I take my first steps back home, hands in pockets clutching the watch. Squeezing it so tightly that my palms hurt. Why did Dad give me this. He didn’t want me to use it. He told me not to. I did anyway. Why didn’t he just keep it. I would never have known. Who would have told me. It couldn’t be just so I’d see Mum again. It’s too risky. Look at what I’ve messed up now. Tobi’s dad is going to die. And I helped cause it. Maybe that’s what actually happened. I don’t remember that smiley face in my room not being there. Maybe there wasn’t a change at all, and it’d always been there. What’s happened has happened no matter who goes back and changes whatever. I wanted it to be proof, so I believed it. Maybe Salime would have sobered up in that bin, and then gone back to the village. That would have made sense. Instead, I awoke him and he’s going to die.
Before I realise it, I’m back at the outskirts of the City, that pristine wall standing ahead of me, casting its shadow down on me. The darkness is welcoming. I can’t even remember what day I’m on. I skipped around so much. I think it’s Saturday. I should be fine getting through the gate, and then go back to my Saturday. No I’m on Friday. That has to be the day. I feel sick. I hate this feeling. Everything is wrong.
I don’t remember walking through the gate, but here I am outside my house. What day is it? I wish I could remember where I was jumping to and from. If I just think back to waking up. It feels like months ago now. How long has it been? Four hours? That’s nothing. It feels so much longer. Why have I done this. It isn’t natural. I feel so sick. I’m going to throw up.
I close my eyes and steady myself. I’m not going to be sick until I know I’m in my own time. A phrase everyone has to tell themselves from time to time. It’s just part of growing up. Focus. It’s not the time. I pull the watch out and think about waking up. That glowing hopeful feeling hadn’t been squashed yet. That should be enough, I’m sure of it. I open my eyes and everything looks the same. The empty village street is no different, but that means literally nothing. I have never seen it look any different.
I fall on the front door as I walk in, the ticking spins around me. I hate it so much. Dad’s behind the counter, tinkering away. He looks up at me and our eyes lock. He knows what’s happened and comes around to steady me.
“Are you okay? You’ve been going back too much. Leave it for a few weeks. Your mum will still be there. She doesn’t need to see you like this.”
“I’m fine,” I say while trying to push him back.
I’m not angry with him, it’s more aimed at me. He’s so optimistic about where I’ve been. I can’t tell him though. I hate myself enough, without adding his hate on top. Especially with the unknown damage I’ve done to Salime.
“Hey, what’s up? Sit down. I know something’s wrong. Come and sit down here. Lean on me. There, now tell me. What’s going on. Don’t just sit there. Please. I thought you knew what would happen if you go back to much so quickly. You’ve been getting better at balancing it, what’s happened?”
“Nothing. I swear. I’m just tired. Let me get some sleep. I’ll feel better in the morning.”
“Morning? It’s barely the afternoon. What’s happened?”
“I just went back and forth too much. Like you said, I need to get better at it. I’ll get used to it eventually. Let me get some sleep.”
“Fine, but give me the watch. I thought you were ready, but you’re not.”
“No, I’ll stop using it. I promise. I don’t want to feel like this again.”
“Give it here, it’s not like I’m trying to hurt you. I’ll give it back when you’re feeling better.”
“You won’t. Leave it with me. I know what I’m doing. I’m not a child anymore. I’m more than that. You would know that if you looked away from your clocks for five minutes.”
“Don’t speak to me like that, you know that’s not true. I’ve done everything for you. I provide for you. I didn’t want to give you that watch, but I knew you needed your mother. I wanted to throw it away. It’s a curse. But that’s our family. Cursed by time. Never enough of it, is there. Don’t get angry with me because I wanted you to see your Mother.”
“Just to get rid of me, have her do your job.”
“What is your problem all of a sudden.”
“I don’t actually feel like that’s good enough. Why are you talking to me like that? It’s not like you.”
“I’m just feeling like crap. I shouldn’t have gone back so many times. I want to go to sleep.”
“Give me the watch, that’s not a question.”
“Now, go and get some sleep. I need to talk to you in the morning. You’re not getting away with this that easily. You don’t get to speak to me like that, whatever your reason. I’ll talk to you in the morning.”
I don’t remember what happens next. Nothing maybe. Maybe the world really does dissolve around me, like it just did. Or maybe it won’t. I’m not sure. I saw it happen though. Dad lead me to the door and it crumbled away in my hand. My dad starts to speak and his words echoed through my body. Asked if I’m okay. I try to respond, but something stopped me. He walks towards me, I remember that much. I’m aware of that. He puts one arm around me and held me up. The world fades.
I’m falling, into nothing. I’m not sure if I’m even falling. Fleeting images spin around me in this vortex. I feel sick if I keep my eyes open, but I can’t shut them. My stomach seems to be moving, readying itself for something. Lurching around inside me, I try to curl up. My hands cover my stomach. I cry out in pain. No one hears me. The world spins. I clench my eyes. I gag. And then I nothing. I’m asleep I think. But I can’t be. I’m not normally this aware in dreams. Calmness floods me.
My room is dark. The moonlight seeps in, and creeps over me as my eyes slowly open. I have no control, but at least I know I’m here. I’m not dreaming. The heavy feeling is telling me so. I feel the weight of my entire body, my eye lids, my arms. I don’t want to move, which is a good thing since I can’t. The ceiling looks the same as always and the faint ticking of clocks is welcoming. The world around me is real. I wish I could jump up and celebrate but I just can’t be bothered. As bad as that sounds.
Laughter takes over. I was beginning to think I was never going to regain control. I can’t remember feeling like me for such a long time. I turn on the bed and laugh more. I’m crying. It feels so good. The quilt is so real, the sheets feel so good. I can’t believe I’m real again.
It’s been a weird couple of days. I’m not even sure what day it is. I’m assuming Sunday, but who knows. I’ve probably missed a month and don’t remember any of it. I don’t care, it feels so good to be in control again. Those nightmares have stopped.
The silver glare of the moon shows me my bare room. The dim light makes me squint, taking everything, just to make sure it’s all real. Slowly, I bring my body to sit up. It takes forever. I can’t believe how tired my body is, yet I’m so awake. Mind rushing around me, spinning. I take one heavy foot and thump it on the ground. The rest of my body follows. The floorboards creak heavily with every step. My hand lurches onto the door handle and swings the door open. I fall down the stairs, one step at a time. The ticking getting slowly louder. Dad better be in the kitchen, I can’t open that door right now. I know he’s going to want to see me. Maybe a week a has passed and he’s done being angry. I’m not that lucky though.
I throw the kitchen door open and walk in. Dad is sitting at the table, drinking some of his home-made coffee. Hot water, essentially. He looks up from his newspaper and looks at me. It’s the village newspaper, published once a month by volunteers. It’s given for free, and supported pretty much solely by my Dad.
“Good morning, sit down.”
I swallow nothing and sit down. My whole body shaking. I fidget around with the ends of my sleeves while trying not to look away from my Dad’s eyes. That always makes things worse.
“I know we have things to talk about,” he starts. “But other things have happened. I need to tell you something. Salime. He killed Tobi and his wife.”
“Apparently ever since he’s been back from the City he has been violent towards them. He had that drunken weekend last week. He snapped last night and killed them.”
“I’m sorry, I needed to tell you.”
“No, this is my fault.”
I can’t stop the tears, and look down at my lap. My hands won’t stop shaking. Please, stop.
“What’s happened? Nymia? What are you talking about.”
“I should have listened.”
“What did you do?”
“I went back and tried to change things. It made things worse. I’m sorry. I didn’t think I changed anything, but I killed them.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I killed them.”
“What did you do? What did you change?”
“I went back. Because. Something was going to happen. Wasn’t it? Something was going to happen. What was it?”
“You don’t remember? Are you sure you didn’t dream it?”
“I did it. I swear. I went back and changed something. I just don’t remember why. I know I did it though. I remember doing it. I think. Why did I do it?”
The tears dried up, and I regained control. I almost start laughing. Maybe I had dreamt it. It had been a long couple of days. Or maybe more.
“Start from the beginning. Nymia. Tell me what happened.”
“I don’t remember. I went back. To the city and I saw Mum, she figured out who I was. Told me about the time you went to see that band, I can’t remember their name.”
“The Ferrets. They were big in the City. She got into them at University. We don’t have records in the village. You would love them.”
“I remember that, and then I came home. I don’t remember much else.”
“Come here,” he said, while standing up and walking around the table. “I’m sure you didn’t do anything. You would listen to me. It’s just a bad dream. People don’t get murdered around here, it’s just a shock.”
“Maybe,” I whisper, quietly enough so Dad can’t hear me.
He lets me go, and I sit there still. He can’t stop moving though, as if he took the panic from me.
“Do you want anything to eat?”
“I’m okay, thanks.”
“Really? You’re not okay if you’re not eating. That’s you all over. Let me go out and grab us some cheese toasties from the cafe. I’ll show them how to make them.”
Dad leaves, his coffee half-finished. Did I really change anything? I remember being in the alley. That was real. I’m sure of it. But what did I change? I can’t remember why I was there. It’s faded from memory. I can’t believe it. And Tobi. He was such a sweet one. I can’t believe he’s gone. I hope Salime gets the same. I don’t know what the punishment for murder is in the village. In the city it’s death. I’ve heard about that from time to time, but it never happens out here. He’s not okay, he’s never going to be okay again, I can’t believe it. Tobi is gone. He’s never coming back. I never even spoke to him, that much. He’s gone though. Never coming back.
I changed it I’m sure. Something changed, whether I remember it or not. I have to believe it. Something changed. I know that much. I caused their death, in a way. I’m not sad though, the alternative must have been worse. But that means I can change things.
I leave the kitchen and go back to my room. The smiling face is sitting their etched into the wall. I run my fingers along the groove, as I have done since I was a child. This is something I did. I changed it and gave myself the memories of changing something. I know that much. I wasn’t sure before, but I know now. I know I changed something with Salime, even if I don’t remember what. Memory is so hazy.
I sit on the bed and sigh. I wish I knew what was going on. Everything is so fuzzy and hazy. I can’t keep track of what’s going on. It’s infuriating. I should have just listened to Dad and not changed a thing. It would have made everything so much simpler.
Mum walks into the room. She sits next to me. Puts her arm around me.
“How you doing sweetie? I heard about Tobi. It’s not your fault.”
“I don’t know. I did something.”
“Maybe. But you didn’t kill him. You didn’t stab him. Did you?”
“I don’t know how he died.”
She disappears. I don’t feel anything. Did that just happen. Or did I go back and see her again. If only for a moment.
I don’t have the watch. Dad has it. I must have just dreamt that. I must have nodded off for a second. It has to be that. Would Dad have left the watch in the house? No I’m sure of it. He would have taken it with him. Kept it in his pocket or something.
I stand up and scan over the bed. It’s definitely not there. What happened there then? I must have just fallen asleep, must have done. Nothing more. Can’t have been. I don’t feel like I’ve slept, but I definitely must have.
I sit back down on the bed, feeling something hard under my leg. I shift and reach for whatever it is. A bishop chess piece. How did this get here? They move diagonally, my mum’s voice echoes inside me.
I place the bishop in my pocket, and leave the room. Dad should be home soon. Pacing around the kitchen, holding the bishop as if it’s the pocket watch. Why isn’t he home. He should be by now. It doesn’t take that long to get cheese toasties, does it? Is he going for a different reason. He’s going to get the police from the City isn’t he? He believes I killed Tobi.
No that’s stupid. He wouldn’t do that, what would he tell them? None of it would make any sense, would it.
What happened to Salime. Did he kill himself, or is he in custody. The newspaper is still sitting on the table, where Dad left it. I go over and pick it up. The story on the front has nothing to do with Tobi. Even though it’s a village newspaper. Something’s not right here. Was Dad lying to me? Does he know what I was doing. Is this his attempt at punishment.
I throw the newspaper at the wall and push myself out of the kitchen. Up the stairs and into Dad’s room. I don’t go in here, even if he’s here. It’s an unwritten rule, give him his space. I throw the quilt off the bed, empty his clothes chest. Nothing. No watch.
I go through the cabinet draws in the shop. Nothing. Just his tools, nothing out of the ordinary. Maybe he hid it behind the clocks. I can’t throw them on the floor though, and it would take forever to check them carefully. I look outside the window, into the still dark night. The stars, hung above the neighbouring houses, each one of them shining down on us.
Wasn’t it morning a minute ago? I leave the shop and head towards the cafe. That’s where Dad should be. There’s no one on the street. The whole world is quiet and perfect. My heavy footsteps rip through the silence as I rush through the streets.
I burst in through the door.
“Sorry, love. We’re just closing.”
“What about my Dad he said he was getting food?”
“I haven’t seen him for a while, you came in with him a few weeks back. He hasn’t been in since then. Sorry love. Maybe he got distracted on the way. I can make something for you two though. He’s always so nice.”
“That’s alright, thanks. I just need to find him.”
I don’t wait for an answer, I just leave. The streets are even emptier, somehow. The air isn’t moving. Have I frozen time? How could I have done that. I curl my hands into fists and start smacking my legs as I turn the next corner. The shop, my home is in front of me. I slam the door open. No one is inside. I walk straight through to our kitchen. Nothing. The newspaper isn’t on the floor, where I left it, or on the table.
I take the steps two at a time, and reach Dad’s room. Inside, everything is back in place. Mum is folding clothes to put in the chest, which doesn’t have any of the scratches on it that I’ve come to know so well.
“Nymia,” she says. “I wasn’t expecting you.”
“Hello,” I say, stiffling my shock.
“Come here, give me a hug. Are you back for another game of chess? I beat you last time, but you’re getting better.”
“Sure. That sounds nice.”
“Let me put these cloths away. Be quiet though, your Dad is downstairs. Working on those clocks. God knows how he can put so much effort into it. I could watch him do it all day.”
“I couldn’t. I hate that sound. Tick, tick tick tick.”
“This was a wedding present, from my parents. Isn’t it nice. I can’t believe they got us one. It’s the nicest thing we own.”
“It is pretty nice.”
“I’m sorry. I know that must sound so boring. I just miss them sometimes, this makes me feel closer. There. Grab the board out, and we’ll have a quick game. I think I’m starting to get used to seeing you so often.”
I pull the board out from under the bed, I’ve played with her before, I think. I know I have. The bishop is still in my pocket, I can feel it as I sit down cross-legged opposite my Mum. I stare at her, knowing this can’t be real. She takes out the bag with all the pieces inside, she pours them out and starts arranging them on the board. All of them, but the white bishop.
“Where has that gone?” she asks.
“I think I have it.”
“Why is it in your pocket,” she says with a chuckle.
“I don’t know, maybe I took it back with me.”
“You couldn’t have done, we played earlier with it. We had it then. Even if you took it from another time. One of those things?”
“Anyway, you move first.”
I go to make my move. Middle pawn forward as always. But I can’t move it. It’s stuck to the board, as if it’s been nailed down. Even though I just saw them tumbling on the board. I can’t move it at all.
“What’s going on,” I ask.
Mum’s gone. I hadn’t noticed while I was looking down. She’s just disappeared. I’m sitting in Dad’s room, a complete mess, with the bishop sat in front of me. What’s going on. I can’t stand it. I curl up and start screaming. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it. Stop it.
This is real. It has to be. The bishop has gone. I’m real. The world is real. The room is a complete mess. I jump up and throw the quilt back on the bed, as neat as possible and straighten up the rest of the room. I then dart downstairs and fling the newspaper back onto the table.
Dad enters a minute later and hands me a bag. I can feel the warmth through the creased paper. It’s a cheese toastie. I can smell the singed melting delight inside.
“No problem. Now sit down, we need to have a word.”
I sit at the table, and take the toastie out of the bag. Dad does the same. We both take a bite, our faces churn in delight.
“What were you going on about earlier?” Dad asks, while still chewing.
“I don’t know. Honestly. I was just tired. It really took it out of me yesterday.”
I wasn’t lying. I truly remember nothing, about why I went back, if I went back or what had actually happened.
“Salime, he killled his family. He’s in the city now, locked away awaiting trial. He will probably be executed. No one really cares outside of this village, even the other villages don’t seem to care. I know this must be difficult, but that’s just one of those things that happen in life. It isn’t fair, and bad things happen. But you need to be a good person. I know you are. I just need to make sure you’re okay.”
“I am. At least, I think, I am. I’m just tired.”
I look down at the toastie, it doesn’t feel warm any more. Not even remotely. The bread doesn’t even look slightly toasted. I peel back the near frozen bread slices and the bishop falls out into my lap. I look up at Dad who is still munching away, without a care in the world. He doesn’t even seem to notice me.
“This is the good stuff,” he says.
“Mine’s not right.”
“Really? Looks fine from here. Just eat it. You’re probably not used to something so great.”
“No seriously, look.”
“I’m looking at it. Nothing wrong with that. Eat it while it’s still warm.”
I don’t answer him again, he doesn’t understand. He can’t see it. My mind is broken. I’m ill. That watch has done something to me. I don’t know what, but it’s destroying my mind.
The toastie looks like a toastie again. I take another bite, and everything tastes good, exactly as it should.
After I finish eating, I go back upstairs. I don’t say anything. I just get up and leave. I know if I do say anything, to anyone something will happen. Something will change. The chess pieces will come back. I don’t know why. I’ve only played it with her once. Why is that the thing that’s coming back to me. What about anything else. Why the chess pieces. Tears well up in my face, I’m too tired for this.
I fall on the bed, and try to sleep. I feel like I could sleep forever. It’s still morning isn’t it? I don’t know any more. The world is spinning, I just can’t telling which way and how fast.