kaleidoscope: slices of life – The Final Trip

Written by: Aaron Wong Jielun (21-I4)

Designed by: Leanne Soh Li En (21-E6)

“She’s dead. Chloe is dead.” 

I begged the universe that whatever was transpiring was just a horrible, cruel prank. That her mother on the other end of the line would simply laugh it off, and say, “Oh, I was just kidding. Chloe is fine. She’s right beside me now. Why don’t you say hi to your friend, Chloe?”

The television screen in front of me displayed—like a tasteless elegy—the words: Breaking news! Tragic train accident. No survivors.

The phone I was holding to my ear dropped to the floor. 

My throat tightened. My hands wrapped around it and my fingers clawed at its unyielding flesh, trying to wrestle control away from the contracting muscles. I couldn’t breathe. 

Then, I remembered the power that I had. 

My throat relaxed, and I took in a few deep breaths. My eyes refocused and locked onto the television. As images flashed across the screen, bits of information burned into my retinas. Train ran along the Blackwell line. Accident occured at 1.23pm. Suspected train fault. 

Now that I had all the information I needed, I squeezed my eyes shut, and thought about the past. I pictured my childhood. A memory took shape: a little boy, playing with a little girl. Both of them smiling and giggling together, as if laughing at some joke only the two of them in the whole wide world could understand. The boy chasing the girl around a playground, never reaching her, always just barely out of arm’s reach. The blurry outline of her back, fading away along with the sound of her voice as her laughter slowly died away…

My eyes opened. The television in front of me had vanished, replaced by a looming oak tree whose shade neutralised warm, early afternoon sunlight. The cramped surroundings of my room had been replaced by the expanse of a park. 

I shot out my left wrist and hastily scanned the expressionless watch face affixed to it. 1.04pm. I had about 19 minutes to save her. I would just barely make it. I silently cursed the arbitrary restriction to my power—I could temporarily travel back to the past for at most one hour, but I could only travel back in time by three hours. Because of that, I didn’t have the option to travel back any further. Those 19 minutes were going to have to count.

Furiously whipping out my phone from my pocket, I dialed her number faster than the digits could appear on screen. My heart sank as the ringing tone continued for an excruciating few seconds. 

Please, pick up. Please…

The ringing tone abruptly ceased, and muffled noises sounded. Then, I heard barely audible background noises; a cordial announcement, played over a speaker, and the steady thrum of a train in motion. A chirpy voice soon drowned out those sounds.

“Hiya Max, it’s cool to hear from you! How’ve you been?”

“Listen, Chloe, you have to get off that train.”

“Uh yeah, I plan to, once it reaches its next stop in about half an hour!”

“No, you don’t understand. You have to get off, NOW. In 18 minutes, your train is going to get into an accident down the line, and everyone is going to die. You need to alert the crew. Or you can break a window, jump out, then-”

“Haha, I’ve always liked that dark sense of humour of yours.”

“No, I’m not kidding you, Chloe, I swear. Please, I beg you, get off the train now!” My voice had begun to crack like fissures on a sculpture, my commands reduced to desperate pleas.

“Wow, Max, you’ve really polished up your drama skills, haven’t you? Listen, the train’s coming up to a tunnel real soon, so we’ll lose connection, but I’ll call you back afterwards! I can’t wait to hear the second act of the great Shakespearean tragedy, Maxbeth! Talk to you later, bye!” 

Before my shouts could leave my lips, she had already ended the call.

I never got the return call. 

My surroundings shifted once again. I was back to the confinement of my room, its four walls trapping me in on all sides. Back in the present.

“She’s dead. Chloe is dead.” 

The same few words stabbed deep into my chest for a second time. Things could not end this way. I had to change everything. I would change everything.

Squeezing my eyes shut, I travelled back to the past again…

…where I ended up failing once more. So I travelled back again. Then, I failed. So I travelled back once again. This mad cycle continued on endlessly like an eternal purgatory. 

Not giving up, I tried every single method that I could think of. Across many different attempts, I called the police and also contacted the train service. I told them the truth. I told them lies. I spun them every single story I could concoct—family emergency, bomb threat, terrorist attack, and every other reason why a train would possibly want to halt. Across all the attempts, I was greeted by a mixture of disbelief, ridicule, and strained patience. Despite the variation, two conditions always remained constant: the train could only ever stop at its next station, and the train would never reach its next station.

Calling Chloe never ended well. Her warm, vibrant energy only dragged me deeper down a spiral of despair each time I heard it. Her playful voice, brimming with enthusiasm, was always oblivious to what was to come. It tortured me. 

She’s dead. Chloe is dead.

The words echoed in my mind for what was the… hundredth… no, thousandth time? I had lost track ages ago. Not that it mattered at all. Nothing that I did mattered. My power was meaningless… it couldn’t accomplish anything.

I hurled the phone in my hand towards the television as I yelled a disgusting, bitter cry. The phone crashed against the screen. Images and lights flushed away, leaving a shattered, black surface. I saw a face staring back at me from within the black void of the screen’s reflection. Disfigured by thready cracks, the pathetic face possessed blank eyes, its facial muscles contorted into a mask of raw, visceral pain. On its cheek was the unmistakable glint of moisture. I sucked in a shallow breath. Shut my eyes.

Okay. One last trip. 

I appeared back in the past. Slowly, with a shaking hand, I pulled out my phone. I dialed her number with greater difficulty than usual, my finger trembling with each tap. As her answer came close, my hands gradually became steadier. My rapid breaths stabilised, and my heartbeat slowed to a crawl. I knew what I had to do.

“Hiya Max, it’s cool to hear from you! How’ve you been?” 

Despite our physical distance, her excited voice enveloped me in a warmth that burned hotter than any fire. But underneath that warmth, I also felt a cold sadness. 

“I’m… doing fine, Chloe.” 

“That’s good. ‘Fine’ is good!”

I imagined the smile that she had on her face at that current moment. I also wished to smile, like her. My face relaxed, and the tension melted away. At last, the corners of my mouth perked up barely perceptibly. I had managed a weak smile, at least.

“Chloe… I have something I want to tell you.”

“Well, just say it, Max!”

“Chloe, you’ve been a great, dear friend to me all this while… You have always been at my side, even during the times when I didn’t realise I needed your support… I wouldn’t trade you for anything in the world… I want you to know that I’ll always remember you… even after a hundred… no, a thousand years…”

Tears streamed down my face. I paused, as much to collect myself as it was to give Chloe a chance to reply in confusion or jest. However, the other end of the line remained silent. She was waiting for me to continue, as if she was somehow expecting what I was about to say. 

These were the last two words I was ever going to say to her. I had made my choice. There was no going back after this.

“Farewell, Chloe.”

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With great power comes great responsibility.

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