Anchor: A Strange Tale of Time
An Illustrated Science Fiction Story by Sara Light-Waller
LUCY DEAN, junior copywriter, clacked away at the typewriter in insolence of her deadline, less than fifteen minutes away. Suddenly, the clattering of keys slowed, then stopped. She frowned at the paper tetchily, then checked the steno pad beside her. Tutting her tongue, Lucy applied an eraser to the paper, blowing the crumbs away afterwards. She contemplated the page with narrowed eyes, nodded slightly, then resumed typing.
She did not notice that the second hand on the wall clock stopped when she did. Or that it clicked back two minutes when she paused to make corrections.
Or even that it moved forward again when her typing resumed.
Lucy withdrew the final page and added it a small tidy pile. She stood, smoothed her skirt, then picked up her note pad and a pen.
Paul Edmonds, the company’s other junior copywriter, zoomed past her desk. His brown hair was mussed and his mustachioed face, shiny with sweat. He paused, unconsciously tilted in the direction of the conference room. “They’re coming up. You ready, Lucy?”
“Sure. What’s got your goat? You look terrible.”
He waved a hand impatiently. “It’s nothing. Just…Mr. Charles is going to be there and I don’t want to be late.”
She grabbed his arm and hustled him into the narrow aisleway between the desks. “We won’t. Chin up, that’s the way. Straighten your sweater, there you go. We’ve still got loads of time, at least three minutes before…ah, there they are. They’re just coming in the main doors now.”
The two writers sat down at the conference room table a full minute and half before the clients walked into the room. Paul leaned in close. “How do you always know?”
She shrugged. “Some people have perfect pitch, I have perfect timing. It’s no big deal.”
Paul opened his mouth to comment further but closed it again as the meeting started.
LEON CHARLES paused beside Lucy’s desk at half-past five. The Vice President of Dean Advertising was a distinguished older gentleman with salt and pepper hair and a square chin. “Are you going hiking again this weekend?”
She glanced out the window and sighed. “I wish I could Uncle Leo, but Dad insists that I go to that conference in SeaTac tomorrow. I’ll be there for the whole weekend.”
Charles frowned in sympathy. “Oh, right. I forgot about that. Look, we all know how hard you’ve been working and we’re really proud of you. I know it’s been tough starting at the bottom, but by the time your father retires you’ll be ready to take over Dean Advertising.”
Lucy made a sweeping gesture with one hand. “And take it into the 21st century! I know.” She offered a lukewarm smile as she picked up her daypack.
“Cheer up, kiddo. Memorial Day’s right around the corner and the Lake of the Angels is waiting for you. Here, I got you an early birthday present.” He pushed a brightly-wrapped bundle into her hands.
Lucy rested the daypack on the desk, then tore the festive paper. Her eyes widened. Under the tissue was an expensive leather journal and a fine pen. Her mouth went dry. She forced a smile. “Oh…wow! Uncle Leo, you shouldn’t have. These are really, really nice.” She swallowed hard as she turned the smooth book over in her hands. Taut fingers dug into the yielding leather. With an effort she relaxed her hands.
Charles didn’t seem to notice. He went on. “It was your mother’s idea. We know how much you love that ratty old journal but I know for a fact that you can’t fit another word into it. This one’s expandable, see? You can put in as many inserts as you like.” He smiled at her encouragingly.
She leaned forward and kissed his cheek. “Thank you, Uncle Leo.”
“So, you’ll use them?” He raised one gray eyebrow in skeptical curiosity.
“Sure I will. I’ll start right after the conference. Promise.” She refolded the tissue and placed the bundle carefully into her backpack.
Charles ran a hand through his hair, expression thoughtful. “Lucy, why not put that old journal away? Some things are better off left behind.”
“Oh no, Uncle Leo, I can’t! I still like to…to read it sometimes.”
He looked at her sadly then let out a long, slow breath. “Alright, kiddo. Enjoy the journal and have a good weekend.” He turned and walked away down the corridor.
LUCY BROUGHT a bottle of wine back to the hotel room with her. Her throbbing head and swimming vision made it hard to fit the key into the lock. After two tries the door opened and she gratefully stumbled inside.
The conference had ended at five followed by drinks and dinner. Her purse was full of business cards, segregated into those she wanted to keep and those of people she never wanted to see again. She put the bottle on the dresser, kicked off her shoes, and slumped onto the bed.
Lucy pressed a hand to her chest and felt her heart lurch beneath the silk blouse. She sucked in a few deep breaths. It was going to be one of those nights. “10:15,” she muttered without bothering to look at the bedside clock. It’ll hit by eleven, just like always. Maybe the wine will help…
Lucy glanced at the bottle, grimaced, then shook her head. Her heart painfully skipped one beat, then another. She swallowed bile. This has been going on for how long now? The doctors can’t find anything wrong. Stupid doctors! Of course, there’s something wrong with me. I have panic attacks that always start at exactly the same time!
The attacks had gotten worse lately. When they happened a few times a year she joked that eleven o’clock was her personal witching hour. She no longer joked about it…