10 SECONDS • by Diana Rohlman

She had watched him die ten times, each time trying desperately to save him. Each time she failed, but she refused to give up, relentlessly forcing Time to do her bidding. Ten ticks of the second hand on her slim gold watch — that was all the time she had.

It wasn’t fate, she didn’t believe in fate. She had changed her future in that ten-second window before. Arguments, broken promises, words meant to be unspoken — all had been rewound, redone. In her world, second- and third- and fourth-chances existed. Ten seconds — enough time to swallow the insult, prevent a slip, watch a lover’s smile again.

She realized she had grown complacent, even arrogant, in her ability to alter time. What matter the consequences, when she could so easily erase them, when only she remembered the previous timeline?

Alex lay on the carpet beside her, his fingers clenched around hers. She looked at him, at the lips she had once loved to kiss. If she could have reversed Time without limitations, without constraint, she would have rewound the past three years, slipped past Alex in the coffee house and lived her life without him.

Only three years ago she had seen Alex ordering a simple drip coffee in her favorite coffee shop. She dropped her drink five times, anxiously rewinding each time to try again before he finally noticed her. He loved her name, loved saying it first thing in the morning. “Violet, I love you.”

On their first date, she rewound their awkward first kiss three times, waiting until it was just right, their heads tilted at just the right angle, their fingers lightly entwined, before releasing Time. The kiss was perfect. Life with Alex was perfect.

She rewound their life so often, it was a habit she hardly noticed anymore. When Alex dropped his wine, she rewound, took the glass from him moments before it fell. When the pasta pot boiled over, she rewound, lifted the pot from the heat. When she dropped a knife, gashing her foot, she rewound, firmed her grip around the knife, kept chopping. Her ability made their life better, kept them safer.

In the beginning, Alex used to joke she was the epitome of perfection and they lived a charmed life. Violet would smile, overjoyed. Over time, his jokes became more barbed. Violet began rewinding those too.

Life was charmed, perfect — exactly as she had always imagined it as a little girl when she first found out she could slip into the stream of Time, tweak the strands.

But now his words wouldn’t stop echoing in her head, remnants of timelines that no longer existed.

“I feel like I’m living someone else’s life, like a puppet in a play where only you know what is happening. I can’t do it anymore. Violet, it’s over.”

Rewind.

“Violet, it’s over! I don’t love you. Stop crying, you had to know this was coming.”

Rewind.

“God, Violet, why are you being so difficult? It’s a breakup. People break up all the time.”

Rewind.

“Life with you is too perfect, too controlled. I feel like everything is scripted. I’m leaving you. Her name is Kryssa. She loves me, and I love her. She’s spontaneous, and flawed and wonderful. Everything you aren’t!”

In that second of perfect fury, she had launched the knife. It thudded deep into his chest. She laughed scornfully, taunting him about the spontaneity of such an act.

Why rush? Ten seconds could be an eternity. It wasn’t until his sneer turned to a bloody rictus that she stopped laughing.

Rewind.

The knife is already leaving her fingertips; she twitches a finger, tries in vain to alter its trajectory. It isn’t enough.

Rewind.

Violet lunges after the knife, falling on Alex as he crumples to the floor. A moment of hope, quickly reversed. Once more, the knife has struck deeply, fatally.

Rewind.

Ten seconds. One sixth of a minute. No time at all, and yet all the time in the world. She dives at his feet, knowing the knife will still strike, but perhaps be deflected just enough. She is wrong. She tries again.

Each time she brings him back, she is forced to watch the knife plunge into his chest; each time she is just a fraction of a second too late. She needs just one more second.

She begs the Gods she doesn’t believe in, straining to break past the ten-second barrier. The barrier holds firm, implacable in the face of her frantic promises. Once again she sees the knife flash, watches his face darken, watches him topple to the ground.

Once again she reverses time. Once again she fails. Once again she whips Time in reverse.

She struggles, cursing her own hands, screaming at Time itself. He dies again. Violet hauls him back, but she is slow, her fatigue costing her. He dies again; her ten-second window shifts. Once more she grasps the fabric of Time, pulls it back, but she is far too late. This is a mistake that cannot be undone.

One final time, she stares into his eyes, memorizing the scattered flakes of green she had once loved so dearly, tracing his cheekbones, prominent now against the pallor of his skin. Her ten seconds, useless now, tick by, measured in a steady cadence on her gold watch. He dies again. And this time, Time flows freely.


Diana Rohlman lives in the Pacific Northwest, invariably spending the rainy days inside, writing, with a glass of wine nearby, and her dog offering helpful critiques.


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 average 5 stars • 2 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • MPmcgurty

    This is well-written, so the dog is doing a good job. Overall, it’s a very enjoyable and interesting story. I like the language here, the pacing of the story until the last third, and how the author takes care in revealing the situation. What I think could be improved is the pacing in the last third. Following a very nice sequence of rewinding with the italicized refrain “Rewind”, we then have five ‘graphs of “once again” and “once more”, in addition to already telling us in the first ‘graph that she watched him die ten times. I get it that she is doing it over and over again, and perhaps she’s been doing it all day. But often less is more in writing.

    I also had a question about his unhappiness. If he doesn’t know she’s rewinding, what is his definition of “perfect”. I’m guessing he doesn’t desire car wrecks and scalding water, so what is it that he sees that is too perfect? Perhaps I’m wondering if the rewind causes her to act, in between rewinds, in such a way that she appears uptight? Maybe an example of something he said early on, a joke or something, because it would be kind of creepy to never have a mishap, but I think he’d be a bit curious somewhere in there.

    This did not feel like the first time I’ve read something like this, but I can’t put my finger on it. Maybe I’ve been rewound.

    Nice job.

  • MPmcgurty

    This is well-written, so the dog is doing a good job. Overall, it’s a very enjoyable and interesting story. I like the language here, the pacing of the story until the last third, and how the author takes care in revealing the situation. What I think could be improved is the pacing in the last third. Following a very nice sequence of rewinding with the italicized refrain “Rewind”, we then have five ‘graphs of “once again” and “once more”, in addition to already telling us in the first ‘graph that she watched him die ten times. I get it that she is doing it over and over again, and perhaps she’s been doing it all day. But often less is more in writing.

    I also had a question about his unhappiness. If he doesn’t know she’s rewinding, what is his definition of “perfect”. I’m guessing he doesn’t desire car wrecks and scalding water, so what is it that he sees that is too perfect? Perhaps I’m wondering if the rewind causes her to act, in between rewinds, in such a way that she appears uptight? Maybe an example of something he said early on, a joke or something, because it would be kind of creepy to never have a mishap, but I think he’d be a bit curious somewhere in there.

    This did not feel like the first time I’ve read something like this, but I can’t put my finger on it. Maybe I’ve been rewound.

    Nice job.

  • I like the paradoxes of time travel and I think there is a lot of mileage in this idea.

  • I like the paradoxes of time travel and I think there is a lot of mileage in this idea.

  • S Conroy

    Agree with MPmcgurty on the overuse of once again, once more etc.
    Otherwise a gripping story with a really creative rewind device.

  • S Conroy

    Agree with MPmcgurty on the overuse of once again, once more etc.
    Otherwise a gripping story with a really creative rewind device.

  • I really like the concept here, but for some reason, I just don’t like the story.

    The writing is very good, the pace is good (aside from the end, which became monotonous) and the development of at least the MC was good as well. I think I didn’t like the story for two reasons: Time travel stories are way overdone (although this take on it was pretty cool). The MC is rather hateful.

    If that was intentional (for the reader to dislike the MC), bravo. That worked very well. But I think the ending requires sympathy for the MC to work, and I felt nothing for her.

    There’s also the logistics of the act. She stabs him, laughs a little, then realizes she’d better rewind. But she’s too late every time. I’m trying to picture where her time starts. Has she stabbed him yet? Is her hand en route to his chest (if so, can’t she just stop?) Is she on the floor beside him and ready to stab? I can’t picture this repetitive scene because I don’t know the relative positions of the characters and the events that are happening at the time. The details, which I often rally against in flash, are important to this part of the story. But they’re missing.

    I can’t give this a bad score. There’s a ton of effort here, and the author certainly shows talent. The story just didn’t work for me.

    Thanks for sharing, and I look forward to your next story.

    • MPmcgurty

      Scott, I think the reason the rewind doesn’t work this time is because she waited too long to rewind. She wasted time when she laughing at him, so rewinding 10 seconds did not bring her to the point at which she was still holding the knife. Each time the sequence begins, her fingers have just let go of the knife. She can’t react fast enough to grab it again, even though she knows she’s going to throw it.

      • Ah, I see what you’re saying. For some reason I wasn’t picturing that exactly, but it would make sense to the story.

    • Joseph Kaufman

      As MP states, the knife was thrown, so there was some time in its flight, time to register he was very wounded, and time she spent laughing.

      What intrigues me about all that is the fact that if she had shot him in the head, he’d still be alive. Because she wouldn’t have mucked about so long thinking he was OK.

      What is also fascinating about the piece is imagining the visuals as this Groundhog-Day-gone-wrong moment plays out over and over again. The slow motion, the blur of the knife traveling through the air, the countdown of every ten-second rewind…

      Finally, while I agree time travel gets used a lot, the take here is so unique that I forgive it 100%. Of particular coolness is the fact that a ten-second rewind couldn’t really do a lot of the “classic” time travel things. She doesn’t have enough rewind-time to win the lottery, for example. I suppose she could make a killing as a day-trader if she had a fast terminal, but even that would be tricky. No, her “power” is really only good for fixing mistakes (many of them shallow), and even in that her complacency turns that power into a curse. In that sense, I do think we are supposed to dislike the narrator, and I personally didn’t feel all that sorry for her by the end. My emotional response to the resolution wasn’t one of sympathy, merely one of…emptiness. Sometimes the lack of feeling can be as powerful as an emotional punch.

      • Ah, see THAT is what I missed. The knife was thrown. I thought she stabbed him. This makes a big difference, and I understand why ten seconds was just not quite enough. Thanks for the clarification!

      • Of course, not I’m wondering why she would throw the knife and not just stab him. I would think throwing a knife at someone and hitting your target enough to kill him would take a whole lot more skill than just stabbing.

        • Chinwillow

          Good point!! missed that entirely

        • Joseph Kaufman

          I agree, it did seem like a very (un) lucky shot.

          But maybe she uses her rewinds to practice all sorts of things. *smile*

  • I really like the concept here, but for some reason, I just don’t like the story.

    The writing is very good, the pace is good (aside from the end, which became monotonous) and the development of at least the MC was good as well. I think I didn’t like the story for two reasons: Time travel stories are way overdone (although this take on it was pretty cool). The MC is rather hateful.

    If that was intentional (for the reader to dislike the MC), bravo. That worked very well. But I think the ending requires sympathy for the MC to work, and I felt nothing for her.

    There’s also the logistics of the act. She stabs him, laughs a little, then realizes she’d better rewind. But she’s too late every time. I’m trying to picture where her time starts. Has she stabbed him yet? Is her hand en route to his chest (if so, can’t she just stop?) Is she on the floor beside him and ready to stab? I can’t picture this repetitive scene because I don’t know the relative positions of the characters and the events that are happening at the time. The details, which I often rally against in flash, are important to this part of the story. But they’re missing.

    I can’t give this a bad score. There’s a ton of effort here, and the author certainly shows talent. The story just didn’t work for me.

    Thanks for sharing, and I look forward to your next story.

    • MPmcgurty

      Scott, I think the reason the rewind doesn’t work this time is because she waited too long to rewind. She wasted time when she laughing at him, so rewinding 10 seconds did not bring her to the point at which she was still holding the knife. Each time the sequence begins, her fingers have just let go of the knife. She can’t react fast enough to grab it again, even though she knows she’s going to throw it.

      • Ah, I see what you’re saying. For some reason I wasn’t picturing that exactly, but it would make sense to the story.

    • Joseph Kaufman

      As MP states, the knife was thrown, so there was some time in its flight, time to register he was very wounded, and time she spent laughing.

      What intrigues me about all that is the fact that if she had shot him in the head, he’d still be alive. Because she wouldn’t have mucked about so long thinking he was OK.

      What is also fascinating about the piece is imagining the visuals as this Groundhog-Day-gone-wrong moment plays out over and over again. The slow motion, the blur of the knife traveling through the air, the countdown of every ten-second rewind…

      Finally, while I agree time travel gets used a lot, the take here is so unique that I forgive it 100%. Of particular coolness is the fact that a ten-second rewind couldn’t really do a lot of the “classic” time travel things. She doesn’t have enough rewind-time to win the lottery, for example. I suppose she could make a killing as a day-trader if she had a fast terminal, but even that would be tricky. No, her “power” is really only good for fixing mistakes (many of them shallow), and even in that her complacency turns that power into a curse. In that sense, I do think we are supposed to dislike the narrator, and I personally didn’t feel all that sorry for her by the end. My emotional response to the resolution wasn’t one of sympathy, merely one of…emptiness. Sometimes the lack of feeling can be as powerful as an emotional punch.

      • Ah, see THAT is what I missed. The knife was thrown. I thought she stabbed him. This makes a big difference, and I understand why ten seconds was just not quite enough. Thanks for the clarification!

      • Of course, not I’m wondering why she would throw the knife and not just stab him. I would think throwing a knife at someone and hitting your target enough to kill him would take a whole lot more skill than just stabbing.

        • Chinwillow

          Good point!! missed that entirely

        • Joseph Kaufman

          I agree, it did seem like a very (un) lucky shot.

          But maybe she uses her rewinds to practice all sorts of things. *smile*

  • Damn fine story.

  • Damn fine story.

  • Cassandra Jane Parkin

    I absolutely loved this bleak little narrative about love – very “Gone Girl”. Violet’s manipulativeness and Alex’s ingratitude for the “perfection” she creates for him are just beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  • Cassandra Jane Parkin

    I absolutely loved this bleak little narrative about love – very “Gone Girl”. Violet’s manipulativeness and Alex’s ingratitude for the “perfection” she creates for him are just beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  • Chinwillow

    I agree with Scott.. The concept is interesting but I felt it is way over blown.I didn’t like the MC as well. She is arrogant and overly confident which grates on my nerves. How did her husband know unhappiness when everything was so perfect? The writing is good however, Thanks for the effort but this work just didn’t grab me.

    • Joseph Kaufman

      I personally saw the husband’s unhappiness as a meta-commentary about how no matter what you do, if something doesn’t “feel” right, no amount of tangible, chronological perfection is going to matter. Alex is, in a sense, seeing through time, seeing behind the fourth-dimensional curtain and realizing in his soul that things just aren’t quite right. It’s like being shown what The Matrix is — no matter how perfect or actual a reality appears, something niggles.

  • Chinwillow

    I agree with Scott.. The concept is interesting but I felt it is way over blown.I didn’t like the MC as well. She is arrogant and overly confident which grates on my nerves. How did her husband know unhappiness when everything was so perfect? The writing is good however, Thanks for the effort but this work just didn’t grab me.

    • Joseph Kaufman

      I personally saw the husband’s unhappiness as a meta-commentary about how no matter what you do, if something doesn’t “feel” right, no amount of tangible, chronological perfection is going to matter. Alex is, in a sense, seeing through time, seeing behind the fourth-dimensional curtain and realizing in his soul that things just aren’t quite right. It’s like being shown what The Matrix is — no matter how perfect or actual a reality appears, something niggles.

  • I think this is original and well written. It almost reads like a morality tale in which the MC is getting her comeuppance for her flaws of arrogance and thinking she can do anything and get away with it. Great job.

  • I think this is original and well written. It almost reads like a morality tale in which the MC is getting her comeuppance for her flaws of arrogance and thinking she can do anything and get away with it. Great job.

  • Netty net

    I like the way you have rewine, here a love story and one wants to break up and other dosen’t

  • Netty net

    I like the way you have rewine, here a love story and one wants to break up and other dosen’t

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Good story.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Good story.

  • This is pretty damn good. Could use some minor editing here and there but overall it’s pretty tight. The images are good too, the 10 second vignettes of a life taken more and more for granted chosen well by the author to illustrate a life all but undone by an addiction—not to a drug but to a behavior, to a seemingly innocuous little 10 second riff of the clock. 4 stars and change. Well done.

  • This is pretty damn good. Could use some minor editing here and there but overall it’s pretty tight. The images are good too, the 10 second vignettes of a life taken more and more for granted chosen well by the author to illustrate a life all but undone by an addiction—not to a drug but to a behavior, to a seemingly innocuous little 10 second riff of the clock. 4 stars and change. Well done.