Contest #245 winner 🏆


Fiction Speculative

Many people don't believe that everything is connected. It's strange. They believe in magnets, in electromagnetic waves, in quantum action at a distance. They believe that the force of gravity makes the Earth revolve around the Sun, and yet they do not believe that the same forces can influence the smaller details of our fate. They believe that it is all up to them. That they have free will. They say that Jupiter can gently pull the Sun, yet it cannot move our infinitely smaller souls.

A paradox.

The stars are difficult to read, for sure. The horoscopes in the newspaper are wishy-washy nonsense written by lowly paid interns who do not have an inkling of physics or differential equations—you would not expect someone to be able to predict the weather without a doctorate and a powerful computer, would you? This is no different.

As a mathemastrologer, I can see the strings with which the cosmic puppeteers ordain our every move. I can follow their course, untangle their knots. This is how I have been able to read my own future for the past ten years. I knew prior to conception that I would become pregnant, and that it would be a boy. I saw my mother's death in the conjunction of Saturn and Venus, right before a car accident plucked her out of the numbers of the living.

One month ago, I read the death of my six year old son in the firmament.

As unwavering as it used to be, my faith was shaken.

In astrology, but I suppose this is true of other disciplines, you get attached to the objects of your work. You come to love the intricate play of the planets with your own fate, the way that your mood ebbs in sync with Neptune's tempests or gets lifted by the tides. I was married to the cosmos—but that day, the idyll was shattered. The cosmos had betrayed my trust. It had been difficult to accept my mother's death, to see it coming without interfering, but I had told myself that this moment comes for everyone. This, though, I could not abide. It was too cruel. Dear little Patrick, the star around which my life revolved, could not be extinguished, not now, not ever. I would rather do without the rest of the universe.

I started to believe in free will. Not out of logic, but out of necessity. There had to be a way to save him.

I poured myself in calculations, poured my life savings into computing power, sat night and day at my desk to find out precisely how and when Patrick would die. “He will drown in the pool,” the stars said. Very well—I drained the pool. But fighting fate was like trying to contain water within a sieve: if you plugged one hole, the water would simply drip from another. Still, I thought, there was a finite number of them: could I not plug all holes? I had to be strong, clever, steady, relentless, exhaustive. How was Patrick going to die, now that the pool was empty? Drown in the bathtub? I locked the bathroom. Drown in a friend's pool? Let's not go to their place, then. Drown in the lake? Let's not go to the lake. Soon enough, there remained no possibility of drowning.

The firmament still wanted Patrick's soul to rise up into its clutches, though. Fall down the stairs? I confined him to the first floor. Choke on food? I blended it into puree. The star map became more and more erratic in its dogged attempts to murder my child, threatening anything from an exploding oven (let's not cook) to plague rats (they cannot bite through five inches of padding). The signs became more and more numerous, culminating into a singularity at midnight when the dangers would number into the millions. After that, I could not tell, but I was determined to find out. I would fight off an infinite number of threats for Patrick's sake. At midnight, he would be alive and I would have asserted my free will, in defiance of the cosmos.

Six hours before midnight, someone banged at my door, insistently. I tried my best to ignore it, but I saw it was my colleague Olaf, the most brilliant mathemastrologer I knew, and a small part of my mind wanted to hear him out. I opened up a sliver.

“What is it?”

“Sonia,” he said, wringing his hands nervously, “whatever you are doing, please stop.”

“Stop what?”

“Stop, uh… You cannot save him. It is Written.”

“No,” I sneered. “I am his mother. Do not tell me what I can or cannot do.”

I stared him down. Blessedly, the stars foresaw no harm would come to me, which meant that he could not force his way in or do anything rash to stop me, lest he violated the celestial plan to the same degree that I was going to. I felt like a chess Grandmaster.

“Please, Sonia, please,” he pleaded, literally falling to his knees as he did so. “You have no idea what forces you are meddling with.”

I knew exactly what forces I was meddling with. I was meddling with the Sun (330,000 Earths), with Saturn (95 Earths), with Jupiter (318 Earths). If their combined masses couldn't stop me, that was their problem, not mine. I did what I had to do: I slammed the door in his face.

“Free will exists, Olaf,” I yelled through the wood for his edification, “and I will prove it.”

I spent the next five hours moving furniture as Patrick was asleep on the couch, always in plain view and sedated for his own good. I boarded and caulked every single opening I could see. When there was only one hour left before midnight, as indicated by at least five different clocks, I locked ourselves up into the basement and waited for the singularity to come past.

Time passed like molasses through the hourglass—but it did pass. Thirty minutes left before midnight. Fifteen minutes. Beads of sweat accumulated on my brow. Ten. Five. Three. I got up briefly to stretch my sleeping legs, and right at that moment something erupted from the cabinet next to me, which I could have sworn I had checked. Olaf jumped out. Olaf, the valiant defender of the stars, had somehow found a way in and he held a butcher knife in his hands. He fell heavily on the bundle I was ostensibly protecting, preternaturally quickly, so that I had no time to react. He stabbed the bundle over and over and over again. I screamed.

Olaf stopped as suddenly as he had started. There was no blood on the knife. The bundle was empty. He turned to me, but I was already gone, frantically pulling out the nails on the board I had used to condemn the door leading to the stairs.

“Sonia,” he said, apologetically although his efforts had been unnecessary. “The universe…”

I was already out and running like a headless chicken in the house. Thirty seconds left on the clock. Then, I howled. Olaf ran to me and saw me kneeling in front of the bathroom door, under which a red liquid was seeping. Thirty seconds.

“Get out,” I said between my teeth. “Get out!”

“The universe has spoken!” he shouted as the knife clattered to the ground. Ten seconds left. Five. Two. One. I was finally alone. I turned the handle and swung the door open. Zero.

At last I let my face regain its composure. On the ground, ketchup was running out of a dish propped up by melting ice. My vaudeville had worked, at least part of it. It was past midnight, now, so what was done was done. Hoping that the stars also bought my gambit, I walked to the attic and unboarded the small dormer window that gave onto the roof.

“Patrick?” I said.

“Mom?” he answered.

I clambered down to the slanted roof. Yes, I had left Patrick on the roof, all alone, with no way out but the ground. No, I was not crazy. Even as it attempted to murder a child, the cosmos still expected his mother to protect him. The very idea that she would willfully leave him unattended in a dangerous place was so strange, so improbable that it lied in an uncharted area of the calculations. The million dangers I foresaw in the singularity were all concentrated into the safest nooks of the house, and so I put all of my chips in the one place that I could not read. I was thrilled to savor my victory—not content with being a Grandmaster, I was now the Champion. I smothered my son in kisses. Even as I did so, he asked, in a confused voice:

“Mom, where's Jupiter?”

I followed his gaze to the spot where Jupiter had to be, as surely as the sun rises in the East (I had taught him well). The sky at that location was black. The eeriness overpowered me for a moment, and then it sank in: everything is connected. I realized that what was impossible, was obvious: if our fate was linked to the orbits of the celestial bodies by all of these invisible threads, was their fate not itself linked to our own actions?

I ran down to my office and frantically ran calculations to get the answer to the question I should have asked at the very start: in a world where Patrick had survived the twelve strokes of midnight, where was Jupiter? To my dismay, I found only one, singular solution: in order to save my child, Jupiter had to take a completely different orbit, an orbit that went as close to Earth as… as close to Earth as the Moon did.

Rumors came to my ears from the outside. Shouts, howls, tearful cries, the noise of chaos and despair. I went out to see. On the horizon in the East, a gargantuan white crescent was rising, so large that it was soon to take over the entire sky. I felt its tide, so strong that it pulled my entire body towards it. I do not need math to know that Patrick is doomed after all. So am I. So are we all.

April 07, 2024 16:19

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Jim LaFleur
18:21 Apr 19, 2024

Well done, Oliver!


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18:08 Apr 19, 2024

What an amazing story! I got chills at the end! Well done!


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Kristi Gott
17:54 Apr 19, 2024

Unique concept and thought provoking! An immersive, compelling story told with imagination and originality!


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Alexis Araneta
17:38 Apr 19, 2024

Olivier ! Wow ! What a stunning tale ! The concept is very creative and so well-executed. The descriptions were super impeccable. Well-deserved win !


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Jessica Adams
17:31 Apr 19, 2024

Am absolutely blown away by the creativity here, the concept of fate having to realign itself to adhere to the unpredictable. Such a good read!


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17:29 Apr 19, 2024

This was spectacular!


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Paul Simpkin
17:18 Apr 19, 2024

Very imaginative concept. You build the tension very well and have a strong ending.


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Trudy Jas
17:17 Apr 19, 2024

I hope you have toy feet back on the ground. I told you this was a winner. Way to go Olivier!


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Angelica Sophia
17:10 Apr 19, 2024

Wonderful story!


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Luca King Greek
17:02 Apr 19, 2024

Very good concept and well executed. Satisfying conclusion. Great stuff


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Darvico Ulmeli
16:59 Apr 19, 2024

Congratulations Oliver. Well deserved.


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Kristina Lushey
16:55 Apr 19, 2024

Loved this Olivier, it really absorbed me and kept my attention and you deserve the win!


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Joni Elbourn
16:44 Apr 19, 2024

What an incredible story! We often don't anticipate the consequences of actions we take in the name of love. Congratulations on a well deserved win.


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Lerato Moeketsi
16:09 Apr 19, 2024

Congrats Olivier. Nicely put. 👏👏


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Cheryl Bennet
17:19 Apr 28, 2024

That was compelling. A wonderful story, it played out in my mind's eye. I can see this on Netflix.


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Jane Andrews
17:11 Apr 28, 2024

There’s so much I like about this story, Olivier - the mother’s intense desire to protect her son; the constant tension as she and the stars continue to make counter-moves; and, most of all, the way that we get so engrossed in the story of an individual that we forget, like she does, that tugging at one small thread can cause an entire tapestry to unravel. There’s a wonderful irony in the final lines as our protagonist realises in tandem with the reader that she has literally torn the universe apart and ended billions of lives in her attempt...


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Hauwa Adedokun
22:34 Apr 27, 2024

This is just brilliant


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21:35 Apr 27, 2024

Amazing story!


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Afrina Zaman
17:04 Apr 27, 2024

me heart leapt when that so called Olaf guy jumped on the sofa TT well written hoenstly, I had fun reading this


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Kylie Young
21:22 Apr 26, 2024

Where do you get your inspiration? I especially love this piece for the high stakes it involves, and how Sonia would destroy the world just to protect her son. A great story of how much a mother loves her son.


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