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Time and Regret

Time and Regret

WA Julian

Nick discovered it as a boy. A boy of about eight years old discovered that he had the ability to manipulate time. It started one afternoon when he was in the kitchen and he accidentally burned his hand on the stove. He shut his eyes real tight and then he felt the burns disappear as he moved backwards into the hall. Everything moved with him and things that normally fell down fell up. When he said, “Stop!” it stopped. Scared, he asked his mother if she knew anything about it and she told him that he was crazy and should stop watching so many cartoons. But he wasn’t crazy; he was the sanest of them all.

                It didn’t happen again until a year later when he was punched by the local bully. As he fell to the ground, he suddenly rose back up to his feet and then the punch was pulled back. When time resumed its normal course, Nick ducked and then struck a blow of his own; knocking the surprised bully to the ground. He became the hero for the day but his deeds were soon forgotten and the outcry soon became the normal and life went on. But not Nick’s; he could never forget.

                Within the month, he found his power again. On strange impulse, Nick told a pretty girl that he loved her. Before she could respond, he became afraid and then again everything went backwards. He felt his lips mutter those three nervous words in reverse, all the more painful this time. When he mentally told it all to stop and time resumed he instead asked what they had for homework. She smiled and delicately told him. Of course, he didn’t need it. He would ask for a lot of things he didn’t need.  And he could get them.

                As he reached the pubescent years, he started to focus and try to learn to control his strange anomalous power. In his dark room, he lit a candle and then blew it out. He knew that it wasn’t any form of focus that granted him his power; it must have been something else. It would have to have been something present each time that he did it. Perhaps it was emotion. He did his best to draw up various emotions and finally he found one: regret. It tied together every instance perfectly: he regretted touching the stove, antagonizing the bully, and then saying, “I love you.” He made himself feel regret and then the candle lit once more. He laughed one of the few laughs of his lifetime.

                Soon, he started to use his gift. In math class, he answered a question out loud incorrectly and drew scrutiny. But after the teacher gave the correct answer, he went back and gave that one instead. His life started to become easier. He got good grades in school and made few mistakes. But he was pained, afflicted. He had to live with every mistake he technically did not commit. Nick regretted what he did not do. He could forgive, but he could not forget, especially things that never happened. Sorrow and then depression took in for what others could only see as no reason. Not a man, woman, or child understood this boy.

                For a while he thought of never using his power again. Nick went a whole week where he failed. Repeatedly. They were such sweet, sweet failures. But then the reality hit him that these were public failures, not the private and secret ones he had before. They seemed so real to him. And what pained him was that they were.  Insensitively, he had told a girl that her dress looked ugly on her. Brashly, he had pushed his way through the lunch line and then faced social trials for it. And finally, Nick hit one of his best friends. Hard. He apologized but it wasn’t enough.  It wasn’t enough for him or for anyone else. When it was too much, he went back and did the whole week over again.

                Nobody ever told Nick that they were sorry because he covered up the mistakes of others as well. There wasn’t a way for him to fix everyone’s mistakes, but he could try. For a while he believed that he was a superhero; that destiny had called him to fight for justice. Images danced in his imagination for hours on end. He could fly, he could save the world, and he could save himself. But that was when he stopped: when he realized that he could either save himself or the world. Every time he went back, part of his soul would erode. He’d see a friend do something he never thought possible and he’d go back to stop it. But he knew what his friend was capable of and he could never fully trust that person again. With that, his social life began to vanish along with his humanity.

                But Hope would always come knocking. That was her name: Hope. She knocked on his door one day after he had started his own life. He promised himself from then that he would marry her. She was beautiful. Her cerulean eyes were timeless in his and something kept him from going back when he was around her. She was intoxicating in the best of ways. She was his cure. There was nothing for him to regret with her and it was regret that gave him his power. Hope took away his regret and his power. But with her, the boy was powered more than before. She put light where there was darkness, but she obscured other places. Nick would never fully know her. But the best part was that she shared his feelings. Not his problem, but his feelings. They shared things that only go to and fro with soul-mates; because they were indubitably soul-mates.

                But his life was turned upside down when he made a terrible mistake. And he would have to face this one because with Hope, he could not regret. He hurt her. His depression and agony took reign again and then he hurt his one salvation. Through the next days, he found no control because he found no regret. Without regret, he could only justify his actions no matter how bad they were. His salvation was his destruction. She left him and then he finally regretted. When he called upon the pain of regretful sorrow, it only turned her away because she fell in love with the boy because he regretted nothing. From her perspective, Nick faced life head on without looking back. But when he tried to at least fake regret with her, she found no attraction. Worst of all, she saw his lies.

                Nick used his regret and tried going back but it all stopped at the last time he saw her and he had to feel her leaving him once again. He tried more than once because his former bride was worth all of the pain. But finally, he learned. He learned that he would have to win her back the way he had stopped a long time ago: the hard way.  Nick would fight long and hard, journeying however he must to win back his dear Hope.  Without her, he had none.

                After a month had passed, he had prayed that she would be open to listening; to at least hear him out. When she did, he tried to explain his problem. He explained how he had become addicted to reversing time and that it was fueled by the pain of regret. Nick tried to explain to her that she cut off his feeling of regret and that she loved what she had caused. She completed him; healed him. But the boy couldn’t prove it. She had lost faith in him. This was beyond belief to her because she no longer saw a soul-mate: she saw a crazy person in the sanest of them all. Hope had not faith and so he had not either.

                They say that hope is the last to die. But for the boy, it was first. Instead, all he had was his fuel: regret. All of his life he regretted and the more he tried to stop it, the more he regretted. What he thought was his cure was his affliction. So that’s when he decided that his life was where it had all started. He decided to end it. A noose was tied to the ceiling and the boy kicked the stool away, dropping him to the end. His life flashed before his eyes. There was a certain beauty that he could not waste. Nick knew he would regret his death. He took in the regret and decided to reverse time and save himself. The stool came back under his feet and then he descended. He took down the noose and then realized that life was still miserable but not worth ending. Perhaps he could find a way to start over. His sanest decision was his biggest mistake.

                Hope came by his home and looked in the window. She found him sitting on his couch with a weary smile. He didn’t notice her. Something on his face told her that it would be alright. This reassured her and then she left, never to see him again. Eventually, the boy attempted suicide again, this time he was dead with no turning back. There were no more regrets but there was also no more Hope. Regret overtook her and she joined him in death.

                But had he not reversed time to save himself, Hope would have found him dangling and dying. She would have broken in and then saved his life where she would heal him again. With that healing, their relationship would mend. They’d marry again and have many children. The boy and his beloved Hope would live together until they were old and finally dead. Their life would have been nearly perfect to the outside observer, but to the boy: flawless. The ideal that he had tried so hard to regret himself to he simply couldn’t have.

                Through chamber and barrel, death pierced his brain. Days later, lead and powder destroyed Hope. Regret, the single strongest of all feelings, for once, gave something. The boy received the gift of erasing anything that had come to pass. It had even come to allowing itself to be removed by way of truest and purest love. But even its gifts were too strong for man to bear. Regret destroys even when it seems to build. Its wrath not only caused the destruction of its experiment but also its love. Regret made a man worth less than his own life because it had directly ended another. Had he never existed, Hope would live on. But it was this logic that had killed her in the first place. This sane logic kills.

This story was inspired in part by Braid.