Home, Setalite City, 4:32 PM.
Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014.
Loren snapped awake with a gasp, almost falling off his chair in the process. His heart started to beat thunderously in his chest, and a burning feeling burst to life in his chest. Was that supposed to be a dream—It had seemed so very real.
His eyes flicked over to his phone, but there was no message from Isaac asking for him to meet at the Bridge. He took a deep breath and let it out shakily, trying to regain some measure of calm, and then reality reasserted itself as the screen lit up.
A sense of what he would have previously called déjà vu crept up on him, except déjà vu didn’t come from prophetic dreams. How had he dreamed the exact message? If he went to the Bridge, would that same woman be at the intersection ready to try and steal him away? Would a car be waiting to run him down to complete the circle?
Even if it was… he needed to meet Isaac.
Loren left his room through the window, climbing down the same way he had in his dream. He followed the road to the same intersection. He felt a chill creep up his neck as the same woman came to stand beside him. He made sure to stand a little bit behind her so she would have to turn first in case she tried to grab him, it would give him enough warning to move.
The tension he was feeling vanished as the lights changed, and the woman made no move to interact with him. He hurriedly moved to cross the road in her wake and approached the second set of lights—it had been wrong, at least in this regard, as she was very pointedly avoiding looking at him.
Loren started to feel a bit silly that he’d put so much stock into a dream in the first place. He waited for the light to change and crossed to the Bridge, keeping an eye on the cars to make sure nobody tried to run him over.
Hope’s Bridge was packed now, the traffic a continuously flow in all eight of the lanes below. Parents picking their children up from school and the end of the workday combined to make a peak in traffic. Once again, the pathway was not very populated, but there were some people making the journey across on foot.
He was still doing his best to shake off his lingering worries when he spotted Isaac almost halfway across—except he was on the pathway opposite, on the other side of the Bridge. There wasn’t a way for him to cross over—he’d have to make the trip back to the end of the Bridge.
He pulled his phone out and called the other boy.
“I’m on the wrong side,” Loren said hesitantly when Isaac picked up.
Isaac didn’t say anything for a long moment.
“I think you’re on the right side, Loren,” Isaac said tersely.
The tone stirred that horrible feeling inside him again—he should have done something to help him.
“Isaac,” Loren said quickly, “I’m sorry about what happened at school. I was trying to figure out what to do, and I ended up just freezing.”
Isaac turned and kicked the railing furiously.
“It’s not that hard of a choice—you should have fucking helped me!” Isaac snarled into the phone, “You just stood there like my—You may as well have been helping them, you fucking coward.”
Loren felt a flash of anger—he was trying to apologize.
“I’m not a coward,” Loren snapped, hurt and angry. “I’ve just never been hit before, I wasn’t thinking straight—”
Isaac pulled his hoody back—the distance was too far to see, but his face was a mess—there was something white on the left side stretching his jaw to his temple.
“There’s no in-between, Loren,” Isaac said seriously, “Either you’re a coward who stands by while bad things happen, or you do something to help—I suppose it was better to find out exactly which type of person you were now before I wasted any more time thinking you were actually my friend.”
He should have helped…
“I am your friend—Isaac, I didn’t want you to get hurt,” Loren said quietly, feeling his eyes sting. “I was just scared.”
Isaac moved towards the railing that overlooked the cars below, climbing up on top of it easily and standing there as the wind ruffled his clothing. Loren watched him without understanding what was he doing—
“You know… right now, you sound exactly like my sister,” Isaac said thoughtfully. “She never does anything to help either.”
Isaac jumped off the railing, and Loren watched in horror as he fell, landing painfully on his side in the middle of the road below, right before a truck ran him over. The driver hit the brakes and swerved, hitting the car in the next lane. The nearby cars smacked into each other as they tried to stop on a dime, and soon the traffic was still.
Loren felt that same heat in his chest, fierce and hot as it started to thump in time with his heart. It grew hotter and more potent with every beat. He felt like his head was underwater as he stared down at the broken body of his best friend, unmoving on the tarmac.
The fury in his chest reached some threshold before it started expanding, and then all he could see was fire as it washed over the railing, the road, and then the bridge-burning everything indiscriminately. The road started to melt, the blackened husk the cars had become sinking into the molten slag, and the now ashen corpses trapped inside them were swallowed.
Loren started to sink as well, down into the concrete below him, and the Bridge began to tilt under the heat of the flames as the metal supports sagged. For a moment, Loren began falling, noting distantly that the water had vanished from the harbor,
The top of the Bridge crashed down on him, and everything went dark.
Loren sat up at his desk, head feeling more clear than it had ever before, as the image of Isaac’s broken body turning to ash filled his mind.
There was something very wrong going on here.
Loren lay on his bed, watching the wall as the sounds of his parents arguing downstairs echoed up the hall and through his now opened door. For once, he felt no anxiety at the thought of his mother barging in to demand that he redo some task he hadn’t completed to her impossible standards.
He felt empty, but in an exhausted self-inflicted way—he’d forced himself to think about everything that had happened, over and over. Isaac had decided what he was going to do long before he reached the Bridge, probably before he’d even sent a message—the same message that remained unanswered on his desk.
The fire melting the Bridge hadn’t been the first strange thing that had occurred—the strange actions that Ms. Gracen and that woman at the intersection had taken had been the first. Then he’d… died in a car accident and woken up at his desk. Now, after destroying Hope’s Bridge and vaporizing the harbor, he had once again returned to this point.
“I’m respawning,” Loren mumbled, ignoring his phone as it once again alerted him to the unread message. “I have powers.”
If this had happened this morning, he would have been ecstatic—he could have gone back before the fight at school. He could have shown Isaac that he wasn’t a coward and that he could act to stop things like that. Instead, his point of return was hours after the event he wanted so desperately to change.
Why was that specific point the time that his power had chosen?
He must have unlocked the powers right after the fight with Daniel Reed—because Ms. Gracen had been affected immediately afterward. There hadn’t been anything abnormal about him before then, so why wasn’t that his reset point?
He’d fallen asleep at the desk, and the moment he woke up was the point chosen by his power—was it based on sleeping? If he went to sleep again right now, would the next time he woke up be the next save point?
Loren found himself picturing Isaac standing on the railing again, watching him.
Had he already jumped again? Or had he gone home because Loren hadn’t gone to meet him like he hoped? He was too scared to check his phone again and read what that second message said.
The landline in his parent’s bedroom started ringing, and the sound of the matching one downstairs joined it. He listened as the bottom of the stairs creaked, and as the footsteps approached his bedroom—somehow with no additional information, everything came together in an instant, and he knew exactly what the phone call had been.
His mother reached the open doorway and stopped.
“Loren,” Leslie said, upset and flustered. “Alicia Myers just called, she was extraordinarily rude, but… I’m afraid I have some bad news to tell you—it’s about Isaac.”
Loren thought that Alicia had more than enough reason to be rude, given that her brother had just killed himself.
Two in the morning and Loren sat under the window, with his hands wrapped around his legs, struggling to keep his eyes open. He had a decision to make, but without knowing if the respawn point was going to update again when he fell asleep, he was forced to stay awake until he had an answer.
Right now, he could do one of two things—he could kill himself and try to save Isaac again, or he could fall asleep and lock in his best friend’s death as a permanent fixture of the world. The choice was obvious to him, but the thought of deliberately ending himself made him shy away from the thought.
“I’m not a coward,” Loren mumbled, blinking tiredly.
He pushed himself to his feet unsteadily, saying the words out loud actually helped a little, and he looked out the window of his room. Hope’s Bridge, well lit now, gleamed in the distance—and he made his decision.
“I’m going back,” Loren said quietly, “I’m going to save him, no matter what.”
The world changed in an instant, and Loren lifted his head off the desk in confusion, feeling the crystal clear lens of focus vanish from his mind, instead replaced by the vague, foggy feeling that usually followed him everywhere—the main side effect of his medication.
After living without the feeling for eight whole hours, it had become so much more noticeable than it normally was. Returning to this feeling was hell, it felt like his mind was under the mental equivalent of torpor.
He felt the loss more keenly than he could have imagined, his thoughts once again sluggish and slow to form. He’d returned without dying, that much was obvious, and if he could repeat that feat, there was nothing stopping him from saving Isaac. If he messed it up, he could return, over and over, until his friend was safe.
It was the perfect power.
“I’m not going to let it end like this, Isaac, no matter how many tries it takes,” Loren promised, picking up his phone as the message came through. “Let’s get started.”
Loren ran along the bridge, making sure he was on the right side this time—he was out of breath before he’d even made it halfway, but he kept on going as best he could. There was another strange sensation in his head, one associated with whichever power he’d gotten this time.
He could see Isaac in the distance, and he stumbled to a stop in front of him, gasping for air.
“You ran all the way here?” Isaac said cooly. “Seems unlike you.”
“Isaac. Listen.” Loren panted, “I’m sorry I didn’t help you this morning. I was scared and didn’t know what to do. I’ll do better from now on, okay—”
“You think that makes it okay!? That you can just say sorry, and everything is better?” Isaac shouted angrily, “Guess what, Loren—promises don’t mean jack shit, actions are what matter!”
“I know—” Loren tried.
“You don’t fucking know anything!” Isaac snarled, lowering his voice. “You want to know who else says sorry afterward?”
“Your dad,” Loren said quietly.
Isaac pushed him back into the railing with force, and that feeling inside him buzzed, but he pushed it down with some effort.
“My dad.” Isaac hissed. “Then he goes right back to beating the shit out of me the next time.”
“Isaac, I’m not like your dad,” Loren tried again quietly. “I made a mistake—you’re my best friend, we can fix this.”
“I don’t want to fix this,” Isaac said darkly, pushing him against the rail again. “You’re a fucking coward—”
That feeling buzzed to life at the impact, and his body faded—the pressure of the railing disappeared, and he fell backward off the walkway. The bright lights of a car illuminated him in a blindingly flash of light before everything went dark as he passed through the road and then out the other side.
Loren screamed as he fell through the open air, spinning uncontrollably—but found he couldn’t draw in any air. Hope’s Bridge fell away from him, and then he was falling through the water faster than should be possible, the light vanishing as he fell further and driving his panic higher.
He was left in pitch black, wondering if he was still falling and finding it harder to distinguish by the second. He forced the buzzing sensation away, desperate to breathe, and then in a flash of indescribable pain—Loren lifted his head off the desk.
Loren made sure to figure out his power in advance to avoid anything like that happening again. His power this time was something to do with his hands, but he wasn’t sure what it did, just a faint energy presence in his palms.
“Isaac, you’re trying to frame this like I did it on purpose.” Loren tried arguing, “I didn’t make a conscious decision to let it happen, I couldn’t even think—”
“So you’re useless and a coward,” Isaac said angrily, gripping his shirt. “You were my best friend, Loren—I wouldn’t have let fear stop me from helping you—”
Loren grabbed his wrist for leverage in case he tried to push him back into the railing.
“I didn’t let it stop me!” Loren snapped, “You’re missing the point on purpose—”
“You fucking did let it stop you!” Isaac roared in his face, “It’s such—w-what the hell?”
His eyes snapped down to where he was still holding the other boy’s arm—and quickly let go when he saw what he had done.
“What did you do!?” Isaac cried, falling to his knees in pain. “Loren!”
The skin of his wrist was now hard and gold in color—and it was spreading.
“I didn’t mean to!” Loren said horrorfied.
The effect reached his fingertips, and they froze in that position, unable to move. It started to spread up his arm, over his shoulder, and climbed up his neck—Isaac stopped moving, and within seconds a golden statue of a boy kneeled on the bridge before him, a tortured expression of pain on his face.
“I can fix this,” Loren said, crying.
The lady at the intersection began to change as he came within a meter of her—the back of her dress bulging grotesquely outwards before she hunched forward as long lengths of sharpened bone started to emerge from her skin.
Loren stumbled away from her in horror as the nightmarish thing of flesh and bone towered over him.
“Master,” The thing said gleefully, clicking its mandibles excitedly.
“I’m not—” Loren swallowed.
“Isaac, just listen to me for once!” Loren screamed, grabbing the other boy by the collar.
He stumbled away as the older boy struck him across the face and lifted his hands to guard his face as he tried for another shot.
“You’re just like everybody else!” Isaac snarled, using one hand to rip his defending arm downwards.
Loren felt the flash of pain in his cheek and swung back desperately—the other boy blocked it like he had seen it coming from a mile away. Loren’s nose burst into blood as the next hit smashed into it, and he fell backward.
Isaac came after him—fear and anger warred inside Loren, and anger won out as his eyes flashed.
A streak of yellow light tore through the ground and upwards at an angle, completely uncontrollable. Isaac fell into two pieces, screaming in agony as the bridge and east side of Setalite City erupted into chaos.
Buildings fell apart, crashing into each other, the bridge started to fall into the harbor—
“Isaac.” Loren tried, frustrated, feeling the ground writhe at his feet.
“Isaac…” Loren begged.
“Isaac… I don’t want to do this anymore,” Loren cried, surrounded by the shattered remains of the mirror. “No matter what I say, you never listen to me… I don’t understand you… why do you want to die!? We could have fixed it…”
Loren caught sight of his reflection in the largest fragment of the mirror, and his now glowing blue eyes stared back at him from a tear-streaked face, no long marred with ice, blood, or ash. He hated how clean his face was, and his fury grew into a tightly wound braid within his mind.
The braid strengthened the longer he held onto the anger but eventually grew brittle as he channeled all of his hatred into it.
“Why does this keep happening? I just want… I just want… I don’t want anyone to die in front of me anymore!” Loren screamed at his fractured reflection, “I can’t convince you, and this stupid power just makes everything worse… I don’t want it anymore, I just want to forget it ever existed!”
The brittle braid in Loren’s mind settled, and a thousand pairs of eyes stared back at him from the shattered remains of the mirror.
Loren rubbed at his eyes before sitting up, wondering why he was on the floor—He felt distinctly off.
He was distracted from his thoughts as his phone lit up with an alert. Isaac wanted to meet at the bridge—the thought made him feel a bit nauseous, the thousand foggy nightmares he’d had before waking up certainly hadn’t helped.
As he pushed himself to his feet, he noticed the mirror was broken—his mother was going to give him so much shit for breaking it. He quickly swept the mess up and dumped it into the trash before heading back up to his room and leaving through the window. There was no way he was leaving the front door unlocked, his mom would murder him if she found out.
Loren said hello to a vaguely familiar woman at the intersection, and she looked a bit surprised at the greeting but returned it with a small smile.
He wondered about the nightmare he’d had, about the fire melting the bridge, the one where he’d fallen through the bridge and vanished, or the one where he’d turned his friend into a golden statue.
Clearly, the incident at school had messed with him badly enough to conjure up a million different horror scenarios—maybe he did have a concussion after all, that might have explained why he woke up on the floor?
“So stupid,” Loren muttered, touching the back of his head. “Ow.”
He was starting to get a bit annoyed that he hadn’t run into Isaac yet, he was the one who wanted to meet. This all felt so stupid, why did he have to come all the way out here, they could have just talked it out over text. Loren finally spotted him on the other side of the bridge and sighed in exasperation, of course, he was on the other side.
“Isaac!” Loren called out, annoyed. “You’re on the wrong side, idiot.”
Isaac turned to look at him, face shadowed by the hoody.