Steven M. Ferran, CEO of Vision Global arrived home and, after greeting his wife, made his way to the study and seated himself behind a large flatscreen monitor. The sensor, detecting his presence, brought the screen to life with a friendly female voice that greeted and asked, “Good afternoon, Steve. Speech, touch or pad?”
He thought for a moment before saying, “Pad.”
A panel on the desk slid open and a keypad moved into position in front of him. He shifted his chair forward and touched an icon on the screen marked ‘Diary.’
The screen requested a password.
He typed his birthdate into the space provided and hit ‘Enter.’
He stared for the longest time at the impatient blinking cursor beneath the date, September 21, 2029, before cracking his knuckles and typing:
‘Five days ago on September 16, Cornelius Crane passed away peacefully in his sleep. At least that is what the nurse at the retirement home had told me. But I know for a certainty that the man was not at peace. I know this for a fact because I had spoken to him on the phone on the eve of his death. He had phoned me, his tone not too dissimilar to that of the evening of August 17, 2014 – somewhat hysterical and deranged!’
He stopped and read what he had written. After a long deliberation he pushed the arrowed Backspace key until once again all that remained was the date and impatient beckoning cursor.
He stood up and poured himself a drink before returning to the seat in front of the monitor. After a long draft from the glass he placed it next to the keyboard, checked the time on his wristwatch and began typing again:
14h40 - Just got back from Cornelius Crane’s funeral. There were only two mourners in attendance – Myself and Claudia Olivier, nee Crane (His younger sister by almost 7 years).
What a sad, lonely farewell to a man who had lived two very full lives. Two lives – two chances to gather a lifetime of loving caring friends. What went wrong?
Why did a man who had almost everything become so bitter at life? I can only guess that somewhere along the line he stopped appreciating the gift of being! Touching the face of immortality would surely affect one that way?
Wherever you are now, Cornelius Crane, I pray that you have finally found the peace that escaped you in life – both of them!’
Ferran’s thoughts drifted back a little more than 15 years; back to that fateful night of August 17, 2014; back to the event that took place at the former CEO’s fancy mansion on Berkley Hill.
Three hours prior to the strange incident, Cornelius Crane had called him. The man had sounded hysterical and deranged. And yet there was something else in that pleading voice, a hint of truth and sincerity. And although there was not a man on the planet that Steven Ferran despised more, that voice had somehow convinced him to drive out to Berkley Hill to see what all the fuss was about.
“Steve? You’ve come!” Crane had exclaimed at the top of the stairs as he watched Steve climb out of the large gray car. “I thought it was my sister?”
“She’s on her way too! She’s late!” He beckoned Steve up the stairs. “Thank God you’re here! Quick, there’s not much time!” Inside, Crane had pointed to a large sealed box that was addressed to Ferran. “There, that’s for you.”
“That’s a lot bigger than the last lot you sent over. I’m not interested in anything you have to offer me. I thought you would have gotten the message by now? I knew this was a mistake. Goodbye!”
“Wait! It’s not what you think!”
“And what would that be?”
“A peace offering.”
“No? Then what?”
“My second life.”
“Your second life?”
“Yes, it’s all in there. Everything!”
“O…kay? And who gets the box with your first life?”
Whether or not Crane was affected by Ferran’s sarcasm, he didn’t show it. He simply said, “Open it.” He looked over at the large clock on the wall. The big hand was on the 9 and the smaller on 11. “Please, quickly! There’s not much time left.”
Ferran stared for a long time into Crane’s eyes before removing a small pocket knife from his jacket and unfolding the blade. “You keep saying that? What’s the rush?” He slid the point of the blade into the packaging tape and sliced away until the top was unsealed. He peered into the box and removed the first item. It was a framed note. He read the words on the yellowed paper beneath the glass: “‘I am neither proud nor relish in the things I have done. So, when Judgment Day cometh – I pray that God forgive us both.’” He looked up and asked, “Did you write this?”
“That…is not my handwriting, but…ironically, the words are very much my own.”
“Nonsense, you have every right to be proud and relish in all your accomplishments. You have achieved much more than most men could accomplish in two lifetimes.”
“You have no idea of the truth of your words…and yet, I have achieved nothing…nothing!” He clenched his fists. “I believed that the only way to stay at the top was to trample everyone else down. But technology is nothing…meaningless! It is the human spirit that matters. It took me two goddamned lifetimes to learn that simple, obvious, fundamental fact of life. And I learned it far too late.” He waved a hand at the walls of his livingroom. All this is meaningless! Worthless! Technology is evil. It changes us all. Makes us more like itself; dehumanizes us. A billion cellphones in the world; hundreds of social networks, yet nobody talks to each other anymore – I mean really talks to each other!”
“You said you had something important to tell me? You said we needed to talk. Against my better judgment I have come. But I’m here now. So, talk! I’m listening.”
Crane stared at the clock. “So late! So late! Never before has the word late had such significance.” Then he laughed cynically. “Well, maybe once when Erika told me that she was late.”
“No time to fully explain. It’s all in the diaries.”
“My diaries. They’re all in that box. Read them. For God’s sake you must read them. Please!”
Again his eyes went back to the clock. This time he pointed to the date indicated at the bottom. “Tonight is the eve of my death and rebirth. It was tonight, August 17th, 2014 that we did it. At exactly twenty three hundred hours.”
“Yes, you and I, at Crane Global Visions. Only then it was called Vizion Global – with a z.”
“What? You’re not making any sense, Crane. And you keep mixing your tenses.”
“I have a confession to make. My whole life I’ve carried the burden, the truth of who…what I am…all alone. It has been a terrible weight to bear. Very soon I will be gone. Before that time comes, I want to be sure that you will learn the whole truth. I have chosen to reveal my terrible secret to you because you were once my friend; my one and only true friend. And although I did you wrong, and I know that you will never forgive me, I do know that you are the only one who will know that what is written in the diaries is the truth. At first it may seem absurd, but I know that you will eventually accept it as the honest and absolute truth.”
Ferran had felt like a priest who was about to perform the last rites, but would first have to suffer hearing the irrational ravings and confessions of a delirious, dying man. He uncomfortably asked, “Did you murder someone?”
“Well what is it yes or no?” Crane started laughing. “I’m sorry, did I say something humorous?”
“No, it’s more…ironic.”
“I also fail to see the irony.”
He laughed even louder. “Well, it’s only now that you made me realize something. I’ve never thought of myself as a murderer before. I always considered myself more an…executioner. The Angel of Death! Yes, the judge, jury and executioner of those who would prey on the weak and helpless. Unfortunately a lot of innocent people got hurt along the way; you included. I could have fixed that, but it’s too late now.” He pointed yet again at the clock. It was five to eleven. “Not much time left.” He laughed cynically again before adding, “I once wrote that, ‘I have all the time in the world.’ Now it’s only five minutes. That’s three hundred seconds. Sounds like a lot doesn’t it? But I feel each one passing now like a terrible hammer-strike chipping away at the last of me. Soon I will be no more.” There was a sudden realization. “I tried to build it again. I thought I would have enough…time. God, how I have come to hate that word. I was wrong. Destroy it! You must destroy it!”
Crane had started to sound hysterical again, so Ferranquickly asked, “Who are both?”
“Both?” frowned Crane wiping some spittle from the corner of his mouth.
“The note says, ‘I pray that God forgive usboth.’”
Crane’s laugh turned into a low disturbing chuckle before he said, “The man I was…and the man I have become.”
“That is still one and the same person.”
“Is it? I beg to differ! But I pray that you are right.” Ferran was about say something, but Crane, for some strange reason, was now even more obsessed with the clock on the wall. “Look!” It showed 1 minute to 11. “Only Time will tell. The eleventh hour approaches. They say, ‘Time waits for no man,’ but she’s waiting for me. Oh, she’s waiting all right! I feel her in the shadows, a cold dark specter. I sense her cloak starting to enfold itself about me. She prepares to carry me away.”
“She? I thought it was Father Time?”
“Oh, no. Only a woman could be so devious; so heartless; so…fickle. Any minute…any second now she’ll change her mind, and the man I am will be gone forever. I know it will be difficult to understand or accept, but at least try to be kind and patient…with the boy.
“The boy? What boy?”
“The innocent boy that I once was.” Crane suddenly grabbed a remote lying in front of the TV and shoved it into Ferran’s hand. “God, I almost forgot! Once it’s happened push the play button. I was planning on asking my sister to help but…” He glanced at the clock again. “I’ve needed a drink all day, but I’ve refrained for the boy’s sake.”
“What happens when I push play?”
“It’s a video recording to help me understand.”
“You? It’s me that needs an explanation! What are you…”
“Not long now. Read the diaries.”
“Explain yourself, man?” Ferran’s frustration had started to manifest itself in an angry tone.
“Too late! You took too long to get here! Read the diaries!”
“Why, what’s in the diaries?”
“Look,” said Crane as the minute hand shifted to 11 o’clock pm. “The Sword of Damocles falls. Read…the…diaries.”
Ferran wasn’t sure, but for a brief moment he thought he had seen a strange luminance, like St. Elmo’s fire dancing over the top of Crane’s head, and his hair had seemed to prickle upright as if charged with static electricity.
“Are you okay?” Ferran asked as Crane clutched the sides of his face.
Cornelius had been reasonably restrained up to this point, but now he started to shout like some religious fanatic witnessing a vision. “Oh, God, it’s happening! I can feel it! I can see it!”
“It’s true what they say!”
“I can see my life flashing before my eyes. Like a dam of memories bursting and being swept away into the darkness…into oblivion.” Crane reached out his hand as if he could touch that torrential stream. “It’s rushing away! Going…going…going...” His tone became quieter and less frenetic with each repetition. “Going…go…” And then he was silent.
He sat there for the longest time. His hand still stretched out. Then suddenly it was as if someone had stuck him with a pin. He jerked up straight and looked about with an expression of utter dread. There seemed to be a new brightness in those eyes. Not the spark of intelligence but the glow of youth. He stared at Ferran, his eyes seeking information – answers!
“What?” frowned Ferran.
And then came that unforgettable bombardment of questions.
“What happened? Who are you? What’s going on? Where am I? What place is this?” He was terrified at the sound of his own voice as young tears flowed over time-worn cheeks. “I want my mommy! I want to go home!”
It would be a while before Ferran was convinced that the man who had stood before him was no more; replaced now by a terrified, weeping wretch. Still a man, but with the mentality of a six-year-old.
It was also much later that he recalled Crane’s words when he had asked him about the framed note.
‘The man I was…and the man I have become.’
What did it mean? What was the significance?
He had decided then that he would read the diaries!
Steven Ferran stared at the flatscreen monitor and the words he had entered into his diary. This time his thoughts drifted back less than a week. Back to the last conversation that he would ever have with Cornelius Crane.
“Ferran! Hello!” he had answered the call late at night in this same chair.
“It’s Crane. Cornelius Crane.”
“Crane? I already told you that the answer is, ‘No!’”
“That means you believe!”
“It doesn’t make any difference.”
“It makes every difference!”
“I knew it was a bad idea letting you read the diaries.
I thought it was the decent think to do – helping you to fill in that big gap in your life.”
“It was! But it would also be the right thing to do to help me fill it completely…properly.”
“Everybody deserves a second chance, Cornelius.”
“And you’ve already had yours.”
“No, that’s not true. Can’t you see that I’m…”
“Who were you to decide who lives and who dies? Who made you judge, jury and executioner?”
“That wasn’t me!”
For a moment Ferran was silent in thought before saying, “Yes, I understand fully now what you meant when I asked you on that night shortly before you turned into a frightened sobbing child; when I asked you who the both of us referred to in the note that Joaq Du Maille had written.”
“That’s obvious, me and…”
“You and the man that you had once been! That was your reply!”
“Eh? Having to live one’s life over almost all the way from the start , pretending to be a child can obviously cause one to go… a bit crazy.”
“A bit crazy. Declaring one’s self to be The Angel of Death is not a bit crazy – it’s fucking insanity. No person has the right to make themselves judge, jury and executioner over the rest of mankind.” Then Ferran calmly added, “Romans 1, Verses 17 to 21.”
“What does that say?”
“I know that you have a bible right there next to you, Cornelius.”
“Hold on.” There was an extended silence before he spoke again. “Hello?”
“I’m still here.”
He started to read: “‘Return evil for evil to no one. Provide fine things in the sight of all men. If possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men. Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but yield place to the wrath; for it is written: “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, sayeth the Lord.” But, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by doing this you will heap fiery coals upon his head.” Do not let yourself be conquered by the evil, but keep conquering the evil with the good.’”
“Exactly! You should have that framed and placed on the wall right next to Du Maille’s note.”
“But don’t you understand, if you send me back home I can make it all right again?”
“I understand the pain you must have suffered on your wedding day, but you can’t hold that against me?”
“You think that’s why I’m refusing to help you?”
“It must certainly sway your decision?”
“I’m a better person than that. It’s all water under the bridge a long, long time ago. I’m very happy with my second wife now thank you. I never did marry again in your first life remember. If I had, I may never have agreed to send you back. I may have been too afraid that you would screw up my successful marriage. Something you could easily do now given yet another chance.”
“What happened to Nikki?”
“My first wife, Nicolette?”
“She developed some sort of heart condition much later in life. I heard she passed away a couple years ago. She never married nor had any kids herself. I guess they really were meant for each other. Still, it’s kinda sad having two lifetimes and not producing a single offspring. The other Cornelius Crane chose to forego that wonderful gift and pleasure. He never knew the joy of bringing a new life into the world. He was only interested in putting the same life back into the old one, over and over and over, and then calling it new each time. How absurd! The man truly had a warped and selfish attitude.”
“That was the other me. You yourself said I’m a better person now, and that you believed we could have been friends. If we work together we can do it. There’s still time to finish the job before it’s too late. Just think, we could both use it. We could both have our lives to live all over again.”
“You haven’t heard a word I’ve said?”
“I have! It’s just so damned unfair! Can’t you see…”
“It’s gone, Cornelius.”
“The Consciousness Projector is gone. I personally dismantled it into a thousand pieces and dumped it into the garbage chute.”
“You’re lying. How could you even think of destroying such a fantastic…”
“Because you asked me to. Because at the end you finally came to your senses and realized that what you…what we had done was wrong. Terribly wrong! Your diaries have made that quite apparent. No! I…”
“There’s still time to build another. Send me back! I’ll fix it all up. I promise! Send me back to ’65 again and I promise you that I’ll fix it all up? I won’t mind having to go through another childhood. I, anyhow, missed mine. This would be the perfect oppor…”
“What about the possibility of the timestream having been split into a second continuity?”
“What about it?”
“What if instead of being projected back to ’65, your consciousness now found the brain pattern of your sick and dying self in the alternative continuity?”
“I hadn’t thought of that.”
“Time travel can be very confusing.”
“It’s a chance I’m willing to take.”
“But not me.”
“No! When I said it was wrong what we had done, you misunderstood me. It was not just about the changes that were made in the timeline.”
“Every person is only supposed to have one life. That is why we must make the best of the time allotted to us on the one great journey given us.”
“I hear what you’re saying, but…”
“No! It would be wrong. It was wrong! It’s time for you to put some faith in the hereafter.”
“Who knows what lies for us beyond the veil of death? Shit, Crane, we all gotta go sometime, but I gotta hand it to you though. For a short moment in time, you almost managed to attain immortality.”
Cornelius Crane knew that his pleas were futile, yet he begged one last time, “In God’s name, Steven, I beg of you? Please, help me? You’re the only one capable of helping me to achieve it? You’ve got to help me to go back?”
Ferran was reminded once again of the frightened sobbing manchild. And although he had felt a certain sense of pity, before ending the call and silencing the pathetic sobs, the last words that Steven Matthew Ferran ever spoke to ‘Professor’ Cornelius Crane were:
“I’m really terribly sorry, Cornelius. I really am, but I think Thomas Wolfe summed it up beautifully back in the forties already when he said, ‘You can’t go home again.’”
As he watched the keyboard disappear into the large desk, Ferran suddenly felt a great urge to hug his wife. And did.
“What was that for?” she asked frowning and smiling.
“Because I love you. Because most people think that they have all the time in the world to say it or show it. Because tomorrow may be too late? Because far too often…tomorrow never comes.”
“You sound just like my dear ol’ departed mom.”
“Yeah, she would often say to my father, ‘Honey, try to remember that I want flowers now – and not on my grave when it’s much too late.’”
“Exactly!” exclaimed Ferran heading towards the front door. “Your mother was an extremely wise woman!”
“Where are you going?”
“To the florist, of course!”
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