I open my eyes. I am seventeen again.
I’m sitting on my bed in my old room at my parents’ house. Eddie Vedder is crooning “Even Flow” over the boombox on my dresser. Outside the window, the sun is setting over May 3rd, 1992.
I stand up slowly, still dizzy from the jump. Stuffing a forty-six-year-old woman’s brain into a seventeen-year-old body has side effects. It’s not all bad, though, and I take a second to marvel at how nothing aches or sags.
When the room stops spinning, I go to the closet, where my kit should be. They can’t send back organic matter, just metal, polymers, and human consciousness. I find a small plastic case under a pile of clothes, open it, and pull out a silenced .22 pistol. It’s on a three-hour timer, like me. When the three hours are up, the case, the gun, and the 2021 version of my mind all snap back to the present.
I grab a light denim coat and stick the gun in one of the pockets. My target is a few blocks from here, which is why the Department of Temporal Enforcement chose me for the assignment. Proximity is important. The less you move around, the less likely the time stream gets fucked up. Well, more fucked up. The DTE is okay with a few unwanted changes. My brain still can’t get used to McDavids instead of McDonalds. At least they still call it a Big Mac.
I head downstairs and find Dad is in the front room, sitting in his favorite chair, reading a book. The sight of him buckles my knees. They warn you about this part, but no one can prepare you for seeing a ghost.
“Hey, sweetie,” he says, peering over Stephen King’s The Waste Lands. “This latest Gunslinger novel is pretty good. You want it when I’m done?” I have so many memories of sitting up late with him, talking about books, and drinking gallons of coffee.
I smile, hoping he can’t see the way my mouth trembles. I cross the room and kiss him on top of the head. The smell of his aftershave almost breaks me. “Sure, Dad.”
“You headed out?” he says.
“Yeah, gonna go meet . . . uh, Lindsey.” I manage to recall the name of one of my high school friends.
“Okay, school night, though. Be back by eleven,” he says, not scolding, more like a friend giving advice. That was his way, and I loved him for it.
Once out the front door, I push thoughts of my father from my head. I need to be hard now and dwelling on grief is only going to make it more likely I fuck up what comes next.
I walk down the street I grew up on, breathing the warm spring air of my youth, until I arrive at 1575 Sonora Ave. When I actually lived on this street, we didn’t know the Pearsons. (Thank Christ.) The dossier I read before the jump told me everything I needed, though. Mr. Pearson died in 1990. Mrs. Pearson works as a nurse, and her shift just started. Her only child, Mike, is at home, right now, by himself.
I walk through the alley between the Pearson place and the neighbor’s and use my gloriously nimble young body to scramble over the fence and into the backyard. The sliding glass door is open, and I move through the kitchen, listening to the soft noise of a TV upstairs.
I pull the pistol from my pocket and climb the stairs. I find Mike sitting on his bed. He’s a tall, gangly kid with cold, cruel eyes. He’ll make good use of that cruelty in college next year, though no one will pin the three dead girls on him. Then he’ll use his lack of remorse and empathy to navigate the world of politics, until, in 2021, at the age of 47, he’ll be poised to become a United States senator. After that, he gets bigger aspirations. The brass at the DTE looked forward a few years and decided it would be best for every living thing on the planet if Mike Pearson didn’t make it out of high school.
Mike is shocked to see me at first—as any person would be—and his eyes widen in alarm. Then a smile quirks up at the corners of his mouth, an awful, hungry smile. A young girl just showed up in his bedroom, alone and vulnerable, and ol’ Mikey thinks it’s his lucky day.
When he sees the gun, Mike’s glee becomes rage, and he springs up from the bed. I shoot him twice before he can take a single step. The silenced handgun makes no more noise than a light clap, and the small-caliber slugs make a pair of neat holes in Mike’s heart and brain. The bullets will snap back to the present like everything else in a few hours, leaving no evidence. Mission accomplished.
I have two and half hours before my jump. I walk back home, not letting myself run, and find Dad still reading in the front room.
“Back so soon?” he says.
“Lindsey wasn’t feeling good,” I reply. “I’m gonna make coffee. You want some?”
He grins. “Does a bear shit in the woods?” His favorite dumb joke. He even said it the day the cancer took him when I asked if he wanted more ice chips.
I laugh to force down the sobs climbing up my throat.
For the next two hours, we talk about Stephen King, Clive Barker, Poppy Z. Brite, all our favorites, and drink slightly burnt Folgers with whole milk. I feel dizzy about a quarter to ten. I rub my temples, praying for a few more seconds.
“You okay?” Dad says.
I take his hand. “Fine. I love you.”
I close my eyes and fall into the jump, leaving Dad in the past. The tears come with me.
I am forty-six again.
About the author:
Aeryn Rudel is a writer from Tacoma, Washington. He is the author of the Acts of War trilogy of novels published by Privateer Press, and his short fiction has appeared in The Arcanist, On Spec, Pseudopod, and many others. Aeryn is a notorious dinosaur nerd, a baseball connoisseur, and he knows more about swords than is healthy or socially acceptable. He frequently documents his authorly musings and dubious advice on writing and rejection (mostly rejection) on his blog at http://www.rejectomancy.com or Twitter @Aeryn_Rudel.