Ouroboros – Chapter 2: Hearing Words Before They’re Said

“It is of the utmost importance that no one else sees or hears the contents of this tape!” The warning was still echoing in her ears from a few days ago. At the time, the voice sounded familiar, but she was too flustered to recognize it. Hearing it again, she realized that it almost sounded like her mother’s. Immediately after the warning, an older woman appeared on the screen, saying “You are me. Or is it ‘you are I’? I can’t remember if predicate nominatives were a common thing back then. It sounds kind of weird, like I’m saying an acronym. ‘URI’. Anyway, that’s not what’s important right now. You see, I am you. From the future. Well, right now, I’m in the past, but…” She was too shocked to pay attention to what the woman onscreen was rambling about. Had she been duped? Had she really lost a day of work to some sick joke?

“HEY!” The stern voice of the woman onscreen snapped her back to reality. “I know you weren’t paying attention just then. I remember how this plays out. And I promise you, this is not a prank, nor is it a sick joke. Except for that part you weren’t listening for; that was pretty filthy.” She couldn’t believe what was going on. Could this tape read her mind? “No, I can’t read your mind,” the woman onscreen scolded, “Though I admit, responding to what you were thinking just then probably wasn’t the most convincing argument. I just remember how this conversation played out, and am now saying the things that I heard. Well, ‘remember’ is a strong word. I had someone write a transcript for me.” She looked around desperately. Was someone else listening in? “The someone was me,” the woman onscreen said, “Er, well, you. Whatever. You know what I mean. I’ll give you some time to get a pen and paper.” She rolled her eyes and took out her phone to begin taking notes. “No, don’t do that!” the woman onscreen cried desperately, “If you record the secret of time travel digitally, it’ll destroy the universe!” “Then why didn’t you say that in the first place?” she asked, out loud. “Because this is how I saw it. And if I don’t record the video exactly as I saw it, I’ll cease to exist!” She begrudgingly got up to retrieve a pen and paper. When she returned, the woman onscreen was laughing. “Oh, shit, you’re back, aren’t you? I hoped I could get it all out of my system, but it’s just too funny.” “What’s too funny?” She asked, as she began writing what she remembered of the conversation so far. “Just you, scurrying around, doing whatever I say because you really think the world will end if you don’t. I’m just messing with you,” the woman onscreen said. “What the Hell is wrong with you?” she demanded.

“What the Hell is wrong with you?” the woman onscreen repeated, “You are me, after all.” “You’re nothing like me.” She said, angrily. “I’ll say,” the woman onscreen said, “You don’t know a damn thing about time. I know that you’re worried that writing this script so I can read it to you is a paradox. But it’s more like circular reasoning. You are hearing these words because I am saying them, and I am saying them because you heard them. Where did these words come from, if neither of us came up with them? The answer, as you know, is that it doesn’t affect the bottom line, so who cares? We don’t. It isn’t going to cause a contradiction that destroys the universe, and it’s not going to undo the invention of chocolate, so it’s not our problem. It turns out that the chain of cause and effect is actually pretty sturdy.” The woman onscreen gave her a few moments to transcribe her words. “Since I can’t pinch you, you’ll just have to take my word for it. This isn’t a dream,” The woman onscreen said. She hadn’t even considered that it might be. Her future self continued, “At least, not literally. You could argue that, figuratively, it’s a dream come true, since I’m giving you an incredible opportunity: the ability to travel through time. And, to answer the question that you haven’t even asked yet, I’ll tell you how you learned how to travel through time: by paying attention to this video. It’s the same circular logic as before. And that’s the true paradox of time travel. No one has ever invented time travel, yet people know how to do it, because they traveled back in time and taught themselves. All time travelers learn this way. Oh yeah, by the way, there are other time travelers. They call themselves Chrononauts, but you don’t need to worry about them. They’ll find you. But not, like find you in a scary way or anything. They’re mostly pretty chill.”

She started to get impatient. Was she really destined to become this blathering old woman? “OK, there’s no need to be rude. You have all the time in the world. Literally. Or, I guess, you will soon. Fine, I’ll get on with it.” And just like that, she learned how to instantly transport her body to any time period, past or future, with nothing more than the power of her mind. It was the kind of thing that was almost impossible to explain to someone else, but seemed so obvious once you understood it. Luckily, the woman onscreen wasn’t explaining it to someone else, which made it a bit easier. It was so complicated that she wasn’t surprised no one had guessed it before, yet at the same time, so simple as to be breathtakingly elegant. But there was one thing she wanted to get straight before she tested it out. “No, you can’t travel through space. Yes, I realize that the Earth is always orbiting around the sun, which is always hurtling through the galaxy, etc., but it’s all relative anyway. You’ll end up where it makes sense for you to end up, so don’t worry about dying in the cold void of space. Well, unless you’re in a situation where that seems pretty possible, in which case you should really worry about dying in the cold void of space. Anyway, my time’s just about up. You’ve learned all I can teach you. And remember, you cannot discuss the contents of this tape with anyone who is not a Chrononaut. Not even your husband,” Her eyes lit up. Did this mean that she would marry her current boyfriend? Her stomach fell at the next word: a name she’d never heard before. “Well, good luck. You’ll do great. I would know.” With that, the woman onscreen blew a kiss, and the video ended.

Yet the name of her future husband was all that remained in her mind. Was her current relationship destined to fail? Could she stay with her boyfriend, knowing that each intimate moment is just another step closer to heartbreak? And how would she treat this stranger, knowing they were fated to be married? She laughed in spite of herself. “I just learned the greatest secret in the universe, and I’m worried about boy troubles,” she thought to herself, “Thank God the fellas at work can never learn of this.” 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 thought of the woman she saw on the tape. “I already have overcome this,” she said to herself aloud. She knew what to do. On the script she penned, she wrote the words “Do not mention husband.” The moment she finished writing the last letter, a curious sensation filled her brain. She felt as if her mind was moving at unimaginable speeds, yet her body was stationary. The motion came to a stop as suddenly as it started. She noticed that she was clutching the manuscript with white knuckles. Something about it looked out of place. Four words: “Do not mention husband”. The handwriting was unmistakably her own, yet she hadn’t written it. She only transcribed the contents of the tape, and the tape made no mention of any romantic partners. A second watching of the tape confirmed this. After pondering it for a few minutes, she gave up trying to understand, and chalked it up to the mysteries of time travel. This was her first time doing this, but it was certainly not the last.

For the next chapter in the recommended order, click here

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


Ouroboros – Chapter 1: The Endless Serpent’s Head

“Ding-doooong!” her doorbell rang, not with the classic “ding-dong” sound that she had insisted on, but with a sound that lingered just a bit longer than it was supposed to. The difference was subtle, almost imperceptible, but she wasn’t one to let subtleties escape her detection. In any case, she had more pressing concerns than her doorbell, namely, whoever was ringing it. But when she opened the door, she was greeted, not by a person, but a small, plain cardboard box, an unusual smell that she couldn’t identify, and the sound of breaking glass. The sound caused her to recoil sharply. Force of habit. But she only lost her composure for a moment; she immediately assessed her environment to determine the source of the sound. She was unsuccessful; none of her nearby windows were broken, nor was the mirror behind the door. That left only the package before her. Had someone dropped glass on her doorstep and run away? But the glass shattered as soon as she opened the door, and whoever left the box was nowhere to be seen. It didn’t add up. Could it have been the doorbell? It was sounding strange, after all. She pressed the button several times, failing to replicate the anomalous sound produced earlier.


In doing so, she inadvertently summoned her boyfriend. “Who the Hell is at the door?” he asked. “Oh, it’s just me. I was trying to get it to make the weird sound it made the first time,” she explained. “What weird sound? And why’d you ring it the first time?” he asked. “The first ring was a bit longer. Like, a ‘ding-doooong’ instead of a ‘ding-dong’,” she said. He was definitely one to let subtleties escape his detection. “And I didn’t ring it the first time. No idea who did. I just found this on the doorstep,” she continued, picking up the package. “Huh. I guess this doesn’t contain broken glass,” she said. “Huh? What’s that supposed to mean? You picked it up before knowing that it didn’t contain broken glass?” he asked. “When I opened the door, I heard glass break, so I thought maybe it was in here, but…” she shook the box around a bit, making a sound that was certainly not the tinkling of shattered glass. “It’s not.” “Jesus Christ!” he shouted, panicking unnecessarily (in her opinion, at least). “Be careful! Even if it’s not broken glass, there could be anything in there!” he said. “Yeah, like what?” she scoffed. “I dunno,” he said, “A rare, lost work of art that could sell for millions of dollars?” “This seems too small to fit any art,” she said, “So I don’t know why you’d say that… unless you already know that it’s art because it’s one of your little drawings that you had someone deliver to me!” “I was just joking, sweetie,” he said, “I 100% did not do that.” “Well, that’s a shame. I think I’d like a drawing of myself. Then I could see how you see me. I could even pay you for it,” she said, “Do it up real official.” “Sorry, but I can’t use you as the subject of my art,” he said. “Really?” she asked, “that seems kind of rude.” “It’s not like that,” he said, “It’s just that I’m not nearly good enough to truly capture how beautiful you are. And if I did manage to draw something as beautiful as you, it’d have to be my final work, because nothing I made afterwards would ever even compare. It’s a catch-22. Or something.” “Oh, sure,” she said, skeptically. But she believed him. He was definitely the kind of dork who would say something that cheesy and mean it with all his heart.

“A VHS tape?” she wondered aloud as she opened the box, despite her boyfriend’s worries. “You use it to play videos,” her boyfriend explained, “you see, in the days before Netflix, back when the world was young, this is how people watched movies at home.” She scoffed. “I know what a VHS is. I’m only two years younger than you. What I don’t know is why anyone would use one these days.” “Maybe it’s a dangerous secret that got delivered to my house by mistake?” he offered. “Who’s it addressed to?” “Me,” she said, before clarifying, “well, not ME, but… here, just look.” She showed him the only adornment on the box, a sticker, the kind you put on gifts that says “To:” and “From:”. A single word was written, large enough to fill both spaces. “Me”. “Does that not seem freaky to you?” he asked, “It seems freaky to me. And speaking of freaky: is it just me, or does that package smell like lightning?” “Lightning?” she asked, skeptically, “How does lightning have a smell? And how do you know what it is?” “I think the heat of the lightning somehow fuses oxygen molecules into ozone molecules, and that’s where the smell comes from. As for how I know… I get around.” “Get around Wikipedia, maybe,” she teased. “Maybe so,” he said, “in any case, whatever that VHS is all about, I want no part of it. You can keep it.” “Maybe I will,” she said, “Anyway, I gotta get going. See if you can fix the doorbell while I’m gone.” With those words and a peck on the cheek, she was gone. While her drive to her job was filled with questions about the mysterious package, a busy day at work drove these thoughts from her mind, until she forgot about the VHS tape entirely.

She only remembered it three months later, during a “heated discussion” (“fight” was too strong a word) with her boyfriend, who complained about her clutter around the house. “I’m sorry, but you know how busy my job keeps me. I just don’t have the time!” The words were on her tongue, but she swallowed them; the matter of his employment was a touchy subject, and she knew him well enough to know he’d misconstrue her explanation as jab at him for still not having a job. The catalyst of this “passionate debate” was the tape. “I let the damn thing sit out for three months, in plain sight, but you still haven’t done anything with it!” She rolled her eyes, almost by reflex, and that’s what really set the whole thing off. She tried to explain that, after a certain point, stuff like that just becomes part of the background, to the point where you don’t really notice it anymore. He brought up the, admittedly valid, point that a VHS is a pretty remarkable object these days. And so, the “spirited conversation” continued. Eventually they forgave each other, and made up in a manner which needn’t be discussed here.

The tape had piqued her curiosity once more. But how would she play it? She certainly had enough money to buy a VHS player from somewhere, but she didn’t get that money by spending frivolously. Maybe she could go to the library? Did they still have those anymore? Deciding she had nothing to lose, she dedicated the next free spot in her schedule to visiting the library. She could tell from the moment she stepped through the door how out of place she looked. Dressed in a sharp suit from work, she approached a librarian with tape in hand, and sheepishly asked “Um, do you know how I could go about playing one of these?” She admired the librarian’s professional courtesy, though she could tell that she was being judged for her ignorance. The librarian escorted her to an old VHS player that they’d allow her to use. She realized that trying to give a tip to the librarian probably made her look even more out of place, but she tried anyway. Courtesy is courtesy.

After finally managing to find the correct orientation to insert the tape, (these things could give USB a run for its money) it became immediately apparent that whoever used the device last had not turned the volume down. “IT IS OF THE UTMOST IMPORTANCE THAT NO ONE ELSE SEE OR HEAR THE CONTENTS OF THIS TAPE!” echoed throughout the quiet halls, followed by an even louder sigh. She immediately ejected the tape, curtly thanked the librarian, and pulled up Amazon on her phone as she walked out, angrily searching “old-ass technology (for fogeys)”.

In two shipping days, (She was not a patient woman) her doorbell rang, and she was greeted by a small cardboard box. Déjà vu. Though she could no longer remember why it was so important to her, she had her mind set on watching the tape on that day, which meant that, come Hell or high water, she was watching the tape on that day. She’d used one of her sick days, her first one in over a year, to ensure that she wasn’t too busy with work, and she made sure her boyfriend was out running errands, so he wouldn’t be a problem. After what seemed like an embarrassingly long time, she finally managed to find the right combination of cables and connections that hooked up the ancient player to her cutting-edge TV. She inserted the tape into the player, (on her first try, this time) and pressed the rewind button. She realized that there was no point in doing this, as she’d already heard the warning, but if she was going through all this trouble to watch the tape, she wasn’t going to half-ass it. As she reached to press the play button, she noticed her finger trembling. Was she really that anxious? She recalled all the mysterious circumstances surrounding the tape. Who delivered it? And what was did it contain? There was only one way to find out…

For the next chapter in the recommended order, click here

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