investigator, Domenic was living in a charity senior care facility not far from here.
I went home and made Will his favorite meal. We watched our wedding video. We made love. I told him I was pregnant. Even though he wouldn’t remember it, I wanted to share this moment with him. I drank in his elation: the light in his eyes, the happiness in his smile, the energy of his excitement. I wanted to remember him this way—joyful.
Filled with the promise of the future.
When he said goodbye to me as he left for work in the morning, I barely held in my tears as I said my final goodbye to him.
“What’s wrong Ellie?” he asked with worry.
“It’s just…there’s a big Change coming,” I said.
He smiled. “Yeah, it is a big change. But it’ll be okay because we’re going through it together. I’ll be here with you every step of the way.”
His words were like a dagger into my heart.
I started crying.
“Hey, hey,” he said comfortingly, as he pulled me against him. “I know you’re scared, that’s okay. It’s scary. You’re going to be uncomfortable, your body is going to go nuts, and then you have to actually have the baby…I mean we guys definitely have the easier path to parenthood. All we have to do is have a good time, then chill.”
I laughed, then cried more. He dropped his briefcase and held me until I calmed down.
“You’re going to be late,” I sniffled.
“I don’t care, you’re more important,” he said.
I sighed. “I’m just sad that you’re going to forget all this.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Just…you know…” I backtracked. “Who we were before we became parents.”
“Ohhh,” he said knowingly. Then he leaned back and looked at me. “I can’t know what the future holds Ellie…but I know that I love you. And nothing bad can come from love.”
I let out a mirthless laugh that turned into crying again.
“Is there anything I can do to help? I can stay home today if you want me to,” he said, putting me first, like he always did. First above his own desires. First above his responsibilities. First above the world.
I shook my head. “No that’s not necessary. I’ll be okay. It’s probably just hormones.”
He assured me some more and told me how beautiful I was then he left. As I watched him walk away for the last time, I felt a strange rush of gratitude. I suddenly fully realized how lucky I’d been to have ever had him at all.
Saint Christopher’s Home for the Elderly and Invalid was a forty five minute drive from my house. I had the tablet and the the watch in my purse as I walked up to the receptionist and asked to see Domenic Alondra.
It wasn’t a huge facility so she knew who I was talking about and seemed pleased to hear he had a visitor.
When I got to his room I was startled by what I found.
Domenic was an old man. A sickly thin, saggy skinned, gray haired old man. An array of tubes and wires weaved around him and seemingly into him as he lay slightly sitting up in a hospital bed, his frail form half covered by a thin blanket.
A pink, child’s music box was the only pop of color in the room. It made me think of Domenic’s daughter Clarissa, both long dead and not yet born all at the same time. I imagine it made him think of her too.
When the door clicked shut behind me, he opened his eyes slowly.
He started making a noise that I thought was coughing and I worriedly wondered if I should call a nurse, then I realized it was laughter. Old, gravelly, cruel laughter.
“I told you…it was…the only way.”
“All I want to know is where I can find Desi.”
“What makes you think he’s even here? Every timeline change has rippling consequences…you know that better than anyone.”
I bit my lip and took a deep breath to hold onto my composure. Losing my shit on him was unlikely to convince him to help me.
“Look, I don’t want to be here anymore than you want me here.”
“Well that makes two of us who don’t want to be here,” he said. I didn’t respond. He continued. “You know, in my time, before the war, I could have been cured of this disease that’s eating every part of me…”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
He made a disgusted noise. “Fat lot of good that does me.” He sighed. “Give me my music box.”
“What?” I asked, confused by his request.
“Give. Me. My. Music box.”
“Uh, sure,” I said, walking over and picking it up. It was surprisingly heavy.
I placed it on his lap and stepped back.
“Domenic I…” I started to say.
“Mirielle?” asked an astonished voice behind me.
I turned and saw Desi standing in the doorway. My Desi—–well the fifty or so year old one I’d met before. He wore black slacks and a short sleeved black shirt with the white priest collar.
I’d come here to find him, but now that he stood in front of me I didn’t know what to say.
“I need to talk to you,” I finally got out.
“Uh, sure. Why don’t we step outside? Are you all right for a few moments Dom?”
Domenic glared at me and nodded. It was so strange to go back and forth between them. Born identical twins, now nearly thirty years apart in age.
Desi and I went out into the pleasantly decorated hallway and Desi led me to a quiet seating area that lent us some privacy. I didn’t sit down though.
I couldn’t get the images from the pictures of us out of my mind.
“Why are you so…young?” I blurted. “Er, at least so much younger than your brother?”
He sighed heavily. “Back in our time, he told me he was going on a recon trip. We did so many information gathering trips through your life, it became difficult to find a time that either of us could go back to at all.
“When he didn’t come back, I grew concerned. So I started combing through your lifetime looking for signs of him. I found out about what happened and I went to see him in prison. There was no way for me to get into the prison with my time travel watch.
“So we decided the only option was for me to travel to the date of his release, then we could travel out of here. Unfortunately his health had declined to a point that he couldn’t physically handle time travel. Not that it would matter anyway, a few days after arriving here my watch and tablet vanished.”
“You lost them?”
“No. They literally vanished. They faded from existence right in front of me.”
I started to dig through my purse. “I wonder if that has anything to do with this…” I said as I pulled out the watch and tablet.
His eyes went wide. “Where did you get those?”
“…You gave them to me.”
I explained everything to him. He sat down in one of the chairs and seemed a little dazed. “Dom explained to me about what he’d tried to do,” he said. “But he didn’t tell me you were the one who stopped him. All he would say is it went south.”
I sat down next to him and took a deep breath.
“What were those pictures I found of us on your tablet?” I asked quietly.
He looked over at me with surprise. “You saw the pictures…?”
I nodded. “And I don’t understand. I would never cheat on Will.”
He grew very upset. “You didn’t!”
“Then what was going on?”
He fiddled with the ring on his finger. “Mirielle…we were married.”
“How is that possible? I don’t even know you!”
“…You did…” he said sadly. “As I said, we spent a few years researching your life before we started making changes. I know it sounds incredibly creepy but…I fell in love with you. Things were getting bad, nothing we changed seemed to be working. We’d had this rule that we wouldn’t get directly involved in the past ourselves but…I wanted to know you.
“You were…you are such a good person. So smart and funny and charming. And I thought maybe if you were with me instead of Will, it would change the timeline for the better.”
“So you just orchestrated a Change to put us together?” I asked, feeling angry.
“No! No that wasn’t…it wasn’t like that… I orchestrated a change that sent Will across the country and then I just…introduced myself to you casually at a coffee shop. Okay it wasn’t casually, I actually pretended to spill something on you to give me an excuse to talk to you.”
It felt like I’d been punched in the face. That was the exact scenario I’d come up with to try to meet Will. Was the idea not even my own? Was it…a memory of sorts?
“And we clicked,” he went on, pulling me away from my thoughts. “We dated for six months and were married for a year…a very happy year.”
“Why did it Change again?”
All of this felt like a knife being jammed into me. But that felt like a twist.
“…How?” I asked.
We both sat silently for a long moment.
He sighed. “Obviously if Will was dead, he would never do what he needed to do to stop the war…so Dom changed things. And what you and I had was gone.”
“Why don’t I remember it…?”
“You seem to only be cognizant of the changes themselves. Dom had no real theory as to why you noticed the changes at all when no one else did. But his opinion about your memories was that your limited human brain simply couldn’t hold or keep organized all the information from all of those versions of your life. So it…filtered them.”
“So when you go back and stop me from doing what I did to create this current mess, will I forget all of this?”
He looked at me quizzically. “How did you create this?”
“I went back in time and stopped Domenic from killing me.”
“He didn’t tell me that it was you. He just told me his plan failed and he got caught…wait. You went to that night and stopped him?”
I nodded. “Clocked him with a lead pipe before he could shoot my mother.”
“Mirielle…I can’t go back to stop you. I was there that day.”
“No, you left. I saw you travel out in the alley before any of it happened.”
“No I—well yes I did. But I told you, we did so many recon trips in your life we were running out of times we could go back…”
He suddenly seemed riled up. He bolted up from his seat and I followed him as he stormed into Domenic’s room.
“Goddamn you Domenic!” he exclaimed shocking me with his profanity.
“Such language Father Alondra,” said Domenic with faux shock.
“You chose that night on purpose!”
“You’re damn right I did! It was the only way to keep you from going back and stopping me,” he exclaimed.
“Well now you’ve really done it because now none of us can fix it!”
“It’s all gone to hell in a hand basket hasn’t it?” Domenic said, laughing.
“How can you laugh about this?” demanded Desi. “You’ve given your whole life to trying to save the world!”
“I was never trying to save the world!” Domenic spat angrily. “I was trying to save Clarissa. But all hope is lost now. And if I can’t have what means most to me in this life back, then neither can you.”
“What are you talking about—“
Before Desi could finish his question, Domenic pulled a gun out from the music box and fired.
I was knocked to the ground, but not from the impact of getting shot. It was from Desi falling into me, as he threw himself between me and the bullet.
Another gunshot rang out and I flinched, thinking Domenic was taking another shot at me. When I realized nothing had hit me, I peeked up and saw that the second shot had been one he put into his own head.
An alarm started going off, echoing across the whole floor, probably because of the gunshots. Any moment now the room would be flooded with medical personnel.
I felt Desi move next to me and I turned back to him. He’d been shot in the chest and blood was gushing everywhere. His skin had gone papery white and he started to cough up blood with a look of agonizing pain.
“Just hold on,” I said, cradling his head in my lap. “We’re in a hospital, help will be here soon.”
He just looked up at me lovingly, taking wet, raspy breaths.
“Domenic thought…” he started, then coughed.
“Shh, save your strength.”
He shook his head. “Domenic thought you are an anomaly…but I’ve always believed you were a miracle,” he said weakly, as he touched my cheek.
Then he took a last rattling breath and died. Right then a crash team entered and the room became chaotic.
People were trying to talk to me, screaming at me even, but their voices sounded far away. When they realized the blood that covered me was not my own, I was ushered out of the room by a very sweet, grandmotherly nun. She took me back to that private seating area I’d been in just moments before with Desi.
She told me I would have to stay here and tell the police what happened, then she went to go get me some water.
The tears slipped down my cheeks as I saw Desi’s lifeless face in my mind’s eye.
Death and destruction followed me wherever I went. I was like a nuclear bomb upon the world.
I remembered something one of the scientists who created the nuclear bomb said after it was successful…
”I am become death, destroyer of worlds.”
It was befitting of me.
How could Desi think I was a miracle? Miracles bring wondrous things. I was a curse. A plague upon all houses.
Domenic was right. I was an anomaly. My existence was a huge mistake made by time itself. Hell, I was a paradox…
I had an idea. It would be a miracle if it worked.
But if it did, it would save everyone. Everyone but me.
I snuck away and locked myself into a single stall bathroom, so no one could interrupt me. Then I got the tablet out and recorded a video. Near the end, the police started to bang on the door and demand I come out.
Instead, I finished recording, pulled the watch out of my purse, put it on and set the date and place. Then I took a page out of Desi’s handbook and said a prayer before I pressed go.
The Past (again)
My first thought as I watched myself from across the street was one of abject horror:
Did I really walk like that?
But I made myself shake off that silly bit of vanity and focused on the task at hand.
Part of me couldn’t believe my crazy idea had worked.
So Domenic and Desi had said that time wouldn’t allow a person to travel to back a time they’d already traveled to because the same person couldn’t exist in the same place at the same time. I existed now because I’d gone back and stopped Domenic from killing me, but the version of me from that night didn’t really exist.
She was still an anomaly.
It was shortly before other me would run over with the lead pipe and knock Domenic unconscious. I waited for her and pulled her down the alley as she walked by.
“Shh…” I said putting my finger to my lips.
Her eyes got really wide, but she didn’t scream or try to run away.
“Oh God, now what?” she asked.
A slightly hysterical laugh escaped me. “You have no idea.”
Then I told her everything, including that I was pregnant. She leaned back against the cold brick of the alley wall, unsteady on her feet.
“It’s just so unfair to Will…to never know his child. But I…we…can’t doom their future.” She voiced my own exact thoughts. Which made sense. She was me after all.
“But…” she went on. “What if changing this causes the baby not to exist anymore?”
It was a thought I hadn’t wanted give voice to, as if keeping it in my mind would somehow make it not real.
“You know, Will said something to me the other night… That sometimes there are no good choices, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a right one. This feels like the right one.”
“I’m so jealous of you. You got to be with him again.”
“I know. I’m sorry,” I said. And I was. I remembered how she…I’d felt when I was her.
She nodded and looked at my stomach, placing a hand on her own. The door across the street opened and mom came out, I saw Domenic emerge from the shadows and approach her.
The gunshot rang out and I reached for Other Me’s hand at the same time she reached for mine. Then we held each other as we listened to our mother scream.
Within moments of the gunshot I was struck by a wave of vertigo so intense, I collapsed to my knees. Before losing my bearings completely, I heard Other Me let out an anguished cry as she fell away from me.
It felt like my brain had liquified and was sloshing around in my skull. Just when I thought the pain and disorientation couldn’t possibly get any worse, I blacked out.
I woke up in a dark, dank alley with no idea where I was. As I sat up carefully, my vision came back into focus though I still felt discombobulated.
A siren rang out, echoing loudly off the walls around me. It sounded weird, a little tinnier than I was accustomed to. I looked to the source of the sound and saw an old fashioned police car and ambulance skid to a halt across the street.
Then I remembered where…and when I was. That was the diner my mother worked at…I had travelled back in time to stop Domenic from murdering me.
But I’d failed.
“He killed my baby!” screamed my mother. Over and over.
What happened? Had Domenic discovered my plan, incapacitated me and left me here?
I felt a lump in my sweatshirt pocket and pulled out the tablet. When I turned on the screen a video had been left open. It was titled “Watch Me Ellie.”
So I leaned back against the cold brick wall of the alleyway and hit play.
My own face came up on the screen. My eyes looked tired and sad and…something else.
“If you’re watching this, that should mean my plan worked. Domenic killed you…me…just like he did before. I know how you’re feeling right now. You’re angry, scared and confused. You’re wondering why the hell I would want to prevent my own existence. Well, if you aren’t already, sit down. This is going to blow your mind.”
The Future – Version 2.0
One year later, I sat in a coffee shop one hundred sixty years in the future. It was a beautiful day. The air was clear, the phones were holographic and there was a cure for cancer. The cars didn’t fly, but they looked very cool.
Desi walked in and got in line to buy his coffee. The tablet still worked and I’d done research on this new version of him. We were the same age, and he was in seminary right now but hadn’t taken his vows yet.
When I saved the future, I Changed it. The Desi and Domenic who had travelled through time no longer existed.
When he walked by my table I stood up and let him bump me so I spilled my coffee.
He apologized and introduced himself. Then he offered to buy me another drink, and I invited him to sit with me.
And he did.
Many years later, while Desi and I were sitting on a park bench watching Will’s and my son, and our other three children play, we got to talking about why Will Jr. wasn’t erased when I Changed the past.
Like me, Will Jr. was still here even though he didn’t really exist. He was an anomaly.
He seemed to think about it. “Well, you said that you used to remember the Changes right?”
“When you prevented the other you from stopping my brother, you caused a Change to happen. And since you never remembered any part of the lives leading up to the Change, you forgot all that you’d done.”
“Yes. I know that. That makes sense.”
“It all comes down to your scar,” he said.
“The scar on your knee. It was a physical thing that stuck with you through the Changes. Your pregnancy was a physical thing as well. So it stuck with you.”
“I’m not sure how I feel about Will being the equivalent of a scar…” I said, half joking.
Desi chuckled. “Well that’s only part of it.” He reached over and took my hands. “Mirielle, I may have chosen you over the priesthood, but I still believe in God. And I think once a life has been brought into the world, it can’t be completely erased from it. Just like you couldn’t be.”
I liked his theory. It made life seem meaningful. So I decided to go with it.
And as I watched our children grow up, get married and have families of their own, I made peace with my decision.
Because we ought to care about each other, and about those who aren’t here yet. We ought to take care of the environment, to carefully choose who governs us and how they govern, to be peacemakers not pot stirrers.
We are travelers in this world. We do not own this moment, we only lease it. And something borrowed should always be left better than it was when it was received.
It was just like my Will had said; the choices weren’t always good. But we had to try to do what was right. And what was right was for Will’s son…for everyone’s sons and daughters to have a future. To have a chance.
To have a choice.
Jennifer Milne has been writing short stories and novels for ten years. She has been published by Rogue Phoenix Press, and currently has a novel “Plain Princess Jane and her Extraordinary Magical Cat” out shopping to agents. She lives in San Diego with her family. Her Amazon page is https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07HHJDPBN