Allan Darque: sixteen years of age and hardly a day, he sat alone upon the porch of the ranch home where he lived with his parents and two younger brothers. It was night, the AC mounted in his room window hummed. Junebugs, moths, and mosquitoes flitted about, tossing themselves at the outdoor lamps with soft plinks. Their efforts cast faint shadows, and reminded Allan about how small and insignificant any one human was in the world.
“All us people… we work so hard, but really, we’re just casting these shadows nobody sees,” he said aloud.
He stared, melancholy, at the Nokia cellphone his mother owned, which he used to talk to Alexa, a hundred miles away. She was his girlfriend then; somehow they’d maintained this tumultuous long distance relationship in their youth, with regular email and phone correspondences. But he missed her touch, the warmth of her breath, and the smell of her perfume. He wanted to hear her laugh at his stupid jokes, and hold her hand with fingers intertwined.
He’d read her last email hardly an hour ago, and it was that email which crushed his youthful heart, not for the first time. It hurt so much, he had trouble breathing at times, and clutched at his breast, wondering if his heart might burst from the pain. Was it normal to feel this way?
He thought, “I’m a man, I shouldn’t be hurt by things like this.” But thinking that didn’t change the sense that a knife had been plunged through his chest. No, actually, if that were the case, it might have been less painful. He might have fainted from blood loss and died peacefully. This was worse: he had to remain awake and soberly experience the full-force of the blunt trauma.
He looked at the phone, unable to get himself to dial the digits he knew too well. 814… that was the area code. What was the phone number… his mind refused to tell him. It was too painful to remember.
It was far easier to remember the contents of the letter.
What to say. This is too difficult to write. You have been a terrific first boyfriend. But I realize now it is time to close this chapter of my life.
I want to remember our time together fondly, as I grow old. I want to look back and cherish our memories. I will never forget our first kiss.
You will always be my first love.
Allan whimpered, feeling pathetic. He squeezed the phone as tears flowed uncontrollably down his face. He’d tried drafting a reply, but he couldn’t get himself to send it.
I understand. I will always care about you.
The thing that made him most angry was his inability to do anything to change this fate. He hadn’t chosen to move here. If he had been there with her, he was confident this wouldn’t have happened. Maybe they would have broken up some day, but not in this way that made him feel so utterly helpless.
His reply was so sterile, so forgettable. He cared about her enough to understand the kindest thing he could do was to let her go without a fuss, because he could not convey any actions beyond words to communicate his true feelings. And even if he could do something about it, even if he could drive down to go see her, he remembered the excited manner by which she had spoken of other boys in her classes at high school. Chances were, she already liked someone else, and Allan’s imposition of love would be undesirable. Maybe the honest truth was, she was bored of him, and he was simply a comfortable stepping stone, a good first boyfriend. This was her way of letting him go gently, a convenience she had because he was so far away.
This thought slashed through him like a saw through paper. He tried to convince himself that it was mature to understand this implicit truth and let her go, but that was easier said than done.
He clenched his teeth. He had no friends to tell, and his parents didn’t care about this sort of thing. He wiped away the tears furiously from his face. It was just youthful love, he’d get over it. The thing that mattered more were his studies, his grades. That’s how his parents would reassure him.
He sobbed, because that wasn’t how he felt. School was a trivial contrivance, grades were meaningless. What did any of those things matter? He clenched his fists and tightened his stomach. He wanted to scream, to smash his fists into the concrete, but reason stopped him from such outlashes.
Finally exhausted from withholding his emotions, he heaved heavy breaths, the tears on his face drying. He felt nothing. Just broken.
From the distance, the loud turbocharger of a car drew near. Headlights splashed over the neighborhood street, then a black sports sedan pulled up into the driveway, its powerful engine humming audibly. Curious and surprised because they were not expecting anyone, Allan scrutinized the vehicle, but could not make out anything familiar about it.
The headlights turned off, along with the engine, and the two front doors swung open. Two men got out, their faces difficult for Allan to make out in the dark. They were both about the same height, with long, black hair. As they walked up the sidewalk and towards the front door, Allan stood up. One of them said something quietly, and the other chuckled in a deep, hearty way. As they drew near, Allan was able to make out their grinning faces, and felt strangely comforted by their presence.
“Good evening,” one of them said in a deep and pleasant growl. “Allan Darque, I presume?”
Allan nodded, not quite sure what to say.
The man reached out his hand. “Severyn Solitus. And this here,” he gestured to the other man, “my protege, Sirius Solitus.”
Sirius shoved Severyn roughly, causing him to take a step and retract his hand to maintain his balance. At this, Severyn laughed, while Sirius shook his head with a mischievous grin. “Protege? Don’t make me beat you,” he said, forming a fist and shaking it threateningly.
Allan couldn’t help but chuckle at their antics. It was so warmly familiar. He felt like the two of them were brothers, they both looked and spoke so similar to the other.
Severyn straightened himself out, brushing off his polo and fixing his collar, even though he didn’t have to do either. “Please excuse his behavior, he’s been this violent since birth…”
“Violent? I’ll show you violent,” Sirius retorted.
Smiling, Severyn extended his hand towards Allan once more. “Pleasure to meet you, Allan.”
Allan took his hand and nodded, still unsure of what to say. There was something familiar about their eyes and demeanor… but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.
“Mind if we take a seat next to you?” Severyn asked.
“Oh… okay,” Allan nodded, feeling slightly apprehensive. The two men sat down next to him, Sirius to Allan’s left and Severyn to his right.
“I do apologize for our rather… disruptive appearance,” Severyn said in a serious tone while Allan watched him speak. Meanwhile, Allan felt Sirius shuffling in his seat, and turned to watch him produce something from his pant pocket.
“Smoke,” Sirius said deftly, a cigarette suddenly appearing between his lips. He flicked open a windproof lighter and after two clicks, a flame erupted to light his smoke.
“Excuse him,” Severyn continued. “He’s always been somewhat lacking in manners.”
Allan felt Sirius reach around behind him and punch Severyn’s shoulder, to which Severyn stifled a chuckle.
“Ahem…” Severyn cleared his throat. “Where to begin… ah! Foremost, happy birthday, young Darque.”
Severyn slapped Allan’s back a little too enthusiastically, causing Allan to knock his head forward and cough, choking on his spit, to which Sirius continued slapping the poor boy’s back, trying to stop him from dying.
“Thanks,” Allan managed weakly, wiping away the saliva dribbling from his lips.
“He’s sixteen now, en’t he?” Sirius asked Severyn first, then, before getting a response, he redirected to Allan, “You’re sixteen now boy, aren’t ya?”
Allan nodded. “Yeah. Sixteen and a day.”
“Well, good for you m’boy,” Severyn commented. “Jolly good age.”
“Great age,” Sirius agreed.
“Although I imagine young Allan here was just traumatized by… what’s-her-name…”
“Lexus?” Sirius volunteered.
“No, no,” Severyn countered. “Alexandra? No, that’s not it either… Boy, my memory sure has dissipated over the eons… I remember a time when details like a woman’s name was the most important thing to me. Especially my first flame!”
“You were hung up on her for a solid decade,” Sirius commented as he exhaled a cloud of smoke.
“Right, right. Ah, well, no matter, Allan can elucidate for us now. What’s her name?” Severyn asked.
Allan looked at this stranger with incredulous abashedness. “Uh… who now?” He hoped to God this random person wasn’t referring to his love life.
“Your girlfriend,” Severyn replied coolly without missing a beat, even as Allan’s heart seemed to miss a few.
“Ex,” Sirius corrected unhelpfully between drags.
“Right, right. Ex-girlfriend. Heart slashed and all that jazz,” Severyn corrected himself, drawing an ex across his heart to emphasize the point.
Looking down and feeling his stomach sink with shame, Allan nodded silently. “Alexa,” he said quietly, hoping they wouldn’t hear.
“Ah, that’s right! It was just on the tips of our tongues,” Severyn nodded somewhat triumphantly. “Well, as I was saying… I’m sure your heart is leaden with thoughts of this Lexus or Alexandra or whatever, but rest assured, my dear boy, she does not know what great man she is letting go.”
“Yes, yes,” Sirius agreed, “who is but a weakling coward now, and even after many a year, develops into little more than an overgrown man-child.”
Allan felt a fist pound into his left shoulder hard, and yelped with unexpected pain. “Ow!”
“Oh, whoops, sorry, meant to hit Sirius there,” Severyn coughed as Sirius clapped his knees with raucous laughter.
“Are you talking about me?” Allan asked angrily as he rubbed his shoulder.
Severyn looked very seriously at Allan. “Who else would we be talking about?”
“You act as if you know my future,” Allan fumed, still upset over the punch and stinging emotionally from being called a weakling, coward, and man-child in one sentence.
“Why, in a manner of speaking, yes we do, m’lad,” Sirius replied.
“You see, we are Worldwatchers,” Severyn continued. “Kind of like the Skystalkers in Star Cars or whatever that Jorge Cukas film everyone was lady gaga about…”
“I think you’re mixing up your film references and colloquialisms, you dyslexic wombat,” Sirius scoffed. “And no Allan, we are nothing at all like the Skygawkers.”
“Oh, whatever,” Severyn shook his head, “the whole lot of Star Bars was trash after Dalt Wisney bought the film rights.”
Allan shook his head, unsure if these guys were crazy, stupid, or moronic… no, they were definitely all three. “Whatever, what’s your point? Are you saying you two are from the future or something?”
“Well… again, in manner of speaking, m’lad. I daresay, we don’t come from your particular future, no,” Severyn began. “So we don’t really know your future, per se. But we have a gist of it.”
“You see, time is nonlinear,” Sirius suddenly interjected, cutting Severyn off. “Really, time as you perceive it is an artifact of the phase differential in a four-dimensional Maclavian hologradient across a five-dimensional quaternionic manifold,” he said excitedly.
“No need to blow the boy’s brains out with the jargon. Do you understand basic two-dimensional integral mathematics, Allan?” Severyn asked.
“Uhm… maybe?” Allan answered, his mind spinning thinking about Riemann sums and the area underneath curves.
“And what about quantum mechanics, are you familiar with the principles of quantum superposition and Schrodinger’s cat?” Severyn continued.
Allan nodded quietly. “I… think so. The concept that the cat is both dead and alive until it is observed, or measured?”
“Spot on, lad,” Severyn encouraged. “Well, then I’m sure you’re familiar with the many universes theory that they bank on in the Carnival universe superhero films, especially Revengers: Begingame?”
Allan squinted, wondering how this man had no problem remembering quantum mechanics and yet couldn’t remember the names of famous films and their franchises. “Uh… yeah, basically every decision of ours spins off a parallel universe or something.”
“Right,” Sirius suddenly took over, causing Allan to turn his head so fast he felt a muscle spasm. “Except not quite. You see, the truth is, all of those universes already exist in a balanced complex superposition. Time permeates all universes simultaneously. All the destinies of all the worlds are intertwined and preordained, yet simultaneously rewritten constantly in a zero-sum exchange. Much as we cannot observe quantum phenomena absolutely, we can never know the outcome of time across all universes absolutely.”
“Oh… kay…” Allan said, struggling to keep up.
“Think of it this way,” Severyn attempted to clarify. “We know the beginning of everything was nothing. We also know the end of everything is nothing. We know, invariably, that there is something in between that beginning and end. But what that something is could be anything, and it is always amorphous, changing, contingent upon the actions of the actors and beings in all universes. Time is like a snapshot of all universes all at once, superimposed. Each universe could be said to occupy something similar to a quantum state. Mathematically, it’s representable by a multi-dimensional manifold integral over the limit of all universes. Does that make sense?”
“Sort of… though it’s strange to think of time existing as a sum,” Allan said, trying to understand how the mathematics for any of that might work.
“It would probably make more sense if you were familiar with the concepts of vector maths and calculus, especially as it relates to the calculation of flux permeating a virtual surface,” Severyn said not so helpfully. “But no matter, we’re only bombarding you with a very high dimensional picture. Your basic understanding of integration should suffice. I’m sure you’ll learn the fundamental mathematics as you grow older.
“In any case,” Severyn continued, “the important takeaway from all of this is that the integration to produce time has an infinite number of associated solutions, similar to how the two dimensional integration of a curve produces infinitely many solutions owing to the constant term. Does that make sense?”
This part Allan understood perfectly, and he nodded vigorously to communicate his understanding, glad that Severyn was taking the time to distill it down to things he could relate to.
Severyn smiled affectionately. “The only difference is, even with initial conditions, the time integral still produces infinitely many solutions. Thus, it is impossible to genuinely predict the path that time will take to collapse back into nothing, at the end of all things. Make sense?”
Allan thought hard. For a moment, his brain felt scrambled, but suddenly he began thinking and comprehending with startling lucidity. “Okay… I think I’m getting the gist of it,” Allan smiled.
“Good,” Severyn said, smiling warmly and patting Allan on the back. “Now, having said that time is unpredictable in what path it will take, whilst all universes are intertwined yet orthogonal to one another… let us say that, ahem, there are still heuristics to determine with some accuracy the probabilities of certain outcomes. In this regard, we Worldwatchers claim there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ potentialities to time across all universes, though I use these terms lightly.
“Now, what eventuality is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’ is entirely subjective. Much as your Lexus breaking up with you is bad for you, but maybe good by her, there are different perceptions of which outcomes are good and bad, at the universe-of-universes scale. As Worldwatchers, our job is not to take a stance on any of these outcomes. Sirius?”
Allan turned to watch Sirius putting out the cigarette butt on the concrete, then flicking it into the darkness. He crossed his fingers, hoping his parents wouldn’t find it and come haranguing him later.
“Well,” Sirius began. “Despite our neutrality, there is one particular outcome we are against.”
Allan nodded. “What’s that?”
“Absolute nothingness,” both Severyn and Sirius said in unison.
“You see, absolute nullity is a potentiality, in which nothing ever exists at all,” Sirius said.
“In fact,” Severyn continued, “it may be argued that it is the most natural state of all universes, because it is the beginning and end of everything. But you see, there are agents that wish for it to be the only state of everything. Does this make sense?”
“You mean…” Allan started. “If nothing existed, ever?”
“That’s right. Your parents, your brothers…” Sirius began.
“Your loves and heartaches…” Severyn continued.
“Your pain and suffering. Your joy and happiness. Your struggles in existence.” Sirius alternated.
Allan thought about it. “Honestly, I can’t say that’d be a bad thing,” he finally said quietly.
Severyn nodded, understanding. He gripped one of Allan’s shoulders comfortingly. “I know. You and few other exceptional beings. But you’re not the only person, are you?”
Allan shook his head.
“Even if you may see the beauty in nothing, you are a rarity. Most beings are too myopic and too centered upon their own existences. They need existence, and the thought of nothing is frightening to them.”
Allan nodded. That made sense. “Taking away reality would be like killing everyone and everything…”
Severyn winked. “There’s nothing bad or evil about that outcome… as I said before, we Worldwatchers are neutral to it. But what we sincerely believe is that, existence and reality serve a purpose. Because reality has existed, we ensure its continued existence and prevent its erasure by those who wish otherwise.”
“You mean, there are people who want to make it so nothing ever existed?” Allan asked.
Severyn nodded warmly. “Certainly. Good people, I might add, though many call them unspeakably evil. But they shall all be Judged by their intentions, or rather they all have been Judged… and as I keep saying… we Worldwatchers do not presume them good or bad. Only the Watcher of All Worlds, the Infinite Eye, wields the scales of true Justice, for He sees and perceives all. We simply ensure existence.”
“It sounds like you’re talking about God,” Allan said.
“Is that what He’s called here?” Sirius asked. “Sounds an awful lot like ‘dog’.”
Severyn scratched his chin, suddenly deep in thought. “Perhaps because He is Man’s best friend?” He guffawed at his joke.
“Jokes aside,” Sirius took over, “the Allseer is no joke. Indeed, He has many names.”
“God…” Severyn smirked, then laughed again. “Well, no matter… whatever you call Him, He does have the Best sense of humors. Indeed, my life is naught but a cosmic joke…”
Sirius shook his head. “There he goes again…” Then he whispered into Allan’s ear. “Severyn is the Dark Comedian, or DC, self-proclaimed.”
“What about you?” Allan asked Sirius.
“He’s the Supreme Guitarist, or SG, self-proclaimed.” Severyn replied with a smirk.
Sirius coughed, then reached around to punch Severyn, but Severyn managed to intercept him. Allan felt them struggle behind him, then Sirius reached around and managed to punch Severyn in the chest with his other hand.
Severyn yelped, then laughed. Allan smiled too, just a little. He wasn’t sure what to make of this slapstick routine, especially as he was caught in the middle of it all.
“Welp. There is one last thing, before we go.” Severyn said, once he’d calmed down. “I have a small birthday present for you.”
Allan’s heart both sank at the thought that they’d leave, and then leapt to think they’d brought a present for him.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Severyn produced a glowing orb. “This is an Antiomere.” He handed it over to Allan.
Allan took it with both palms, expecting to feel a glass orb, but it felt much lighter, almost like he was holding air. As he held it, he felt both his palms growing warmer. Then there was a sudden blinding flash. Allan sat perfectly still, his eyes perceiving only blinding white as an unexpected breeze washed over him, carrying with it a myriad scents that smelled familiar yet alien.
Then, as suddenly as it had appeared, the blinding white suddenly dissipated, leaving Allan sitting alone upon the porch. For a brief moment, he could swear the blood vessels in his palms glowed brilliant white through his skin, but then everything was normal. He turned to his left and then his right, but there was no one. He got up and walked to the driveway, but there was no car.
It was just Allan, all alone in the darkness.