Chapter Six (pgs 73-77)
Emma squinted. The light was brilliant, blinding. She stood up, lifting her gaze. It’s happening again. The sanctuary glowed. Congregants bowed their heads in prayer, others stared at the Reverend, mesmerized. There was a stillness present Emma had never felt before. Rhythmic breathing all around her, she could hear every heart.
Emma walked over to the pulpit. “Reverend Stone?” She tapped his shoulder and waved a hand in front of his face. No response. “Reverend Stone?” Emma called in a louder voice, still nothing. It was as if time stood still. Emma could feel his breath, see his chest rising. He was alive. Her brows furrowed. Why was she still aware? Awake? Emma paced nervously.
The doors swung open, slamming the walls on either side. “Emma!” a shrill little voice rose from the back of the chapel. Emma looked over her shoulder, walking away from the pulpit.
“Olive! Mystery!” She stared at her sisters. Mystery held the artifact in one hand. “Oh my god, you still have it! What happened?”
“To us?” Mystery was the first to speak. “Or them?” Mystery craned her neck to look at the frozen congregants.
“Both,” Emma said, noticing Mystery’s mole on her neck. Emma hadn’t noticed it before. It was the same as hers and on the same side. That was strange, Emma thought, letting the whole thing simmer in her head for a moment, then quickly brushed it off. They were sisters, after all. Her mother used to tell Emma her mole, was the rising sun. For it lay at an angle mid- way up her neck.
“We’re fine,” Mystery responded, without going into great detail. But they, they’re dormant, in a state of suspended animation.” She pointed at the people sitting in the pews and standing at the back of the chapel. “Their lives are rearranging.” Mystery’s hand tightened around the artifact.
“What do you mean?” Emma asked, unable to hide the fear in her voice. She thought of her mother. What if she disappeared again, was dead forever? Emma couldn’t bear losing her again.
“We altered time,” Mystery said.
“Altered time?” Emma’s face paled.
“It’s not bad.” Olive cried out. “Mother’s back.”
“We don’t know how this will affect the future.” Mystery looked back at her younger sisters. “Our parents finding that artifact certainly advanced the study of time travel and made it possible for many diseases to be wiped out from what they learned when they travelled to the future. Now we have it. None of that will happen.
“What does it matter?” Emma questioned.
“It matters. We have to set things right, Emma.”
“But…” Emma’s eyes filled with tears.
The sanctuary flickered, light faded in and out. Emma looked over at the congregants; each one had two or three bodies interposed. Representing realities yet unlived, possible futures. “This is an alternate timeline, Emma,” Mystery said. “We created it when we jumped into the window and took the artifact.”
“We can’t take it back,” Emma pleaded. “What if we destroy it instead?”
“Mother will live,” Olive said.
“But you won’t,” Mystery added. We’ve travelled to many futures and in each one, one of us dies.
“What?” Emma’s face darkened.
“But there has to be another way.”
Mystery shook her head. The same way Emma always did, and crossed her arms in front of her chest, squinting, like Emma used to do when she was a girl. They were certainly related, Emma couldn’t help but notice. Olive loomed in the background, she had the same stance as Emma. Then Emma realized the truth. It came to her in an instant. “You’re me!” she shouted, “I’m you!” She was Mystery. She was also Olive. All this time she had thought they were sisters. It wasn’t uncommon for Siblings to look similar and often be mistaken for twins. She hadn’t even given it a second thought. But it had never occurred to her that the girls were her. This changed everything.
She thought back to the times she had seen them. Every time it had been when the portals of time were open. In the in between places, like inside the tree, and only younger versions of herself. Pompei had been her own timeline, a part of her past, the three of them had been able to proceed because none of them yet existed and one self could not wipe the other out of existance.
“Let me see it!” Emma took the artifact from Mystery. “Wow, what does it do?” Emma turned it over in her hand.
“It opens time portals,” Mystery said.
Abigail had known its power, there was no doubt in Emma’s mind. She had tried to keep Emma alive with it. But unfortunately, had not lived long enough to find a solution to save herself or Emma.
Emma thought for a long moment, what if her mother kept sending them, sending her, at different stages in her life, to get Emma to unlock the riddle of the past and create a new future for them both?
“Emma we’ve been to every possible future.” Mystery said, her voice dropped.
“And it’s always the same,” Olive piped, head lowered. “It’s you, or mother, we can’t change it, or stop it.”
Emma sat back down on the pew, holding the artifact to her heart. Candles dwindled and died. Night crept in through the windows, swallowing the light. Emma sat in the darkness surrounded by a hundred live, but still bodies. Olive and Mystery next to her.
“If you stay in the current timeline mother will die.” Mystery said. “We’ve seen it. In this realty, Abigail Franklin is meant to die, whether it is by murder or sickness. Emma squirmed. The seat beneath her felt hard and uncomfortable. She looked at Mystery. If she went into Mystery’s timeline and merged with her, she would live long enough to know and understand the truth, and perhaps even find the solution and overcome death itself.
There was a loud popping sound. Emma jumped. Three large window frames poked out of the wood paneled floor.
“We can alter history,” Mystery pointed at the different windows, “but we cannot stop death.”
By now she should have been used to the windows popping in and out of nowhere. She stared at the different time periods behind each one. She had to choose one. More and more, Mystery’s timeline was looking like the best solution. Little Olive had been too young to do much. But then there was the third window. Her own timeline, she didn’t know anything about that future, only that her mother had died. And that she could never bring her back.
Emma looked back at her mother. She couldn’t do it, couldn’t leave her. She would live this life here, in this alternate timeline, where she had both parents. She would find a way to change the future, wouldn’t let Abigail die.
The floor creaked. “Emma?” Mystery took another step, and then another. Olive trailed behind. Emma lifted her gaze. Why hadn’t she seen it before? Mystery looked just like her when she was seven, and Olive when she was three.
“I’m not going in.”
“Emma, you have to.”
“You have to.” Mystery tugged at her sleeve. “It’s the only way we can save her.”
“But she’s dead!” Emma yelled back.
“Emma!” Another voice echoed. Emma looked at the congregants, all of them still in their seats, unmoving. She knew that voice. She stood on the tips of her toes and looked over their heads.
“Tom!” Emma ran toward the third window.
“Emma!” Tom’s face was plastered against the other side. He had thick iron chains around his wrists and ankles. “Help me!” He banged on the glass with his fists.
Emma pressed her hand against the glass. Her heart dropped. Tom and she had been best friends for as long as she could remember. Emma squeezed her eyes shut. Tom was still alive.