Slipping

By Allison West Lewis

Iweb 3 couldn’t breathe. My chest felt compressed which would normally cause me to panic. Tears leaked at the corners of my eyes as the plane plunged down. I thought that this was it. All done. I wondered if I would see my dad again. Some of the old legends said your loved ones were waiting for you when you died. He would, of course, be the only one. The plane continued downward through the atmosphere. Flames licked at the plane’s nose making me wonder if the bizarre bit of black, metallic stuff would work. Out of my peripheral vision I noticed that every passenger, dressed identically like me in a blue-and-white uniform made out of some synthetic stuff with weirdo plastic ribbing in the torso area just like those old corsets or something, were braced back in their seats like me. Hands flicked out and slammed the dingy white shutters down, blocking the view till the cabin was completely encased in light darkness. Seconds slowed as the plane plunged toward the ground. Funky moaning and spooky little screams helped spur the feeling of impending death. Was someone praying? Suddenly, but with surprising smoothness, the plane was completely righted and softly touched down on the tarmac. Not this time, Dad, I thought. I was almost sad about it; about making it.

Lights came on in the cabin. We all looked around at each other. One girl raced to the head to throw up. I tried to find my breath, caught somewhere in the nether region of my guts. In. Out. In. Out. The girl came shakily back, trailing a whiff of vomit. Crap. I gagged reflexively. I knew she wanted to get off, but couldn’t. None of us could.

The plane started slowly down the tarmac. Hard to believe it had a low gear. Then, just like any other flight in any other airport, it picked up speed. Faster and faster it went down the runway till we lifted off the earth. My fingers gripped the arm rests. I closed my eyes as the plane tilted its nose straight up and shot like a rocket into the sky. Once again headed for yesterday.

So, it’s a job, I kept telling myself. High risk equals high pay, right? No risk, no reward. That’s what I grew up hearing around my house. My dad was a Wall Street guy. He was killed by the nukes in 2022 along with most of the rest of Wall Street in the good old U. S. of A. That’s when life changed, or at least, my life changed. The one person in the world who was glad to see me was gone. Just like that. I didn’t get to say goodbye. Sure. Sure. I know that none of the other kids got to say goodbye to their parents either. But, did their hearts disappear like mine? Is there a black hole inside of them they have to carry around while impersonating the same person they were before? Who loved you now, baby? That would be…no one.

My parents had met on Wall Street so my mom was pretty savvy financially speaking. That said, when I turned sixteen not long after dad died, we didn’t get along so well. Mom was really into her sadness and grief and had no time for me and my brothers. Hello?! We’re still here. Our dad died and it was like we had lost both parents. We went from hearing quippy, smart alecky, life altering sayings from mom and dad to nada. Nothing. Just mom gazing at her belly button. Well, okay then. So I started doing what I wanted because I could. My brothers were still youngish, like seven and nine, so they weren’t a problem. Me? I started hitting the high school party scene. Now that was fun. And boys started noticing me. Well, hello there! P.S. I grew up with you. But, it was still cool to be looked at like I was a real live girl. Sort of made the black hole evaporate temporarily, if you know what I mean. Of course, they all wanted the same thing. It was everything your parents tell you to beware of but who cares what they said. Come on! They like, loved me. These guys were exciting – one in particular, David. We were really getting into each other. I was pretty sure he loved me. He told me all the time. I mean I know we were still young but, we planned our future all the same. We would get great jobs after school, have kids and really care about them….you know, make them feel really loved. That’s all any kid really needed. Right?

Then Mom started to notice that her little girl was all grown up and was a proper young lady. In my dreams. No, she thought I was still twelve and could be grounded. Hello. I have a body now, Mom. I’m not twelve. So, she grounded me. Something about talking back to her and seeing too much of David and going out too much and not studying enough. I even told her that David loved me. She just sighed and rolled her eyes. Can you believe that? She said that I needed to seriously contemplate my future. She had no idea how much I had contemplated my future! With David! And, because she wouldn’t even consider how much I really did love David and wouldn’t allow me the proper stuff, you know what happened next. I got pregnant. Thanks, Mom.

That’s when the Board started noticing me. That wasn’t so much fun. One day, I’m attending school, going to parties, seeing David and fighting with my Mom. The next, I’m incarcerated because I’m pregnant. Okay. It was a facility for pregnant teens. By this time I’m seventeen and not ready for prime time. My parents used to say that, too. The Board wanted the baby. That’s the Government Board. You know. It’s the “they” everyone talks about. David got a slap on the wrist and stayed in school. I got the slammer. David could have come to see me…if he had wanted to. But, I never saw him again. It was too late for the Board to move the fetus so I had to wait until the proper time they could safely remove the baby. How old fashioned is that! Of course, I wasn’t allowed to touch him when he was born. But, I did hear him. Jeez, that sucked. I’ll always hear that cry now. How is it that my black hole keeps getting bigger and darker? I didn’t think that was even possible.

Then I was kicked out of the slammer. I was turning eighteen in three months. Mom had told me not to bother coming home. Really? How do you go from a two parent, normal childhood to this? But the Board did give me a pamphlet. For jobs, no less. What ever happened to college? Oh right. Dead dad. Cut off from Mom and too young for Board assistance. Unless they wanted your baby, of course.

So, I applied. I had no idea what Time Slip International was. Maybe a misspelling? Ha. JK. They had a bunch of weirdos applying. Punks. Geeks. Nerds. Druggies. Hmmm, no fashion models. I could always go back to that. Seriously, there were some real strange ducks there. One thing though. All us applicants were young, really young. We were all lined up for an initial screening. Hey! I have a pamphlet, okay! Made it through the first lady. She seemed nice. Just kind of asked some basic questions. Like where I grew up? In the nuke zone. Why was I there? Pamphlet. Where were my parents? Dead Dad. Indifferent Mom. What was my health like? Like any other seventeen-year-old that just popped a baby. Ever worked before? Nope. Thought that last one would kill it for me, but she smiled and stamped my paper. Who doesn’t love her? I felt almost proud. Maybe I could do this, as long as they didn’t know about the black hole. I did notice all the druggies were turned away after one courtesy question. Hmmm, this might work. Dad’s words floated up. First impressions are always the most important. So I straightened up and stood tall, all five foot, five inches of me. I changed lines and waited for the next guy’s desk. We were still a bunch of weirdos, just missing the druggies now. I guessed fifty of us. The next guy asked some more questions. I forgot about making a first impression and kind of grew bored. Then he wanted to weigh me. Great. I was probably too fat for the job. I just had a baby, after all. Turns out I was “in the range.” Would I agree to a haircut, certain make-up, wearing a uniform and staying in company housing? Oh – and there was a two year commitment. And a big fat contract to sign. Unbreakable. Sounded okay to me. What other options did I have at this point? I would be nineteen when I got out. I could pretend I had been away at college when I went back home. If Mom ever lets me.

I was put in a room. They must have the same decorator as the Board. Standard box, gray paint, no window, no pictures, just a regular table and a couple of chairs. I didn’t wait long before the door opens and another woman comes in with the contract. Dang. It was at least two hundred pages. She said to take my time reading it, sign it and then tap on the door when I was ready. Words rose up inside me: “Don’t sign your life away.” Stop already. I thumbed through it. Pretended to read the first couple of pages. There was so much scientific jargon I almost fell asleep. So I flipped through to the back page. Wow. They were going to pay me that much! Why didn’t they say so? I’m your new best employee! I signed gleefully, feeling like I’d pulled one over on them. I tapped the door and it quickly opened to another gal. This one was much older and didn’t look near as fun. She wanted to review a bit of what I just signed, so we had to sit down and cover the information. My eyes glazed over. I might have taken one of those awake naps. Finally her droning voice stopped. I focused on her face. Yes, ma’am, I said. After all, I did want the job. She smiled; grimly, I thought. Must have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed. She said something about training starting tomorrow and work actually beginning next week. Something about flying. I didn’t think flight people made this much money. Lucky me.

Now I understood that I missed a ton of stuff in my orientation. I think most of my compatriots did too by the looks on their faces. All that scientific jargon in the contract meant time travel or time slip. The devil’s in the details. Dang! We were now flying back and forth between today and yesterday. I just didn’t know if we were actually training for a job. You know, like flying attenders or something like that. This was only our second round trip and I could tell something was not right. I mean, don’t you think they could have let us out at yesterday to take a small break? A couple of my new peeps looked like they needed one. Crapola! That guy’s head just exploded all over the aisle. Someone started screaming. What the hell was going on? I glanced over at barf girl. Her face was blue and she was passed out. The girl next to her had blood coming out of her eyes and nose. I squeezed my eyes shut and leaned back into my seat. Nightmare.

It seemed the other, not-so-great possibility, was that we were the human lab rats. Some of us were obviously goners. Now the rest of us – we had to survive.

Then we landed. I opened my shade to look away from the mayhem inside the cabin. The smell was completely indescribable; blood and vomit along with a blend of other unspeakable crap. My shaking hands held a scrap of paper over my nose and mouth in a feeble attempt to block the odor. The plane actually stopped. I started to get up but noticed my seat belt – along with everyone else’s – didn’t unlock. This was getting bad. Take the money back. Just let me off. Holy crap. Guys in white suits flooded the aisles, surrounding the exploded-head dude and grabbing the bloody-eyes-nose girl. Some of my, um…friends fired questions at them. I was too freaked to talk. I turned my face to the window with one eye peeled back to see if they answered. Nada. We were totally screwed. You know, I was starting to feel a little sick myself.

That’s when I noticed it. Another jet. Just like ours. Probably more inmate employees stuck inside, ready to get exploded in time travel. But wait. This jet looked a lot like ours. Like in identical. I checked the little stub crumpled in my hands. Same Jet number—009873—as in zero-zero-niner, you are screwed. Surely different planes had different tail numbers? It was passing in the opposite direction. I could see the windows clearly. All the shades were pulled. Except mine. I mean the same one as mine. Well, crap. You know what I mean. The jets went by each other, and I stared as that window rolled toward me.

Then the window was close enough. I could see it. I mean her. I mean me. Holy crap. It was me. I was staring at me. In the window. Of the other plane, the same plane, the one we passed. Her eyes widened. Had to be a mirror, right? Then she waved. What!? I didn’t wave. No mirror!

My shade slammed shut. A white-suit dude stood over me. No, he wasn’t just standing. He was injecting me as we once again prepared to fly into yesterday. I struggled to say I quit, but my mouth wasn’t working. My eyes closed as I realized they were making copies. Of us. They were making freaking copies of us.

___

Allyson West Lewis is a native Southerner who had a rewarding career in corporate America. Now, when she isn’t writing, she enjoys riding horses, traveling and time with her family. She lives in Milton, Georgia with her husband and a menagerie of animals.


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