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Walk With Me

KM Dailey has been writing novels, short stories, and poetry since her preteen years. Her past work has been appeared in Daily Science Fiction and Deep Magic, among others, and she vlogs on YouTube as the SnarkyPhysicist. You can find updates on her writing and other adventures at kmdailey.com.
There she was, the little girl whose smile would make a ten-year journey worth it. Of course, if she found out who I really was, she would never forgive me.
Sarah crouched beside the creek, dipping a long stick into the water, watching the ripples spread before the current swept them away. I smiled--I remembered doing that, as a child. The wind rustled wisps of her wavy brown hair, revealing and covering the soft, round outline of her cheek.
I took a step forward, and a branch snapped under my boot.
She whirled around, and her freckled face broke into a grin as she dropped the stick and ran to me.
"It's you!" She threw her arms around me.
"Hi, Sarah." I'd forgotten what it was like, to be fearless and show affection so easily.
"Your hair is so long." She ran her fingers through the ends, her blue eyes . "Did you bring anything cool?"
I smiled, shaking my head. "No, I wasn't allowed to bring anything."
"Well, your clothes are kind of neat. All smooth. Really boring color, though."
I glanced down at my gray uniform, then at her bright orange and yellow striped t-shirt, her worn blue jeans. "Let's take a walk."
We walked beneath the trees, Sarah skipping beside me. I had expected seeing her face to be like looking in the mirror, but I found no trace of myself in her. Her skin was perfectly smooth. Her hair was tousled and her clothes wrinkled, but she was too young to worry about it. "So, you're ten, right?"
"Yep." She took my left hand and looked at my fingers. "You're not married!"
I laughed and shook away her grip. "I'm only twenty. Give it a few years. Do you still want to be a ninja someday?"
"I'm not five, you know." She stopped short, her eyes widening. "Why? Are you a ninja?"
"Ha! I wish. I'm in training to be an accountant."
"Oh." Her nose wrinkled. "I wanted to be an astronaut."
I squeezed her shoulder. "Well, maybe you still can be."
Her brow furrowed, and she shuffled her feet.
My watch buzzed. Three minutes left.
"Everything is going to be okay, Sarah." A lie--the lie people made this journey to tell. "Mom and Dad would be very proud of you."
Her eyes shone, and my throat tightened.
I brushed her hair back, and my sleeve slipped. I hurried to pull it back into place, but it was too late. She had seen the tattoo.
Her expression darkened. "You're a part of the agency."
"Sarah, I--"
"How could you? They killed Mom and Dad!"
"I know." I swallowed hard. "I know. Believe me--"
"Who are you? Really?" She picked up a stick by the creek, holding it out in front of herself like a sword. "You're not me. Because I would never, never do that."
"Things change, Sarah, I--"
"Everyone says that. But that--that would never change!"
She charged me, swinging the stick. It snapped in two against my hand, and she dropped it, still shouting, still throwing punches.
Her fists were small and soft, but her rage brought strength and energy that I couldn't defend against. My heart pounded, and I backed up, holding out my arms to block, but she wrenched one of my hands away from my face and struck me again with her other fist.
I couldn't help it. I pushed back.
She fell backwards, tripped over her feet, and dropped into the creek.
A fierce burning in my arm flared up and died suddenly. I pulled back my sleeve--a long scar ran its way across my forearm.
A new scar. My stomach turned. This shouldn't even be possible.
Sarah pulled herself to her knees in the creek, soaking wet and muddy, blood dripping from a deep cut across the arm she'd fallen on. The shape of my scar.
I reached out a hand. "Let me help you."
"Get away!" Tears streamed down her face. "I don't know who you are."
"Do you think I do?" My voice broke. "That's why I came, Sarah, I wanted to remember. We swore never to join the people who killed Mom and Dad. Jeffrey was trying to take care of me, but the company he worked for shut down. Do you know what's it's like to be starving?"
"I would die before I joined the agency."
"You almost will!"
She took a careful step toward the bank. "What are you going to do when you go back to your time? Burn off that tattoo? Run away?"
I let my breath out and shook my head. "I can't."
"You have to!"
I should never have come here. My watch was buzzing over and over again, counting down the final seconds. "I have to go."
"You're not going to go back to the agency. I won't let you!"
I reached into my pocket for the memory neutralizer, and she leapt out of the creek toward me. I gasped and took a step back, but it was too late. She threw both arms around me just as time ran out.
The swirling winds surrounded me--not winds of dust or air, but winds of time itself, ten years' worth whipping through my hair and chilling my skin. Still she kept her grasp on me.
I struggled against her grip. She could not come with me! If she left her own time, she would not grow up to become me. I would never have come for her.
Her hands seared like hot coals against my skin until the breath left my lungs, my blood boiled away and my flesh and bones crumbled into ash, ceasing to exist....
Sarah collapsed onto the cold tile in the time station. Her sneakers squished as she stood and brushed some dirt off her orange-striped shirt. She ran her trembling hands over her smooth forearms.
She was going to be an astronaut.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, August 2nd, 2019
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