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“Time past and time future What might have been and what has been Point to one end, which is always present.” T.S. Eliot, Four Quartels
Tom had always gained more from them than I had. I don’t mean financially, we split everything equally, I mean psychologically. We both went in with the same primary goal: to make money. But behind his eyes I could see greater games at play. Why should this be any different? He stood to the left of the door, bat in hand. A horrific skull mask we had modified with some black and grey paint from Wal-Mart obscured his face. My face was hid beneath a simpler black, balaclava that Tom had insisted I brand with some identity. I stood, hunched over, waiting with baited breath. Tom slammed his bat against the bottom of the door and then pulled back. I saw it, under the mask, the deep, psychotic grin. He couldn’t wait. Then, after mere moments, a light flickered on. The small, semi-circular window above the old, oak door became a glow with a pale white light. “Hello?” exclaimed a low toned voice from behind the door. “Please sir! We need help, my friend has had an accident” responded Tom, gleeful like a child playing his favorite game. “I’m sorry, I’ll call the police for you now!” the man said hesitantly. Tom loved this part. “Now that just won’t do.” We’d try our best to avoid signs of forced entry, but sometimes they had more sense and we had no choice. So with a swift flick of his bat and a thrust of his leg, the door crashed open and we were inside. The man tumbled to the floor, surrounded by shards of broken wood. In shock he looked up at us, no words to break the silence that followed. “We are the devil! We have come to do his work!” shouted Tom with a sarcastic and anarchic tone.
He then brought his bat, full force to the mans knee, crunching the bone beneath his wrinkled and pale skin. He wore a brown nightgown and must have been in his late sixties. Either way, what Tom was about to do to him was made all the more brutal. He danced around the man like a child at the may pole, as he sat there wrought with terror. He looked at me, his face a wash with horror, as if hell had just entered his peaceful country life. He let out an extreme cry of pain as Tom, poised and ready, cracked and splintered his other knee. “Dance away, I dare you!” taunted Tom as he continued to hop, skip and jump around the small hallway and into the living room of the house. He danced back into the hall and looked at me, smiling again beneath his mask I am sure. His joy was palpable, but I could only feel disgust. He dragged the man, screaming and writhing in pain, by the ankles into the living room. “We’re eating like kings for the next month my friend ol’ chap!” added Tom, adopting a faux cockney accent. He threw the man onto the sofa and proceeded to smash the clocks, ornaments and glassware on every surface. The room was dark. The sound of broken glass, though more welcome than broken bones, still sent chills down my spine. I remember studying Crystal Nacht in school. The night of the broken glass. This was it. “Where ye’ be keepin’ the valuables then?” said Tom with the same forced cockney accent. The man, scrambling for words, pointed to a door leading onto another small and dark corridor. “Office” he said, shaking nervously. So towards the office the man was dragged, once more by his legs, screaming louder as Tom shrieked with delight. Then we went to work. The man, tears forming in his eyes, looked at us as we ransacked his office. First his desk draws; often they’re a good source of expensive effects. Instead of asking for a key to the top, locked, draw, Tom smashed at the surface of the desk until it clicked open. With each bang of the smooth, mahogany surface both myself and the man shuddered. I tried to ignore my surroundings and to concentrate on searching for anything with any value but I couldn’t shake the unmistakable glare of the man. His eyes pleaded for me to stop and help him, for me to apologize. Its as if he too saw through our masks and saw who we really were. Under my mask he saw, regret, pain and contempt.
Then my train of thought was broken by silence. Silence is strange when around Tom. He is often accompanied by a symphony of noise, but something had caught his attention. “January 18th 2043, I am, as of yet, unsure as to the distance I shall traverse until I fall upon the contraption I so desire,” spoke Tom. The words were too refined and archaic to be his own. I placed the silver snow globe, I held, back onto the mantle where I found it and turned to look at Tom. In his hands he held a book. Bound in worn, enfeebled brown leather, the book was a diary. On its front a gold inscription was barely visible. The Diary of Harold Gordon Mitchel, circa 1614 - 2050. “Despite my best efforts I couldn’t place its whereabouts. It was in doing this, I happened across a great building. Its doors great arches and its floor a clean white marble. Above the door lay a clean chiselled word. Heaven” continued Tom getting more drawn in by each word. “What is this?” he queried dropping the book to his side with his thumb resting intently between the pages. “Its my diary,” responded the old man, barely able to croak the words with his raspy voice. “Don’t bullshit me old man, what is this and how much is it worth!” barked Tom growing angry, our shared motive once more surfaced. I stood, again a bystander to this display of hate, though no innocence is found resting by my side. I am as guilty as the worst man, destined for a certain circle of hell that I am not yet sure of. “It holds no financial value…but in knowledge…its invaluable” he added, adjusting his body into a more comfortable slouch. His voice was that of an old English man. Seasoned with wisdom and peppered with intellect. He was a genius I am sure. Tom brought back a cacophony of noise when he lifted his bat and smashed open the glass doored bookshelf to his left. He took out a set of dusty encyclopedias and stuffed them into a black bag he took from his pocket. He tried to fain interest in the task at hand but a mix between anger and curiosity compelled him to read on. He flicked through the pages of the diary until something caught his eye. His expression became smug as he bent the spine back as if ready to read something with great satisfaction.
“June 16th 2012, today. The gentlemen stood. Both cloaked in mystery. Both hung on the words within the book. The physical pain I remember grew louder though the satisfaction brought about by their hapless and mystified faces healed the wound somewhat. The robbers had been robbed. Robbed of control.” He read on, the final words faded from his mouth as he looked across the room at me. At that point I had no idea what to think. How could he know this? Who is he? What is that book? So many questions fronted in the melting pot of confusion that was my mind. “What the fuck is this!” shouted Tom. He ran over to the man and kneeled by his side. He shivered with fear, his eyes fixed on Tom’s. He pulled a small pocketknife and flipped it open and smoothed the skin under the mans chin. “Tom, what the hell are you doing” I said, the words that had waited patiently at the tip of my tongue had finally escaped into the world. “Shut the fuck up!” he added, never for a second loosing concentration. He remained fixed on the old mans eyes from which tears flowed. “You have 15 seconds to tell me how you knew that. 15 seconds starting now.” He whispered. The man whimpered as Tom drew the blade across the skin, from end to end slowly. Silently we all counted, together. 15 seconds. On the final note Tom carved a death line into the neck of the old man as red ink from the pen of his knife was spilt. Blood poured out and the man coughed and spluttered his last breaths. I knew it was only a matter of time before he drew blood and killed. Tom had always had that unrelenting sadism that had made him so good at hating. He had that glint in his eye that shut the world out. To say he lacked empathy would be an understatement. A moment of calm. “Pack as much as you can into the bags, we have to get out of here.” I headed his words despite the fear that seemingly froze my legs to the spot momentarily. I filled the bags we had brought with anything. I no longer looked for value; I just looked for an exit. We had robbed over fifty houses and never spilt a drop of blood. Sure bones were broken, but nobody ever died. “You can’t leave.” Spoke a voice ominously from within the dark of the corridor. In walks a man, dressed nearly identically to the one Tom had just killed, only this man was years younger.
“Who the fuck are you!” exclaimed Tom, brandishing the knife like it’s power. This is where I ask you a key question. If you had a second chance, if you knew how things would pan out and had a second chance to change or fix your life, would you? “I know you must have a million questions right now, but you can’t leave.” He adds. “Why?” I ask, calmly, in converse to Tom. “Because this is a fixed point in time and must not be changed.” He walks into the room further and opens a bottle of brandy that is perched on the counter in front of his window. He pours a glass and sits in the leather wing back behind his desk. “I know more than I should and I kills me, but the smallest, most incremental change can have dramatic effects, so you must understand you must both die here tonight.” He adds, sipping the brandy. “What the fuck are you talking about, I’m the one with the knife, what if you die here tonight!” responds Tom, shouting, now more violent than I have ever seen having already tasted blood. “I already have” We glance over at the body and see the old man, a pool of dark blood forming at his waist, slouched in the corner of the room. Then, closer examination of the mantle reveals a photo that sits next to the brandy. It’s him, the old man, only young and beautiful. “My name, as you already know, is Harold and this my house. I understand that you came with the intention to rob me and potentially cause me pain. It’s a cruel life when you know how you die. I have met kings, seen battle and war. I’ve fought armies and robots and more than you could fathom. But my legacy is cut short by the blade of a simple thief. I have waited for this night for so long.” I didn’t understand then. What could he have meant? In the clarity of hindsight I know. This man had seen time. Past and future together. He knew so much. Give man the power to see his death and prevent it and a lesser man may crumble affecting the future in awesome ways. I see now that his future self knew he was to die and that this moment had occurred many times all at once. We were all there in the future and the past. I wish I could visit this day once more and change what we did. If I could go back and do it over again I would. Its not this man is particularly important. Its because he is just that, a man. A man worthy of life. A life stolen from him by someone who had no
mind and managed to gain a weapon in a foul society. If I could fix this, if I could go back and stop what we have done, I would. Despite his words I harbored only regret. All my life I’d waited for that one moment to come. That one chance to change everything. With one swift flick of my bat I brought Tom to the floor, his head split like ripe fruit. Dr Mitchel looked on at me and smiled. “Down the hall to the left.” I ran as fast as my legs could take me until I stumbled towards the door. I turned the glass doorknob and rushed into the room. There I stood, on a platform, gridded and metallic. Each footstep brought a clang and clung and then a light. A bright white light. No longer was I the bystander. I waited in the dark as Tom danced into the room. As he did, I beat him down once more with the same bat I had already killed him with. His body fell to the floor with a thump and I left the house through a window. I watched through the steamed glass as I walked into the room and discovered the body. The complete lack of pain on my face as I found him. I made the call and the ambulance came. I had changed what would happen. I pictured Dr Mitchel siting in his office sipping his brandy as the body of his future self-faded along with the knowledge of his own demise. He was free to live outside of the thought of death. For a man who had seen everything, there is no mystery. But I had given him one moment that he can’t ever know. How or when he’ll die. Time isn’t set. It’s all just one possible eventuality. His death at the hands of Tom was one. Toms death at the hands of myself, another. Now the man who had waited for death to beat its bat at his door could see no farther than his individual present. The time traveler was free from the bounds of one probable outcome. Now I stand on the edge. Looking down at the cold waters below. This has to happen. I have to die. THE END