|Publisher:||Epicenter Press, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.58(d)|
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Roy Washburn sat in his favorite chair next to the window. Sunlight streamed through the partially closed venetian blinds, casting alternating dark and light bands like prison bars across his lap. He didn't notice.
Roy had been in that chair for ... two days? Three? He didn't know and it didn't matter. Nothing mattered any longer to him as he sat, head bowed, staring at his tired old hands in his tired old lap.
Visitors had been streaming through the house for the past week, all stopping in to wish him well and convey their condolences, but he barely registered their existence. Roy's daughter, Ann, had been by several times to try and get him to eat, but he had no appetite. She always left in a huff, but there was nothing new about that.
As Roy maintained his vigil by the window, he sometimes felt as if someone were watching him, especially when he was the room's only occupant. Had he been his normal self, he would have recognized that feeling for what it was and found comfort in it. But not now.
Many who came by were afraid that Roy had lapsed into a coma or a catatonic state, but he knew better. He was quite lucid. It was just that he had nothing to say. No words to help those who were trying to help him. No weak smiles letting people know that he would be okay because, as far as he knew, he wasn't going to be okay. Things were never going to be okay again.
So, he sat. Quiet. Still. Alone.
* * *
Daylight slowly melted away, giving way to evening. As it did, Roy began to stir. Slowly he moved a tired arm, grabbed hold of the cord attached to the venetian blinds, and gave it a tug. The blinds raised six inches or so. He repeated the movement and they rose again. Had he been interested enough to look out the window of his second story bedroom, Roy would have seen one of his favorite sights: the sun slowly dipping below the horizon, drowning itself in the Pacific Ocean. Instead, he noticed his arm, thin and gaunt, skin hanging loosely. My God, he thought, I look like a skeleton!
No sooner had this thought crossed his mind, another came. This new thought sent shivers down his spine, yet it was strangely appealing. He mulled it over in his tired mind for a few moments then, muttering "What the hell" to the empty room around him, raised himself out of the chair and began slowly shuffling across the hardwood floor to the dresser that sat next to his side of the bed.
He slowly eased himself onto the bed, reached down, and pulled open the bottom drawer. He slipped his hand in, letting his fingers feel their way around in the dark. He knew he had found what he was looking for when cold steel met flesh. He grasped the object and slowly pulled it out.
It was heavier than he remembered. Or maybe he was weaker. Either way, the .45 pistol gave off a dull glow in the evening light, and Roy felt a strange rush of adrenaline run through his body.
Crap. Have I become so pathetic that the thought of offing myself gives me a thrill? He looked at the gun again, running his hands over the barrel and down around the handle. The shiver of excitement was there again. "I guess I have become that pathetic," he whispered.
As he started to rise and head back toward the window, something else in the drawer caught his eye. He sat back down on the bed, laid the gun next to him, and pulled out the object.
It, too, was made of metal, but that was the only similarity it bore to the gun Roy had been holding. This object was a perfect cylinder, silver in color.
Remembering what the cylinder could do, the rush of adrenaline returned, this time even stronger. A slight smile flickered across Roy's sallow face. He turned the object over in his hands. There was the black, triangular pointer aimed directly at zero, as it should be, and the scale with its tick marks. His mind wandered back to the first time he slid the pointer away from the zero mark.
Roy placed the gun back in the drawer and pushed it shut.
"Well," he said to the empty room, "this might be worth living for."
* * *
"Are you sure you don't want to come in with me, dear? I won't be a minute."
Roy shook his head emphatically. "No thanks. My heart can't take any more excitement. I'll just sit here quietly and wait for you."
His wife, Emily, smiled at him. "Okay, suit yourself." Roy watched as Emily turned and disappeared into the clothing store. She still had a trim, sexy figure and Roy smiled in appreciation as she swished back and forth.
Roy wandered over to the bench next to Auntie Anne's Pretzels and took a seat.
Geesh, I've been retired less than six months and already I'm being dragged around by the nose ... at the mall no less! Then he smiled. Emily was happy to have him there and that was enough. And he surely was happy to finally be retired from the working world. His forty-three-year career as a civil engineer was over and he was glad. He still loved the job but knew in his heart that he couldn't do it as well as when he was younger. It was definitely time to call it a career and focus on other things. Like doing just what he was doing today — getting reacquainted with his wife.
As Roy sat waiting, he reflected on his new life since retirement. One aspect had certainly improved: mealtime. Emily had always been a terrific cook, but he had rarely been home to take advantage of her skills. Now that he was home every day for dinner, lunch, and the occasional breakfast, he had discovered just how talented she was. He patted his stomach — hard and lean not long ago but now hanging a bit over his belt. Maybe she was too good of a cook. Or maybe he would have to grow a little taller than his current 5' 10" height to better accommodate his new weight.
Apart from eating better, what else was he going to do with his life, now that work was no longer a part of it? He had waited year upon endless year for this time. Now that it was here, was he bored? Will I ever be happy? Roy wondered for about the thousandth time since he had retired. I always thought it was my job getting me down, but maybe it's just me. Roy shook his head to clear the thought from his mind. He would worry about that later. Emily was happy and that was enough. For now.
As he sat, Roy noticed a shiny object peeking out from underneath a discarded pretzel wrapper on the ground beneath the far end of the bench. He slid down to get a closer look.
From his new vantage point, Roy could see that the object was a cylinder. It wasn't huge — maybe eight inches long and a half inch in diameter — but it wasn't so small that it was easily missed either. The object was silver in color. Roy brushed the pretzel wrapper aside and picked up the cylinder.
It was much heavier than anticipated and he tightened his grip to make sure he didn't drop it.
Roy turned the cylinder over in his hands. As he did so, a small, black triangle came into view. At first he thought the triangle was painted on, but upon closer inspection he saw that the black triangle was actually a thing apart from the cylinder itself.
Along with the triangle there was also a thin, narrow channel machined into the cylinder running along its entire length. Parallel to and slightly below this channel was a series of tick marks. The tick mark in the center of the cylinder was labeled zero; that was where one tip of the triangle was currently pointing. The tick marks to the left of the zero mark were numbered in increasingly negative numbers, from –1 to –20. Tick marks to the right were numbered upwards from 1 to 20.
As Roy looked more closely, he saw that the black triangle was designed to slide along the channel. Roy nudged the triangle to the left, toward the negative numbers. It slid easily and clicked into position at the tick mark labeled –1.
Roy's vision began to blur. He looked at the ground and tried to steady himself. The pretzel wrapper that had covered the cylinder was slowly spinning and melting into the floor. Roy grabbed the side of the bench and held on to keep from falling.
He looked toward the clothing store where Emily had gone. What he saw took his breath away.
There was no clothing store. There was no mall. Instead, Roy was sitting on the top of a hill, looking out over a seemingly endless green, rolling pasture. In the distance he could see a herd of cows grazing contentedly. Or at least he thought they were cows. They were the same general shape but slightly smaller in stature, with big, thick legs. One of the animals looked in his direction and let out a raucous moo.
Overhead, large puffy white clouds floated in a peaceful evening sky. He could hear birds in the distance and smell the sweet fresh air of the country.
Where in the hell am I? How can an entire mall just disappear? Where's Emily!?
Suddenly, Roy sensed movement to his left and swung his head around in that direction. What he saw made the green pasture populated with strange cows seem normal.
There stood a ... a creature was the only word Roy's mind could come up with. The thing looked somewhat human; it had a head with two eyes, two ears, a nose, a mouth, all of the usual accessories a head should have. It had two arms attached in the right places, two legs attached where they should be. Its skin was tan/brown in color, nothing unusual. It was the proportion of these things that made the creature look so strange.
Everything about the creature was thin and elongated, at least when compared to normal human standards. Maybe it was the fact that Roy was sitting and the creature was standing, but Roy guessed that it was easily 8 feet tall and couldn't have weighed more than 100 pounds soaking wet.
The clothing it was wearing didn't help either. The creature was wearing blue jeans and a tee shirt, items that wouldn't raise an eyebrow on a normal human, but on the creature the garments looked strange. Maybe it was the fact that Roy had never seen a pair of jeans that long or narrow, or maybe it was the fact that emblazoned across the tee were the words, "I'm with Stupid." Either way, Roy's mind told him to run, yet he remained riveted in place.
The creature moved toward Roy. Roy noticed that it was very light on its feet; it almost seemed to float above the ground.
As Roy gazed upwards into the creature's face, it began to speak.
"Finally," the creature said in a deep, booming voice — a voice completely at odds with its thin and frail exterior. "I have been waiting so long." The creature reached out a long, thin hand toward Roy. "We need your help. I need your help."
Roy stared, mesmerized, into the strange face, its long black hair stirring in the gentle country breeze. Roy was struck by an overwhelming sense of sadness. He could see it in the creature's eyes.
The creature spoke again, its voice resonating in Roy's ears. "I see you found our device." The creature pointed a long, thin finger at the cylinder in Roy's hand.
Roy tore his gaze away from the creature's oddly beautiful face and looked down at the cylinder. The cylinder! It must have something to do with what was going on.
Tentatively, he slid the black triangular pointer back to the right until it clicked at the zero position.
The green pasture and the cows began to swirl away from him, as if going down a drain. The sight made him dizzy and nauseous. The thing that had been speaking to him elongated even more as its body was pulled into the invisible force that was taking the rest of the countryside with it.
Roy could hear the creature wail as it disappeared, "Pleeeeaasssseee ..." Then it was gone.
Roy took in a sharp breath and blinked twice, rapidly. He was back at the mall, sitting on the bench with the cylinder in his hand and the pretzel wrapper at his feet. His overloaded system gave up and Roy passed out.
When Roy came to, he was disoriented. He looked around and saw nothing but a sea of unfamiliar faces. A big man in a security guard uniform was kneeling next to him holding out a cup of water. He felt as if he might faint again when he heard a familiar voice.
"Roy!" Emily shouted, as she burst through the crowd. "What happened?"
Roy smiled weakly. "I'm fine, dear. Just a little lightheaded, that's all."
Suddenly, feeling self-conscious about the group of people gathering around him, Roy looked up. "Thank you all for your help but I'm fine now." The crowd slowly began to dissipate.
Emily wasn't so easily convinced. She grabbed Roy's hand and squeezed it tightly. "Are you sure you're all right?"
Roy returned the squeeze. "I'm fine. Not sure what exactly happened, but I feel fine now. Let's say we go home, okay?"
Emily started at Roy for a long moment. "Okay, but this is so unlike you."
Roy looked up at his wife, noting the concern in her eyes, in the way her forehead wrinkled, in the way her mouth turned down at the corners. He had also noticed the strange emphasis she had put on the word you. They had been married a long time and he knew that she chose her words carefully, especially when she was worried. He peered at her for a second, debating whether or not to continue the conversation, but before he could decide, Emily got up off the bench and turned to leave.
As Roy got up, he noticed the cylinder lying on the bench. He reached down, snatched it up, and slid it into his jacket pocket.CHAPTER 2
Roy picked at his dinner, his appetite nonexistent.
"Aren't you hungry?" Emily inquired. "Fried chicken is normally one of your favorites, and you've barely touched it."
"No, not really. I'm just feeling a little ..." He shrugged his shoulders, unable to complete the sentence.
Emily put down her fork and placed her hands on the table. She pressed her lips tightly together and her brow furrowed. She leaned forward and, in a voice barely above a whisper, said, "Is it what happened earlier today at the mall? Is there something wrong?"
Roy pushed his chair away from the table and stood up. "No, no, nothing wrong." His voice sounded harsher than he had intended. Emily continued to stare at him, silent.
Roy looked at his wife. He could see the concern in her blue eyes. He walked around the table and stood next to her.
In a gentle voice he said, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap at you. It's just ..."
Emily looked up at her husband. "It's just what?" she asked quietly. "Now that you don't have to go to work you're already bored with me?" She smiled as she said this but Roy knew the question was serious.
Roy knelt down and took his wife's hand in his. "Of course it's not that, dear. I love you. You are, and have always been, the best thing in my life." Emily smiled.
Roy got up and began to pace. "I will admit to feeling a certain kind of ... dullness is the only word I can think of ... since I've been retired. I was so ready to retire, but I guess I wasn't really prepared for what retirement meant. Do you know what I mean?"
"I'm not sure," Emily said. "Keep talking."
"I just mean that I had no plan for what I would do with my time. With work, every minute of the day was taken up, and when I wasn't at work, the downtime was necessary. Now it's all downtime. They say all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Well I think all play and no work does the same thing."
"I can see your point," Emily said. "I guess I never thought about it, either. I always pictured you and me going everywhere hand-in-hand, but we can't go shopping at the mall every day." She smiled.
Roy groaned. "Thank God for that!"
Emily laughed. She motioned for Roy to come sit next to her. "Well, I know something that will keep you busy for a few hours."
Roy's face brightened as he snuggled in close to his wife. "A few hours? That's pretty optimistic, but I'll do my best." The smell of her perfume was strong in his nostrils. He buried his face in her neck.
"No, no, not that," she giggled. "I meant we're going to drive down to the city and visit Ann. You remember your daughter, Ann, don't you?" She pulled away from him.
"Oh yes, Ann. Short kid with freckles. Is that her?"
"Well, that used to be her," Emily said. "Now she's the tall, strikingly beautiful blonde that takes after her mother."
"Oh, that Ann," Roy said. "Will Jodie be there?"
"Of course she will. Where else would a four-year-old be but with her mother?"
Roy smiled. "Just checking. I always love to see my little granddaughter." He began to walk back to his place at the table. "Just let me finish eating."
"Nonsense. You said you weren't that hungry anyway, so let's just get going. I'll do these dishes later."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Time Slice"
Copyright © 2011 Kerry Downing.
Excerpted by permission of Coffeetown Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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