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In the dark: In Principio

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It was cloudy in Hatchetfield, so of course, an ancient law of nature stated it had to rain. The intensity could vary, but cloudy weather often resulted in rain. Unfortunately, this rain was a downpour that Ethan’s raincoat could hardly protect him from the weather. Even his waterproof backpack would be soaking wet by the time he arrived at the hospital. He was still traveling on foot, and if so all distances were further away in time than when he used a bike or car to go there.

He just had to admit that this journey was going more slowly than he first imagined, that distance had no meaning in a modern world, and that he would have to just shrug it off.

It was raining so much, he barely heard the car coming up behind him until it drove past him. Based on the lights on top of it, it had to be a police car.

It had driven past him, but it stopped a little further ahead. Ethan didn’t know what the reason behind this was, but it soon backed up until it was at the same height as Ethan. Of course he was not going to pass up an opportunity to talk to a teenager who was clearly not in school and who walked away from school.

The older officer rolled down the car window and looked out, while Ethan still stood in the rain.

“Hey, kid,” the officer said. “Shouldn’t you be at school?”

Ethan knew the question was coming. Luckily, he did have an answer ready.

“I’m not feeling well,” Ethan said. The raised eyebrow of the officer told him that he didn’t believe this story.

“You look fine to me,” the officer said, suspicious of the boy’s behavior. “Where are you going?”

“I’m going to the hospital,” Ethan responded. “I hurt my arm.” It was hard to see with all the coats on. He hadn’t moved that arm too much in front of the officer, so it was easier to pull this off. If he only remembered to pretend this arm hurt, he might get away with this.

“And you’re walking? Can’t your parents bring you there?” The officer asked incredulously. Ethan merely shook his head - his parents wouldn’t even have a driver’s license at this point in time.

The officer nodded at him.

“Get in the car, I’ll give you a ride.”

Ethan didn’t have to be asked twice.

Again, Ewan Monroe had to change his plans. This time not because the chief officer had told him to change his schedule around what the jerk wanted, but because there was a small emergency. In the rain, he found a boy walking through the rain, who was going to the hospital - on foot! It was only right to offer the boy a ride. Afterward, Ewan could always return to the police station.

“So, what do your parents do?” Ewan asked while he drove the boy to the hospital. For a moment, the teenager didn’t answer,

“My mother works at the power plant,” he eventually said. “My father’s dead.”

“I’m sorry,” Ewan said. He didn’t know, but it was always sad when a child had to miss one of their parents, or maybe even both. Like his granddaughter Linda. “How’d you hurt your arm?”

The boy put a hand on the arm and Ewan wondered what the nature of the wound was. Did it bleed? Was it bruised, or broken? Whatever it was, the boy put a hand on a part that apparently didn’t hurt enough for him to flinch in pain when he touched it.

“Nasty fall,” the boy responded. “It hurts when I move it.”

“Then you should keep it still,” Ewan advised. It might be broken. The boy nodded and continued to stare ahead of him.

Ewan had seen something that puzzled him. He tried to keep his eyes on the road and to be a good driver, but he couldn’t help but feel his gaze being drawn to the boy’s pocket, from which a white bent piece of plastic poked out. Something that Ewan had never seen in his entire life, nor something that he recognized.

“What’s that?” Ewan eventually asked. The boy turned his head, confused about the question.


“In your pocket.”

The boy reached in his pocket and smiled lightly - as if it was a funny joke that Ewan knew nothing about. Luckily, the boy decided to take it out of his pocket and give an answer.

“Those are earphones,” the boy said. Ewan shook his head.

“Those are not earphones.”

“Yes, they are.” As the boy pulled them out of his pocket, Ewan didn’t know where to look. “You just put them in your ears, like so.”

On the white bent plastic sat a white plastic ball-like structure, which he put in his ears. From these ‘earpieces’ ran some white string that connected a little under the chin and then ran as one string to some plug. It was nothing like Ewan had ever seen - then again, he was kind of behind on the current technology and he barely knew what was going on with the youth these days. Maybe this was all the rage; weren’t headphones good enough for the youth anymore?

“Now I’ve seen everything,” Ewan said, shaking his head. “What’s the world going to?”

The boy didn’t answer, but he did have a knowing smile on his face. If anything, maybe Ewan’s comments may have made him briefly forget about the pain in his arm.

Not much later, they reached the hospital. An ambulance drove away, leaving a place for Ewan to drop the boy off. When he parked, he took a breath and looked at the boy.

“Here we are.”

The boy thanked him and stepped out of the car. Before he could walk away, Ewan called him.

“Kid,” he said. Luckily, the boy paid attention to him again. “Go call your mother and tell her to pick you up. You shouldn’t be walking home alone in these times.”

The boy nodded.

“I will.”

“Good luck,” Ewan said. He drove away from the hospital and hoped the boy was going to be fixed up. And that his mother was indeed coming to pick him up when he called her. No person should walk all alone in the middle of nowhere, especially in such horrible weather.

But the boy soon left his mind as he drove back to the station, the prospect of having to see the police chief again and sharing the news dominating his mind.

Ethan had first planned to walk around and look for grandma Becky while she was at work because Tim was probably going to be with her. And if he wasn’t, he may just see him around as well.

But he quickly discarded that thought. If Becky was working, she may feel an affinity for the young boy. She may be around him or check in on him regularly. And maybe, Tim was with her at the moment as well. So he changed his plan from running around like a headless chicken to simply asking a nurse where they were.

Luckily, quite a lot of nurses worked in the hospital, and Ethan already had one in sight who he could ask the question. Without hesitation, he walked to the nurse, who was writing something down on a clipboard. She’d just walked out of a room and wrote additional information on the paper.

“Excuse me,” Ethan asked the nurse, “does Becky Green work here?”

The nurse first looked up from her paper and frowned at the boy. She wasn’t sure what he was doing there, and the less she knew, the better. Yet, this also made her a little suspicious of him.

“Yes, she is.” The nurse tilted her head. “Why do you ask?”

“I was at her house and the key she gave me got jammed,” Ethan said. “I can’t get in.”

It was a story that could be the truth. He had received a key to the house from Becky, but this happened in 2018. If he tried to use this key on the front door of the same house in 1986, it definitely would not budge, as the next lock hadn’t been placed on the door yet.

“Becky didn’t mention she was having a visitor today,” the nurse said, letting her suspicion of the boy shine through. She didn’t trust the strange boy with the strange rain jacket, and she didn’t trust him to go to Becky.

But Ethan smiled at her; a charming smile, like some young men could. He leaned a little closer and spoke in a lower voice, to create the illusion of secrecy.

“It’s a bit of a surprise,” he told her. “And I thought, if I can’t surprise her at home, I’ll surprise her here.”

The nurse’s suspicion melted away, and she immediately became much nicer to the boy in front of her. When he smiled, the nurse felt that she wanted to smile as well. This boy, she concluded, couldn’t be any trouble, despite the strange choice of clothes.

“Well, she’s currently working,” the nurse said. “Maybe she’ll have five minutes to talk to you.”

That was amazing news.

“Where can I find her?”

The nurse pointed further down the hallway. “She’s outback, with a boy.”

Ethan nodded thankfully.

“Thank you.” He left the nurse to her work and continued down the hallway. The nurse smiled, happy that Becky wasn’t the recluse that she believed her colleague was.

Ethan walked out the back of the hospital. There were quite a few members of staff here; it had stopped raining in the meantime and some of the staff had decided to spend their breaks outside. As did Becky. Ethan immediately spotted her; he only recognized her from old pictures. He always thought she was a beautiful woman, but now he could witness that beauty in person. With the most radiant smile, she picked up an acorn and brought it to the boy she’d been enjoying the outdoors with.

Ethan’s heart stopped. That was Tim. He wasn’t smiling nor speaking, but he was happy to be in Becky’s presence. He was enjoying the time out of his room. His cast was hidden under a pair of pants, but Ethan saw it peeking through - the injury wasn't so bad he needed crutches, or he refused to use them.

Either way, it was strange seeing Tim Houston, barely thirteen years old, interact with a younger version of Ethan’s grandmother in 1986. This thought alone made Ethan’s brain hurt as the reality of the entire journey started to set in: this was the past, and Tim was right there.

Ethan hid behind a car and watched them. He was certain they wouldn’t be able to see him, but he could still watch them. Unable to look away, Ethan only stared at these two having fun collecting nuts and other things from the staff parking lot.

“The world is a strange place,” a voice behind him said. “that it brings these two together when they needed one another the most.”

Ethan turned his head and couldn’t believe what he was seeing. It was the Stranger from the graveyard, with the suitcase, looking at Ethan and Becky for a while before his calm gaze shifted to Ethan, who had not been expecting him to show up in this different time period.

“Y-You’re—” Ethan stammered.

The Stranger nodded. “I am here.”

That’s it. This couldn’t be real. Ethan had suppressed thoughts of him going crazy; who goes to the past successfully? That’s just a fantasy. And finding a kid who went missing in the past? That’s not possible; And now this guy showed up here, too, and made Ethan doubt himself and his sanity. The caves did not provide some sort of portal that went through space and time in that itty-bitty crawlspace - no, he was probably lying there with a concussion, making all of this shit up because that’s where his mental state was right now.

“Am I going crazy?” he asked the Stranger. “Or are you a hallucination?”

The Stranger shook his head, putting down the suitcase.

“You’re not hallucinating,” he said, “nor are you going insane. Your assumptions about the caves are partially right.” The Stranger shifted his gaze back to the nurse and the boy. “Tim Houston is here, with Becky. And he is indeed your father.”

Ethan had suspected it. The suicide letter confirmed it. It was hard to wrap his head around and hearing someone else say it made it even more real. More than it should be. And with this confirmation came a whole lot of implications that Ethan hadn’t even thought about yet, which now seeped into his mind.

Ethan shook his head. “That’s impossible. That would make Lex my—”

“Your aunt, yes,” the Stranger said. His calmness was a curse. How could you be so calm while you informed a teenager the girl he is in love with is actually his aunt? That’s all kinds of fucked up.

“But that’s insane!” Ethan said, slowly losing his mind and temper. It was a miracle none of the staff had spotted them yet. “That’s not right! All of this, whatever the fuck is going on here, whatever the fuck you pulled me in, is insane.”

Ethan’s eye fell on the suitcase. He saw a name on top, in plain sight. Paul Matthews. Now Ethan had a name to attach to his insanity and this mess.

“It’s insane, Paul,” Ethan said. “If that even is your real name!”

He did not trust the Stranger. He did not trust the Stranger to be sane, to be able to do normal things. Maybe he stole the suitcase. Maybe he killed the guy who owned the suitcase. Either way, the Stranger did not look like a Paul to Ethan - then again, not many people looked like a Paul. Yet, it was the one name he had, and it was better than calling him ‘the stranger’ in his head.

Ethan was done. He was done with this. Whether this was all in his head or not, he knew what he needed to do. He was going to do what he came here for. It was time to bring Tim back home, where he belonged, to his family.

The calmness on Paul’s face shifted in worry.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Paul said. “Don’t.”

Fuck you, Ethan thought.

“Tim needs to go home.”

“No,” Paul said as if his word was the final authority. “He only travels once. He stays here, meets your mother, and marries her. Then they have you. Without his presence in this time, you will not exist.”

His tone grew more and more worried with every word. Ethan hadn’t thought of that part yet, but it didn’t matter. Tim did not belong in 1986. He should not be here.

“It’s only right to bring him back,” Ethan argued, but Paul did not agree with him.

“It would be the most stupid thing you will ever do in your life,” Paul said in a serious tone. “What’s more important: his life in 2019 or your entire life? Because you will cease to exist if you decide to bring him back to a home he shouldn’t return to.”

Ethan shook his head. Why was this guy so invested in Ethan’s life?

“You’re sick,” Ethan spat in his face. This did not in any way feel right. But somehow, deep in his mind, something agreed with Paul. If Tim returned home, if he really were to be Ethan’s father, Ethan wouldn’t exist, and then what would happen to the world? What was non-life even like? He couldn’t tell.

“I’m merely an observer,” Paul said. He was calm again, though still a little aggravated with Ethan’s behavior. “Every decision for something is also a decision against something else. Try to keep that in mind.” Paul looked at the boy. “Leave him here. Let him fall in love with your mother, let him have some sort of life. Trust me; your role in this is bigger than you can fathom.”

Paul then glanced at Ethan one more time before he picked up his suitcase and walked away, without saying another word. Something that Ethan somehow didn’t want.

“Wait, no, don’t you walk away, you—” Ethan groaned; the man knew more than Ethan at the moment, and he wished he could have only a smidge of that man’s knowledge. He didn’t like Paul or what he represented and though he hated what Paul said, Ethan knew he had a point.

He made Ethan doubt. That was all Ethan could think about; was it good to bring Tim home after all? Or should he leave the boy here?