It’s ironic, if you think about it. Love is spoken of like it’s the only thing to live for. As if the dream of building yourself up into a person you can be proud of is somehow a sour goal if you don’t decide to outsource it to a leech that wants to feed off of you.
I believed them. I truly believed that love would somehow give my life an otherwise unobtainable purpose. Now look what became of me, and look at the damage that’s been inflicted on the world because of that "purpose". Was it too late to repair that damage? Maybe, but it was never too late to start preventing future tragedy.
Sometimes I would think about what would’ve happened had that man never tried to kill me in the first place. If he hadn’t been driven to stick a knife in my back, if Ava and I had gone out later, if we had taken a different path, or if I had enough common sense to know not to trust Ava with my life, none of this would’ve happened.
I’d still be alive, but I’d remain blind to the true world around me. I’d be living a lie. A life built on foul pretenses will inevitably fall, as will a building constructed on rotten foundations.
Fate decided that I should learn that lesson the hard way. Now it has chosen me to be the one to spread that lesson to the rest of humanity. That’s the reason I was brought back, it had to be. If there was another reason, I implore the spectres to tell me.
I looked around the city I once called home. It was buzzing with activity, with life.
So many lives, so many lies, and so much to do.
My first weeks back weren’t noteworthy in the slightest. I went off to an old theater Ava and I used to frequent when I was still ignorant. She always liked the fantasy ones, and I did as well. They were glimpses into fiction, into what people would do in a world far different than their own.
There were people coming out in groups; those alone, those in couples, those with family. All of them were happily chittering and chattering about the movie, unable to let go of their idealistic world and return to reality.
I know most seem happy when they are in love. I mean, why wouldn’t they? Their brain is wired to make them think they’re living their best life.
But if you would throw away that life for somebody else? If you think that the value of another person is so important that you would sacrifice your own? That’s not a life worth living.
Just look at me. I decided that I wanted Ava to be a part of my life, and she abandoned me. Her life was ruined and mine ended just because of the mere fact that we loved each other. In a perfect world, she would’ve saved herself and never thought about me ever again.
Wouldn’t it have been better for both of us had we never loved each other at all? Love is humanity’s greatest mistake, and I can’t even fathom throwing away my life on something that doesn’t matter in the slightest.
As I looked over the theater, I noticed that there were two young teenagers who had snuck away from the crowd to walk around the back of the theater, giggling, hand-in-hand. They found an unoccupied bench sat next to each other. The girl scooted over until her shoulder was touching the boy’s. The boy wrapped his arm around the girl and pulled her closer.
I snuck around behind the bench. The boy heard me and quickly stood up, snapping around to meet my line of sight.
“Hey! Leave us alone, you creep!” he shouted.
“I don’t wish to intrude,” I reassured, “I just want to understand, if you’ll indulge me.”
“…What do you want?”
“The girl. You love her, do you not?”
“Of course I do. What, do you want money or somethin’?”
“What I want is far more valuable than that, little boy.”
“D-don’t talk to me like that!”
I stepped forward, and toward the girl, who yelped as she slunk back in her seat. Snickering, I ran a finger through her hair. “I wonder how much your love is really worth.”
The boy took action, shoving me away from his lover and knocking me off my balance. I tumbled to the ground as he then went to comfort the girl. From my position on the sidewalk, I called out to them, “Earth is no place for the weak… You better show your strength if you hope to get far.”
“You wanna see strength?!” The boy challenged me, shooting a glare in my direction. “I’ll show you strength!”
Already at a disadvantage, my peace was broken as the boy began to viciously attack me! I was dealt blow after blow every time I tried to rise from my position, and if I fought back, I was struck twice as hard!
I couldn’t walk away from the altercation victorious without some kind of weapon. I needed something, anything.
A knife… That’s what I needed! A simple but effective blade that would give me the upper hand, and finally put this fool in his place!
…And that’s when the peculiarities truly began to take form.
I felt a weight in my palm. When I got a break from the assault to open my fingers, I found, in my grip, the very knife that I desired, with a dark purple blade. Seizing the opportunity without question, I thrust the knife upward, catching the boy right in his heart!
He went quickly and mercifully. As his blood spilled, the girl screamed at the sight, jolting up from the bench and sprinting toward the entrance of the movie theater.
Oh, how familiar…
I gazed down at the blade in my hand, flipping it around, admiring how it glistened like an amethyst in the shining sun. Despite its captivating appearance, however, I no longer had a need for it. The dagger dematerialized in my hand.
The powers were not too difficult to get the hand of once I had experimented with them. I desired a pencil, and one would appear in my palms. I wanted a flower, and one would be bestowed upon me. Anything that could fit in my palms would be granted to me, or at least, a violet version of one.
With greater power than even the universe itself, I could do practically anything I wished… I walked away from the bench, heading back towards the streets of the town, my crime seemingly unnoticed.
Did I feel bad about ending that boy’s life just as quickly as mine ended?
No. I didn’t. I learned. Ava learned. If the death of a few innocents was what it took to get the message across, then so be it. I do wish I didn’t have to stoop that low, but change needed to happen. It didn’t matter how many people I had to kill if it made true change.
Was I a villain? The eyes of history will be the ones to decide that, and if my powers are any indication they’re going to take a rather keen interest in me. I didn’t care if people thanked me or not, I’d have made a change, and it would have been a change for the better.
I would honor that goal, and bring that peace, one body at a time.
I came across more and more couples as I traversed the streets. The ones that I saw, I did what I had to do. Each and every time, I would kill one, and the other would take off running.
I knew it.
Deep in every human, there’s a primordial urge to survive, but it’s buried under all this ‘love’ crap. Once I take away that love, the true human potential comes out.
That’s what humans should be. The strongest species on Earth shouldn’t be as weak as to throw their lives away for something meaningless. I knew humans could do so much more than that.
I came across another couple, this time in their car. After knocking on the window, the man stepped out. I once again channeled my dagger and drove it into his chest. The woman, like the rest, burst into a fit of screaming and crying.
I looked at her, then off toward the horizon.
I didn’t even know what I had become…
I wasn’t a human anymore, that’s for sure. I didn’t have to be bound by their rules. Now freed from the shackles of love, I was able to push the boundaries of what is deemed possible. Once again, I focused on the universe around me. When I came back to reality, I spread my new wings.
Now… I could soar.
I wasn’t a human, no… I was much more than that.
My name is Travis Montgomery, and that is a name that all had better remember.
I saw my house getting further and further away in my car’s rear view mirror. So much had happened recently, yet I had done so little. I just didn’t have the courage to do anything anymore. Just something as simple as falling in love with a guy had turned me into this hollow shell. Who knows what anything else would lead to?
I simply sheltered myself from everything that could happen. That way, I didn’t have to think about any of it. I let a few tears roll down my cheeks as I drove, toward a location I knew quite well. All I needed was some kind of solace…
I was on my way toward the rural house of the Montgomeries, spotting deep green treetops across the side of the road on my drive toward the outskirts of Auburn. A stark contrast from the town’s mostly urban climate.
The Montgomeries’ house was fairly small as far as houses went, with old deteriorating bricks lining the outer walls, and a wood-furnished roof. The concrete path leading to the front door was shimmering slightly from the late summer heat.
After knocking on their maple door, the older Cynthia Montgomery answered with an obviously-forced smile on her face.
“Avalonia! It’s so good to see you!”
“H-hey, Mrs. Montgomery…”
“Call me Cynthia, dear…”
A hug followed, but only out of courtesy. There was no affection involved, and the awkwardness soon enough drove us apart once more.
“What’s wrong, Ava?” She attempted to console me.
“I… I’m just so confused, Cynthia,” I quickly answered, wiping the tears from my eyes.
The lady found it best to get me distracted, turning me toward the leaves, blowing in a refreshing breeze.
“They’re peaceful, aren’t they?” Cynthia questioned with a smile, stepping to stand next to me.
I looked back out towards the thicket. For just a moment, I tried to push everything to the back of my mind and focus on what I was seeing.
It was extremely tranquil. The trees, the birds… Their whole world was just that acre of woodlands. They didn’t have to worry about losing the love of their life, or watching their career crash and burn, or anything like that.
When I came to the cabin before, I felt like I was part of that world. I always felt like I didn’t have to worry about any of that stuff either.
Now, I was more connected to reality. I shouldn’t spend my time imagining that I’m in a better world, not when there was so much I still needed to solve in my own…
But now I couldn’t solve anything, could I? Look what happened the last time I got faced with a challenge.
“You’ve got everything trapped inside you,” Cynthia spoke. “You can’t let it out if you don’t talk about it.”
“How are you handling this so well…?
She sighed, then calmly answered, “I’m not, Ava. I miss Travis so much… Some days, I’ll still accidentally fix up a third plate for dinner… I know you really loved him, and I loved him too.”
“But now he’s gone!” I shouted, averting my eyes.
“…Sometimes, I still think that Travis is with me,” Cynthia replied.
I was deeply insulted by that. I glared at her, and I could tell Cynthia knew what I was thinking.
She backed off a bit, providing clarification. “I-… I know he’s dead, but as long as you remember someone, they’re never really gone. Maybe that sounds cliché, but I think it to be true.”
I stayed silent. I had heard that a million times already.
“We all live for something. We all want to leave some kind of impact on the world. What do you think Travis would’ve wanted?” Cynthia continued.
I thought for a moment. Travis always talked about our future. He joked about us getting married someday, and starting a family. He even had it all planned out, two little boys to take after him, and a little girl to take after me.
I remember whenever he took me on dates, he always tried to make them extra special. He said that the loveliest lady in the world didn’t deserve anything less.
Travis really did love me.
“He wanted us to have a good life together,” I finally answered.
Cynthia kept talking. “I’m sure he wanted the best for you, and that you did for him. Now that he’s gone, what sense does it make for you to just throw away that good life?”
“What if something else happens?” I asked, getting a bit more agitated.
“What if it doesn’t?” Cynthia countered.
I had nothing to say to that.
“The impact he wanted to have was all for you. I’m sure he would’ve hated to see you like this,” Cynthia finished.
She was right.
The last thing Travis would’ve wanted was to see me just give up. He was the one always encouraging me. All that he wanted was to see a grin on my face, and to hear my laugh.
Travis always had this optimistic outlook on life. I could never stay sad when I had his messages of encouragement.
Even though he’s gone… I refuse to let those messages die.
“Thank you, Cynthia,” I said, as the lady patted me on the shoulder.
“Anytime,” she replied with a smile.
Struggling a bit, I returned the smile. I hadn’t done that in some time.
I would try to do better, to honor the man who meant so much to me. How I was acting before wasn’t right. Maybe Travis had passed, but I would still try and live the life he wanted for me.
I stayed for iced tea with the Montgomeries, and we shared laughs and stories about the man that had touched our lives so much…
“Hey, Ava?” Travis’ father asked in between sips.
“Do you wanna hear a funny story?”
“If it’ll help, sure.”
“…Sometimes, before your dates, Travis would come up to us with notecards, and we’d act out potential scenarios with him.”
“Heh… He was such a dork…”
“But he really cared that much about making sure it was special for you.”
“Was there anything that he didn’t put 110% into?”
“No… No, I suppose not!”
The calm before the storm was quite calming, indeed…
And as we cracked each other up, we were confident that we’d never have to face another storm ever again.
At times, I couldn’t help but consider the potential legacy that I would leave behind.
Off the beaten path, in a patch of barren road, lied my legacy. A clock shop. It had the finest timepieces that anyone in the town had ever seen. Anyone could go to a workshop and take a semester of clock making classes, but only someone with a true passion for them can so articulately perfect every detail. They don’t go too slow or too fast, and they never seem to break, either.
The building itself started as an unwanted and run-down shack. It had fallen victim to an ever-cruel endless stream of time, and was ripe for someone to inject passion into it. It proved to be far better than a decent operation. It works perfectly. Like clockwork.
I spend most of my time away from prying eyes. Though I love my clocks, they only tell the present. I need to look toward the future. So, I prefer the mostly quiet lab I have on the top floor.
Of course, it wasn’t so quiet at the moment.
“Okay, so, I have to wait a few days before texting, cause, y’know, I don’t wanna seem creepy… But I’m just so excited, Doc!”
“What have I told you about rambling?” I rhetorically asked my eager assistant.
Penny sat down and replied, “Yeah, I know. I’m sorry.”
I had heard her say that so many times before. I don’t even know why I bothered.
“Anyway…” Penny continued on with another one of her classic rambles. “So, to summarize, I ran into this boy on the way to the store, I got his number, and I think there’s something special there!”
I repeated, “That’s nice,” like I did every time she did this, going back to reading over my blueprints.
“He’s really cute!” Penny continued. “His name is Zinovi, and-”
I cut her off. “Penny, I’m really busy. Could you please go and work the shop?”
After that, Penny just sulked away, leaving the parts she had bought on the counter. I paused for just a second or two, pondering what could drive someone to think like Penny did. All she ever wanted was to live in the moment and do everything she could to make her life the best it could be. Apparently, that included playing smoochy-face with some boy off the street.
In my mind, that’s an absolutely silly way to live. You are put on this planet for a reason. That reason is not to sit around doing nothing, and just watch time march on without you.
You’ve got one life. One. If you want to make it a life worth living, then do something that the world will remember. Do something that will get your name inscribed on plaques that will persist for generations. Some may say that getting married is all they need, but we’ll see how many great inventions are produced from love alone.
Look at me. Years from now, time travel will be possible, and I will be the one to thank for it. Penny, instead, seems to live by some rotten moral code of ethics that you don’t live in the past or the future, only the present.
Well, that may sound right if you’re desperate to cling onto any kind of half-baked purpose in life, but focusing on the past and future is my job, and I’m going to be the one who’s touted as a genius for all of eternity. Forget all of your philosophical crap. That’s never going to help anybody at all.
Y’know what? If you want to go out and live in the ‘real world,’ be my guest. Penny can have her fun, go on her dates. That’s how most humans live. I have no qualms with that. It’s what keeps our species alive, after all.
But in a hundred years, no one will know her name. She needs to realize that any kind of family tree will eventually be chopped down. If you can’t leave a noticeable and positive impact on the world, then your life was wasted.
I’m not going to change the world by going to the movies for an hour or dancing the night away. That’s only going to serve as just another distraction. I’m getting distracted enough without subjecting myself to them out of some obligation.
Returning to my work, I laid out a sheet of paper on the table and scribbled rough sketches of the parts I was working with. Cogs, screws, gears, bolts, plates… I needed to find out how everything connected to each other.
Isn’t it strange that all of these parts were first created and applied centuries ago? If invented time travel, I could go back to the 1600s and invent it again. The only thing that ever truly changed was an evolution of the human mind. Priorities have shifted so much since then, despite the desire to invent remaining ever constant.
I wonder what I would do once time travel was created. Maybe I would end up trying out this life that Penny sought. Just sit back and relax, experience life in the past, present, or future, and watch as lives were changed by my actions.
But I’m sure that by then, there would still be more work to do. The world might still need me, and if the world needed me, then I had an obligation as a human being to help it.
I looked over all of the scattered pieces I had cluttered on my desk. So many small parts… Any one of them would seem insignificant in a pile with the others. But each and every one is vital. The greatest invention in human history couldn’t happen without everything in that pile working together.
All of them would be trying to make the world better. If a single one of them stopped working, then the entire system around it would crash. Catastrophe would ensure.
It’s a viewpoint that humans should adopt. Of course, metal doesn’t suddenly get distracted or lazy, or just suddenly stop working to go off and fall in love.
As I was panning over all the little parts, my eyes stopped on a small gear, probably from an old watch. It brought back a memory that I had long since forgotten. One from a simpler time, and not too long after I had first purchased the building.
It was when I finally caved in and invited Penny to work with me. I just needed someone to run the clock shop, and also a guinea pig to throw into the prototype for the energy converter.
She was so interested in my lab the first few days, not understanding the importance of what I was doing. I remember she looked at a tiny gear like this one. I had just tossed it off to the side in case I needed it later, and it served no practical use to me.
Penny asked if she could have it, saying that it would make a pretty necklace. Of course, I obliged, I was willing to accept anything that would get her out of my business faster.
It’s puzzling. Out of everything in my huge lab, it was a tiny, rusty gear that caught her attention. Penny always had a knack for ignoring the big picture, focusing on the small parts that make it up instead.
She could’ve asked me to teach her the basics of engineering or clock design, but instead, she hyper fixated on me teaching her fencing, an old hobby which I still occasionally practiced in my rare off-time. I was happy to introduce her to my old school, but I was still miffed at her lack of priority.
So naive. So ignorant.
At least she’s happy, I guess.
And when she’s happy, she’s not bothering me.
Back to my work, then.
Tick, tock. Tic- “♪ I am not throwing away my shot… ♪”
“♪ I am not throwing away my shot… ♪”
I leaned against the counter, nodding along to the Hamilton soundtrack. It was such a good musical! I originally didn’t get the hype, considering I wanted to see the performance before I listened to the music, but once I finally did, I was hooked like everyone else!
I needed some music to drown out all the ticking and tocking. It got really old after a while. Plus, this song always got me inspired.
Yeah, Doc didn’t like me playing music, but whatever. He would prefer I be entertained. But, then again, it was really hard to keep myself entertained, especially since Doc had clear rules when it came to what noises I could and couldn’t make.
Bored, I sat down in the swivel chair behind the counter and spun around a bit. Doc didn’t like that, either. He caught me twirling a few times before and told me that if any customers came in, it would look unprofessional.
…I didn’t have the heart to tell him we hadn’t had a customer in a long time. Nobody needs a clock and decides to drive out to some deserted road to get one. I mean, every once in a while, someone would come along and buy one, or ask to get a clock repaired. In scenarios like that, I’d have to drag Doc downstairs and watch him be passive-aggressive to a stranger for ten minutes while he diagnosed the clock.
But whatever, I get a place to hang out and a paycheck at the end of each week. I wouldn’t dare complain. I don’t even know where Doc gets the money to keep this place open. He probably just patents off his machines, or keeps the clock money in a safe somewhere, but it’s more fun to think about him being a secret agent or something.
It helps to have that imagination. Besides Tockman’s shop, I got a bit of extra spending money from writing, both published and for hire. I always carried around a notebook and a pencil in case inspiration strikes.
Since I couldn't get the idea of a time-traveling secret agent out of my head, I got out my notebook and jotted down story ideas.
I always got so excited when writing. Doc took notice and started making me put some bracelet thing on my arm whenever I would write anything.
Doc tells me that whatever energy I produce manages to keep his machines going, and whether he’s telling the truth about that or not, I still complied. At least he never forced me to run in one of those hamster wheels. The bracelet thingie makes me as tired as if I had just been running in one when I take it off, though… But the blue light it makes is kind of cool!
I wrote down little notes for a while but found myself distracted. I couldn’t get my mind off of Zinovi, and somehow, he worked his way through my brain and onto whatever notebook page I was on. I managed to fill an entire piece of paper with “Penny Nielson’s” and little hearts.
Figuring that enough time had passed between our meeting and talking to him again, I picked up my phone and sent a quick text to Zinovi.
“Hey, it’s Penny! I know this is sudden, but would u like to go out for dinner sometime?”
After a bit of thinking, I sent out the text and anxiously awaited a reply. I got a notification a little bit afterward and almost broke the swivel chair diving for my phone.
It was a text back from Zinovi!
“Sure. I’m always up for good food.”
“What kind of places do u like?” I sent out, then started to play the waiting game again. After a long while, I got another response.
“I like Italian,” he responded. I blushed and smirked a little as a quirky and flirty response came to mind.
“Guess its a good thing u ran into one the other day then…~ ;)” I sent back. “We can go to that new restaurant if you want. What time works for u?”
This time, it didn’t take that long for Zinovi to text back, though he did go back and forth from typing and stopping a bit before finally sending his response, which to my delight included a blushing and surprised emoji.
“Uh… I’m free on Saturday after 2…” his text read.
Feeling giddy, I sent, “See u then!” and set my phone down, giggling. I had definitely made up for being abrupt earlier.
This is actually happening! I can’t believe it!
I hadn’t actually gone on many dates before. Had a few sweethearts in high school and college, but they never really went anywhere. We were either too busy or too broke to go out on an actual date, and while none of them ended badly, the guy was usually the one that broke it off. I didn’t harbor any ill will towards them. We just weren’t right for each other, and that was that. But I had a good feeling about Zinovi, even if we just met the other day.
My mind began to wander, and I just couldn’t help it. I was daydreaming… Maybe Zinovi and I would have a future with each other. It would be nice… We would go on dates, support each other… We could get married, start a family, live out a peaceful life together.
Sounds like the perfect life, and I always imagined living it with the perfect guy. Sure, Doc wants to become famous, to change the world. He can invent his time travel and win whatever prizes that would come with it, but I don’t think I would like that kind of life in the spotlight.
I write because it’s fun. I hang out with others because that’s how you live your best life. If I spend my entire life with everyone else’s eyes on me, then I just feel like I’m failing if I don’t do anything exciting. I don’t want to live for the gossip columnists. I want to live for my family, for my friends, for those I love. Sometimes, I’ll pick up a magazine to look at when I’m at a bus stop or something.
The top cover stories are all about what kind of shirt or dress an actress wears when she goes out for dinner. No thanks. The entire life of a celebrity is mostly just people they’ve never met judging them for things that don’t matter. I don’t want that! I want people to love me for who I am… Not what kind of coffee I like.
A buzz on my phone brought me back to reality. In my boredom, I had been fiddling with a little gear I had hanging on a black leather cord around my neck. It was joined by another necklace, a pretty jewel that I had gotten after my great grandmother passed away.
Now thinking about my outfit, I considered what I would wear on my date with Zinovi. Well, yeah, I want him to love me for who I am… But assuming the date goes well, it’ll be a night both of us remember for a long time. It just seemed appropriate to wear something a little nicer than the dirty jeans and purple shirt that he had first seen me in… Maybe one day, we’d be telling our kids about that very moment!
...A cute dress never killed anybody.