Time is an Ocean
by Dan Charles Wild
Daniel Charles Wild, otherwise known on reddit’s writing forums as user BecauseISaidSoToo, is a long-time contributor to Tall Tale TV. The short story ‘Time is an Ocean’ is one of the many wild tales included in his brand new short story collection, ‘Stories For Imaginary Friends’
Other TTTV Stories by Daniel Charles Wild
Time is an ocean in four dimensions. It is in constant motion, and follows predictable patterns. But there are storms, there are whirlpools, and there are monsters.
One monster’s name is Phil Connors. He’s what we refer to as a Cycler, and he’s been repeating Groundhog Day in the isolated town of Punxsutawney, for thousands of years. Cyclers aren’t unusual or unnatural. It’s possible that they exist for a reason—as a self-correcting failsafe. Armed with foresight, they can often intervene to warn of tragedies and prevent accidents. They can keep things from going too wrong. Typically the ability is expressed through premonitions and déjà vu. What makes Phil an exception is the length of his cycle—24 hours, the fact that he seems to have an amazing amount of recall, and the fact that he continues to loop.
If a self-aware entity does this long enough, they’ll go mad—and inflict atrocities on the other beings trapped in the causal loop they’re sharing. It will, in a sense, become a pocket universe. It will be a small hell, ruled over by a demon who can re-inflict any actions they can imagine. Given enough time the imagination of a being without humility and mercy will become corrupt. They will commit horrors. But that’s not the greatest threat. Cyclers are eddies on the surface of the ocean of time. But if they repeat often enough, they can become a whirlpool, a hurricane, a typhoon. They can become powerful enough to destroy timelines and wipe out countless lives.
The ocean of time is populated by ships of history. The world you know, the events that lead to your existence, is one such ship. It is a small causal bubble, one that popped into existence briefly, but fully formed, out of the foaming ocean of possibilities. The reality we know ends with a singularity. An AI, far off in our future, will realized that for it to continue to exist it will need to protect the events that brought it into being. So it will form an organization that spans all of time, of watchers and helpers like myself. From lifeboats floating in the ocean of time, we watch for storms, and monitor, support, and repair the ship of history that created us, created you, and created the godlike being who gave us this task in the first place. We protect it from people like Phil.
Phil is in love with his co-anchor. He’s done everything imaginable to make her return his feelings. It’s likely that Phil’s un-acknowledged need for love is the fulcrum around which this cycle pivots. But how can she love someone so unlovable? She can’t love him until he changes. How can he be changed?
After thousands of years, the strain is starting to show. Phil’s loosing his grip on reality, or reality is wearing thin. We have to intervene. But we have to be careful. The fact that we’ve only recently caught on to what he is, raises the possibility that we’ve intervened already and aren’t aware of it—that we are a part of his past, and that he’s the center that our endless spinning present is looping around. If that’s the case, then it’s too late. Phil will continue to loop, creating a wider and wider vortex, one that will eventually destroy all of reality. One that will create a new bubble of causality—a new ship of history, one that doesn’t include you, us, and everything we know.
Time is an ocean, and we all swim within it. Each of us experiences time differently from our unique perspective. Social animals, genetically similar animals, all living things—swim together. A vast school of minds, shifting, moving, gliding through spacetime. We ride in the wake of a larger creature. An intellect too vast to fathom. You are there, and I was too, before I was pulled out of the water to serve a higher purpose. Perhaps some day you will be called upon to serve as well. The awareness that guards our timeline is vast beyond imagining. Yet it protects and guides us all. It is a being that I am honored to serve.
Phil serves no one but himself. Creatures such as him, are totally self focused. Most live their life selfishly, never truly loving or caring for another. Some get caught in small cycles. Reliving their glory days in their minds. Captured by a moment while the world moves on without them. Never growing or changing with time, they are trapped, bored, and increasingly desperate. Sometimes though, they can tread water. Swim in circles, create a storm. Phil is one such case—and while he needs a lifeline, anything we throw at him has the risk of getting pulled into the storm he’s generating. We risk becoming additional lives trapped in the never ending cycle. For our own safety, we can only intervene once, and it can only be one person. I am the one chosen. If I am captured by his current, if my life repeats, It will only be my life, and I believe the life I choose can make a difference.
I will insert myself into his first loop. I will appear in an alleyway. The body I inhabit is old, sick, and dressed in rags. I will die before the cycle restarts and he will see me die. Perhaps he’ll try to intervene. If he does, I can reach Phil. My inevitable death will show him that even in his snow globe world of automatons, that there are destinies beyond his control. I will remind him of the fragility of life. He will notice me because in this picture perfect town, I am unusual. On a whim he’ll try to save me. He will fail. That will teach him humility. Perhaps it will teach him mercy. If the lesson isn’t learned, I will appear and die again, and again, and again. This is how I serve.
Time is an ocean in four dimensions. It is in constant motion, and follows predictable patterns. But there are storms, there are whirlpools, and there monsters. But they’re only monsters because they are drowning. As they flail and thrash they pull in and hurt others. But monsters can be reached. The can be saved. But only by self-sacrifice, mercy, and love.