I woke with a start. The sun was just rising. I hadn’t meant to fall asleep on the path. Struggling to stand, I wondered when my joints had become arthritic. No matter, I just needed to get the heck out of Dodge.
Returning to the pier, I stumbled into the rowboat. My fingers, looking more wrinkled than I remembered, fumbled over the knot securing the boat to the dock. So clumsy. I loosened the hitch and pushed off, rowing back to the beach.
The sun climbed high into the sky, yet there was no sign of land. Was I going in the right direction? Had it taken me this long on my way to the island? If I turned off my current course, I could get myself lost. No sense in doing that.
Shore! At last! This time, the rowing exhausted me. I just needed to sit.
Had I fallen asleep again? What was wrong with me? The sun was well on its way to the western horizon. I wanted to return before nightfall, done with this place.
Laboring to my feet, I turned my back to the shoreline and walked. It wasn’t much earlier in the day now than it had been when I got here yesterday.
As the sun sank below the horizon, something caught my eye ahead. Dead grass! An arrow of dead grass, pointing to—what the . . . I stooped and picked up the can I had used to spray the pressurized air onto the grass. It had been brand new when I used it, but rust had ravaged it in my absence. As if it had been here for years.
Gripping the can, I sank to all fours, knees creaking. I crawled into the closed pick safe. Not locked, I hoped. I pushed on the door with tented fingers and it swung open. Lucky.
I clambered out of the safe and into my office. Grabbing the edge of the desk with my free hand, I pulled myself to my feet. I tossed the can into the waste basket before closing and locking the safe door. I’d be content to never look inside that thing again.
Relief at being somewhere familiar relaxed me. Everything seemed in order here. Maybe I’d just go home. Collapsing into bed had never appealed to me more.
Leaving the office, I started toward the time clock. A coworker, Whitney, rounded the corner. I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw her face. She looked twenty years older!
“What happened to you?” I asked, a vague fear washing over me.
“Isn’t it great? They just told me!” She held up her new name badge, proclaiming her the Operations Manager. Promoted? She had just started this week. And what had happened to Amy?
“Hey, are you okay?” Whitney asked as she reached out to take my arm. “You don’t look so good.”
“Excuse me.” I rushed to the ladies’ room. My head reeled. I cupped my hands under an automatic faucet and let them fill with water. The coolness helped as I splashed my face. Glancing into the mirror, the blood in my veins froze.
My brain raced to track every second I was gone. I had feared time moved differently on the other side, but I hadn’t expected this. Certain I’d only been gone for a day, I hunted for a reason to look twenty years older overnight.
I had dismissed my original concern over time, thinking I’d cross that bridge when I came to it. Well, here I was. But how would I cross it? How would I just pick up my life after twenty years, or however long it had been?
Half my life had been lived. The opportunities I had put off were lost to me forever. What had I done?
No, I couldn’t think like that. I could mourn for the time I’d lost, but I couldn’t let it plague me. Like those people in the village . . .
I couldn’t sit back and let the rest of my life pass me by while I waited for something to happen. I’d make something happen.
Before it’s too late to save me, too.