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Where the time leads

35 minute read

'I made a mistake!' Laura stared closely at the dreaded monitor of a tablet she wished she had never found. She couldn't stop thinking about him when she sat on a Pullman coach travelling a thousand kilometres south from her home in Santiago.

 

    Her round amber eyes glowed in the dim light of the screen. Deep lines delved like dried-up rivers across Laura's brow as she fought back the memories that tried to consume her with the guilt of what she had to do. 

 

************

Journal entry 001:


I am George Wells, born September 3rd, 2239, in the capital of the Reunited States of North America. I came to the year 2016 on a college trip with my class to study the social behaviour of early humans before the Antibiotic War and the Great Blackout. It has to be the strangest, wildest and most demanding time to be alive, even with their great leaps of technological advances. What am I saying? It was due to these great leaps of technological advances. 

    We were told in school about the folly of excess where humanity had so much potential to fulfil its heart's desires. How were they to know that this belief in unlimited potential led to their extinction? I love their tenacity, freedom to dream and, most of all, how their successes inevitably led to nightmares – some of the worst atrocities in human history. I believe this is due to the existing human condition — a condition which, quite frankly, could not accept providence without consequence. 

    I like to think we are different by the 23rd century, but not so much, even though we work together for the benefit of each other interdependently in an altruistic manner. I mean, our need to travel the stars was only achieved with the combined efforts of humanity, a far more satisfying, exhilarating goal than that of our need to fill our lives with material pleasure. Knowledge is the currency of the future, their future, and our past, where overall growth is our reward. Our inevitable evolution of the inevitability of progress, which did not mean destroying the planet, got us so far. 

    The pre-war period is considered, by most, a dark age, a time of human reckoning. I used to hate coming back here when I was a child, but something happened to me the last time I went. Something forbidden, if not impossible, to occur in my time; I fell in love with Laura Cascada. 

************

Present day

A short, wrinkled woman tapped Laura on the shoulder, 'Excuse me, madam. Your ticket?' The darkened coach became alive with creaks and jitters. Laura brushed her hand across her mouth. 'How long until we arrive?' 

    'Another two hours,' she replied. The bus jumped. She lost her balance, flinging a loose hand to grab a headrest. 'We just left Osorno.'

 

    Her sleepy head rolled towards the pane of glass. She peeked through a slit in the closed cream-coloured curtains. The wind whistled, blowing tall trees forty degrees along the highway like long hair tussled in a breeze. Shadows or arched pillars formed a ghostly mirage of saddened faces that judged Laura for what she was doing, what she had given up. 

 

    She jumped at a passing headlight. Her fingers found themselves around the opaque screen of George's tablet. The final words from her friend, Denise, echoed in her mind: 'Why don't you believe him?'

 

     Laura's unanswered response cast doubt on all she had done. She remembered being with George in her flat on the twelfth floor. He held her hands softly. In the candlelight of a romantic ambient, she caught a single drop of sweat trickling down his temple. He breathed in loudly like a backdraft from a fire ready to explode. 'I am… a time traveller. I'm from the 23rd century. I'm a student of time.'

 

     Laura laughed at first, but she pulled away when there was no punch line for what she thought was a twisted joke. She slipped her hands from his embrace. 'I was never supposed… this,' he continued. 'You and me, it is not allowed to happen, and I know you don't believe what I'm….'

 

     The memory made Laura flinch; she ground a knotted lump down her chest. The memory of the flat turned grim pretty fast as a whirlwind of emotions flared out of her, enraged by such a strange revelation. Looking back out at the turbulent bus window, the haunted faces looking back at her shifted into that of George as she recalled the condemning words that broke his heart after their argument, 'I don't love you. Never did. Never will.'


************

 

The morning sun rose above a muddy fiery mist. Puerto Montt had never interested Laura. She was told it was similar to Valparaiso, a coastal city a little more than a hundred kilometres west of Santiago and was not impressed. Pulling up to the terminal on the bus, she shivered at an eerie sheen of orange across the silver streets of grey-soaked pavement.

 

    Laura thanked the driver, and the attendant helped her down the steps. A younger bus attendant took her baggage ticket. Laura stiffened to attention and winced in disbelief that he wore a short-sleeved shirt in that knuckle-clenching cold. He passed her a heavy yellow backpack. 

 

    'Don't go wasting your time on dreamers!' Laura's mother's voice resonated. The image of her mum, Diane, filled her mind: 'Do you even know where you're going?' Dianne pleaded with Laura to stay, to think logically. Nothing had been logical since she unlocked the tablet and discovered the truth about George. 

 

    Laura found a wooden bench in the bus terminal and placed the backpack down. Nothing felt real in Puerto Montt. A dizzy sensation overtook her as she tried to organise her thoughts and put them together for the past three weeks. She found George's tablet in his flat after the landlord told her he had disappeared. She thought it was another one of his games, trying to convince her that he was from the future. She looked up at a two-storey coach pulling into the terminal outside with the words: Santiago – 07.40. 

 

    She took out the tablet and skimmed through his documents titled: Political Essays, different contemporary writers, extinct dialect uses and a unique appreciation of fundamental laws of the Universe. She then accessed his journal with highlighted sentences: Colombia strikes a Peace Deal with the FARC, Brazilian and South Korea Presidents were impeached, a coup in Turkey fails, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Flops. Everything he ever predicted had come true. 

 

    A satellite image appeared with a countdown to the following day's date. Butterflies tingled her insides; a warmth rushed through her like a warm shower after standing outside in the bitter cold. The unknown location pinged in the middle of Coyhaique province, on the border of Argentina, past the peaks of the Andes Mountains almost seven hundred kilometres from Puerto Montt.

 

    A part of her believed she was going to wake up. A recollection of a dream from the bus journey there showed her on a beach watching storm clouds come in, but a flock of geese flew towards it, lured by some entrancing song from angels. 

 

    A group of bus attendants outside the Santiago bus helped her with the exact location from the image. Two attendants shook their heads while another called over a bus driver. He stubbed out a cigarette, put on his dangling glasses, and nodded. 'Lake Atravesado,' he said, pointing to a ticket booth on the far side of the bus terminal. 'You'd have to hitchhike into the mountains or trek it,' – he wiped his tobacco-stained moustache. – 'It's not the safest place for a woman to travel alone, missy.'

 

   At the ticket booth, a woman sat behind a glass protector typing on an old computer. She balanced her glasses on the tip of her nose, ignoring Laura rummaging through her handbag, 'Can I get a ticket to Lake Atravesado?' she asked, pulling out her purse.

 

    The woman lifted her glasses and pulled her head back to view the screen. Her voice crackled through the speaker, 'I'm afraid you will have to wait a while. The bus doesn't arrive until four o'clock this afternoon.' 

 

     Laura glanced over at a large clock behind her that read seven thirteen. Her heels forced her weight into a stiff stance as another look at the bus returning to Santiago caught her eye. 'Would that be a return?' The woman asked, punching in the request on the keyboard.

     The young woman stroked her purse as she took out her credit card. Dianne was right, this was illogical, but she had to try. She would never see herself doing this, rushing across the country for a man, let alone someone as crazy as George, the so-called time traveller. 'Can I get a one-way ticket?' 


************

Two weeks earlier

A loud noise crashed outside, followed by cars beeping their horns. Santiago had become more dangerous, or at least it had felt that way to Laura as she peeked outside her office window. A motorbike crashed against a car; she would have helped, but a part of her lost any notion of wanting to try. 
   
   'Laura?' Her manager Eugenio snapped. 'We have to get those statistics for the board of directors by the end of the month, or it's my ass on the line. I'm the one who's gotta get up there, present them!' The office had been clearing out slowly as the day ended.

    Laura's hand slid across her neck; her glasses shone as she focused back at the monitor. His words merged into a static mumble until she heard George's name mentioned. 'Excuse me?'
 
   'It's been two months, Laura. We're tired of seeing you mope around like this.' His words stabbed at her chest. The sound of an ambulance outside echoed. 'Where is the hard-ass, go-getter, no-nonsense woman we all expect of you?'

    She ignored him and continued to type monotonously on the computer. 'Yeah, I'll pack up, get those numbers before the end of the month,' she said.
   
   'Give her a break, Eugenio,' Laura's co-worker Hayley said. 'She'd never let us down, now would you, Laura?' The pear-shaped woman in a black office dress tilted her head to get him to leave. 'Haven't you got somewhere to be?' She told him with a wave of her hand. 'Are you okay, Laura? What's going on with you lately?'

    'It's nothing, just…' Laura saved the files on the computer. Hayley pulled up a chair and rolled it in close to Laura. 'I'm sorry, Hays, I can't stop thinking about him and… what happened.' The office fell silent; the coming twilight painted the walls a creamy orange making the blue cubicles appear as ocean waves. 'What was I supposed to do?'

    'He was cray, Lou,' Hayley said. 'You did the right thing. I know it. You know it. You don't need that kind of crazy shit in your life.'


   She sniffed, her fingertips sliding around her neck to feel the locket. 'Damn, I'm sorry for acting so stupid, it's just… what if he was telling the truth, Hays?'

    Hayley motioned her to stand up, then quietly nudged her head towards an empty meeting room. 'I have to tell you something.' Hayley said as she silently sealed the door. 'I've been in talks with Marco, the CEO. They've given me the go-ahead to lead the new branch in Miami.'
 
   'That's great,' Laura said. Rumours of moving the business abroad had been going around for weeks, and her eyes fired up with interest. 'When?' she asked.

    'After the board of directors meeting,' she whispered. 'You see. I want you on my team, Laura. We can make a great team.'

    Laura's stomach bubbled like a fizzy soda, and she retained the urge to laugh in amazement. 'That's amazing, but… what about Eugenio?'

    'He's too intense; look at him just now over the end of quarter numbers.' – Hayley bowed her head. – 'I told Marco I want you. Can you make the presentation in front of the board in two weeks instead of Eugenio?'

    Laura turned to stone, her feet planted into the flat grey carpet: 'Why?'

    'You're the one who makes all the tough decisions, Laura. Do all the difficult work when he takes credit for it.' – Hayley held her shoulder tight. – 'Can I depend on you to be there – for me?'

 

************

Present day

White sunlight sprayed over Puerto Montt more like a vapour than a solid beam. Its rays struggled to heat the dreary, dank tarmac. Laura wrinkled her nose as if to sneeze but held it in. Her mind wondered with the whisk of icy gales, recalling a past dismissed, a future uncertain.

    After wandering around the city plagued by extremes of blinding brightness and dense, dark shadows, she never meant to let Hayley down; they had been friends since college and had fought equally hard to get her position. It was never about the money but the respect for both of them, yet in the end, that compulsive, unspoken competition became as much a farce as the illustrious light that promises nothing but blindness. Laura returned to the bus terminal as a small, rickety vehicle with the sign on the window next to the driver read: 'Lake Atravesado.'

    Laura hated leaving things to chance. Everything is written; her first partner used to tell her, even their breakup when they ended up going to work abroad. They always left. Opportunities rose in every other country for those best in their fields, but never in Chile; you could work hard all your life and end up rich in money but poor in the soul. Taking chances meant less control, and that is something she still wasn't ready to give up on. The driver tore off the bus ticket's bottom slip, blowing the smoke away from her. 
 
   The bus remained empty for more than twenty minutes until the roaring engine fired up, rattling the vehicle to life. Laura loosened her shoulders then her fingertips silently crept into a leather pouch to take out George's tablet.

************

Journal entry 289:

  

At the end of my second trip to Santiago, the old capital of the United Latin American States (prior to the unification of the continent by Michael Maillet Guridi), the money was filled with distrust and prejudice. This era fascinated me from childhood due to the visible social class divide bought about by the Neoliberalist ideology of the age, which was counterproductive to the human condition. How can one's financial status define one's personality? Indeed one's character is based on one's actions. Naturally, those actions may be based on one's education; from the industrial revolution until the universal reformation, education was a costly luxury. I cannot imagine paying for books; all our information was transferred via tablets and monitors, and even teachers didn't use it to work for the benefit of humanity or progress but for money. Impressive; we indeed have come a long way. It still surprises me; most of my classmates prefer the early twentieth-century North America of the former United States or even nineteenth-century Europe with the industrial revolution. I remember my first trip to London, England, in 1813 with the school. The rush to the cities made everyone so detached. They put a price on everything and abandoned the value. My assignment to early twenty-first-century pre-Unification South America was supposed to be a punishment after I interfered with the timeline. Thankfully, the Time Alignment Agency corrected it, and everything didn't end up irrevocably erasing itself. I am surprised it allowed me to return to the past after that accident. There must have been more to it. Some days I try not to think about it; others, I can't stop. It was an accident, and we always make it right!

************

Present day

  
The bus pulled up to the station. Laura and the other passengers stood up in unison, rushing to get off the bus. 'Welcome to Lake Atravesado,' a sign read wrapped in leaves. She glanced up at the sky as she stepped off and raised her hand to shield herself from the bright early morning sun reflecting off a quiet turquoise-green lake.

    The driver passed her backpack from the baggage compartment. She swung it around like it were more of a cape before pulling her brunette hair into a ponytail. She was unprepared, and she felt it; it had been years since she had been hiking, the last time was in Osorno with her friends, but back then, she had much better clothes and a bag full of supplies. The mountains beckoned over a shiny mirror-like moss; she couldn't wait and let her doubt catch up with her like it almost had in Puerto Montt.

    A gust of wind chilled her face, and she calculated the distance to the location on the smartphone she took from the tablet. '12 hours, 17 minutes,' her splitting lips whispered. 

    A winding road led up to the collection of jagged hills faded by the thick atmosphere. Time has its way with the uninitiated. A minute can feel like an hour when walking uphill, then an hour a minute when wandering through thick forests of falling leaves and bustling birdsong.

    Away from the city, the only notion of time she had was the burning sun that watched like a sole spectator to her trial. It hid behind the hazy clouds, ashamed in envy at her prowess in following her heart. When it peeked through, though, Laura had to find a place to shield herself from its blazing rays along the gravel path. She had to rub her sore calves at every stop and knead her muscles up to her toughened thigh that hardened to stone. 

    The road became an endless curve around one mountain after another, and each corner was followed by a prayer for somebody to drive by and pick her up or carry her on a horse, donkey or mule. Anything to get her to this location on the map, she constantly checked her phone. 

************

Journal entry 170:

Who was Laura Cascada? I want to say she is cryptic, distant and somewhat reserved about sharing her dreams and desires. When you get to know her, though, she is the fiercest, kindest and most intelligent person I've met. She kindled the extinct belief in romance that had been forgotten over the ages since the times of Tristian and Iseult. I met Laura while I interviewed Marco Gonzalez, the CEO of a logistic evaluation analyst firm. At first, she was cold towards me, a real enigma to understand. She once told me she mistrusted an insincere smile and knew I was hiding something. Most people from my class had to interview Marco Gonzalez due to his company's economic forecast predicting the rise of the ULAS. (Note: Advise temporal police to clean up excessive interaction). After the interview with Marco, I asked if she wanted to go out for dinner in the evening. She declined. I asked if she wanted to go out the following evening, and she said no. I bought a picnic basket for her office; I saw it in the banned play When I Was Younger. Laura was embarrassed, but she knew my intentions were sincere (that was what she told me later). Eventually, we went for a picnic in the local park. Since then, I got to know more about her, which gave me a great insight into her interpretation of society at the time. She told me of her concerns for the future which were quite bleak and depressing. She was right to be negative, considering the upcoming social and civil unrest to spur the Latin American Spring and currency change. Nevertheless, she always had a positive outlook on life, which attracted me. She made me wonder what it was to be human. Can the culture or education of one's time truly redefine a species? Physically we haven't evolved for hundreds of thousands of years, but mentally and emotionally, we are a breed apart. Her heart held something I felt we did not – hope and love. Before I could study more into this science of emotional motivation and awareness, my time in the 21st century expired. I missed the last transport back to the 23rd century, which left Camp Sorbax, located north of Santiago. I was stranded here until the next pickup, but if I don't catch it, I don't know when I will get the chance to return home.

************

One week earlier

Laura stared out the window. She closed her eyes, remembering how George used to say strange phrases like 'crypto' or 'nylon stitch and 'shaycus'. She regretted the moment she moved back with her mum in La Reina after leaving George. 

    'What do you think you're doing, Lou?' The broad-shouldered Diane put her hands on her hips and stood in her way. 'I forbid you to go waste your life on that poor, pathetic dreamer.'

    'Please move, mum?' Heavy emphasis on the word drew a thick air of tension as Diane's eyes wobbled. Their eyes locked, and Laura pushed her: 'Move!'

 

    'Oh, is that the way it is going to be?' Diane said, shocked. Her large fish mouth arched, flinging herself to the side of the room, 'You're going to pack your bags, go on some wild goose chase around the city to find out where this loser is. You're stupid. You're pathetic.'

 

    'No, no,' the last word wrung Laura's neck. 'What is pathetic is that you've pushed my brothers and dad away because you've been hurt. You've pushed the only man that truly cared for me and,' –

 

    'I have always been here for you, Lou. Never forget that. I was there when your bastard father left; those two boys joined him, but you and me. We're women. We need each other.'

 

    'No, mum,' – Laura turned away then picked up her handbag – 'you need me, and I need to find George.'

    'And your job? What about Hayley? She needs you too, and this is your opportunity to go and be somebody.'

    Laura paused at the opened door. 'I'll explain to Hayley. Eugenio can do the presentation,' she said softly.

    'You're going to let him, another man take your place?' – An acidic foam sprayed from her lips. – 'Miss out on an opportunity to progress in your career. Do you have rocks in your head? Are you stupid?'

    Laura's clenched hand ran down the strap of the bag. 'You've already convinced me once that I was crazy to be with George. Don't make me let him go without telling him how I feel.'

     Diane dashed around Laura. 'Listen, Lou. It's not worth it. You're young. You can find another man. That guy told you he was from the future, for the love of God. That's crazy.'

    'But it was true, mum.' Laura choked up, reflecting on all the documents she found on his tablet. 'I lied to him. He loved me.'

    'Men don't love, Lou.' Diane brought her daughter into her embrace. 'George didn't love you. He used you. Like all men do, to fulfil their fantasy of what love is, then they forget you. Listen to me, Lou, don't go wasting your time on dreamers; they'll cause you nothing but hurt and disappointment.'

    'I can't…' Laura sniffed, dragging herself away from her mum. 'I've got to go. I've got to find him.' Laura pushed passed her.

    'Do you even know where you're going?' Diane continued. 'Think logically.'

    Storming down the hall to the lift, Laura turned to her mother and stood in the doorway with her hands on her hips like a superhero. A lead weight dragged her heart to her stomach. Diane was right; Laura knew it but couldn't admit it. It wasn't a sense of rebellion that pushed her off down the corridor; it was a pull on an invisible chord that connected her to George and was roping her in.

    Her hand grazed her neck as she realised she had forgotten the locket George had given her. She paused in the lift and wanted to go back. If she went back, though, she would never leave. Inevitably to get anywhere, some things had to be left behind.

************

Present day

Staring up at the cloudy sky above the ancient Araucaria, Laura shed tears from the pain in her feet. She didn't have the energy to continue and regrated everything. Scattered memories of dances, arguments, walks, tears, and laughter punished her like a haze of nostalgia had befallen her in the evening mist. 

    She replayed the terrible memory of when George asked if she loved him. The trees leaned in as if waiting for her response, and she stood alone, noble, surrounded by an audience of ghosts haunting her self-proclaimed exile to purgatory. 'I do,' she told herself as if she was marrying the earth she walked. In a remarkable response, the ground rippled, rocks danced, and she lifted her feet in an intuitive waltz.

    A large red pickup truck trailed a haze of brown dust behind her. She wedged a thumb out, but as it got closer, she waved desperately. The car rushed by, covering her in a layer of dust. She coughed and then put her hands on her sore knees. 'I suppose,' – she wiped her dirt-filled brow – 'I've just gotta keep…' Laura saw the reverse lights of the pickup truck shine as it rolled downhill towards her. 

    'I'm sorry about that,' a man's voice announced. Laura brushed off her arms. 'Where're you goin', señorita?' She looked into the car to see a middle-aged man with wrinkled spongy skin and a bushy moustache. He apologised again for leaving her covered in dust, but Laura waved her hands, gesturing for him not to worry about it. 

    'Are you,'- Laura coughed. -' How far, how far are you, are you goin' up the mountain?'

    He turned the volume on the radio down. 'I'm going all the way up to Anchor Village. Near the lake. Where are you heading?' She gasped for air, nodding, then put her hands again on her hips to straighten up. 'Do you want a lift?' he asked.

    Laura put her thumb up. 'Put your stuff in the back,' he said. She tossed her backpack into a small space on the floor of the back, noticing it was full of heavy-duty equipment. She removed her jacket and shook the dust off before sitting in the passenger seat. 'Thank you, mister?'

    'Juan.' He turned the radio off. 'Call me, Juan.' 
   
   'I'm Laura,' she replied with a sigh. 'Really,' – she put on the safety belt. – 'Thank you.'

    'You're welcome, señorita.' The car boomed to life, returning to its struggle up the slope. Laura pointed to the back of the truck and asked about the equipment. 'It's for a science experiment,' he told her. His grey eyes darted from side to side. 'A group of meteorologists up in Anchor Village. Doing a study… they just contracted me to get all their equipment up the mountain.'

 

    Laura nodded, then gazed out the window, imagining how much further she would have had to walk along the gravel path in her broken body. She swallowed, then sighed in relief, thanking Juan once more.

 

    After an hour, the truck levelled off from the steady rise. The lowered afternoon sun blinded the two. Juan pulled down the sun visor. 'Can you pass me my sunglasses?' He pointed to the glove compartment. 

 

    She stared at him for a moment, passing. 'Aren't you going to ask what I'm doing on the road?'

 

    Juan shook his head. 'Do you want to tell me what you're doing on the road?' he asked. The level path steepened again, and he pulled the clutch into a lower gear. 

 

    Laura squinted, glimpsing a twinkle in his eye that gave her an odd sensation that they had already met. 

 

    She took the sunglasses from the glove compartment and cleaned them with her sleeve before handing them over. She looked at Juan's jagged chin, defined cheekbones, and rough skin. 'I'm looking for someone,' she turned, gazing out the muddied window.

 

    'So… what are they doin' out here?' Juan asked.

 

    'I don't know, to be honest.' She placed an elbow on the window rest. It slipped as the car staggered up the hill. 'I don't even know if he's still here.' She wiped her watch. 'Just a wild guess.'

 

    'Well,' – Juan sniffed. – 'You're certainly taking a big risk… for just a wild guess, señorita.'

 

    George's face passed across her memory. His soft greyish blue eyes, full radiant smile, and soothing voice made her body tingle. 'I'm sure he will be.'

 

    'Who is he?' Juan pushed to first gear, dragging the truck up a steeper slope.

 

    'He was my boyfriend… we were together for over three years.' Laura's inner struggle lightened as a weight eased off her chest.

 

    The car pulled itself up sluggishly. 'So… what happened?'

 

    'It's difficult to explain,' she said, working out her thoughts before admitting: 'Difficult to tell if I'm honest.'

 

    They turned around a corner that levelled out once more, 'Is it easier to understand now?'

 

    She gritted her teeth, turning to Juan. She tilted her head slightly. 'Well,' she started, then yawned, putting a hand over her mouth. 'When I met him… I knew he was different. He always appeared out of place y'know and,' – she paused, Juan leaned closer towards her. – 'He told me he was from the future!'

 

    Juan sat up straight. 'What do you mean? From the future?'

 

    Her voice is comical between disbelief and arrogance: 'He told me… He told me, he travelled back from the 23rd century, he told me… he told me he was in love with me.'

 

    Outside, the world darkened; a dusty grey haze blocked the sun. Juan's silver hair shone. 'So, did you believe him?' he asked.

 

    'Not at first, no,' she answered, turning away, then whispered: 'It's just too unbelievable.'

 

    'If it's so unbelievable,' Juan asked. 'Why are you all the way out here tryin' to find him?'

 

    A lump built up in her throat, and she faced the window. 'He predicted certain things that happened,' – she quickly wiped a tear trickling down her cheek. – 'I didn't know how much I loved him until he was gone. I've never felt so empty than… than I do now.'

 

    The scenery continued to astonish Laura as the vast, desolate landscape ripped against the horizon. The lowering sun buried itself behind oncoming rain clouds. As quickly as it appeared, the view vanished when pine and mountain cypress trees obstructed it.

 

    Juan sympathetically handed Laura a tissue he took out from under the handbrake. 'You don't care if he's telling the truth or not, then?' he asked. 'Why did you care so much before?'

 

    She wiped her nose. 'I thought he was crazy, needed psychological help.'

 

    'Maybe, he did,' continued Juan. 'I imagine he must have had some issues… it's none of my business. I suppose you should have supported him' –
 
   'Shared in his delusion?' she interrupted. 
 
   'I suppose,' he said. 'I mean… isn't every relationship? Just sharing the delusion of the other? From parents to friends and partners.'

 

    The two watched the brown haze disperse. Jagged barren mountains surrounded the valley forged by a stream that had scratched its way through this rocky landscape for thousands of years. 'I don't know.' Laura calmly told him, placing her head on the window. 'I didn't… I couldn't believe him.'

 

    'But now you can?' Juan's voice became a ghostly echo punching at Laura's wounded heart. The car rattled, tossing from side to side as they reached the top of the hill. 

 

    The road darkened as they drove past tiny hidden houses between black-barked ferns. The remaining light of the day snuck in through crevasses beaming rays of yellow light across the leaf-covered paths.

 

    'You've heard the expression, you never know what you've got until it's gone.'

 

    Juan's fingers visibly squeezed the steering wheel. 'You're right.' 

 

    Laura glanced back at her brown-stained watch. It was late. Her head slanted as she analysed Juan's features, trying to remember where she had met him. His greyish-blue eyes and moustache, and profile all seemed so familiar. For a moment, he reminded her of George.

 

    The trees opened up to reveal Anchor town. A blue sign welcomed them, reading 'Where the road ends. Your imagination reigns.' Population: 550.

 

    'I should have supported him,' Laura confessed quietly. She placed a sweaty palm on her forehead, smearing a layer of grey dirt still soaked on her skin. 'I was just so damn confused. Everybody. Everything confused me. It was so… I don't know!'

 

    The jeep slowed at a STOP sign. 'I think you need to know first what you want,' – He took off his sunglasses and placed a hand on her shoulder. – 'Before you go out looking.'

 

    Laura's amber eyes flickered as if awoken from meditation. 'What do you mean?'
 
   The light turned green. Juan took the handbrake off, repeating himself as he continued to drive. 'You've come all this way, Mu. Laura.' He licked his lips and waved a hand passed her at the landscape. 'A place unknown on the map. Only motivated by the love for a man who you didn't even believe was telling the truth. Is that something you would have done before?'

 

    'Don't go wasting your time on dreamers,' Laura repeated her mother's words drummed into her. Diane called her immature and childish whenever Laura got upset and acted emotionally. She used to say that love was illogical – an archaic emotion that had outstayed its use. Only the young or desperate fall in love, Diane argued. Laura disagreed with her bitter words but at that moment, sat next to Juan, she admitted that her mother was right. 'Love from desperation is hope from despair,' she said.

 

    The car stopped. Juan turned off the engine. They both got out, and Juan went around to help get her bag out from the back of the truck.

 

    The streetlights bathed the central plaza in a warm golden light. The laughter of youngsters on skateboards surprised Laura as the wind intensified. Juan put the bag down and pointed to the Traveller's Inn across the road. 

 

    He held her hand softly. 'Don't ever let people tell you you're crazy for believing in someone, Laura.' Moved by his words, simultaneously concerned, Laura slipped her hand out from his and lifted her backpack. 

 

    The Traveller's Inn was empty. After a long shower, Laura walked barefoot in tracksuit bottoms with a long t-shirt, then put two plasters on her blistered feet.

 

    She groaned, falling back onto the hard bed, then stared at the chequered ceiling. The light from the bedside lamp cast fiery shadows from every movement. 

 

    Laura's baggy eyes glimpsed George's tablet poking out of her backpack. She wiped the dust off the monitor and scrolled down the end of the journal with the title: What is love?

************

Journal entry 333:


In my time, love is prohibited. It is quite simply impractical. It's an emotion we had learned to harness for our own existential benefit. Without both the taming of emotions, the human condition seemed forever doomed to be caught in an endless cycle of the need to reproduce, pass on one's genetics and continue one's legacy. This recurring attitude of individuality and division predictably led to humankind's downfall. Humanity's near destruction was due to its need to love as much as its fear of love. It was both our greatest strength and greatest weakness. Ultimately, it was cast aside as nothing more than the primordial sensation of dependency on others. In our age of interdependency, however, the need for such emotion was deemed worthless, becoming eradicated from the human condition. Yet, I always wondered if emotional love existed on an individual level that had not merely a social or individual but practical application. A girl… the girl I was foolish enough to fall in love with was (I believed) worth risking everything. I sacrificed my trip home, abandoned my education, my culture, and my time to become an exile to my own people for this individual love. It was true. The temporary hormonal imbalance and an emotional influx of endorphins clouded my judgment and rational mind. I was cloaked in solitude. This indulgence for self-gratification through love cut me off from everything and everyone I knew who I previously deemed relevant. Individually, my submission to the emotion led me to feel the happiest I had ever been in my whole life. Nevertheless, when she used our love and emotional dependency to manipulate, confuse, and change me, I became enslaved to my desire. I could not yield to such absurdity. The worst memory was when one day, I tried to convince myself that perhaps she was right, and I was mad. It is incredible what the human mind can conjure up in times of uncertainty. I would have done anything to stay in my delusion. My lucid senses became numb when Laura told me she didn't love me. It was as if a sharp razor instantaneously carved up my heart from all angles, which caused my heartbeat to slow down to a stagnant beat near death. I wish I had never read all those prohibited love stories as a child or seen those plays of love in secret. I understand why they always ended in tragedy because that is the human condition. No greatness of emotion comes without loss. I should have stayed truer to my teachings and harnessed this cursed emotion. I wanted to believe that it made us as much human as intelligence, as much a drive and motivation to excel as knowledge. I made a mistake. The pain was so great that I wish I had never met Laura Cascada. I contacted the Time Alignment Agency and arranged a passage back. I am going to submit my report; I doubt they will ever renew my time visa. I am sure they will thoroughly investigate my time in 2016 and make a corrective plan to erase my presence in this era along with my memories and love for Laura. I left this tablet as a memento of my temporary hormonal imbalance and primordial emotion when I succumbed to the contagious sentiments of the era. However short, they shall remain in existence.

************

Present day

A heavy mist smothered the Andes Mountains like a blanket of feathers. The wind whisked a dense cloud of dust scattering loose gravel around the path. 

 

    Laura stabbed a hiking pole into the ground, thrusting herself out of an uneven ditch. She thought I should have used this yesterday, recovering her stance in the hazy air. The steep hill eventually levelled off and then declined towards a wired fence blocking the path. 'So, this must be that scientist… laboratory Juan was telling me about.' Scanning the fence from one end to the next, she wondered what they were studying so far into the mountains.

 

    The trees towered high with an undergrowth covered in brownish-yellow leaves. Analysing the crisscross barrier, Laura sipped the last drops of water from her flask. 'End of the line, Laura,' she muttered, taking off her hairband.

 

    Looking back at the map, she knew she must have been in the clearing next to the thick woodland. Her finger zoomed into the blurred satellite image, unable to see any path. The dull sunlight changed, brightening the treetops, shooting beams of early afternoon sunrays down onto the gloomy surface.

 

    Birds cawed from the tall trees beyond the fence. Laura turned back to the woods, walking poles in hand parallel to the fence, hoping to find a way past. 

 

    After another steep slope, she stumbled downhill into a moss-filled ridge where she found an opening. Twisting her aching body, she slit her elbow on a sharp edge. 

 

    She wiped the earth off her coat and looked up at a hawk gliding silently between the treetops. It was beautiful, somewhat regal, with its defined wings of brown and white striped feathers mesmerising her as it beat its wings, soaring into a clearing before her.

 

    Laura stumbled forward on the trekking poles, stunned by the serene landscape of towering ancient trees and jagged white rocks bathed in sunlight. She softly smiled and then glanced down at the crystal-clear water. 

 

    Further down the stream, she followed a scent of ash to a stumped-out campfire. She crept closer to see a kettle over a stove hissing. A smile radiated across Laura's round freckled cheeks as she looked around. A small orange tent on a patch of green grass encircled with thistles caught her eye. 'George?' She shouted.

    She closed her eyes; her brittle cheeks blushed as her lips quivered into an uneasy grin. She turned George appeared. His thin brown curly hair contrasted against his thick beard as a man unkempt like the nature around them.

 

    'You idiot,' Laura repeated over and over again. 'You're such an idiot, George.' George dropped his bag and then wiped his hands on his black shorts. Laura ran into him and wrapped his arms around him.

 

    He stroked her ponytail; his eyes watered, holding her in his arms. She placed her ear against his heart, pounding an irregular beat. Faster. Harder.

 

    George's shaken body went limp as tears burned his sore eyes. Laura breathed in the musky odour from his shirt. 'Love,' – she said. The timeless moment in his embrace felt short, facing up to meet his sight. – 'Love is irrational. Illogical!'

 

    A breeze howled through the open space near the woods. She stood back, releasing from his embrace. George walked to the dead campfire, picked up the hot kettle and offered her a cup of coffee. She nodded. 'You… love me then?' George asked dryly.

 

    She sat down on a log next to the tent. 'Yes.' Her smile withered as he remained silent, facing the nearby river. He asked how she found him. 'You left your tablet in the apartment,' she said, taking it out of her bag. 'I searched for you in Santiago first. Nobody could tell me where you were. Then I read parts of your journal,' Laura continued as he passed her a warm cup of coffee. 'There was a map with this location and today's date.'

 

    His dark sapphire gaze looked up at the treetops. 'I'm glad you are here, Laura,' he told her. 'But I only have about fifteen minutes before I go.'

 

    'Go?' Laura tipped her head to one side. 'Go where?' He looked up. She cleared her throat, remembering the countdown on the satellite map. In a calm voice, she whispered: 'Can I come with you?' He lowered his eyes to meet hers, and after a moment, he shook his head.

 

    Sunlight-shaped silhouettes across the rocks. Laura stared at George from head to toe and studied his round eyes. An affirmative nod followed by a grin brightened her face. 'I need you, George. I love you.'

 

    George paused, then took a sip of coffee. 'I don't know, Laura. This is a real nylon stitch situation.' He fixated on the clearing and then launched up. 'I've only got a few minutes before I have to go.'

 

    'Why can't I go with you?'

 

    'Because they can't take you out of time.' George cursed. 'It's dangerous for your health, the timeline,' – he stroked his facial hair – 'who knows, you may be destined to be the relative of someone important someday or someone who may be the inspiration of an important event in history. It's a risk. The Time Alignment Agency would not allow it, baby.'

 

    The sun passed behind a low cloud. Laura walked behind him and asked softly, 'Do you still love me?' George stepped away and faced her.

 

    'You hurt me, Laura. I can't,' – he threw his hands up in the air. – 'No. I don't want to feel the way I did… I do. You hurt me. You taught me why love is forbidden in the future,' –

 

    'Do you still love me?' Laura raised her voice as a gale of wind whistled around them. 'If you don't feel the same way, that's fine. I'll go away, but if you leave and don't believe in love, you are no better… than a computer or a rock. You can't let your experiences force you to believe in nothing.'

 

    'I believed in us,' he said, turning away. 'I don't want to feel this way anymore, Laura. It's so uncontrollable, depressing; it's the –

 

    'Tell me you love me, George,' Laura said louder.

 

    The day turned dark. Leaves flew across the pebbles from the surrounding wood. Laura wrapped her arms around George's waist from behind. Thistles snapped. Her hair loosened from her ponytail and then flung wildly in the air. She shielded her face in his back.

 

    The twister of brown, yellow leaves wrapped around them. George's tearful eyes glanced down at her clasped hands around his stomach. The wind blinded Laura as she shied away from her embrace of George. He loosened as she tightened her grasp, and she glimpsed slightly past him to view a white refracting light.

 

    The distorted image of rocks and pebbles blurred and then sharpened in the clearing as Laura's grip on George's tablet slipped as the gale tugged at them both. The ripple in time moved towards them, getting wilder and wilder. 'George?' she cried out. 

 

    A forceful shove tore the two apart. Covering Laura's eyes, she peeked through her fingers to see George shimmer away in the twister of light. 

 

    Blinded by the bright glare, Laura fell to the floor. Her lips quivered as she released the last drops of regret from her dry tear ducts. George had vanished.

 

    The bleak landscape turned a vibrant green again, washed in radiant warm sunlight. The statue-like Laura clenched her fists and then blinked, looking around. 

 

    A loud cry of a hawk passed overhead. Laura brought her arms close and pressed a finger to her temple as an aromatic scent of lavender enriched her nostrils. She recovered her senses and fell sideways, grabbing a large rock beside her to hold her balance. 

 

    Rustled leaves shuffled as heavy footsteps startled her daydreaming state. 'Hello, Laura,' she heard a man's voice from the shadows say. She wiped her cheeks and then spun around quickly. The truck driver, Juan, appeared. He dragged himself with every step through the dense undergrowth.
 
   'What are you doing out here?' she said, her ears muffled by the high-pitched buzzing sound from earlier.

 

     'I don't want to startle you, but… my name is not Juan,' he said.

 

    Focused on the outline of the grey-haired man in his suede jacket, she studied his rugged face. Laura took a step back. He stopped a few meters away from her. Their hands were at the side as he bowed. 'My name is Nomis, I'm… I'm yours and George's son.'

 

    Laura's eyes narrowed as she studied the man closer. He had a similar build to George but broader; his defined facial feature and rustic stubble below his bushy moustache were identical to her brothers. 

 

    The sunlight revealed a twinkle in his eyes, which she thought were greyish green when they were light amber. Laura gasped in disbelief.

 

    'The real name of George is Cotilek Mumorin,' Juan continued. 'He convinced the Time Alignment Agency not to alter the timeline. He presented a case to the Global Council on the importance of love.'

 

    She gently laughed, putting her hands together, then nodded, 'This is quite unbelievable.'

 

    Juan cleared his throat. 'Don't you believe me?' His tone of voice reminded her of the day George told her he was from the future. 

 

    Her uneasy smile waned, and she nodded: 'I believe you.'

 

    Juan loosened his shoulders and looked around at the trees. 'They didn't erase his memory,' he told her. 'After a change of rules, a social paradigm shift occurred in my generation, when it was declared that love can be expressed freely again.'

 

    Laura's cheeks glowed. 'That's great news,' she said. The sun hid behind another fluffy cloud as she looked up, whispering: 'Really, really great news.'

 

    'I've got to clear this up, leave no trace of your existence and um…' Juan's voice softened, placing a hand on Laura's shoulder. 'I'm here to take you back, Mum.'

 

    'Back, where?' Laura's eyes landed on him. 'Or should I ask, when?'

 

    'Back home, of course. Back to your future. Our time.' The older man held his palm, facing upwards to her. 'Are you ready?'
 

    Laura took another deep breath as the scented lavender heightened her dreamlike state. She placed her hand in Juan's and walked back into the open. The sky turned dark once more. A whistling wind howled. 'I believe in George,' she smiled. 'I believe in love.'

 

    Leaves whirled around them. Laura closed her eyes; a bright light engulfed her, and she let out a final breath.

 

    Juan remained. He walked over to the empty campsite, picked up Laura's bag and took out the tablet. 'No one would know for another two hundred and twenty-three years of the importance of this moment,' Juan recorded on his log watch. 'This is the moment where the future of humanity begins anew or at least has begun its road to learn once again what it takes to be human.'

 

    Remembering the code his dad put on his old tablet, he unlocked it and then scanned the journal entries before reading the last entry:

 

************

Journal entry 892:

 Love will be reborn. Not the primordial need to reproduce but as an illogical yet understood bond which can bring worlds and eras together that cannot be broken by the forces of family or authorities. In the end, as they say, love conquers all.

 

The battery died. Juan chuckled and leaned over to pack away George's tent.

 

    The caw of a hawk echoed overhead. Juan glanced up, squinting. The hawk flew low and landed on the white rock where Laura had vanished. 

    Its head twitched from one side to the other. It cried out, spread its majestic wings again, and then flew up towards the continually changing horizon.


The End

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