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Horror Science Fiction Fantasy


It was the strangest confession I've ever heard, only later did I realize it would be my last. I've done my time in the confessional, heard my share of unholy acts. Now, as Bishop of the Basilica, I no longer deal with laypeople on a one-to-one basis. I leave all of that to my various assistants.


But this was a special case.


His name was Helmut Kroll. I recognized the voice because he was famous, not because I knew him. How he got my number is a mystery, but he had resources well beyond those of my church, perhaps they were equal to God's? He contacted me on my private line, and insisted that we meet in person about a matter of great importance. Normally, I would simply refer him to one of my underlings, but as I said, he was famous, and I was curious.


It might interest you to know that his research and experiments were well known and furiously debated. He was, to put it mildly, the greatest mind of all time. He had solved Einstein’s intractable Grand Unification Theory in high school. In college he built a quantum computer and used it to decipher string theory—decades ago. His latest research had many people convinced that he was meddling with forces that were beyond human comprehension.


He arrived in a disheveled state: not the calm, confident, intellectual giant that I knew from his many TV appearances, and said, “Thank you for seeing me on such short notice, Bishop.”


I ushered him into my study, a wood-lined, insulated sanctuary deep within the confines of the massive church. A singular leaded window afforded me my only view of the courtyard where Mr. Kroll had the gall to park his hovercraft. Considering his unkempt condition, I did not protest, but offered him a Scotch instead. Which he declined, so I poured one for myself, then sat back in my chair and waited.


He cleared his throat and said, “Have you ever heard the expression, ‘All things must pass, and this too shall pass?”


I nodded. Of course I had.


“Did you ever think it might be literal?”


I did, and I didn’t. “It means all things must come to an end, at some point.”


He rubbed the back of his neck and said, “I—I think I may have broken the universe.”


I stifled the impulse to chuckle. “Are you sure you don’t want that drink then?”


He shook his head. “No. No, no, no. It’s bad enough that people are starting to think I’m crazy. If they smell alcohol on my breath, they’ll write me off completely.”


This seemed unlikely, under any circumstances, but he twitched and fidgeted with an air of desperation. He had the look of a man who had committed a terrible crime. I said, “Please Mr. Kroll, tell me what’s troubling you.”


His haunted eyes searched my face for empathy. After a few moments, he began again.


“You’ve heard about my experiments, right?”


“Yes, of course,” I said. “Who hasn’t?”


“Yeah, I know. But do you understand the premise and the purpose of the experiments?”


I had to confess a shortage of informed opinion on that score. “Not entirely, no. Not really.”


“I created a time machine,” he said, “and despite all rumors to the contrary, I was able to send myself forward in time to the farthest and final epoch of the known universe.”


I sipped my Scotch, reverently. “And yet you’ve returned, it seems.”


He ran a shaky hand through his unruly hair. I could sense his frustration at my limited intellect. “I went to a place so far in the future,” he said, “that time was at a standstill, no stars, no time, no motion, even entropy ceased, having no further purpose. The universe was in a permanent, timeless, unalterable state.”


I smiled politely and gazed out the window of my simple stone church. One of those new-fangled motorized carriages was blocking the road into town. “I see,” I said. “And what did you learn, my friend?”


He frowned. “It’s not what I learned, Father. It’s what I did.”


I nodded patiently. Surely the man was going mad. I had no idea why he called me father. We were not related. A chill wind whistled through a gap in the shaman’s thatched hut. The fire sputtered from the breeze in the primitive make-shift hearth. We needed to fix that. I signaled my youngest wife to herd the children off to the cave, or at least out of earshot. She was happy to comply. “Okay, so what did you supposedly do at the end of the universe?”


“I arrived!” He stared at me wild-eyed. “I arrived. Don’t you get it?”


“Umm, no. I don’t. What effect was had by your arrival?” I spoke in a soothing tone as I tossed another log onto the precious fire that we all took turns tending.


He looked exasperated. “The universe was in a steady state, man. Static, immutable, unchanging—and then I arrived and—something popped. Something snapped, flinging me back to the present.”


I still did not understand what significance this had on me or the tribe.


“I’m saying—that, that saying, ‘All things must pass’? Is not a saying, it’s a law. And I broke it.”


“Uh-huh.” He was using words beyond my understanding, concepts that were foreign to me, fearful things. When I looked up at the night sky, the stars seemed closer and brighter than I’d ever known them to be. The glowing band of nebulas that girded the heavens seemed to grow thicker as I watched. Surely it was a trick of the eye, or more likely the effects of the concoction of fermented fruits I was drinking. I looked down into my ceremonial clay cup.


He uttered something unintelligible to me, a look of desperation on his face.


I grunted. I could not divine the meaning of his words. He conveyed images with his mouth, a skill I was yet to master. But I knew that his crazy babbling might alert predators and endanger the clan. If I allowed that to continue, the younger hunters would doubt my leadership, and I could not let that happen. Ignoring the flares of angry Sky Gods, I stepped closer to this so-called ‘errant stranger,’ and with a primitive surge of adrenaline, I smashed his skull with the rock I had been holding behind my back.


*******


The creature cowered under a boiling sky, fearful of the feeble fire it had previously tended, dimly aware that there was much more ‘world’ than what it had seen, as the night sky turned white in one final desolate flash.


February 27, 2024 08:59

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6 comments

Lee Kendrick
15:32 May 05, 2024

An interesting plot with twist at the end. Great ambience as the Bishop and Kroll where engaged in talking. Possibly just my opinion, you could have made the story a little longer.

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Ken Cartisano
22:34 May 06, 2024

Hi Lee, I appreciate your opinion and in this case I agree. I wrote this for another site a few years ago with a much lower word count, and drastically re-wrote it and lengthened it before posting it here. And it's still too brief. I think the idea was brilliant, (and simple) but the execution left a lot to be desired. I don't know why that is. I perceived this story so clearly in my head, and it was one of very few that I knew how it would end almost as soon as I knew the beginning. Thanks for giving it a read and your honest feedback.

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Wendy M
15:46 Mar 21, 2024

Nice one! Love your imagination. Personally, I thought there was a restaurant at the end of the universe. Probably the one with golden arches by the time we get there.

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Ken Cartisano
08:40 Mar 22, 2024

Thanks Wendy, my imagination loves you too.

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Alexis Araneta
14:20 Mar 07, 2024

Beautiful flow to this story. Great job !

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Ken Cartisano
05:20 Mar 22, 2024

Thank you Stella. I always appreciate a positive comment.

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