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How Not To Time Travel

Melody lives in the Bay Area with too many plants and never enough books. Sometimes she writes stories. This is her first published work.

The first time you do it, you fear you've gone insane. You trip over a pile of clothes you meant to put away and become displaced, watching as your phantom twin enters and trips in a synchronous motion. With an intake of breath you're back, shivering on the floor, running fingers over familiar worn patches in the carpet, and swearing never to do it again. But you do.
The next time you're laughing with friends and you sip your drink a little too fast. You inhale on a giggle and cough, spraying Ellen, the newest and most tentative addition to your circle, with body-temperature soda. You watch as the scene plays out again like a scratched record. Sip, cough, spray, repeat until you look away and are back in your seat, apologizing profusely, dabbing at Ellen with cheap napkins, and ignoring the rising flush creeping over your face.
You will never be one hundred percent sure why it happens, but you notice patterns. 1) Each jump, as you call them, is accompanied by a specific sensation--a deep cringe that starts inside you and expands outward until it feels like the entire universe is cringing. 2) The jumps are brief, just long enough for a memory to play, and then replay until you look aside. 3) You are invisible, a passive observer. 4) You never go anywhere pleasant. Not once.
Habit slides into compulsion. You say the wrong thing at a party, jump. You fart on a first date, jump. You stumble over words during a presentation, jump. You forget someone's name, jump.
In one particularly entrancing tableau you're in a dive bar. You watch yourself in that sublime state just before you realize you're drunk. The people you're with are almost friends, but not to the point that you no longer care what they think. You make some joke that falls flat and then rush to cover the silence and your voice goes up an octave and shakes, just a little. No one else notices but you remain there, transfixed, for a lifetime.
Over time you start to fray. Facets of your personality get tangled up and left behind as you flit from scene to scene. You begin to feel as though you're tied together by invisible filaments, not a person but a spider web of moments. You spend an entire day forgetting that you're in the present.
From the outset you hold onto your talent like a bubble, afraid to breathe too much let alone talk about it. And you're not sure how to explain, not really. But as you stretch thinner it gets harder to keep it a secret.
You're curled under heaping blankets on your best friend's couch after a particularly circuitous day when you decide to tell. You offer it up like something delicate made of spider webs and soda spit and garbled words. You're not sure what you expect but he reaches over and hugs you, and in that moment you don't want to be anywhere else.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, March 1st, 2021
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