Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Mystery of Springfield, Kansas: Chapter One

Over the years, little by little, the city of Springfield, Kansas disappears. I find a mathematician who doesn’t quite understand what’s going on, and doesn’t believe me when I tell her the truth, but she still helps. I give her what data, and what anecdotal evidence of the phenomenon, that I have. She uses it to the best of her ability, developing a map of sorts, of the future, which allows me to predict when and where the disappearances will occur. Sometimes she’s a little off by her calculations, but seeing as I’m the only one who recognizes it as a problem, that’s to be expected.
I use her predictions to the best of my own ability, evacuating people any way possible. I send bomb threats, and I set fires to houses, and I report gas leaks. A few times I actually cause real gas leaks, and other hazardous conditions. I get caught a few times, but the benefit in being in this corrupted reality that only I can see is that, once that part of town blinks into oblivion, I can no longer be in trouble for anything. All of my crimes have been quite literally erased. My fellow police officers don’t even remember arresting me. For all they know, I’m the weird detective who keeps getting himself locked in the station holding cells for no reason at all.
I keep track of a few people that I save, just to see what comes of their lives. My worry was that they would disappear regardless of where they were; that they were somehow permanently linked to their homes. Fortunately, I’m wrong about this. Anyone who is not within the blast radius of the disappearance has no memory that it existed, including the people who once lived there. Time rewrites itself to compensate for their loss, and they just go back to some new home where they believe they’ve always lived. As the city shrinks, I end up evacuating the same people more than once, and eventually, they leave Springfield altogether, under the impression that they never lived there at all. I keep doing this over and over again, and it’s exhausting. I quickly surrender to the fact that I can’t save Springfield, only some of the people in it. And really, that’s the important thing anyway.
As time ticks by, the teenagers who disappeared at the same time as Rothko Ladhiffe return. They can’t tell me where they’ve been, though. It’s not that they don’t remember, but instead refuse to divulge their secret. I assume they swore an oath to each other, and imagine some terrible scenario that they can’t bring themselves to admit to anyone. I try to push them for answers, but they all come back with special time powers, and I’m no match for them. If they don’t want to talk, I can’t make them. I can’t make them stay with me in the same second of time, let alone the same room. I continue to wait for RL, but he never comes back with them. Though I was technically meant to be looking for all of them, he was my true case, for he was the only one of their group with people who were looking for him. Though, I suppose that no longer matters, because his entire family disappeared a few years ago, before I could act to save them. Now there’s no one in the world who can tell Rothko’s story, except for me.
I do manage to get Tyler Bradley out of town just by convincing him his daughter is better off with him living nearer his ex-wife. Unfortunately, Hogarth returned recently of her own accord. All grown up and fully educated now, she developed an obsession rivaling mine. She becomes determined to figure out where RL went off to. She’s certain that the monsters of her childhood were real, and that she witnessed them attacking RL the night he disappeared. Though I know that she saw something she couldn’t explain, I never discussed it with her, not wanting to encourage her investigation. Maybe I should have, though, because she was still in the town when it took its final breath. In a glorious flash of light, the last remaining blocks of one-horse town Springfield, Kansas vanish, leaving me alone in the middle of nowhere. I watch it from the border, a tear falling from my eye as the welcome sign melts into nothing shortly thereafter. All that remain that prove Springfield ever existed are my badge, my standard-issue gun, and myself. The rest is just gravel road and trees.
When I was first looking for RL, I met a woman who could control time with her inventions. She called herself The Weaver, and she claimed that she would see me again in sixteen years. Her words end up being less of a prediction, and more of a courtesy call. Just as the last splinter of the post that was holding up Springfield’s welcome sign fades away, the Weaver appears in front of me. She’s wearing the same clothes as before, and I suspect less than a second has passed for her. She frowns at me like I’m a puppy dog who hasn’t been fed since this morning. “I’ve come with a friend,” she says to me. When she steps away, I see another woman standing behind her.
“Melantha?” Melantha Shaw was a third-generation LEO who moved to Topeka many years ago. I heard she made detective, but we never really kept in touch. She was the one who pointed me in the direction of a cartographer who started giving me some answers about the Springfield problem.
“Meliora, actually,” she says. “When I assume a new identity, I always change my name. For some reason, though, I can’t help but be derivative.”
“What are you talking about?” I ask.
The Weaver clears her throat. “I have somewhere I need to be. A zoo monkey in 2043 has inadvertently discovered a natural time rift, so I need to retrofit his cage with a few modifications before he accidentally travels to 2013.”
“What are you talking about?” I ask again, but this time to The Weaver.
“Never mind. I’ll let you two catch up.” She pushes the button on her timevest again, and disappears.
Melantha, or whatever her name is, shakes my hand. “My name is Meliora Rutherford Delaney-Reaver. I have been watching you, and I must say, I am mightily impressed. The foresight and the ingenuity you had to protect all those Springfielders. Most people wouldn’t have bothered doing anything, let alone managing to do all that. It’s given me an idea that you might be interested in.”
“Do I need to repeat myself?”
“No, Kallias, I heard you. I can tell you who I am, and what I’m talking about, but I really want to bounce some ideas off of you. I have this idea for something called The Haven...or The Refuge...or maybe The Asylum? No, that one sounds bad.”
The Sanctuary?” I suggest, hoping a fourth synonym will get her to help me with my problem, and let go of whatever it is she’s working on.
“Oh my God,” she says. “That’s perfect.” She wraps me in a hug so tight that I think maybe my eyeballs pop out of their sockets for a moment. “You’re a genius, your born for this, I need you to help me build it.”
“Build what? A sanctuary for what?”
“Humans. Humans whose lives have been imperiled by time manipulation. Like your town. All those innocent humans who didn’t ask for this. The Sanctuary could have saved them.”
“Aren’t you a time traveler?”
“I am, yes,” she says with smile.
“So go back in time and save the ones I couldn’t before they’re taken.”
“Oh, I can’t do that. It would be too dangerous.”
“More dangerous than being torn out of time?” I scream.
“Have you ever heard of a time loop?”
“Like Groundhog Day?”
“No, Groundhog Day is an example of a Groundhog Day loop. I’m talking about a stable time loop where I already changed the past. What if I go back to save people, only to discover that the only reason they disappear is because I took them?”
“I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Springfield disappears all on its own.”
“Did it, though? What if I end up creating the problem that causes the town to disappear, by stirring up some timey-wimey—”
“Stop it right there,” I interrupt. “You don’t get to explain how time works by spouting a bunch of meaningless babble that goes nowhere. I’ve watched every series of that show so far, and honestly, since I’ve actually seen the real thing...I’m not super impressed. I don’t need to know how time works, I just need to know how you’re gonna help my city.”
“Your city is gone. Time of death September 23, 2016. I can’t save them, but I can save others, and you can help me.”
“I’m not done here.”
She looks at her wrist. “Well, how long are you gonna be?”
“Why don’t you and the Weaver come back in another sixteen years?”
“Because I’ll be stuck in The Maze at that point,” she says, as if I’m already supposed to know what that means, or being serious.
“I don’t know what to tell ya, Melly,” I say.
“Please don’t call me that.”
“Your little plan, whatever it’s about, isn’t really my concern right now. Right now, I have to look for survivors.”
“There aren’t any survivors, Bran. Everything is gone. We’re in the middle of nowhere.”
“Did you use your time powers to scan the area, or do you just presume that?”
She seemed mildly offended. “If you want to waste your time, then by all means. I have plenty of it myself, but I’m still gonna go. Lemme know when you’re ready for a job.”
“Sure, I’ll give you a call.”
She disappears.
I get back into my car and drive back over the town border. A part of me thinks I might disappear as soon as I cross over, but a part of that part doesn’t care. I can’t just walk away and pretend like this didn’t happen. If there’s even a sliver of a chance that someone didn’t get swallowed up by what happened to Springfield, I have to find it. There are far fewer roads than there used to be, since in this reality, not as many needed to be laid. I do my best to get to the center of town, or rather it used to be, so I can start a methodical search. As I’m about to pull over and take a look around, I nearly run into a woman who’s already begun doing that. She seems just as surprised to see me. I get out and ask if she’s okay.
“I’m fine,” she answers.
“I’m Kallias Bran. What are you doing out here?”
“Didn’t you see that?” she asks. “It disappeared. Everything just disappeared.”
So I’m not alone. “What’s your name.”
“Hokusai. Hokusai Gimura. I’m looking for my daughter.”

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