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Thirty Minutes Off
Amber had never been down the wet, murky ally, nor had she ever wanted to. She clutched on to her trumpet case firmly and sniffed the light wind, walking cautiously between the tall houses. Heated metal suffused the air, the scent of burning and melting. Amber crinkled her nose, hoping that the fumes were not toxic. The girl had finished a late band practice at school, and to get home sooner, had decided to take a quicker route. Was that a mistake? No, Amber refused to believe it. Even when she saw a scrawny dog with patches of matted black fur, Amber told herself she was going the right way.
Swinging her trumpet case and humming one of her favourite tunes, the girl’s innocent voice carried ominously up the alley houses and corridors.
Just then, Amber saw someone approaching her.
Amber pushed a lock of red hair from her eyes and stopped humming. Her gate stiffened unconsciously. Light from one of the houses illuminated the misty air in front of the stranger. Amber continued walking, forcing her rapidly beating heart to beat even faster. The way the stranger walked was almost familiar, seeming to make sense; a piece to an apparently finished puzzle.
“Stop!” the person called, running up to Amber with a sense of urgency.
Amber screamed, her voice reverberating up into the dark sky. The voice that had called out to her was her own, and she herself came running at her.
Amber impulsively tossed her trumpet with a yank, sending it bolting at her duplicate. It sent the girl staggering backward on to the wet pavement as the case plummeted into her chest. Amber pushed past the girl who even wore identical clothing and had her exact features.
“No!” the duplicate cried, “I am you!”
But Amber did not listen. She darted down the alleyway, dropping her backpack to increase speed and jumped behind a wall of an entranceway leading to an old store. If she kept running down the lane, the duplicate would see her. She needed a place to hide, so hopefully the copied Amber would run straight down the alley, leaving the real Amber in safety. Amber could hear the pattering of her duplicate’s feet dash up the alley a minute later.
I must be safe here. She won’t think of looking in this place, Amber thought, sinking to the ground and leaning her head back against the brick wall. Her heart was beating up into her ears.
Amber had no idea how this could be possible. She could have imagined the girl to be identical to herself...but could her mind really trick her to such a profound degree?
Maybe I was cloned, Amber thought, her stomach flinching at the notion. As Amber tried to pinpoint who on Earth would clone her, the identical girl appeared in the doorway, holding her chest and breathing deeply. Amber gasped, not believing what was happening—how could she know where I was?
Amber kicked the girl in the shin and pushed her way through the entrance to the shop. A rusty bell chimed, in more of a cracking than a warm welcoming. There was a long counter with a balding man standing behind it, holding a wielder’s torch and a sheet of metal. Around the workshop were metal boxes, some tall and thin with a long door like a refrigerator, others small and square, piled up on one another or stashed in a corner with tangled wiring partially pulled out of them.
“I need to hide!”Amber called to the man, then looked behind her back. Good, the twin had fallen behind.
The man grinned as if he knew Amber, crooked teeth flashing. He put down his equipment. “I have just the place,” he divulged. The man started to walk briskly to the back room of the store. Amber followed, trusting him out of the terror that wrapped her up like an insect wound in a spider’s web.
“Get in here,” the man muttered, pulling open the door to one of the tall metal boxes. The back room was almost identical to the front, but contained wiring and tools scattered over the floor in a terrible meshy jumble. He held open the door, and the sound of the entrance bell sounded sharply.
“Don’t do it!” Amber heard her duplicate shout.
She gasped and looked at the man—she needed to hide. He seemed trustworthy enough, and the duplicate would never think of looking in this particular box. This twin must be here to deceive her, to take Amber to some horrible place. After all, most people would trust themselves.
Before the twin could reach the room, Amber leaped into the box and the man secured it sturdily behind her with a lock. Amber could not see a way to open the box from the inside, but the man would let her out when the coast was clear; Amber saw no benefit in keeping a girl in a metal box.
Then, the duplicated Amber entered the room, banging the wooden door against the wall. Amber held her breath, hoping, hoping that the girl would not come closer...Bang! The box shook and on the back wall a keyboard previously hidden in the dark lit up. The same smell of melting swamped Amber’s senses. The keyboard took up half of the wall with knobs, switches, and flashing lights indicating some warning. The box was a machine.
A long screen with digital numbers read 30 min. Amber bit her lip, annoyed at her ignorance. What had the man put her into? After a few minutes of hearing no voices or footsteps outside, Amber called, “Is anybody there?” She despised how anxious her voice sounded. Amber repeated herself, louder this time. Twin or no twin outside, she needed to get out of this machine and strong fumes.
“Is someone in my machine?” someone answered back.
Amber sighed in relief—it was the man, he would let her out. “Of course!” she exclaimed, “You put me in here!”
Feet pattered hurriedly up to the machine and Amber felt the handle slide and the door open. The look on the man’s face sent a rumble down Amber’s bones. He frowned, curious, and had absolutely no idea who Amber was. Amber quickly pushed her way out of the box, a sense of temporary freedom overcoming her.
“What did you do with my duplicate?” Amber demanded, hoping that if the man had an extremely impairing memory that he would soon recognize her.
Then a gleam aroused in the man’s eyes. “Excellent!” he cried, “You are proof of my genius!”
“What?” hollered Amber.
The man was exhilarated, beads of sweat on his papery skin rolled down the side of his face and he shuffled over to the metal box.
“Thirty minutes,” he muttered, sticking his head in the box. “An improvement indeed!”
Amber frowned, feeling her confidence build into anger and drowning bewilderment.
“You are thirty minutes off, child. You were sent back thirty minutes by this brilliant machine. You’ve defied the arrow of time!” he exclaimed.
The blood rushed out of Amber’s face. A time machine? Had she really gone back in time?
“Send me back!” Amber commanded, “I don’t want to be in the wrong time! I don’t want to be a duplicate!” Now Amber understood; it was vaguely making sense. The duplicate was not a clone, but herself from the future.
The man, unperturbed by Amber’s distress, answered, “I have not invented future time travel, but that is next on the agenda.”
“No!” Amber cried, pushing the man aside. She ran from the room. The Amber in the correct time must be coming up the street. I have to stop her, Amber thought, Before I get trapped in the wrong time forever. Frantically, Amber darted through the room with time machines parts and headed out to the street. She could smell the tangy metal odour in the alley. Down the road was the shadow of a girl humming a tune Amber knew all too well.
“Stop!” Amber called. She started to run up to her past self. The Amber of the past screamed, bringing back yet another recollection to Amber’s ears.
And her own trumpet case smacked her in the chest.
Amber stumbled backward and slammed onto the pavement, feeling air leave her lungs in a sharp bolt. I should have known I would do that, she realized.
“No! I am you!” Amber cried. The pain in her chest and back took over her vision sending her spinning in tight spirals. But she could not give up. Amber could not allow this change of time to occur. All she had to do was prevent herself from going into the shop. She wondered if she herself would disappear if she succeeded, but did not let herself dwell on that uncomfortable detail. Even if she did vanish, the real Amber in the right time would be alive, wouldn’t she? It was all Amber could hope.
Amber forced herself up off the ground, leaving her trumpet case on the wet pavement. As she regained her vision, Amber looked down the alley to see that her duplicate was gone, but she knew where she would find her.
I hid in the doorway, Amber recalled, then scampered after herself. Soon, Amber reached the doorway to that horrible man’s shop. It was so difficult to run with such a paining chest that Amber found herself panting and clutching her heart as she arrived. Before she could say a word to warn herself of her impending fate, Amber got an acute kick in the shin. She crumpled over in pain and heard the rusty door bell chime.
It was too late.
Or was it?
Her duplicate would now be talking to the man; she might not be in the time machine yet. Amber followed her own trail into the shop and to the back room. “Don’t do it!” she cried to herself. The metal boxes around her held a new meaning, reminding Amber of her discord with time.
Before Amber reached the room, she heard the unforgettable opening of the metal box. She pushed the wooden door open against the wall. The tall metal box was being locked by the man, then he stepped back and, alarmed from seeing the new Amber, grabbed a complex remote and punched in a code.
Amber gasped and zoomed over to the man to take his remote. She looked at it in her hand but was dizzied but the symbolic codes and numerous switches. Out of desperation, Amber flung it at the time machine.
The man smiled and shook his head, “The deed was done before you came to my shop.”
Amber gave him a vicious snarl, her hair frizzy and like a provoked red fox. How could he have done this to her?
“There’s no harm done!” the man cried, “Thirty minutes extra won’t kill you!”
Amber huffed, realizing that the tint of burning metal still hung in the air. “How do you know?” she challenged.
The man stumbled over to the wall where his remote had been flung and picked it up, examining the device for damage with his large, rough hands. “Because I’m one year off,” he murmured.
Biting her lip to still her shaking jaw, Amber fled from the room. She gasped in the damp street air with her paining chest. This was my fault, Amber realized, trudging back to her trumpet case. If she never had frightened her past self, she would not have run into the doorway. And if she never pursued the chase, the past-Amber would not have gone into the shop. And her own warning when she entered the store—that is what made Amber go into the time machine! The man was right; the deed was done before the chase by her future self begun.
But maybe it did not matter. Maybe this warp of time would not do a thing to her, like it apparently did not harm the man. But whether she was a minute off or a year off, Amber knew that she would always be at the whim of time. What could she do to change her future? Maybe she had no choice in anything that she did. Although she had trapped herself in a circle of time when she was a subject of the time machine, perhaps she was always in it. Even without Amber’s duplicate, maybe she was a hopelessly predicted human along with everyone else.
Groaning as she bent down to retrieve her backpack and trumpet case, Amber continued down the alley home. She wheezed and sniffled the whole way, hating herself for it. The world seemed strange to her, as if she was not supposed to be here. This was not her time, close, but it was still wrong.
She would always be thirty minutes off.