What If... Arnett Never Helped Flint

a story
2021-09-16 21:25:45,
2021-09-16 21:25:52
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What if...

"Time. Space. Reality. It's more than a linear path. It's a prism of endless possibility, where a single choice can branch out into infinite realities, creating alternate worlds from the ones you know. I am the Watcher. I am your guide through these vast new realities. Follow me and ponder the question... 'What if?'"

"Antiford. 1891. The world is much the same way you or I recognize it. Joel Arnett was a man not well known, although those who knew him will never forget him. However, he was not always this way. You see, out of his entire life he has made some decisions. We all make decisions. However... few have ever been made like these. Some of the worst decisions that had ever been made in his life were made in the time Joel Arnett was becoming a man. However... one decision... one decision was the best choice he ever made in his entire life."

"And it turned a boy, into a man."

"However... in another reality, Joel Arnett made a different decision. Made a different choice. One seemingly insignificant act."

A commotion sounded and broke through the crowd, and Arnett could see a crowd backing away from the front of Argenstrath Medical College.  Arnett decided to check it out. Keeping by a public trashcan, he looked over the crowd that was pushing back from the scene unfolding.


An older gentlemen was in the center of it all. With a pair of handcuffs on his right hand, the other cuff dangling at his side, and a large metal poll in his hands, he swung at a group of men and women forming around him. He had on a long brown overcoat and he wore a strange hat on his head, the large brim tucked over his eyes. His eyes were dark under the brim, but Arnett could see them shift from person to person. The only other distinguished feature was a large mustache, salt and peppered with age.


One of the men surrounding him yelled out at him, and rushed forward. The old man swung the bar with such skill, side-stepping the man and slamming the bar into his back. Another man rushing from behind him met a similar face as the old man turned around and slammed the bar into his face, causing his head and neck to fly back as his feet shot up from underneath him.


Arnett gawked in amazement. Maybe this man wasn’t as old as he thought. He was taking on at least four or five other men. One of which Arnett recognized. Arnett snapped his fingers and pointed as he remembered the strange man who yelled at him in the crowd earlier, from the medical cart. Then Arnett looked at the old man. He was on the stretcher… hurt. Damn, thought Arnett, he could fight after that?


The woman from the cart was making her way down the stairs, her head looked bruised but not bad.


“Mr. Flint, please!” she yelled, “Al, don’t you dare hurt him! Step away! Flint, please! Listen to reason, sir!”


The man who Arnett recognized pulled a pistol on the old man, and he yelled out, “Drop it, man, or I’ll drop you!”

Arnett didn't know why…


Maybe he thought it was an unfair fight. Arnett liked a good fight. Maybe his recent display of testosterone fueled him with a lust to prove himself. Maybe fate knew better. Maybe Arnett knew…


Arnett barely had time to think as he brought the trashcan down on the old man with the handcuffs, and the trashcan broke under the force. The old man slumped to the street. His brown hat skidded across the ground, to the pistol man’s feet. Immediately the other guards, or whomever, rushed forward at once. Arnett ducked down for the hat.

The old man was still. The men pulled his arms back and secured his handcuffs. In another few moments, nurses were rushing out with a stretcher.

The pistol man holstered his gun, and turned to Arnett, "Quick thinking, kid. Thanks."

"Oh, it's nothing," said Arnett.

"Excuse me. excuse me," came a higher pitched voice from the gather crowd.

A man with a notepad and pencil was raising his hand, pushing himself through the crowd.

"Excuse me, Walter Tweed from the Ticking Clock! What is going on here?" asked the man, "Another escaped wacko? Was he a danger to the Argenstrath residents?"

"No comment!" said the guard as the other men lifted the old man onto the stretcher.

"Are you cops? Who are you to speak-"

"NO COMMENT!" said the man more harshly, "If you need quotes for your paper, this young man saved the day. He'll take all further questions."

"What?" said Arnett.

"Way to go, kid," said the man, "Enjoy your second on stage. Make it sound heroic."

Arnett offered the old man's hat to the guard. The other guards had already began hurrying the man back inside the hospital. The guard held out his hand, denying it.

"Keep it, kid," said the man, "You've earned it."

Arnett looked down at the hat. It was a wide brimmed hat with a pinched crown. It looked worn. Sun bleached in places. And in the inside, the sweat band looked stained. Arnett winced at the look of it.

Looking at the pile of rubbish that had spilled out on the ground, Arnett allowed the hat to fall on top of the pile.

He turned to the reporter, and the small crowd of people. Apparently they had been waiting for him to start talking. He spotted a beautiful young lady with short, spiked hair in the crowd, and a smile formed on his face.

"Well where do I begin?" said Arnett, "With the crazed lunatic or the beautiful citizens he was trying to harm?"

Arnett winked at the young lady, before turning to the reporter and recounting his overblown side of the story.

Joel Arnett was shocked to see it had been such a light news day. Somehow, the story of him taking out a crazed patient hit front page of many smaller Argenstrath newspapers while being second page on papers such as the Ticking Clock. It felt like overnight he went from a nobody to a somebody. 

This lead to a letter, weeks later, from Arnett's father. It was short and simple, congratulating him on his take down, and asking him to come home to talk.

Arnett was hesitant, but agreed. For the first time in years, Arnett went home and visited his family. In the course of dialogue, his father asked him to step outside. Sheriff Carl Puckette joins them.

"Look," said Manfred, "I... I feel strongly it's time for you to stop all this... wandering."

"Excuse me?"

"Look, kid," said Sheriff Puckette, "I read the articles. You obviously have some form of drive to step in and help out the little guy."

"Well... I am the little guy," said Arnett.

"Joel," said Manfred.

"Look, kid, we're just saying," said Puckette, "There's a solid opportunity for you. There's training. There's ciam in it. There's a future. Kid, there's a purpose."

"Look," said Arnett, "Stop with that kid stuff. It's Joel or Arnett, or both. Never kid."

"How about I put this into perspective for you," said Puckette, "Why risk losing your job and your life stopping a crazy old man?"

Arnett shrugged, his eyes darting to the ground, "Oh, it was no problem like that. I kinda... drift."

"Drift?" asked Puckette.

"Yeah, I do odd jobs. Sometimes it's fixing up stuff. I got a solid line of work at an airship dock."

"That's no life," said Manfred, "And I am willing to bet there's no ciam in it worth writing home about."

"So, if you have these skills than, why put them to waste?" asked Puckette, "Why are you hopping around? Are there no industries that catch your fancy?"

"It's not like that," said Arnett, "I'm not going to get tied down somewhere. I'm just... seeing the world currently is all. For years I was stuck in this town..." 

Arnett turned to see the hurt look on his father's face. 

He sighed, but continued, "I never wanted to be stuck again."

"That's stupidity talking," said Manfred.

"No... that's not stupid, that is inexperience talking. That's a child," said Puckette.

"Hey, no it's not," shot back Arnett, "Is it so wrong to want freedom? To want more?"

"Wanting more is what drives us forward through life, Joel," said Puckette, "But aimlessly throwing yourself into the future creates an empty half life. You need to think, plan, anticipate. Right now you have a real shot of doing some good. Is that something you can see yourself doing? Could you protect the week? Take a stand for the little guy? Stand for something bigger than yourself and get paid while doing it?"

Arnett crossed his arms and looked out over Sorditudo. He frowned at the dusty homes and ragged looking people.

"It's good work," said Manfred, "And it's not mining."

"It's dangerous work," said Puckette, "There could be gunfights and death..."

Arnett looked back. At the worried look his father gave Sheriff Puckette, Arnett could not hide a smirk on his face.