Washed Away

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: The Imaginarium


This short story is based upon an idea JackCrawford and I came up with. Prompt: A man located in a time-proof building has the ability to send small boxes or pods to any point in time in order to
change history.

Submitted: March 05, 2018

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Submitted: March 05, 2018

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The sun shone dully overhead, struggling to puncture the thick haze that hung in the late morning sky. Ava bowed her head against the frigid wind which groped beneath her thick outer garments and sent a constant barrage of dust and debris at her partially concealed face. The sunglasses did little to keep dust out of her eyes, but at least the bandana she had secured around her mouth and nose prevented her from breathing in the vile air. She looked behind her to ensure that her rucksack had not been thrown open by the wind: Her knots had not failed her, the pack was securely fastened. It would not do to go through all this trouble and then discover that all the supplies had been covered in fine sand. They would, of course, be forced to use the supplies, but eating bread made from dirty flour was not a pleasant experience. 

The trail ahead of her, or as much as she could see, was clear. There were no large rocks or saguaros blocking the path, for which she was grateful. Ava hated having to stop in order to roll a boulder out of the way or hack away at a cactus or tree in order to clear the path. 

She was more worried, however, about running into members of the militia. The hardened warriors were not a pleasant bunch to run into even when there wasn't a storm in progress. They were ruthless against any they met, even if the ones they met were the ones whom they were supposed to be protecting. In this global war, everybody was a victim, especially those who wanted nothing to do with it. Survival was a full time occupation. 

After about an hour, the storm, mercifully, began to abate. The winds died down and the sun peaked out more strongly behind the smog, though still not altogether bright. Ava turned around and took in the Catalina Foothills below. She remembered, as a child, hiking along these trails with her father, looking out at the beautiful desert with awe. So much life thrived in the seemingly inhospitable Arizona heat. Ava could remember thinking that life always seemed to find a way. That was a long time ago. 

The desert was now more barren than she had ever known it to be. Most of the trees and cacti had died, and she couldn't remember the last time she had seen an animal scurry past. The war had taken so much from Ava. She turned back around. 

The hand grabbed her by the throat and nearly lifted her off the ground. The first thing she noticed, besides the grip about her throat, was the fetid smell of rotting teeth and body odor. An ugly, scarred face was inches from hers, and a grin which looked more like a grimace was stretched across it. 

“Hello there, beautiful,” he said. “Aren't you a lucky find, all the way out here in the middle of nowhere.”

“Let me go,” Ava said with as much force as she could. 

“Hey now, is that any way to talk to a member of the United People's Militia?”

She struggled against his grip for a moment before saying, “The militia is a joke! You've become no more than brain-addled thugs.”

“Brian-add—adder—added?” he mumbled, and a confused look swept across his face. 

It was no use trying to reason her way out of this. The man had clearly been fighting in the dead-zones for too long. All of the radiation and chemicals had clearly affected his mental state. Ava threw a few punches at the man, but it did little except to remind him that he still had a victim to play with. He grunted softly before grabbing Ava in a suffocating embrace. 

Ava struggled for several moments while the man attempted to remove her coat. Panic began to seize her. She had heard horror stories about people who had been captured by corrupted militia members. If the stories were true, she would be lucky if the man killed her before continuing with his sick pleasures. She closed her eyes and thought of Sasha. What would happen to her? Tears sprang to her eyes and suddenly Ava was weeping without restraint. 

But then she was on the ground, looking up at the man dressed in his filthy uniform covered with frayed patches. He was rigid and appeared to be seizing. His legs seemed to be vibrating, and an odd glow was coming from his midriff area. With an odd humming noise, his legs slid about a yard to the left, and his torso dropped to the desert ground. It was as if he had been sliced in half by an unseen sword. The legs swayed for a moment before toppling forward. Blood poured from the upper half as the man made a final, sickening gurgle before falling silent. 

Ava sat where she had fallen, staring at the macabre scene before her. Relief, confusion and horror coursed through her in equal measure as she tried to ascertain what had just happened. After what felt like hours, Ava slowly got to her feet, not taking her eyes off of the halved man. Then a thought cut through her shock and her eyes began to probe every inch of her surroundings. Something had to have done this thing, and it could be after her next. But she detected no hint of another threat near her. 

Without another thought, Ava picked her rucksack off the ground, leapt over the upper half of the potential rapist, and ran forward without another glance backwards. 

She wasn't sure how far she had run before she finally had to stop and catch her breath. The bandana had slid off of her nose, which was now clogged with dust, and her rucksack was hanging off of one shoulder. She coughed and blew her nose into the dirt before looking over her shoulder. There was no sign of the gruesome scene behind the rolling hills. With hundreds of yards between her and the militia man, Ava had a chance to reflect on how lucky she was to have gotten away from such a perilous situation. She actually laughed aloud. What were the chances of her attacker being spontaneously sliced in two? Before today, she would have thought such a thing were impossible. 

With a lighter heart, Ava continued along the path. Her mad sprint had brought her very close to her destination. Within minutes she was approaching home. 

“Sasha, it's me, open up,” Ava called. 

Within moments, the makeshift ocotillo door was pulled aside to allow entrance to the cave. A small, fifteen year old girl sat grinning in the cave's mouth. Ava entered, ruffling her sister's hair as she passed her. The inside was cramped but comfortable. In the center was a small fire, and sleeping bags, pillows and blankets were laid out along the walls. Farther in, just visible in the firelight, was a small collection of old photographs and keepsakes. Ava threw the rucksack aside and plopped down by the fire. 

“How did it go?” Sasha asked, pulling the door shut again. 

Ava smiled. “You are not going to believe what happened to me.” Then she dove into the complete story of her recent adventure, sparing no detail. Sasha looked on in rapt attention until Ava reached the part where she was miraculously saved, at which point Sasha just smiled. Clearly she didn't believe her, but that was okay. All Ava was concerned about was that she seemed to have a guardian angel watching out for her. 

 

That night Ava had strange dreams about crazed militia members spontaneously losing body parts. Through all of it, Ava could hear the strange humming which had accompanied the real event. She woke suddenly and realized that the humming was not just a dream. The same noise was coming from somewhere within the cave. She sat up and looked around. The fire had died down to a smoldering glow, making visibility limited. Right next to the embers, however, Ava noticed a strange object. 

With some difficulty, Ava wriggled out of her sleeping bag and crawled over to the fire. She knelt on the hard cave floor and picked up the object. The size and shape of an ostrich egg, the thing was crafted of solid metal, icy to the touch and without a blemish that she could see. It was indeed humming, and as she held it, the humming intensified. Ava looked quickly over at Sasha, but she didn't seem to be affected by the noise. 

The humming suddenly ceased, and the surface of the object cracked open with a soft hiss. Ava watched in wonder as the pod opened. She squinted at the pod's interior and saw only a scrap of paper within. With care, Ava took hold of the paper and brought it out of the pod. 

She unfolded the paper and struggled to see it in the darkness, but at that very moment the full moon shone in through the hole in the cave ceiling used to vent the fire's smoke. Perfect timing, Ava thought. 

The paper contained a brief note, written in a tidy scrawl:

Ava,

The world is wrong and it’s my fault. Everything you know should never have been. Soon this shall be rectified, but there will be consequences. You don't know me, but I know you and I am prepared to do anything to keep you from being washed away (or attacked by a crazed madman). I know you are confused, but I can explain everything. Meet me at the stream in exactly 14 minutes and 23 seconds (I am accounting for the 6 minutes and 17 seconds you will spend wondering whether or not you can trust me). 

-The Watcher

Ava stared at the note for several moments. She was indeed confused. There was very little about this note that Ava did not need explained. Yes, Ava would agree that the world was wrong, but how was it this Watcher’s fault? Everything you know should never have been? It all sounded like the ravings of a lunatic trying to wish away the circumstances in which he found himself.

He wanted her to meet him by the stream in the middle of the night. Why would she possibly agree to this? She read the note again, more carefully. She paused when she got to the statement or attacked by a crazed madman. Was he talking about the militia member? Did he have something to do with the man’s demise?

Without really deciding to do so, Ava stood up and crossed to the cave entrance. If nothing else, Ava wanted answers. She grabbed the bowie knife hanging from a peg in the cave wall and carefully pushed aside the ocotillo door.

There was only one stream that this Watcher could be talking about. Being Arizona, there wasn’t a lot of running water. In fact, the reason she and Sasha had chosen that cave was because it was near a water source. It would take less than 10 minutes to reach the stream. 

The walk was easy, aided by the glaring light of the full moon above. She walked perhaps faster than she would normally, eager to learn the truth about her encounter. She stumbled once, but didn’t slow down. When she reached the stream, which was bordered by large boulders, she walked right up to the edge and peered down into the black water. The moon reflected brightly back at her. So far, there was no one there. She looked across to the opposite bank, but saw nothing. 

“Hello, Ava.” 

Ava jumped, and as she did so her foot slipped on some loose gravel. She felt herself tipping forward, about to drop into the cool water, but an arm grabbed her around the waist and pulled her back. Once the arm had released her, she spun around. She was facing another man, though this one was clean cut and handsome. He was staring at her with dark eyes, as if afraid she would disappear.

“Who are you?” Ava demanded.

His face became confused. “I thought you read my note. Isn’t that why you’re here? I signed it ‘The Watcher’.” His voice was deep and youthful, but he spoke with an air of wisdom that belied his age.

“You’re telling me your name is ‘The Watcher’?” Ava said. 

The man hesitated. “Well, no, technically my name is—” He paused again. He seemed to need time to think. “William, I think,” he finished.

“You think?”

He nodded. “Yes. But please, call me The Watcher. Now listen, I don’t have very much time, there is a mistake that requires fixing.”

“You mean, ‘the world’?” 

“Well, no, the world is not a mistake, but what caused it to be in this state was,” The Watcher said. 

“And what caused it to be in this state?” Ava asked. 

The Watcher sighed heavily and sat down upon a nearby rock. “It is so hard to know beforehand what effects my actions will have. Most of the time there is little change, a few new people are born or a sitcom gets cancelled early, that kind of thing. That’s why I have to do my research, to reduce the magnitude of changes as much as possible. But it’s impossible to account for every eventuality, especially when you change something so big.”

“What are you talking about?”

The Watcher looked up at Ava. He sighed again. “Have you ever heard of the Titanic?”

Ava stared at him for a moment. Of what relevance was this question? But as she considered it, she thought that the name may have sounded familiar. “I think so. Maybe,” she said finally. 

The Watcher nodded. “Your great-grandmother probably told you about it at some point.” 

And when he said that, the memory clicked into place. It had been her great-grandmother who had told Ava the story of when she and her great-grandfather had honeymooned on the luxury steamship, the Titanic. That had been way back in the early 20th century, well before the war began. 

“Before I changed things, everybody knew what the Titanic was,” The Watcher continued. “They even made a movie about it, added some asinine love-story in to keep it interesting, I guess.” 

Ava was shaking her head. “Why would they make a movie about a boat?”

“Because that boat, the ‘unsinkable’ boat, as they called it—” The Watcher hesitated again. Then finally he said, “—sank.”

Silence hung in the air for several moments. The stream gurgled along, splashing against the rocks.

“No it didn’t,” Ava said finally. “My great-gran would have told me that.”

“What I should have said, I suppose, is that the Titanic was supposed to sink.” The Watcher looked up at Ava and shrugged.

“Okay,” Ava said slowly, “so the Titanic was supposed to sink but didn’t. How come?”

The Watcher cleared his throat. “Because of me.” 

Ava laughed. “You’re nowhere near old enough to have stopped that boat from sinking.”

The Watcher smiled sadly. “Alas, I don’t need to be. But perhaps a bit more experience would have made me wise enough to not stop it from sinking.”

Ava was getting frustrated. “Okay, stop speaking in riddles. Give me the whole story, and don’t leave out any important details. Okay, ‘Mister Watcher’?” 

The Watcher looked at Ava with a bit of surprise, but then smiled. “Very well. First of all, let's get something straight. I am a time traveller.”

“A time traveller?”

“Well, more of a time manipulator.”

“But—”

“I thought you wanted my story?” The Watcher said. Ava nodded and shut her mouth. “What I do, in layman’s terms, is manipulate certain events in history to change the outcome and, hopefully, make the world a better place. Most of the time, as I’ve said, this has minimal effect, and it’s usually positive. I do this by sending pods or boxes, sometimes crates, depending on the time period, which contain various items or letters which are designed to alter that event. You saw one such pod only minutes ago.

“I generally stick to small things, no going back and killing Hitler or anything. But I decided I would try something a little bit bigger this time. The Titanic was a perfect test. I mean, what harm could 1500 more people in the world do? So I saved the Titanic, and now the world is a hellhole, so to speak.”

“But why?” Ava said. Perhaps she had missed something.

“There was a couple on the Titanic who was supposed to die, but didn’t. They went on to have a little boy, who then grew up and had a family of his own. Their second born son was Adrian Belmont.”

Ava gasped. “You mean—?”

“That’s right, the man who sought world unity, and so decided to invade and try to claim the rest of the world in the name of peace. The single individual to whom all of this death and destruction can be traced.”

Ava shook her head in disbelief. “So you’re saying that none of this would have happened if the Titanic had sunk like it was supposed to?”

The Watcher simply nodded.

“Then why don’t you go back and reverse it?” 

“I will,” he said in a low voice. “Believe it or not, this is not the first time this has happened. I’ve had to undo changes to the timeline before.”

“So do it then!” Ava cried.

“There is one problem.” He cleared his throat and stood up. “A problem I had not anticipated. You see, before I undo any changes, I observe as much of the world I’ve created as I can, learn what exactly went wrong, follow all of the anomalies. That’s how I found you.”

She stared at him for a long moment. “Anomalies? What does that mean?”

He took a deep breath. “Those things, or people, that were never supposed to have existed. Your great-grandparents should have died on the Titanic. You should never have been born.”

Ava’s heart raced, pumping blood that should never have been hers through a body that should never have existed. “What does that mean? When you reset the timeline, will I—?”

“Not if I have anything to say about it,” The Watcher said, and there was a sudden fierceness in his eyes. “Ever since I first saw you, I haven’t been able to take my eyes off you. I’ve watched over you, protected you.”

“The militia member,” she said softly.

The Watcher smiled. “Just a simple time displacement. Sent his legs to where they would be in ten minutes. Usually I don’t manipulate time in such a way, but since this is all going to not exist soon…” He shrugged. “But the point is, I won’t let you disappear. That’s why I sent the pod to you. You can come with me, I have a time proof room, so to speak, that will protect you when the timeline is reset.” He was looking at her in excitement, a boyish grin on his face. 

Relief surged through Ava. She would be going to a better time, without having to endure this hellish war. “That’s great,” she said. “I’ll just go wake up Sasha, and we can go fix time.”

The Watcher’s face fell. “Oh, Sasha,” he said.

“What’s wrong?”

The Watcher cleared his throat again. “See, I’ve done the math, trying to determine what would have the least impact on the original timeline. Just you coming back would be no problem, but bringing your sister…” 

“I can’t bring my sister?” Ava said. Her heart dropped. How could she live in a world where Sasha didn’t exist?

“Well, no, I’m afraid not. But you don’t have to worry,” he said hastily, “it won’t be like she’ll die, she just will never have existed. But you can have a long and happy life, with no war or suffering.”

“No,” said Ava. Her bluntness and force surprised even herself. 

“No?” The Watcher said. His face was twisted by confusion.

“No,” she repeated. “I won’t leave without Sasha. At least if we are both going to disappear, we can do it together.” 

“But you won’t have any sort of consciousness, you won’t even know that you’re together.” 

“I don’t care,” she said. “I won’t live in a world without her.” She put as much finality into her voice as she could manage. 

The Watcher looked at her in confusion and sadness. “Oh, okay.” His voice sounded defeated. “I guess that’s that, then.” He turned and started to walk away, his shoulders hunched. Ava actually felt bad for him. Not enough to join him, however.

“Can you hold off on saving the world?” Ava called after him. “I want to spend one last moment with my sister.”

The Watcher looked back over his shoulder. A small, sad smile touched his lips as he said, “Of course.”

 

The Watcher sat at the console, watching Ava and Sasha hugging each other within the cramped cave. The moonlight caught Ava’s red hair, making it seem like a blazing fire for an instant. His finger hovered over the button which would incinerate everything within the box he had dropped in 1912. It would be no more than a passing oddity, an empty box.

He had calculated time trajectories, predicted events to a 98% accuracy, but he could never have predicted how Ava would respond to his offer. There was much to learn, he thought as he pressed the button. The screen went white as the world he had created was washed away, and a single tear fell onto the controls before him.


© Copyright 2018 J. R. Merrick. All rights reserved.

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