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“Time is an illusion.” – Vestor, the Time Bender.
THE DARKNESS OF the gray and somber storm clouds that dimmed the midafternoon sky eclipsed the sun, creating the look of early nightfall. A dry, hot wind blew, picking up odd bits of trash mixed with discarded paper, gently raising them into tiny tornadoes. On the horizon, broken rooftops of dilapidated buildings created a jagged and peaked line stating most emphatically that the heavens were with but not part of this earth. With a bird’s eye view, one could see movement on the road below that twisted and turned like uncoiled rope. From this view on high, a car traveled the path: an antiquated navy-blue Ford Escort. It rattled along the barren streets in a forgotten part of the city, long condemned to the emptiness and absence of ordinary human life.
The old man, who was the owner and passenger of the ramshackle vehicle, sat in the backseat, hoping sunshine would break through the dark grey sky. He closed his eyes, wanting nothing more than to feel the warm embrace of the loving sun wrap around his skin one final time before events came full circle.
While the Escort puttered along, leaving random puffs of black smoke in its wake, Vestor allowed himself the massive sigh of certainty that only a Time Bender could convey, “…Hmmm,”; the deep texture of his voice filled the car. He had seen and studied in great detail all the possible outcomes of this day. Did he “see,” or did he “create”? Sometimes, even Vestor did not know. The wrinkles on his weathered face stressed the great displeasure (or was it fear?) of knowing the end beforehand. There would be no sunshine during his final moments.
Vestor approached two-hundred and twenty-two years of age and carried himself well, considering his birth year was 1995. His geriatric body left him somewhat feeble at first glance; he maintained a young man’s ambulatory sensibility in conjunction with a keen intellect. Vestor’s extended lifespan was primarily due to the Founding Magic that ran through his blood. The aid of the Supernatural Magic, a power born of the Founding Magic, also had a role. Sacrifices through supernatural means had been granted in his honor along the way, immensely benefitting his current geriatric state. The endearing assistance of a valued friend also counted for much, and he was driven to his final destination by this loving companion. It also helped that the flesh encapsulating his soul wasn’t the body he was born with.
The operator of the sentimental vehicle was a woman whose graceful beauty radiated from below the surface of her human shell. The names associated with her were many, and her influence upon humanity spanned the ages. To Vestor, she would always be Valerie. He had nearly forgotten the unique perspective of being a young man. Still, when he looked upon Valerie’s agelessness, he vividly recalled their initial encounter lifetimes ago. The old man had no choice but to surrender to the uncontrollable feelings of youth as they erupted. He chuckled as he reverted to the bumbling kid intimidated by a strong, attractive woman. He had barely survived his job interview without sounding like a complete buffoon, and much to his surprise, she had hired him the following day. That was in the year 2012. He had only been seventeen at the time.
Sometimes, he envied her immortality and wondered how her life would have played out had they not met. She would never have regained her magical status as a goddess, and he would never have transformed into Vestor, the Time Bender. It was a possibility he knew existed but could never envision due to the nature of his abilities. How could he view a possible future if he were never to become a prophet of Chronos in the first place? Regardless, it was a strange notion that realities existed, never knowing him as a creature of magic.
With a casual posture, seated next to the old man in the back seat was another individual whose physical appearance betrayed his actual age. He was the corporeal manifestation of eternity; the title of Forever Man had been bestowed upon him in various prophetic circles. To Vestor, he would always be Matthew Gomez. Call me Matt, the Forever Man told Vestor when true natures were first revealed. It’s my name, the one I was given before I… well… I couldn’t care less about this Forever Man crap. My name is Matt.
Matt’s raven-colored hair and five-o’clock shadow portrayed a carefree vagabond. He, too, had an extended lifespan. In addition, he was indestructible and unable to die, no matter the circumstance. Immediate regeneration made him immune to any attack, weapon, poison, or drop from incredible heights. When he came of age in the early days and the implications of his new abilities were discovered, he had tried, in vain, to destroy himself. He thought he was going mad.
This gift of incredible durability was born of the Founding Magic, as were Vestor’s prophetic abilities. The Forever Man was eternity incarnate. Time Benders saw the infinite possibilities of every outcome and influenced the course of events. Some were even gifted with sight to Eternity’s Endgame: the end of everything.
Valerie was birthed by the dynamic forces of the Supernatural Magic, harkening back to a forgotten time when gods and goddesses were commonplace. She initially carried the name of Aglaia, living up to her role as one of the Three Graces with a devotion lost and replaced by the demands of a changing universe. Vestor marveled at how the times changed her and the nature of her powerful abilities from divine mythic origins. Like many of those belonging to the ancient pantheons scattered about the world, she had adapted and allowed her magic to mold to her needs.
“We’re almost at the country club - or what’s left.” Valerie broke the silence with her soft contralto voice, a bit loud so that she could be heard over the rambling of the Ford Escort, which had usurped most of the journey. She knew all too well that they were transporting Vestor to his death. “You’re absolutely certain that this is the only way it can happen?”
Vestor cast a casual grin and nodded to her reflection in the rearview mirror. He coughed slightly before speaking and felt the full weight of his age. “It’s the only way, Valerie. The nexus points demand that I am here. No other alternative is available. Besides, I have lived for two hundred and twenty-two years. I’m well past my expiration date. It’s time to be rid of me.”
Matt chuckled, and Valerie glared at him through the rearview mirror. She was not amused he had found humor in Vestor’s casual dismissal of death.
Matt and Valerie had been immortal lovers for the last century of Vestor’s life, and the old man saw the possibilities of this union unfold like a river branching out into endless streams. He kept his revelations secret, not wanting to spoil the sweet feeling of surprise and discovery that he hadn’t experienced for far too long. If they only knew, the thought made him smile. The old man would allow them to decide their own fate.
Matt took a moment to convey the depth of his emotions through a caring smile. “It’ll be strange carrying on without you. I’ll have to make my own choices now. There’ll be no more giving me a heads up in your roundabout kind of way.”
“You know just as well as I that you never really listened to me anyway.” Vestor reminded.
A boisterous laugh emerged from Matt as he nodded in agreement. Vestor joined Matt with an aged, raspy laughter of his own. The car rattled through the desolate streets, and he regarded his protégé with the fondest of smiles.
“We’ve arrived.” Valerie felt the vehicle jostle over the uneven road as she drove the car into the parking lot of the former Brightwood Country Club. The establishment had been absent maintenance for over a century, and the shell of the former glory it once held was anything but pleasing.
The Escort parked with lazy indifference in a random spot on the black pavement of the abandoned lot. The engine shut down with a great banging rattle as Valerie turned the key to the off position. That old engine continued to make a clanking noise before thoroughly relaxing to the point of absolute stillness. They shared an uneasy silence after the comforting putter of the engine vanished. All were aware that it was almost time for Vestor to die.
Matt reached out and held Vestor’s hand, unable to verbalize the emotions that grew taxing. With wise compassion, Vestor squeezed Matt’s hand in return. The message was clear. Vestor understood. With slight hesitation, Matt released his grip, opened the door, and exited the car.
Valerie turned her head to face Vestor from the driver’s seat. She studied the old man just as he was, and for a brief second, their experiences together danced at the forefront of her mind. She did her best to hide the sorrow brewing within her deep blue eyes and even managed the semblance of a smile.
“Are you going to be okay, Valerie?” The old man asked.
“Yes and no, but you already know that. You’ve accomplished much with your time. But I must say, Jared, I’ve watched you grow into quite an impressive man. You’ll surely be remembered among your kind until the end of time.” She spoke with pride.
Vestor chuckled. “You flatter me, and no one has spoken that name to me in so long. Jared… It feels even stranger to hear it with my own voice.”
“It seems appropriate to call you by that name, being back here. It was your first true name.” An image of Vestor as a youth came to Valerie. He was so young and full of potential.
Vestor hesitated before continuing to speak. “Our bond is still strong, and I’ve never felt any different. On all my journeys, I could still feel you with me. I could always feel where you were and always knew I could find my way to you because of that bond.”
A tear trickled from Valerie’s eye, forming a small river of sorrow along her cheek. “I know. Your presence was always there for me as well. I’m going to miss it dearly. An excellent and true part of me will be gone once you….”
“…die.” Vestor finished the sentence knowing she couldn’t bring herself to speak the word.
She nodded while wiping away the tear. “Yes. I guess we better get on with it. I… I just…”
“It’s okay, Valerie. I love you too.” He smiled and somehow seemed as young as when they first met.
The door on Vestor’s side of the Escort opened. Matt reached his hand out for support, and Vestor took hold of it, exiting with cautious steps. He stood next to the navy-blue clunker as Matt closed the car door and smirked at the remains of what was once the Brightwood Country Club. The vegetation had run wild, creating a verdant shell upon the concrete landscape. The structural integrity of the building was in poor condition, with sections caved and collapsed. The parking lot surrounding them was covered with potholes and littered with abandoned vehicles.
Valerie stepped out of the driver’s seat, closed the door, and walked over to where the two men stood. “Shall we move closer?”
“This spot is as good as any. The two of you should ready yourselves. They’ll be here soon. It’s their last attempt to stop me. It always happens this way. Mere moments ago, it was revealed to Renee and Develin that this is how I’m reborn in the past.” Vestor closed his eyes and concentrated his magic. “Goodbye, old friends. I love you both dearly.”
Valerie and Matt hardened their gazes and steeled their emotions before taking a position on either side of Vestor. The Time Bender’s words were accurate, as always. Valerie sensed a magical distortion in the space nearby, ascertaining that the former Fury turned sorceress would appear as predicted. The sensation of the magic behind the portal had the signature of their common enemy.
“I can feel her, Matt,” Valerie warned.
“Let her come. We’re ready.” Matt replied, confident.
Valerie focused on her magic. “We hold the shield. They mustn’t break the barrier.”
“I’ll make sure of it.” The magic Matt had acquired over the years was partly due to Valerie’s training though he was nowhere near as strong as she.
A ripple in the air on the other side of the parking lot began to manifest, causing that particular space to wave like the surface of a pond. The ripple transformed into a tear giving a glimpse of a darkly lit chamber. Stepping through the portal from that chamber was a blonde woman whose features were average compared to Valerie’s. Long ago, she had been born as a Fury sharing the same pantheon as Valerie. Vestor first encountered her at this very country club when she carried the guise of a typical member. During that period and since he has known her as Renee Dempsy.
Another figure in a classic red suit emerged from the tear, stepping out with a confident swagger while surveying the crumbling landscape. He was an old vile creature, not even human in origin. For most of Vestor’s existence, the demon wizard Develin had worked diligently with the former Fury. They had combined their skills and resources in numerous attempts to exterminate or control the Time Bender.
Vestor sensed the tear in space his enemies had constructed, ignoring the magic. Instead, he concentrated his energy on the nexus point that began to form and was confident that his loyal friends would hold Renee and Develin at bay long enough to complete his final act. Then, with even greater confidence, he reached out with his will through the nexus point, extending his essence to the point in space and time where his powers were first manifest. It was the exact moment when Jared transformed into the Time Bender known as Vestor.
Renee’s angry dark blue eyes locked with Valerie’s as she approached the trio. Her long black coat flowed in unison with her dark blonde hair as the wind wrapped around her body. “Let me kill him. He was never worth your protection in the first place. All things end even for prophets like the one you shield.”
Renee’s defenses shot up as an invisible wave of pure energy rippled through the air from Matt. The kinetic energy of the magical force was diverted to either side by Renee’s instinctive shielding. Stray energy waves struck an abandoned car and black pavement, causing debris to burst from the ground and for the vehicle to ignite into violent flames.
“You’re too late, Renee.” Valerie focused more strength into the shield around Vestor as Develin shot a burst of demon flames from the palm of his hand. The fire curved in blue hues around the invisible barrier erected inches away from the old man. Vestor remained standing in concentration with his back to the group.
Additional flames shot forth from Develin, this time directed at Valerie. Matt stepped before his lover and, in an instant, became engulfed in bright blue flames. He yelled in agony as his clothing incinerated within milliseconds. His flesh burned off with crispy chunks showing hints of white bone beneath what had melted. Valerie held steady with her shielding though it pained her to witness the physical torment. She focused her strength and expanded the shielding to encompass her and Matt.
Seconds after the apparent death, Matt’s body began to regenerate. The charred flesh expanded to proper proportion covering the bare bones, and peeled away like the skin of a snake, revealing the smooth texture of his ordinarily tan skin. His face abruptly became animated as the raven-colored hair grew upon his head. He winked at Valerie, who carried a disapproving glare. As a result of the instantaneous combustion, Matt’s clothing was entirely consumed by the flames, and he had no choice but to stand by Valerie’s side with all the confidence that a naked man could muster.
“That was unnecessary!” Valerie bellowed.
Matt took in a deep breath with his newly formed lungs. “If those flames hit you, you would have lost your focus on the protective barrier around Vestor, or you would have maintained the shield while sacrificing your life. I couldn’t have allowed that. The demon wizard’s magic is older than you, and those flames would have been deadly.”
“Thank you…” Those two words were never easy for Valerie to speak.
Matt noted his nakedness as he stood in defense. “I guess I should have brought a change of clothing. It would have been a nice gesture on your part to let me know about this particular incident, Vestor! I know you saw it coming!” Matt stood his ground unashamed. It hadn’t been the first time he regenerated without clothing, and even though Vestor had his back turned, Matt was confident the old man carried a childish grin.
Renee Dempsy bombarded the protective barrier with slight bursts of energy, prodding for a weak point. She refused to admit defeat. The Time Bender could not be allowed to complete his final act, and her anger at the existence of this prophet grew insatiable with each passing second.
Matt focused his magic on strengthening the barrier’s weak points before the former Fury could break them. Combined with Valerie’s magic, it was more than enough. From the corner of his eye, he witnessed the desperation on Renee’s face and responded with a confident smile. After nearly two centuries of constant bombardment, their enemies ultimately failed.
Develin relaxed his posture and regarded the trio as respected rivals rather than mere enemies. “We’re more than capable of breaking their shielding, but it doesn’t matter at this point. Vestor will have completed his final act by the time we breach. It’s over.” The demon wizard knew how much this failure would cost, but then again, he was no stranger to the darkest aspects of existence.
“No!” Renee used all her might, focusing and discharging a massive burst of deadly energy. Yet, the magical barrier remained secure. It held steady deflecting the waves of violent force in either direction; this caused more debris to explode from the energy’s impact on the pavement.
“Our pact is finished, Renee. I owe you nothing since the end goal wasn’t met. I thought we had a real chance of taming him; I thought we could even kill him. We’ve both had our share of experience with Time Benders, but this little shit was never like the others.” Develin turned from the confrontation and began walking away, giving the human impression that he would enter one of the abandoned cars and drive off.
“You would give up on this now?!” The anger darkened her skin a few shades, and she lashed out, attempting to paralyze the demon wizard by restricting his bodily movements.
“Your emotions have always clouded your judgment even after centuries of being alive long enough to temper them.” Develin continued to walk away, unaffected by her magic. “I’m a demon, remember? So you need to do far better if you’re going to try and break me with paralytic spells.”
Renee bellowed at Develin. “All those years spent trying to manipulate and break him, and this is how it ends?! He gets to be reborn and do it all over again!”
Develin shrugged. “It was fun while it lasted. The problem is Vestor just always saw it coming.”
Vestor smiled as he overheard the comment made by his adversary. He recalled speaking similar words to Develin when the demon wizard had almost successfully ended his life.
Renee scowled at Develin, cursing the day fate saw fit to bring them on the same path. Her essence raged with the raw energy of extreme hatred as she witnessed the demon wizard transform into a black mist until nothing was left.
“It’s over, Renee! You’ve failed! Admit defeat and leave!” Matt’s voice echoed throughout the parking lot.
“You’re both fools! You always have been! I can’t go back to him. Not like this….” Fear shot through Renee’s entire body, replacing every dominant shred of anger. “He’ll torture me without end. This was my mission. This was my only purpose. He made sure of that. I can’t simply go away. He will create for me an existence of pure agony.”
“It was your choice to serve him in the first place.” Valerie’s voice was without sympathy.
“And what I do now is also my choice. I’d rather remember you as we used to be here at the end, so I use the name you were given so long ago. Goodbye, Aglaia.” Renee closed her eyes, focusing the energy of her being within itself. She self-imposed all the magic that ran through her blood, and a faint glow began to take over her skin.
Alecto, no! What are you doing?! Valerie cried the thought, shocked by Renee’s choice. Alecto had been Renee’s first true name as she was born as one of the Furies from the mythical age. Her current form betrayed the idea of her inability to be looked upon. Still, during those ancient times, Renee Dempsy was the beast with snakes for hair and blood-dripping eyes.
“What the hell is she doing now?” Matt studied Renee’s body, never having witnessed a god commit suicide. He caught glimpses of her various forms and, for a second, saw her as one of the actual Furies of old. The glow of magic grew in intensity with each passing second.
“She’s killing herself, but it’s more than that. She’s erasing every trace of her energy and every form she’s ever taken. The pain must be unbearable.” A pang of sorrow rushed through Valerie’s chest. No creature should suffer the horrific fate of erasing oneself from existence, but that was precisely the act Renee was undertaking. The severity of who she was under the employ of struck Valerie with great force. Is he indeed so powerful that Renee would wish nonexistence over punishment?
Matt averted his gaze as the glow became too bright for his eyes to withstand. An agonizing cry of intense pain was followed by a burst of illuminating energy that launched vibrant waves rippling in all directions. With trepidation, Matt let go of his hold on the barrier at the same time as Valerie. They stared at each other, startled by Renee’s suicide, and quickly remembered why they were at their current location. The two observed Vestor standing near them, and the old man remained wholly focused on the task.
“Dying? That’s the easy part. It’s coming back to life that really hurts. Birth equals pain. It’s the price of being what I am.” – The Forever Man (Matthew Gomez, physical incarnation of eternity)
“IT’S HERE. I can feel the nexus points merging.” Vestor spoke softly, letting the wind carry his words. He could perceive all the timelines merging into the same moment for the tiniest fraction of measurement allowed; all realities froze during that briefest instant.
He opened his eyes, studying Matt and Valerie. They stood nearby unmoving as if they were mannequins on display, and the sharpness of his naked masculine body contrasted the beauty of her elegantly clothed figure. The clouds in the sky were entirely still as if brushed into place by a brilliant artist, along with the motionless birds trapped in midair. Even the more powerful gusts of wind froze, creating patterns no mortal human eye would ever appreciate.
Vestor took a few steps forward and sat down on his knees like a Zen master in meditation. Once positioned to the point of comfort, he reached out with all his energy and felt his younger version back in time where these two nexus points connected in the fabric of space-time. His life was not a string of linear events like most creatures in the universe. Instead, he was a circle that expanded and contracted depending upon choice. That was the existence of Time Benders.
In the parlance of physics, Vestor was the living reality of a Closed Timelike Curve (CTC), able to travel at will through infinite timelines. He was everywhere at once, and he was only in one place. He had tried explaining the process to Matt and Valerie, but the two hated mathematics and chose to stick to magic incantations and the like… not Vestor. He had been comfortable with both.
Vestor was almost within the mind of his younger incarnation. He called out mentally to the young man who would soon begin an incredible and unexpected life.
“There was a vision; it was blinding and brilliant in ways that made mortal men tremble. It was an idea celebrated with newness while firmly anchored to the old ways. This vision – this idea, had a name: Vestor.” – Former Grace Aglaia (History of a Time Bender by Omoikane – Japanese God of wisdom and intelligence. Quotes collected during Aglaia’s time on Earth as Valerie).
FOR MATT AND Valerie, a fraction of a second had passed. One moment, Vestor was standing near them, explaining that he could feel the nexus points merging, and the next, he was lying on the old black pavement of the country club parking lot. A peaceful smile adorned his wrinkled old face. The two lovers held hands and took note of how their old friend was more than content in death. The mere sight of the smile helped ease the pain of loss that ran through their souls.
“We should get out of here. I know this side of town has been abandoned for a while, but we can never be too careful. After all, the only thing we know for sure that stopped living here was the humans. Just about anything else could be lurking in the shadows.” Matt lovingly squeezed Valerie’s hand.
“What of the body?” Her eyes stayed true to Vestor’s smile. “We can’t just leave him here like a random victim. His life was spent defending the balance of this world. He deserves more than this.”
“We come from nothingness, and to the nothingness, we shall return.” Matt let go of Valerie’s hand, extending his senses with the Founding Magic and directed energy at Vestor’s body. He manipulated the underlying atomic structure touching each atom until they separated and reformed into the surrounding air. Eventually, no trace of Vestor’s aged body was left behind. Having regenerated countless times gave Matt a unique understanding of the basic structure of everything.
“I supposed you could have kept his clothing before you did that.” She grinned while staring at Matt’s nakedness.
Matt responded with a sheepish grin, having forgotten that he was naked in the first place. “Yes, well… I suppose I should have thought of that.”
The trunk of the navy-blue Ford Escort popped open as if the vehicle had a life of its own. The car’s sudden movement startled Matt and Valerie, and they studied the trunk with defensive postures expecting a trap. The duo cautiously approached the vehicle with curious expressions and peered within the trunk to find a set of clothes neatly folded on the spare tire. Next to the clothing was a note written by Vestor.
In case you were wondering, I did have a good laugh about this particular scenario when I envisioned it. I took the liberty of having some clothing ready for your departure. You didn’t really think I would let you leave here as naked as the day you were born, did you? I placed a timed lock to open and release the trunk at the appropriate moment. No magic is needed for that one. And many thanks for disposing of my body like you did. It was a fitting end for a Time Bender.
Matt and Valerie laughed aloud as they read the note together.
“Now what do we do?” Valerie asked.
Matt looked over his naked body, gesturing. “First things first, I get dressed.”
Valerie smiled. “And then?”
Matt took in a breath of fresh air. He looked to the sky and noticed that the overcast clouds were beginning to allow rays of sunshine. “And then we live our immortal lives full of surprises like Vestor wanted.”
“Until the day of Eternity’s Endgame?” She asked, already knowing the answer.
“Yes. Until the day of Eternity’s Endgame. But that won’t be for a very long time.” Matt winked at her as he reached for the clothing in the trunk.
About the Creator
I'm a Puerto Rican storyteller/filmmaker who uses lies to tell the truth; this is the essence of what I love about good stories. Author of Casino City and Distinction of Realms! Scifi, fantasy, horror, and thriller are among my favorite!