‘Don’t cross the lines!’ I yelled, panting. It was futile. Xavier leapt up the steps in his jet-black suit, his face written with glee.
The lighthouse was hollow, stretching up to a platform above which obscured the top. Stairs ran up in a spiral around the inside wall, alarmingly with no handrail.
Someone had painted a huge, thick line on the floor and up the wall on either side, splitting the lighthouse in two. To the left, the line was black, to the right – a scarlet, dotted line.
Suddenly Xavier disappeared. One second, pounding up the steps, the next, gone.
‘Where’s your spirit of adventure, brother?’ his voice called from nowhere.
Nothing else for it. I gave chase.
Wednesday, I thought to myself, leaping up two at a time. I crossed the black line. It is Wednesday 26th March. Wednesday. Wednesday.
I curved round to the other side; the dotted red line approached.
Without breaking my stride, I bounded on. Still alive.
‘Isn’t this exciting?’ shouted Xavier. His voice was fainter, echoing more than it should have. ‘I’m nearly at the top!’
I hurtled up the spiral steps, crossing both lines – black and red, black and red again – trying not to look down. Never mind time travel, I thought, a fall from this height would break your neck.
Suddenly, the top: an area just twenty yards or so wide. No walls, just a vast dome of metal struts and glass with the spectacular crystal lens hanging above. A walkway ran around the empty space, with a small platform jutting out into the middle. All around, the Pacific Ocean roared to the horizon in every direction.
And right in front of me, a dazzling grin, with my brother attached.
‘What is this, Xav?’ I panted, backing as far from the red and black lines as I could. I noticed they went all the way up the windows. ‘What the hell is this?’
‘This is the future,’ he beamed happily, looking almost wholesome for a second. ‘Ha, yes, the future is exactly what we’re interested in!’
‘What you’re interested in,’ I replied. I pressed myself back against the windows as hard as I dared, glancing out at the savage sea. ‘How? The International Dateline’s not magic.’ I looked down at the rocky island below. ‘And where’s the helicopter gone?’
‘Huh, the International Dateline.’ Xavier gestured dismissively at the black line, as if it were an outdated car model. ‘Sure, cross the Dateline and you gain a day, lose a day – whatever, doesn’t matter. The time is still the same.’
He tip-toed theatrically towards the red line, painted so precisely on the walkway and up the windows.
‘But cross Chronocavia,’ his eyes lighting up with wonder, ‘and you stay in the same day. Because you travel in time!’
I was way out of my depth. I felt nauseous. But someone had to be the voice of reason. ‘You’re messing with things you don’t understand.’
‘Forces you don’t understand,’ he snapped, pointing at me. His black suit was sharp as ever, somehow uncrumpled from the helicopter ride. ‘What day of the week is it? I bet you don’t even know.’
‘It’s Wedn—’ I said naively before I could stop myself.
‘Hah! Wednesday? Wednesday? We left Wednesday downstairs by the door!’ He was manic now. And yet he looked at me imploringly, begging me to understand. ‘It’s Saturday, brother! We crossed that red line in the same direction three times. Three! It took us five minutes to travel three days forward in time!’
I wanted to understand. I felt like I should.
‘Look, it’s easy,’ said Xavier, always the mind-reader, ‘I’m here on this side with you, in Saturday. When I cross this line, going west, I should gain a day into Sunday. But this is Chronocavia – the great gap, the loophole! So I can cross it,’ he casually strolled across the dotted red line, arms outstretched, ‘and hey presto, it’s still Saturday.’
I felt giddy. I peered ahead over the edge of the walkway; the spiral stairs spun downwards, out of control.
Spiral. That was it. It was a time spiral – where you can walk in a circle, but not end up in the same place as you started…
‘What is this about?’ I asked, snapping back to present. There was always a reason behind everything. ‘Why did you drag me here? Is this about Katrina Summers?’
‘It is, isn’t it?’
‘No, it’s about world domination. I swear!’
‘I knew it,’ I sneered, stepping forward. ‘You were always jealous she dated me in high school and not you. Your whole life you’ve tried rubbing my face in your successes. It’s your way of getting back at me.’
‘Are you crazy?’ Xavier replied, without any trace of irony. He marched right over the red line from Saturday back into Saturday; I edged left away from him as he approached…
‘Look at you! Your “world domination” consists of gadgets and gizmos and petty cash…’
(He was implying my global business empire and half a trillion dollars were trivial. To be fair, he’d said it before.)
Suddenly, something caught my eye down on the floor, all the way down. Black things. With splashes of dark brown-red.
It was bits of body, dressed in a black suit. An arm. A leg. A smart shiny shoe.
I looked down at my own black suit, my shoes.
‘Xavier,’ I started, ‘Xav, can you see down on the floor…?’
He wasn’t listening.
‘…I’m far more concerned with ideas, with breaking the rules. And look at this!’ He was right up in my face now – I leaned back as he jabbed his finger behind him. ‘This is magic, or science, or, or, or both! There isn’t a word for what this is!’
‘There’s a word for what you are.’
He curled his lip and backed away. ‘I’m better than you.’
‘Really.’ I followed him, two steps to the right, worryingly close to the edge.
‘Yes really!’ he yelled, inches away, spit landing on my cheek.
I turned my face instinctively – and suddenly, the body bits were gone. The floor, far down below, was the same clean beige concrete it always had been.
No no no no. This can’t be good.
‘I’ve got news for you, brother. The world doesn’t change with inventions, it changes with ideas. It’s not people like you who change the world, drip-feeding the public with your faster computers and consumer crap, it’s people like me —’
‘Shut up!’ I barked at him, pushing him out of my face. ‘Just shut up, you egotistical loser!’ He was lighter than I thought, stumbling several paces onto the platform. The open space loomed behind him, between black and red lines.
‘Get off me—’ he pushed back, grappling at my suit.
‘You’ve spent your whole life shouting “Look at me! Look at me!”’ I was angry now, and gave him a second shove in the chest. ‘You’re selfish and vain and I’ve had enough of your—’
I swear, I didn’t push him that hard.
He fell off the edge, a frantic look on his face – as half of him fell into Saturday, and half of him fell into Sunday.
I felt sick.
Down on the floor, on the right hand side, half of his body bounced bloodily on the bare concrete all by itself. On the left, the other half came to rest amongst the dark blood and parts which had been waiting for twenty-four hours, reunited at last.
I sat down. Then I stood up. Then I sat down and stood up again.
My eyes welled up. But I didn’t cry. Neither of us had been that kind of person.
He’d certainly been crazy. You couldn’t rule the world just by jogging forward three days in five minutes. What did he expect? Spontaneous applause? A seat at the UN?
The excitement of the idea had blinded him so much, he’d lost sight of reality completely.
I exhaled, staring out over the ocean. Far to the north, I could just make out the merry red and white stripes of the other lighthouse, marking the other end of Chronocavia.
Down below on the island, an empty space lay where the helicopter should have been. But then I realised it was still waiting there, in that exact spot, just three days and five minutes away.
I turned away from the sea, and stared hard at the dotted red line.
Three days in five minutes. Hmm.
That was no good.
To rule the world, you’d need machines…
Another short story about time travel in the South Pacific! Humorous but dark – two brothers fight it out in a lighthouse on CHRONOCAVIA – the great loophole in the International Dateline.
For a lighter comic story about time travel, check out Sir Ralph Beef Beef Wellington and the Incredible Loophole