Better Never Than Late

Submitted into Contest #125 in response to: All clocks suddenly stop. Write about what happens next.... view prompt


Fantasy Science Fiction Sad

Beneath the gilded ceiling of an old theatre, a young woman’s violin sang a dancing melody. She played a New Age style of Gregorian chant and hip-hop, every song crescendoing with flair and pomp. The violinist’s energy pumped Robert’s will. 

He sat in a dark corner, dozens of rows away from the stage, gripping the arms of his chair, his tuxedo drenched in sweat as he heaved in time with the music. Those sitting nearby gave him nervous looks. As the violin’s melody rose in excitement, Robert inhaled deeply. He yelled. Loudly. Brutally. Cruelly. The space around him rippled, then bubbled, and then it shot out through the audience, past the stage, and past the walls. The music stopped, as did the ticking of every watch.

On stage, the young woman’s arms hung limp at her sides, bow in one hand, violin in the other. Some in the audience turned warily. Others were already leaving for fear of being trapped by that yell. Robert got up from his chair, slowly, and stuck out his ear. His bow tie snapped and hung around his gangly neck. He looked around jerkily and laughed and hooted. 

“Can’t hear it, can ya?” he said. “It’s all”—he pantomimed pressing the pause button on a TV controller—“paused.” Then he jumped on his chair and stuck both his middle fingers up. “It’s not so relative now, folks!” He cackled as security guards grabbed him under his arms and dragged him out of the theatre. Children in little tuxes cried at their mother’s hips. 

Robert did leprechaun kicks as security dragged him through red-carpeted halls. They went to push through a pair of swinging doors but stopped. The doors wouldn’t budge. They tried their shoulders. It was like pushing a wall. Nearby, other patrons were trying to leave, but the exit doors stayed locked tight. Others in an adjacent hall were filing out of an already open door into a cool, autumn evening, and the confused guards led him out that door as they radioed for supervisors. Once they stepped into the night, they dropped their arms and let go of Robert, who hooted again.

Pigeons were fixed in midflight; steam that wafted from manhole covers had frozen in a dance of curls; cars sat in the middle of the street, their engines quiet. Slowly and from behind the guards, Robert lifted each guard’s left hand so their watches were under their noses. 

“Notice anything?” he said.

They looked at their timepieces. 

“It’s so quiet, no?”

The guard to his left shook his wrist; the guard to his right stood lamely. Robert danced, then leaped and sauntered away with his chest puffed out. Everywhere he walked, he watched people bang on windows from inside cabs they were stuck in, or throw chairs against the glass of restaurants to free the people stuck behind frozen doors, or squeeze past doors open mid-swing. In one restaurant, a waiter sat beneath a tray of plates and bowls mid-fall, pushing at the food and glass stopped in their descent. They wouldn’t budge either. Robert was elated. 

“Got the time?” he asked one man. “Know when the next bus is coming?” he asked another. Everyone stared; no one answered. Anyone with a watch, he pushed their arms into their faces and giggled. 

As he waltzed down a wide avenue, a circle of cerulean light appeared in the sky, and a man of power and wisdom, wrapped in silks threaded with gold filaments, floated from it. Robert’s smile disappeared under his dark-circled eyes.

“Now you can’t take anything away from me,” Robert said.

The man of power shook his head and frowned. “You cannot stop fate.”

“I just did, chief. Now, I’m going to change it.”

With another yell, Robert let out a thicker bubble of energy that pulsated with his heartbeat. Each beat saw people on the streets move backward. Night became day, day became night, and thus it repeated until months and years went by and Robert was standing in the street of twelve years prior. 

The elder in the sky had disappeared. Robert’s vision was going fuzzy, but he wiped the sweat from his brow and stumbled back toward the theatre. Outside its grandiose walls, a yellow school bus idled, with young children filing out with their instruments. Robert ran as fast as he could. He didn’t have much time.

A young boy with Robert’s gangly neck and hawkish nose held a trumpet in his arms. Robert grabbed him. “Oh, Cody,” he said, and hugged him tightly.

“Dad?” the boy replied.

“We have to go, champ.” Robert pushed him gently away from the theatre. “We have to leave, right now.”

“But the recital—”

“Forget the recital. We have to leave,” Robert said.

Robert picked him up and took off. When he was blocks away, there was a crash and an explosion. He looked back to see a plume of smoke rising up from where the bus was parked. 

Cody’s brows were furrowed. “Dad, what happened?”

“I had to, son. I had to.”

Clouds gathered in the sky and then fell to the ground. A mist gathered in the streets, wrapped around buildings, and covered Robert’s and Cody’s feet. Buildings sank into the ground. People screamed, but their yells were muffled by the thickening fog; then they were quiet. Cody hugged his father’s legs. “Daddy, what’s happening?”

Robert spun around. “Nothing. Just close your eyes.” He rubbed his palms together, then he strained so hard a blood vessel popped in his right eye. A small bubble of energy eked out of him, but it only hastened the darkening.

“You are not a god,” a voice said.

“But you are,” Robert replied. “Please, save my boy. He’s an innocent.”

“His death was necessary, as are all events that occur in life. Simply because you can do a thing does not mean you should. There is order, there are patterns to things. You broke that pattern. Now, your reality suffers.”

Robert yelled again and let out a relentless bubble of energy that cleared the fog surrounding him and Cody. His son cried. They watched a violent light of spiraling chaos envelop their world. 

“The mists were a kindness,” the voice echoed. “Yet you couldn’t even keep that.”

Robert held his son tight. He apologized. He had only wanted more time with him.

December 21, 2021 20:17

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Jon Casper
23:36 Dec 28, 2021

Clever take on the time travel paradox! The description of the "paused" world was well done. You did well portraying the despair of a bereaved parent -- the lengths they will go to, to undo their tragedy. Very enjoyable read!


Michael Maceira
01:28 Dec 29, 2021

Thank you, Jon! This was my first crack at a story like this. I appreciate the kind words.


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Jessie Hartness
06:50 Dec 29, 2021

This was written so beautifully. I enjoyed the take on the prompts, and appreciated the depth. This was such a profound story, very well done!


Michael Maceira
14:25 Dec 29, 2021

Very much appreciated, Jessie! I look forward to reading some of your work.


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