After I invented time travel, I really wanted to test out the Grandfather paradox. I set the clock for the morning before my grandfather would meet my grandmother and waited in the bushes outside his apartment with a stub-nosed shotgun. I figured the effects would be instantaneous if I was going to cease to exist.
He opened the door and I started pumping birdshot into his chest. When I was loading the third round, he passed away, and I ceased to exist.
Well, at least my soul left my body immediately and I met my grandfather-to-be’s on the way up. We met St. Peter, who looked seriously agitated. He started spouting off about how I “can’t play God” and how “God’s the only being who can mess with time like that.” I told him that he should just put our souls back and destroy my time machine (after I got back to my time of course). St. Peter started chuckling and told us he couldn’t do that. Once the soul left the body of a human at death, it could not be put back by anyone but God, and God wasn’t going to do that in this circumstance.
“So what’re we gonna do then?” I asked St. Peter. He started chuckling again and told me. My face went pale, but did I have a choice?
So that’s how I became my own grandfather. Any questions?
The first time? It was a car crash just outside of Nowhere, Montana. We’d been in the mountains for ten days and were driving home. I was almost asleep in the back seat and, as it turns out, the driver did fall asleep. Or was mesmerized by the road, or whatever. Regardless, he didn’t see that rancher drift up onto the highway off the dirt road. He hit him so hard it punched that old pickup truck’s battery through the radiator and literally creased the car we were in at the time.
All I remember was a field of green grass filling the windshield as we crossed over the median into oncoming traffic. There wasn’t much after that, really. I suppose a blinding flash when the semi smeared that car thin across the interstate. Nothing that poor driver could do, really. I mean, who’d expect a car to come flying up onto the highway, going the wrong direction, and going that fast?
It was an odd sensation, coming to a couple hours later in the ambulance. Of course, not as odd for me as it was for the guys who’d put the sheet over me.
But, that’s not quite the story of my first death, so I’ll leave that for another time.
Smithers. Mixed feelings return whenever I think of that name; and the memories send a sympathetic shiver down the collective spines of anyone that happens to be in the room at the moment. He was such a brilliant fellow, and although we expected him to eventually be driven to madness (“he saw too much of what was wrong with the world, you see” is what the psychologists say), it was never expected to be in such a dramatic manner.
The “usual” was all that was going to occur we were told, and fools we were to accept that as fact and not take further precautions. He somehow (exactly how, we shall never know) arranged to rend a chasm into the bowels of the earth, and within minutes the entire of North America was covered in magma.
Luckily, one of my seeds remained on the planet’s only moon and was able to grow with little impediment. When my new form gained awareness, I discovered that the resulting events stripped Earth of its precious atmosphere, exposing it’s fragile life-forms to radiation that they had never been intended to face in the raw interstellar form.
My time on that planet was brief and ended in sadness. The only consolation is that it will be remembered, unlike so many other worlds who perished far before their culmination.
I remember an overcast sky the day that I drowned. It was a twilit sky, bled of colour. The silence rushed past my sisters and I, fluttering like birdâ€™s wings against our cheeks as we rushed across the island, ducking between the dark pools, our feet sinking to the ankles in the soft sand.
Then the ground slipped from under me, the water rising up, sweeping me under. Green filled my watery world. It was viscous in my lungs. I broke the surface twice. Sinking for the last time, the water-nymphs wrapped their arms around me and held me tight: they sang me to my death.
I came back, sculpted from clay and river-weed. Murky water runs through my veins now. At night I hear rivers burbling from my heart, around my body and back again. And gills, soft and delicate, flare gently in the soft flesh of my neck. Now, the secret depths are my own.
A scream and then I died, falling through the floor and into nothingness below. Colors flashed before my eyes, patterns, symbols, words. A moment of recognition.
And elsewhere, a briefcase opened, a handshake, agreements reached.
What happened next is difficult to describe, even now. The falling, the colors, words, patterns – everything suddenly stopped. An instant later, I found myself lying naked on the floor, covered in the thinnest of cobwebs, in an unfamiliar room.
Looking back, I sometimes wonder if I should have acted differently. The fire swept through the building quickly and even though a body was never found, everyone suspected the owner had died in the flames.
Even after all these years, I never did find out whose body I inherited or why I was chosen. I’ve lived a mediocre life at best, never really treasuring this second chance I was given. As this life’s end now draws ever closer, there is no time for regret. The only thing that remains now is the hope to return to that singular moment of falling, of dying.
I never did see it coming when it hit me. No blaring horns or a ricochet sound warned of its approach. Just a thump and a loud, dull pain roaring in my chest. After I returned, the colors no longer seem bright enough. Even the spiciest foods tasted of cardboard and copper pennies. And night felt warmer than day.
Stomach muscles clenched and seized in spasmodic wrenching bursts as supper and then the remnants of lunch surfaced like a leaping whale. Offal stench and viscous filth cascaded into throat, mouth, nose, sinuses, and stinging eyes. Spider trails of ruptured capillaries bloomed in eyes, lids, face, lips; steady sanguine trickle from ears; searing uncontrolled, black bowel movements. Crescendo started at the toes, tightly rolling up the toes, metatarsals, ankles, fibia, tibia until agony began to dim the eyes; at the edge of endurance the fleshy pink began to emerge from shredded, bleeding throat, slip-sliding in heaving, crushing gusts. Clenching, cramping contractions came in cruel aftershocks to eject the alien organ until it sloughed onto the floor, fully emerged, and accompanied by a croaking, bloody, guttural scream. Once spent, it lurched into reverse: and interminable inward gasp for fresh air. The first a terrible, bellowing death rattle expended from an exhausted husk, the second deep, drawing intake of the breath of life… sudden oxygen influx accompanied by dizziness, and then unconsciousness.
Eyes opened in a trembling body, legs limply curled beneath. The heavy stench had not abated; cloying, humid vapors issued from pockets, reservoirs, of acrid loam on the floor. Any attempt to avoid the smell proved deeply misguided, as the mouth registered the acidic bite of defecation. Brittle crusts of putrefaction crumbled from eyelashes and brows, fell into the wretched sauce on the floor.
Slowly, the identity that terror and pain had expunged from my body and mind began to return, replaced by sickening recognition and disbelief. I scrambled to get up, but slipped and fell hard on my back, cracking skull against the filth-stained floor and sending out arcs of limpid splashing refuse; my head rocked to the side and brought me eye to socket with the fleshy mass piled on the floor. I stared at the sodden mass with sudden credulity, rose to my unsteady knees, and in a frantic investigatory haze separated, stretched, and spread out my own skin in the insipid muck, deflated and discarded as a misused inflatable doll. Adrenaline began to purge the tremors from my frame. I pulled it up by the hair. Hung each eye socket on curtain ring, pierced both elbows, and backed slowly away until I bumped into the cold tile of the opposite wall.
The bathroom was destroyed. Walls splattered and dripping with rivulets of erupted shit, vomit, piss, and unidentifiable detritus. Filth collected in the tub, sink, and toilet in thick, standing cesspiles. I turned and fled. Plunged myself seven times in the river. Burned the house.
My first death and second birth were identical. Unsure of which side of that equation I now stand, I pulled rumpled clothes from the backseat of the truck, dressed, and walked to work. Nothing had changed, only myself.
Snap: the flash is too bright, but the photographer’s new at his job. It’s okay. I’m famous enough to be patronizingly indulgent.
Snapsnap: I shift position, turn to face the camera directly, rather than over my shoulder, and smile. I’ve had a long time to practice my smile. God’s gift, mom told me it was. Use it for God, honey. Use it for God.
Snap. Snapsnap snap. Snap: God, that flash really is a bright one. Reminds me of the new halogen headlights I just had put on my car. Fiercely bright; blinding.
Snapsnap. Snap: Another pose. Who knew God’s work would mean the kind of immense, wealthy popularity that’d put me on magazine covers? Still. All for the glory, right? That’s what the camera’s for. Glory. Ohhh, yes.
Snap: Something feels off. Is there a pattern in the flashbulb-flare? Whatever; that’s paranoia. That’s the devil talkin’ in your head, tellin’ you you don’t deserve this. You killed that devil long ago, didn’t you? ‘Course I did. So there’s a line of kids out there behind this very building, starving and sweltering and thirsty and waiting to see the doctor I brought while I sit in the Ay-Cee and get my picture taken- isn’t that the point? I brought him. They wouldn’t have had a doctor at all if I hadn’t, and my, how this little backwater country’s press loves that fact. Look at the camera boy smile.
Snap!: The flare of white isn’t in front of my eyes, it’s inside my head, an explosion of searing, blinding pain that roots instantaneously at the back of my skull and blooms forward in a flicker of a second, to the untuned, cascading orchestra of glass shards falling. Bullet through the window. And as I fall forward, the camera boy smiles and smiles and smiles, and that bright signal-flash flares and flares and flares and this picture’ll be spread across every newspaper and website in the world.
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