Author : Gray Blix
Late afternoon in Drake Park. In the red-orange light of the setting sun, he walks down the path towards the footbridge and pauses. Should he cross the river or turn and walk along the… A bicycle blur brushes by him and swoops onto the footbridge, barely missing a woman and toddler. Instinctively, before the man is out of range, he pulls a pistol from beneath his jacket and fires two quick shots. The rider careens onto the railing and falls into the river, sinking out of sight.
There had been no warning, no bell, no “coming by on your left.” What if he had turned and collided with the bike. And, and the sign said “Please walk bicycles across bridge.” And the mother and child. He had to do it. It was a righteous act, he thought to himself.
Aware of people screaming and running away and a police woman shouting, “Put the gun down or I’ll shoot,” and aware that he is more responsible than the cyclist for upsetting the perfect calm and beauty of Drake Park, he presses the button on the strap of his backpack.
An explosion of bright white light and wrenching metallic sound give way to another quiet afternoon in Drake Park. The cyclist continues across the footbridge, scattering a few more pedestrians before darting onto a side street. As the mom and toddler pass by, the child extends a lollipop in her sticky hand to offer him a lick. He smiles. It doesn’t bother him that in this reality the cyclist went unpunished, because in another he paid, he paid for…
No longer distracted, he decides to turn away from the bridge and circumnavigate the park. But something is different. There is no artillery piece. Whoever had it installed in other realities had not done so in this one. Every reality differed from the one years ago when he first tried out his invention. He leans against his favorite pine tree and remembers when there were houses on this spot, or ashes up to his armpits from a volcanic eruption, or the vacuum of space where the park and Earth should have been. He had gasped for air and pressed the button and thrown up blood. A man on a bicycle had stopped to give aid and a police woman called for EMTs.
Lost in thought, he and the park have been overtaken by evening. From his dark vantage under the tree he sees a man and woman struggling. She screams, the man wrestles her to the ground, another man intervenes, the two men grapple. He pulls his gun but can’t shoot without risking… Then, an open shot, the muzzle flashes twice. One man runs away, the other staggers.
He staggers, dropping his gun. His chest is on fire. He and the other man fall to the ground. He knows instantly what has happened. In this reality he had not invented the machine. He had seen a woman in trouble and had… the overwhelming pain pushes all other thoughts aside. He feels the warm blood gushing out, covering him, washing away his…
The other him, surrounded by people, the police woman pressing her hand on his chest to stop the bleeding, the sirens coming ever closer. The two men expire and fade away, leaving only pools of still warm blood as evidence that they ever existed on this fine summer evening in Drake Park.