Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Man Who Broke Sunday

He appeared in the room, and it seemed he had always been there, but also somehow wasn’t there yet.  He flipped up his goggles and flipped open a small pocketwatch, studying it briefly.  With a snap, he closed it again, looking around.  “Well, I’ve done it,” he said.  “I made it as far as 1873.”  He smiled. “I made it past the 20th Century.”

“How inspiring,” a woman said from across the room.  He looked up, and saw her lying atop a made bed.  “Now please stop,” she said.


“Because you can’t travel through time,” she said, sitting up.  “Well, you can, obviously, and I do it all the time.”  She stood, though she leaned against one of the bedposts.  “But time takes things from you, when you travel through it.  It eats at you.”  She looked hard at him and he swallowed uneasily.  “But not you.  Time can’t touch you.”  She approached him slowly.  “You backflipped over an entire century and it cost you nothing.”

He cleared his throat.  “Well, I, um, I hadn’t realized that I...”

“You have a machine, I take it?”


She stood directly before him, holding his eyes with her own.  “I’ve known plenty of geniuses with machines, who ended up the way I am now, became what I’m becoming.  What’s so different about your machine?”

“N-nothing.  I mean, I...”  He looked down, then up again.  She was still staring at him.  “What... um, what are you becoming?”

She held his gaze a few more moments, then looked away herself.  He looked down again.  She was hard to look at.  She wasn’t always there, even though he knew she was.

“Living time, that’s what I’m becoming,” she said.  “I’m what’s left of all that time’s taken from me, over and over.”  She sighed, a weary sound.  “I can step from yesterday to tomorrow and exist simultaneously across myriad todays, but sometimes I forget my own name.”

“What is your name?”

A long pause, then a slight whimper followed by another sigh.  “I don’t remember.”


“I’ll tell you what I do remember,” she said.  “I remember another genius, with his machine.  From 500 years away to 1000 years ago and back again, he stomped across time like it was his backyard.  Eventually he got what was his.  Time ate his life, one year at a time, until there was nothing left of him but probability, a living deja vu, but not before his blundering about the past caused the death of my great-grandfather.  I should have ceased to exist,” she shrugged, “but instead I stepped outside of time, and when I stepped back in, I was years in the past.  I found I could move through time at will -with a bit of help, at first- and discovered the time traveler who’d caused all my problems.  I raced to the date he killed my great-grandfather, but even after I’d stopped him, time had changed enough that when I returned to my present, I found I was already there.  Though I existed in this new timeline, I also did not.  So, I left my other self alone and began to wander the timestream, each journey losing more and more of myself, until one day I’ll be little more than a living day of the week, or a sentient appointment in someone’s calendar.”  

“That’s horrible.”

She shook her head.  “You don’t get it.  Time has to do this.”  She fixed him a stern glare.  “Every time one of you idiots hops in his machine and goes wandering about outside the flow of history, time gets broken.  And the only way time can repair itself, is by using all the potential days in the life of a time traveler.”

“Which creates a sort of equilibrium.  A time traveler breaks time, then is cannibalized to fix what was broken,” he said.

She nodded.  “But you throw everything out of balance.  The more you travel, the more time will take from people like me, and once we’re gone, time will break even further, perhaps stop working altogether.  Every era in history will collide with one another.  Humanity will cease to exist, save for people like me, lost and wandering a broken timestream through eternal now.  Is that what you want?”

He rubbed the back of his head.  “Well, no.  No, not as such, but...”

“Please,” she said, “stop traveling.  Return to your era and stay there.  Time can still recover without too much...”

“No,” he said.  “No, I think I’m going to keep traveling.  I’m sorry, but this is my life’s work.  I can’t...” his face hardened.  “I won’t give it up.”  He pulled out his pocketwatch and clicked a small button.  Immediately he disappeared, though it was more like he was never there.

He rematerialized over a century later in that same room, next to the machine.  He flipped a few switches, pulled a lever and turned a few dials, reducing the whine of the time machinery to a low hum.

“Oh, I see,” she said, standing behind him.  “The machine acts as an anchor.  You stay tethered to it in your present, allowing you to remain within the flow of history, while at the same time removing yourself from it.  Clever,” she nodded.  She grabbed the back of his head and smashed his face into the side of the machine.  “A bit too clever.”  She pulled him back and took his pocketwatch, tossing it on the floor.  “Now, your tether’s been unhooked,” she said, “you should be fair game.  So, off you go!”  She shoved him, and he vanished, swallowed up by the timestream.

Only moments later, she vanished as well, and the room was quiet.  It was said that for years after, anyone attempting to spend the night in this room would be visited by dreams of every opportunity they'd ever let pass them by, and all the lost glories of their wasted potential.  

Few ever make it through the night.

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