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A Hazy Shade of Winter

Adam B. Levine is a writer from Southern California. When he's not writing, he really should be writing, the lazy bastard.
That winter, she was getting old.
She had already passed the age that she thought of as "young." Once she was past thirty, she no longer had that feeling of being a child in a grown-up body. (She had felt like an adult, but still had the vague feeling like she was faking it. She wondered if that feeling would ever go away.)
But it was that winter when she started to get old. Well, autumn really. It happened in October, the leaves brown and crunchy beneath her boots, the sound they made like the breaking of brittle bones. She woke up one morning and realized that she was old now. There was no fighting against it, no struggle in her mind, just a sudden realization and that was that. She was old now. No going back.
Of course, that thought immediately slipped her mind when she turned on the news and saw the main story for the day: time travel had been discovered. There was some scientist explaining the basic principles about it on the morning show, but she couldn't understand half the words he was saying. And then there was another scientist--this one was dressed slightly better, his hair styled with mousse--who managed to translate what the first scientist had said into more easily understandable language.
She still didn't understand it. But she didn't need to understand. This wasn't something she would use, she knew. This was for today's era, not for her. After all, wasn't that what old people did? They didn't use new technology and if they did, they most often misused it.
Time travel was for the young, she knew. Let the young have time.
As the weeks rolled on, however, she began to notice that more and more of her neighbors and coworkers were using this technology. Someone at work explained it to her, explained how you could travel back in time, but you couldn't touch anything. You were like a ghost back then, they said, and this stopped anyone from changing the past. (You couldn't go to the future, either, which made the entire discovery something of a wash for some people.) There was a limit to how far back you could go, too--the machine stopped at around a hundred years--but it was still a remarkable boon, especially for police officers who could just go back and see the crime when it happened.
And then, one day, one of her neighbors brought one of the machines over to her house. "I hope you don't mind," she said. "I thought it would be interesting to have in the house, but it's just a distraction for us. My son's always going back and trying to see famous people having, you know, sex." Her neighbor said those words in a whispered tone. "I didn't realize it until I saw the logs of where and when he was going. So I brought it over here. You can certainly use it yourself if you want." Her neighbor then went on to explain how the machine worked, which buttons to press, and then gave her a short, sad smile before leaving.
She looked at the machine and didn't know what to do. Should she use it? She had access to it. Her neighbor's instructions weren't that difficult. But what if something went wrong? What if she got trapped in the past? What would happen then?
But she hadn't heard any news stories of people being trapped. In fact, she hadn't heard any stories of anything going wrong with these trips. Perhaps I'm just being paranoid, she thought. Comes with being old.
Then she looked at the machine and knew what she could do with it. She fiddled with the handle, pressed the correct buttons, and then pressed the green button. Green for go, she thought.
Her surroundings didn't change much. The couch was a little further to the left and the walls were painted a shade of bluish-green--she had never much liked that color, although it took her a while before doing anything about it. She looked around at the house as it had been twenty years ago and then she looked across the room at herself.
Her younger self was sitting in that big comfy chair, the one her parents had owned for years and she had never gotten rid of, and she was reading. She looked young, no wrinkles on her face, no worry lines.
Still gripping the machine, she got up from the couch and walked towards her younger self. She felt weird, like she was invading her privacy, even though she knew that was silly. She was looking only at herself. How would that be an invasion of privacy?
Her younger self turned the page and then yawned.
She had the sudden urge to shake her younger self violently, to yell at her, to tell her that she shouldn't yawn, she shouldn't be sleepy, she should go out and do things and read all the books she wanted to read and meet all the men she wanted to meet and do everything she wanted to do. The urge only intensified as she saw her younger self fall asleep, the book slipping down into her lap, the page number lost among all the other pages.
She shouldn't be here, she knew. This wasn't her. This was a completely different girl. And she? She was just a shade. They were all shades, ghosts of the present haunting the past, waving their arms in impotence and futility. This wasn't her. This was someone else completely.
She turned the machine off and the house reverted back to the way it was, the way it would be twenty years after she had fallen asleep reading.
She put the machine away in her closet.
And then she put on her jacket and her boots and walked outside, braving the knifing wind and stepping on the bone-brittle leaves.
And she didn't look back.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

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