Friday, 17 January 2014 08:21

With a Twitch of a Finger by Christina Hagmann

With a Twitch of a FingerSometimes a question can be more powerful than any answer. For example, take this question – where are you from? Two months ago my answer would have been simple. I’m Del, an orphan, from Mount Rose, Minnesota. Ask me today and I would have a difficult time answering you. I don’t know where I’m from any more than I know what I am or why I do what I do. And it all started with a twitch of a finger.

So the simple answer, I grew up in Mount Rose, Minnesota, in an orphanage, seems average enough. It was only after I left that I realized that it wasn’t a normal orphanage. As toddlers, we did a lot of meditating and listening to nature. Listening for the words to come to us. We weren’t to make connections with anyone, or favor anyone over another. We were encouraged and rewarded for remaining emotionless. Now that I think about it, it was pretty freaky and cult-like, but when that’s all you know, you don’t question it.

On my seventeenth birthday, I was booted out of the orphanage and given my clothes and a leather band with my initials on it. D.C. It also had an inscription on the inside, Children of Chronos. I wouldn’t research Chronos until later on, when things started go wrong, but on my seventeenth birthday, I was preoccupied with graduating to adulthood and saving my first soul.


It was my first day out on my own after settling into my new apartment. I walked about two feet behind a finely dressed woman with perfectly coiffed hair. Her heels clacked loudly on the sidewalk, then she turned and checked her hair in a coffee shop window.

I didn’t know why, but I had the urge to follow her. Something calling out in my head. I held my breath, hoping that she didn’t notice me so close behind her. Usually people in the city didn’t notice much, but I was also pretty invisible wearing very little makeup with my short cropped haircut and my mousy features.

My finger began to twitch madly as we waited at the crosswalk. When the light changed, there was a sharp pain, and even though I didn’t know why, I reached out and touched the woman on the shoulder. She turned and looked at me, and suddenly, we were walking again. I was two feet behind her as she checked her hair in the coffee shop window. She stopped walking.

“Déjà vu,” she said, to no one in particular. She looked in the window again and this time, decided to enter. I stood outside and watched her get in line to order. There was a screech in front of me as a car ran the red light and barreled through the intersection, smashing into another vehicle, right by the crosswalk where the woman would have been.

Sometimes I could see what was going to happen, but sometimes it wasn’t that obvious, or that good. This time, I had saved someone. That was not always the case. Thus began my life as a Déjà vu, with knowledge that just came to me, much like the knowledge of what to do with the woman that first day. But it wouldn’t always be that simple. And there would be many more, until he came into my life and ended it.

It was Monday, and I started the day the way I always had, lying in bed and listening for the voice to tell me that something needed a change, but nothing did, at least not yet. Many of my days were spent walking to where I was drawn. Most people might think that it is a terrible way to live, but I find it comforting to have a sense of direction, a greater force pulling you somewhere.

            I got up and brewed some coffee, waiting to be interrupted during my first cup, but nothing happened. I turned on the television to the morning news. There was a story about recent terrorist threats around the country. I rarely watched the news because it made me wonder why some things were allowed to happen and some were not. My cat, Frankfurt, jumped up on the couch and head butted my hand. I rubbed the inside of his ear with my knuckle. I wasn’t supposed to have cats, but I had been able to hide Frank thus far. Suddenly, my pointer finger began to twitch against my thigh.

            I got up and went to the bathroom to quickly brush my teeth. I should have been in a rush, but I couldn’t stand the lingering taste of coffee and morning, following me through the day. When I was done, I slipped on my tennis shoes, sans socks, and went out in the hallway. Mrs. Kingston was in the hallway, coming back from the mailbox. She wore her bright red kimono, as always. I briefly wondered if she ever washed the thing, then I locked my door and made my way to the lobby of the apartment complex that I lived in. It was a nice apartment, and I didn’t have to pay rent. I’m not sure who paid it, but I was pretty sure it had something to do with my unusual skill set.

And so my morning went like this. After changing a little boy’s life course, and watching him die at the hands of his father, which was horribly tragic, I stopped in at a little café for brunch. I people-watched for awhile trying to gauge their reactions to things. The excited, hugging greetings. The hand gestured stories to one another across the table.  Then there were the people who didn’t speak to each other at all. I had always felt detached, cold, but watching all the ways that people could be, made me feel better. Maybe I wasn’t a monster. Then my finger began twitching again. It was a little unusual for it to happen so quickly, but it wasn’t completely unheard of.

I stood out on the front sidewalk, waiting to be guided. The wind blew, and I knew that I was going west, down Bakersfield Street. My finger twitched at a slow pace which meant that there was no need for me to run. My worn sneakers gently tapped on the concrete as I weaved through crowds.

I came to a large building and the twitch began to pick up speed. I was in the right place. There were people coming and going. It was some kind of office building, which I had passed by a dozen times before. I looked at the sign. It was the administrative building of the local paper mill. I didn’t feel the need to go in.

Then I saw him. He was wearing a white t-shirt and baggy khakis, and he was standing on the same side of the street as me, opposite of the office building.  This guy I had saved once before. If I remembered correctly, it was from a gas station robbery. I never came across a double recipient of the twitch before. And I remembered how, at the time, I thought he was cute, with his shiny black hair. He even had the same messenger bag.

            “Jeremy,” a young girl across the street yelled. She stood at the revolving door, ready to enter the building. My eyes followed her. My finger began to twitch wildly. And I felt something. Not in my finger, but something jittery in my stomach. It was a feeling that I couldn’t identify, but I knew to be some kind of emotion, and it had to do with Jeremy. He looked towards the girl just as I reached out and touched him. We were suddenly back to two minutes ago. This time, I watched as the girl didn’t spot Jeremy. She entered the building. Moments later, I was blown backwards at least ten feet by the impact of an explosion. The heat was immense, and I landed in a crumble of debris and heard the chorus of hysterical screams. I started to wonder how I was put in this position. I had never felt like I was in danger before.

            I lay there in the debris as the sirens drew closer. There was movement in the rubble, but when I looked up at the building, it was like a sandcastle, stomped by a jealous child. I was able to stand up. I seemed to be fine. I looked for Jeremy. My finger wasn’t twitching anymore.

            He was alone, crumpled, with debris on him. He had a deep cut on his head and was unconscious. I looked to see if he was breathing. He was. And strangely, I was relieved that he was alive. I waited by him. The ambulance and rescue teams came, and I waved them over. They checked Jeremy and brought the stretcher over. As they worked on loading Jeremy into the ambulance, I wandered around looking at the damage. By the time the ambulance picked me up, I’d seen them haul various body bags out of the rubble. I only had a few lacerations, but they were going to take me back to the hospital anyway, just to be safe. They seemed concerned with how unresponsive I was, not knowing that it was just in my nature.

            When I ducked into the ambulance, I realized that I was not alone. Jeremy lay in a cot in the back. I was glad to see that he was okay, though I didn’t even know him. He had red eyes, filled with the remnants of tears.

            “Are you okay?” I asked, surprised to hear my own voice. I usually didn’t go out of my way to talk to people.

            “No.” Jeremy said, cradling his arm to his chest. I knew it was more than just physical pain he felt. Then, surprisingly, he revealed, “my sister was in there. We were meeting. She’s dead.” He was so forthright that I didn’t know how to respond to such a statement. It was clear that grief had not hit him yet.

            “I’m so sorry to hear that,” I added weakly. It was such a lame thing to say to someone who just survived an explosion. He put his head down. Slow tears began to drip down his face. I tried not to stare, but I couldn’t make sense of the emotions that he was feeling. It wasn’t the reaction, sobbing, snot dripping, cries, that I was expecting, but in a way, his silent tears were more powerful than anything I had ever seen. And then, I felt tears prickling their warning at the back of my eyes. I looked up and out of the corner of my eyes to make it stop. It hurt. I didn’t like how it felt.

            We didn’t talk the rest of the trip, and when we arrived at the hospital, my finger began to twitch again. I was completely shocked. Three times in a day was unheard of.

            They led me to my own bed and pulled a curtain around for privacy. My finger was twitching wildly and though I should have waited for the doctor, the emergency room was so busy that I knew no one would miss me. I stepped out from behind the curtain.

There were people frantically rushing about, trying to help survivors of the blast. I spotted Jeremy. He started convulsing, like he was having some kind of seizure. A nurse called out for help and a doctor rushed towards them.

Then I saw a man in a different bed, a man who had a piece of shrapnel sticking out of his abdomen. He began convulsing as well. And there it was. The moment. I was supposed to touch the doctor so that he went to the man with the shrapnel. This doctor would save the man, but at the same time, I realized that the man was the one who was responsible for the explosion. The bomb detonated early, so he wasn’t able to get out in time. I don’t know why he did it. He didn’t look like a terrorist, just a normal guy. A father. But I could see that if the doctor went to him, he would live and Jeremy would die. I just knew it, like when you know the answer on a test. And for some reason, something that had to do with that feeling that I had felt for Jeremy earlier, I decided not to touch the doctor.

            I’d never disobeyed orders, and I tried to reason with myself that the reason I had this time was that it seemed silly to save Jeremy twice in his lifetime, only to have him die. I didn’t know what would happen. Would lightening reach out of the sky and strike me down? There was no telling. So I walked out of the hospital and headed home to wait for the repercussions of my actions. I should have felt guilt, but I didn’t, because I was happy that Jeremy lived and that horrible, horrible man, died.

I watched the news about the bombing. The deceased bomber was suspected to be a part of a terrorist group, but for all anyone knew, they could have been a group of local mill workers pissed off that the plant had been shut down. There were a lot of unhappy people in the city.  The bombers began hitting spots all over the city, which was crazy and unheard of. Car bombs here. Garbage bombs there. The city had turned into a war zone, little Mount Rose, Minnesota, and I knew it was my fault because at some point, as if the thought was given to me, I realized that the reason the bomber was supposed to live was so that the Feds could catch him, and through him, get to the rest of his associates. Instead, the city was being punished. But I didn’t feel guilt. I had seen too much in my time to feel guilt. 

Weeks passed and nothing changed. I wasn’t punished in any way, so I figured whatever change was at least small enough that it went unnoticed. I was beginning to question my purpose and who I was. That was when I finally decided to research Chronos and found the word to be the personification of time, or more accurately, Father Time. It made sense that if I was a child of Chronos, I would be able to manipulate time, but I still didn’t know why I changed the things I did. Or why I was here.

            Then, my finger began to twitch, and I gave Frankfurt a squeeze and briefly wondered about the unconditional love of a cat. I wished that I was capable of that kind of connection, but I knew that it wasn’t my destiny.  

I walked out of my apartment and down the street. The library was only a few blocks away, and I felt pulled to it. I walked in and it was fairly empty, people in the city were lying low, but there at a table, in a shelter of tall stacks of books, was Jeremy.

            I was flustered to see him. I felt red creep up on my neck. He looked healthy, and I was glad for that. He looked up at me, confused. He was trying to place me. I kept walking, but my finger was pulling me towards him.

“Hey,” he called to me and waved a hand. I didn’t want to go over by him. I didn’t want to feel the urge to touch him. But then he smiled.

            I walked over, but didn’t say anything. “You were there the day of the explosion.” I was surprised that he recognized me. No one remembered me, and that was how it was supposed to be. It was the order of things. “You helped me, didn’t you? They told me the girl in the ambulance waited and was by my side when I was unconscious.” I nodded. “Thank you.” He said. He stared at me because I refused to talk to him. I’d already done enough. He should have been dead, twice. I started to get the feeling that this new twitch wouldn’t stop until he was, and I just wanted to be away from the walking dead man. But I also couldn’t just leave.

            “Sorry about your sister.” I said. I wanted to smack myself in the head. I knew I shouldn’t have brought it up, but it was the only thing that I could think of. The slow, silent tears that he had cried for her. The twitch in my finger ceased.

Then, someone new walked in the library. He had a buzz cut and an arm full of tattoos. I glanced up. I sensed something. I looked at his wrist. He wore a leather band on his wrist, like mine. I saw his finger twitching wildly, and I knew that because I didn’t make the change, he would.

He zeroed in on us. He looked pissed. “Want to go get coffee?” I quickly asked Jeremy. I don’t know why I needed him to be alive so badly, but I did.

            He was startled by my sudden interest. “Sure, let me just pick up these books.” He reached for the piles, but I grabbed him by the arm as the man neared us.

            “They’ll do that for you. Come on.” Surprisingly, he let himself get taken away by me. The man stopped and watched as we ran to the back door of the library. He almost looked shocked that I ran.

            “What are we doing?” Jeremy asked.

            “That guy that just walked in is my ex. He’s a creepy stalker. I needed to get out of there.”

            Jeremy studied my face.  “So, you need me to protect you?” I laughed and a snort came out. My face lit up red as I held my hand to my mouth. Laughter burst from Jeremy and he touched my shoulder.

            “Sorry. I shouldn’t laugh.” He tried to fight a smile. “Where to?”

            “There is a coffee shop around the corner,” I answered and led the way. When we got there, Jeremy offered to order for me. I asked for simple black coffee. I didn’t like to be a bother, that made one more memorable, and I took a seat. I scanned the shop. No one looked out of the ordinary, until my eyes crossed an older man with long hair. He kind of looked like those portraits of Jesus. He made eye contact with me. He motioned for me to follow him and as he walked out the door, he held up his hands. His finger was not twitching. It was safe for now. I was hopeful that I might even be able to get some answers.  I waited for Jeremy to come back with our coffee.

            “I have to run to the bathroom, quick,” I said as he sat down. He smiled and nodded at me. I veered as though I was going toward the bathroom, then quickly slipped out the door. The long haired man waited for me.

            “Show me your loyalty. Let the boy go.”

            “Who are you?” I asked.

            “One of your brothers. I am allowed to give you a message from our father. Father says all you must do to right the situation is to let him die.”

            “Who is father?” The man grabbed my wrist and held up the band. He turned it on my wrist to the side that said “Children of Chronos.”

            “He is Chronos, and though he is known by many different names, they all mean the same thing. He controls time.”

             I shook my head, knowing at all sounded crazy, but also, at the same time, knowing it was true. “Who is Chronos? Why haven’t I met him?  Why does he change some things and not others?” Questions lined up single file on my tongue, but my brother cut me off.

            “It is his will and our job is to follow it.”

            “But why does he have that power?”

            My brother looked angry. I thought about Jeremy and his sister. Was I supposed to feel something for this man who was my brother? “Don’t question me, Del. There are many other children who are obedient. His love can only withstand so much. There is no good or evil, there is just the natural order. We live and die by it, but that is your choice.”

            “Then I guess I’ll take my chances.”

            “Then I guess I’ll have to stop you.” He reached and grabbed my arm and twisted it behind me, but I pushed back into him to knock him off balance. He stumbled, but lunged at me just close enough to reach out and touch my arm. I pushed him again, and he fell into a car parked on the street. The alarm went off. At that moment, I looked in the coffee shop windows. People were staring at us. Jeremy was out the door in seconds.

            “Are you okay?” Jeremy asked as he grabbed my arm. My brother stepped back. He was being watched, which was against the code of the Dejas.

            “Let’s go.” I said to Jeremy. He said nothing about the coffee and followed me up the sidewalk. We were halfway up the block when I looked back and saw a different young man and a woman following us. They both had bracelets. I picked up my speed and Jeremy matched my speed.

            “Del? What’s going on?”

            “Jeremy, I know you have no reason to trust me, but it would be in your best interest right now to run.” We both began sprinting at the same time. We ran three city blocks until we came to the abandoned mill that had been shut down weeks ago. We ran inside. I looked back and no one followed. “Del, this seems like more than just some crazy ex. Who was that guy back there?”

            “I can’t explain it to you Jeremy. You wouldn’t understand. You would think I was crazy.”

            “Try me.”

            “Okay. What have I got to lose?” Jeremy shrugged at me. “You know the feeling of Déjà vu?”

            “Yes,” he said, uncertainly.

            “That is me. That is what I do. Well, not just me. There are others like me. Those men chasing me, they are Dejas as well.”

            “Okay,” he said, trying to humor me. “So what is the purpose of déjà vu?”

            “Well, for some reason, when we touch people, their choice changes. It’s kind of like a reset button. The beginning is the same, that’s the déjà vu, but the outcome is different.”

“How do you know what to turn back?” He seemed very interested.

            “You feel it in your brain.” I didn’t tell the truth. I didn’t tell him about the twitch because I didn’t want him to forever be looking at my finger, wondering if something had changed without him knowing. Though for Jeremy, or myself, I didn’t know how long forever would be.

            “How do you know you’re not doing it for selfish reasons?”

            “Well, I hope I’m not, but I never really know for sure.” Then I thought about Jeremy, and I knew I was lying.

            “What happens when you don’t follow directions?” I held my breath. I didn’t want to tell him that he was supposed to die. It would be difficult for him to live his life that way. “You didn’t follow directions. That is why you are running.” It sounded as though he actually believed me. “One more question, Del. Did your directions have something to do with me?” I remained quiet. “I remember you, Del. I remember you from the night of the gas station robbery.”

            There was a rumbling in the ground and I reached out and grabbed Jeremy, trying to steady myself. “What is that?” Jeremy asked. Suddenly, the walls started crumbling. I could see why the Dejas didn’t follow us in the mill. It was about to explode. My finger began to twitch, but it was different this time. I knew what I was supposed to do. I was supposed to touch myself, bring us back to before we entered the building. I was supposed send Jeremy inside to hide. I was supposed to make it out alive. Jeremy was not. He was supposed to die in the tragic mill explosion. My father was giving me one last chance.

            There was a loud blast and around us, the walls crumbled. Jeremy grabbed at me. I was knocked over and out of his reach. A steel beam crashed down and knocked me out. I closed my eyes amidst the clouds of concrete and rubble. When I opened them, the world was still crumbling. The steel beam pressed down hard on my legs, cutting down to the bone. I heard the footsteps of Jeremy approaching. He looked worried.

            “Del. We gotta get out of here. The whole word is coming down.” Then Jeremy saw my legs, he saw the blood.

            “Go without me Jeremy. You gotta go.”

            “I’m not leaving you.”

            “You have to. I’ve done this all so you can live.”

            “Then you should, too.” Jeremy dug at my legs and pressed on the beam. I rubbed my forehead. The floor rattled and started to crumble beneath me. I reached out and touched Jeremy as the ceiling came crashing down on both of us.

            Just as suddenly, I was back. The ceiling hadn’t crashed.  I realized that I had the power even without the twitch, but not the power to change anything. The steel beam pressed down hard on my legs, cutting down to the bone. I heard the footsteps of Jeremy approaching again. He looked just as worried as he had before.

            “Del. We gotta get out of here. The whole word is coming down.” Then Jeremy saw my legs, he saw the blood.

            “Go without me Jeremy. You gotta go.”

            “I’m not leaving you.”

            “You have to. I’ve done this all so you can live.”

            “Then you should, too.” Jeremy dug at my legs and pressed on the beam. I rubbed my forehead. The floor rattled and started to crumble beneath me. I reached out and touched Jeremy as the ceiling came crashing down on both of us.

            “I’m not leaving you.”

I knew I couldn’t convince him to leave. I hadn’t figured out yet how to. I’ll stop when I do. As Jeremy dug at my legs and pressed on the beam, I rubbed my forehead. The floor rattled and started to crumble beneath me. I reached out and touched Jeremy as the ceiling came crashing down on both of us. And I knew it wouldn’t stop, ever, until I could save him. And it all started with a twitch of a finger.

Additional Info

Christina’s fascination with speculative fiction began in fifth grade, when she stealthily read her first Stephen King novel after her mother forbade it. That year she also discovered Asimov and Bradbury in her school library. Some time later, she graduated with a B.A. in English Education, and currently teaches in WI, where she continues to do things she’s told not to.

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