25 May, 2014: Sir Terry knew that he did not have long. Not as a writer, not as a living human being. He was in no mood to humor the fan who approached him wearing a hooded cloak with a lilac sprig on it. The cloak blew in the breeze, revealing the outline of a woman, though her face remained hidden.
“Young lady,” he snapped. “Are you entitled to wear that lilac?”
“Neither young nor a lady nor entitled,” the figure replied. “But I have something that may help you.”
She handed him a bottle. “Take one pill every day. It won’t cure you, but it will keep the monster at bay for a while. They’ll stop working eventually but by then… who knows? Maybe something better will come along.”
“And get your goddamn flu shot,” she said. And disappeared into the shadows.
Sir Terry looked at the pills and snorted. “Only the extremely gullible or truly desperate would fall for such a scam, and I am not gullible,” he said to himself, reaching for the cap.
2 January, 2001: Douglas Adams jogged down a wind-swept path. His New Year’s resolution was going well so far. Two days without breaking it.
“Mr Adams,” a voice called.
Adams turned. “Yes?” he asked. He saw a figure in the bushes nearby.
“A deadline that you may not miss approaches,” the figure said.
“Go to the hospital. Tell them you have chest pain when you jog.”
“I don’t have chest pain when I jog.”
“No, you don’t. You have left main disease — a blockage in the main artery supplying the heart with blood. The symptom of left main disease isn’t chest pain, the symptom is sudden death. Do it!”
“And stop messing around with Hollywood. Get back to writing books,” the figure said before vanishing.
That was strange, even for California, Adams thought as he resumed jogging. He had a friend who was a cardiologist. Maybe he’d ask her whether “left main disease” was a real thing and if he was at risk for it. She’d probably laugh at him, but a comic writer who can’t stand to be laughed at should find a new profession.
15 June, 1817: Jane Austen was almost too tired to write. Taking the waters had done nothing for her recently. She contemplated the evening with a shudder.
“Miss Austen,” a voice said.
“Yes?” Austen said, expecting that the voice must be the nurse.
“I believe I can help you,” the voice said.
Austen turned and looked at the cloaked figure. “You’re not a nurse.”
“But I can help you. Take these pills. Start with one a day, increase to two if you still feel weak. Do not, under any circumstances, take more than two a day.”
Austen considered the orange bottle. The label read “prednisone”. Curiously, it lacked the usual promises that the contents would cure every ill. “Shouldn’t I, then?”
“Too many can make you feel angry. In fact, don’t go out in public until you know how you feel after taking them.”
Austen had not intended to take the pills. She had been through enough patent medicines to know better. But the idea of an excuse for not going to the evening social with her brother this evening was irresistible. “I must stay in on my doctor’s advice,” was an unexceptional excuse. She could, of course, do that without taking the pills, but that wouldn’t be playing fair, now would it? She slipped one into her mouth and lay down. A few hours later she rose and picked up her pen.
30 June, 2030: A shadowy figure appeared abruptly on a street in New York City. No one paid much attention. They were used to this sort of thing. The figure pulled a key from her pocket and unlocked the door to an apartment. She went inside and removed her cloak, revealing gray hair, glasses, and a wrinkled face. She put the cloak in a box, sealed it, and addressed it for shipping to Temporal Services. Returning the time travel device promptly was important given how many were waiting their turn. Then she turned on her computer and smiled.
Some people, when given an all-expenses-paid trip through time with three stops, went to watch the Battle of Gettysburg or visited lost loved ones or headed to the grassy knoll. Others took a different approach. Major changes in history were forbidden. But little changes, things that made “no difference”, those were allowed. How fortunate she was that there were few serious readers on the Time Travel Board and thus they had considered the changes she proposed minor.
The woman ordered Jane Austen’s complete works, volumes 1-20, the 6th-12th books of the Hitchhiker’s Guide Trilogy, and Terry Pratchett’s Brexit era works. Her retirement reading list was shaping up nicely.
Meg Candelaria lives and writes in Philadelphia, USA with her partner, daughter, two neurotic dogs, and a ginkgo tree that will probably survive the zombie apocalypse. She has previously published in Daily Science Fiction and Colp: A Bit of Nonsense.