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.”
“Violet, it’s over! I don’t love you. Stop crying, you had to know this was coming.”
“God, Violet, why are you being so difficult? It’s a breakup. People break up all the time.”
“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.
The knife is already leaving her fingertips; she twitches a finger, tries in vain to alter its trajectory. It isn’t enough.
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.
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.