Chaos: When the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future. Edward Lorenz
Every news channel was streaming the very little details of the case that were known, each trying to get a more ‘exclusive’ angle than their competitors.
Channel Z8 was running an interview with a local grocery store owner.
‘I’ll never forget when that girl disappeared. What was it seventeen, eighteen years ago? Whole life ahead of her, and boom, suddenly gone, just like that. I’d been watching the cricket when one of my customers mentioned her remains had been found. What I want to know is- how the hell did she end up in Siberia of all places? Long way from schoolies week on the Gold Coast…’
The journalist probed for as much anecdotal fluff for the news piece as he could get ‘You say you knew Eckles? Can you describe him Albert? Can I call you Al?’
‘Yeah, call me Al. He was just like everyone else in the neighbourhood- nothing unusual in his purchases, milk, eggs, bread, fruit, knew enough about sport to keep up a conversation. But he did have a strange tendency to disappear for long periods of time…’
Fiona rolled her eyes at the familiar face getting his 15 minutes of fame. He was milking it, and the journalist was relishing this ‘exclusive insight’. Switching the channel, she saw news item after news item on the same rolling coverage of the case that was set to change the world.
Liam Eckles, 58 year old former teaching assistant at Henfield Primary School had been charged with the abduction and murder of student Cynthia Sanderson following an anonymous tip off, verified by DNA evidence, and if the prosecution builds a strong enough case- timeline evidence as well. In addition to the abduction and murder charge, Eckles was facing six counts of ‘interference in the order of things’, the first instance of such a charge, and all eyes were on the case that would have far reaching consequences in societal structures and questions of personal liberty. The forensic department was reviewing Eckles’ timeline, a new technique that was largely classified, to understand his connection to a series of seemingly unrelated, yet apparently connected events.
Fiona switched off the TV to have a little peace and quiet. She got enough talk of the case at home. Her father, Attorney General Forrest Cambridge was obsessed with the case and was following it closely. He could occasionally be seen peering out from the televised courtroom footage.
The residents of the aged care facility where Fiona worked had settled to sleep and it was time for her to now get on with paperwork.
Getting up to make a cup of tea, she noticed light streaming out of room 454. The occupant was a lot younger than the other residents, but had wound up there following an ice-diving accident that had led to extensive brain injury, leaving her with locked-in syndrome.
Fiona found her lying in bed, her only motion the furtive blinking of her eyes. Sensors detecting a pre-determined sequence of blinks enabled her to switch the TV on and off.
Fiona was new and hadn’t yet been trained in the intricacies of communication with Ms Blackmore.
Ms Blackmore’s eyes were fixed on the screen, camera panning between the earnest young journalist’s commentary and the wild eyed man being escorted to the waiting police car, long white unruly hair and untidy stubble juxtaposed against the neat presentation of his court room suit.
‘It’s okay Ms Blackmore, time to get some sleep.’
She’d had trouble adjusting to life in the home, having been fiercely independent up until the time of the accident.
It wasn’t clear what was troubling her, but Fiona had learnt to shift the focus from whatever seemed to be causing the anxiety. She switched the channel and found yet another news item discussing the case.
Flinching the only way her body knew how, with startled, erratic blinks, Sue Blackmore felt Liam’s piercing gaze menacing her through the flat screen, taunting her knowingly, her emasculated, still existence making it impossible to tell her story. Damn him for what he has done to me. I returned from Baikal a fraction of my whole. He killed me there, leaving everything but this motionless shell at the bottom of that lake.
It had never been Cynthia’s fault. She’d completed the timeline, but Sue had left the burial of the time capsule to her assistant, Liam. In one swift motion, he’d erased Cynthia’s words and her world, setting in motion a series of catastrophic events. Condemned to silence, Sue couldn’t share this and it would be up to the forensic scientists to connect the abstract sequence of events, join the dots in the lives of so many people, to say with certainty that this man was responsible for it all.
If a butterfly’s wings can flutter and cause a hurricane, what could I do with the blink of an eye? Sue wondered, in a moment of empowerment. Fiona switched off the TV and left the room quietly.
‘Goodnight Ms Blackmore, sleep well’
This brings an end to the Timeline series. The point of departure when I started writing this installment was the WP Daily Prompt ‘chaos‘. I started reading about Chaos Theory and then got lost on a Wikipedia tangent that led to the discovery that Ray Bradbury had written a short story (‘A Sound of Thunder’) on the theme, and it involved time travel! Ha! My nod to Bradbury’s Story, which I haven’t yet read, apart from the plot summary, is the naming of my antagonist in this story, Liam Eckles. I was also struck by the ‘coincidence’ of the image I chose for this series and the thematic connection to what is known as the ‘Butterfly Effect’, a common term for chaos theory coined by meteorologist and mathematician Edward Lorenz following the often mis-quoted title of a presentation he delivered at the 139th meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science: ‘Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?’
I hope you enjoyed reading the series as much as I enjoyed writing it. It pushed my boundaries in being able to sit with a story long enough to develop it to the end without getting bored, and I have been hugely encouraged by feedback from readers who have said the stories work as stand alone pieces as well as part of a series. As always, your feedback and thoughts are welcome.
The final installment of the Timeline series, originally published May 11, 2016. Image added October 15, 2017. If you head to my Instagram (see widget in the side bar), you can view the stop motion animation I created by uploading a series of stills taken during a recent visit to Anthony McCall’s solid light sculpture ‘You & I – Horizontal II (2009) at ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) to Flipagram.