Race the Clock

Here’s the prompt “An Offer I Couldn’t Refuse.”

Set a timer for ten minutes and write. Go!

I poked my head around the corner of the brick building for what seemed like the fifteenth time and peered down the endless street. A streetlight’s soft yellow glow shined down defiantly against the blackness, illuminating a gutter filled with trash and a moving stream of city stink. God fucking damn it, I thought to myself. Where the fuck is he? The blue glowing of my watch lit up my face under the protection of the soaking hood of my coat. I wiped the screen free from water. 12:46. He was over half an hour late. And this man, known as the Vendor of Time to many in The Circle, placed a supreme value on every minute. He was known to drag a dull knife clear across a man’s throat as a “payment”, as he called it, for them being only moments shy of arriving on time for a scheduled trade. It wasn’t like him to be late.

I’ve never met him–the Vendor– but my business partner and good friend, Chris, has, and on more than one occasion. Some nights, after a bit too much to drink at the local dive ‘The Genie’, Chris would describe the man by saying “the Vendor is the palest, skinniest, sickest mother-fucker I’ve ever seen.” Normally, this kind of talk, aimed towards the wrong kind of individual, would grant him a certain kind of death. But The Vendor didn’t care one bit about reputation. To the Vendor, or so I was told, the ego and pride were trivial specks of dust in comparison to his one and only concern: the collection of time.

Chris is the one who got me into the trade when I was just seventeen and living on the streets. Those were messy days–days when I thought it was fun to occasionally pick up shards of glass I found sidewalk and then drag them across my wrists. Once I found Chris, or he found me–truthfully I don’t remember, this trade has a funny way of bending your memory–I started rewinding. At first it was just recreational, going back a few minutes or even seconds and having a good laugh, or causing some mayhem with the tourists downtown, knowing full well we could just take a hit and it’d be like it never happened. Sometimes we’d have a little too much fun and we’d wake up a day or two earlier with our heads throbbing in pain and our memory an inky mess. We more than once got into quite a bit of trouble in those day. Eventually I was addicted. A user tends to want to go further and further back, redoing all the wrongs they have ever done, trying to iron out their past. But it doesn’t work like that. Rewinding causes its own problems, not to mention heavy damage on the body, and eventually you get the past mixed up with the present and you’re in a whole world of mess that no amount of rewinding can fix.

After years of using, I decided to kick the habit and finally listen to what my mentor had been telling me all along. I stopped rewinding, I stopped selling, and I decided to work towards getting a masters degree in organic chemistry. My days of hurt and confusion–days of youth and stupidity–were eventually replaced with something more predictable and esteemed. Yes, I was still breaking the law occasionaly–it just kind of came with the territory of being friends with Chris, but it didn’t seem like I needed–like I wanted–to rewind anymore. I was happy. My life was going in the direction a life is supposed to go: forward.

That all took place, of course, before everything in my life went to shit. That was before Chris died.

“Fuck!” I said again, this time out loud, breaking the monotonous drone of rainfall. A puff of breath reluctantly left its place of warmth and performed its final dance in front of me. Suddenly the sound of rolling tires splashing through water grabbed my attention from behind. I spun around. A black car pulled up against the curb and I squinted my eyes in protest to the headlights. I wasted no time in placing one foot in front of the other until I was at the side of the vehicle, the hum of the car engine in my ear. The tinted, drivers side window rolled down and behind it was the gruff face and strong jaw of a man, his eyes dark as pitch, piercing directly into mine.

“Money,” he said flatly. It wasn’t a question. I reached into my coat pocket and pulled from it a water-tight bag. In it was every penny that I had to my name, and a few million pennies more that I had come across through other means. I handed it to the man and soon I was staring at the reflection of my unshaven face in the car window. My eyes were supported by two dark sockets. The rain had ceased to fall.Moments later the window again rolled down with a buzz. I held out my hand and watched it fill with the mixture of rain and city smog.

“He says you won’t be coming back,” the man behind the wheel said to me.
“I know,” I said.
The man nodded. He placed the cylindrical tube into my hand, rolled up the car window, and sped away.

I was back to being alone on the empty street. I tilted my head back and looked up above me. The smog was there, the city always made sure of that, but I could tell that behind it hung a clear sky, and with it all of the unfamiliar constellations that I had never taken the time to get to know. This city has a way of doing that to its captives–a way of keeping your eyes pointed down. It has a way of keeping your mind in the past and your feet always aching.

I popped off the cap to the pointy end of the tube. Time is clear and I could see my hand straight through it. The last time I chose to rewind my hands looked smoother, even through the filth of the street. Now they looked overrun with long, deep trenches, as if they were carved into hard dirt and beginning to collapse on themselves. I looked at my life line on my wet palm. It was covered in scar tissue from years of rewinding. This would be the last time I ever used. Sure, I would be back. Back here on Earth, somewhere, living with the body and mind of someone else, but it’d be so far in the past that time wouldn’t be available to be used like this anymore. Someone else could have this body, this mind. And I didn’t care. I wouldn’t care. My days of trying to rewind–and to redo, and to fix–were over.

I looked again at my calloused hands. I could see the story they told. I pricked the point of the tube into my palm. I thought of Chris. He always told me he’d be my friend at any point in time, and he always meant it literally. We shared more than one good laugh about that particular thought. My eyes narrowed. I breathed in the city air deeply. I thought I heard the sound of a garbage truck in the distance fighting his endless battle, moving through the wet and the cold.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Race the Clock.”