My submission for the Writers of the Future contest
The Writers of the Future contest awards the best science fiction-y short story. I don’t typically dabble in the sci-fi, so I present my ideas to you so you can help me refine an idea/rip me apart with your hostility. Please leave your feedback in the comments.
My overall story is composed of three separate, smaller stories connected by a plot device. The plot device for these stories exists as a sort of twisted “Pandora’s Box,” offering recipients gifts that, while initially appearing as blessings, inevitably turn out to be a curse in every situation.
Story outline one-The Timeless Music Box
Our main character is granted a music box that allows him, at will, to manipulate the flow of time. He uses this ability to bend time and create realities where he is superior at everything. Star of the basketball team. Suave with women. Perfect at his job. Being able to see the consequences of every action and then have the means to rewrite it allows him to shape his flawless existence.
Like all things, though, the man begins to get bored. After living through countless perfect realities and then setting back the clock, he grows tired of the mundane routine. He begins pushing the limit. He murders for the first time, and murder leads to even more heinous crimes, which he reasons will not take a toll on his soul because he’s not actually doing any of these things; time will allow him to erase any transgression, regardless of how severe.
However, as he learns, this is not the case; the intense guilt that he used to feel building up to and after these crimes has been replaced with total apathy. He has desensitized himself to it, which he knows can only mean the actions he took have been observed, by his soul and any other divine eyes that may have been watching. Realizing that he has forsaken his spirit, he attempts to kill himself, but the music box inherently works to protect him, rewinding time back to before he was in any danger. The man tries to rewind time to before he found the box, but through the mystic nature bound to the artifact, it stays with him even as he returns to previous points in time.
Locked in this loop, he despairs. He realizes the only way to purge himself and start anew is to choose to return to a time when before he had any cognizant thought. At least now, if he can’t get rid of the box, it will be as though he is starting anew, without the previous memories. And, he reasoned, if he had no knowledge, he could leave a warning inside the box, hidden, but deterring anyone else from using it. He decides to hide it beneath the velvet layer on the inside. However, as he opens it up, etched against the wood are countless warnings already, scratched frantically by the previous user to deter against the use of this box. The man realizes that these warnings were not etched by another, though; it was him, repeating the same cycle over and over again.
Story outline two-Representative
The man is gifted with a ring that allows him to create clones of himself. The clones are without sentient thought of their own; essentially, they are simply extensions of his own psyche that he can manipulate to do things for him. Go to work at his job. Spend time with his annoying girlfriend. Perform chores around the house. All while he himself does anything he pleases.
One night, however, this all changes. On the way home from work, one of his clones passes by a lone girl walking on the opposite side of the street. The clone decides to follow her, verbally accosting her before catching up to her and assaulting her. He murders this girl, then returns home and confesses his crime to the man. As the clone dissipates (as his duty has been performed), this sends the man spiraling down a ethical descent. If his clones are simply extensions of himself, then does he have the aptitude within to commit such a heinous crime? The potential to do something so terrible to someone else? He immediately stops with the clones, finding his answers at the bottom of the bottle.
One night, he returns to the cave from which he was bestowed the ring in an angry drunken stupor. His goal is to return the ring, but in his frustration of being unable to find the box, his violence leads to the rocks at the entrance of the cavern shifting, trapping him inside. After panicking initially, he reasons that it will be okay; the cave is not far from his home, and when people realize that he’s missing, they will send a search party that will inevitably search this cavern.
At once, the man’s heart sinks, his chest crushing from the pressure of his realization. He still had a clone, visiting his parents for a two week stay. The clone will have to realize the man is not there and alert someone. But how will they understand? The man begins thinking of ways to explain the situation to everyone, and how angry they will be upon finding out he has been essentially cheating at life.
Meanwhile, the clone returns home from the trip, completing his obligation but realizing that no one is home. The clone is in no hurry to find his master, however; he quite enjoyed the trip to see the family, and would very much like to continue this role for as long as he can.
Two months pass. The clone doesn’t know where the man is, but he hopes he doesn’t return anytime soon. In the meantime, he fights to suppress the growing urges within him. Maybe he’ll just follow her and see what happens…
Story outline three-The Spectator
A man and his young love discover the cave. The man uncovers a pendant that allows him to read the mind of whoever he chooses, but instead of abusing the power for selfish reasons, he uses it only for his love, to make her happy. In instances where she is upset, he scans her thoughts and is able to perform the exact thing that will make her happy, regardless of how much effort is required. He realizes that it’s probably wrong, but he doesn’t care; if he can use this pendant to make his love as happy as possible throughout her life, then that is what he is going to do.
60 years pass from that day, and the couple’s long life of love behind them now. The woman has contracted cancer, and rests on her death bed within their home, to spend the last few days of her life with family. Their outlook has been a positive one, all things considered, and they are thankful for the life they had together. However, that night, the woman brings up the issue of faith, and what is going to happen now.
She discusses with her husband about how her faith was shaken when she was a young girl; the behavior of those around her forced her to turn her back on organized religion, something that she never regained. Now that she rests on the border of this life, she fears for what is going to come next.
The man hushes her, caressing the aged face of a woman he has cared for more than himself for most of his life. He tells her that her life was spent performing charity and great deeds. Maybe she wasn’t devout in faith, but if anyone deserved to pass the gates into the afterlife, it was her.
Calm now, the woman drifts to sleep, and her husband along with her. One of his favorite things was “dream siphoning;” sometimes, if she was dreaming, his pendant would allow him to experience her dream, and thus share the experience, in a way. In his mind, it was a way to spend the days of their youth together again, and be unbound from the laws and realities dictated by the passing of time.
However, this dream was unlike any other he had experienced with her. He found himself on a pure white plane, a void that stretches for as far as the eye can see. He sees his wife ahead of him, 60 years younger, staring ahead. He walks up to her, but notices that her expression is blank. He nudges her, urging her to snap out of it, when a boy, seemingly appearing out of thin air, informs the man that it is pointless; she has passed, and now awaits the great darkness now of the void.
The man demands answers from this boy, who seems to possess a frightening amount of clout and wisdom. The boy answers, saying that because this woman did not abide by a specific faith and wandered aimless in faith through her life, then she is destined for an equivalent eternity of aimless darkness. The boy apologizes, but explains simply that this is the way it has to be. The man grieves for his wife, for the consequence that he promised her would not be. The boy says not to weep for her; while she is lost in this plane of nothingness, the man still has a chance to return and correct the error of his own ways, find salvation, and enjoy an eternity in heaven. The man pleads with the boy to let his wife join him; he is only experiencing this right now by reading the thoughts of his wife, so she clearly possesses the potential to communicate with the divine, whether this boy be angel, demon, or otherwise.
The boy apologizes again, recognizing the phenomenon but again stating there is no other option; he must let his wife go, resign her to her fate, and then do what he can to save himself.
In an instant, the hopeless melts off the man’s face, replaced with a look of steeled focus. He tells the boy that he, too, has no other option; he swore to his wife that he would be with her after death, and no matter what form that takes, he will follow her. Heaven, hell, or a dark void, he will be at his wife’s side through all of it.
The boy urges him to reconsider; this isn’t a “life” they’re talking about, it’s an eternal fate. The man responds, unwavering, but explaining that’s why it’s so important that he be with his wife. If they were bonded so tightly in a form or existence the boy considers as “lesser,” then it will grow even stronger with this new reality.
The boy says the man and his wife will wander the void of darkness forever, filled with the chill of loneliness and despair for the rest of eternity.
The man says this is fine; it would be no different than the most intense splendors of heaver without her.
In a flash, the boy is gone, and the void of white vanishes, to be replaced by black. The wife comes to her senses, embracing her husband and sobbing about how sorry she is for dragging them here. He again hushes her, and tells her that it’s alright. If this is how it had to be, then there is nothing they could have done to change this, and he’s happy they at least get to spend it together.
Suddenly, the darkness starts to lift. Tiny spots of light, like stars in the blackest night, begin populating the air around them. From these lights grow more lights, spreading and multiplying into shapes and images, until an entirely new reality is formed around them, taking the form of an ethereal version of the field where they first met. The woman smiles though her tears, realizing that, somehow, they have created their own heaven here, together, from the darkness.
Just then, the man feels a familiar pull; the dream is ending, and he is being pulled back into reality, where he will no longer be with her. She smiles, and says it will be okay; when his life is over, she and this place, their own heaven, will be waiting for him.
The man wakes up. He looks at the face of his wife. She looks peaceful. Happy, even. In the next few years of his life, he lived to honor her memory, and looked forward to the day when they can be together again. And each of these days, he wondered; did he and his wife create their own heaven, separate from the boy and whatever religious deity he represented? Or…was this part of the boys’ design all along?