Ivy Klein – Black form
Coco Roe – Red Form
Regina Drisby – Red Form
Regina Drisby – Black Form
[WARNING: this contains mild spoilers for The Dualists. I guess don’t read if you care about that sort of thing]
“So, like, that one time I beat you in arm wrestling,” Regina began, “How important was that to your self-esteem?” “I… what.” Clover said, flatly, “What are you trying to ask me.” “Well,” Regina said, “As I recall, winning against me was your first step towards overcoming your inferiority complex towards me, and I was wondering if you ever could have done that, if I’d won instead.” “I don’t know,” Clover said, “How could I know? And you’re acting like I completely moved on from all that.” “Oh… have you not?” Regina asked, “Sorry, my bad. I… probably shouldn’t have brought it up, then.” “Nah, you’re fine,” Clover said, “It’s just… I dunno. Mostly I just feel kind of stupid for ever feeling that way. Especially now that I know that the girl I respected and feared all these years is just… She’s just fully a shitlord.” “Hah,” Regina said, “Guilty as charged.” “But for real,” Clover said, “Why bring it up?” “Oh, no reason,” Regina said. “Bullshit,” Clover said, “No sane person would bring that up for no reason. And I don’t think you would, either.” Regina laughed. “Well, I was just wondering if, hypothetically, of course, you would get Actually Upset if I challenged to a rematch and fucking clowned on you.” “I… Yes? No? I don’t know. I mean, that would never happen, so I don’t know if your question has an answer.” “Well, any conditional statement with a false hypothesis is vacuously true,” Regina said, “So if we assume that I could never beat you, then the answer would be yes.” “Am I going to regret asking what the Hell you’re talking about?” Clover asked. “Well, in mathematical logic-” Regina began. “I’m going to stop you right there,” Clover interrupted, “You already answered my question. The answer is yes.” “Oh, please,” Regina said, “You know you love me because I’m a fuckin’ nerd.” “Sometimes.” Clover said, “Sometimes I love you despite being a fuckin’ nerd. This is one of those times.” Regina laughed. “I, on the other hand,” Regina said, “Always love you because you’re such a fuckin’ jock.” “I am no such thing,” Clover scoffed. “Haha, OK, Miss ‘Regina’s Strong Girlfriend’,” Regina said, sarcastically. “What are you implying?” Clover asked, “You trying to say that I’m NOT your strong girlfriend?” “Not at all,” Regina said, “Honestly, I’m not even sure that’s a ‘jock’ thing to call yourself. I think you may just be a weirdo.” “Well, if honesty is weird, I don’t want to be normal!” Clover said, “I am strong, I am a girl, I am your friend, and I am your girlfriend. The title fits.” “Let’s see,” Regina said, pantomiming writing in the air, “Yeah, the math checks out.”
“So, like, that one time I beat you in arm wrestling,” Regina began, “How important was that to your self-esteem?” “I… what.” Clover said, flatly, “What are you trying to ask me.” “Well,” Regina said, “As I recall, winning against me was your first step towards overcoming your inferiority complex towards me, and I was wondering if you ever could have done that, if I’d won instead.” “I don’t know,” Clover said, “How could I know? And you’re acting like I completely moved on from all that.” “Oh… have you not?” Regina asked, “Sorry, my bad. I… probably shouldn’t have brought it up, then.” “Nah, you’re fine,” Clover said, “It’s just… I dunno. Mostly I just feel kind of stupid for ever feeling that way. Especially now that I know that the girl I respected and feared all these years is just… She’s just fully a shitlord.” “Hah,” Regina said, “Guilty as charged.” “But for real,” Clover said, “Why bring it up?” “Oh, no reason,” Regina said. “Bullshit,” Clover said, “No sane person would bring that up for no reason. And I don’t think you would, either.” Regina laughed. “Well, I was just wondering if, hypothetically, of course, you would get Actually Upset if I challenged to a rematch and fucking clowned on you.” “I… Yes? No? I don’t know. I mean, that would never happen, so I don’t know if your question has an answer.” “Well, any conditional statement with a false hypothesis is vacuously true,” Regina said, “So if we assume that I could never beat you, then the answer would be yes.” “Am I going to regret asking what the Hell you’re talking about?” Clover asked. “Well, in mathematical logic-” Regina began. “I’m going to stop you right there,” Clover interrupted, “You already answered my question. The answer is yes.” “Oh, please,” Regina said, “You know you love me because I’m a fuckin’ nerd.” “Sometimes.” Clover said, “Sometimes I love you despite being a fuckin’ nerd. This is one of those times.” Regina laughed. “I, on the other hand,” Regina said, “Always love you because you’re such a fuckin’ jock.” “I am no such thing,” Clover scoffed. “Haha, OK, Miss ‘Regina’s Strong Girlfriend’,” Regina said, sarcastically. “What are you implying?” Clover asked, “You trying to say that I’m NOT your strong girlfriend?” “Not at all,” Regina said, “Honestly, I’m not even sure that’s a ‘jock’ thing to call yourself. I think you may just be a weirdo.” “Well, if honesty is weird, I don’t want to be normal!” Clover said, “I am strong, I am a girl, I am your friend, and I am your girlfriend. The title fits.” “Let’s see,” Regina said, pantomiming writing in the air, “Yeah, the math checks out.” Anyway,” Clover said, “don’t think you can just smooth-talk your way past the fact that you challenged me to arm wrestling.” I did not challenge you to arm wrestling!” Regina protested. “You challenged me to arm wrestling.” Clover insisted. “I challenged you to arm wrestling,” Regina admitted, “Do you accept? You were sounding pretty confident.” “I don’t get it,” Clover said, “What’s your angle?” “I know I can win, and I like winning,” Regina said, “Do I need more reason?” “How?” Clover asked, “I’m still stronger than you. Unless you’ve scienced up some nerd shit that makes you stronger… have you scienced up nerd shit that makes you stronger?” “I have scienced up nothing of the sort,” Regina said, “But arm wrestling isn’t just about strength.” “I… but it is, actually,” Clover said, “That’s… that’s literally the whole thing.” “Thinking like that is the reason you’re about to lose,” Regina said, “I know your weakness, now. You can’t defeat me.” “Alright, fine,” Clover said, “I just want to know what makes you so sure you’re going to win.” “I’ll gladly teach you,” Regina said. They sat down at a nearby table, put their right elbows on its surface, and held each other’s hands. “I’ll even let you count down to start the match,” Regina said. “Should we start when I say 1, or when I say go?” Clover asked. “Surprise me,” Regina said. “I… no,” Clover said, “It doesn’t… you can’t… it will not work that way.” “Then go on go,” Regina said. “Alright,” Clover said, “3, 2, 1, GO!”
At Clover’s signal, Regina immediately leaned forward, pushing her face towards Clover’s. But she wasn’t quick enough; her hand hit the table before she could execute her strategy. “What the Hell was that all about?” Clover asked, “It’s been a while since I checked the rules, but I’m pretty sure headbutts are forbidden in arm wrestling.” “It wasn’t a headbutt,” Regina said, “Rematch. Best two out of three.” “Then what… Oh my God,” Clover said, “You were trying to kiss me, weren’t you?” “REMATCH,” Regina said, neither confirming nor denying Clover’s suspicion. “You were going to kiss me and then I’d get all flustered and you’d beat me while I was distracted!” “Do you accept the rematch or not?” Regina asked. “Sure, I guess. I mean, you can’t trick me if I see it coming,” Clover said. “We won’t know that until we try, now will we?” Regina said. “So you admit to attempting gay trickery?” Clover asked. “You’re saying words instead of wrestling arms, even though you just said that you would wrestle arms.” Regina said, “Let’s go!” Clover sighed, and grabbed Regina’s hand. “Alright. 3, 2, 1, go!” Clover decided to go easy on Regina, to give her enough time to enact her ridiculous plan. Regina leaned forward, but stopped just short of Clover’s lips. This caught Clover off-guard, giving Regina enough of an opening to slam her hand onto the table. “Hey,” Clover said, “You tricked me!” “You were the one who said it wouldn’t work,” Regina said. “It didn’t!” Clover said, “You tricked me by making me think you’d trick me, then not tricking me while I was expecting to be tricked!” “Sounds like your problem,” Regina said, “Have you tried wanting to win more than you want to kiss me?” “You know I can’t do that!” Clover said, huffily, “Whatever. Two can play at that game. And we still have one more round.” “Bring it,” Regina said, grabbing Clover’s hand. “Alright,” Clover said, “This is it. 3, 2, 1, go!” Despite the signal, neither began arm wrestling. Instead, they both leaned forward. AND THEN THEY SMOOCHED.
[WARNING: this contains mild spoilers for The Dualists. I guess don’t read if you care about that sort of thing]
“There’s something I need to tell you,” Regina said, her voice quivering, “A dark secret that I’ve hidden from you for so long. But I can’t take it anymore.” “Oh my God, are you OK?” Clover asked, genuinely concerned. “Yes,” Regina said, “It’s just… the truth is… I LARP.” “I… I don’t understand.” Clover said. “I know it’s difficult to process,” Regina said, “But it’s the truth.” “No, I literally don’t understand,” Clover said, “What is LARPing? Is it a weird sex thing? Because it kind of sounds like one.” “No,” Regina said, “At least, not the way I do it. Usually.” Clover looked at her suspiciously. “It’s Live Action Role-Playing. That’s what it stands for.” Regina said. “Listen, I’m going to need you to explain this to me like I’m not a fuckin’ nerd. How does one LARP?” “Basically, I dress up like a knight and pretend to be a knight and fight monsters and stuff,” Regina said, “Like I’m playing a video game, but in real life.” “Wow,” Clover said, “Like, I’m a pretty strong person, but I don’t know if I can promise you that I can stop myself from giving you a noogie right now.” “Do what you must,” Regina said, hanging her head in shame. “I’m only doing this out of love,” Clover said, giving her the noogie she deserved, “It hurts me more than it hurts you.” “Ow!” Regina said, “That actually hurt!” “Well, what did you expect?” Clover asked, “I’m bullying you. Also, you literally told me to. Wait a second… did you just trick me into LARPing a weird sex thing?” “No, the weird sex thing was just a joke!” Regina said, “But I did just trick you into patting my head because you feel bad about hurting me.” “Fiiiiine,” Clover grumbled, giving Regina the headpats she arguably deserved.
“You want me to LARP with you, don’t you?” Clover asked. “Haha, what?” Regina said, “Don’t be ridiculous, I know you’d never waste your time with my nerd shit.” “So if I did want to LARP with you, you wouldn’t be cool with it?” Clover asked. “Hold on, I never said that,” Regina said. “So you do want me to LARP with you?” Clover asked. “No,” Regina said, “I’m just saying that, if you wanted to do it, I would be fine with it.” “So you don’t want me to LARP with you?” Clover asked. “Stop it!” Regina said, “Stop trying to trick me with your words!” “Well, if you did want me to LARP with you,” Clover said, “I might be willing to give it a shot. But only if you say ‘I want you, Clover K. Lie, my powerful and handsome girlfriend, to deign to LARP with me.’” “Shut up!” Regina said, flustered, “It’s not fair when you tease me! Only I can do that!” “It’s only teasing if you want me to LARP with you,” Clover said, “Which you said that you don’t. Right?” Regina sighed. “I want you, Clover K. Lie, my powerful and handsome girlfriend, to deign to LARP with me,” she said, “There, are you happy?” “I’m just happy that you’re happy,” Clover said, “This is what you wanted, right?” “Wait a second,” Regina said, “You actually wanted to LARP with me, but you didn’t want to admit it, so you tricked me into asking you to!” “You caught me,” Clover said, “Punching nerds while pretending to punch monsters sounds like a blast. And it’d be nice to fight alongside my beautiful and noble girlfriend with lower stakes, for a change.” “You don’t actually fight anyone,” Regina said, rolling her eyes, “And even when you’re pretend fighting, no one else knows anything about real fighting, so your formal boxing training probably won’t help.” “How would you know?” Clover asked. “Why do you think I got into fencing?” Regina asked. Clover stood in slack-jawed disbelief. “Are you telling me that I lost all those years ago to a girl who learned swordsmanship so she could pretend to fight dragons or whatever?” “Yeah, that’s pretty much the long and short of it,” Regina said, “…sorry.” “Listen,” Clover said, her voice eerily calm, “I am truly sorry for what is about to happen, and I’ll give you all the headpats you want afterwards, but before that I AM GOING TO NOOGIE YOUR PERFECT HAIR RIGHT OFF OF YOUR GODDAMN HEAD!” And she very nearly did. “Ouch, I don’t think headpats are going to be enough to fix that,” Regina said, “I’m pretty sure you’re going to have to kiss m-” She was cut off by Clover doing as she said. “Hey!” Regina said, “Give me a chance to get ready!” “I’m just following orders,” Clover said. “Oh, shut up,” Regina said. AND THEN THEY SMOOCHED AGAIN.
[WARNING: this contains mild spoilers for The Dualists. I guess don’t read if you care about that sort of thing]
“Are you ticklish?” Regina asked. Clover scoffed. “If I say yes, you’ll tickle me because you know you can, and if I say no, you’ll tickle me to see if I’m lying, so it doesn’t matter what I- AAAAAHHHHH” She was cut off by Regina attacking her ribs with a devastating ten-finger tickle. Clover, being extremely ticklish, momentarily lost control of her body, and accidentally punched Regina in the face. “Ow! What the Hell was that for?” Regina demanded, her lips growing even redder than Clover’s cheeks. “It was involuntary!” Clover insisted, “I’m sorry you thought it was a good idea to tickle your strong girlfriend!” “I accept your apology,” Regina said, “If… you kiss it to make it better.” Clover’s cheeks started catching up to Regina’s lips. “That… does not sound sanitary,” Clover said, avoiding eye contact. “Oh, please,” Regina said, rolling her eyes, “Like you don’t have a dirty mouth already.” “I have no idea what the fuck you’re talking about,” Clover said. AND THEN THEY SMOOCH.
(Chapter 4 of The Dualists can be found here)
“I should just say something,” Ivy thought, as she ate lunch with Coco in silence. “It’s not like she’ll think I’m a weirdo or anything. She’ll probably be thrilled to hear about something so spooky. I just need to say something.” But she didn’t. While the two were usually quite talkative, something was different today. Each wanted to say something, but couldn’t quite force themselves to, and was too wrapped up in their own thoughts to notice how unusual the other was acting. “I just need to say something,” Ivy thought once more. She took a deep breath. “Hey… remember when you said to tell you if something strange happened last night?” Coco asked, right as Ivy opened her mouth to speak. “Huh? Oh, yeah,” Ivy said, “I was actually going to say something about that too.” “Really?” Coco said, “Do you think they might be related?” “Oh, mine’s probably just nothing,” Ivy said, knowing full well that it wasn’t just nothing, “You go first.” “You sure?” Coco asked, “You look like something’s bothering you.” “Please, I insist,” Ivy said. “Very well,” Coco said, “Last night, I-”
“Do you mind if we sit here?” Regina asked, gesturing to two seats at the table, one of which Clover was already setting her tray at. “Well, well,” Coco said, “If it isn’t the drama queens of Noether High. To what do we owe the honor?” “What the Hell’s that supposed to mean?” Clover asked, indignantly. “I’m just saying, I was told that assembly was for an election,” Coco said, “Not focus testing a Lifetime original movie.” “It sounds like you’re the one who’s starting drama, here.” Clover growled. “Ah, c’mon, I’m just messing with you,” Coco said, “But, for real, election season’s over. Why are you so interested in hanging out with a couple of bozos like us?” “I just wanted to make sure our new student is feeling welcomed here,” Regina said, “It really is fine if you’d rather we didn’t sit here, though. I won’t be offended.” “But what about the thing we came here to talk about?” Clover asked. “What thing?” Coco asked, suspiciously. “Oh, I was just, uh, wondering if you two knew each other before Ivy moved here,” Regina said. Clover rolled her eyes. “Yes,” Ivy said, “We were best friends in elementary school.” “And now!” Coco said, “But why’d you think we knew each other before? Do you really think it’s so unbelievable that I could make a friend so quickly?” “I apologize,” Regina said, still standing, “I didn’t mean to offend.” “Because it is!” Coco said, “I mean, I’ve been here for years without making any friends. And the student council president sure as hell never made sure I was feeling welcomed!” “I apologize for not making your acquaintance sooner,” Regina said, “I hope we can be fast friends.” “I doubt it,” Coco said, “I don’t get along with normies. Except Ivy.” “What did you just call her?” Clover demanded with her mouth full. Regina stifled a laugh with a cough. “Then I think we should get along just fine,” Regina said, “A normie’s just someone you don’t know well enough. Everyone’s a weirdo, deep down.” “If you say so,” Coco said, “Speaking of weirdness, what’s with your face? Are you a ghost? If I ask, you have to tell me, that’s the law.” “Gee, I wonder why you haven’t made any friends,” Clover said, sarcastically. “I’m albino, actually,” Regina said, “I mean, I’m also a ghost, obviously, but I was this pale when I was alive, too.” Clover laughed. “Nice.” The mood lightened up a bit. But then Coco asked “So what’s with her face?” while pointing at Clover. “Nothing’s wrong with my face!” Clover said, “What, you’ve never seen a girl with freckles before?” “She’s a lich, actually,” Regina said, nonchalantly, “That’s just part of the undying process.” “Badass,” Coco said, “But where’s her phylactery?” “I’ve got a phylactery for you right here!” Clover said, flipping her off.
Ivy and Coco gasped in shock. “Clover, please,” Regina said, “They won’t cooperate if you keep being so rude.” “What?” Clover asked, “I’m just showing them the ring.” She wasn’t lying. On her middle finger was a ring with a red jewel shaped like a three leaf clover. “Does this mean that we all got rings?” Coco asked. She showed a similar ring, with a red, heart-shaped jewel on her ring finger. Ivy and Regina nodded. “But if mine is a heart, and hers is a clover,” Coco said, “What’s yours? Ivy?” “It’s not a clover,” Clover said, “It’s a club. Regina’s is a spade, so Ivy’s would be a diamond, right?” “Yeah,” Ivy said, showing the ring on her pinky to everyone at the table. “Also, why would you think the rings are based on our names if yours is a heart?” Clover asked. “Coco Roe is a pun on ‘kokoro’, the Japanese word for heart, because my dad is a fucking weeb,” Coco said, “Although, if yours is a club, why’s it red? Shouldn’t it be black?” “Don’t ask me,” Clover said, “But Regina’s is black, like you’d expect.” Regina, still standing, set her tray down to show her ring. “Oh, uh, you can sit with us, by the way,” Ivy said, “Sorry for making you stand for so long.” “Thank you,” Regina said, taking a seat. “Awww, you’re no fun,” Coco said, “I wanted to see if she’d stand there for the entire lunch period.” Clover sighed. “Since we all have similar rings,” Regina said, “I take it we all had similar dreams?” “Mmhm,” Ivy said, “I don’t remember too much, but Clover and two other girls I didn’t really recognize were there. I’m guessing that was you?” “Probably,” Coco said, “I’m pretty sure they were in my dream. I suspected something spooky was afoot, and figured that may have been the real reason they wanted to talk.” “So you’ve just been messing with us this whole time?” Clover asked, angrily. “Mostly just you, to be honest,” Coco said, “Did it really take you that long to notice?” “You know what I mean,” Clover snapped.
“Anyway,” Coco said, “I think that, in the dream, the rings gave us some kind of powers that we used to kick ass. Does that sound about right to everyone else?” Everyone else nodded. “I know it was my idea to meet here,” Regina said, “But perhaps we should continue this conversation elsewhere. If someone overheard us here, they might think we’re lunatics.” “People thinking you’re a lunatic’s not so bad,” Coco said, “It’s really quite freeing, not having to care what other people think.” “Not all of us can afford to be as unpopular as you,” Clover said. “It’s a damn shame you let everyone else control your life,” Coco said, “I think you could be pretty cool, if you just lived on your own terms.” “I don’t let everyone else control my life,” Clover said, defensively, “For instance, I don’t give a damn about what you think.” Coco laughed. “Well played.” “I… don’t think we should be arguing,” Ivy said, “We’ll have to work together to figure out what’s going on, and that’ll be easier if we all get along.” “What are you talking about?” Coco asked, “This is the best I’ve gotten along with anyone in years. We’re just joking around, right?” “Right…” Clover said, unconvincingly. “I agree with Ivy,” Regina said, “We can’t discount the possibility that these rings are dangerous. And if that’s the case, we’d be safest if we all worked together.” “I’m down,” Coco said, “It’s not like I like you, or anything, I’ve just watched enough anime to know that the power of friendship always wins.” “I guess I could try to get along with her,” Clover said. “Then it’s settled,” Regina said, “Let’s meet up in Riemann Park after class.” “Where’s that?” Ivy asked. “Don’t worry, I’ll lead you there,” Coco said, “And I promise, I won’t take you to The Pits of Sacrifice this time,” she added, with an exaggerated wink. “Thank you,” Ivy said, completely sincerely, “Although that was a lovely dagger you gave me last time.” Regina laughed, while Clover just looked confused. They spent the rest of their lunch period eating and making small talk.
“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.
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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