Hatchetfield is a sleepy town, barely big enough to be a city. Founded in 1824, this town in Michigan is the epitome of a town where nothing ever happens. The biggest event in the town's history was the opening of the nuclear power plant in 1960 - all weird and inexplicable events have been blamed on its presence by paranoid townsfolk. Besides this, Hatchetfield is a fine town where neighbors know one another and care for each other; where no one ever leaves, but everyone dreamed of doing so.
When you dig below the surface, however, you'll find things you never wanted to know. You'll find mysteries you can't solve, secrets never meant for prying eyes. You'll find yourself trapped in a loop you can't escape from. It's better to walk away ignorant than to dig at all. It's even better not to know this all exists, as most citizens of Hatchetfield live blissfully.
We trust time is linear. Nobody has reason to doubt this fundamental truth. In Hatchetfield, this isn't always the case - Hatchetfield, where the future bleeds into the past, which both influence the present. These terms only create an illusion. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow are connected in a never-ending cycle. Even if it doesn't seem to make sense, everything is connected.
For the sake of linearity, we assume the story begins on June 21, 2019, when Mr. Tony Green took his own life and left a letter on his desk with clear instructions not to open until November 4, 2019, at 10:13 pm.
But November 4 is the day the narration starts.
The alarm clock blared. Ethan woke up and stared at the ceiling. It was almost a ritual, to keep his thoughts calm as he got up to start his day. His father usually worked in the attic, right above Ethan’s room. He'd hung himself in the attic. Without a note, without a sorry or a goodbye.
Why hadn’t he written a note? Why did he do it in the first place? As far as Ethan had been aware, Tony wasn't depressed or dealing with some shit. Maybe he didn't notice because he didn't pay attention.
Ethan wished he had. Maybe his father would still be alive.
Stop it! Ethan sat upright in his bed and rubbed his eyes. Today was the first day of school; he should focus on that instead of his father. He should distract himself with other things. It was going to be hard now he was back home, especially as he wasn’t feeling well.
Ethan had a false start as a junior. Last year, only a week until the summer break, Tony Green robbed himself of his life. Three days after, his mother Harriet decided Ethan needed professional help to process his trauma. She arranged for him to go out of state.
If anyone asked, he had been in California. Where he had actually been was less glamorous.
Ethan got dressed, walked out of his room and downstairs to the kitchen/living room. He wasn’t hungry, but he should probably eat something. He was riding his bike to school and the road was long, from the outskirts of the town to the high school.
His mom wasn't up yet. Ethan turned on the lights and toasted some bread. After a few seconds, the lights briefly flickered and went out. Ethan frowned. He turned the switch a couple of times, but nothing happened. The slice of bread was heated, but not toasted, and the lights in the fridge weren't working, either.
Ethan groaned. Not again.
He walked to the stairs.
“Mom, there’s no electricity!”
She should be able to fix it. If it wasn’t a power outage, then grandma Becky purposely turned off the power. That’s what his mother said – Ethan did not believe his grandmother would do something like that. She wasn’t a cruel person. She’d isolated herself since her son had died, but she’d never leave them without power. They were living in grandma Becky’s old house, after all, and old houses came with old infrastructure that sometimes failed. His mom would still blame it on Becky, though.
Ethan looked at the family picture on the wall. It was taken last Christmas. When Ethan had left, Harriet had torn Becky out of the picture. Now, there was an empty space where once Becky stood, next to her son, daughter-in-law, and grandson. A happy family, smiling.
Ethan looked at the top of the stairs. Still no response. Apparently, she was doing something else.
“Mom! I don’t know who you’re with, but fixing power seems more important.”
Nothing happened for a few moments. Then, some leaves rustled outside. Ethan didn’t look – he didn’t have to look to know what happened. Someone climbed down the thick ivy on the side of the house from his mother’s backroom. They landed on their feet with a thump and hurried to their vehicle. They turned on the car and drove away.
Ethan shook his head. Sleeping with married men wouldn't solve anything, nor fill the hole left by Tony. It had only been four months! How long had she waited before she pounced? Had she waited at all?
“Ethan.” There she was. She walked down the stairs and looked at him, a familiar frown on her face. “Power’s out.”
Ethan nodded. “Maybe you’d notice if you didn’t sleep around.”
It wasn’t a secret. Harriet had admitted she looked for affection and help after Tony died. She believed they might help her get over her late husband. But Ethan felt she did not even play the grieving wife and jumped right to having an affair.
“Ethan—” Her tone suggested she had an explanation.
Ethan shook his head
“Don’t.” It was too early for this kind of shit. Ethan grabbed his backpack. “I’m late for school.”
He was not late at all. If he rode away now, he’d still have twenty minutes or so before the first bell rang. It wouldn't hurt to be early - it was better than arriving late on his first day back from ‘California’. It also helped to get out of that old house filled with beautiful and painful memories, with love and betrayal and hurt.
Ethan loved his home. It was a neighborhood on the outskirts of Hatchetfield, next to the forest. They had neighbors, but the houses weren't packed together. Their home was small, but they had space enough outside. It made for a comfortable summer. One Ethan couldn't enjoy while he was away. He followed the concrete road out of this neighborhood, which would eventually lead him to downtown and the school.
A red light on a crossroads briefly stopped him and Ethan’s gaze was drawn to his left.
On his left was the forest, but one thing stuck above the trees. The state road led to the Hatchetfield nuclear power plant. Every time Ethan looked at it, a chill ran down his spine. He’d never been there, but it gave him the creeps. He’d heard of the dangers of nuclear waste. He’d heard of Chernobyl and that power plants across the States were being closed. Soon, in the summer of 2020, it would be Hatchetfield’s turn. Finally.
The first plans were made in 1953, the first stone laid in 1956, and it was opened four years later. Exactly sixty years after it opened, the old power plant was closing down. Many would lose their jobs, which sucked, but Ethan knew more people who’d like to see it close than who wanted it to stay. That included the son of the current director and most of the youth.
One problem at a time. The stoplight had turned green and Ethan continued to ride to school, where he’d finally see Lex and River again.
Every morning was a challenge.
Would it be fun if it wasn't? It wouldn't be fun if all three of Jane’s children behaved and always did what their mother asked. Unfortunately, that was far from the truth.
Her eldest daughter sat in the living room. Jane walked to her with a sandwich and a big sigh. She put down the plate before Lex, who didn't touch it.
“You need to eat something,” Jane insisted. Lex picked up the plate and held it out so Jane could take it back.
“I’m not eating,” Lex responded without looking at her mother. “I’m not hungry.”
Jane didn't know why Lex was attempting a hunger strike. It had to be something stupid she wanted to show support of. The world's problems weren't going to be solved by not eating a sandwich and Jane didn't back down.
“Well, you're free to fast on the weekends. Not on school days.”
Jane left the sandwich with Lex and walked back to the dining room portion of their open concept home, while her son dashed around in the hallway. Now she needed to see to the needs of her middle child, Hannah. She sat alone at the table, pouting, and hadn't touched her sandwiches yet. Jane stood next to her and glanced at the sandwiches. She knew what the problem was.
“Don’t you like them?” she asked. Hannah shook her head.
“No crusts,” she said. Jane sighed and crouched next to her.
Behind her, in the hallway, her youngest child Tim still ran around, shouting things like ‘alakazam’ and ‘hocus pocus’. She tried to block him out for now – Hannah needed her attention more than Tim.
“Don’t you think you can try them?” Jane asked. Hannah shook her head. “How do you know you don’t like them when you haven’t tried?”
“No crusts,” Hannah insisted. Jane had always cut the crusts off the sandwiches. They were not edible so long as they had their crusts; one of the many quirks of autism, Jane supposed. Hannah wasn’t allowed to leave the table until she finished her breakfast, however, and there was no knife near her to do it herself.
Jane then nodded in defeat. She had no time to argue. “Okay. I’ll cut them off.”
Hannah smiled instantly. Jane shook her head when Hannah couldn’t see. She cut the crusts off. Behind her, Tim’s rapid footsteps were so loud, Jane could no longer ignore them.
“Tim! Come in here and get some breakfast.”
“One more trick, mom!”
“Come here!” she raised her voice, not too much. Hannah did not like shouting. Even the raised voice irritated her. It wasn’t easy not to shout when both Lex and Tim were not in the mood to sit at the table and eat breakfast. Was it because Tom had promised fresh pastries and he still hadn’t arrived?
Tim asked for one more trick. Jane shook her head again and looked at him, exasperated.
Where the hell is Tom?
She heard the car drive up their driveway and the key slide into the lock of the front door. Jane took a breath of relief.
The door creaked open and Tim turned his head. Tom walked into the hallway and greeted his son with a smile.
“Hey, Houdini!” Tom said as he passed his son to go to the dining room, where Jane waited. He placed the bag on the table and placed the pastries on the plates.
“What took you so long?” Jane asked, taking one of the pastries and taking a bite. She hadn't eaten anything yet.
“If you saw the line at the bakery, you’d know. It's like the world is gonna end,” Tom responded. He leaned into his wife and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “Morning, sunshine.”
Tim zoomed by again. Jane groaned; she was done with his behavior.
“Can you help? Tim hasn’t eaten yet.”
Tom frowned and turned his head. Tim saw the worried frown when he ran into sight again and stopped.
“You haven’t eaten yet?” Tom asked him, in a tone that made him feel guilty. Tim shook his head.
“One more trick,” he asked. Jane sighed.
Tom placed a hand on Jane’s shoulder. It's my turn. Go sit and eat.
“Alright,” Tom said as he nodded and looked at his son. He sat down at the table. “Come here. Show me your trick. Then you'll eat and I’ll bring you to school, okay?”
Tim nodded, his mood lifted. He walked to the table, while his mother watched in disbelief.
“Unbelievable,” Jane muttered to herself. Whatever connection Tom and Tim had, it helped. While Jane focused on Hannah, Tom now watched over Tim and watched him perform the magic trick.
Tim grabbed two empty cups from the table and took a dice out of his pockets. He turned the cups upside down and placed the dice before the cup on his right. He looked at his father.
“Ready?” Tom nodded.
Tim lifted the first cup and placed it on the dice. He lifted the second cup and placed it at the same height as the first cup. He tapped once of the first cup, where the dice was, and again on the second. He briefly glanced at his father, who looked at him as well, curious to see how this would end.
Tim lifted the first cup and placed it at its original spot. The dice had disappeared. He lifted the second cup and the dice had appeared underneath.
Tom laughed. He thought he knew what was going to happen. He thought he'd have to fake enthusiasm, that he should hide how he noticed Tim was messing with something. Instead, he was dumbfounded and even Jane, who did not really pay attention, was surprised.
“That’s amazing,” Tom said. “How did you do that?”
Tim grabbed one of the pastries Tom had brought and smiled mysteriously at his father.
“The question isn’t how, but when.”