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The Reunion

Louise Hughes is a time traveler of limited scope, so she writes speculative fiction to travel that little bit further. Her stories have previously appeared in Strange Horizons and Kzine.
We agreed we would meet up for the ten year reunion and so, without even a phone call, each of us made our way back.
I waited for Martha at the airport in the rain. There were trains waiting beside the platform, bright adverts in their windows encouraging me to climb on board and head south towards the sun and beaches of the coast, but we did not take a train. Rain dripped from her hair to her grin. We wove through the stationary cars on Main Street, hauling our small cases along the pavement, dodging puddles. We weren't quite ready for conversation.
At the university, when we saw the once-familiar signs more worn than we remembered, we giggled our way down the hallways.
Len greeted us with a smile, Elspeth always the quiet one hanging back at his side. For the first hour we talked in spirals, round and over each other, competing with the lives we'd made. Like a game of cards, each of us raising the bet. Len had photographs of his children, Martha of her house in the countryside where she and her husband had adjoining desks and took tea in the rain. Elspeth looked away for a moment, fingers twisted in her lap.
She'd carried on with the work.
Silence fell.
I broke it, bemoaning the days it had taken to get here from my outpost in the mountains. I'd had to go into town and put my cameras and other equipment in storage.
"Someone spied a mountain lion and her cubs just last week and I had hoped..."
Len laughed, humorless. As if he thought mountain lions were less important than shares but wasn't quite sure. Then he suggested we go down to the bar. There were paper frills of green, fake palm trees, and plastic tables painted with suns, streamers everywhere for a party. But it was too quiet. Elspeth could not sit still and Len's voice boomed.
"How long are we going to put this off?" Martha asked.
"Ten more years," I tried to smile but lost it in the nausea. I'd hoped I could be buoyant but I was lead. I sank even more as we climbed the stairs. Our footsteps squeaked. We passed from light to shadow and into light again. Tall windows lined the way to the library. We turned away when we saw the doors shut tight.
Elspeth strode ahead. I paused to read the curled flyers on a noticeboard above a rusting heater. They were out of date. Someone should do something about it. I yanked each one from its pin-hold in turn then carried on with the fistful of anticipation in my hand.
"Have you told them." Elspeth waited at the door, one foot holding it open. I stopped, eyes on that blue tile floor, dread growing. It took me a while to drag my eyes from them to notice what Elspeth had in her hand. Photographs. She went through each, turning them to face us and proclaiming a name. Both men and women smiled up at us. Len shoved his hands in his pockets and tried not to look.
Martha folded her arms. "And they are?"
With her hand on the door handle and her eyes on the final photograph, Elspeth tried to smile. She looked like she was about to be sick, and most likely so did I.
"They are the ones I wanted to tell," she said and turned away.
The door flapped shut behind her. Len heaved a deep breath and blew it out again, looked around as if expecting us to share his disbelief. I pushed past and entered the lab. I just wanted it over now. Part of me thought it might help to see the place again, in all its polished white perfection. The part of me that always thought we'd run away from here too quickly, too eager to throw ourselves into new lives. I found Elspeth sitting in her old chair, staring at smashed glass.
"I wonder," she said, staring up at a circle of red on the ceiling. "How long that alarm went before the battery died. How long their televisions and their radios kept on playing? I wanted to count how many there were once, but I heard Len telling me not to. I know they're probably still investigating."
She laid her head on the desk and the plastic muffled her words. "I just want my name back. I liked who I was. I had a life without secrets and didn't know how beautiful that was."
"I'm sorry," I said. Not just to her. "It was an accident."
As much as over-confidence can be accidental. Even now, after years of sitting in the mountains with my camera, with all those hours free to think it over, I don't know whose fault it really was. Who pushed the final switch or made the fatal calculation. I've decided it was Len. Who wouldn't? He seems the type.
We returned to the dusty common room after that, drank the bottles we had brought and reminisced into the night. Somewhere between midnight and dawn, I think I even forgot for a moment what we'd done and what we'd failed to do. In the morning, we packed our bags, collected up the empties and walked back down the main street to the airport. It took longer this time because I counted each car, for Elspeth's sake, I told myself.
We joined the tourists from the trains, heads down like them. We muttered goodbyes. Len made a joke about twenty years and all our withering glances drove him away. I shook hands with Martha, hugged Elspeth, and departed. Never to talk to them again.
I read the flyers on the plane home. All the parties, dates, and theater productions that had never happened.
The city full of skeletons we'd made was probably glad to see us go. They wouldn't want us dancing on their graves.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, October 14th, 2014


Some stories, however simple, require a lot of thought and planning. On the one hand, it took me a couple of days to write this story. On the other, it took me three years.

- Louise Hughes

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