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Too Late

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Jenny wrapped her thin coat tightly across her shoulders as the chill night air wrapped itself around her body. Her footsteps made lonely reverberations off the pavement as she wandered along the side of the cracked road, trying to remember what she was doing there. Unfamiliar houses with dark, empty windows came into view under the pale light of the streetlamps as she passed by. Pulling up the sleeve of her windbreaker, she peered at the wristwatch her father had given her last Christmas.

“Eleven thirty?” she muttered under her breath. “That can’t be right…” Her father would never have allowed her to be out past curfew, especially in such unfamiliar territory. She half-heartedly tapped the screen with her index finger, but the clock went on ticking as always.

Lowering her hand, she stopped and took a look at her surroundings. She appeared to be in the housing district of some town. It looked vaguely familiar to the neighborhood she lived in, but something wasn’t quite right. All the houses looked far too old, and landmarks such as her school and the park she used to play in as a kid, were missing.

“Where in the world am I?” she wondered aloud. Pressing her fingertips to her temples, she shut her eyes and tried to retrace her steps. “Okay, start with the basics,” she instructed herself. “Today is Tuesday… Tuesday the 22nd of October, 1993. Now… where am I going?” She tried to remember, but her memory didn’t stretch back that far. She couldn’t even remember getting up this morning. As far as she knew, she could have just appeared out of thin air on the side of the road.

Looking ahead, she noticed the unmistakable fluorescent glow of various department stores and fast food  restaurants. Oh, thank God. Maybe she could find a payphone and call someone to get her out of this mess.

Relief filled Jenny up, and she quickly started walking towards the lights. She had to fight the urge to start sprinting, and almost gave in until a sharp pain shot up her leg.

“Ah!” She stopped and clutched at her leg. Pulling up her jeans,  she exposed a long jagged cut that ran the length of her calf. “What the..?” For the life of her she couldn't remember how that had gotten there. It didn't seem life threatening at the moment, but would probably need stitches later. Jenny had more important things on her mind than a cut, however. Right now, she just needed a way home. Treating the wound could come later, she decided.

She limped the rest of the way, and was relieved to finally turn into the parking lot of a gas station. She walked the perimeter of the store, but saw no sign of a payphone.  Maybe they have one inside, Jenny thought, and pushed open the door. The bell gave a little tinkle, and a rather weary looking teenage boy sitting behind the cash register peered over his magazine at her. He stared at her through puffy eyes, which widened in shock as she approached the counter. Jenny was confused at the look he gave her, but put it off as him just being astounded that anyone would come into a gas station during the graveyard shift.

“Do you have a phone I could use? I really need to get a hold of my parents,” Jenny asked.

The boy kept staring with the same shocked expression, but after a moment seemed to catch himself because he finally stammered, “Oh! Uh, yeah, it’s in the back office over there.” He pointed to the back of the store where a creaky looking door sat, but then added in a hushed tone before Jenny could walk away, “Hey… are you alright? I mean—did something happen to you? Because I can get help if you need.”  Jenny was taken aback by his offer. Why did he seem so concerned? And why couldn’t he stop looking at her like that?

“Um, no, thanks. I just need the phone.” She gave him one last confused look over her shoulder before she walked towards the office.

Jenny found the telephone under a stack of moldy papers that had piled up on the disorganized desk. Sweeping them away, she quickly thumbed in the familiar number and waited for it to start ringing. Instead, the cool voice of an automated system spoke in her ear.

“I’m sorry, but the number you are trying to reach has either been disconnected, or is no longer in service. Please re-dial your number, and try again.”

Jenny tried twice more before she flung down the phone and turned away from it in frustration. Burying her face in her hands, she held back the panic was building up inside her.

“I-I just don’t understand…” she muttered between shaking fingers. She had no idea where to turn now that her only hope had failed her.

Stumbling out of the office, she walked towards the exit as if in a trance. She had her hand on the door when something caught her eye. There on a shelf full of newspapers, she noticed the date, but it wasn’t today’s date. In the top, right-hand corner of the cover, it read: October 22nd… 2013.

“But… that can’t be right…” Jenny whispered. How could she be twenty years into the future? It was impossible. Yes, this must just be a misprint, she assured herself. But, something still felt wrong. She had to be sure. In a panic, Jenny rifled through the other magazines, but they all had the same date stamped on them. Breathing quick shallow breaths she returned the newspaper and half walked, half ran back to the cash register.

“What’s today’s date?” she quickly asked, trying to keep her voice steady.

“It’s Tuesday, I think,” he said the confusion apparent on his face.

“I mean the date. What is it?” Jenny said through clenched teeth.

“It’s October… 23rd? No, wait the 22nd, why?”

But Jenny couldn’t respond. A small buzzing noise had started somewhere in the back of her brain, and got louder with each passing second, threatening to break out.

Her vision swimming, Jenny threw herself through the door. She examined her surroundings, but not knowing what to do next; she once again squinted at her watch. Dimly she made out that already an hour had passed.

Time’s running out, a small voice whispered to her from a dark corner in her mind. Jenny had no reason to believe it, but couldn’t seem to shake the feeling that somehow, it was right.

Jenny was about to return her wrist to her side, when she noticed a dark smear on her arm. Jenny probed the region with her fore finger, and let out a small gasp when a sharp probe of pain shot up her arm. She stared in shock at her fingertip, which had come up red with blood.

Her heart beating, Jenny strode quickly into the light of a street lamp, and did a quick assessment of her entire body. Lining the surface of her skin was an assortment of cuts and bruises. Her arms and legs were cut up and bleeding. Jenny didn’t even want to imagine what her face must look like. What’s happened to me? Did I get attacked by someone? Overwhelmed by too many questions, she choked back sobs.

Blinking back tears, Jenny collected herself and took another look at the surrounding buildings. Her heart gave a leap when she realized she actually recognized one of them. There, in an old, cracked lot was the 24 hour grocery store she and her mom shopped at. But what was it doing here? What was something so familiar doing in a place she didn’t even know? Unless….

All at once it clicked. This wasn’t some mystery town. This was her town. But, it had changed somehow -- aged. She had to know why, and right now the only lead was that store.

Jenny gritted her teeth and took a tentative step. Another stab of pain coursed through her leg. Something was seriously wrong with it, perhaps it was even broken. Jenny cried out in pain, but kept going. Her injuries seemed to be getting worse by the minute, and once again, she got the sensation that she didn’t have a lot of time left.

Finally, Jenny walked through the double doors and did a quick scan of the inside. She knew something here would give her the answers she so desperately needed, but she didn’t know what. She wandered through each aisle until she found herself standing next to an older lady of about forty-five. She glanced casually at Jenny, but had to do a double take. The woman covered her mouth with her hands and let out a small squeak of terror.

“It- it’s you!” she stammered. “But, that’s impossible!”

“I’m sorry do I...?”-but suddenly Jenny knew exactly who was standing before her. Her hair had grown two shades grayer, and wrinkles now lined her face, but there was no denying it. Standing in front of her was her mother. She threw a furtive glance over her shoulder, but the aisle was empty so she leaned forward.

“I don’t understand Jenny… you’ve been dead for twenty years! Why come back now? Do you need something from me? Or am I just insane?” her mother stammered.

“D-Dead? How is that possible? You’re lying!” Jenny yelled.

“They found you on the side of the road. They told me it had been a hit-and-run, possibly that alcohol had been involved. They pronounced you dead at 1:02 am, Jenny! I identified your body myself! I-I’m sorry…”

Jenny stared at her mother in disbelief. But the more she tried to deny it, the more it made a sick sort of sense.

Feeling the compulsive need, Jenny stared at her watch again. 1:00 am, it read. She felt the same urgency as before, and all of a sudden, the pieces fell into place, and Jenny remembered.

She had been walking to her friend’s house this very night, twenty years prior. There had been a flash of headlights, the squeal of tires, and then… nothing… until now. Something had been holding her back, keeping her from moving on. But she didn’t feel that way anymore.

“I think I can go now. I don’t have to stay… do I?” she asked her mother.

“Yes, baby. I think you have a choice.” Her mother had started to gently cry, and Jenny felt scared.

Was leaving her home what she wanted? She had grown up here, and had never left. But, being here pained her. She glanced down at her body, at the injuries that had been caused by the accident, and she knew what she really wanted. She didn’t really belong here, and could never be truly happy if she stayed.

“I have to go mom. It’ll be 1:02 soon,” Jenny said, trying to keep the emotion out of her voice for her mother’s sake.

Her mother only nodded, and was reduced to sobs. Jenny felt a gentle tug around her midsection that seemed to pull her everywhere, and yet nowhere, telling her it was time to go. She looked again at her mother, and suddenly didn’t want to leave. She knew it was the right thing to do, however. So, she closed her eyes and tried to give in to the pulling sensation. But, it had stopped. She couldn’t feel it guiding her anymore.

“Something’s wrong,” she said aloud. A terrible feeling enveloped her and she tore up her sleeve and looked at her watch. On its face it read; 1:03 am. Jenny wanted to leave, but she was too late.

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