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Cursed Timeline

Xavier Lastra is a self-published writer from Spain. His fantasy short fiction has also appeared in Cirsova Magazine.

"Butterfly affect, my ass!" Announced Mark, one hand clutched to his wobbly beer jug, the other to the table for balance.
"Effect," I corrected.
"Who cares. What I'm saying is that there's almost no difference between changing things now, in the real world, or through your hypothetical time-hopping, paradox-inducing, nonsense machine of... nonsense! We are all blind to the consequences of our actions anyway...."
"That's, in a crude way, what the butterfly thing is about," I said.
"Well, I still don't like how you explained it. Besides, my point is that you got the implication wrong. It's not that you shouldn't alter things in the past, but that you should behave exactly as you would do if you were in your real timeline."
Mark shook the beer, sprinkling the increasingly upset people at the nearby table and me. "No, no, no. If you see an injured child on the street, do you ignore him because he may grow up to become Dr. Death, Destroyer of Worlds? Unexpected consequences! Pah! Besides, it's absurd. There are billions, no, trillions, of small actions done every day--the idea that any of them would be the one responsible for half-a-dozen, world-changing events is ridiculous! Do you fuss over your daily chores, fearing that you may unleash the apocalypse? Bah! Then why should you bother about changing equally trivial nonsense from the past."
I wanted to protest, to counteract his argument, but at that moment I was unable to find a hole in it or, at least my perforated brain, after an entire night of pouncing from pub to pub, was unable to do so.
"So, you are saying that we should change the past," I ventured in a clumsy attempt to drive him into a corner.
"Or not. I don't care. I'm saying it doesn't matter, and that if you do, focus on the same things you would do or change every day, right now. Don't try to save the world! You can't do it now, so why would you then, when it's even harder due to the time gap and the accumulated indep-- indit--?" His voice trailed off, and for an instant, I feared he might have been struck down by an absence seizure. "Indeterminacy!" He shouted triumphally a few seconds later.
"'We are blind anyway, so who cares?' That's your metaphysical thesis about time?" I asked him, laughing.
He looked upwards, striking an exaggerated, thinking pose, then smiled. "Yeah!" He shouted and rose his beer.
"Yeah!" I echoed and did the same.
"So, you know, focus on what you know, on the small things. Give your mother a better gift for her birthday, tell your past self to be more confident with Amanda--she'll ignore you anyway so who cares--convince Bob over there to sell beer cheaper, etc. Small stuff, and the unintended consequences will still be small."
"OK, I see your point. I may tell that to the guys at the lab."
"Pff, that thing won't work anyway. But yes, focus on the small, the trivial, and the well-defined. Like... you like art, do you?" He asked.
"I wasted four years of my life studying it, so that's a hesitant, yes?"
"Then try to save forgotten or destroyed pieces of art. What could go wrong with that?"
I immediately loved that idea, and it made sense. Many famous works, or that could have been famous, had been destroyed, or forgotten, or left to rot in abandoned warehouses, crypts, and museum basements. Not even by malicious intent but simply by inaction. Rectifying that seemed like a safe bet. But I also immediately knew that there was something even better than that....
"I see that impish smile in your face," Mark said. "What are you thinking?"
"That making some things disappear would be even better than saving others."
"Oh, that," he said, knowing well what I meant since he had endured my artistic rants many times. "Yeah, well, I guess you could also bump off one of those artists you hate so much and that nobody knows about."
"I'm not going to kill anybody! But... who would cry if, I don't know, I steered Pollock towards something other than art? I don't need to whack anybody to make the world a more beautiful place!"
Mark shrugged. "Suit yourself."
But yes, I liked his idea, and Mark was right about having to start small, with things forgotten, whose disappearance or improvement would cause no ripples. Pollock was perhaps a fish too big to fry, but many half-forgotten artists could be used as test cases, and if everything went well, more would follow.
Of course, it was all hypothetical, a game, but yes, if the machine worked, it should be possible to pick one obscure artist on the brink of oblivion, like that Hitter, Hiller, or whathisname man who had only designed one building in his life, a gaudy coffee shop modeled after a misshapen Roman temple, near the Sigmund-Freud-Hotzerndorf Park. It should be possible to stop him from getting into art school, for example. No cons, and one less ugly building in the world.
A good plan: small, simple, and safe.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019

Author Comments

I wouldn't recommend reading this short story as a serious thought piece on time travel; I started writing it pretty much as a joke, but concerning the old question, "Why aren't time travels from the future popping up or whacking unsavory historical people?" the answer I stumbled upon as I was writing this piece was that perhaps the timeline we want to fix, our own, and the very thing some may want to fix, is already the result of a previous meddling. And as crash tests go, that first attempt at time travel didn't end very well, so no wonder we aren't seeing more.

- Xavier Lastra Martinez
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