April 4th 2016: Inspired by The Gift of the Magi
The Revengineers
, by David Court

That bitch.

I glance over at the bedside clock and the bright red digital display passively informs me that it’s approaching 5 a.m. The irony is that I’ve spent so long worrying about how little I’ve sleep I’ve had, that it’s ending up keeping me awake – and at this bloody rate I know I still will be when my alarm goes off in around ninety minutes. Even now I know I’ll be watching each of those minutes count down, the clawing feeling in my gut tightening as they tick by. (I know that strictly speaking digital clocks don’t tick, but forgive me – I’m exhausted).

I’d count sheep but thanks to a traumatic incident in my childhood, they terrify me.

I’ve had a restless night with my still wide-awake brain dedicating its valuable processing time into either worrying about what time it was or mulling over what she’d said to me at the party last night. She wouldn’t be lying awake angry and upset – of course she wouldn’t. She’d be fast asleep now, probably smirking as she’s dreaming of how she humiliated me at the party.

She’ll wake up shortly, bright as a button, gorgeous even without make-up and she won’t remember a single thing about last night. That barbed comment she made that left me reeling and has kept me awake as I’ve been dwelling on it? It’ll be completely forgotten. She’s mastered the art of being a bitch so well now it’s second nature to her – much like breathing, or spending others people’s money.

It’s been weeks since she left me now and I’m finding it hard to believe I ever had any feelings for her other than a heady and toxic combination of disgust and hate. I’ve never really considered myself that shallow, but what in all honesty did she ever have going for her other than her looks? She was spiteful, selfish, self-obsessed and a variety of other character traits beginning with an “s”. And they just were her good points.

I start the mental exercise of counting all the vile things about her personality and before I know it the alarm clock is bleeping angrily and it’s time to get up. I drag my exhausted carcass out of bed and shuffle walking dead style towards the bathroom.

#

“You’ll never find another woman like me.” she’d hissed into my ear venomously as we’d unfortunately found ourselves standing next to each other at the buffet. It hadn’t dawned on me for a single moment that she’d be at the same party but with the benefit of hindsight why wouldn’t she have been? Here I was at an event thrown by one of the few friends who hadn’t taken sides after we’d split up.

I was knocked for six and could little more than stare down dejectedly at the handful of dry roasted peanuts and breadsticks that adorned my paper plate. She hovered there for a few seconds waiting for a reaction that would never come, before spinning on the spot and sliding away. I swear that the room grew warmer by a few degrees as she left my presence.

“You’re going to break that keyboard if you hit those keys any harder”

I looked up to see the concerned face of my colleague Dave peering over the low partition that formed the boundary of our cubicles. He was nodding towards my screen. Turning to look at it there were just a jumble of random characters – I must have zoned out and spent God knows how long hammering on whatever key was nearest.

“Now I know you’re not drunk,” whispered Dave, “because you left the party hours before I did. It was her, wasn’t it?”

Dave had given the same intonation to the word “her” as one would use to address an angry god. He hated her almost as much as I did.

“Is it that obvious?” I asked.

“After you’d left without saying a word she was strutting around all night like she owned the place. I heard her and her coven barely lowering their voice as they were saying your name and laughing for most of the night. Sorry, dude.”

“Bitch. She manages to do it every fucking time.” My fists thudded onto the keyboard which caused half a dozen windows to unexpectedly -pop up. “Look, Dave. I can’t concentrate today. I’m going to use some flexitime and go home and sort out my head and I’ll make up the time tomorrow.”

“No worries,” smiled Dave, “but you gotta promise me you’ll stop thinking about her. She clearly can’t survive without belittling you, but you gotta move on. You’re better than her.”

“Cheers, man.” I said as I stood up and patted him on the shoulder. “I’ll try.”

#

A combination of an afternoon bottle of cheap cash-and-carry sauvignon blanc and three supermarket own brand lagers (heroically freed from the mould wall at the back of the fridge) and I’m drifting off to sleep, sprawled out across my sofa.

I’m dreaming about last night. I’m standing at the buffet again and I hear her voice in my ear. I turn to face her and she spits out that sentence again – “You’ll never find another woman like me”. I snort with derision and slowly lift myself up to my full height before leaning in as close as I can get. I arch one of my eyebrows, open my mouth, and reply with…

Nothing. Nothing comes out. I’ve lost the power of speech. I’m standing there choking like a landed fish as she stares at me incredulously. I’m just starting to turn red when she smirks and slowly walks away defiantly.

My arms flail and I’m suddenly wide awake, the cat that had decided to use my face as a cushion sent hurtling across the room with an angry meow. My eyes blink at the light and I’m suddenly sitting bolt upright. The television is still on and there’s an old episode of Dad’s Army. A monochrome Captain Mainwaring is half way through chastising Private Pike moments before arcs of static explode onto the screen and the cheap Ikea lamp next to the TV begins to strobe on and off.

I’m about to get to my feet when the light and television return to normal. Well, normal in every sense apart from the fact that the grainy black and white staring face of Arthur Lowe is beginning to emerge from the screen.

His mouth is moving but nothing but a bee-like buzz can be heard. Mainwaring’s voice begins to increase in volume and I can start to make out words amongst the white noise.

“ZzzsszzzStupidBoyzzZzzSummoningzzEqualizzzingzzDimensionzzzzzzz”

I’m pushing myself back into the sofa as Lowe stretches a hand out of the screen towards me, his colourless fingers grasping at the air.

“zzEqualizzingDimensionszzz”

My ears suddenly pop and the sudden and unexpected pain of it causes me to wince and I close my eyes. When I open them again moments later Grudge-Mainwaring is gone, and the television is showing the Dad’s Army end credits. There’s a voice to the right of me.

“Dimensions Equalised.”

I cower back against the sofa as I turn the face the source of the voice. It’s a tall man wearing a black suit and a bowler hat. For a moment I think I recognise his face but as I stare at him I can see that it is constantly changing. The nose broadens and then begins to thin out, the brow shifting slowly. The eyes flicker through a variety of sizes, the colour and the size of the pupil different from one second to the next. The man’s face is in a constant state of flux and it’s at once both fascinating and terrifying.

I’d always thought I’d have a witty line to hand if I ever met something – however unlikely – either alien or supernatural in nature. As the representative of mankind I’d hoped I’d be brave, confident and suave.

But the first thing I could think of to say?

“Who… who are you?”

That’s right. That old cliché. And even that came out stuttered and took two attempts.

“Do not be alarmed.” it said, palms held out towards me in a gesture of capitulation. “My card. I have/will presented/present it to you.”

His right hand, thin, pale and elderly, reached into his inside breast left pocket. An eggshell white business card emerged, held tightly between thumb and forefinger. He handed it to across and I cautiously took it from him.

On the front of it, a quote in a neat and crisp embossed and italicised Garamond font.

“Time flows over us, but leaves its shadow behind”

I gingerly turn it over as he stares down at me smiling and I look at the single name printed on the other side of the card, capitalised, bolder and larger than the text on the reverse.

THE REVENGINEERS

He smiles as though the name is supposed to mean something to me. It’s quite disconcerting to be presented with a grin that changes shape every tenth of a second – from beaming teeth to a rictus smirk through tightly pursed lips. I shrug, nonplussed.

“I don’t understand.”

The man looked to the ceiling as though carefully considering his words before staring back at me.

“Occasionally an opportunity presents itself. A window of opportunity. A tiny window. You can crawl through this tiny window and things can be changed. The universe sees them as little things, you see them as big, I think?”. He suddenly let out a single laugh, a weird abnormal sound like someone who didn’t understand the concept of laughter doing a poor impersonation of someone doing so. It sounded fake, unnatural and forced.

“We will tell you what to say and send you back. When she says the words, you can give our reply. She will be devastated. And that’s our price promise.”

I’m tempted to laugh him out of the room but then I remember what I’ve seen already tonight. If he can manifest himself in the body of a sitcom character from 45 years ago then it’s possibly feasible that time-travel might not be out of the boundaries of this unusual visitor’s skillset.

“So, let me get this straight. You’ll send me back in time to the party and when she says… when she says what she says, you’ll have given me a killer comeback to respond with?”

“Correct. And then you will return here – to this place and time now. But what has been said will have been said, and the impact stamped/made on history.”

“Okaaaay.”, I pondered. “You said something about a price promise – how much will this all cost me?”

“This manipulation of time comes with a cost. Your payment will be in life. One year from your lifespan.”

“So, I’ll die a year earlier than I will do if I don’t make the deal? That seems a little excessive.”

The figure did that weird laugh again before replying.

“Not to worry that is to say we take it from the end. Ha ha ha. It’s your choice entirely, but what real effect will it have on you? You may live to fifty; you may live to one hundred. One year all relatively minor in the scheme of things.”

One year? It’d be worth it just for the look on her face. An opportunity to finally have the last word – the chance to shut her up once and for all.

“I’ll do it.”

He placed one hand on one of my shoulders and leaned in closely, whispering.

“Now look into my eyes and concentrate on them.”

I did as he asked and he placed his other hand on my other shoulder and began pressing down slightly, exerting the slightest amount of force. His face continued to shift but now his eyes remained static. The pupils were growing, filling the entirety of the eyeball with a dull black void. I gasped as I realised the inky blackness of the pupils was pouring out of his eyes and spreading across his face, obsidian tentacles reaching out to brush against my face.

I opened my mouth to scream but then found myself suddenly wandering towards the buffet table at the party. She was there staring at the food, blissfully unaware of my existence. I suddenly realised that he hadn’t given me anything to say but then the words suddenly appeared in my mind, twelve feet tall, a legend in rock and flame.

I took a deep breath and cracked my knuckles and took up my position behind her in line.

Just as last night she was suddenly aware of somebody standing behind her. She turned to face me and her expression dropped as though she’d just trod in something nasty. I’d go along and play the game and decided to do exactly what I’d done last night and asked her how she was.

Her eyes sparked with fury and her face contorted angrily. “You’ll never find another woman like me” she hissed.

I allowed a beat to pass and then replied with what the man – the thing – had told me. An invisible studio audience applauded as the words left my mouth.

“Well, that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?”

I couldn’t help but smirk as I waited for the expected result as she let that sink in. However, my comeback had only made her angrier and she leaned in even closer, uglier and more hateful than ever before and whispered coldly to me.

“Yes. You did say you were only going to stick to women in your lower league this time around.”

What? This wasn’t supposed to happen! She was supposed to be devastated! My grin sank into a visible expression of disappointment as my surroundings faded and I was back sitting on my armchair in my living room. The strange man was standing over me, grinning.

I stood up and stared him in face, both angry and confused.

“What happened there? She should be distraught now, but she got the upper hand!”

“Dear me, sir,” he said as he straightened his collar and took a step back. “I never said that our services were exclusively available to you.”

Realisation dawned as he spoke again, barely loud than a whisper this time.

“…but for just one more year, Sir. Just one more.”

It was going to be a long night.

*

David Court was born and resides in the Midlands, UK with his patient wife Tara and his three less patient cats. When not reading, drinking real ale, writing software for a living or practicing his poorly developed telekinetic skills, he can be found writing fiction and has had a number of short stories published in anthologies including Fear’s Accomplice, Terror at the Beach and Caped along with contributions to the Twisted Dark and Twisted Sci-fi series of graphic novels. He’s written two anthology collections, The Shadow Cast By The World and Forever and Ever, Armageddon and will be releasing a third, Scenes of Mild Peril, in 2016.


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