After leaving Joanna to be imprisoned by mercenaries, I sat on my EvilAway Airplane and stared out the window. Normally, I would admire my chiseled jawline and piercing eyes in the reflection, but at the moment I was overcome by loss and self-hatred.
Out the window, I could see that we were passing the base where Regina and her cohort of malicious destruction had opened the deepest tear in reality at Well-Varied Tiaras. Right about now, Boston College would be subsumed by the Mursday tear and the destruction would spread. And right here in Nova Scotia, reality would fold in on itself and I would be left floating in the spectral dimension, having barely escaped (if what they had promised me was true).
Then a large suction cup slapped down against my window, causing some alarm within my bowels. The suction cup disappeared, and I saw a burly arm reach up above my window, then another, and then a face in between them, staring right at me. There was a man, wind blowing his hair wildly, a bitchin’ pair of aviators on his face, and a corncob pipe in his mouth.
Removing one suction-cupped hand, he dipped his finger into the burning ash in the pipe and smeared a message onto the window: “Let me in.”
I recognized him. Retrograde, the rogue director from BC. I paused, then breathed on the window and wrote a message into the condensation.
“I would, but we’re at a very high altitude and I fear the pressure would cause me to fly out of the emergency exit, resulting in death. Frankly, I’m astonished that you haven’t flown off of the plane by now. Those must be some truly X-tra X-tra strength suction cups you have. You should tell me where you bought them. I’m always in the market for good suction cups. And also, by the by, if I were to let you in, I would most likely be punished by the guards patrolling the airplane as we speak. They are armed and would have few qualms shooting us both.”
He read this message in the window and then wrote one back: “Come on, man.”
Normally, I would have pulled the sliding plastic cover over the window and been done with it, but I was still overwhelmed with sadness, and felt the strange urge to not be a smarmy anus of a human being.
I stood up and walked to the back of the plane. A mercenary stopped me as I reached the emergency exit.
“Where are you going?” he said.
“URINATION,” I said, totally keeping my cool in the tense situation.
He nodded and walked past me. At which point, overcome with exultation at my successful attempt to bamboozle the guard, I screamed, “I’M ACTUALLY NOT GOING TO URINATE, GOOD SIR. I’M GOING TO OPEN THE EMERGENCY EXIT. HA HA HA.”
And I flung open the emergency exit, but not before securing a strong grip around the nearest seat with my notoriously muscular forearms. Wind whipped through the cabin, the force of the suction sending mercenaries flying out into the night alongside copies of EvilAir Magazine. Retrograde managed to suction cup his way over, get into the plane, and shut the door behind him.
I stepped forward.
“Retrograde,” I said. “My timeline in this adventure has been running parallel to yours. It is good to finally meet you.”
“Did you pee yourself?” he said.
“What’s the next step?” I said. “What heroics shall we perform?”
Retrograde looked out the window and took a long pull on his pipe.
“We’re going to save the world.”
From what I’ve been told, while I was engaged in heroic battle in the air, Joanna was sitting in the homegoods warehouse discussing the finer points of nautical transportation with a guard.
“The finer points of nautical transportation,” Joanna said. “Let us discuss them.”
But it was a ruse. The guard stepped into her cell, intrigued by the promise of titillating discussion, and she chopped his neck in a fashion commonly referred to as karate. He crumpled to the floor and she slipped out of the warehouse and off into the night.
It just so happened that as Joanna ran out of the front doors of the abysmally guarded prisoner facility, one Regina and one Athena were both leaving a different building and happened to be walking toward the facility to pick up a small van to drive her to her escape pod.
Joanna ducked behind a conveniently placed crate of papayas and listened to their discussion.
“Did you kill those annoying BC kids?” Athena said. “God, I hate teaching there.”
“No,” Regina said. “I’m just going to let the tear in reality, located only a few short miles away in the middle of Cinematic Finish Field, suck them in.”
“Solid plan. Let’s get out of here.”
“Yes, let us indeed get out of here. Because even if someone manages to stop our evil plan, we will still have escaped and be lurking in the wings ready to strike again in the future. You can get away from us for a while, but we will always be somewhere out there, constantly haunting the back of your mind and reminding you of the futility of your every waking moment.”
“Much like death.”
“Yes, exactly like death.”
“We are a metaphor for death.”
“Isn’t that fun?”
And with that they both entered a large van, drove away, and were never seen again.
Joanna stepped out from behind the crate of papaya and took off running for Well-Varied Tiaras.
“I just feel like I put myself out there, and like, she just didn’t even care,” George said as Darren held him.
“Bro, look at me,” Darren said. “Like, you’re going to be fine. You’re going to get over her, and like, you’ll be even better. She doesn’t deserve you.”
“But my heart, Darren. It hurts so bad.”
“I know, man. I know.”
“I just didn’t want to kiss him,” Bridget said from across the room, throwing her hands up in exhaustion.
“I thought we had something real,” George wailed.
Bridget turned away, shaking her head.
“And everything isn’t going to be fine,” Bridget yelled back at them. “The world’s going to end.”
“Just like you ended our love,” George hollered.
At which point, the front door burst open. Joanna Oxford came sprinting in, slid to a halt in the center of the room, looked at each of the students dramatically and took a deep breath.
“Follow me, kids,” she said.
“Joanna just sent me a text with a little pin drop thing where the tear in reality is,” I said. “I didn’t know you could do that on your phone.”
“That a new iPhone?” Retrograde said.
“Yeah, I just got it.”
“It really is. Have you ever tried adding effects to messages?”
“No, how’s that work?”
“This is so cool. Let me show you.”
But the conversation had to be postponed, as I showed Retrograde where the tear in reality was and he got all stoic again. He ran into the back and then came back with two parachutes. He shoved one at me and took the other.
Before I could protest, he strapped the parachute around my back and kicked me out the emergency exit.
“And btw, you’re the worst,” Joanna typed. “But if you can plug up the tear, please do, because otherwise we all die. I’m going to try to get some kids as far away as possible, so that my last moments aren’t meaningless.”
Joanna marshalled the four school chums outside and they took off romping through the fens and spinneys of Nova Scotia, subtly referencing Frasier as they went.
I landed gracefully on my posterior in the middle of a field.
Retrograde landed seconds later, ran over, and took my phone.
“Half a mile east,” he said. “Let’s go.”
We took off running, just as Joanna and her compatriots were a few miles in the other direction. Soon, we had reached Cinematic Finish Field, where an unnatural blue glow emanated from the middle of an otherwise abandoned field.
“No guards?” I said.
“They must have realized what’s happening here,” Retrograde said, before sprinting straight for the heart of the tear.
I ran after him.
“Wait,” I screamed. “There’s nothing we can do.”
“Yes there is,” he said. “I can pull it shut.”
“What? That makes very little sense.”
“It’s time for the sacrifice.”
“Tell Amanda I love her.”
“You have a love interest? I always thought you were the strong, silent guy with a shady past, like some sort of tragedy or something.”
But it was too late. He ran straight for the glow. I could see the pit in the ground, but went no closer. The sun was setting in the distance, for dramatic effect, as Retrograde ran straight for the pit and jumped in.
Everything was silent for a second.
Then a loud, strained yell.
“Retrograde,” I said.
The yell got louder, and then suddenly I heard it different. He wasn’t yelling. He was laughing.
“I got it,” he screamed.
And the light disappeared.
My heart was pounding. I checked the time. The world should be ending soon.
A rumble shook the ground. Suddenly bright light filled the sky and a crack ripped through earth. I flew into the air, tumbling for miles through the sky, lifted on an unnatural wave. Somewhere below the earth, Retrograde had shut the tear, and now the seismic distress was ripping through the earth. But at least it wasn’t ripping through reality.
Miles away Joanna fell to the ground as the earth shook. She grabbed the students and huddled together.
The shaking stopped minutes later.
And the world still stood.
“Everyone break into groups and just quickly discuss whether you think globalization is an effective means of promoting human rights norms,” the professor said.
Bridget let out a long and slow breath through her nostrils. She lowered her head to the table.
“Group discussion,” George said. “Cool, cool. I’m liking this class already.”
“So am I, man,” Darren said. “It’s like, not English, but still like, learning.”
“You are so right.”
“God, we click on so many levels.”
Bridget looked to her left at George and her right at Darren. Six months ago, she had made it back from Nova Scotia bruised but alive, had spent the summer recovering from her ordeal, had faced the biggest spiritual crisis of her entire life, questioned everything she had ever believed and her entire path in life, pushed through a hopelessness so deep she never thought she would see the end of it, and somehow she ended up back in Gasson Hall with these two.
“So, human rights,” Darren said. “Like, so as humans, like, we have, like, rights.”
“For sure,” George said. “Exactly. Like, if we hadn’t saved the world, no one would have those rights.”
“You should bring that up. Raise your hand, dude. She’ll be so impressed about the world-saving.”
Bridget sat back in her chair and crossed her arms. For a few seconds, which she would later deny ever occurred, she found herself smiling.
In my tank top and boxer shorts, I stumbled through the farmhouse and over to the front door.
“Bill, I already told you that squirrel was on my property, and I’m entitled to do with it what I will,” I yelled.
But when I opened the door, I saw a face I hadn’t seen in half a year.
“Tim,” Joanna said. “Hello.”
“Hi,” I said.
We stared at each other for a few seconds.
“I heard you saved those kids’ lives,” I said.
“The building they were in collapsed during the quake,” she said. “So I guess I did.”
“And you were there when Retrograde saved us all?”
“ … why are you here?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Is it to forgive me?”
“Okay. You want a croissant?”
“ … I’ll take a croissant.”
So we ate croissants.
Afterward, she left, stole my car from the driveway, and I haven’t seen her since. I suppose I should still be angry but I’m not. I’ve read her chapters of our tale, and it’s almost as though she’s communicating with me. Maybe someday, we’ll meet up again and report more stories, have more adventures, but for now it’s just me and my farmhouse.
It gets lonely out here at night, after days on days of speaking to no one, of complete isolation, but it’s what has to happen after everything I’ve done. Someday, I’ll be redeemed for betraying the only person who cared about me. I know that now. And until then, I think it’s time to reflect on the Mursday happenings, to look up at the sky and know the fragility of the universe in these late days of human existence.
Also, to eat muffins. Because they are what keep a sad sack like Rutherford Shireton IV going these days.
Featured Image by Zoe Fanning / Heights Editor