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Photo Finish

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The nurse left the room, his shoes squeaking unevenly on the polished floor. Alone, Max held the torn envelope and its contents in her shaking, wrinkled, spotted hands. She couldn't believe it. This was... this was THE photo, finally back in her possession after nearly three quarters of a century.

Her vision fading, Max put every ounce of pain and suffering from her 92 lonely years into focusing on the photo, fighting fate one final time. Just... this... once... Whatever or whoever you are that gave me this ability, please, let me make things RIGHT. Orange and red swirled around the edges of her vision and consumed it. Everything went black.

- Click -

And there she was. A photograph of a beautiful vibrant blue butterfly ejected itself from Max's instant camera. She held it for a moment, then let it float to the floor like a leaf. The butterfly itself fluttered away.

I made it. Oh my God, I'm here. I'm... so young. Was I ever this young? Pushing nostalgia aside, Max immediately sprang into action, taking full advantage of her newfound youthful vigor. No time to waste. First, she moved the cart and grabbed the hammer, then smashed the glass covering the fire alarm preemptively, so she could hit the button at a moment's notice.

Max fumbled around desperately in her bag until she found what she was looking for, what she half-remembered decades later as being in her pencil case: a black permanent marker. Shaking, she hastily scribbled on the back wall next to the fire alarm:

MONDAY SNOW

She heard the restroom door open. She kept working, frantically, praying that the marker wouldn't squeak too loudly.

TUESDAY ECLIPSE

"It's cool Nathan, don't stress..." Her stomach turned at the voice, but she forced herself to keep writing.

WEDNESDAY BEACHED WHALES DEAD BIRDS

"Now, let's talk bidness." Max shut her eyes as tears stung them. Oh my dear Chloe. Soon. Keep writing, Max, almost done.

THURSDAY TWO MOONS

"Nobody would ever even miss your punk ass, would they?"

NOW! Now, hit it now! Max jabbed at the fire alarm, jumping at the loud noise despite herself, but returning immediately to her graffiti.

"No way!"

"Don't EVER touch me again, freak!"

FRIDAY TORNADO DESTROYS BAY ALL DEAD UNLESS EVACUATED

"Another shitty day..."

JEFFERSON MURDERED RACHEL AMBER DARK ROOM UNDER PRESCOTT FARMHOUSE

Losing her grip on the marker, Max could feel the edges of time closing in on her. Oh please, someone - David, Samuel; hell, Victoria; ANYONE... please find this and warn everybody. Please don't let past-me see it and do something stupid, please don't let this ruin everything, this is our last chance, please let...everyone...live, I've tried so hard and waited so long... just... please, let this... FIX everything.

The boiling orange and red took her.

Max was instantly tired: achingly, desperately, soul-crushingly tired; but she needed to know what kind of world she'd brought about. She clawed her way up from unconsciousness into a gradually dawning awareness of her new surroundings: her back on a stiff mattress, the smell of flowers, the sounds of medical equipment, a white wall with a large bulletin board. There was a map affixed to the board, with the same old coastal shapes of Arcadia Bay she'd always known, but with different streets and a new title:

CITY OF NEW ARCADIA
~ Est. 2015 ~
two years after Arcadia Bay's destruction
in the wake of the Zero Casualty Miracle Storm

The voice of a child murmured, "Look Daddy, Grandma Max is awake."

Around her bed, Max realized, were gathered two pairs of middle-aged adults holding hands, a twenty-something, two teenagers, and several smaller children. Max had no memories of this life - a different Max had lived it for the past 74 years - so she didn't actually recognize any of them, but some of the faces looked familiar somehow, and all of them looked at Max with love and kindness.

At Max's side sat an elderly blonde woman with a sad smile and sparkling blue eyes, and Max's hand held tenderly in hers. Max looked up, her own time-worn eyes shining with recognition and tears of joy. She took one shallow, halting breath, and with it, managed to form some words.

"Love you... Chloe."

Chloe's grip tightened on her hand.

Outside the hospital, a beautiful vibrant blue butterfly left its perch on one of the windows, and flew off into the wide open sky.

"I love you too, Max. We all do. Everyone is here. It's OK."

Max returned a squeeze to Chloe's hand.

Then... she let go.