Bogleech.com's 2017 Horror Write-off:
The Time Traveler's Wife
Submitted by Nymm Kirimoto (email)
I had her take the other route this time- reconfigured the GPS to go the scenic way and everything, so that we'd go by the coast instead of through downtown. She laughed, and told me we'd be late, but she went along with it when I smiled and told her that I just wanted to spend a little more time with her, one on one. We took a turn out onto Blake instead of Smith Street, and everything seemed fine.
I forgot that Blake still intersects with Main Street two blocks up.
This time I popped the batteries out of the GPS, and told her the instructions myself. Wrong directions, to be exact. We never even crossed main street, and I'm pretty sure we were almost to the state line when it happened.
The first few times, I tried warning her- I'd point out the big orange SUV, or shout or tell her to break, but it never seems to fix anything. I know she's a good driver, always keeps her eyes on the road and everything, but when I try to tell her, she always loses her focus and swerves, or slams on the brake or something, and we go skidding across the street as she goes flying across the dashboard.
I googled how to do CPR after the third time. I can't tell if I'm just that bad at it, or if my technique's wrong or if she's just already dead by the time I get to her, but she never makes it until the ambulance shows up.
I think I need to try something new.
I asked for the keys this time. She raised her eyebrow, but she didn't question the change from our usual routine, with her in the driver's seat, and me sitting in shotgun, trying to navigate.
I took one of the more round-about routes I've tried, the one that goes south long enough that you can get on a turnpike and skip Main Street entirely. I know that I should probably set controls and constants and all that stuff I half-remember from chemistry, but doing that implies I'm going to be doing this for a long time.
I'm not going to need to start tabulating this- not that I can, it's not like I can spend half an hour each time remaking a spreadsheet or something.
I'll save her.
Obviously, that didn't happen this time. Someone ahead of us crashed into an eighteen wheeler when it slowed down, and we ended up hitting them as they stopped short. The airbag in the passenger's seat, the one that always goes off for me and breaks my nose, didn't work for her. The one in the driver's seat, for the first time, didn't.
Maybe I need to step back. Do things as much like the first time as possible- leave the soup cooking on the counter, smile at her as she leaves and then wait and see if everything coasts without me.
I may not have gone with her this time, but I did change the GPS and safety checked every inch of the car I could before she left, and told her to call me when she got there.
Then I sat on the couch, and waited and waited and waited.
The phone rang, and I grabbed it so fast it fell onto the floor. When I picked it up, it wasn't her. It was the same nurse from before, telling me that they had found an ID on her body and that I was listed as next of kin.
Hearing about it over the phone was somehow worse than seeing it again.
I don't want to tell her. She'd worry and freak out and I don't want her to have to know that I've been seeing her corpse over and over and over.
Besides, if I fail, I'll have to do it again. I don't want to have to sit her down at the kitchen table, and look her in the eyes ten, twenty, a hundred times, always looking at me with that furrowed brow and frown, always the same, unchanging, unknowing face. I don't want her to have to think about crashing against the steering wheel or through the windshield as the car wraps around a tree. She shouldn't have to ever think about that.
I'm not going to have to tell her. Next time will work.
I don't know why I'm still doing this.
I stalled as long as I could. I hid her keys, lost every left shoe from all her sensible pairs of sneakers, and pretended I couldn't find my wallet for a good twenty minutes. She was glaring at me by the time we left the house, but if this is how she lives, thirty five minutes late and wearing pumps to a doctor's appointment, I don't give a fuck.
She was glaring at me the whole time we drove down the street, but I didn't care. We were an hour late when we crossed main street. The stupid SUV with its shitty orange paint job and stupid duct taped door was miles away, or at least had crashed into some other car. Things should have been fine- there was barely any traffic, and the road was clear. Hell, there weren't even any lampposts to swerve into. Except-
Except there was this tiny smart car in her blind spot and she hit the brakes too fast at a light, and I swear I could see the car crumpling up like a tin can behind us, and the stupid airbag didn't deploy and-
I hate that she was scowling at me as her head hit the steering wheel.
I slashed out the car's tires. It was more work than it always looks like on TV, and a kitchen knife would probably have been better, but I doubt I'll be trying it again.
I told her that someone else had destroyed them, and all she did was look at me, then the ripped rubber, and ask if we should call the police.
It was honestly unnerving how easily she believed me. I know that for her, it's been less than a few minutes, that after five years she trusts me more than anything, and that she doesn't remember all of the lying I've done because it hasn't happened, but it's still eerie, seeing her so static like this.
She went into the kitchen to get the phone, and the slow cooker exploded.
I'll turn it off next time.
I locked her in the bathroom. She yelled and screamed at me, but I don't care how much she hates me, she has to live. I don't care if she leaves me, I don't care if I become the psychotic ex, she just has to live, and wake up tomorrow morning and tinker and craft and do a million other things.
She got out the window, and I didn't even realize until I heard the car backing out of the driveway. I chased it, but I'm no Usain Bolt.
Fifteen minutes later, as a I sat in the kitchen, the phone rang.
I nailed the window shut and made sure to get her keys first.
It took an hour for the water heater to explode.
Disconnected the water heater. It's horrible hearing her scream at me through the door, but it's even more unnerving to hear her say the same things as before, same inflection, same sobbing, like a skipping CD.
I sat in the den when I ran out of comforts and explanations, and listening to her hiccup on the other side of the door got to be too much, and waited, for something, I guess.
The electrical fire started after two hours.
Shut off the water heater and the fuse box and disconnected the furnace from the gas.
The air started to smell like bleach and just hurt while I was checking and double checking the basement for loose slats in the floor or carbon monoxide or an imminent fire hazard or some other lethal coincidence. My head was screaming, and I barely made out before I fell down coughing.
She must have knocked over the bleach and ammonia in the bathroom or something. I didn't go to look at the body.
What am I doing wrong?
It feels almost mechanical, pulling on my shoes and coat and getting in the passenger seat. I try my best to smile, but she still asks me if I'm feeling alright, always with those sad, worried eyes. The SUV always crashes, as usual, and I barely flinch.
That's how it's been the last ten times.
I keep trying the little things. Changing where the coats are, checking the mail before we leave, going upstairs to lie on the bed and hope that that's what fixes everything, or at least gives me some head way or some sign I'm getting somewhere.
The car always crashes. The phone always rings.
I just broke down crying in front of her when she asked where the keys were. She held me tight to her chest while I sobbed until I couldn't breathe, asked me what was wrong, and I tried to tell her, tried to make her understand the fact that the two of us are sitting under some sort of goddamn cosmic sword of Damocles, and she said she understood, swore she wouldn't go to the appointment as she held me close, arms tight around my shoulders, and for a moment there, it felt like I- we- won.
After what felt like forever, she got up to get me a glass of water- I would have done it, but my knees were shaking too much- and I just sat there and listened to her pad into the kitchen, fill up a glass, and then the dull crack as she slipped on the tile and hit the base of her skull against the countertop.
I could dry the tile, make sure there was no soap or water or anything from when I cooked breakfast that morning, but it wouldn't matter in the end. She'd trip over her own feet, or the cat, or cut her wrists on a knife we left in the dishrack point-up, and I'd be back in the same place. I'm chasing her in circles, and it feels like I'm grasping at smoke. Everytime I think I have it, I open my empty hands and end up there, staring at her on the floor with this cold feeling in my chest, like my heart turned to lead. I didn't cry again. All my tears were already on her shirt.
I've been spending time thinking. More than usual anyways, or at least on different things.
I still can't stop remembering the way her neck snapped forward the first time, or the burn of Chloramine- or Chloride, Google said it could have been either- but now a new picture has joined the veritable slideshow. It's not her face up on the floor, glassy eyed and twitching, but her face as she looked at me.
She's always hated seeing me cry.
I wonder how long it takes her to notice it's not just a migraine, each time. I wonder if she can tell I'm already wiping my eyes on couch, or maybe after so long tied up in the seat belts and phone lines, things have changed enough that she can't read me like she used to.
Sometimes I have a bowl of soup. It's not like I'm hungry, but it's a distraction, and it's not like we need a dinner for two anyways.
I keep thinking.
I wonder what actually constitutes "to death do us part".
I think we're toeing the line on it, either way. She was always a bit superstitious. This would probably give her the creeps for weeks if I told her about it, in a world where this was just some horror story about some faceless protagonist.
She'd hate it. I think I can sympathize- my back feels like it's breaking, and every attempt and alteration checked off the list drags me closer to inevitability.
My hands are shaking with the effort of holding on.
She pulled her bag over her shoulder, reminded me to feed Henry at six, and left.
I just laid on the couch- the one we'd picked out together when we moved here, with green flowers on red. She always complained called it the Christmas couch, but never actually got rid of it- and stared at the ceiling. We had to redo it after the upstairs toilet flooded, and the paint where we went over it is still a little whiter than the rest of ceiling.
She was always so insistent on fixing things. She'd always find some knick knack or broken curio or unfinished table or something on the side of the road, and stuff it in the trunk, and fix it. We didn't always keep the finished stuff- usually it ended up re gifted or back in a thrift shop, but that didn't matter. It was her hobby.
She loved doing that, and I loved her for it, even if the car's trunk had scrapes from table legs and the basement was taken over by epoxies and resins and tools. There was always something new, something growing and changing.
She always said we were her greatest project, and the one that wouldn't ever end. I know she didn't mean it like this, but here we are.
I never had her patience, or optimism, or whatever it was that let her turn back the clock, put the fragments back together into a mug or a stapler or whatever the project of the week was. When I was with her, it always felt like she passed on a little bit of that fire to me, like one candle to another. Now, I can feel the embers cooling from red hot, down to cinders, and then just ash on hardened wax.
I'm not sure how much longer I can stay like this, or more importantly, if she'd even want me too, broken things or not.
I love her.
She knew that, right?
I should have said it more. I try to now, everytime she leaves, but that doesn't make up for all the times I didn't. She doesn't remember, each time, but at least it silences my conscience for a while. It's been gnawing at me a lot lately, but I have to do this.
She really did look pretty. I don't know why she felt the need to put up her hair and put on makeup just to look good for a doctor's appointment, but it looked nice.
I kept her a little longer than I should have, pulled her close and kissed her one last time, made sure I told her I love her, and finally let go of her hand as she pushed the door open.
Part of me wanted to watch her car pull away, but I didn't. I just walked back to the kitchen, turned off the slow cooker, put the phone on the table in front of me, and waited for it to ring.