Ouroboros – Chapter 9: The Endless Serpent’s Tail

“Looks like it’s not there. I guess I threw it out,” she said, opening up the VHS player to show that it was empty. “You, throwing something out? And forgetting what it was? You’re just full of surprises today. Does that mean you’ll finally let me try that one thing you said you’d never-” “Let’s not go overboard,” she teased, “It’d be embarrassing if the burn ward nurses recognized us from the last time we tried something new.” “Huh? I don’t even know what you’re talking about,” he said, clearly knowing exactly what she was talking about, “I just thought we should, uh, get a dog?” “You’re allergic,” she said. “That’s right!” he said, “That’s right, I said that because I was testing you, and you passed. Congratulations! I knew I made the right choice marrying you.” She laughed. Even to the end, he was still the same goofy idiot she fell in love with. Tears began to well up in her eyes. Like any man seeing his wife cry for no discernible reason, he began to panic. “I’m sorry! I was just kidding around! Er, I mean, I wasn’t kidding around when I said I made the right choice marrying you, of course, I was just saying… uh, unrelated question: What are the ethical ramifications of a husband bribing his wife into forgiving him with fancy chocolate? And this time, I’m not talking about my-” “It’s fine,” she lied, mind racing to come up with a cover story. “The tape just reminded me of the old days. Back when we first moved in together. I just got a little emotional. It was our first big… ‘volatile disagreement’? Is that what we called them back then?” “Probably?” he said, “I’m pretty sure ‘fight’ was the only word in the English language that we didn’t use to describe our fights. God, I can’t believe we used to be that couple. It’s a good thing we’re much more honest with each other now.” She smiled sadly at the irony of his words. If only he knew how much of her life she’d hidden from him since those times. “I love you,” she blurted out. “Yes,” he said, “Er, I mean, I love you too.” She could tell she caught him by surprise, but she had to say it. It was one thing she could always be honest with him about. And although she had no idea when he’d last heard it, she felt like it’d been an eternity since she’d last said it. She laughed to hide the tears in her eyes. “Oh my God, that must have been the cheesiest thing I’ve ever heard, let alone said!” she said.

 
“As if,” he scoffed, “If you seriously think you’re cheesier than me, then we’re about to get into a ‘volatile disagreement’. You may be better than me at literally everything else, but when it comes to being a giant dork, you just can’t compete.” “Bring it,” she challenged. “Very well,” he said, “You asked for this.” He then hugged her tightly, looking deep into her eyes, their noses nearly touching. “I love you. I love you, body and mind, heart and soul. I love you, across heaven and earth, time and space. I love you, from the alpha to the omega, in every timeline, conceivable and inconceivable. I love your perfections and imperfections, your godliness and devilishness. I love your cleverness and compassion, your smokin’ ass and slammin’ titties. In your name I pray, Amen.” He kissed her on the lips, then did the sign of the cross with his hands. She couldn’t stop herself from crying. She always knew how much he loved her, but to hear him say it, for what she knew would be the last time, was almost too much for her to take. She dropped the VHS player and hugged him back. “I concede,” she said, “I can’t even hold a candle to your cheesiness.” “Don’t sell yourself short,” he said, “You’re still a giant dork.” “Hah. You sure know how to make a girl feel special,” she teased. “That’s my job, isn’t it?” he said, “And I still love you, even if you are a giant dork.” “Thanks,” she said, “That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.” She smiled, but it felt hollow. She used to enjoy the silence they shared, but now it gnawed at her heart, a grim reminder of her imminent fate. She needed to fill that silence with him: his words, his laugh, his everything. One last time. “So, if we’re so honest with each other now, I guess you admit that we still have fights?” she said. “What? Of course not,” he said, “We obviously love each other too much to do that.” “Obviously,” she said, “So what would you call what we do now, then?” “It’s a bit too nuanced to easily describe,” he said, resting his chin on his hand as if deep in thought, “I’m sure there’s a German word that describes it perfectly, but if I had to take a crack at it I’d say… angry sex?” She laughed. “Speaking of which, what’s the status on that fancy chocolate you said you were going to give me?” “Huh? Oh, I guess I could get some if you want… wait, what do you mean by-” he said, before getting cut off by a kiss that let him know exactly what she meant.

 
The next morning, she was startled awake by a familiar nightmare. They’d been getting worse recently, but this was the first one bad enough to wake her up. And it couldn’t have come at a worse time; her husband had kept her up until well into the morning, and she needed to be wide awake for her final day. Her convoluted scheme to fake her death to her own husband, while actually dying for a reason he couldn’t possibly understand, wasn’t going to come up with itself, after all. She needed to “die” in a way where it wouldn’t be suspicious if her body was never found. But how? She considered consulting the internet, but worried about implicating her husband; it probably wouldn’t look good for him if she went missing and “How can person a disappear forever” showed up in his search history. Ever since that one incident with The President, she knew better than to trust computers to keep her secrets. But even the executive branch of the United States Government can’t track a search that hasn’t been made yet, so she travelled to the future to safely conduct her research. When she got there, she nearly tripped over something. The gravestone. With so little of her life left to spoil, she decided to read it. As she’d suspected, the grave was hers. Though it was mostly eroded, there were flecks of paint on it, an outline of what looked like a person. There wasn’t enough detail to identify it, but she knew it was a painting of herself. Her husband’s final work. Seeing her death date – a day that she was living in just seconds prior – etched into the cold, grey stone really hammered it home: her existence was ending, and even this humble memorial would vanish along with it. But she had a job to do, and she wasn’t about to let a little thing like an existential crisis get in her way.

 
It turned out that, even in the future, they still had libraries, so she made her way to the one where her journey nearly began. Using its historical records, she was able to devise a perfect cover-up for her death: an earthquake in a foreign country that happened on the same day, collapsing several buildings and trapping thousands inside. Using her position at her job, she arranged a business trip to ensure she’d be at the right place at the right time. Normally, it’d be impossible to get same-day approval for a business trip with no strategic value, but with a little time travel and a lot of past successes under her belt, she managed. She felt terrible about using the deaths of so many people for her own purposes, but she had to harden her heart; she just didn’t have enough time to save anyone else in the building. But all those thoughts melted away the moment she saw the looks of terror on people’s faces. She ended up time traveling a dozen or so other people to safety, though her Oblivion Ray ensured that they wouldn’t remember their savior.

 

Her next destination was the other date inscribed on her tombstone. Though there was no practical reason for her to record the new VHS tape in her parents’ old home, on the night of her birth, she found a certain poetic beauty in going right from her first night of sleep to her final eternity of rest. As if everything in between was just a dream. “Maybe I really am just a giant dork,” she thought, laughing sadly. She still had the script from the VHS that she watched all those years ago, and she stuck to it, mostly, but she didn’t see any harm in adding her own flair. As she ended the video with a warning that she could never reveal her secret to anyone, four words popped into her head: “Do not mention husband.” She searched the script, but she couldn’t find them anywhere, even though she remembered writing them. Or, rather, she remembered forgetting that she’d written them, back before she knew how to brace her memories against the flow of time. She spent no time trying to understand it, and just chalked it up to the mysteries of time travel, one last time. Her thoughts drifted to her husband. “What if I never marry him?” She thought. “Would I find someone else? Would he? Would everything we ever had just… vanish?” It was too much to take. She could feel her resolve weakening. It would be so easy to just go back to the “present”, into his arms, like nothing happened…

 

 

“Pew!” She heard the toy laser gun sound effect of her plasma cannon, immediately followed by a burning, excruciating pain in her left arm. She’d been shot. Despite the pain and shock, her reflexes kicked in. She drew her Disintegration Ray, and pointed it at the room’s only entrance. In her crosshair, she saw her own face. Another Anomaly. Despite how much her target resembled her, she pulled the trigger without hesitation. A red laser pulse hit the doppelgänger, and a wave of atomic fire propagated across its body. In mere seconds, nothing remained of it. By now, the sight of her own body’s utter destruction was commonplace. She felt nothing. Besides, there wasn’t enough time for sentiment. There wasn’t enough time for much of anything. Her personal kinetic barrier shielded some of the plasma blast, but she didn’t know if it was enough to save her life. She had to deliver the tape, fast. She rummaged around the house to find a package to put the tape in. After several minutes of ransacking, the best thing she could find was a thin brown paper bag. It’d have to do. She considered cleaning up the mess she’d made, but wasn’t like her parents would notice. They didn’t exactly run a tight ship.

 
With one last jump through time, she arrived at her final destination. Though the date didn’t appear on her grave, it was, in a certain sense, the day she was truly born. And, in a much more literal sense, the day she would truly die. As she approached her own front door, she removed the VHS from her pocket, and placed it in the paper bag. In permanent marker, she wrote “To”, and below it, “From”, each followed by a colon. She then wrote a single word, twice as large as the others: “YOU”. She was momentarily surprised to find that there was no doorbell on the door before her. Only a knocker. “What is this, the 1700s?” she thought, unsure if knockers where actually in fashion back then, and a bit disappointed that she didn’t have enough time to go back and check. She lifted the heavy metal ring, and dropped it with a resounding thud. Just then, it struck her that she had given no consideration to what would happen next. She never saw her future self when the tape was delivered to her, so surely she should make herself scarce by the time past-her answered the door. Right? What would she do? Walk to the nearest bar and drink until she faded entirely? Actually, that didn’t sound like a bad way to go out…

 
Her thoughts were interrupted by a shocked gasp. “M-mom?” She smiled. In that same old mirror that always welcomed her home, whether from work or a time traveling romp, she saw a face that looked more like her mother’s than it looked like the face of the young woman before her. It wasn’t the same one that she had seen in the tape all those years ago. It was older. Wearier. It had deeper wrinkles, from a life of more smiles, and even more frowns. She smiled, hoping that the woman before her could meet her end with all the more smiles on her face. And with that, nothing remained of her, save a sound like breaking glass.


For the next chapter in the recommended order, click here

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

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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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