Remembering the future would have been easier if only it wasn’t being altered. Although Murdoch had convinced many to return home, thousands turned their attention to Twin Towers.
Rumor had it there were two men calling themselves Ozymandias, one urging everyone to wait and the other warning everyone that the time of decision was now and that no good would come of waiting. But events were merely following a prophecy that predicted both a false and a true Ozymandias.
Seeing Magus rousing the crowd at Twin Towers, Tyler suspected he’d witnessed a counterfeit, and may have been complicit in it too. The real Ozymandias was Murdoch, making Ozymandias the furthest thing from a liberator. Ozymandias wanted power because Ozymandias was just like any other man, thought Tyler.
“This can be yours,” echoed Murdoch’s voice inside Tyler’s head. “All of it. And that’s why you’re here: to claim it. Reality at your disposal, to alter at will.”
“Leave me alone,” he mumbled, instinctively blocking his ears, although the only sound entering his ear canals was Laurel’s voice.
“What?” she asked. “I don’t understand what’s happening.”
“You and I want the same thing,” continued the voice inside Tyler’s head. “But we can share it.”
“No,” mumbled Tyler.
“I can’t hear you,” said Laurel, her face close to his. They were standing atop a bridge arching over the railroad tracks, Union Station not 400 yards away. Or was it a jerrybuilt town with dirt roads, inclined roofs reminiscent of something Chinese? Tyler couldn’t tell the difference, ten or twenty years elapsing in the span of a second, and time doing little to prevent overlap, former development coexisting with a subsequent structure. Was Union Station once a cluster of narrow streets?
Tyler closed his eyes, but all he could hear was Murdoch. “Everything’s possible. Whatever you want, you can have. So tell me, what do you want?”
“Leave me alone,” barked Tyler.
Laurel retreated as if he were addressing her. It was a relief when a passenger train whistled its approach, another train clattering its rapid departure on old tracks. The world was far larger than Two Cities, but how far would he have to travel to elude Murdoch? Where might a train take him?
“He’s in my head,” explained Tyler. I can’t get him out.”
“We’ll try again,” she suggested.
Tyler shook his head. “That isn’t the future.”
“And how do you see the future?” she asked.
“I don’t know. Because maybe it isn’t the future at all, and maybe all of this already happened. It’s a matter of remembering it and reliving it.”
“You don’t want to leave, do you?” asked Murdoch’s voice, still inside Tyler’s head. “But you’re afraid of losing control. Afraid of losing yourself. Afraid of disappearing. But you’re as permanent and eternal as you want to be.”
“I don’t believe you,” answered Tyler, realizing he didn’t have to yell for Murdoch to hear him.
“You can do as you please,” replied Murdoch’s voice.
“Then why can’t I leave?” asked Tyler.
“Because it’s not what you want,” answered Murdoch’s voice.
“Get out of my head,” shouted Tyler.
“I know what you want,” added Murdoch. “We’re more alike than you think.”
From what Tyler could tell, the line of blue surrounding Twin Towers had all but vanished. The building may have been indestructible, yet it had been abandoned, its many prisoners to be released, assuming they were still extant.
Where were the Blue Knights going, several columns retreating southwest on the far side of Union station?
“Why can’t you leave?” asked West. Tyler turned to find his father standing behind him, a cigarette in hand, smoke spiraling from his pursed lips. “He’s right about one thing. You don’t really want to leave, do you?”
“You can hear him?”
“He told me the same things. That I stayed because I didn’t want to leave. And it was true.”
“Is this him?” asked Laurel. “The one inside your head?”
“No,” answered Tyler, “but he might be just as bad.”
“I left him when he was a boy and he’s never forgiven me.”
“Don’t speak for me,” answered Tyler.
“I can’t leave now, even if I wanted to leave,” continued West. “But you can go anytime.”
“You hear that?” asked Laurel, flashing a smile. “How?” Laurel asked West.
Ignoring Laurel’s question, West produced a small rope from his pocket. “Your arms,” he asked Laurel and Tyler. West took Laurel’s wrist and held it to Tyler’s, tying them together. “That watch was the one thing I brought from home and it was the reason I never forgot. Not you and not your mother. I always remembered even when it pained me to do so, knowing I’d never see you again, if at least to apologize for being a horrible father.”
West tightened the ripe binding Tyler’s arm to Laurel’s before tying the ends in a knot. Tyler would have pulled his arm free if he didn’t believe it the best way to keep from losing Laurel.
“You’re still here, Tyler, because you’re missing something. You had it back in L.A., but you refused to have anything to do with him. He’s here, and still you want nothing to do with him.”
“His name’s Tyler, just like you. And his father was West, just like me. But you use a different name for him because you refuse to believe he has anything to do with you. He’s what you want to forget, your fears for the future, your anger about the past and your potential for so much more, He’s everything you’re missing and if you don’t understand how to leave this place, he will.”
“He had many chances to tell me.”
“You never asked.”
“But he brought me here. Why would he do that?”
“Because he knows you better than you know yourself. He’s had plenty of time to remember. It’s all there is to do, until no one else remembers you and you disappear.”
Tyler could no longer hear Murdoch’s voice. Or perhaps Murdoch was no longer trying to communicate.
“I can’t hear him.”
“He has nothing to say you can’t figure out yourself.”
“There’s not much difference between you and him,” accused Tyler. But West shrugged off the unkind comparison.
“Maybe because Murdoch and I go where we please, but we can do nothing without you.”
“Because you’ve been here before,” answered West, a hand to Tyler’s shoulder. “A child from another world who believed anything was possible. People once came here to forget. Once you arrived, they realized it was better to remember. And then one day you never came back.”
Tyler remembered nothing. “You mean Magus, because I’ve never been here.”
“I mean you. He brought you here once before.”
“Which means I left,” answered Tyler, wishing he could remember what happened, although it was a relief to know that it was possible to return home, if West were to be believed.
“Your mother took you back. When there were two of her and she could come and go when she pleased. She and I both knew this place as children, as did our parents, but children don’t come here anymore, not when Murdoch realized there was no controlling them. Only adults who’d given up could be tricked into reliving a fantasy and forgetting everything else. Only adults were cynical enough to forget they had a choice. And it’s in despair that Murdoch finds hope. He feeds off all the reasons people give up. He feeds on our failures and on our disappointment. Lord only knows what brought him here in the first place, but his future is death. Yours, mine, everyone’s.”
“I take your word for it?” asked Tyler.
“Until you remember who you were and why you wanted to come back. Because there was unfinished business. And you’ll never leave until it’s been put to rights.”
“You mean Murdoch?”
“I mean you, and that man over there who’s also you, because you were never meant to live apart, and you were never meant to forget one another. But he never forgot.”
“Then he’s a better man.”
“And he’s you. But you refuse to believe it.”
“Then why is she here?” asked Tyler, nodding toward Laurel.
“That’s for her to figure out,” answered West. “Maybe the same reason you’re here.”
“I was here as a girl?” asked Laurel.
“I don’t know,” answered West. “But there were many children here once and they left. Murdoch may have found them again and lured them back.”
Laurel puzzled over the suggestion.
“He was my imaginary friend,” noted Tyler, “and I suppose I was his imaginary friend?”
“You were here in the flesh. Tyler called you Ozymandias. It’s the story of the creator who’d promised to return one day to give eternal life; though maybe he called you that, thinking that if you left you’d come back again one day to do something special. And here you are.”
“Did he really call me Ozymandias? Though I don’t see myself giving anyone eternal life. Wish I could.”
“He called you Ozymandias all the time.”
“How do you know? I don’t remember you.”
“Your mother made sure of that. But I’m as much a part of you as she is. We never told you about this place and yet you found it.”
“So we get Magus, or whatever I should call him, and we go home.”
“Murdoch will find a way to bring you back here, and when you do, you start from scratch.”
Tyler shook his head, knowing that he only to walk to Twin Towers to see Magus again, and to insist he show him the way back home. They were one. He’d acknowledge that and be done with it.
But rather than walk there, he’d fast track the future and imagine his walk finished, Magus standing before him.
And as he imagined the future, so his perception changed, his view of the train tracks shifting to a view of downtown from high atop a cinder block tower, one of two. In the distance, lines of blue streaked down from the direction of a fringe of black just south of Bunker Hill, still only a collection of dilapidated housing, a ring of bulldozers, and trucks with wrecking balls, awaiting the orders to raze the forgotten neighborhood to the ground, all in the interest of progress.
“It’s time, said Magus, reflecting on the fight for the future, and that fight centered near Bunker Hill. Was Grandma Vi caught in the middle?
“What’s going to happen?” asked Tyler, reassured to find Laurel next to him, their wrists still bound together, and the watch on her wrist pressed against his skin.
“What you wanted. A place where we all get to be happy. Some of us are gonna have to die for it.”
“They’re not doing this for me.”
“But they remember you. You were happy. No one told you what to do or what not to do. You went where you pleased. And they want the same thing. Murdoch wants to kill the past, and tear it all down, piece by piece until the old city’s gone and only the new city, his city, remains.”
“And what are we supposed to do?”
“I know that you and I are the same. I acknowledge that.”
Tyler smiled, nodding in agreement.
“What’s supposed to happen?”
“I don’t know.
“But that’s why I’m here, isn’t it? For us to become one?
“We already are,” answered Magus.
“But I couldn’t leave. There was no door.”
“Something isn’t the same.”
“I don’t know. Only Nuestra Senora Reina knows how to heal what’s been broken.”
“Senora Reina?” queried Tyler. Did he mean the church?
Magus leveled a finger to the right of Union Station, to what appeared to be Plaza Park and the old church he remembered was called La Placita.
“And what’s been broken?” asked Tyler. Magus said nothing, his gaze directed toward Plaza Park.
“Maybe I need you to join me,” continued Tyler, “to walk me out like you walked me in.”
“Then we’ve accomplished nothing,” answered Magus, seemingly despondent.
“What do we accomplish?” asked Tyler.
“Nuestra Senora Reina knows better than me.”
“You brought me here and you don’t know?”
“I remember now,” noted Laurel. Tyler almost forget she was next to him. “I remember the promise, that if we could remember what we’d lost, it would be ours again. It’s why I’m here again. To remember and to win it all back.”
“Remember what?” asked Tyler.
“I’ve been here before. La Placita. That’s where they took us and where I forgot everything. They said it was to protect us. They said we’d forget and never return, but I couldn’t forget.”
“So forgetting is the way out,” considered Tyler.
“Forgetting means never coming back,” suggested Magus. “Bus is that what you want? To forget everything? Or to remember when life offered every possibility?”
“I just want to understand,” said Tyler, realizing that understanding implied remembering not forgetting.
His intention was to visit Nuesta Senora Reina, and from clear intentions came a future that could be anticipated. It was what would happen next. He remember that now. And he remembered the arched entranceway flanked by palm trees, a cross high overhead shimmering with the light of the setting sun. It had already begun to grow dark.
And so it was as he remembered it, Laurel at his side as they turned from the courtyard to the front steps and in through the open door, the transept narrow as they stepped to the alter, arm in arm as if to their own nuptials.
But it was the confessional they wanted, not to seek absolution or mercy but to regain something they’d lost. Unfortunately, the confessional was small, and there was no splitting Laurel and Tyler asunder with their wrists bound, so they squeezed into the booth, Tyler’s legs angled outside the confessional door.
“Nuestra Senora Reina?” whispered Laurel. There was no reply. “We’ve returned and want to understand our purpose.” Again, there was no reply.
Something went dark in the chapel. Tyler turned, light from the windows growing faint and darkness setting in before light flood the room once again, brighter than before. The confessional box vibrated to the tune of a low, atonal hum.
The light grew brighter until everything exploded in a flash. And in the flash stood a boy, one that looked just like Tyler as a boy, hair over his ears, garbed in jeans and a Lacoste shirt. Light faded to reveal open hills, fields of wild grass dotted with sunflowers, sycamore and oak providing a broad green canopy overhead.
There were two boys, the second one up in a tree, his legs dangling precariously. The boys looked identical enough to be twins.
The boy on the ground looked puzzled.
“You promise you’ll come back?” shouted the boy in the tree.
The boy on the ground nodded.
“’Cause I’ll find you. You know I will.”
“I said I promise.”
“What if you forget?”
“’Cause I can’t do it on my own. We’re a team, remember? We gotta do it together or it don’t make a difference.”
“What are we doing?”
“You’re forgettin’ already? Just get back. It’s not just me who needs you. We all need you.”
Tyler noticed other children, ranging from 2 to 12, darting through the tall weeds and grass in what appeared to be a game of catch, girls and boys laughing, as if only that moment mattered, the past and the future of no relevance.
“They want it all for themselves, even this place,” said the boy in the tree. “And they don’t bother us now that you’re here. Maybe they’ll even stop building?”
“Don’t be sorry. Just hurry up and come back before all of this is gone and you won’t recognize the place and you won’t recognize me even, and you’ll be like your dad, not knowing if you’re coming or going.”
“I want to stay.”
“But you can’t.”
The boy on the ground turned, but, remembering something, he turned back.
“Find me if I don’t come back.”
“How’ll I do that?”
“Just in case I forget. Find me.”
“You can be sure I’ll find you, and if it all goes to crap, it’s on you. And you’re the one who’s gotta fix it. You’re the only one who can.”
The boy on the ground nodded as he turned, immersed in blinding light.