Turning Back the Clock by David Steffen

Imprint - Fantasy Imprint Logo 200wTurning Back the Clock
by David Steffen

Lewis checked Mary’s wrist for a pulse even as her heart stopped beating. He was too late. An ambulance was on its way, but it wouldn’t change anything. She’d insisted on a “do not resuscitate” entry in her will. All they would do was declare a time of death.

He folded her hands over the bouquet of orchids and smoothed her hair out of her face. As if it mattered. As if the hole above her eyes was nothing but a beauty mark. As if their life together wasn’t gone forever.

The house was in total disarray. She must have come home from work to interrupt a robbery in progress. Ironic. If they’d been less in love, Mary would have been safely at work, but today had been a special day. To celebrate their tenth anniversary, they’d planned to come home early and splurge on a fancy brunch. Now she was dead.

In all the years they’d been together they’d never been away from each other for more than half a day. Now he would never see her again. He’d have to come home from work to an empty house that still held the echoes of their past lives. He would have nothing to look forward to, never a chance of relief. Unless…

Could he still save her? The boundary to the Central Time Zone was fifty miles to the west, across the border into Alabama. When he crossed the line he would jump back an hour and have a chance to prevent her death.

He checked his watch. 11:35. He might have until 12:30 to change the past. Was it enough time? If he drove there, the delay of the government crossing procedures would ensure her death. They would take his phone and hold him there while his chances to save Mary bled away.

By air, he might just have a chance if he could hold himself together for just one hour.

He kissed her on the lips. “Goodbye, Mary. I’ll see you again soon, one way or the other.” He grabbed his keys and soon was zooming down the back roads to Granite Hill Airport, where he kept his plane. An ambulance siren whined in the distance, headed in the other direction.

He checked his phone battery. Full charge–thank God. At 11:37 he merged onto the interstate, scanned the road for cops, and punched the gas pedal down as far as it would go, cutting in and out of traffic and, when necessary, onto the shoulder.

He took the airport exit at 11:46 before getting boxed in at a stoplight for an endless three minutes. He honked and shouted, but the other drivers ignored him.

Sam, an old friend from high school, was on duty at the security gate. “Hey, Lewis.” Sam grinned broadly. “Haven’t seen you for months. I didn’t see you on the flight schedule today. What brings you around?”

Lewis managed a slight smile, though his hands gripped the steering wheel fiercely from the effort of staying calm. “Sudden death in the family. Headed west to sort out the details.” He couldn’t help darting glances at the gate arm, the last obstacle between him and his airplane.

“Sorry to hear that. Where’s Mary? She’s not coming along?”

Lewis shot a glance at his watch. 11:54. “She couldn’t make it. Hopefully she’ll be along later.” He forced his hands from the wheel, but they wouldn’t stay still. They wanted to keep moving, so he spun his wedding ring while he talked. He hadn’t noticed the blood on it until just now.

“That’s a shame. I would’ve liked to see her. Can you say hi to her for me?”

“Yeah, I’ll do that. Sam? I’m really in a hurry.”

Sam’s smile slipped a notch. “Sure. There’s a line of planes waiting to take off. You might be waiting a while anyway.” He hit the button to raise the gate arm.

Lewis pulled up to the hangar at 11:59. He forewent the pre-flight checks to save time. His Cessna purred to life and he taxied out to the runway. A jet roared by on its takeoff. Lewis pulled out onto the runway and throttled it up.

A woman’s voice crackled on his radio. “Cessna Two One Six Bee, this is the tower. Clear the runway and wait your turn.”

The Cessna vibrated beneath him as it accelerated to takeoff speed. Finally, he was airborne. 12:06.

“Cessna Two One Six Bee, return to ground immediately.”

He circled around and headed west, toward the Time Zone boundary. He looked at Mary’s picture taped to the console panel. It was a picture of her in Venice, on the best vacation they ever had. The photo captured her smile perfectly, the one he’d fallen in love with.

12:11. At 105 knots, he might still make it, depending on when the military got involved.

“Cessna Two One Six Bee, reverse course immediately.” A helicopter on his tail.

It was 12:21 now, and he was getting very close. He took her picture off the console and kissed it before stuffing it in his pocket.

“Cessna Two One Six Bee. Reverse course or we are authorized to use lethal force.”

He strapped on his parachute. An alarm blared on his instrument panel to warn him about the approaching Time Zone. He flew on, his grip sweaty on the yoke. 12:24.

The helicopter fired a warning shot. He flinched at the noise. 12:25. When he didn’t respond, the chopper opened fire. The plane rocked with the force of the bullets. It started to nose-dive, and he jumped out. The plane disappeared as it crossed the time barrier ahead of him, then reappeared as he crossed in turn.

He let himself freefall as long as he dared, then pulled the ripcord. The chute deployed. He dialed Mary’s cell phone. 11:27.

“Hello?”

His body tingled with excitement at the sound of her voice. “Mary, thank God. Where are you?” The wind roared, and the noise increased further as the helicopter crossed the boundary above and behind him.

“A few blocks from home. Why is the line so noisy?”

A gust of wind buffeted him, trying to pull his phone from his hand, but he maintained his grip. “Sorry, I’ve got the top down. Could you do me a favor? Head straight for Café Italia instead of stopping by the house.” There was no time for the truth.

“But I’m only a few blocks from home.”

Far below, the plane exploded on impact, sending up a ball of orange flame.

“Please? I’ve got a surprise for you and I can’t wait. I know you’ll love it.” He held his breath as he waited for her response.

“Okay, Lewis. I’m turning arou–”

The connection cut off as the timeline branched and the suppressed emotions of the last hour hit him all at once. His phone fell from his nerveless hand, tumbling toward the ground. Tears poured unheeded down his face. He’d succeeded. He would never hold Mary in his arms again, but in the other timeline maybe they would have the opportunity to live the rest of their lives together.

The helicopter drew even with him, its machine guns rattling.

 

Lewis arrived home from work to find robbers carrying his TV out the door. They dropped the TV onto the sidewalk with a crash as he whipped the car around. The first gunshot shattered his back window and he ducked down as he pushed the pedal to the floor. He counted three more shots and the whine of a ricochet before he squealed around the corner.

He dialed 911, then hung up and called Mary.

“Where are you?” she snapped.

“I almost got shot, Mary! The house is being robbed.” He checked his rear view mirror. No one following him.

“Oh my God, are you okay?”

“I’m fine. I’m so glad you weren’t home yet.”

“You told me to meet you at Café Italia, remember?”

“I did?”

“Yes.”

He didn’t remember saying that, but it didn’t matter. “I love you, Mary.”

“I love you too.”

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Author: David Steffen
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