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  • Ryan Jo Summers

Wishing on Time

I guess I've always known I could travel through time. My first memory was when I was three and Mom caught me drawing on the wall with my crayons. She was so mad. I just stood there, about to cry, wishing I could get away. Suddenly I was outside my house, in the backyard. It was the week before I had been given the new crayons. 

The next time I remember I was six, in first grade. A couple of kids were teasing me and I wished I could get away. Poof! I was back home, hours before I had gotten into the bus. After that, it just became a normal part of me. Especially in middle and high school. We would be studying history and in the blink of an eye I could be there. It was the easiest 'A' I made in school.

It just seemed like the normal laws of time and space did not apply to me. It was no surprise I had a strong interest in physics, now teaching at State University. 

The note caught my attention shortly after I arrived home one day. Propped up against the candlestick on the hall table, folded in half, it simply read 'A.J.' on the front. I stared at the date inside. January 28, 2014. 4:45 pm. 

  Okay, what happens then? I wondered, concentrating on the date and time. Within seconds I felt that familiar lightheaded sensation that occurred when I traveled. 

“So what do you think? Murder and suicide?” 

“Could be. Either that or a double homicide. Won't know until I do the autopsies.”

Leaning against a cold wall, I listened to gruff voices coming from around the corner. It sounded like something out of a detective movie. 

“Call us when you finish, doc. So long.”

Hearing retreating footsteps, I slowly peered around the corner. No wonder I was cold, I was in a morgue. 

A big, balding man hunched between two bodies on twin tables, covered in blood and draped with thin sheets. One woman and one man. And... leaning closer...my fingers gripped the wall's edge as I tried to steady myself.

It was my girlfriend, Sandi, and me! We were dead!

The man, clearly a coroner, picked up a painful looking tool and held it to my...

I looked away, back around the corner, sucking in a deep, shaky breath, my gut rolling.  Telling myself I didn't want to scare the guy half to death by seeing me, I really knew I couldn't handle seeing my own autopsy. I needed air. 

Leaning against the outside wall, dragging in deep breaths of cold air, I tried to push the nausea aside and think. January 28. What was significant about that day? Other than the day Sandi and I die. And who left me that note at home?

Rounding the corner in my hallway, I ran into Sandi, smelling so fresh and smiling so pretty, it was hard to reconcile I just saw her bloody and dead in a morgue. Honestly, it freaked me out. 

“A.J., I wondered where you'd gone to,” she said, sliding her hands up to my shoulders.

“I had something to check on,” I shrugged, gazing into those blue eyes. The eyes of a killer? Or someone I might kill soon? I tried to suppress a shiver. “What's up?”

“Well, I thought we could go out Friday night,” she said, dusting my shoulders off. It was a habit when she was nervous.

“Sure. Why?”

“No reason. Does there have to be a reason?” she said quickly.

I was getting more rattled by the second. “No, I guess not. So... Checkers? Six o' clock?”

She beamed that pretty little smile at me, the one I'd fallen for when we first met two years ago.

       “Checkers,” she agreed. Kissing her fingertips, she placed them to my cheek. “Six.”  Turning around, she gave me a slow wink, slipping out the door.

Once she was gone, I dropped into my chair, letting my breath out with a whoosh. My head was pounding. Maybe, hopefully, tomorrow this would all make some sense.

There was another note on the table when I got home. Same handwriting. January 15.  Thirteen days before we die. For one moment I was tempted not to go. But I had to know.

I was in a jail cell. It was just as disgusting as one might imagine. 

“Took you long enough,” a voice growled at me.

Jumping, I noticed a lump sitting on a cot, watching me. Taking two steps closer, I came face to face with myself.

“You're me,” I stammered, stating the obvious. “You look terrible.”

“You won't look so hot in a little while either.”

I looked at him, I mean at me. Weird does not even begin to describe this. In all my travels, I'd never run into myself. 

“I saw you.... myself dead,” I said finally. “Sandi too.”

He...I mean I nodded. “That's why we're here.” He motioned around.

“We?”

“You. Me. Us.”

Weird was getting a whole lot weirder. “You sent me those notes?”

“Well, technically you sent them,” He… I said with a smile.

“So did you...do it? I mean, did we...did I kill Sandi?”

“Here, sit down. You look like you're about to pass out.”

I felt like I was going to, so I complied, waiting for me to explain.

“You and Sandi had a date set up. She never showed so naturally you went over to her apartment. She had been assaulted, her place trashed. You found her unconscious on the floor. As you were trying to wake her, the police barged in and wham-bam, here you sit.”

I was absolutely sick, unable to process it. “So how is she? What happened? When was this?”

“Don't know, she's still in the hospital. It was yesterday.”

My head was killing me, but at least I hadn't killed Sandi. Not yet anyway. “So what are we going to do?” I asked weakly.

“We aren't going to do anything. I'm stuck in here. It's up to you, A.J.”

Somehow, seeing myself jailed for assault on my girlfriend was only slightly better than seeing us both lying on slabs in the morgue. This me, the me in jail, hadn’t died yet. The me I saw yesterday had already been to jail and somewhere along the line released. This was getting confusing.

I grinned—the future me. “You have to appreciate the irony of this. Who would have ever thought you’d end up jailed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time?

I was too overwhelmed to appreciate anything.

“You better go, before someone sees us together.”

Wearily I climbed to my feet, staring at a haggard version of me.

“Guess we'll both be looking pretty rough soon enough,” he said, as if reading my thoughts. “Unless you can stop this.”

“Good luck,” I said, not knowing what else to say.

I wasn't back home ten minutes when the phone rang. Hoping it wasn't me calling, I reached for it. 

“A.J., glad I caught you.” It was my sister, Joanie. “I'd like to discuss Christmas plans if you have time.”

Time? I almost laughed. “What about them?” I asked instead.

“Are you okay? You sound tired.”

Wincing at the concern in her voice, I wondered if I should tell her the truth. It was too much for me to comprehend, how would she react?

“It's been a long a couple days. At work,” I added. “What's on your mind, sis?”

“Well, I was thinking you and Sandi could come over here.”

“Sandi might go back home this year,” I said, seeing the news shocked her.

“Would you go with her?”

“No. We need to decide what direction our relationship is going.” Did that include murder? “Some time apart might be good.”

I could tell she was upset. Guilty at causing it, I quickly added, “Sandi and I will be fine. Whatever you want for Christmas is good with me.”

Mollified, Joanie outlined her plans, with me murmuring appropriate noises as needed. Hanging up, I felt even more guilty at blowing my sister off. Gulping four aspirin, I dropped into bed.

Now that I had some time to think about it, I wished I had asked the me in jail more specific questions. Maybe I could go back and get more information. Closing my eyes, I concentrated on January 15. Soon I felt that familiar feeling.

The cell was the same, just darker. Probably later in the day. I didn't see me on the bunk.

“A.J?” I whispered, feeling kind of stupid for calling myself. “A.J?”

I was no longer in the cell. So I needed to go back earlier in the day.

“You're back.”

“I need more information,” I said, sitting back down on the bunk. “I came back a few minutes ago but it was later, and you were gone.”

He...I nodded. “I phoned Joanie. She must post our bail soon.”

I felt a sense of urgency now. “Tell me what happened yesterday. Give me times.”

“We were supposed to meet at Checkers at five. She never showed so I got to her apartment about five-thirty.”

“We're supposed to meet this Friday,” I interrupted.

“No, that one turns out fine. It's a later one.” 

He...I went on to explain about the door ajar, mess in the house, Sandi unconscious on the floor and the police unexpectedly showing up within just a few minutes. 

“Do you think the neighbors might have called? There was bound to be noise.”

“Maybe.”  

As we talked, doors clanked up the corridor. “Davidson!” A vice rang out.

“Go! Joanie's made bail.” He...I whispered, pushing me off the cot. Immediately I thought of home.

Finals at work kept me busy the next few days, too busy to try traveling. In the meantime the clock of my and Sandi's lives ticked away. Feeling more nervous than our first date, I slid into a booth at Checkers on Friday night. Drumming the table, my heart thumping, I waited for her.

“Hi, how'd finals go?” she asked, sliding into the seat across me.

“Fine. Just some grading this weekend.”

She studied me, a look of concern on her face. Her hands reached for my drumming fingers. 

“Are you okay? You look tense.”

No doubt I did. Shaking my head, I looked around for our waitress. “I'm fine. Ready to order?” I was getting really good at blowing off the girls in my life. First Joanie, now Sandi.

Once our orders were placed, she started brushing imaginary crumbs from the table. 

“What's bothering you?” I asked, taking her hands I mine. 

Startled, she blushed. Suddenly her eyes misted, and I could not picture ever killing her.

“I'm going home for Christmas. I leave tomorrow.”

“Joanie had wanted us to go over to her place.”

“That was nice. Please tell her I'm sorry.” She waited till I nodded before continuing.

“I think it's time we separate for a little while.”

Now it was my turn to gasp. “Separate?” I sputtered.

“Yes. I need to work some stuff out.”

Our orders arrived, stopping me from replying. “Can I please get this to go?” she asked the waitress. “A.J., we're at a point that I need to stop and see how I really feel. Do you understand?”

No, not really. But I nodded anyway. The waitress arrived with both our meals boxed to go. Scooping up her box, she kissed her fingertips and touched my hand.

“I'll call you when I get back. Merry Christmas, A.J.”

I caught the sympathetic look from the waitress as Sandi headed for the door. 

I graded finals tests the rest of the weekend and held class two more days before dismissal until January tenth. Ironic, five days before I end up jailed. I spent Christmas with Joanie and her boyfriend, Pete. Joanie was all sympathy and coddling once I confessed about Sandi and I breaking up.

Finding it harder to keep quiet about our upcoming deaths, I left early. I stayed holed up at home, waiting, trying to figure this crazy puzzle out, wondering where to go to next.

Four days after I returned to work, I found another note waiting for me. This one was from Sandi and taped to my front door.

A.J. Can we meet? We need to talk. Checkers. Tomorrow. Five pm. Call me.

Clutching the note, I staggered to my chair. This was the meeting she never showed up at. Where I get arrested. Heart pounding, I wondered how to answer her. Apparently, I didn't have too many choices. Apparently, it already happened. 

Unless I could stop it. Could I go to her place earlier? I had a date, time and location. Steeling myself for that familiar feeling, a rap at my door took me by surprise. 

Swinging the door open, Joanie brushed by me, followed by Pete. Stuffing Sandi's note in my pocket, I pasted on a smile. “Hi, guys. What's up?”

“We're worried about you,” Joanie announced without preamble. “We haven't heard from you since Christmas. Are you just sitting around here sulking about Sandi?”

Seeing where this was going, I hastened to reassure her. Resting my hands on her shoulders, I pulled her close. “Joanie, I love you, more than anything in this world. But I am not sulking. I've just been...busy.”

Her gaze narrowed. “Doing what? You just started back to work a couple days ago. What have you been doing for almost two weeks if not sulking?”

“I've been staying busy,” I hedged. Pete did not know about my talent and I sure couldn't fess up to Joanie right now.

She studied me, chewing her bottom lip, tears building in her eyes. Guilt rammed into my chest.

“Please don't ask me to explain, okay. Just some silly little project I got hooked into lately.” I gave a small laugh. “Nothing interesting.”

“I love you, A.J.  You are all the family I have left. You know you can share anything and I will understand.”

Hugging her, I realized how much I really did love my sister. How I wished I could tell her everything now, before I had to call her in two days to post my bail. How exactly was I going to explain it to her then? I wondered.

“I love you too, Joanie. Everything is going to be okay. I have a meeting with Sandi coming up.” I showed her Sandi's note and she relaxed. Looking over at Pete, I gave him a smile. “Now that everything's good, can I get you two something?”

Later, holding Sandi's note, sitting in my chair, I wondered about going forward to her apartment before our date. Joanie's concern was touching me more than I cared to admit. I was feeling the pressure tightening as the days rolled by, especially now. If I failed to stop our deaths, Joanie was going to be devastated. If I faced murder charges, she was still going to be devastated. 

How was I going to save my baby sister that kind of agony in just two days? Only one way to find out.

It wasn't quite dark outside Sandi's apartment. It was almost four-thirty. Her second story windows were lit, the blinds pulled. My heart pounding, I started moving for the stairs when a dark blur reached them first. A sense of dread stole over me as I stopped, watching the figure go upstairs and hesitate outside her door. The killer? 

What should I do? What if it were me?

Well, I'd come here to stop this. Steeling my resolve, I slowly followed the figure. It was all I could do not to shout a warning as Sandi swung the door open. Pulse pounding, I watched as the figure rushed in, shoving Sandi back into the living room.

Blood pounding in my ears, I mounted the last of the stairs just in time to hear a woman's scream and the crash of breaking glass. Rounding the corner, I burst into the room. Sandi was pressed against the wall, hands at her throat, eyes wide and a broken lamp at her feet. Seeing me, she cried out my name. The figure in a black hooded shirt whirled around, the hood falling back.

“Joanie! What the devil?” Stunned, I was rooted to the spot. My shock turned to amazement as my baby sister drew up a gun from out of nowhere and leveled it at me.

I tried to speak but my tongue was tied in knots, as was my stomach. Joanie? 

“How convenient, brother. But why did you decide to show up early?”

She was thinking I was the brother still waiting back at the restaurant two days from now. Looking at her, I noticed an odd gleam in her eyes, a look of madness. It literally tore my heart out. 

Holding my hands spread out, I slowly took a step closer, hearing a gasp from Sandi.

“Joanie,” I spoke softly, “lower the gun please. Let's talk about this.”

She gave a harsh laugh, still keeping the gun on me. “Talk. I've nothing to talk about.”

“What are you doing?” I tried again.

“Isn’t it obvious?” she snorted. “I'm ridding the world of you and your little friend.”

I shot a look at Sandi, who paled. I suspect I looked pretty pale too. 

“But why, Joanie?” I asked. Her pulling the trigger back and hearing the metallic click stopped my next advancement.

“Because I hate you, A.J. I always have. You're the one who can travel. You're the special one,” she mocked, never blinking as she looked me in the eye. 

Nausea rolled over me as I processed her words. Hated me? Always? I felt as if a feather could knock me over. For one fleeting second I wished I could go back to two days ago when we held each other and cried how much we loved each other. Reeling, I saw it was all a sham. It had always been.

“Joanie, listen to me,” I tried once more, hands still out. “There is another me. The one from today. He's still waiting at the restaurant for Sandi. I'm from two days ago.” I could tell I had her attention. “Remember when you and Pete came to my place a couple days ago? Look at my shirt. It's the same one from there because I just came from there. For me, that was just a few hours ago.”

“You lie.”

“Am I?”

She thought it over, then shrugged. “No matter. Once you're dead, you'll be dead in all times. Here and wherever else you might be. And so will she.” She looked back at Sandi, still pressed against the wall.

Sucking in a breath, I took advantage of her distraction. Lunging forward, I grabbed her hands, wrapping my hands over the gun. Grunting, I was surprised to feel her knee in my groin and the room swam before my eyes.

“Joanie!” I gritted out, holding on. “Quit it!”

She screamed something, trying to kick, bite and claw like a wild animal. The gun fell, skidding across the floor.

“Sandi! Grab it!” I yelled.

She did, lifting it even with me and Joanie, holding it with a shaky grip. Too preoccupied to process her intentions, I just hoped it did not go off. Finally I got my arms wrapped around Joanie, holding her in a breathless bear hug.

“Sandi?” I asked, my tongue thick as I noticed she still waved the gun at us.

“A.J.” Tears brimmed in her eyes. “I was going to end it with you tonight. For good. I found someone else.”

Gasping, I stared at her, feeling the blood roar in my head. “Who?” I heard myself ask.

“Joanie.” She nodded at my sister.

It took me a full minute to process it. My girlfriend had fallen in love with my sister? My sister was trying to kill me. And her. 

Feeling Joanie relax slightly, I spun her around, seeing a smirking smile on her face.

“So if you'd stolen my girl, why were you trying to kill her too?” I demanded.

“She was only bait to get to you,” Joanie shrugged. “She never meant anything to me.”

“Why you---!” Sandi started.

“No!” I shouted, too late. The shot ricocheted, echoing around the small room, as Joanie slumped in my arms. Going to the floor, I held her, rocking, feeling the blood seep over my fingers and hearing her breath come in rattles.

“A.J.,” she whispered, blood trickling out of the corner of her mouth.

“Shh, it's okay. I still love you.”

She smiled, her gaze fixed and then she stilled, the light in her eyes slowly fading. 

In the distance I heard sirens. Police.  The ones who were supposed to arrest me for assault. Next, I heard my voice shouting Sandi's name from downstairs. The me coming from the restaurant. Reluctantly I released Joanie's body and stood back behind the door. Suddenly cold, I watched as I burst into the room, followed by two police officers, each skidding to a halt at the sight of Sandi holding a gun and Joanie dead on the floor.

I watched me drop to Joanie's side, sobbing, shaking her. The officers closed in on Sandi, taking the gun from her grip. Not able to watch any more, I closed my eyes, needing to get away.

Two days later I paid a cabbie to deliver a polite note to Sandi at a specific time. Instead of going to Checkers, I stayed home, waiting for the hunter to come to me.

Joanie knocked at my door. Heart in my throat, I swung it open, trying my best to appear natural and relaxed.

She came in, moving around the rooms, prowling like a caged lioness. Leaning against a doorjamb, I watched a moment before calmly asking, “Looking for your gun?”

Spinning around, she glared at me, that same cold look of insanity I saw two days ago.

“I took it today from your nightstand.”

“You had no right!”

“Since you planned to use it to kill me and Sandi tonight, I had every right.”

She hissed at me, falling back against the wall. I advanced. “I was there when Sandi confessed to being in love with you,” I said. “Because you tricked her. She ended up with your gun, shot you and you died in my arms. All things considered; I think things are working out better this way.” Crossing my arms, I leveled her a curious look. “What I still don't understand is where this hate comes from.”

“Your ability!” she snapped, eyes flashing. “You're such a stupid fool if you can't see that.”

“Guess I am,” I agreed. “Your gun is in there.” I nodded to a basket on the table.

She dove for it, flinging the basket over and pulling up the weapon.

“So how long have you hated me and just pretended to be my loving little sister?”

“Fool!” she spat, leveling the gun at my chest. “Always!”

Something inside me reeled at the words, the venom behind them. I swallowed it back. “So you were just biding your time to do away with me Even after we lost mom and dad last year,” I paused, a sudden thought hitting me, reeling me back even worse. 

“Did you kill them too, Joanie?” I whispered.

“Of course I did. Because they doted on you for being special. And I got away with it. Had you believing it was an accident.”

“Yes, I did,” I agreed softly, my voice about to betray me. How much longer could I go on with this? “So are you going to make my death look like an accident too?” I remembered the me in the morgue, all covered with blood.

She smiled, so wicked, so cruel, it tore my heart to shreds.

“Sandi is going to break up with you and you are going to be so devastated, you'll steal my gun and take your life. Right after you go to her place, wreck it and strangle her.”

Regret and hollow disbelief ripped through me. She had just modified the original version. 

“I don't believe you,” I said. “No one would believe that.”

“Really?” Snarling, she pulled the trigger. I heard the click as an empty chamber fired. Hissing again, she fired again. This time the only bullet I'd left in the gun exploded, landing in the wall behind where I'd been standing. 

Jumping out of the way, I heard two police officers barrel through my front door. Right on time, I thought grimly. They swarmed the room, wrestling the gun away from Joanie and cuffing her.

Hissing and spitting, she glared at me, cursing me with everything she had.

“Thanks, sheriff,” I said as the other officer bodily took her outside. I watched, heart in my throat. She was still my baby sister, but she wasn't anymore. 

“Think the tape got what you wanted?”

“Yes, it's all here.” I pulled the small recorder out from under my shirt, handing it over. Not that it mattered. I had gone ahead and seen where she plead guilty and avoided a trial. She was going to the state mental prison for many years. 

“You're shaking. You going to be okay?” The officer asked me.

Was I? “Yeah. I just need a little time.”




About Ryan Jo Summers:

Ryan Jo Summer's work has appeared in trade journals and magazines since 2008, while his first novel was released in 2013. Many of his books and short works have been nominated and placed in national writing contests. "Wishing on Time" took second place in 2020 with Southeastern Writer's Association for their Vegas Award for Speculative Fiction.

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