She watched as the window she climbed through winked out of existence. A mild panic shot through her veins and her body shuddered with uncertainty. She stood up to gather her bearings, hands frantically searching behind and then in front, but the darkness obstructed all sight. Directly behind, where the window once hung, she discovered a chilled, damp wall blocking the path. Stretching her arms out she searched to her left and her right, but only discovered more walls. As the panic in her mind began to swell, she crouched down on her hands and knees and started crawling. Her palms gripped the clammy floor pulling her body forward inch by inch.
Max continued to edge forward, without vision and not knowing where she was going. A sudden thought came to her that offered a relief from her disorientation, “Cogito, ergo sum.” It was something she heard Samuel, the Blackwell Academy janitor, once say one morning while feeding the squirrels. She asked what it meant, and he informed her, “I think, therefore I am.” She didn’t think much of it at the time, but in her current condition, it meant everything. Her confidence and certainty started to grow. She stood up and began rationalizing and deducing the situation. She could feel the cool air slide up her nose, through her nasal passages, and swirl around inside her lungs.
“There are four boundaries,” she spoke aloud, almost frightening herself as her words echoed in the empty distance. “Left, right, behind, and below.” She raised her arms as high as she could, standing on her tiptoes, grazing what had to be a fifth boundary above. That meant there was a sixth side, or wall, she hadn’t touched yet. It must be the way she needed to go.
She resumed walking in the only available direction, holding the belief it would lead to an important destination. As she continued forward for what felt like an eternity, thoughts swirled through her head, some more damaging than others. The idea that she might never see her beautiful, blue-haired girlfriend again was most bothersome and nearly paralyzing, but she tucked those away in the far corners of her mind. Mild degrees of terror bubbled up here and there, but she stifled them with thoughts of Chloe. She had to push forward. There was nothing else.
At some point during her walk, she noticed the walls of the corridor slowly becoming visible. Dim light danced across the sides, ceiling, and floor in ripples. Ahead, she spotted a tiny, barely discernible glow. Hope was building in her heart, increasing her pace to a slight jog.
Approaching the light, she could finally recognize its origin. A single candle, no taller than her hand, rested on what appeared to be a wooden crate in the corner of the sixth and final wall.
“What now?” she asked the emptiness, causing the flame to wiggle and grow with a new and abrupt increase in oxygen. In the opposite corner of the candle, she suddenly noticed a pile of fabric and a pair of white glowing eyes. Her whole body jerked with fright. An old man sat, dwarfed by oversized clothing, with his head pointed in Max’s direction. His eyes were rolled back as if staring at his own brain seemingly oblivious to her presence. “He… hello?”
“It is a morpho,” he answered immediately, startling the girl. His voice was raspy and deep, reminding her of Principal Wells if he were fifty years older. His eyes rolled down and gazed upon the brunette, rapidly blinking several times.
“What?” the young girl asked, voice shaky, not understanding what the man meant. Terror ran through her body as her heart thumped at a quickened pace.
“The blue butterfly. You wondered the type. It is from the morpho genus,” he replied. After a brief moment, the man continued. “You have come a long distance, but I have been expecting you.”
“Umm…” Max cautiously kept her distance. “Who are you?” A thousand questions were sparking in her head. She took a deep breath to calm her nerves.
“I have no name,” he confusingly responded, looking down at his hands. “What do you see when you look at me?”
“Uhh,” she hesitated again, “you’re an old man with a long grey beard.”
“I have never used these eyes in this manner before.” The man wiggled his fingers then ran them through his beard. “When I look at you through time, I see a collection of cells and matter. I see you on an atomic level. But you are different here.” He slowly stood, almost falling once, and started walking towards her with squinted eyes. Max took a large step back and pivoted to the side preparing to run.
“What are you doing?” she apprehensively asked. “Don’t come any closer.”
“I have only seen you from a distance, but you are here now. I wanted to see you up close.” He made eye contact then stopped his approach and retreated back to the wall.
Feeling a bit of tension slide away, Max stepped forward, realizing the man was not a physical threat to her. “Where are we? Why are you here?”
“This place exists outside of time. I am here because it is my purpose.” The man walked up to the candle and continually ran his fingers back and forth through the flame. “Everything, bound by time or not, has a purpose.”
“What is your purpose?”
“My purpose is to watch. I must watch everything that has existed, is existing, and will exist bound by time.”
“So, you can see the future?” She hoped he would be able to help her figure out what to do. He rolled his eyes back in his head then returned to the front.
“I can see up until right now. The moment you crawled through the window, I could no longer see what will come. It is faded and burned.”
“Why am I here?”
“That is a great question. It must be part of your purpose.”
“What is my purpose?”
“I would say your purpose is to play your part in the cycle. You were chosen just as the others were. Why you are here, in this moment… I do not know. I have never seen another being in this place. My foresight has never been affected this way.”
“Are you a god?”
A small laugh escaped his dry mouth, ringing out from the enhancement of the empty chamber walls. “I am only here to serve my purpose, as you are yours.”
“What am I supposed to do now?”
“I do not know.”
“What DO you know then?” Max was getting aggravated with his short replies. “You mean you didn’t see this coming? Please, just tell me something I can use.”
“As far back as I can remember, good and evil has existed, weaving their way through time. In a desperate attempt to balance the warring sides, the cycle has taken tens of thousands of lives – one sacrifice for the many. A single person at a time assumes responsibility for the choice. The cycle cannot choose, it isn’t capable. Just as I am not capable of seeing past this moment right now.”
“How many have come before me?” Another panic began to float up from the pit of her stomach. She felt sick, but she couldn’t turn back, which gave her a sense of determination.
“Too many to recall.” The man turned around and faced the back wall. “This time feels different.”
“What is the difference between this time and the others?”
“Every time the person with the power has chosen, they have sacrificed the one to save the many. It is what must be done. Everyone has understood this fact. Some way, you chose both. I have never seen anything like it.”
“I hate the part of me that chose to sacrifice her. In both cases, I thought I was choosing love. On one hand, I was honoring her wishes. On the other hand, I was choosing to save her life. Given the choice again, I don’t care what she says, I’m choosing to save her! Her life means more to me than anything in this world. Anything! I will never choose a damn town over Chloe. Hell, I would never choose the world over her. She means too much to me.”
“Oh, but you must. The cycle demands a life. I know it to be true.”
“I won’t do it. We love each other too much to be apart.” She folded her arms in front of her chest.
“There it is… love. Love is only a chain of chemical reactions in the brain. I have watched many people lose their sense of rationality because of love. There are too many deaths to count throughout time that can be traced back to that word.”
“Chloe and I are different!” the brunette shouted causing a thundering echo. “We are connected in everything.”
“Oh, I agree. You have no idea just how connected you two truly are. I see everything that exists as atoms and molecules, cells and matter. At the atomic level, beyond anything you could ever know, you two share a bond. In others who are in love, their atoms do not react the same as yours. Very much a yin and a yang, as your people would say. But none of that matters. A life is demanded. The cycle will collect.”
“I will sit here and starve to death before I allow Chloe to get hurt. It’s not happening, Watcher. You’ll just have to watch what happens. No matter what, this time will indeed be different.”
“You do not understand, Max Caulfield. Your being here is no accident. Everything has a purpose. Hmm,” he considered, “perhaps it is my responsibility to show you your path.” The man held out both hands, crossing and uncrossing repeatedly at the wrist. His old, feeble bones creaked and popped as he rapidly waved his arms.
“What are you doing?” Max demanded. Realizing she might be in trouble, she reached out attempting to rewind. No matter how hard she prodded the sweet spot, she couldn’t fully release the pulse. For a second, she thought she had it, but failed.
“The power does not work here. You should know that by now.” He continued waving his arms out in front of his body. “I am giving you the sight. You will see what I see. That way, you will understand what must be done.”
Immediately, she was blinded. A sharp, searing pain lasted for only an instant. She cried out clawing at her face, crumbling to her knees on the floor. Her eyes rolled back in her head and a dense white void replaced any semblance of vision.
Suddenly, a scene began to play out as if Max were sitting too close in the front row of a movie theater. A man thoroughly kempt was standing on a cliff overlooking a large, crowded shopping mall at nighttime. She counted ten yellow school buses parked at the main entrance. The bold black letters on the sides read, Deer Creek County Schools.
The man on the cliff was very animated while talking to a beautiful redheaded woman. It was clear a heated argument was taking place. The man pointed towards the school buses then back at the mall. The earth began to tremble, then the man stretched his arm forward and disappeared. The scene quickly vanished with a flurry of grey smoke immediately swirling into another.
In a thickly coppiced area, the man, now clad in bright orange and camouflage, held the body of the lifeless redhead as an arrow jutted from a wet, scarlet spot above her stomach. A lone hunter with a bow draped over his shoulder sat on his knees behind a tree, face buried in his hands sobbing uncontrollably. The man holding his loved one turned, finally revealing his tear-soaked face. “Tom!” Max yelled. Her body winced with shock and empathy, and her heart broke for the couple. She wanted to weep, but the next scene swirled into focus too quickly to stew in thought.
Kids were smiling and laughing with their friends and parents as a jovial mass exodus began from the shopping mall. Moms and dads kissed and hugged their sons and daughters, cheery and full of delight. Bags and boxes were carried out the doors, as the families gathered on the buses and departed the area.
“He saved those kids and families from disaster,” she whispered aloud to herself. Another scene began playing immediately. Then another. Then another.
A plane crash averted, hundreds saved, a woman dies by gunshot.
A massive tornado avoided, a city saved, a woman dies by fire in a burning house.
A tsunami prevented, thousands saved, a man dies by snake bite venom.
Over and over she witnessed death and loss, as choices were made. The same decision was chosen in every situation. Every. Single. Time.
An earthquake avoided, thousands saved, a man dies by decapitation in a car wreck.
The scenes were endless, looping from one to the next; thousands with the power saving hundreds of thousands of lives, sacrificing someone they loved in the process. “Let me out!” Max screamed as she raked at her eyes. “I can’t anymore!”
“You will watch until you understand.” She snapped her head in the direction of The Watcher’s voice, eyes still rolled back. She’d almost forgotten about the man. “Will you comply?”
“Never,” she defiantly replied through forcefully clamped teeth.
The scenes began to speed by. Faster and faster they flashed through her mind. Death. More death. Endless disasters prevented; numerous lives saved. Her body fell over comatose and she began to uncontrollably shake.
Death. Disasters. Sacrifices. More death.