The Journal of James Oaklund

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5/22

5/22:

As I write this...I feel my hands shaking, hell, my whole body...I just...Jesus Christ. What happened today is still settling in, on top of what happened yesterday, too...I’m gonna need a lot of time to be okay. Let me get it all out there, at least.

This morning I woke up and went about getting ready without a word or even a second thought. Like my body was moving on autopilot, almost. Before I knew it, I’d showered, eaten breakfast, thrown on my jacket and shoes, and stood in the closet by the stairs’ doorway. That was when my consciousness fully caught up, I think.

I reached up and grabbed the box, feeling that known but still somewhat-alien heft within as I pulled the lid off. There it sat, wrapped in some kind of silky cloth or something to keep the dust off. I don’t know why the old man bothered; it was just an old service pistol, but I guess I appreciated not having to dust it off or clean it too much.

Some basic maintenance and she was ready to go. Luckily for me, also included in the storage box was about a half dozen 9x19mm cartridges, meaning I was pretty well-stocked. Probably a lot more than I actually needed, I know, but maybe in retrospect I should’ve brought something a lot bigger.

I didn’t bother calling the doctor to let him know I was coming by. That bastard doesn’t deserve a heads-up. I’m showing up on my time, on my terms, and I’m gonna make this right. I thought back to Ryan’s face yesterday in the rain, and I took a deep breath...And exhaled. I was sure I could talk some reason into him, or at the least convince him to stand down.

I set out from my place that day with a look of solemn resolve and determination. I think that may have been the reason why, but, regardless, people occasionally gave me funny glances. Maybe they were wondering why I looked so angry, yet resolute. I don’t know. I think out of everything that went down...That’s the least of my concerns, heh.

When I showed up to the lab, it somehow looked worse than the last time I’d been. The tangled, gnarled mass of vines and roses towered high above the building itself, like some kind of faux second above-ground story. I popped in a cartridge into the Beretta before entering.

The door was unlocked, but I’d figured it would be. When I stepped inside, I saw the elevator ticking up to the surface level from somewhere deeper in the facility. I half-expected doc to walk out, but I knew deep down who it would be. With a ding, the elevator doors opened, and out stepped Ryan. He didn’t say anything for a good few moments as he looked me in the eyes and narrowed his own.

“So. We’re doin’ this the hard way, then?”

It was then I noticed the steel baseball bat he clutched in his left hand. He’d been one of the best players in our hometown’s little league and had played off-and-on since. I knew he could swing that thing with deadly precision.

“It doesn’t have to be like this, Ryan! Just put the bat down, we can talk about this. You’re my best friend, I-”

“Am I? Am I really? I don’t fuckin’ feel like it, y’know. The few times we’ve talked recently, only one of them was actually you reachin’ out to me. I’ve been doin’ all the fuckin’ legwork here, and I’m sick of it. That shit don’t matter though. My real big fuckin’ issue is what you’re tryin’ to do.
I know you got that Beretta in your pocket. There’s no way in hell you’re leavin’ here without puttin’ a cap in the doc, and as far as I understand, him bein’ alive is the only reason my mom’s not a fuckin’ vegetable. That’s it. That’s the end of the fuckin’ discussion. If you don’t turn around and leave right fuckin’ now, I’m bashin’ your goddamned skull in. Understand?”

He looked at me with a feral expression of barely-suppressed rage. I’d never seen him like that before in my life and it was honestly a little terrifying. I eventually found my resolve again, though. I stuffed my hands in my pockets and sighed.

He clenched his bat tightly, tensing like he was about to swing. I drew the Beretta and fired just as he lunged forward, catching him in the right shoulder. He staggered back, gripping the wound as he dropped the bat. It was then I became immensely thankful for my father teaching me how to shoot when I was younger.

I could see his shirt slowly staining red, his blood dripping onto the perfectly white floor and ruining the stark, spartan immaculateness. He glared daggers at me like a wounded animal, growled, and grabbed his bat in his now-crimson hand.

With a scream of anger and pain that hurt my heart as much as scared the absolute shit out of me, he rushed me, forcing me to shoot him again.

This one got him in the stomach. I stared in shock, horror, disgust...I couldn’t believe what I was doing. My hands shook, trembling under the weight of what I’d done...And what I had to do. I knew the only way to end this now.

With a grimace, I aimed for his forehead, stared deep into his hate-filled, heart-breaking eyes, took a deep breath in, and...Bang.

The shot landed square in the middle of his forehead, putting him down pretty much immediately.

It was all my fault. I...I fucking killed him. No...It wasn’t all my fault. If Ben had never gotten to him at all, he wouldn’t have tried to stop me today. I decided to cry about it later, though. I had business to attend to. That bastard was going to pay for making me do this shit.

As I stepped into the elevator, I heard a speaker crackle to life somewhere I couldn’t see. An all-too-familiar voice came seeping from it like horrible, toxic honey.

“Hello, James. Seems you’ve been...Productive. I want to tell you a story, my friend. Please, listen.”

I wanted more than anything to spit in his face, wherever he was, reading this off into a microphone or whatever. I pressed the button that took me way down into the depths of the lab like last time, and he chuckled.

“Once upon a time, a very long time ago, there was a boy. Born spritely and cheerful, his parents loved their baby dearly. But, one day, when that boy was a little older, he’d encounter his first true misfortune; a cosmic event of grander proportions than the young boy could fathom.
Two worlds, colliding; some people from one ended up in the other, and vice versa. That boy got shaken loose from his home world, but found he couldn’t go to the other. You see, he didn’t exist there; there was no place for him in that world’s history, so he was cast out. Fated to wander for years innumerable in the vast void between...”

He paused, and I swear I heard some kind of water-y noise, like he was sipping tea or coffee, or something.

“...Ah. Let us continue. This boy wandered and wandered until he was a young man, and he came across a voice in the great, empty dark. This voice spoke of secrets, great and terrible; of the power to find his way home.
The young man remembered how much his parents loved him, and so he accepted the voice’s bargain for the ability to find his way in the endless darkness. All it asked was to live within him. Using his newfound power, he did, indeed, find his way home. To that world he was shaken loose from all those years ago...”

I was confused as to where he was going with this whole thing, but I was at least able to follow it decently well.

“But when he got home, he found his house occupied by a different son; living out the young man’s life, living with the young man’s family like he’d so desperately wanted all of those years. The young man learned a valuable lesson; time will fill your place if you disappear. It knows no mercy, or remorse. So, the boy determined, neither should he.
The voice came to him from within as he found himself stranded in a world so familiar, yet so content without him he could scarcely bring himself to call it his home.
The voice guided him back into the dark, where the young man would walk until he was a true man, and the voice would teach him more and more each day.
The voice told him all sorts of things about the way that time held the infinite many worlds together...And how this order could be manipulated; turned to one’s own designs.”

I was starting to get the picture, I thought. I just silently watched as the numbers on the elevator’s display ticked up to 20 agonizingly slowly.

“You see, James, for every choice, there are a multitude of different outcomes. For every event, there are a multitude of variables; these variables do not act the same way in each world.
Hence, there are a great many worlds; all parallel with each other. Where perhaps one particular path lead to the left in one, it may lead to the right in the next one over; so on and so forth.
He learned that you could pluck events, specific variables, and even entire people from one world and graft them onto another, to replace what once was and make that new addition the ‘true’ sequence of time. That is how I learned to grant wishes.”

I think I had a look of horror on my face as I finally came close to understanding what I was really up against. The guy wasn’t just calling in favors or some shit like that; he was tearing up other timelines to patch together one frankenstein’s monster world, where he got what he wanted and couldn’t be stopped...

“Why would you do all of this, Ben?”

“Simple enough. Think about it, James; I have the ability to make everything that has ever caused anybody suffering disappear. I have the ability to create the best possible timeline; no pain, no wars, no conflict; just peace, and happiness. No more getting thrown around by the cosmic tremors that tore my home from me...I can make it happen, James.
Everybody could have everything they ever wanted, including you. Do you really think you can take that away from them? Do you really get to decide that, James?”

“Far as I’m concerned, you’re a fucking psychopath who forced an innocent girl to kill herself, and then manipulated my other best friend into forcing me to kill him. You’re not some kinda benevolent deity or whatever, you’re just an immoral, twisted asshole.”

“Oh, James. How narrow-minded you are! Surely you understand that to make an omelet, one must sacrifice several eggs? I’m sure you do; you made one for breakfast the other day.”

My face paled. I could physically feel my sweat turn cold at that implication.

“Wait...How the hell did you know that?”

He chuckled, that soft, joyful laugh that had eased my mind so many times before sending rivets of red-hot anger and fear through me now.

“I’ve been watching you, James. It’s not hard. Your actions are incredibly predictable, thus, I have very few drastically different possibilities to actually wrestle with. I know every move you’re going to make, and I understand full well why you’ve come. I’ll explain more in person, if you’ll humor me a little longer.”

I watched the elevator hit 18. I sighed, checking the Beretta to make sure she was good to go should I need to quick-draw again.

“Sure, Ben. Why the hell not? This ends the same way no matter what.”

“Oho...I didn’t know you could see other timelines as well. Haha, I jest. Come and meet me at the base of the tree. I eagerly await you.”

Ding...Ding. 20th floor. I stepped out of the elevator hesitantly, my hand on the grip of the Beretta in my pocket. I know, improper gun safety, but it didn’t exactly come with a holster. As I stepped out of the elevator, I saw the room was much the same, except for the tree. Its branches seemed to be bearing some kind of fruit; they were vaguely apple-shaped, black as tar, with some very thin gold “veins” running up and down their sides.

Most importantly, though, there Ben was, sitting at the base of the tree. I looked at him sitting there, smiling at me like the smug fucking bastard he was, and the images of Amaryllis and Ryan’s corpses flashed in my mind.
I thought about how inconsequential they apparently were to him that he felt absolutely zero remorse for them...I felt anger welling up, and the urge to just pop him from here seemed almost undeniable until I took a deep breath. I figured I’d at least hear his last words before I put and end to him.

“Hello, James. What an...Interesting journey it’s been. Doubtless, you still have many questions. I’ll answer them to the best of my ability.”

“Then what? I get to shoot you?”

He chuckled and shrugged his shoulders.

“Whatever you deem fitting, James. You’ll carry the weight of whatever choice you make here today with you for the rest of your life, either way.”

I was quiet for a moment before eventually speaking again.

“...Fair enough. Alright, first question...What the hell did you do with Amy? Well, what the hell did you do with Amelia and Amaryllis, really.”

Ben nods his head and chuckles, though this time it’s more to himself than to me. I sit down on the giant white root nearest to me and watch him like a hawk eyeing a rat it plans to kill and eat.

“This will require a bit of explanation...Pardon me if I get a little long in the tooth here. But, as you know, there’s a theoretical infinite number of alternate worlds out there. Different timelines; different people being born and dying, different historical events, etcetera. Well, by whatever machinations lie beyond the curtain of human understanding, every timeline is afforded several ‘anchors.’
These anchors are people whom are chosen at complete random, but who will pass down their status to their children upon their death. Each anchor contains a proverbial ‘fail-safe’ for their given timeline in their memories and, should things become divergent or irreparably damaged, the universe will reconstruct that timeline based on the anchors’ recollection of it.
Typically, anchors are people heavily rooted in routine and traditions; they’re the most likely candidates to remember the old world exactly as it was, and the most likely to retain a fully accurate reconstructive image.
But, there are a few wrenches in this machination of time. Namely, the existence of blank-slate anchors. You see, sometimes, if an anchor from one timeline is forced into another by some cosmic accident the ‘saved world’ within them is erased. They contain a completely blank timeline anchor.”

“Why’s that a problem? Wouldn’t it just do nothing at all?”

“Well, yes, in a very technical sense; it does 'do nothing.' Should they be the only anchor remaining in a timeline in the event of a significant divergence, the universe will attempt to fix that timeline by writing over it with the ‘saved world’ they’re carrying.
But in their case, theirs is completely blank. So that’s the state that whole timeline is written over with; complete and utter nothingness. Like dumping a bottle of white-out, but over an entire world.”

“...Oh. Alright, what does that have to do with Amelia and Amaryllis?”

“Well, you see...Amelia is one of those blank-slate anchors. She likely doesn’t know it, or at least doesn’t remember it, but I told her as much when we first met. It was back in my original timeline, actually. When I'd first gone home.
Back then, I was still getting to know what kind of power I could tap into, and realized I could tell anchors from normal people instinctively. Further, I realized I could tell blank-slate anchors from normal anchors. Little Amelia had been knocked into that timeline from her home, and, because she was an anchor for her original timeline, she now possessed a blank-state. I took pity on her, though, and I did my best to help.
It, er...Didn’t work. I didn’t fully grasp my abilities at the time, but I caused a very small cosmic event that sent her to the next timeline over, which, well, ended up being yours. Not hers, as originally intended.”

I stared at him, doing my best to keep up with all of this talk of timelines and worlds and anchors...But boy, was it fucking tough.

“So, when you called me, and we started talking, the last thing I expected to discover was that that little girl I’d tried to help so long ago had ended up here. I found out the night she called you. I was initially just going to settle for re-arranging the timeline so her phone had been damaged years prior. But then I immediately realized something; she would tell you everything she remembered the moment you brought me up to her.”

“Wait a second...You found out the night she called me? You tapped my phone?”

Ben gave me a wry smile. I guess it made sense; he probably just made it so I had gotten some kind of spyware on it before we started talking, or something.

“It was simple enough. Once you’d called me the first time, I was able to access your phone whenever I liked. I constantly watched and listened from it, as a matter of fact. It was necessary for the experiment, of course.
At any rate...I brought in Amaryllis and put her in Amelia’s place, and had her play the part of your Amy. You see, I couldn’t have you knowing about timelines and anchors and all of this, the experiment depended on it.
Well, that, and the fact that she’s a blank slate. Keeping her here is dangerous, so we might as well bite the bullet and send her off somewhere else so she can obliterate them instead.
Anyways.
The plan was to simply keep you on as a subject, granting your wishes, so that you might serve as the very first anchor of my new timeline; you have the potential to be an anchor, James, and even though right now you’re still holding onto the old timeline, I thought that if I got you to believe this new world was the same as the old one, I could overwrite your memories of the old world.
I thought I could keep you on hand as a backup in case something went wrong. And, I suppose, to prove that I could create anchors for my ideal timeline, to hold it in place so my work wouldn't go to waste.
You were to be the lynch pin in everything...But you were too nice. Too genuine. You gave poor Amaryllis a crisis of conscience, and she let some things slip that I simply did not appreciate.
So, regrettably, I grafted on a sequence of events where she decided to...Self-harm. As I’m sure you’re aware. You know, I think I feel a tad guilty about having done that. But, really...In the grand scheme of things, I believed it had to be done.
A necessary sacrifice for the happiness of the world at large...Or so I thought. It would seem that I wasted my time on that particular venture, in the end. Anything else?”

It took me a while to answer him, as I was doing my best to maintain my cool. Hearing him talk about forcing Amaryllis to kill herself pretty much as an accident was really, really pissing me off. Eventually, I sighed, and let out a deep breath.

“So what happens if I shoot you?”

He chuckled once more and I felt my trigger finger itch.

“Well, I dare say I might die. I’m only a man, after all. Well...A man with a very powerful mentor and benefactor backing me. I don’t know what he would do, honestly, but I can tell you that I would die.
That would likely also undo the changes I’ve made to your timeline, since I have to consciously maintain my grip on this world to keep the universe from correcting it.”

He had such a carefree attitude...It’s like he didn’t realize I was putting his entire life’s work in jeopardy, or just didn’t see me as a threat. But y’know what, whether he did or not, I’d come too far and dealt with too much not to put one in his skull. If not for myself, then for Amelia, and Amaryllis, and definitely for Ryan.

I stood up and pulled the Beretta from my pocket, pointing it at his forehead. I was stood only about a yard or so-maybe more like four feet-away from him, so it was pretty much a guaranteed shot at this range. Yet...He didn’t look up. Didn’t even flinch. Just stared at me down the barrel of my handgun with that annoying, smug grin.

“What’s your fucking deal? I’m about to kill you and you’re not even reacting.”

“No, you’re not. I don’t even need to manipulate the sequence of events here, James. My mentor has shown me all possible timelines, and there isn’t a single one where you pull that trigger.”

I felt my courage falter a little. The guy had been pretty honest about everything up to that point, to be fair. I didn’t have much reason to believe this was a bluff, but I was still kind of stunned.

“Why not? What makes you so sure?”

“You’re too kind. The only reason you were able to shoot down a man who was trying to kill you was because it was in self-defense, otherwise you never would have pulled the trigger. He was your best friend; I whole-heartedly believe you would be too blinded by sentimentality were it not for him having been armed. I don’t believe you can shoot me; I’m unarmed, not even posing a threat to you. You’re too soft, James, and that’s why-”

Bang.

"Rrggh! This is impossible...I saw every possibility laid out before me! My benefactor revealed everything to me!”

The first shot had been non-fatal. I wanted to be sure he felt all three of them, so I’d shot him in the left knee first.

Bang.

His white labcoat was quickly becoming drenched in red, the second bullet landing in his right thigh. He looked up at me with an expression of horror and sheer, utter disbelief. I looked down at him with nothing but determination, shifted my eyes up to his forehead, and-

Bang.

It was done. Benjamin Alexander lay dead in his laboratory, sprawled over his white tree as it slowly became a pinkish-rouge. I didn’t have much time to relish in or celebrate what I’d done, though. As I watched, it seemed like the world fell away around me...Everything dissolved until I was floating in an ocean of darkness. A voice filled my head.

"You are a man of true conviction, James Oaklund."

I couldn’t tell where it was coming from or how exactly to respond to it, but it went right on talking anyways.

"Many of your kind would have put the gun away, accepting a world of endless wishes and happiness in exchange for their morality. But I knew you were much different. I hid this timeline from Benjamin, because I wanted to be sure you had the conviction I wanted. I need your help to realize a dream of mine...A world of sloth and rampant, irreconcilable greed."

I just kind of nodded, unsure of what to even say. I didn’t feel good after killing Benjamin, that’s for sure. I just felt empty and guilty.

"That is, however, all the praise I will offer you for now. I am the voice that guides those in the dark...The one who sees all worlds, he who controls fate itself. You will serve me, James. I will whittle away your will day by day until you give in at last, and on that day, we'll build that world of sloth..."

This shape emerged in the darkness, and if I could have, I would have vomited right then and there. It smelled like the most horrible mix of magnesium, sulfur, and rotting flesh. It was some kind of formless black mass that only stood out from the darkness around it because of the endless maws full of gnashing, wicked teeth and countless eyes swiveling rapidly in their grotesque sockets to face me.
I felt what seemed to be a near-infinite amount of tendrils reaching out in the darkness, wrapping themselves around me...I couldn't breathe after one wrapped itself around my mouth and blocked my nose. I felt like I was suffocating, and I blacked out pretty quickly afterward.

That’s when I woke up at home, in my bed. I might’ve believed the entire thing was a dream, were it not for the bullets I fired at Ryan and Benjamin being missing and there still being some of Ryan’s blood on my pant leg. I decided I’d record everything that happened today, and then update the journal for the last time tomorrow.

I don’t think I can keep doing this, since it was Ben’s idea to begin with and all, but I feel like maybe one more entry might help me process my feelings.

I...Don’t know what to say. I just...I just feel hollow. I thought I might feel, y’know, a little accomplished, given that I killed the bastard responsible for Amy disappearing and other Amy killing herself, as well as for manipulating Ryan into forcing me to kill him. I just feel like I’ve made a horrible mistake, and like I’m guilty...I guess I’ll sort my feelings out with some time.

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