The procedure would begin in three minutes. Edyth had already said her goodbyes — some touching, some tedious — to a throng of family members, old friends, and colleagues in the facility waiting room. The old woman chose to spend the final minutes with only the company of her favorite great-grandson Terrence.
Her thin lips stretched into a bittersweet smile as she watched the sandy-haired five-year-old playing with his ball. These were to be her last moments in the innocent presence of Terrence’s youth. She would miss so much of his childhood, and many other things, too.
Edyth shook herself and wiped at her eyes with a sleeve.
“Well. I’ll be going in soon, Terrence. When you look at me in there, I’ll be as still and silent as a statue, but don’t be scared for grandma. For me, I’ll just blink and it’ll be the future! And by then the scientists will be able to make it so grandma’s not sick anymore. But for you, Terrence, by the time it’s all done… Well, you will be a man grown, tall and handsome and brilliant as your fiery old grandma. Does that sound good?”
Terrence sniffed. “Are you gonna be lonely?”
“I won’t be anything. I will sit down, they’ll flip a switch, then whoosh! All done. Don’t you worry about me.”
The doctor, a stern woman with a shock of silver hair above a high forehead, cleared her throat and said, “Alright, Edyth. You can get in the icebox now.”
Terrence blinked curiously and tilted his head, much like the family dog was prone to do.
“Icebox?” he said, grinning. “They gonna freeze you like a popsicle, grandma?”
The doctor snickered mirthlessly. “Of course we’re not going to actually freeze her, boy! This isn’t some silly cryogenic scam. We operate a top-quality space/time regulator! Not a moment will pass for your grandmother in there. Decades skip by in an instant. Best temporal freezing money can pay for. Frozen like a popsicle? Really!”
Edyth ignored the doctor’s outburst and leaned down to kiss Terrence’s cheek. The boy wiped at the wet spot and continued tossing his ball. Up and down. Up. Down.
“I’ll see you soon, okay,” Edyth told him. She straightened up, rubbing her hands together, struggling to keep her teeth from chattering. “Do I need to change into a white gown or anything, doctor?”
The doctor did not bother looking up, but continued squinting at the rows and rows of numbers flashing across her computer display. “Won’t make a difference.”
Edyth nodded, swallowed, and stepped toward the transparent cubicle. There was nothing particularly special about the room; it was just a cube of clear glass walls with an unassuming white armchair in the center. Edyth settled herself into the chair just as the door slid shut and sealed itself with a hiss.
“Comfortable?” asked the doctor, her voice muffled by the glass.
Edyth grinned weakly, the expression twisting her lips but failing to reach the corners of her eyes. She ran her palms, which were beginning to sweat, across the rubbery texture of the armrests. Her gaze panned from where the doctor was entering a last set of numbers to where Terrence stood. She nodded a final goodbye to the boy, but as his full attention was on the rubber ball, he failed to notice the gesture.
“Are we ready to start then?” called out Edyth. Her throat had gone all dry. She wished she had brought a water bottle.
The doctor poked at her screen irritably. “One moment, Edyth, one moment. Let the computer do its job. Tricky calculations. Quantum uncertainty and all that.”
Edyth moved her sweaty hands onto her lap and wiped them dry on her skirt. She stared at the back of her hands. They looked so pale, so cracked, so delicate these days. Perhaps the scientists could fix that, too, when they roused her and she stepped from the icebox and into the brightness of future days.
“Okay! Good to go,” announced the doctor, clapping a hand against the computer. “Deep breath, Edyth. And no worries. The moment it starts is the moment it ends.”
The hardware buzzed and the room shuddered.
Then it was done, and all was silent.
Edyth blinked. Despite assurances to the contrary, she had expected to feel something at the dramatic moment. A chilly sensation. A twinge of fear. A minor palpitation of the heart. But no. It truly was as if no time had passed for the woman in the white armchair.
She glanced up through the glass and was surprised to see the same doctor as before, her hair just as silver, her forehead just as high, standing by the display with an outstretched finger.
“Did it happen? Is it done?” asked Edyth. “Or did something go wrong?”
The doctor did not answer. She did not move.
Edyth turned her head and flushed with sudden fever at the sight of Terrence — five-year-old Terrence — standing on the other side of the glass. A quizzical look was frozen on his face and his rubber ball was floating perfectly still in the air before him, defying gravity.
“Terrence, honey? Terrence!”
The boy remained motionless.
Edyth stood up quickly, too quickly, her vision blurring. She stumbled against the glass.
She smacked a hand into the glass. The hand was sweaty again and left a ghostly smear.
“It’s gone wrong, doctor! The regulator must have malfunctioned, must have… Hello! Someone! Please!”
No answer came from the frozen scene on the other side of the glass. No movement. No sound.
Inside her box, Edyth was comfortable and warm, but it was not long before the skin on her knuckles turned purple and green, bruised as she beat them uselessly against the glass.
Dave Kavanaugh recently traded in his sunny New Mexican home for a cozy flat in the rainy heart of the Netherlands. He lives with his wife, three young daughters, and four middle-aged cats.