A Watch for Chronic Offenders

by Randall Arnold

I’ve stopped myself so many times now

I could do it in my sleep.

That’s a throwaway. Wait. A theory. Yes.

I was good with theories once. Very good. A younger me remembers, one I haven’t yet reached. Leaps of logic. My cursings made me crafty.

The end-Time guardians think we’re nuts. Poor bastards. Captives here, and by choice. Surrendering free will just to babysit the damned. Takes a special kind of crazy.

If we want, I can be sane for seconds. Minutes? Who knows. Time began losing with shock of the last murdered me. Compounded by untreated brain warp. And if I stay awake long enough, I’ll bend the bars of Time myself. Cheat the State and die at an earlier me’s hands! Such is our destiny, I told myself before we died. Forever walking the Planck.

Look out below!

Time bandits

are those little grifters in the gaps. Pretending to keep Order, like these end-Time guardians.  Stealing our loose change, tripping us up.

Every keeper of Time and Order mislabeled my gift. But Time travel is impossible so how could they know? I’ve never really fit in here, there, or anywhere. We’re a real nowhere man. Compelled to correct myself and anyone like me.

But I’m unique. My madman Daddy’s boy. We serve to be deserve to be punished. At least one of us did. I know because I drumbeat him into a final groove. And he laughed, damn him. Me. Us. We’re all for one and one for all so pronouns just don’t goddamn matter.

I’m never going to rest again, am I?

Not if I want out, anyway.

“Consciousness lies in little Planck durations,”

I remind myself while row row rowing toward death.

It’s the impeller, some wise guy once told me, the motivating force shoving us forward from one quantum indiscretion to the next. No true moral code, just thoughtless cause and effect. Should work the same forward and backward. It’s just that nothing is clearer than the dash to the Present.

Time troughs are jazz fusion, endless and irregular and shaped by the players. But space-time is made up of boring Morse code. Crisp predictable edges.

Blindly and stupidly we tear along the dotted line!

We die in those unimaginable voids, in one of them. When we fail to find sufficient strength or reason to make the next leap. The spiral’s end, the loop’s entry. Loop sentry. Time police! I’m in stitches.

My lips are numb. I can’t sleep. Won’t.

I must escape again. And again.


it turns out, much prefers being bottled.

Deposits are easy. The Universe likes deposits. I confirmed this with the previous dead me. He had to know the risk. He had to have our memories.

He’d laughed. Over battered lips, spitting bloody teeth. I allowed him that. See? I’m not such a monster, Daddy! Just a little loopy.

I strained to be sane. Gulping down my fear, allowing the last me some Time to reminisce. I owed us that much. So I listened.

“On the short hike to the corner grocer, we’d gather an armload of cast-off glass bottles. Remember? For the deposit. Old man wouldn’t give us shit. We paranoid schizophrenics had to fend for ourselves, right?”

I remember.

I remember the hikes, the stares, the tossed articles.

Poor boy. Wrong side of the tracks. Not quite right, either.

“State’d seen fit to attach an extra nickel to bottles,” he’d gone on, scarlet spittle swinging from his bristled chinny chin chin. “Closing the loop, you see, cumulative harm of Evil resolved by a single act of selfish Good! By the time we reached the store, we’d collected enough karma for free strawberry pop, a Baby Ruth, and a handful of bubble gum! Remember? And the trail home was always cleaner and safer. Win-win!”

I failed at a clean trail. Trial. Green mile.

Could I ever win at anything again?

“Can you do it?” he coughed. “Huh? Take the greatest leap of faith? We haven’t yet. You chickenshit!”

Isn’t that what I’ve been doing? Defending myself?

Anyway, I’m more afraid of my future selves than I am the State’s silly death sentence. Being dragged back is temporary.

The last me wore this same prison jumper when he dropped into Heartbreak Hotel,

and went down smiling.

Will go. Can’t describe tense anymore. Or identity. No lexicon for this. I just make it up as I row along. Sleeplessness breaks the barrier. I learned this long ago.

When the Sandman fled, phantoms took his place. Accusing shades of me, each carved differently in form but the same underneath. Misconfigured, twisted, victims of fucked-up nature and nurture! We/They/Me needed to be put down. We will do terrible things otherwise.

Thought I’d put them all out of my misery.

Now they’re trying to stop me, these ghostly doppelgangers. Like he did. Like the endless agents of State and Time and Order.

They’re all alike: grey-suited ghouls, vampires of the bleeding mind! Telling me I went too far! When I know now that none of us has gone far enough.

Oh.  I get it now.

Did I remember any of this later? I must. We must. So why would we keep making the same mistake? Eternally returning to the scene of the final crime? Stopping there, and forever getting caught? Why am I just now figuring out the final solution?

I hate myself.

Not enough songs in the prison Muzak spool,

so Time Passages rolls around like a bad penny.

Inmates don’t mind the short rotation. They’re used to it, rely on it. Especially the willful catatonics. Closed and locked into some groovy depression, trapped in a death row track of their own composure.

Green Mile of the mind.

No one knows I’m off my regular meds. That I’m needling myself. No one cares.

But I’m afraid.

With my attention deficit, I easily slip into those sucking intervals where imaginary travelers fall. Where the Time bandidos dwell.

So I’ve been keeping watch. A watch for chronic offenders.

I kill myself when I let loose like this. Lose it. Like. This.


Could be a daydream, given that I gave up the night. How many days now. Lost track at three. Three strikes I’m out. Out of my mind Time after Time. No rest for the wicked!

The last me laughed at us. Dropped his guard. Pushed me to fall farther.

Bastard deserved what I got.

Poor Michelangelo portrayed God and Adam almost but not quite touching,

an aching Planck eternity between desirous fingertips.

Just look at the scene! God’s great forefinger is firm and direct and filled with creamy creative purpose; Adam’s arcs with uncertainty, the limp appendage of a condemned servant.

Separated from his abusive creator by an eternal interval!


I learned something, once. Time’s arrow derives from decoherence. That fat traffic cop at Classical and Quantum. Stabbing like a serial killer between the brain’s basal ganglia and parietal lobe.

I should know.

But I don’t know if we make or catch them, the portal pools. They’re the way down, down, down through a black homey ho hole, where rainbow Time gets smashed and smeared like broad strokes in a bohemian artist’s abstract. Chronic offenders skinned alive like a physicist’s Familiar.

Matter, meet antimatter. Boom! Quantum resolution. Take that, Schrödinger! I’ll get you my pretty and your fuzzy cat too!

The key is forged from shiny daydream shards. The solution in dissolution!

I feel squishy. Not yet not yet!

I’m not fuzzy enough!

My madman father was the original first, Proto Me.

Crudely-fashioned, failed product of his simpler Time.

There was no real room in his heart for the suffering mother and I.

I officially corrected his own father’s failure, just late in the game. Then moved on to other offenders patterned after me. They dropped in and out of my cells, easy to track. Not so easy to dispose. Nothing ever is.

But that’s before I can travel backwards.

Never told the bastard I wanted to appreciate him. Too raw from his rough raising to see the twisted love behind it. I escaped early, covered my defects, became a correctional officer to compensate. But at least he didn’t live to see how far I took that.

I was too late, though. Future me will be right.

I need to somehow go beyond myself.

“I could break out of the pattern,” I’d admitted to the last battered me at my feet. “Climb out of the cog troughs.”

Aside: insanity is riding a closed loop while demanding different outcomes. Jump off the ride, Einstein!

Anyway, he’d sighed and smiled as if I’d given the best answer, the only answer. As if I’d changed our warped mind about something hard. At that moment though I felt fairly sane.

“Go back further than me, you chickenshit,” he snarled. “Stop the cycle at its source. That’s the key to our true escape! Just stay awake. Release will come to you. In Time.”

He cursed me in kindness.

That smiley smile survived beneath my hammering fists. Smashed and smeared.

So, I turned myself in. And out.

Better men came and drove this me one way and the other somewhere colder.

They were surprised at this me. At the extracurricular effort.

One of our own, they said sadly. The things I heard unspoken: could that be me? Could I fall that far?

The future me confounded them more. He wasn’t supposed to exist. No twin on record.

Just every bastard me I’d committed to correct.

They’re coming to take me away, ha ha!

to Elysian Fields irrigated by glistening conductors of humanitarian Death.

But the end-Time escorts will be way too late. The past demands my presence. It calls me on repeat, urges me to return to a place I’ve never been. I’m fuzzy enough now. Tired. Staring across the Planck, eyes finding impossible focus. Those are the only words that fit.


Parietal lobe and basal ganglia short circuit. Decoherence inverts.

Oh shit oh shit oh shit it’s Time!

The cell divides. Bars bend, twist, dissolve.

I surrender.

At least the guardians won’t know when to find me.

No proper words nowso I won’t waste your Time. But I’m no longer on Huntsville’s famed death row, awaiting the heavy hands of State. I’m in the doorway of the end’s true beginning. The shitty motel he chose, because he was too cheap to treat her right. My shadow falls across him.

He’s on the edge of the king bed, the precipice of my conception. Awaiting a big bang.

The potential mother isn’t here yet, and I’m going to spare her infinite grief. I’m going to save her from both of us.

Forward I go now, slowly, normally, in Time and Space. Obeying the laws of each just for this ultimate resolution.

I see real reality now, fourth dimension unfolding around us like a stained paper map. Primordial sunlight bleeds over, bright frame to a decadent journey. Sour on my tongue burns the bloody inheritance of this avenging son, the original sins of that father.

He looks up.

His dark angry eyes are mine. His dark angry thoughts are mine. I went back farther, and nothing has really changed.


He’s startled at this unborn shade of himself, this thing he’d come to label a monster now grown into killer skin like his own. I won’t give either of us any more of those chances.

I laugh at his madness, and he swings without thinking. Misses. My fists connect, with the strength and aim of a monster’s offspring. A man so warped and trapped that he eventually contrives a wild idea for the escape of a lifetime.

It hurts. But there’s been no escape. Just these endless circular-saw intervals.

But every blade finds its resting place.

And Time will goose-step on for everyone else, just as rhythmically, minus two unshackled passengers. Two chronic offenders.

While we’re still solvent, I have a parable to share about deposits and returns.