TW: attempted murder
Everybody always called in sick on the holidays.
Clara drew back on her cigarette and let the poison fill her lungs. She waited in her car, one hand against the revolver in her lap, the other tapping on the steering wheel. The lamplight across the street would soon illuminate the time traveler, and she would kill him. Snow drifted down in light waves.
It would be the first time in her career that she worked on a redacted case—assigned right to her at that. Her partner had called in sick on the day for it as well, as he always did with his reoccurring holiday plague. Clara drew back on the cigarette until it burnt at her lips, the revolver heavy in her lap. She lowered the window to flick out the smoldering end.
Then came the time traveler.
He phased into reality across the street. A crystal blue flash followed behind him, and he stumbled around outside one of the houses, a few bags in his hand. Clara narrowed her eyes. The figure across the street used the same technology as her—the same azure flash to travel through time. No one other than the Time Officers had access to that tech. A rogue officer? Someone selling their equipment? It would explain the redacted case file.
She popped open the car door and her boots crunched against the snow. She spun the revolver’s chamber and watched the bullets spin. Clara crossed the street, snow as light as mist gathering on her hat and coat. She stopped at the figure who looked to be on the verge of tears, then raised her gun. They stood outside the porch, pale lamplight drawing weak shadows across the street.
“Hey, it’s you!” He dropped both bags into the snow. “Oh, I can’t thank you enough-”
“Quiet,” Clara said. The revolver’s chamber clicked into place. “Where’d you get the tech?”
“Why are you pointing that at me? I thought we-”
“You have me mistaken for somebody else. Tell me what time you’re from, where you got the tech, and I’ll make this quick.” She pointed the revolver down to the man’s knees. He brought both hands up, frantic, eyes pleading with her.
“You…you told me this would happen,” he said, “Clara Fores, right? You gave me the equipment. You can have it back! Please, don’t kill me here. My family is inside.”
Clara sighed and lowered the gun. It had to be a time loop. A code two-seven. This is why she had a partner to work with! Oh, she’d lose her badge because of this for sure. She kept it by luck when they found the alcohol in her locker, but now a time loop? Might as well resign on the spot.
“You told me to tell you about my kids. I haven’t seen them in weeks, I was on a business trip-”
“Quiet, quiet,” Clara brought a hand up to her forehead. She had to think. She needed to overcome the time loop before it started, but to murder a man outside his house? His family would run out and see a bullet hole in their father’s skull. She couldn’t…
That’s the job, isn’t it? Time Officer’s needed to keep the timeline intact or risk countless lives. But on Christmas? She looked at the bags he had brought, both of them overflowing with children’s toys and games. She couldn’t kill him here.
“Here, Clara, walk with me,” he said, moving to the side of the house. “You told me I would have to show you, come on.”
She dragged her feet across the shoveled driveway, and past a snowman with a carrot for a nose and pebbles for a smile. They rounded the side of the house and Clara’s hand trembled around the revolver.
“You knew my name earlier, didn’t you?” the man asked. He pointed to the living room window with the blinds left open. A fireplace painted the walls with a warm, orange glow, while a Christmas tree blinked with holiday-themed lights.
“This is my first time meeting you,” she said, “look, give me the tech and I’ll send you back to your time. I’ll report this off as a mishap, ditch the tech you used, and you’ll be off the radar.”
He ignored her, waving her close to the window. This man looked happy to tears, and Clara couldn’t hold the revolver any longer. She holstered the weapon and joined him. Years ago, with a strong enough drink, she may have been able to pull the trigger. Now? After years on the force and while sober?
“My son’s on the couch there,” the man said. “My name is Stan, by the way, Stan Oliver. I’ve met you in the future-”
“I know. We will meet. Tell me whatever it is I told you to say to convince me, or give me the damn tech and let me write this case off.” She shifted her feet in the snow, her outfit now heavy with it. Stan didn’t mind the cold. His arms trembled with excitement, and he didn’t bother to wipe the snow from his eyebrows.
“My boy is waiting for me to come back. He fell asleep on the couch,” Stan pushed his fingers against the window glass. His palm broke apart the gathering frost. “I didn’t come back this night. I was on a business trip, missed my flight because I drank too much. Stayed the night in New York and sent my kids and wife a video message saying I missed them. I don’t know if they ever got it. I told myself that night I’d change and get my shit together,” his fingers dragged down the window.
“I told myself I’d change,” he said in a softer voice, “shit. I was going to.”
“Hurry it up,” Clara said. Nicotine couldn’t numb the cold as alcohol could.
“Yeah. Yeah. I took the next flight back,” Stan continued, “found out my wife and kids got hit by a drunk driver. They went out to skate on the canal until late, and the driver…collided with them on their way back home. Flipped the car. Neither of my kids made it, and my wife was hospitalized. Hooked up too many machines to count. Didn't have the will to keep fighting and pulled the plug.”
“Shit,” Clara said.
“Yeah. Shit. But you came to my door. You showed me how I can visit them again, even if it is just one more time!” He brought both his hands together, “please, I’ll listen to what you told me! Just one more night with my family.”
Clara turned away from the window. The boy sleeping on the couch stayed up all night to wait for his dad. She would’ve shot his father and left his body on the porch. Some Christmas that would’ve been.
“And you're not going to stop them from going out tomorrow? Or stop the drunk driver from getting in his car?” she whispered her words, clenching her hands into fists. No other case had been like this. People time-traveled to win sporting bets, or kill Hitler, or save J.F.K for Christ’s sake!
She’d never had a case like this.
“I can’t save them,” he said, “you told me I can’t, or the higher-ups of who you work for will come for them. A fate worse than death, you said. That revolver you carry is a-”
“Quiet!” Clara snapped at him. She needed another cigarette. She needed a bottle of hard liquor. She pointed to the window. “If you go in there, you can’t stay more than a day, got it?”
“You’ve already explained it all to me,” tears streamed down his face, “thank you, Clara.” He grabbed her arm and thanked her again, his grip shaking the snow off of her coat. “I’m spending Christmas with my family, and then I’ll go back. I won’t put them at risk, I promise you.”
Clara stood in the snowfall as Stan rushed off. The shopping bags rustled on the porch, and the door clicked open. She listened to the rushed footsteps within the house. Muffled cries of joy. Damn it, she thought. The Time Officers would see her imprisoned for this. She could cover it up if she could write the case file herself. Or scratch the serial code off her backup device…which she didn’t have on her.
Of course, Stan had it. She gave it to him in the future. She could still stop the loop if she refused to give it to him.
Clara reached in her coat for her time device, set the date on it to one year in the future—one day earlier—and confirmed it. Her vision blurred in a flash of azure. Her ears popped and limbs coursed with static, and the cold air became a freezing void. She arrived in the future. No snowfall and the lamp lights now flickered. The air now chilled her to the bone.
She tightened her coat and looked through the window. She couldn't see a thing through the dirtied glass. She passed by the front of the house, dragging her feet through the snow-packed driveway. No cheerful snowman with a carrot nose waiting to greet her this time around. On top of everything, the familiar weight of her backup time device now rested in her coat pocket.
“Am I doing this?” she asked herself. She faced the front door with her finger over the bell.
Yes. She was. She rang twice.
She exhaled in relief. He wouldn’t answer the door. Clara turned to leave, her steps creaking on the porch when it finally opened behind her.
“You got the wrong house,” Stan said. A wreck compared to who she saw earlier. Unshaven, dirtied clothes, hair a greasy mess. Could she leave him like this?
“No,” Clara sighed, “I don’t think so.”
He began to shut the door and Clara reached out to stop him.
“Stan Oliver,” she started, “I’m damn cold, so you’re going to listen to me and we’ll make this quick. You were in New York around this time last year, drunk enough to miss your flight-”
“How do you know this?”
“Listen to me! You’re the only person I’m ever going to make this exception for. New York, last year, you sent a video message to your kids and they never opened it. You said you’d change, and your wife got into a collision with a drunk driver, sound familiar?”
“Why are you telling me this?” he asked in a whisper.
“Because, damn it, this is why!” She reached into her pocket for the backup time device, set the date to one year in the past, and locked it with a code. He could only return there and back with it. Her fingernails then dug out the tracking chip embedded in it. “Clean yourself up and use this when you’re ready. It’ll send you to a year in the past and you can relive that day with your family in person this time.”
“You’re insane, you know that. I shouldn't ever have to hear of that night again.” He tried to shut the door again and Clara stopped him. She pushed the time device into his hands and stepped back.
“Yeah, but I’ve talked to you in the past,” she said, “I know you’re willing to listen to me. Look, you’re going to listen to me. Time has already spoken. When you see me, a year in the past, you have to stop me from killing you. Do whatever it takes. Tell me about your kids, okay? Tell me about what happened. Bring me around to the window, I mean, your kid left the curtains open in hopes to catch you coming home.” A single tear ran down her face, “my name is Clara Fores, okay? If you know my name you'll catch me off guard.”
Stan stuttered for words and Clara cut him off.
“And no matter what, you have to go back to your time at the end of the night. You have to make sure this stays a loop and doesn’t become a complication.” Was she really saying this? “No matter what you do, you can not prevent your kid’s death. Time will find a way, and a lot more people will get hurt. Then my people will bring in the higher-ups, and there’s a fate worse than death for those who try to mess with time.”
Stan looked down to the gun outlined against her coat, “and that revolver you’re carrying?”
“It’s an act of mercy. Merry Christmas, Stan.”
Clara stepped off into the street and set her device to one year—and one day later—in the past. She went through the motions of time travel. Snowfall as light as a summer's mist began raining down once again and the streets lights now beamed a steady glow. The wind ceased, and she could hear the past version of herself talk to Stan from beside the house.
“This is my first time meeting you,” Clara listened to her past self speak as she made way for her car. “Look, give me the tech and I’ll send you back to your time. I’ll report this off as a mishap, ditch the tech you used, and you’ll be off the radar.”
Too late for that. The loop had played its course.
Clara shut the door on her car and brought out her tablet. Marked the case as solved by execution without comment. One thing left to do. She brought up a sample case format and highlighted all the text in black, then entered only a time and place. She sent the file, named ‘[REDACTED]’, to herself over the Time Officer’s servers, where she would receive it one day in the past.
Finalizing the loop.
Clara lit up another cigarette.