by Dean Cochrane

Editors note: If you haven’t already, read the premise here first!

It is always the same.

It is like one of those dreams where you are being chased by something, where you turn a corner or run through a tunnel or leap over a ditch, your back itching with dread. It is just behind you, and if you manage to elude it and breath a sigh of relief, it will suddenly appear again.

It returns. Every. Goddam. Time.

You know how it is. We all live through it, those last crazy days before July 14th, 2008; those days when nothing matters and anything goes.

Me, I spend those last days running. The running is easier than in the days preceding. Say, from the beginning of June on. Because in those last days nobody cares: you can steal a car, knock over an old lady, cross the street against the signals, play in the traffic. Shoot somebody. It doesn’t matter, because July the 15th never comes.

Every July 15th, 2006, no matter what I do, no matter how much I will my body to remember the fear engraved on my soul, it does not, and I wake up near nine o’clock in the morning. I lie blinking in the heat before the memories of…what… twenty? thirty? iterations of the same chase come back to me.

You know how it is. Wherever you were at one second to midnight, July the 14th, 2006, you are back there at what would have been one second after midnight, July the 15th, 2008. It must ripple around the world like a wave: things that were destroyed in the wild final days suddenly springing back into existence, seemingly… but as far as I know nobody’s ever seen it. If they have, they don’t think it remarkable enough to talk about.

Wherever you were, you aren’t any more. You are back to July the 15th, 2006, and the memories climb slowly out of you, rising like slow, distorted bubbles from the depths. Some people hate it: that realization that you don’t know what you thought you knew. That the person you thought you were doesn’t really exist. July the 15th, 2006, is over and over and fucking over again a day of adjustment, a day of memories surfacing.

I always remember, eventually, that he is after me. That he is coming for me. After however many Cycles it has been (does anybody count any more? Someone must, somewhere), he always comes for me. That memory floats up, pale and bloated and stinking, and breaks with a flood of fear and remorse. He is coming, because he always does.

I run. On July the 15th, 2006, I do not own a car. I am hung over, so sick that I vomit. It is usually in different places, depending on which direction I have set out in an attempt to escape him this Cycle. Sometimes it’s in the back parking lot of Patrezia’s Market if I head down the alley. Or on the filthy grass strip, brown and desperate, on the boulevard below the freeway overpass.

I sometimes wonder if I’m the person causing this, this resetting. It doesn’t make sense, really, because the genesis of my fear, the act for which he hunts me down over and over again, torturing and killing me when he catches me, his face twisted with rage and pain, didn’t occur until Cycle 4 or 5. So the rebooting had been going on for a while when, on July the 14th 2008, the day when nothing at all matters, I did it.

You know how it is. You do things just for the hell of it. You do things that you haven’t done before just to see how it feels. You screw a hooker. You steal a diamond. You get on the freeway and put your foot to the floor and hold it there, pressing the accelerator tight to the floor, just to see how it feels, because it doesn’t matter. Everything you do will be erased.

Sometimes it isn’t, though. And that one Cycle, the one where I’d stolen a gun that lay, heavy and powerful, in my hand, I used it. I shot them, laughing wildly, because it was all going to go away in a few hours.

But it didn’t go away. He remembers. He remembers when I shot her. When I shot them. When I shot him. They hadn’t done anything to me, not really. Just honked a warning when I wandered across the street against the traffic light. In response, I raised the gun and fired, feeling the power through my arm and bubbling up in my chest. I shot him last, his mouth a compressed O of shock. She was driving. I killed her first, then the two children in the back seat, the exhilaration of complete power running in my blood like flame. The first shot was on impulse, but every one after that was a crescendo of violence. He couldn’t know who I was, and within a few hours the world would end to begin again.

But he did find me. It took him maybe three Cycles, but he did it.

You know how it is, doing things that don’t matter. Except they do, and even if I am not the one that originally caused it, I wonder if I’m the one sustaining it, this endless round of Cycles, the world rebooting. I wonder if, when his rage is abated and his revenge complete, when I have suffered enough, the Cycles will end. When my karmic debt is at last paid.

You know how it is. And you don’t care.

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