This story is by Gregory Faraone and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
She could see the reflection of the candle flickering before him in his eyes as he glanced over. “What do you think it is that divides the atmosphere from the water?”
Winston set his gold-bound book down on the mahogany desk. “Excuse me?”
“Do you think it’s air or water?”
“What makes you so sure they’re divided?”
Micah hurried down the hallway past the students and faculty to get a front-row seat at Dr. Wittgenstein’s lecture. She settled comfortably in the center of the front-row ten minutes before the lecture began. She was the only one in the auditorium. The speaker hadn’t even arrived yet. Micah sat there patiently, brushing her curly, auburn hair away from her horn-rimmed glasses.
Dr. Wittgenstein entered the auditorium and greeted her to break the ice. “Why hello there, Miss. You must be my biggest fan,” he said with a warm smile.
Micah stood up and approached him assertively, shaking his hand with a firm grip. “Hello, Dr. Wittgenstein. It’s such a pleasure to meet you. My name is Micah. I’m very familiar with your work—you’re the reason I chose to study here over Harvard.”
“Ahh, why thank you, Micah. The pleasure is all mine. Hope you enjoy the lecture.”
Micah maintained eye contact throughout the exchange as her vibrant blue eyes locked with the warm ember orbs resting beneath his bushy brown eyebrows.
Students and faculty began to enter the auditorium.
“Well, looks like I’ve got a show to do,” he quipped charmingly.
Micah smiled back.
“The limitations of our language are the boundaries of our world. We cannot think in terms of what we cannot describe. If I asked you to close your eyes and imagine a color that you’ve never seen before, what do you visualize? Does our language, and therefore our understanding, reflect the true structure of the world or simply the organizing activity of our minds?” Dr. Wittgenstein’s words reverberated throughout the overcrowded auditorium.
Micah set her glass down on the lab bench and sighed. She stared up at the prototype, ruminating with a smug grin.
“You can’t change the past, you know.”
Micah smirked without looking over, “Excuse me?”
“I know what you’re trying to do. You’re far from the first. I’ve spent my whole career in this field and I’ve seen countless failed. It can’t be done.”
Micah turned to Dr. Wittgenstein as she whisked her glass off the bench and swirled the liquid around. “Imagine a turkey named Gertrude. Now she lives on a free-range farm, growing up with the same group of turkeys over several years. Everyday Gertrude receives food from her benevolent human captors, and every night she sleeps in a warm, wooden coop. One day, a week or so before Thanksgiving, Gertrude goes about her normal routine, assuming that this day is the same as every other… but it isn’t.”
Micah took a sip. “The trouble with inductive reasoning, it relies on what you observe from experience, but the limitations of what we can experience are a potentially fatal exclusion bias. You helped me understand the difference between real and perceived boundaries.”
His brow tensed up, “Some boundaries ought not to be broken, perceived though they may be.”
“The only boundaries evident are the ones in our mind, the ones we set around our understanding of the world, the tools and lenses we use to explore its meaning,” Micah retorted.
Dr. Wittgenstein poured himself a glass. “What is it that you want so bad? I’ve never quite worked with anyone with a drive like yours. Over the last seven years, I’ve seen you give everything to our research, but the theoretical was never enough, you always had your eyes on the experimental.” He walked over beside Micah and looked up at the prototype. “You turned that blank check, so it’s not money. You refuse to publish your scientific papers, so you’re not in it for the fame.” He took another sip, and stared into Micah’s piercing blue eyes, “If you’re right, this will change the world in ways impossible to comprehend, so before we go any further, I need to know what you’re in it for.”
Micah’s eyes drifted away from his towards the prototype before veering down and then back to meet his gaze. “Have you ever felt like your existence is a puzzle and the only way to find out the whole picture is to keep putting the pieces together, one after another? Well, the pieces have led me here and to you… to this device, and I need to finish the puzzle.”
“And what does the last puzzle piece look like? Because if this works, you know how dangerous it could be in the wrong hands.”
“We have to destroy the device if it works,” Micah said with surgical sincerity. “I don’t know how this all ends, but I know how it begins—with you and I, and the answer to a simple question.”
Outside of the rural college town, a private lab rattled as the device hummed to life, emitting iridescent flurries of light. They watched intently from the control room behind a protective screen, marveling at the dazzling display. Dr. Wittgenstein anxiously fiddled with the pockets of his lab coat. Micah remained calm on her exterior. The lights died down and the device grumbled to a halt. The lab rat specimen marked ‘#33’ had vanished from beneath the device. A quiet smirk spread across her face as she set her stopwatch to five minutes.
“Phew, well I guess now we play the waiting game,” Dr. Wittgenstein said with relief.
Micah poured herself a glass and sat pensively.
At the five-minute mark, the lab rat reappeared beneath the device! Micah leapt out of her seat and hugged Dr. Wittgenstein, as she wiped tears from her eyes.
“Oh my God!” Dr. Wittgenstein exclaimed with a nervous excitement, so awestruck that it took him a moment to reciprocate the hug.
“We did it,” she whispered in his ear.
“We have to destroy the device.”
Micah pulled back for a second. She looked him in the face, biting her lip, then leaned in for a kiss.
“What are you doing?” Dr. Wittgenstein tried to resist.
“Don’t fight it. It’s what we’ve both wanted for a long time,” she cooed gently. He knew it was true. He hoped that he could be the final piece to her puzzle.
Micah lay awake in Dr. Wittgenstein’s bed. He was sound asleep. She stared up at the ceiling, looking past it to imagine the celestial ballet above. Imagining things choregraphed as such served her design, a way to bring order to the vast senselessness of the cosmic soup that bounds existence. While she recognized that she couldn’t actually turn the whole soup into a ballet, she had certainly muscled enough stars into alignment to bypass the perceived boundaries of space-time, and with it, the final piece to her puzzle—her origin.
Micah slipped out of Dr. Wittgenstein’s apartment and back into their lab. She took out a gold-bound book from her bag and tore out a photo of her as a small child in front of the orphanage where she’d spent her first five-years. She set the device for 1990, the year she was born.
Dr. Wittgenstein awoke the next morning, alone in his bed. “Micah?” he called out repeatedly—initially with warmth and then with a shaky timbre and growing uneasiness. He rushed to the lab, to find that he was too late. Micah had used the device and scrambled the data so he couldn’t tell what year she had traveled to.
He found a mysterious gold-bound book. He flipped to the inside cover. Scrawled above a meticulously drawn ouroboros read, ‘To Winston, until we meet again. Love Micah.’ Tears streaming down his face, he continued to flip through. He found an article clipping describing a woman who had gone mad, claiming to be from the future, and was ultimately committed to a psychiatric facility until her death in 1994. He then found a library card in the back of the book. It had been checked out from the Saint Christopher library by Micah in 2005.
Dr. Wittgenstein walked into the Saint Christopher library with the gold-bound book and settled in at a nice mahogany desk. He glanced around and caught eyes with a teenaged girl.
“What do you think it is that divides the atmosphere from the water?” She asked.
Dr. Winston Wittgenstein set the gold-bound book down on the mahogany desk. “Excuse me?”
“Do you think it’s air or water?”
“What makes you so sure they’re divided?” he replied to Micah.
“Everything needs to have a boundary,” Micah replied. “Where do you end and I begin?”
“That’s a tougher question than you may ever realize.”