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The Man Who Ends All Things

Short story By: NWTwyford
Science fiction

The life of a Uni drop out is changed forever over the course of five meetings with what appears to be homeless man. Especially when said homeless man dies the first time they meet...

Submitted:Sep 5, 2011    Reads: 52    Comments: 1    Likes: 2   

I'm not sure how much of the following is true. I'm trying to work it out as I go. But, it wouldn't matter if I told you now, or a year from now, or even twenty years from now, because some things you're not meant to understand.
This story is about time, and how no matter how much we plan it, or manipulate it, it's always running out.
I was running out of time this morning, as I raced to eat breakfast before the chocolate turned the milk brown.
I was running out of time as I raced to give Kevin Dean his money. "Gangster" isn't the word I'd use, but you'd be hard pressed to find a better synonym.
And I was running out of time well before I thought I needed it.
I should probably clear something up before you get the wrong impression; I'm not some small time hood or thief. I'm smart, not in a street kind of way either. I studied; people even said I had an idea or two going. I got bored; I wanted results right away. What can I say? I was young. Then, for some reason gambling and a chemical addiction seemed like a good idea. Studying dropped away, and I was left with nothing to show for it except some nasty debts to the wrong people.
This is so you understand the kind of man I was, and how the events I am about to share made me realise how stupid I was being.
I ran down the alley. 'Murder Alley,' my friends and I dubbed it when we first moved here. Dingy in the day, downright sinister at night. Almost always deserted. It consisted of one long five hundred-metre stretch of alleyway with another alleyway intersecting halfway through.
Broken glass was always scattered across the alley first thing in the morning. I never took that as a good sign.
Then it happened.
"Shot!" he bellowed, stumbling out of nowhere. His eyes were fixed on mine. "Shot!" He started towards me.
The man was in agony, filthy and incoherent. He was about my height, maybe twenty years older than me. His head was unevenly shaved, he wore a battered trench coat, and his eyes were darker than any I would ever see again.
He lunged forward, clutching my arm. His grip was like a madman's, his forearm disgusting, five bloody rings carved deep into the flesh. I didn't know what his problem was, but it was clear enough there was something deeply wrong with this man.
"Kuh-!" he spat. It sounded like my name, like he was trying to say Connor, and it spooked me more than I already was. He kept repeating the word "shot," over and over. I guess he must have been, given the look of him.
From his coat, he drew something. I thought it was a gun and backed off, breaking his grip, ready to turn tail and run.
"Shot! Give me…" he trailed off.
Then I realised that the weapon was a syringe of some sort, a grotesque piece of industrial design. And he wanted me to administer it.
No way. Giving injections to crazy homeless people was something I did not do. I left him. As I did, another shout turned my head. It was worse, more strained than before. He choked and retched, and I watched him hack up, blood trailing from his lips. He collapsed to the ground convulsing.
I took a step towards him without realising, when he seemed to will the convulsions to stop.
His eyes met mine one last time, giving me a look I understood much later. In a whisper I heard so clearly it could he been etched into my mind, said "The man who ends all things."
Then he was dead before I could do anything else.
I stood there for a moment. Finally, I gathered my wits and approached him. I kept expecting him to spring to life, like something out of a horror film. I managed to overcome my fear and revulsion long enough to do the sort of checks everyone's seen on TV. He was dead.
My mind forced itself to work, more or less. My thoughts took two shapes, both vying for my attention:
"It's not your problem." And "You should've done something."
The second one, the one I didn't tell myself, was quiet at first, but it got louder.
But on that day, the first one took precedent.
And I still owed Kevin his money.
"It's not your problem," I repeated as a crowd started to form around the body.
Two weeks later somehow I still owed Kevin. I wasn't sure how. The death of the weird homeless guy (so I assumed he was homeless, so what) still shocked me, and oddly enough I'd expected myself to go into some chemical haze to deal with it.
I hadn't. I just couldn't stop thinking about it.
Maybe that's what got me behind on my payments. Either way, a fortnight later I found myself running from his men, intent on hurting me in ways I couldn't begin to comprehend. I didn't know I could run this fast. I couldn't. My lungs were burning.
Then… something truly bizarre happened.
I had crossed the part of murder alley where the alleys converged, and as Kevin's men passed, a familiar dark shape scattered them like pins.
It was the homeless guy. Alive.
He moved with… well, it wasn't skill, exactly. He was desperate and fierce, but seemed to know exactly what was going to happen. I didn't know whether to stand and watch or join in. I watched. I was good at that. I wouldn't forget what I saw.
When it was all over, he turned to me.
I wasn't sure if he was going to hit me too. I guessed (hoped?) that he wasn't. He saved me after all.
Then, he spoke.
"Listen carefully," he said, with intensity, "Remember exactly what I did there. Exactly, down to the last move. It's really important. The next time you see me tell me what happened."
"What?" I blurted, "Why? Look, I'm grateful for your help, but you…"
The numbness was leaving me, replaced by confusion.
"You're dead," I finished.
He stopped in his tracks, his face frozen. He looked down at his arm and held it. The bloody rings were there still, but seemed smaller this time, like they were diminished somehow. There were only three. He saw me looking and rolled down his sleeve, concealing them.
"It doesn't matter," he whispered.
Then, as if reciting lines from a book he'd read long ago he said:
"What would you do if you could guarantee your success and the future of everyone you cared about, but in doing so damn yourself. That's why I'm here and what I'm putting to you now."
What are you supposed to say to that? I don't even remember anymore, mindless protests and maybe some accusations. Whatever it was, it was enough for him to say:
"Look, just do as I said and remember what happened here."
"Why? Are you going to forget it?" I asked.
"Something like that," he replied, with a wry smile. "I'm running out of time. Take this," he ordered, handing me the weapon, "Give it to me the next time you see me. Meet you here in two weeks."
"What? Look, you're a weird and crazy old bastard, and I respect that, but…"
"No time for flattery pal. Gotta go."
And the weirdest thing happened. He vanished.
It could've been in any number of ways, but my memory has forbidden me from recalling. I couldn't tell you if he was beamed up, jumped through a portal, or just faded away, but the fact remains, he was there, and then he was gone, leaving me holding some blunt instrument, trying to deal with the strangest experience of my life.
Stunned, but not ungrateful.
Two weeks later and, yep, you guessed it; I was back in the same alley, waiting for the man, to quote Lou Reed.
I couldn't say what drew me there. I was intrigued. Even if it was weird, it was interesting, which was more than I could say for most of my experiences of late.
He'd done me a favour, and maybe offered me a better way of life. Hell, at the end of the day, what else better did I have to do?
Plus, since he saved my ass a fortnight ago, life had been pretty bearable. What he said had stayed with me and I think the possibility of something interesting happening had woken something in me.
This time I intended to do something other than stand there and watch.
He was there, in the alley again. He looked better than before. Last time he looked like shit. That being said, I'd still caught him vomiting.
"Okay, listen," he said, straight to business, "I'm gonna need a few minutes to catch up on what you're saying. Tell me what I should be doing."
"Right," I said, "The last time I was here, you kicked the stuffing out of some guys who were giving me some hassle." I broke down the fight in detail. He took note of every part, and told me to elaborate if I skimped any detail. I gave him back his club.
He winced when he took the weapon back, holding his arm. A red stain started to spread through his shirt. "Fuck me," he said, "That's sore."
"Yeah, those things look nasty," I agreed, "What's the deal with them anyway? I've never seen anything like them. Is it a drugs thing? Burns?"
"Nah. It just helps me do what I do. I just never knew it'd cane this much."
"You only have two marks."
"Yeah. So?"
"Last time I saw you, you had three," I remarked, "Those aren't the kind of marks that heal up so quickly. I think you had better tell me what's going on here."
"Okay," he sighed, "Right. Excuses. Reasons. How many times have we met?"
"Three," I said. I hated obvious questions, there's always a catch.
He sighed. This was going to be one of those speeches. "That's the thing," he began, "It's three for you. For me, this is only my second time. Now it's highly likely there's a time you've seen me but I haven't seen you. I imagine you've told me some things that'll affect me, but I don't need to hear them now, cos you'll tell me then, whenever that was. You following me here?"
"Barely. Go on."
No, not really, but I let him talk. It seemed the polite thing to do. There was a pretty damn good chance the crazy looking homeless guy who was probably on mescaline or PCP was talking utter shit, but still…
"I hope I don't need to tell you the reason I got you to tell me what I did to those guys was because I don't know yet. We have here a time paradox. It's handy in some instances but truth be told it's giving me a real fucking headache and I'm sure you feel the same. The reason for this is because my time machine - Jesus, I can't believe I'm describing it so casually - is pretty fucked and I'm lucky enough to be travelling as it is."
Now, I'm not ignorant to the concept of time travel. Even if I hadn't read Hawkins, which I had, or studied it rather extensively (I know, what a coincidence, huh?) I'd seen enough films.
"Okay, so this is all very interesting," I told him, "If you even expect me to believe this, but - and you'll have to excuse my lack of modesty here - what's any of this got to do with me? The first time I met you, you called me the man who ends all things. What's that mean?"
"Okay, I've talked so much already tonight I'm gonna make this simple. My future, it's pretty bad."
Steve told me about his world. A world that was grey and cold and dry. He told me the right touches to believe him, not laying it on too thick; this was no apocalyptic wasteland; no prison, but a world without hope, without future. He made it personal. He told me of his family, his friends. His wife.
Somewhere between confusion, sympathy and exasperation I agreed to help him. I was, apparently, the only one who could.
"It's fucked," he summarised, "And without pussyfooting around, it's your fault. Sorry. This isn't terminator; you're not the saviour, pretty much the opposite. We're fucked and you fucked us. So there it is."
"So… are you gonna kill me?"
"No. But I do need your help. We haven't much time."
He took from his long, dirty trench coat that wouldn't look out of place on a flasher or a private eye, that massive syringe I had seen four weeks ago. Then he rolled up his sleeve and injected himself. My eyes were drawn to those bloody rings on his arm.
"God, they must hurt." I said. It sounded rather stupid when I said it out loud.
"I need them to travel. It's a pretty simple way for you to see how many times I've come back."
Ah. The first time, the time he died, there were five. I didn't dare tell him though, that he died. I thought I should, but then I remembered that I will tell him. I had told him, and I couldn't change it now.
"How do you put yourself through it?"
"Someone once told me not everyone could time travel. The strength of will alone can kill most people. You need drive. Focus. Or it won't work."
"What's that for?" I asked, indicating the shot.
"It stabilises my heart. The trauma of jumping is something the human body should never be put through. Plus, you put a lot of nasty shit in your body to help you jump. This clears most of it up."
Weird. The research I'd done on this kind of indicated what he was saying could be true. It would make the most sense. There was still some juice in the syringe.
"Can I see that?" I asked.
He handed it over, removing the nearly empty container. "Keep the fluid, I've got more. Study it; let me know what you think."
"When you next see me. Here, another two weeks away, same bat-time… While you're doing that, I want you to keep your eyes open to the world around you. I know it's too soon to see what can bring ruin to the world, be it war, radiation, the ice caps going, and we're probably too small to make a difference, but we need to try. Understand me?"
"Yeah, I do."
And I did. Three words and somehow I'd committed myself to something I didn't understand but had to follow.
Once again, I watched this weird guy disappear from sight, and once again my mind struggled to comprehend it. Trying to understand something so impossible was like trying to remember a dream once you've awoken; sometimes, the more you try to remember it, the harder it is to remember, until all you feel is that you've forgotten something important.
But I had something now. Indefinable, vague, but something.
I started to think.
Again, two more weeks had passed, and I waited in the same alley for Steve. With no job, very few real friends and nothing else to do, I'd actually done what he said. I think he was starting to win me over.
For the first time since I could remember, I actually had a purpose, sort of. Digging out what reading I'd done on time travel, actually going to the library for the first time in years, and studying the serum Steve had given me (I never threw anything away, especially not my science equipment) had actually developed my ideas a hell of a lot.
He was right about looking at the world. Like some paranoid war vet, I'd been watching the news and reading the papers, keeping my eyes open, and it was hard enough not to be overwhelmed by the dangers around me, but oddly enough, I didn't mind that much. Just becoming aware of the world, coming out of my little introverted personal bubble made me feel so much more involved in it. So much more alive.
I'd brought my findings with me. Maybe there was something there. I hoped there was.
The air shimmered like a heat haze and I knew he was coming. It wasn't just my reading that told me this would be how it happened; it felt that way too.
He arrived. Although he was cleaner and younger, he wasn't doing well. He flailed about, eyes wide, the muscles clenched and convulsing.
I took the first action I could remember in a long while and held him down.
"Easy!" I shouted, "Easy, it's okay. You're okay."
"I need-"
"Oh yeah!" I remembered, "Hang on…"
I fumbled through Steve's coat and found the syringe from the inside pocket, loading it.
"I don't think you're in a fit state to do this yourself," I said administering the shot. He finally calmed down, the veins in his neck relaxed and he regained some semblance of sanity, despite looking exhausted.
"You're - I'm - young… it really worked."
"Steve…" he trailed off, "Yeah, I remember."
He looked down at his arm, winced and carefully rolled up his sleeve. A single, horrible bloody red ring had appeared on his arm.
"Damn that hurts," he moaned.
"There'll be more," I said, "I've seen them. It's… this is you're first time, isn't it? Here, I mean. I never really, really believed it until now."
"It is. Are you here to help me?"
"I think I am. I'm Connor. According to you, I'm going to do something really bad."
He recognised me. I knew it. But he didn't know what I was talking about. When the look of understanding crossed his face, the response he gave seemed wrong somehow. False maybe, but also like he remembered something sad, yet important. I didn't understand it at the time.
"The man who ends all things."
"Tell me what you know."
"You're from the future, which is fairly messed up," I recounted, "Your time machine's fucked, and I'm seeing you in a different order to you seeing me. I'm trying to investigate exactly what's going wrong, or what's going to go wrong, but it's hard; there's too much. I'm working my way out of a social black hole for the first time in years, and I'm afraid this could be the start of a time paradox that will eventually lead to me becoming your man who ends all things. The only thing I seem to comprehend, ironically, is the time travel. That part's easy. There's just touches I'm missing."
I always spoke too much when I got excited.
"Okay," he said, "Where do we go from here?"
It felt weird for him to ask me that.
I wasn't sure I knew either. Damn.
"I dunno. I don't want to say this for nothing Steve, but there's too much. If I bring about all this bad stuff, what do I do to end it all? Where do I work? Do you know that?"
"You worked for a research group pretty close to here. I can take you."
"We should check the net for it too. Come to think of it, the library would have stuff on it maybe. Press clippings, that sort of stuff."
"Very smart," he smiled, his tone dry yet approving.
"Well I'd have to be if I'm gonna bring around the apocalypse."
"Can I leave you to follow this when I go?"
"Sure, just don't expect me to be very helpful the next coupla times you see me. It's not the me you know now."
Again, the same alley, the same two week difference, but eight weeks from the time I'd been startled by a dirty looking, apparently homeless looking man, a different me sat and waited for the shift in the air that heralded Steve's arrival.
Two months, could it really be that small an amount of time with so much taking place? It made me crazy to think so.
No more addictions.
No more gambling debts. Even though Kevin Dean's men gave me no more grief, he still received what I thought was a fair and final settlement. I didn't want to take any chances.
My head was clear and since Steve and I had been researching, I'd been learning. I'd learnt so much about the laboratory I was allegedly destined to work in and the science of time travel I thought I could run the place if I wanted to. The research sat organised and piled up beside me, waiting for us to use it to prevent the oncoming darkness.
The shift came and I stood. I could never, ever, I thought, get used to this.
Steve fell through, and I ran to him. The sick, old man that he was, he didn't look good. I saw that fourth bloody ring formed as I knew it would, and was once again reminded of how short our time was.
Once again, I gave him the shot. His convulsions were bad now, the mad look in his eyes stronger, more desperate. Besides, I was getting good at this shot business now.
I should've been a doctor.
Finally he settled, recognising me.
"How many times have you met me?" he asked, no nonsense.
"No fucking about with you, is there? Five, now. You?"
"Four. So we're both up to scratch. No exposition?"
"No exposition. Although this is totally weird. It's completely different for the two of us. Let's get to it."
"I looked into your company before I saved you from those thugs. They do research. Weapons, communications, the lot. Oddly enough, I think they may even be involved in developing time travel. They're the ones."
"Time travel… is that how you…?"
"Does it matter?" he snapped, "What did you find out?"
Was that sharpness in his tone? It made me wonder why he was so keen to deflect the question. Never mind, I thought. We've got things to do, and as always, time was short.
Then it hit me, finally. It all came together.
Steve expected me to help him with his shot when I first saw him because he had no reason not to think that I wouldn't.
The reason why this man, who only wanted to help his people, his world, would die alone, was because of my unwillingness to help a stranger.
It was the Samaritan's tale, and I'd failed it utterly. No matter the circumstances, I should have done something.
I should have.
It was the least I could do to tell him, how there wouldn't be a next time, and for the first time in a lifetime, everything went blurry and I stuttered, failing to hold back tears meant as much for myself as for him.
I cursed myself; I was telling a man he was going to die and feeling sorry for me.
But Steve didn't seem to mind too much. He seemed to know what was coming. He said, "Thanks. I appreciate you telling me. I know how it happens now. Remember what happens here. Remember it. Use it. Make things right. I won't see you again."
And he didn't. He saw the selfish brat wearing my face who refused to help a sick old man.
But I saw him again. I had to. So many things needed to be resolved for me.
Something didn't add up. Too much was left to question. So he travelled in time. That, bizarrely enough, I believed. But the rest, the story of the future, too much seemed too unlikely. What was missing?
I did what he said. I used the information, took it to the University. They were ecstatic. I got on a course that let me develop 'my' ideas. Eventually, the government was in touch. They too were delighted. Their scientists asked me complex questions and noted my answers with fascination. Men in suits told me, with thoughts like these, I'd never need to work again.
It felt weird, like I was half taking the credit for somebody else's work, but the ideas made sense. In a way, they could have been mine, with the right luck, the right research.
Then, something clicked. Paradigm shift. Money, that's what it comes down to: money and success.
Steve's words flooded back to me:
What would you do if you knew you could guarantee your success and the future of everyone you care about, but in doing so you may damn yourself. That's why I'm here and what I'm putting to you now.
Him. Me. The man who ends all things.
All things? For whom? Him, certainly. But… the way I'd learnt all this, the circumstances… they were so precise. It could only mean one thing.
Not anyone can cross time. Steve told me. It takes drive, focus. You have to know the details.
A cold sweat came over me.
Steve's body was still in the morgue. After all that had happened, and with no one to claim him, the body had stayed. Cold storage.
I had to know.
There it was, the tattoo. Just like mine. Other things. His eyes and scars.
My future, my success, it was guaranteed. The ideas and research, those I had yet to develop, they would do for me. I'd have twenty years to perfect them, until I'd need to use them to traumatise an ungrateful, messed up young man into turning his life around and doing what I was going to do to him, what was done to me. A cycle, infinite, that I would be forever be bound to. That would save me and damn me simultaneously. Could I bear to know exactly when, where and how I was going to die in exchange for success? I think I could.
Because that's me now.
I'm the Man Who Ends All Things.


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