Jennifer wakes up feeling exhausted, muscle memory launches her hand toward the alarm clock on the bed side table which blasts her with an auditory assault Monday thru Friday. However, on this particular Tuesday, no sound comes from the evil little box.
She rolls over to glance at the clock through blurry, sleep drenched eyes. Amber colored numbers flash:
Must have had a power outage in the night. Jennifer thinks. Great. I’ll be late for work. Again. Next to the useless alarm clock, rests Jennifer’s phone. She rubs her eyes, raising the device to her face. A halo of light illuminates from the screen. Other than the background image of the Pyramids at Giza she snapped on her trip to Egypt last year, what she sees there doesn’t make sense. The time readout shows 00:00. Must be a glitch after downloading the new OS update.
Jennifer flips the phone over with prejudice and slides out from under the overstuffed duvet.
Jennifer takes her time walking down the carpeted stairs, even though she’s sure she’ll be late for work. Padding into the kitchen she switches on the light above the oven, the only illumination she can handle, she is still so tired. That’s when it occurs to her. The light. There’s none coming through the curtain drawn kitchen window. I won't be late after all. She’s not sure why she would assume it’s after 9am. Maybe it's daylight savings time. Do we fall forward? Or spring upward? The concept of adjusting time during the year doesn’t make sense to Jennifer and now she is sure she should go back sleep.
Jennifer glances at the LED clock on the stove. Blank. Time it seems, is conspiring against her today and she is in no mood for it.
Jennifer’s gaze falls on the coffee maker atop the kitchen island. There’s enough left in the pot from the previous night for one full cup. It’s not that Jennifer has an affinity for cold, bitter coffee, she’s just lazy, so she grabs a clean mug from the dishwasher and pours herself a cup of what will most definitely be bad tasting coffee.
Bringing the mug to her lips, Jennifer stares out the window, for the first time noticing the bird perched on the windowsill with its little head cocked to the side. Jennifer allows a sip of stale coffee into her mouth. Swallows, not taking her eyes off the bird, remaining in a standoff with the small, winged creature which stubbornly gazes through the glass with its cute little tilted head, until Jennifer grows uncomfortable by its frozen stare.
Jennifer takes two steps toward the window; positive the bird will fly away in response to her nearing presence. Not only does the bird not fly away, but it does not make a significant movement whatsoever. Jennifer raises her hand to the glass, expecting the bird to take flight. Jennifer places her flat palm against the cold glass, recoiling as the bird remains in place, head tilted in perpetual inquisitive stasis.
Jennifer slams her coffee mug down on the counter and rubs her hands over her face, thinking she must be dreaming. To prove that she is in fact dreaming, Jennifer pinches the skin on her wrist, because she has seen people do it in movies. This results in pain, an instant indentation mark and the feeling that it was a very stupid thing to do.
Jennifer spins around and marches toward the front door with the idea that some cold winter air will snap her out of, whatever this is. The exact moment Jennifer swings open the door, is the moment she is sure something is very very wrong this day.
There’s an energy in the air, something Jennifer can’t quite explain. The air feels thicker, like breathing in a dense fog, or maple syrup. Then, there is the snow. Tiny flakes suspended in mid-air, unmoving, glistening in pre-dawn glow, making Jennifer feel like she is standing in the middle of a galaxy of tiny stars.
Jennifer wears nothing but silk pajamas, and realizes she does not feel cold, and by the look of it, is a very chilly morning.
She’s about to slam the door and run back up to bed to lock herself inside until she wakes up from this very odd dream, when she hears heavy footfall coming from the direction of the kitchen.
Striding through the dark hallway toward the kitchen, Jennifer's steps seem to match the rhythm of her audible heartbeat. She stands in the threshold, glaring into the dim at the man in her kitchen.
“Excuse me!?” Jennifer says, the same time she switches on a light, startling the intruder.
“This is the worst cup of coffee I’ve ever had. How on Earth do you drink this?” The man says, taking a sip from the mug, before setting it down.
“That’s been sitting out all night. Let me make a fresh- WAIT. Who the heck are you and how did you get in here?!”
“Oh Jennifer, we don’t really have time for all that now. We’re running late as it is.”
The man wears a form fitting garment made from one piece of fabric, resembling something like a futuristic wet suit. The man lifts his left arm and rolls his sleeve slightly to expose his wrist, where he wears a rather large gold watch with a green band that sparkles, though there is no significant light in the kitchen.
“Right. Just as I thought. We’ve got to get moving now if we’re to finish in time.”
“Hold on. You break into my home and you’re acting like I’ve somehow inconvenienced you!? This is madness. I’m not going anywhere with you. And as a matter of fact. You need to leave now, before I call the police!”
The man rolls his eyes, like he is in fact, quite inconvenienced. “Oh, come now, there isn’t need for any of that. Here. Take my arm and you’ll see. You can trust me, Jennifer.”
Something happens just then in Jennifer’s mind. Like a download of information, she can feel rather than see. The feeling comes with the calming awareness that she can trust the odd man in the wetsuit with the sparkling wristwatch.
“We really should get moving. I can fill you in on the details later.” The man says, extending his arm toward Jennifer. A warm sensation envelopes Jennifer and she finds herself taking steps toward the man. Her rational mind screams at her to STOP, yet her feet move, one step at a time, across the kitchen tile.
“Wh-What happens now?” asks Jennifer, grabbing the man’s arm, instinctually tightening her grip.
The man looks at Jennifer, a knowing smirk glides across his face as his eyes widen.
“Now, we fix time.”
Before Jennifer can ask what the heck that means, everything goes dark and the floor under her feels like it has been pulled away, like that trick magicians do when removing a tablecloth without upsetting an elegant dining setup. She vaguely feels her hold on the man’s arm, though can’t be sure in the dark. Just when she feels she might pass out, light returns to the world and Jennifer feels her feet touch solid ground.
The first thing Jennifer observes, is her feet, tucked inside her woollen socks, ankle deep in powdery white snow. Quite disoriented, she raises her head to see the odd man in his futuristic clothing, making tracks ahead in the otherwise undisturbed snow. Jennifer lowers her hand which is outstretch and clamped in the position it had been when she took the man’s arm.
Jennifer recognizes where they are. It’s a place she’s seen nearly every day of her adult life. The courtyard across from the office building where she's employed.
“Are you coming? We haven’t got much time.” The man says, looking over his shoulder, for the first-time acknowledging Jennifer since their impossible journey. She trails after him into the snowy courtyard, where he stops and peers from atop a large hedge with snow tipped pine needles. The park across the street, has a few people about; early risers who prefer a morning jog before the bustle of commuters overtakes the peace and quiet of a sun-drenched winter’s morning.
“Alright, if I’m right about this, all you’ve got to do is head over there and say ‘good morning’ to that man sitting on the bench. Then, make a friendly observation about the weather, like ‘beautiful day to be outside’ and that should do it.”
“That should do what? You need to tell me what’s going on here. We were just in my kitchen, and now we’re outside my work in the daytime. None of this makes sense.”
The man lets out a long sigh while checking his watch, which is even more fascinating in the light of day. Jennifer notices the watch face has no hands to tell time, and instead shines with prismatic light. “Listen. I know this is difficult to understand, but we really don’t have much time before this moment will pass for good. Just go over there, say ‘good morning’ to that man and make a polite observation about the weather, so we can get out of here and on to the next moment we’ve got to fix, before it’s too late.” He says, breathing heavily, eyeing Jennifer with a level of severity she feels she should not challenge.
“OK OK. I’m going. But then you’re going to tell me what the heck is going on here, or I’m not being so cooperative anymore. Got it?”
“Yes. Yes. Of course. Now please, off you go. That man over there, sitting on the bench.”
Feeling as though it was a very odd thing to do, she walks toward the man sitting alone, looking rather worn out. As she crosses the street to the park, Jennifer looks back at her companion behind the hedge, smiling encouragingly at her.
Jennifer comes face to face with a sad looking man, stroking his left hand with his right. He looks up at her, then lowers his head and continues to stroke his hand. Clearing her throat, Jennifer says, “Hi there. Uh- erm- good morning.” The man looks up, and Jennifer is stricken by the sadness in his eyes. “Yeah.” He says.
“Beautiful weather.” Jennifer says. “Lovely day to be out and about, isn’t it?”
“Yes. Yes, I suppose it is a very nice day.” He says, smiling. Jennifer smiles back at him and say she hopes he enjoys the rest of his day. “Thanks very much. You too.” He says, and Jennifer walks away thinking the man was holding his head higher than at the start of their brief interaction.
Jennifer reaches the hedge where the odd man who was the cause of this very strange day is waiting for her. “Wonderful! Just perfect. Now off we go. Take my arm.” He says.
“Hold on. You said you would tell me what’s going on. I need some answers before we make another-”
Before Jennifer can finish her sentence, the man rolls his eyes, reaches out to take her hand, then everything goes black, and the floor is pulled from under her.
When it’s over, and the light returns to the world, Jennifer is inside a familiar place. A bookshop she visits nearly every weekend.
“We’re late. Quick to the front of the shop.”
“Wait! I need a minute for my brain to catch up with what’s happening here.”
“We haven’t got a minute, Jennifer. A minute is very precious in such dealings as these.”
“Will you tell me who you are? I feel I’ve earned the privilege of knowing your name, at the very least.”
“My name is Kronos. Now, can we please head to the front of the shop, we really need to act fast if we are to keep time moving.”
“Thank you, Kronos.” Jennifer moves passed Kronos toward the front of the shop. “So, what are we doing here?”
“If I’m correct, and I always am,” Kronos pauses, waiting for a reaction. Jennifer tilts her head to signal he go on, which he does so, slightly disappointed, “What’s needed in this moment of time, is for you to pay for that young man’s book over there.”
“I haven’t got any money. I’m still in my pajamas if you haven’t noticed.”
“Check your right pocket. There should be just enough in there. Go now. Quick!” Kronos says with a hushed urgency. Because she is learning better than to ask questions in the moment, Jennifer walks to the shopfront where a boy has just set a book down on the counter. The cashier rings it up, and Jennifer hears the boy say he doesn’t have enough money. The cashier looks sympathetic, says she is sorry, but there is nothing she can do.
“I can, um- buy that book for you. Here you go.” Jennifer says, placing the money on the counter. The boy looks up at Jennifer with the sweetest expression of gratitude and says thank you, but before Jennifer can respond, she is distracted by Kronos who is hissing at her to hurry up from behind the fiction section. Jennifer stutters a goodbye and hurries to join Kronos.
“Perfect. That should do it. Come now, we’re nearly done.”
“If I continue along with this, at some point you have got to explain what the heck is going on.”
“Sure. If we have enough time.” Kronos says, winking at Jennifer and holding his arm out for her to take. When she touches the soft material of the wet suit like attire, everything goes black, and the floor of the old bookshop rushes out from under her.
When the light returns to the world, Jennifer and Kronos are outside again. A cobalt shade blankets the atmosphere.
“This one should be easy.” Kronos says. “All you have to do it hold that door open for a lady coming out of that store.”
This time, Jennifer barely hesitates. She marches toward the door of a grocery store, reaching for the handle at the same time a woman holding six bags and a large parcel is exiting. “Thank you very much dear.” The woman says.
“This is great. We’re making excellent time now.”
Kronos’ voice comes from behind Jennifer and before she can turn around to face him, she feels his hand against her shoulder, then everything goes black, and the floor is pulled out from under her.
When light returns to the world, Jennifer knows where she is. Standing on her street with the dense dark of winter night cloaking the air around her.
“Is it over? Can I wake up from this dream now?” Jennifer says.
“Surely you can, and will wake up in a moment. But I assure you, this was not a dream. Though you may convince yourself it was come morning.” The perpetual state of urgency that had been beaming off Kronos since the start of this adventure, was melting away at last. “We did it. Thanks to you Jennifer. Earth life will go on unobstructed. The balance of time has been restored.”
“What are you talking about? Balancing time? What does that even mean?” Jennifer says.
“You see, Time is more than a concept of numerical digits. Time is so important for life on Earth. Events happen, or don’t happen, which have reverberations throughout the Universe. Sometimes I nudge humanity in a direction which benefits the Galaxy. An act of kindness toward a stranger, or helping someone in need, just because you can, can set off a chain of events throughout all that is, and ever will be.”
“Why did you choose me to help nudge time in the right direction, or whatever.”
“To use a popular Earth phrase. Right place, right TIME.” Kronos checks his watch, smiling. “You can go home now Jennifer. There is just one more task of time for you to complete.” Jennifer follows Kronos’ gaze, landing upon a mailbox fixed to a wooden post at the end of her neighbor’s driveway.
“Mrs. Finello? You want me to open her mail?”
“No of course not. How about you collect those letters for her and bring them to her door. Her son has sent a Christmas card from Australia. I think she would very much like to see it.”
Jennifer remembers that Mrs. Finello will be alone for Christmas. The first since her husband died. She notices the unplowed driveway and makes a mental note to come back later and shovel a path.
Jennifer walks over to the handmade mailbox. She reaches in and pulls out a small bundle of envelopes, including one with a sticker of a smiling Santa Clause. Jennifer trudges up the driveway, depositing the bundle on the doorstep under a frosted Christmas wreath.
Jennifer inhales crisp winter air, looking down the driveway at her footprints, past the mailbox to the empty sidewalk. Kronos is nowhere to be seen. Then, she feels a hand upon her shoulder.
Everything goes dark, and Jennifer feels like the floor is being pulled out from under her.
Jennifer wakes up to the auditory assault of her bedside alarm clock. She slams her hand down arbitrarily in the direction of the evil little box, and the sound stops.
She looks over at the time readout. 8:00. Apart from feeling like she hasn’t slept at all, Jennifer is in an exceptionally good mood this morning. She’s been feeling rather down lately, ever since the breakup, and she’s never been a big fan of winter, and maybe work hasn’t been as stimulating as she’d like. But none of that seems to matter anymore. Today Jennifer feels good. And she is grateful for the feeling.
Jennifer swings her legs out of bed and stretches, living in bliss for a moment, hoping the acknowledgment of it will prolong its presence in her life, and thinks, it’s about time.
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Love your second submission, John. Keep up the great work. Happy New Year.
Thank you, and Happy New Year to you!
This was a lot of fun to read!!
Much appreciated! Glad you enjoyed it.