The Girl Who Stole Time by Bill Capron [Grit Magazine 1999]
An angry Diane Howard threw her schoolbooks onto the bedroom floor. “I need more time!” she yelled at the wall. She put her head in her hands and whined, “I can’t get everything done. How can I be expected to be a cheerleader, get good grades, and do my 4H project? There’s just not enough time.”
She sprawled on her bed and wondered at the sudden realization that it was impossible to divide her day in enough pieces to meet her obligations, and the expectations of others. “Stop!” she mouthed to her new running watch, “Make the world stop!” But the seconds moved forward, ignorant of her needs. She buried her head in her pillow and cried herself to sleep.
When Diane awoke, she listened for the sound of the birds, the wind, but the silence was total. An ominous fear choked her throat as she approached her window. Nothing was moving, the birds hung motionless, her sister Josie was in mid-step, one foot on the ground, her lips shaping a whistle. Diane ran from the house and grabbed Josie’s shoulders, but they were stone under her fingers, and try as she might, the lifelike statue would not budge. She dragged her foot on the ground, the dust and pebbles were as frozen as Josie. The clouds stood still, smoke levitated above the chimneys, a passenger jet was just about to disappear into a cloud, but would not.
Diane rushed back to her bedroom, the last normal place. “What’s happening?” she asked no one in particular. She searched her mind for a cause, for a reason. If she was the only person unaffected, then it must be something she did, but what? She leaned her head in frustration on the windowsill and cried, “Make the world go!” But nothing happened. She tried other incantations, but gave up, collapsing in tears on her bed. “Please make the world go again,” she whimpered.
And the wind ruffled her curtains. Diane heard Josie whistle as she entered the house. She dashed down the stairs, swinging wide on the lower railing, sliding to a stop before her big sister. “Are you all right?” she blurted.
“Of course I’m all right. What’s wrong with you, pudding head?” But Josie didn’t wait for an answer; her little sister at twelve could have nothing to interest a fifteen year-old.
Diane doubted her senses as she shuffled towards her father’s tool-shed. She looked at her watch again, “Make the world stop,” and like magic, everything halted. She ran back into the kitchen and kicked Josie in the knee, “Take that,” but she wasd nonetheless sorry the girl wouldn’t feel it.
Diane talked to the watch, “Make the world go,” but nothing happened. This time she did not panic, but instead ran back to the place from which she had invoked the spell, the one place unfrozen in time. There the grass bent under her feet until she reached an outer boundary, about five feet from where she had made her wish. She moved to the perimeter and said, “Make the world go,” and time moved forward.
It was a magic watch! “Give me ten dollars,” she commanded. Nothing. She tried other wishes, but the same result, the watch affected time, nothing else.
Diane raced back to the kitchen and grabbed her books. “What’s wrong?” she asked Josie.
Josie rubbed her right knee. “Gee, I feel like someone kicked me.”
Diane giggled as she rushed from the room. In her bedroom she commanded again, “Make the world stop.” She opened her books on the table and worked through her homework, four hours by her watch, until it was complete and double-checked, then she studied for her mathematics test, and took a short nap. When she woke she chanted, “Make the world go,” and the wind whispered in her window.
The downstairs door slammed and Diane’s mother called up, “Dinner will be ready in twenty minutes. Diane, I want your homework done or you’re not going to the cheerleader tryouts.”
She yelled over the railing, “It’s already done, Mom,” and rushed downstairs to show her mother what a fine job she’d done.
When she saw Diane’s watch, she said, “You’ve got the wrong time there, Diane. Why don’t you reset it?”
Diane returned to her room and pulled the watch’s box from her bureau. She read the instructions, but there was no way to reset the watch. A minor flaw compared to what it could do for her.
In that year of 1992 Diane moved from the struggling middle of her class to undisputed leadership. She got straight A’s, did all of her homework, and had more than enough time left over for her extracurricular activities. To her friends and teachers she was intelligent, popular, aggressive and organized. What they didn’t know was she commanded the world – when she needed more time to study, read a book, clean her room, the world waited – if she was tired when the alarm rang in the morning, she would whisper to her watch, “Make the world stop,” and get all the sleep she needed.
There was no longer anything Diane could not do whenever she wanted to. She had it all, free time whenever she needed it.
* * * * *
“Diane,” the Chairman’s secretary called into her office, “Bob wanted me to remind you about your presentation for the Passco acquisition. The meeting’s at one o’clock.”
“I’ll be ready, Jackie,” she answered. Diane called the Finance department for the current company books, plus the reports with the raw data, they had long ago stopped asking her why she needed them. When the books were on her table she pulled her watch to her lips, “Make the world stop,” then bent to her work.
She used the laptop computer to enter the data, crunch it, then review it from every possible angle. She was the twenty-eight year-old Executive Vice President of the three billion dollar investment bank, and she needed all the time she could glean to make up for what she lacked in experience.
Diane Howard was not one of those successful women about whom rumors flew, no one at the firm doubted her ability, she was able to do more, understand more, and be better prepared in a shorter time than anyone else. Her mergers made the firm many millions in profits, and she was well rewarded.
Diane slaved over the data for eight hours, then another three to prepare the foils and slides. When she finished, a short nap, then, “Make the world go.”
She stuck her head in the Chairman’s office, “I’m ready Bob, we’ve got a real winner here.”
The tall florid man smiled at his wunderkind. “I never worry when it’s you, Diane.” He gave her shoulder an avuncular squeeze. “I’ll wish you luck, even if you don’t need it.”
When Diane finished the presentation, the President of the acquiring firm shook her hand. “Excellent, Miss Howard, that is as thorough a job as I’ve ever seen.” He turned his attention to the Chairman, “Bob, I think you can count on our business from now on. I can’t tell you how impressed I am with the quality of this effort.”
Diane relaxed and took notes during the next meeting discussing an unsuccessful hostile takeover bid. “Gee, I’ve been at this a long time,” she thought, then realized it was only seven years ago that she graduated first in her class with her MBA at the age of twenty-one. She looked at her watch; the useless black watch that everyone felt compelled to comment kept the wrong time. She always said, “I know, but I’m really attached to it.” It had become her signature. The date read March 15, 2043. “Have I really used an extra thirty-four years?” she wondered. Where did it go? Studying, researching, sleeping, getting over a hangover, taking a couple days off to read a book …
Time had passed her by, and what did she have to show for it? “Everything!” she thought, “Everything. I drive a Mercedes, I have a beautiful home, and next year I’ll retire and enjoy them.” But she was tired with a weariness that had grown in the last year.
While she stared at the watch, a small red light flashed in the corner. She opened her purse and unfolded the yellowed instructions. ‘The display will blink red in the upper right hand corner when there is one month left in the power supply.’ She made a note to go to the jeweler.
* * * * *
“What do you mean there’s no battery?” Diane’s confusion was total.
The jeweler pointed at the back of the watch; “It’s got no battery, Miss Howard. I’d do something for it but there’s nothing to be done. I can’t even tell what it’s running on right now. If I didn’t see it myself, I wouldn’t believe it.”
Diane Howard felt a rising panic, “Jack, there must be something you can do. I need this watch.”
He shook his head, “There’s nothing I can do. It’s made by a company I’ve never heard of, Time-Out Inc. I don’t know what to tell you.” He poked a metal pick into the center and drew a spark, “It’s getting power from somewhere, but it’s a mystery to me.”
Diane gripped the edge of the jeweler’s case, her knees buckled by the jolt that shot through her body.
“Are you all right?” he asked, rushing around to help her to a chair.
She shook him off, “I’m okay, Jack. Just let me have the watch please.”
He screwed the backplate on and put the watch into her shaking hand. “It’s not such a big deal, Miss Howard, it doesn’t even keep good time.” He didn’t see the tears streak down her face as she ran from the store.
* * * * *
“Are you feeling okay, Diane?” The Chairman was worried for his star performer. “Maybe you should take a little vacation,” he suggested.
“I think you’re right.” She stared into her mirror. The haggard woman who stared back was still young, but it wasn’t a good young, it was a hard young.
“Don’t you have someone you love, someone to be with?” He was surprised at himself, realizing for the first time that he had never asked before.
She gave him a sad look; “No one but my parents. Somewhere along the way I never accumulated people. I wonder why?” She pushed the papers on her desk into the drawer. “I’m going, Bob, I’ll be back in May.” She put her coat on and covered her tearing eyes as she headed out the door.
Diane drove north from New York City past Albany, into the Adirondacks. The April showers had freed the buds, rewarding the world with new leaves and blossoms, but she focused her attention instead on the gas pedal as the energy of life deserted her body.
Outside of Lake Placid she registered in a small hotel within sight of her parents’ home. She showered away the soaking sweat of fear before forcing herself to walk the thousand feet. She knocked on the door.
“Diane,” her mother smiled; she was a young looking fifty-five; “Why didn’t you tell me you were coming home?”
“I didn’t have time, I left right from the office.”
The woman gripped Diane’s arms to keep her from collapsing. “Here, dear, let me help you.” She put a loving arm around her daughter and guided her to the living-room. “I’m going to call Dr. Bennett.” Her voice was worried.
“No,” Diane whispered, “Please mom, don’t. I’m dying, and he can’t help me.”
“What do you mean you’re dying? You look healthy as can be. You’re tired, that’s all. You work too hard,” she scolded.
“No, mom!” Diane locked her with eyes that seemed aged beyond experience. “I need to tell you. I need for you to listen.”
Diane told her incredulous mother the story of the last sixteen years. “It’s true, mom,” she answered the disbelief in the woman’s eyes. “And now it’s running down, and I’m running down with it.”
“But you can’t get time from nowhere,” she protested.
A tear streaked Diane’s left cheek; “I didn’t get it from nowhere, mom. It I had known it was my future, I wouldn’t have spent it. I took it out of the bank account of my allotted time, and there’s no more left.”
They both stared at the blinking read light … and then it stopped.