Ouroboros – Chapter 8: Her Coffin’s Final Nail

But the voice in her head those many years ago was right. Determination was not enough to outrun time. In her race against time, she was the hare, time was the tortoise, and the race was without end. Though a human may run quickly, it inevitably grows tired, and must stop to rest. Though time may move slowly, it is inexorable; it never slows, and it never comes to a stop. A human can stay ahead for long, but it cannot stay ahead forever. She found herself out of breath. Her eyes were old in a way that no technology could fix. Though the attacks of the Anomalies had increased in neither frequency nor ferocity, she found herself more and more troubled by them. She knew not if it was her imagination, but she felt as if it had grown more difficult for her to alter the course of fate. Before, she was an artist, and history itself, her canvas. But as time wore on, she found herself struggling to even lift the brush. Sometimes, when she looked in the mirror, she saw as much of what was behind her as she saw of herself. She looked translucent, as if about to fade away entirely. This never lasted long enough to fully convince her that her eyes weren’t just playing tricks on her, but it worried her, nonetheless.

“Hey, honey, do you remember getting this VHS player?” Her husband was cleaning out the garage of stuff they didn’t need anymore. Could it be? “Wait, did you use this to finally watch that one VHS that you left sitting around for months?” She tried to play it cool. “Uh, yeah, I guess I probably did.” “What was on that, anyway?” he asked. “I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you,” she joked, though it was less a joke than he knew. He laughed. “Really, though, what was it? I hope it was worth the wait of however many months,” he said. “I don’t actually remember,” she said, “Probably just a prank or something.” He pulled out his cell phone and held it to his ear, as if making a call. “Hello, yes, is this the Wife Factory?” he said, “Yes, I’m calling because mine just admitted that she doesn’t remember something. I think she may be defective?” She snatched the phone from his hand. “I’d also like to report that my husband isn’t nearly as funny as he thinks he is.” “Sorry, ma’am,” he said, as if he were on the other end of the phone, “That’s not a defect. That comes standard issue with every model of husband.” She had to admit that he was actually pretty good at ventriloquism. She never could quite convince herself that it wasn’t a side effect of the Oblivion Ray. “OK, I’ll admit, it was pretty funny,” she said, giving his phone back with a smooch.

“Hey, I wonder if it’s still in there,” he said. This was bad. She couldn’t allow him to watch the tape. “Yeah, let me check,” she said. He handed it over. “Knock yourself out.” She knew she had left the tape in there, but she couldn’t let him know that. Once she had the player securely in her possession, she hopped to the distant past so she could dispose of the tape without him catching on. She had planned on watching the tape one last time so that she could more accurately replicate it, but it was now too dangerous. With a flourish, she threw the tape straight up in the air, whipped out her plasma cannon, and fired at it without even looking. She imagined it looked pretty cool. At least, she did until the tape crashed back down into her head. It turned out that there was a reason people look at the things they’re trying to shoot. Was something wrong with her cannon’s Auto-Lock™ motion targeting? Whatever. She took aim at the tape, now lying motionless on the ground, and fired several shots for good measure. With that taken care of, she took a quick look around before hopping back to her discussion with her husband. That quick look turned into a long look as she froze in shock. She recognized this place. It was familiarly surprising. Like she remembered forgetting it…

It hit her. She pulled out her Oblivion Ray. The sight of it in her hand, in this place, was familiar. This is where it ended. Her Forgotten Adventure. She looked to the smoldering remains of the VHS tape. There was nothing to be found. There should have been some remains, even if it was just plasma residue. Nothing, not even the smell of ozone produced by a plasma blast, remained. Unless… a horrifying realization sent shivers down her spine. It ceased to exist entirely. “If I don’t record that VHS tape, it won’t have been made, which means that I will never have learned time travel, which means…” She couldn’t bear to finish her thought. She couldn’t tell whether these were the memories that she had lost, or if she was deducing it on her own. Regardless, the conclusion was the same: If she didn’t complete the cycle soon, it would be broken forever, and she would cease to exist, having never become a time traveler in the first place. She had been running for a long time. Long enough to know that this wasn’t a race she was going to win. She had to surrender, or she’d be trampled. The thought of continuing to defy fate crossed her mind, but… that would just be selfish. Worse than selfish. Depriving her past of the incredible life she had lived just to cling to a dying future. “Only a fool would do that,” she thought, suspecting that she had once made that very decision in this very place. “Well, I’ve had a good life. No regrets,” she thought. “Well, except for all those things that I regret doing. And all those things I regret NOT doing… But I guess it really wouldn’t be life without regrets. My life wasn’t perfect, but nothing ever is. Trying to make something perfect only gets in the way of actually making it. And it’s always better to make something that isn’t perfect than to just dream of something that is.” She had a thought, one that she was sure she was remembering from something long forgotten. “Life doesn’t always give you enough time to make sense of things. But that’s exactly what it’s given me. And I guess I never really appreciated it until that time ran out.” But she couldn’t stand around moping. She knew what she had to do.

Except… there was still one loose end left. Her husband. Part of her wanted to run away, to die without ever having to see his face again, knowing it’d be the last time. But that’d hardly be fair to him. Who would believe that his wife vanished while checking a VHS player for an old tape? He’d go mad. But what else was she to do? Come up with a convoluted scheme to fake her death to her own husband, while actually dying for a reason he couldn’t possibly understand? After spending a few seconds moping, she willed herself to stop. “No,” she thought, as if scolding her own thoughts, “I won’t lose to sadness. I can overcome this. I will overcome this.” She aimed the Disintegration Ray she was still clutching at an imaginary opponent, and fired it, atomizing a nearby tree. “I have already overcome this,” she said aloud. Disintegration Ray? “GODDAMNIT!” she shouted. Of course. She had recently replaced her plasma cannon with a Disintegration Ray, and hadn’t gotten around to installing the AutoAim upgrade. That also explained why the tape disappeared entirely. A wave of relief washed over her, but it quickly soured, like bile rising in her throat. “I will not be betrayed by hope. Not this time. Never again.” She knew she could hide from the truth no longer. Even if all the evidence for her conclusion had been refuted, she was certain of its truth. Call it a woman’s intuition. “Thank God the fellas at work can never learn of this,” she thought. The sentiment rang familiar in her mind, and reminded her that she still had the mother of all boy troubles troubling her.

For the next chapter in the recommended order, click here

For the next chapter in “chronological” order, click here


Author: havocmantis

I am Havoc Mantis, Skullmaster (like a headmaster but spookier) of The School of Havoc. I am a scholar of mathematics, mysticism, and memes, as well as the intersection of all three.

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