The antique store smelled of old leather, brass polish, and history. Framed maps and paintings covered the walls from floor to ceiling. Trinkets of all shapes and sizes camouflaged the stained tabletops.
Natalia loved it. All the shining brass, eclectic statuettes, and mismatched frames reminded her of her childhood, surrounded by baubles of bygone times. She picked up a collapsible brass telescope; her father would have spent hours in this store, taking up the shopkeeper about its history and fantasizing being the mariner who used it in its prime. Natalia set down the telescope and picked her way over to the shopkeeper’s counter where he was chatting animatedly over the phone. The owner was an older man with grey hair and a clean-shaven face. Watching her approach through thick, circular spectacles, he smiled at her and put down the receiver.
“Hello,” she greeted, smiling in kind. “I called earlier about a gold pocket watch?”
Behind the counter, the man’s face lit up. “Of course, the young Russian enthusiast!” Natalia chuckled as he ducked behind the counter. When he resurfaced, a red leather case was presented to her. “I stashed it back here for you since you sounded so excited.”
Of course, when her mother mentioned one antique dealer acquiring a Bure pocket watch, she had spent most of the morning calling all of the stores in her area about it. When this man said he had a gold watch in a red case, she had broken into her savings and sprinted over to the store.
Delicately, Natalia took the box from the man. Setting it on the counter, she flipped the top open.
“It’s beautiful,” she gasped. The watch was a simple gold with Russia’s imperial eagle enameled on the cover. The only color was the blue ribbon at the top of the insignia. Natalia palmed the watch, turning it over to the plain back. She pulled open the back to inspect the gears for a moment before separating the movement cover from the back cover. She read the inscription: Павел Буре. Поставщикъ двора его величества. Pavel Bure. Supplier of His Majesty’s Court.
Natalia flicked her blue eyes back to the shopkeeper. “How much?”
She chewed on her cheek when he named the price. She didn’t like to see a piece like this so undervalued, but at least this way she could afford it. Natalia handed over the money with little fuss, taking her bounty.
Just as she opened the door, the little bell tinkling, the shopkeeper called to her, “It’ll take you back. Use it well.”
Though the comment confused her, Natalia didn’t show it. She only smiled at him one last time and pushed her way into the noontime sun.
The drive to her apartment passed by in a blur of office buildings and roadside greenery. And when she unlocked the door, Natalia still felt the excitement that had been following her ever since setting her eyes on that red leather.
Pulling the case out of her purse, she set it with her collection of Russian antiques. It wasn’t very extensive yet, but she was proud of it. It showcased her heritage. Most of her collection was from the time of Nicholas II; the time when her great-grandfather had immigrated out of Russia as a teenager. She was very proud.
Natalia opened the box, eager to inspect her prize without the watchful eyes of the shopkeeper. Opening it to the watch face, she spun the dial and watched time turn backward before setting it to the true time.
Even though she had taken a day off to do her treasure hunt, Natalia, sadly, still had work to do. The only reason her boss had let her have the day was that she had told a little white lie. Nothing horrible, but she just implied that she was much further along in the article she was working on. And she was working on it. The first sentence of it.
Until the light started to dim outside, she sat at her desk researching and writing that blasted article. Twilight shone through her window, casting dark shadows across her apartment.
Natalia frowned; it hadn’t felt like she worked for that long. She had gotten most of the article done, but that was just procrastination productivity. Clicking out of her browser, Natalia noted the time on the computer screen: almost half-past six. She squinted at the screen. It wasn’t supposed to get dark until at least eight o’clock.
Pushing off the desk, she rolled over to her window and glanced westward. But the light wasn’t coming from that direction.
The sun was setting in the east.
That wasn’t right.
Natalia’s breath started to come faster. Grabbing her phone, she called her mother like she did when anything was wrong. All that came through was the dial tone. Natalia shoved her phone into her back pocket and stumbled out of her apartment. She needed to get out. To see the fading sun in the open air. To make sure she wasn’t going crazy.
The elevator didn’t seem to be working, so she fled down the stairs. Natalia pushed open the building’s double doors, staring at the people going by.
The unnatural sun’s light was disappearing rapidly. Only the last lances shone from atop the city streets, but the street lamps, nearby buildings, and car headlights were more than enough to show just how much had gone wrong with the world.
Natalia turned a slow circle with dawning realization.
The cars on the road were perpetually in reverse. The pedestrians were doing a deranged moonwalk. Blinking up at the sky, Natalia watched a plane fly across the sky tail-first, slurping up its contrail. She wasn’t watching the sunset; she was watching the sunrise. Backward.
The old shopkeeper’s words came back to her. It’ll take you back.
Was it the watch that did this? Could a watch do this? Natalia took a deep breath. She needed to stay calm. Dodging the backpedaling foot traffic, she wandered back into the apartment building.
As the only person going forward through time, the phenomenon must be connected to her. Let’s say for argument’s sake this does have something to do with the Bure, she thought. All I did was inspect it and reset the time.
She had reset the time. The hands of time had spun backward. And, now, the world was spinning in reverse.
Entering her apartment, she went over to where the pocket watch sat, golden and harmless. If everything was connected, she had only turned the watch back one revolution. Twelve hours or so.
She grasped the watch with clammy fingers and brought it under her desk light. But the golden eagle didn’t reveal anything. Neither did its ivory face and ebony numerals. No secret compartment or magic sparkles.
“God, what the heck is happening?” she whispered, resting her head on the desk.
She hadn’t even realized she fell asleep until she was blinking awake. Morning light shone through her window. Natalia groaned once the crick in her neck said hello.
Pulling out her phone, she called her mother. After two rings, she picked up.
“This is Anna Dorosh.” Natalia winced as a sleepy rasp came over the phone.
“Hey, Mama. Did anything weird happen to you recently?”
“Oh, hello, sweetheart.” She yawned. “No, but your father did butt dial me twice yesterday. Why do you ask?”
“No reason. Just curious.”
“Before you go, I heard one of the shops in town got a Bure watch! You’ve been looking for one of those, haven’t you?”
“Yeah,” Natalia glanced at the innocent-looking pocket watch sitting in her palm. “I’ll check it out.”