Back in May of 2014, I entered a flash fiction contest at Sound and Scribe, then a site dedicated to flash fiction contests based on soundscapes. Jez Layman won the inaugural contest in March that year. In May, the soundscape was “Leave the door wide open” by NO (note: the soundscape was provided as a streaming mp3 so authors wouldn’t be influenced by the imagery in a music video.
My flash fiction short story won the prize (an Amazon gift card I promptly used to buy a Zoom G1u guitar effects box (for my new Risa ukelele)), but Sound and Scribe sadly folded later that year.
Recently, I panicked a bit when I found I couldn’t locate my flash fiction story; fortunately, it exists in my google drive. So I’ve decided to post it here since it is no longer available under Sound and Scribe.
Time travel isn’t easy. You can only go back once. At least, that’s all I’ve ever been able to accomplish. Maybe others out there are more talented than I. Or maybe they’ve suffered a greater emotional loss–that’s what triggers it.
The first time I went back happened when my mother died. I had been just too damn busy to visit her, wrapped up in my classes and my life on campus.
She was already gone when the police called me to let me know she had collapsed at home.
I dropped everything then; but it was too late. Missed my midterms, arranged the funeral, and tried to comfort my dad and my three sisters. It wasn’t until after I was back on campus that the pain of loss hit. All the words I had left unsaid. All the sadness at not being able to say goodbye. It felt like a massive icicle slammed into my chest.
At the moment of greatest pain came a weird state of hyper clarity. I could almost see the myriad timelines, the sequence of “ifs”, the paths not taken. Several stretched behind me to where my mother lived. I went…
The bare branches no longer stood in stark relief against the sunset; my breath no longer fogged in the cold air. Instead, students made their way across campus on a clear, sunny autumn morning, ignoring my unnatural transgression against time.
I didn’t stop to ask the stupid questions but raced home to my car and drove like a madman up I-57 to my home. It was just after noon when I arrived. I didn’t ring the doorbell, but used my key to open the door.
My mom had just come down the stairs. I ran to her, hugged and told her I loved her.
She was surprised but happy, which made it all the worse when I felt her stiffen and then slump in my arms.
The emergency medics couldn’t save her.
Afterwards, I tried to go back again, maybe further back, but the path was denied me.
I know this all sounds crazy, Maddy. But feel my hand holding yours. It feels right, doesn’t it? Some day you will confide in me that you can tell how right someone is for you by the way they hold your hand. Our hands feel like love together, like a promise for all our tomorrows.
How would I know this if we hadn’t been together?
I hope you can look into my eyes and see the truth of what I’m telling you, even though from your viewpoint we’ve only just met. I know I am just a stranger to you today. But I tell you: you will be very special to me. We’ll be special to each other. A year from now I’ll propose…
Why, you accept…
Wait. Wait. Let me finish–I’ve come all the way back from then to today to fix the mistake that we’ll both regret.
Please don’t go.