Recently I’ve been talking to an old friend after a long hiatus in our relationship. One thing we both agreed on was that the land of what-if was not a place to dwell. Yet we all do it. What if I’d stayed up north instead of moving south? What if the person I’d wanted to study under in grad school hadn’t died? When young the choices seem infinite. As we grow older the decisions we make narrow our path. And so like Robert Frost I sigh, “knowing how way leads onto way, I doubted if I should ever come back.”
Of course writers constantly deal in what-ifs, and one of the greatest what-ifs centers around manipulating time. I’m fascinated with the concept of time and stories that put their own twist on it, from Jack Finney’s Time and Again to Stargate’s 1969 to Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Then there is Dr. Who, a Time Lord. (Martha, arriving in Shakespearean England, asks, “What if we step on a butterfly?” Confused, the Doctor says, “Don’t step on any butterflies,” then adds, “What do you have against butterflies?”)
The Poet Theodore Roethke wrote, “Those who are willing to be vulnerable move among mysteries.” This is what I thought of when slowly I developed my little Time Witch in The Wastelanders. Si-Ting has prescient powers and discovers she can “bend time.” Think of the cat in the Matrix. Neo sees it then sees it again and comments he’s had a déjà vu. Instead it’s a glitch. Time has changed. Si-Ting can make changes, though they must be immediate and she is limited to the shadow of the present. It makes her strong, yet it also makes her vulnerable, open to danger. It is a powerful tool for good. Or evil, should this knowledge fall into the wrong hands.