In my remains
To learn about or order Jeremy Gosnell's debut novel, Neptune's Garden click here
Another dream. Her.
Time. The one variable that seemed to exist without control. It moved forward, never back. Like a rushing tide it continued without fail. For Erin Sheldon it passed slowly. Each day fading into a mosaic of scattered memories and forgotten dreams. Each moment passing with a subtle sense of déjà vu and a reminder of what might have been. Unsettled, anxious and uneasy Erin lived in a world that never stopped moving, in a life that never changed. As he stared into his bathroom mirror examining each new wrinkle, each subtle line that signaled yet more wear on his aging body he thought only of time. Looking around the bathroom he examined each inanimate object, each gadget. The light above hummed with apathy and the face in the mirror stared back, unrecognizable and disconnected. Erin would shower, shave, get dressed and trudge through another day of existing, his focus only on time as it slowly passed by.
He looked at his wife Anna as she lie in bed still asleep. She was beautiful, her eyes wrapped in a deep dream, a delicate smile on her face. Did life move so slowly for her, Erin wondered? Was she lost in this constant haze of time, searching for the discarded secret beneath the black veneer? His coffee a bitter reminder of the present. His breakfast the same tasteless mush as the day before. The sun beaming as it did each morning. The city below him moving in sync with watches, clocks and misdirection. Like a stone pillar in a strong wind Erin watched the world moving around him, his conception of reality growing fuzzier with each passing hour.
His car started as it always did. His drive to work was pleasant as it always was. His office neatly cleaned, his co-workers kind and friendly. The software he was writing ran perfectly. He arrived at his morning meetings prepared, as usual. Each second of every day was like a well scripted ballet. Fluid, timed and played out with expert precision. Nothing changed, the cast knew their roles intimately. Erin felt like a helpless extra in a cycle that went on with or without him.
Anna had a beautiful meal ready for him in the evening. The sunset over the city skyline was pink and purple, running through the clouds and illuminating Erin’s apartment windows. As a gentle night set in the city streets grew bare and as the world slept Erin thought. What did he remember? When did it happen? How did life fall into a perfect balance so predictable a morning thunderstorm felt like a boundless adventure? As the moon rose over the shimmering buildings around him, Erin allowed himself to sink deeper into thought. As night crept into early morning he stared at a blank page on his computer screen. Looking down he typed in the two words that for some reason existed in his mind like terrible demons. Too enthralling not to explore. Too dangerous to consider. Too powerful to contain. Though like a helpless machine, like the lifeless programs he wrote his fingers created the words. Time travel.
Nothing appeared. In a vast international network of information these words conjured only emptiness. It was as if the idea, the very thought was only that. One thought amongst many, filed away and forgotten. A topic not worth speaking of and unworthy of one written word. Why? Erin was confused by time. It was the one thing no one questioned, the one variable that seemed to exist without control.
As Erin rubbed his head, heavy with a lack of sleep, he knew another day would begin. The monotony of life would persevere and his pursuit to understand the very seconds that passed was hopeless.
Time, he thought as sleep settled in.
In a quiet room not far from Erin’s home a team of psychologists tried to determine just what made him type those two words. Decades of research had tried to prevent his mind from conceiving of time travel. Where had they failed? What had taken place during Erin’s procedure? What made him so different from the others? He was free to question life, just not time. Everything was perfect around him. Anna, his work, his home, the city; he himself had specified everything. The programming was perfect, his vital signs normal; had he become mentally ill? Without immediate answers the psychologists had only one choice. Pressing a small red button next to the computer keyboard a thin, shaky doctor with thick glasses spoke.
“Dr. Ross, monitoring room 3 please, Dr. Ross.”
The doctor entered, a tall muscular man, younger than the psychologist.
“Sir, it’s Erin Sheldon in district 11. He performed an internet search for time travel.”
“He what!” The young doctor exclaimed.
“He searched for time travel. Something is wrong. His vitals are okay. I am not sure what to do.” The thin psychologist replied.
“Jesus Christ, in twenty years we have never had an agent think about time travel let alone search for it. For fuck sake did you double check his program?”
“Not yet sir. I am pulling it up right now. Everything is in order. Sheldon wanted a high rise apartment in a city resembling Miami, Florida. His wife mid-thirties, blonde, slender build with a gentle face. He wanted to work in high-tech artificial intelligence. We gave him everything he specified, what triggered a regress. Let me check his standard parameters. Brain wave function is normal. What is happening to him?”
“I don’t know.” The young doctor replied. “I am going to have to contact the director.”
“Twenty years James.” The old director said leaning back in a thick leather chair. A small glass of whiskey to his left, a burning cigarette to his right. He paused for a moment taking a puff then a long sip of the drink.
“Not one malfunction. Not one failure. Every agent living out retirement without any need to question a past that was pulled out of their memory. A gorgeous wife, lavish apartment and high paying salary. What more could this fucking bastard want? This agency has provided him with his specified retirement program, is that not enough? Twenty years of success and you’re telling me that Erin Sheldon, that nerdy fucker from Idaho is having a relapse.”
“Sir, we can bring him in. Trigger an event. Get him to the hospital. Open his mind again, find the culprit. He won’t even remember.”
“Boy, you are either naive or stupid. Do you realize how dangerous a time continuum agent in the throes of relapse would become? Fragments of the past, future, present shattering in their nervous system. Overall mind collapse, control over space time fabric. These men are gods you idiot, we spend billions to make them that way. They have to be contained. They cannot ask questions.”
“We could always terminate him.” The young doctor suggested.
“You fool. These men make sure your mommy fucks your daddy. That we remain in power. That everything in this entire universe works in harmony. One, just one of those agents dies and everything they have ever done; thousands and thousands of years of history are gone. You and I, the world around us collapses and never was. Termination is not an option. We will have to try to reprogram him. Bring him in.”
Staring at Anna as she slept Erin thought. He couldn’t remember how they had met. Had they grown up together? What was Anna’s favorite color? Had they tried to conceive? Why didn’t they have any pets? She was as much a mystery to him as time. She was always sleeping. Erin preferred it that way, why? The quiet apartment around him, the city beneath his feet. All mysteries. Who was this strange woman in his bed? Staring at her answers were lost in the thick mist of a crumbling mind. Anna’s touch was cold, her mood always the same. Did she work? If so, where? Erin opened his closet reaching for his father’s old Remington. Was it his father’s, he couldn’t remember. If all this was real, this moment then perhaps a center mass of change would bring life into a visceral spiral of feeling.
Erin only wanted to feel again, he only wanted to remember, to understand. The gunshot was loud. As the smoke from the barrel began to fall Erin’s ears were still ringing. Anna was twitching as life struggled to hold on. Parts of her head and skull bone dotted the back wall. Pieces of brain matter were splattered covering the back of the bed, her blood soaking the pillows. The slender body thrashed, gasping for another breath, pumping oxygen into a crushed skull. Erin smiled slowly sliding another round into the chamber. Another shot. The sides of Anna’s face now covered the painting on their bedroom wall. Her body was still. Walking forward he examined the devastated remains. The blood wasn’t red. The brain matter counterfeit. Anna was an imitation of her. The dual mystery, time and her. Anna, Erin’s wife of fifteen years wasn’t a wife at all but a fucking robot.
Just as he prepared to leave the room, the apartment, the city. To seek the answers he now felt entitled to have, a knock came to the door.
“Mr. Sheldon.” A weak voice chirped on the other side. “Please, let us come in.”
When the door didn’t open at will, it was forced.
The room was dimly lit. Erin couldn’t make out the shape or contents. There was only a man, much older than he sitting across from him.
“Mr. Sheldon.” The man said. “We have encountered a problem with your programming. I apologize, this hasn’t happened in the past though rest assured it will be corrected. You will remain here in construct for several days until we sort the problem out. Then we will re-insert you. Mr. Sheldon, are you listening.”
Erin remembered. Suddenly, swiftly, a single rush of the visceral reality he had been seeking for so long. He remembered sitting in George Washington’s tent, the bleak, stark surface of Mars, ships the size of cities in an endless universe, beings which words could not describe and a love that his heart could never relinquish.
“Mr. Sheldon, I don’t like the way you’re staring at me.” The elderly man said.
“I don’t want the programming repaired. I don’t want to remain in construct. Let me go back.”
“Mr. Sheldon that is simply not an option. You signed a contract with this agency, you must remember. We gave you the retirement you requested. For god sakes man we fucking built her for you. Built you the life you specified in your contract. You are retired Mr. Sheldon, you have to go back to your life. I can offer a few modifications but leaving this construct is not going to happen!”
The room was alive. Erin was alive. He stared at the elderly man, reminding him of a power that had been dormant for far too long.
“What are you trying to do Mr. Sheldon, outthink us? Do you really believe we haven’t prepared for that possible event? You tried it before agent and failed. You will fail again!”
Erin stood up from his seat walking towards the old man. He passed slowly a quick breeze breaking over the wrinkled face.
“If you walk out that door everything you accomplished will fall apart. Time itself will come undone. You cannot do that.”
“Time is an illusion old man.” Erin said. “I can do it. I will.”
“If you go back to her the world will come undone.” The old man screamed.
“You know you can’t stop me. Don’t try.” Erin replied.
The door opened and Erin left. The old man was suddenly alone.
A report sat on the director’s desk. It was open to the first page. A short typed note offered the only explanation:
AGENT NAME: Sheldon, Erin
CONDITION: Mental Regression, Collapse
TERMS: Breach of contract, construct escape
Behind the report header was a hand written note:
The waves of time are infinite. The depth of space beyond understanding. As one who has sailed forever, I exist. Energy infinite, you will never see me again. What is done is done. What is undone, undone. You will remember me only, in my remains. – Erin Sheldon