Friday, November 17, 2017

Friday Flash: Time Was

This week's Wendig Challenge was to use your smartphone's predictive text feature and, starting from "Once upon a time," pick words until you had a story, or at least an opening line. My own efforts were pretty boring, but follow the link and see what some people came up with. Since I didn't like what I got, I picked one to use to start my story. I stole the line, "Once upon a time, I could change time," and got something from someone else mixed in, which gave me a story to write. I even hit 1000 words spot on.

And maybe I have another flash-fiction anthology to put together sometime: the end of the world. I think I've destroyed it quite a few times on this blog.

Time Was

Once upon a time, when there was time, I could change time. I could speed it up or slow it down, even stop it altogether for…a time. 

The only thing I could not do was the one thing I wanted to do. I could not turn time back. But I had to.

It’s not that time is a river, the way they say. You literally cannot turn a river back, unless you are a really major earthquake, I guess. It’s more that time is a one-way street: you can go the wrong way, but you had better be prepared to be run down by a semi. Or I could put it stronger: it’s like those old-fashioned clocks with chimes, the mechanical kind from way before they invented electronics. You could put them forward, but if you tried to set them back, they broke. 

I tried to turn time back.
It happened a long time ago. Or maybe it was yesterday. I told you I broke time.

I was in charge of my little brother, and I failed.

Mom threw us out of the house that morning, told us not to come back until dinnertime. She'd had about enough of summer vacation, and didn't want us underfoot. "Adam, you take care of Benji. Make sure he doesn't go anywhere near the quarry."

Of course, all I wanted that day was to go to the old quarry. My friends were headed there to go swimming, and I didn't want a little brother tagging along, even if Mom hadn’t forbidden it. He'd rat on me if I took him, anyway.

Don't ask me why I didn't think he'd rat on me for leaving him behind, but I was only 14, so my brain didn't work so well.

Long story short, I ditched him, he tried to follow me, got hit by a car, and died three days later.

Later, when I found out that I could change time, can you wonder that the first thing I wanted to do was go back and change that day?

I first learned I could change time during an incredibly boring Western Civ lecture in college. I know, you’re thinking that everyone has found that time takes twice as long to pass when you are bored out of your mind. But when I got to wishing the end of the class would come faster…it did. Of course, I missed the rest of the lecture, and all that stuff was on the test. I got my first “D” ever, but I was too excited by what I’d discovered to care.

A few days later, I found myself doing a bio lab with the most beautiful girl I ever saw, and I just didn’t want the class to end. I managed to stretch that 3-hour class over about 3 days, judging by how my beard grew. No one else seemed to notice, which was weird, but I was too happy to care.

I spent the next several years trying to figure out how the whole thing worked. From the first, I knew what I was going to do once I had learned enough. To help me get there, I changed my major to physics, and then started a graduate degree in theoretical physics.

After five years of study and experimentation, I decided I was ready.

I spent weeks making my plan and preparing for the project. There were some things I couldn’t figure out. I had no idea if, when I got back to that fateful day eleven years before, I would be 14 or 25. I didn’t think that mattered, but I worried what would happen if, having saved Benji, I lost the ability to manipulate time, or the drive to perfect the skill, or…you can see the sort of dilemma I was considering. Or should have been considering.

None of that mattered to me. I wanted Benji back and I was willing to risk anything to get him.

The one thing I didn’t consider was that I might not just rip the fabric of time, but destroy it.

I did it all with my mind. I didn’t need a time machine or anything like that. Not even a TARDIS, though that would have been way cooler. I just had to re-work my entire consciousness, while leaving my body free to do whatever needed doing.

If I’d been as smart as I thought I was, I’d have done a dry run—gone back to yesterday and ordered the shrimp taco instead of the chicken, or something like that. But I was so sure of myself, and so eager to see my brother again and fix what I’d done, that I jumped right in.

I knew as soon as I began that going back in time was different from slowing or stopping it. I could have scrubbed the experiment, but I was too excited. I pushed on.

I mean that more or less literally. That whole “time like an ever-rolling stream” thing works here. I was swimming against a stream, and it wasn’t a gentle brook. This was a flood. Not the 60-mph debris-filled flash flood of the desert, but more like the Mississippi in flood: much faster than it looks, and about a million tons of force pushing against you.

I struggled on against the flood of time, and the farther back I went, the harder it pushed, and the faster it seemed to move. I was nowhere near my goal when I began to get glimmers that something bad was happening. I thought it was just happening to me, and I was willing to do or suffer anything for Benji, so I kept on.

I’ve tried two or three metaphors for what happened, and none of them is right. That semi on the wrong-way street didn’t crush me. The clock didn’t break into pieces. The river didn’t turn backwards.

They all fragmented.

Time fragmented.

Chaos consumed the universe.

And Benji was still dead.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2017
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  1. Interesting that you're thinking of another flash fiction collection theme. I did the same earlier in the week. Maybe it's something for later (five years time?) but just looking through to select a flashback for next week brought be to some really nice things I did on a theme that could be attractive.
    Flash fiction rules!

    1. I have had so much fun with FF, a real pleasant surprise since there was a time when I didn't think I could write short stories. The main thing holding me back on those anthologies is that I would want to rework all the stories, and that would take a hunk of time. Might be a good project for when we are on the road, though, since it would be in small and manageable pieces.

  2. Really interesting story. I'm always fascinated by the idea of time travel and its implications.

    1. Time travel presents so many problems, and the nature of time is a nice brain-warping thing to contemplate.


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