Part I submitted by
After these events I withdrew into myself. I used to spend most of the free time at home alone. Sometimes I spent the whole weekend lying in bed or playing video games.
In a couple of months I started having troubles falling asleep. Often I couldn’t resist the temptation to “dive” and replace the depressing reality with happy moments of distant past. After waking up I used to lie in the bed fighting a pulsing headache till dawn.
Insomnia made me sluggish and apathetic. But still I would retreat into memories every evening like an addict looking for a dose.
∗ ∗ ∗
I am fourteen years old. School is on summer break. Weather is boiling-hot, so my friends and I are hiding from the sun in a park.
We put our pocket money together to buy a large coke and some ice cream. I am laying on the grass in the shadow of a large willow listening to my friend’s jokes and eating lemon ice pop. If there’s a single word to describe my mind at this moment, it should be serenity.
∗ ∗ ∗
I am twelve. My father and I hike in the magnificent Crimean mountains. When we come home, my parents will finally break up, and mom will leave us. But it will be later. In the meantime I have nothing to worry about. Right now the only thing that attracts my attention is the pure beauty of nature.
∗ ∗ ∗
I am ten. I participate in the national math contest and take the second place to everyone’s surprise. When they call me to give a reward, I glance at my school teacher in the audience and see tears in her eyes.
∗ ∗ ∗
I am fifteen.
I sit at the porch of our cabin waiting for my friends. Disco starts in a couple of minutes, and it’s literally common knowledge that a party is the most important thing in the social life of teenagers in summer camp. So it’s only natural that I’m angry with my friend for keeping me waiting.
At long last they come out. I see Max and my heart fills with warmth and sorrow at the same time. Usually, I try to avoid memories of him, but this is a special occasion.
Max wears ripped jeans, Nirvana t-shirt and a cap. His look makes me amused: from an adult perspective he looks kinda funny, but such an image is taken much more seriously when you’re fifteen.
My parents used to send me to summer camp each year when I was at school, but this time is special. During this trip I will fall in love with a girl (even though our childish “relationship” will only hold for a couple of weeks) and kiss her for the first time in my life. After it happens, I’ll be so excited that we’ll be discussing this experience with Max for half the night.
When I think about it, it feels nostalgic, but I dismiss this feeling. How can I be so sentimental, if it hasn’t happened yet?
Our company finally arrives at a basketball court that also serves as a dance floor. Upbeat music is playing loudly, and most of the people have already gathered. Max nudges me and points at the girl I’m to experience an awkward excitement of the first kiss with. I look at the direction he’s pointing to, and freeze, struck dumb.
Cause I see Nika standing at the edge of the court.
When I met her at the university, she looked totally different, but still I recognize her at first sight. She has long hair with a few strands defiantly dyed pink. She wears a sundress (and it’s actually the first time I see her wearing anything other than a baggy hoodie and jeans).
As if on purpose, at the very same moment DJ announces a slow dance and turns on a soft melody. Without thinking about possible consequences, I approach Nika and ask her to dance. There’s a glimpse of surprise in her eyes, but she still accepts my invitation.
I put my hands on her waist. Suddenly, she moves closer to me and places her arms around my neck. We start dancing, and I belatedly introduce myself. She tells me her name too. I try to start a conversation and subconsciously fear that she won’t talk to me as it was the last time we met in future.
But the future is not here yet. There has been no quarrel between us yet. That’s why Nika answers my dumb questions, laughs at my jokes and sounds exactly the same I remember.
The song ends, and our dance does as well. To me this awkward teenage ritual seems to be the most romantic thing in the world at this moment.
I ask Nika to leave the party and sneak to the beach. Max gives me the thumbs up behind her back.
While we walk together, Nika tells me all kinds of things. She tells me about her favorite indie sci-fi movies. Says that she studies programming as a hobby. Then she says that she’ll soon begin preparing for the graduation exams, since she wants to go to a good university. I eagerly listen to her, enjoying every minute I spend with the girl I missed so much.
We reach the sandy bank of the river and sit on the concrete parapet. Nika notes that we mustn’t get close to the water without supervision, but I see cheerful sparkles in her eyes. I joke that if counselors catch us, at least we will serve a sentence together.
We sit silently and watch the river flow for a couple of minutes. At last Nika starts to speak:
“Do you believe in the butterfly effect? The theory that tiny events in the past…”
“...can have huge consequences,“ I finish the sentence. “You do something that you don’t consider to be important, but by chance it happens to affect the future a lot. Like a chain reaction. Yeah, I believe. Probably. Why do you ask?”
“Well, we met randomly just a couple of hours ago. For instance, imagine that I dressed differently today, and you didn’t notice me because of it, or something like that,” she suggests. “And we’d never meet as a result. Or we’d meet much later. In university, for example. And we’d never know that we even went to the same summer camp…” Nika pauses for a moment, and a vague paranoid thought arises in my mind all of a sudden. “You know, I like you a lot,” she unexpectedly finishes the monologue.
It looks like a coincidence, but ever since I got my power, I don’t believe in coincidences. I hesitate for a couple of seconds, but finally say: “I don’t mean to be rude but… What’s the date today?”
Nika seems surprised by this question. After a short silence, she says hesitantly: “The fifteenth of July?”
“Close enough,” I answer. The camp started only yesterday, so it’s virtually impossible to be so wrong. “It’s the seventh. And what’s the last movie you saw in the cinema?”
Nika fades. Her shoulders sag, and after a short pause she asks: “Which year are you from?”“October, 2019” I answer honestly.
“Huh,” she smiles miserably. “Me too. Maybe, that’s the only way we can be in the same past together ‒ if we go to sleep at the same time?”
She pauses again, and I finally decide to ask a question I have in mind for the last couple of minutes:
“Why did we stop talking? Why did you start ignoring me?”
She chuckles and starts to speak:
“Didn’t you get it? It started that evening at Ivan’s birthday party. We started arguing. You were stubborn as usual, so I said some stuff I immediately regretted. I decided to go back and fix it. But when I came back to the past, it appeared that you suddenly changed the subject before I was able to do anything. You must understand, my ability had never failed me before. I thought that events were invariant, unless I changed them myself. So when it happened, I became frightened and woke up,” Nika stops to catch her breath, but I stay silent digesting this information, so she continues: “At first I blamed the butterfly effect. I thought that I changed something myself, so I tried to get back again in order to amend what happened, but for some reason my powers didn’t work on you no matter how much I tried. Trust me, it was scary. I acted on a whim and pushed you away. And I told myself to forget you,” I see tears in her eyes. “I tried to replace you with other people. It didn’t work. On the contrary, I started thinking about you even more. My thoughts returned to the fact that you were beyond my power again and again, and it annoyed me. Also… I missed you a lot”.
I take her hand in mine without thinking. I know that I’ll never be able to change this moment, but it’s worth the risk.
∗ ∗ ∗
Nika tells me that she discovered her abilities when she fell asleep during the lecture. For a long time she thought that it was just a deja vu. I joke that some lecturers made me fall asleep without any time travel involved.
∗ ∗ ∗
She calls it “to wake up from our reality to another”. I call it “diving”. Different names, same meaning.
∗ ∗ ∗
I tell her that I once returned to 2011 to buy bitcoin, but when I “woke up” it appeared that cryptocurrency never became popular in the first place. I tell her that I tried doing it several times and gave up in the end. We discuss chaos theory for some time, and Nika suggests that it’s possible that bitcoin only became expensive by an incredible coincidence that accidentally occurred in our time branch.
∗ ∗ ∗
She says that she tried to make money from betting, but it turned out that results of most games are completely random. We laugh at it and agree that the universe has a sense of humor.
∗ ∗ ∗
Sun sets and it becomes colder. I give Nika my shirt to warm her up a bit.
∗ ∗ ∗
I tell her about the rules of “diving” that I derived. When I regret about “past me” being unable to remember the “dive”, Nika tells me a simple solution that makes me feel stupid. Turns out that she started the diary on the very same day when she discovered her ability to travel through time. Whenever she comes back to the past, she simply puts instructions for herself in the diary.
It reminds me of something. I realize that in despair Max tried to do the exact same thing ‒ that night in the abandoned building he tried to leave a diary.
I ask Nika if she's ever met other time travelers. After a negative response, I tell her the shocking story of my friend’s death. I also mention the creepy childhood memory.
We ask ourselves: how many time travelers are there around us? How many of them do we meet each day without even knowing?
∗ ∗ ∗
Sudden gust of fresh wind rustles reeds with a soft whispering. Nika moves closer to me. I hug her, and my heart starts beating faster.
∗ ∗ ∗
Nika tells me how she once tried to “dive” while already being in the past. I admire her courage ‒ I never attempted such a thing, and to be honest after traveling to the distant childhood I wouldn’t have tried. However, her experience is not really inspiring: she was able to go to the second level only for a second. When she “woke up” in reality, she felt so sick that she had to skip work next day.
∗ ∗ ∗
I hear voices behind our backs. A couple of kids come to the river bank and stop sixty feet behind. The girl giggles and tells the boy that this place seems to be already taken. We quietly wait until they leave.
I turn to Nika, and she kisses me, probably tired of waiting for me to do the next step.
Strictly speaking, that should be my first kiss. That thought makes me laugh.
∗ ∗ ∗
I tell Nika that we must stay together. It’s fate that we both happen to have these supernatural powers. She seriously answers that I must swear to never use my abilities on her. I agree to that.
We hear DJ announcing the last track of the party. He turns on a sweet indie song. Nika says that it’s very romantic, and we kiss till the melody reaches its end.
“Would you like to walk me home?” she asks playfully. Of course, I say yes.
Near the cabin she says that we need to say goodbye for now. We agree that we’ll both wake up next morning (which happens to be seven years later), and if we are actually a perfect match to each other, then we’ll probably wake up together.
After that I see that her eyes close for a moment, and when she regains consciousness, her face looks surprised for a couple of seconds. Then Nika giggles, kisses me goodbye and runs into the cabin. I realize that she “woke up”.
Of course, I’ll join her in the future. Eventually. No, I do not plan on changing anything or breaking my promises. However, after all I’ve been through, I won’t be satisfied by faint new memories of the changed reality in the morning. I don’t want to lose her anymore so I intend to truly live through everything that is destined for us.
I have a long way back to go.
∗ ∗ ∗
When I finally “wake up”, my head bursts with pain. It hurts so much that I cannot make a sound. There are fireworks in my eyes, so I cannot really see my surroundings. An attempt to move leads to an even greater pain and nausea that I hardly hold back. Suddenly, a cool hand touches me. The last thought before I lose consciousness is that it must be Nika.
∗ ∗ ∗
When I wake up again, I feel a bit better. Migraine is still pulsing in my head, but it’s bearable. I can feel sunlight through closed eyelids, so I realize that it’s morning already. It’s time to get up, but I continue to lie with my eyes closed and think about the past years.
∗ ∗ ∗
I recall how we started dating after that night at the camp. We spent the whole summer together walking in parks, cycling around the city and watching movies at her parents’ home.
I recall that in a couple of months we had our first sex. It wasn’t something to brag about: it was actually pretty awkward. Yet it moved our relationship to a whole next level.
I recall how Nika got into an accident after the prom. She broke her ankles in several places, and it left large terrible scars. That’s when she stopped wearing skirts or dresses.
I recall that we enrolled in the same university, but this time we also went to the same program.
I recall that after the first year in university, we got the identical tattoos on our shins. It covered the scars she was ashamed of.
I recall that one year later she discovered that she can time travel. She told me about it at once, and we experimented with her ability a lot together.
I recall that in a couple of years we finally started living together, and a year and a half ago I proposed to her. The wedding took place on June 22, and Max was my best man.
I recall that I woke up the next morning and saw Max sleeping on an armchair in our living room. He was drunk as hell, but most importantly he was alive.
I recall that we went to Spain for our honeymoon. On the last day of this vacation I looked at Nika’s happy face for the last time in the past. Then I finally “woke up”.
∗ ∗ ∗
I hear someone calling my name. I open my eyes to see Nika lying next to me in the bed.
But at that very second when the light hits my eyes, agony comes back. Just before I start screaming, I realize that I can only see with my left eye.
Nika rushes to me. She’s clearly scared. I try to get up, but I can’t. It feels like every bone in my body is broken. Fighting the excruciating pain, I try to tell Nika what happened, but for some reason my words get stuck somewhere between my brain and my mouth. At last, Nika pulls out her phone and calls an ambulance.
∗ ∗ ∗
When they took me to the hospital, I was already feeling a bit better. Doctors examined me for days. They did a bunch of CT scans and gave me several mutually exclusive diagnoses. In the end they agreed that I had an atypical ischemic stroke. At least it explained some part of my symptoms like partial loss of vision and aphasia.
I didn’t insist on specifying the diagnosis. It was crystal clear to me that modern science doesn't have the slightest idea about what happens in the human brain when its synapses try to adjust for several years of contradicting memories.
Speech disorder and loss of coordination passed quickly. In a couple of weeks migraines stopped as well. However, I lost sight in my right eye permanently. And that wasn’t the worst of it.
First of all, when I was finally discharged from the intensive care, Nika and I had a long unpleasant conversation. She cried at me, called me an irresponsible idiot and liar. I had nothing to say to defend myself. I was guilty in every way.
In the end she calmed down and even seemed to forgive me. But when I was discharged from the hospital, I discovered another troubling matter.
I was unable to “dive”.
We spent a lot of time working on it. Nika tried to help me, believing that my skills got rusty because of many years of break. But it was to no avail. I lost my power completely.
It would be difficult to understand me for someone who had never wielded such a power. Imagine that one morning you try to get up from your bed and suddenly realize that you forgot how to walk. You put your feet on the floor, but you fall whenever you try to stand up. That’s exactly how I felt.
I also remembered how a long time ago Uncle Misha said: “When you are fixed, you’ll understand”. Of course, I couldn’t know for sure, but I assumed that each person has some kind of the internal limit of energy. Each time that we traveled back and forth, we spent some of it. I didn’t know whether this energy source used to replenish after coming back or not, but it didn’t matter anymore. My last “dive” exhausted it completely, because I spent too much time in the past. I became fixed.
Nika shared my pain and sincerely sympathized, but it didn’t help. She was a successful software engineer with a perfect life (how could it be not perfect, if she was able to magically fix any problems?). I was disabled and suffering from constant migraines and deep depression. Each day we became more distant, and I was the only one guilty.
There was another unpleasant surprise. Now, when I was fixed, my memory started to work in a funny way. Each time when anybody changed the past, I continued to remember the old version of events instead of a new one.
This strange effect manifested itself for the first time when Nika called me from the office and asked me to look for her keys. I found them and told her so. The next thing I remember, I was sitting at the computer and there were no keys on the table.
It felt rather disturbing, and my first thought was that I have some kind of memory lapses because of the stroke. Actually, the doctor warned me that such things could happen. But when Nika came home from work, she was shocked by this story even more than I. She told me that she actually called me today, because she thought that she lost her keys. When I said that I found them, she “dived” into the morning and simply took them. I could not possibly remember that, because there was no call in the new version of reality.
At this point the gap between us grew even larger, and we started having trust issues.
In addition, I began to notice other changes that clearly proved that there are many time travelers around, and they are constantly editing the past.
One fine morning Nika and I were discussing our plans, and she mentioned that we were planning to go to the Twenty One Pilots show. The problem was that I’d never heard of these guys before. Manic Subsidal’s concert, that we had actually planned to visit, did not exist. In fact, there was no such band at all.
Another day I opened to play Heroes of Might and Magic only to realize that my favorite Forge faction was nowhere to be found. Google told me that it was designed but never added to the game because of the negative fandom reaction.
Several times I really got confused in my memories. Once I got off at the wrong stop when I was visiting my father. I mentioned a childhood friend who never existed to my mother (it scared her a lot). One time I even forgot the stove on (and I was pretty sure that I turned it off) ‒ Nika started scolding me, but then she saw a bewildered look on my face and simply started crying.
At this very moment I suddenly understood that most likely Uncle Misha wasn’t really schizophrenic.
∗ ∗ ∗
The most difficult thing is to see pity and sympathy surrounding me. They think that I suffered a terrible trauma and now I have difficulties distinguishing reality from fantasy. Each time I want to scream that it’s them who do not see the real world. It’s their lives that are getting overwritten every day by a small group of people who have real power.
It feels like a personal hell, designed specifically for me. Only I know what actually happens, but I cannot explain it to anyone.
Each night I go to sleep thinking that I want to wake up from this reality.
But I can’t.
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