Do You Wish to Proceed?
by A. A. Khayyat
Eileen watched the train shoot past her in a blur. Her eyes dilated as she noticed the trails of color curl in waves behind the train and then cringed as the wheels ground against the rails, screeching out the friction to her ears.
“I think I took too much,” she said, raking her auburn hair.
“No, you haven’t seen it yet,” said a lanky man standing beside her, also mesmerized by the trail of color. “You couldn’t have taken too much if you still can’t see it.” He rubbed his eyes.
“Raven, you’re insane.”
“I’m not. The window should pop up over the tracks.” He gestured ahead and threw his hands in the air. “But we’re going to have to wait for another train to pass by. I told you it’s okay to cross the five-gram mark.” He reached in his pocket and pulled out a little plastic bag, rolled up to accentuate the seaweed-like texture of the green-black plant inside. “Got some more fogweed if you’re game,” he said with a sheepish grin.
“Hell, no,” said Eileen, “I’m good.”
Raven scoffed. “Okay,” he said, “but you’re missing out on some pure enlightenment.” He pocketed the plastic bag.
“I don’t want it.”
Raven shook his head. “So no satori, moksha or,” he snapped his fingers rapidly and frowned at the air, “kundalini? Right?” he said.
“You don’t know what any of those things are, do you?” said Eileen, crossing her arms. “You’re just a pretentious little fogfiend.”
Raven shrugged. “Fogweed’s not the problem,” he said. “It’s just a plant. Your attitude is what’s causing the window — that I’ve seen, mind you —” he gesticulated — “plenty of times not to want to pop up anymore. You’re too negative.”
“Raven, I’m tired,” said Eileen and turned away. “I’m going to sleep this one out.”
“And why are you so obsessed with that window, anyway?” asked Eileen, her eyes following the erratic flight of a moth.
“Because, Eileen,” said Raven, also transfixed by the moth, “there are time-changing powers in that window.”
“Really? Time-changing powers?” She spat the words out.
“I felt it when I saw the window the first time,” said Raven. “I felt these” — he made a wave-like motion with his hand — “these waves or ripples in time. It’s like I could feel them intimately.”
“Raven, I need to record the stuff you say and play it back to you when you’re sober.” Eileen squinted at him. “You’re raving like a maniac.”
“Wouldn’t you want to change the past?” asked Raven. “Hypothetically, wouldn’t you want to change something for, I don’t know, the good of mankind?”
“No, it’s more complicated than that. I’m sure you’ve heard of unintended consequences.”
“But we don’t know that for sure,” said Raven, pointing at her. “We’re going by conjectures. Those could be proven wrong.”
Eileen threw her hands in the air and walked away. “I’m going home. Goodnight.”
“What if timelines split instead?” said Raven, spreading his arms. “What if everything stays the same in one timeline and changes in another? That’s also mathematically feasible.”
“Good night!” The echo of the passing train rang in Eileen’s ears. She continued to shake her head and blink as her legs tentatively worked themselves away from the train tracks. Throngs of people emerged on either side, and she straightened herself up as she shouldered her way past them, not daring to make any eye contact.
Her chest tightened as the pedestrians increased in number, looming over her and vibrating with rippling auras. “God,” she whispered, “I hate you, Raven.” She rubbed her eyes and sidled onward.
As soon as the pedestrians disappeared from sight, a hand fell on her shoulder and she jumped, flailing her arms and cursing.
“Easy, easy,” said Raven, raising his hands, palms out. “It’s me.”
“Raven, I’m going home. Leave me alone.”
“I know. I’ll walk with you. I’m bored.”
Eileen sighed and stumbled on. Raven waddled by her side, staring at the pavement. They walked on in silence until they came across a highway intersection blocked by a traffic jam. Their eyes followed the daisy chain of vehicles up to a truck lying on its side. Its trailer was canted in the opposite direction from the cab and was leaning on a number of vehicles.
Several mangled cars had piled up right beside it and were draped in billowing smoke. The red and blue lights of the emergency responders pierced through and bounced off the alloyed surfaces of the vehicles.
“Holy heck,” said Raven, staring at the pile-up.
Eileen blinked. The red and blue lights swirled before her and coalesced into a rectangular frame right beside fallen truck. She stared at it, her jaw gaping as she tapped on Raven’s shoulder.
“What?” he said.
Eileen timidly pointed at the rectangle, bordered by a thin, sparkling frame of red and blue. Raven’s eyes shot open and his mouth stretched to form a smug grin. “I told you,” he said, rubbing his hands together and chuckling. “What did I tell you? Let’s go.”
“No.” Eileen grabbed his arm.
“What do you mean no?” said Raven, yanking his arm away. “This is the culmination of everything we’ve been talking about.”
“No,” said Eileen, scowling at him. “The fogweed’s driving us crazy. And I’m not going anywhere near the cops, not all doped up.”
“They’re busy with the pile-up. They won’t even notice us.”
“It’s right there by the truck, you idiot,” said Eileen, pointing a shaky index finger at the still-sparkling rectangle. The truck’s smoking grille and bumper lay about ten yards away from the aberration. “There could be dead people over there.”
Raven waved a dismissive hand at her and sauntered off in the direction of the pile-up. Eileen’s eyes opened wide and she clenched her jaw. “Raven, don’t do it,” she said through her teeth.
But Raven kept walking, eventually stooping down as he approached a slight incline heading straight toward the truck. Three police officers were conversing. They seemed to notice neither the rectangle nor the approaching Raven.
Eileen cursed and hurried after him.“Raven, they’re going to lock us up.”
The lambent rectangle grew larger as they approached. It hissed, crackled and then settled to a low, barely audible hum, like a fluorescent light bulb. The cops, now accompanied by firefighters, turned the other way, checking the twisted trailer and the crumpled cars around it. Raven lay flat on the ground and clambered to the rectangle. He turned toward Eileen and waved for her to hurry.
She flattened herself as well and slunk the rest of the way, eventually reaching Raven who gazed at the flickering frame. “Be careful,” she whispered.
Raven slowly reached forward and touched the rectangle. His arm disappeared halfway into it and he quickly drew it back. He and Eileen exchanged glances. “It feels like...” — he paused, moving his fingers — “like tiny little pins and needles.”
Eileen bit her lip and placed a finger on the frame. The light tickled her and she retracted her finger. “What the hell?” she said to herself.
Raven nodded and raised himself up on his forearms. “I’m going in.”
“No,” said Eileen, grabbing his shoulder. “We don’t know what it is.”
“Well, we’ll be finding out in a second, won’t we?” He shrugged her off and crawled forward.
But Raven took a deep breath and lunged headfirst into the enclosed space, vanishing gradually until he was completely gone from sight. Eileen shuddered; her breathing came and went in spurts. She felt her pulse beating at the base of her throat, and she swallowed. Then, she snapped her head around to the murmurings of several people conversing.
Cops, firefighters and paramedics were approaching from the left, and she clambered straight into the rectangle, shutting her eyes tightly as she dove headfirst into the open space. The pins and needles covered her whole body, and she went numb for a few moments before opening her eyes again.
Raven was standing over her, staring ahead. She shot to her feet and looked around. They were in a room with quivering foundations. The walls had the texture of cardboard and seemed to be glued together by bright blue lines. Ahead of them was a white board with a single dry-erase marker on the storage bar. Scrawled on the board were the words “Do you wish to proceed? Answer ‘ Yes’ or ‘No’ in the space below.”
Eileen slowly took in her surroundings, her eyes drifting left and right. “Raven, I’m going to kill you. Where the hell are we?”
“I don’t know,” said Raven, his voice quivering. “I think I’m scared right now.”
“Is this some kind of joke? You better tell me now.”
“I have no idea what’s happening, Eileen.”
Looking down to the right, Eileen felt her heart skip a few beats. She gasped, clutching Raven’s arm tightly. “The door thing is gone. Oh, my God, we’re stuck here, you bastard!”
“Calm down,” said Raven, shaking in turn. “It’s just the fogweed. I guess it opens barriers to other dimensions.”
“Raven, I mean it,” said Eileen, the pitch in her voice rising slightly. “You’re going to die. I’m going to smother you to death, I swear.”
“Okay, okay,” said Raven. “Breathe. Let’s check that out.” He gestured toward the white board and cautiously shuffled his feet toward it. He looked around at the ground with its flimsy, bumpy texture. Eileen held onto him and followed.
The whiteboard glistened. Raven touched it and it wobbled slightly to the pressure of his finger. “Seems real enough.” The words, “Do you wish to proceed?” were scrawled in solid black.
Eileen and Raven stared at the whiteboard. “What if we say no?” Eileen asked after a moment.
“I’m just going to say yes, okay?” said Raven, picking up a black marker. Eileen cursed.
“What else can we do?” asked Raven with equal urgency.
Eileen bit her lip and nodded after a beat. Raven uncapped the marker and wrote a quivering “Yes” beneath the question.
The ink faded and a new set of words popped up: “You may edit certain timeframes in the following event.” Beneath them was a window showing the same truck in the pile-up. Raven and Eileen exchanged glances, and Raven tapped the image. A video stream loaded and began playing.
The truck driver glanced about, biting his lip. His face was beet-red. Beads of sweat trickled down his brow and he clutched his chest. His mouth opened, and he reached for his phone, then winced and sank onto the steering wheel.
A little while later, the video bounced up and down and the driver’s body rag-dolled to the bumps before everything flipped ninety degrees and the driver’s body smothered the video feed to complete blackness. The video then snapped to other drivers, either dead or injured, before it stopped and indicated a “replay” option.
Eileen and Raven stared dumbfounded at the screen and immediately exchanged another glance.
“What is going on?” Eileen asked.
Raven bit his thumb and widened his eyes. He breathed deep and smiled. “I knew it,” he said triumphantly.
“No, no, hear me out,” said Raven, placing the marker back on the storage bar. “This is some kind of a storehouse consciousness.” He gestured at his surroundings. “We are outside three-dimensional space. We have access to the tools to fix all kinds of accidents. We can save the lives of all those people, Eileen. We’re...” — he paused and licked his lips — “we’re like gods. We’re the editors of the universe.”
“Shut up,” said Eileen. “We don’t know that.”
“I was right about the window,” he said. “I was right about the fogweed bringing us to a place like this. The gods themselves are proving me right, and you’re here as my witness.”
But Eileen pulled her hair back and grimaced. “Why the hell did I follow you here?”
Raven shook his head and went back to the board. “I’m going to save their lives. If we do some good, they might reward us.”
“Don’t do anything yet,” said Eileen, urgently grabbing his arm. “Let’s think about it for a second.”
“There’s nothing to think about.” He shrugged her away again.
“Screw this,” said Eileen and went for the marker. The much taller Raven held it up in the air and managed to keep Eileen at arm’s length.
“Give me the marker!” she said and tackled him. They both toppled over and wrestled until Raven freed himself and yelled, “Eileen, stop!”
“You don’t know what you’re doing, you bastard,” Eileen said, scrambling to her feet. “We don’t know what any of this is. What if we mess up real bad? What if we end up stuck here forever?”
“I’m going with my gut, okay?” said Raven. “I know they want was us to save those people. Why else would we be here?”
Eileen shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Please,” said Raven. “Trust me.”
Eileen watched him tensely as he uncapped the marker and held the tip up to the whiteboard, deliberately writing, “Yes.”
A window expanded from the center of the whiteboard with a new message. “Write your desired changes and finish with a ‘Period’ followed by the word ‘Done’.”
Raven worked his fingernails up and down his five o’clock shadow and frowned. At length he wrote, “Prevent all casualties in pile-up. Done.” He then stood back and waited.
The window covered the entirety of the whiteboard and a new video began playing.
The truck cruised down the highway. The truck driver was mouthing a song and taking occasional sips from his soda cup. The video went on for a while longer until it switched to a different man driving another vehicle. His expression was intense, his eyes vacant and cold. He barely blinked and clenched his jaw, checking the mirrors with quick jerks of his head.
Eventually the man pulled up at a curb, reaching behind him for a duffel bag. He unzipped it and pulled out an assault rifle. With quick mechanical movements he released the magazine and slipped it back into the rife before exiting the car and marching toward a house across the street.
Eileen put her hands on her mouth and shook her head. “No, no, stop it. I don’t want to watch that.”
Raven dropped the marker as the muzzle flash and screams burst out of the video and flooded the interior of the room. Eileen covered her ears and turned away. Raven frantically jabbed his finger on the whiteboard, cursing and shouting at it.
When the video stopped the rectangle that brought them in materialized and hissed, sparkling with the same red and blue light they saw at the pile-up.
“Thank you for your input,” a new message said. “You may exit now.”
Eileen turned from the whiteboard to the rectangle and then to Raven. He slumped to the ground and clutched his head. They both cringed as the screams of children ricocheted off the walls and rang in their ears, rising up to a consistent, high-pitched screech and dropping to a throbbing beat. They glanced at one another.
“The hell?” Eileen said, cowering to the sound.
“I didn’t mean to,” said Raven, dropping his face in his hands. “Oh, God, I didn’t mean for that to happen.” His voice shook.
The rectangle popped and sparkled. Eileen turned to the whiteboard and studied it for a few minutes. She bit her lip and approached it tentatively. “Give me the marker.” She extended her hand toward Raven.
Copyright © 2017 by A. A. Khayyat