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“Suzana and the Time-Twisted Trials” (YA) D2 – Shari Heinrich

D2, long at 1324 – where does it drag most? That’ll help me focus on places to kill those darlings.

***

The trumpets tat-a-tat-tatted, a joyous sound raining down around my family, my best friend Ashley and what remained of her family, my good-as-family, all of us in our funeral finery. No black allowed, not when celebrating a life like Ashley’s dad had led.

“Suzana, I still need this hand.”

“Sorry.” I let go. In another time, Ashley and I might have been sisters. Ashley’s dad should have been giving us a hard time about not plotting how to ditch the school’s “citizenship” street patrol. He shouldn’t have been the third Uncertain assassinated in as many weeks.

“Another outfit the combine mangled?” One of the Blaylock twins, a tossup which, slipped that in under her breath. Both simpered at me.

My big toe had shoved through the hole I’d poked in the shoe’s leather tip, so thin I needn’t lie about it being unintended. So what if I’d thrice-mended the socks, their stitches a rainbow of colors from scrap-bag scavenged threads?

“Still sore about Mr. <i><span style=”font-weight: normal !msorm;”>Penderley</span></i> benching you both last Saturday?” I lifted my chin. If I could hold back tears after taking a line drive’s bad bounce in the chin, surely I could hold these back. “You needn’t have come.”

Heads bowed, the two giggled, then, “You’re yesterday’s shortstop after our dad revamps the roster.”

“Leave it to a Certain, taking advantage of loss. Did your dad contract his killing?”

Thinking it was one thing. I so didn’t need Certains grilling our family again. What few barters left might dry up entirely. Ashley’s dad, shot in the head as he drove to work. Was he killed for his determination to keep data safe from the increasing number of hacks? Or for being too vocal that we’d gone off track when the Certains had destroyed all ability to twist time?
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I pushed crates out of the way. They obscured the cellar corner I craved. Why did we keep them? These remnants from a time our neighbors valued us. Thanked us for the service that left us fatherless by bringing tomatoes, potatoes, apples and more by the peck. If I could shove myself deep enough, I wouldn’t have to face the laughter.

A rock rolled underfoot, lurching me into a crate so darkened with age, it might have been the first we received. I grabbed it, prepared to hurl it. An earthy smell teased at me, the ground fresh with rain.

With a nub on the end, and another, impossibly soft against my palm, this was a potato. As shriveled as it was, it clung to life’s promise. The prize belonged in the garden, eyes cut to seed at least two plants. Carefully, I nudged it into a pocket.

As I squiggled out through my wreckage, a ray of sunlight speared through the cellar window grime. It reflected brilliantly off a squiggle in the dirt. The flash of metal disappeared at the base of that oldest crate. Like getting down for a grounder, I slammed down on my knees. Only one metal, one piece of jewelry, had such allure. But it wasn’t possible. The Certains had destroyed every Time-Twisting necklace.

Unless great-grandmother Ida’s story was true? That during the first casting, the family’s best mouser had stolen one before the final spell locking in the magics of twisting time against itself—to step through, amend a past that had led to an unfortunate future, and return to the zero point of the new future? No one saw it again,’gama used to say, probably for the best, because if anyone ever used it, no telling where’d they’d travel.

This thin strand of metal kinked horribly, doubling back on itself, so unlike the fine herringbone strands that should lock together in serpentine grandeur. I’d held only the Learning one, limited to jumps a few days back. But Dad had said it was identical in look and feel to the others my ancestors had crafted in the Time of Calamities. Before he’d vanished, he’d taught me the spell to cast, though I’d never had a chance to try.

The mouser had mangled this, but the necklace still held together. That’s what mattered, right? If only I could free it from its prison without severing it. I needn’t come back.

Fingernail bits shredded off against the hard-packed dirt. I needed a tool to dig, or water to soften it, and I didn’t dare run upstairs. My nails’ state would invite questions. That queasiness of dodging, or lying, never eased up.

A hard bite to my tongue, and saliva pooled up. Taking aim, I spit towards the metal. The shine intensified, the same red-gold as the sketch at the back of our bible. How many times had I snuck a look in the six years since the Certains destroyed all the possibilities?

But the crates yielded a length of cracked-off wood. After a splinter skewered my thumb, I wrapped my shirt tail around it and resumed digging.

An inch at a time, the ground yielded the necklace, until I coiled it in my palm. The red-gold blazed into awareness, the air sizzling. My tears proved the necklace’s power intact.

I should turn it in to Mom. But I hadn’t run to her when I recognized it. Mom would be so scared, she’d surrender it to the Certains, and those rabid leaders would destroy it. There’d never be another chance to change the steps along the past that had led them … here.

A calm curled up in my gut, like when I stared down a pitcher. It brought a certainty more powerful than the potato. I’d test the necklace, my ability. Go back to planting time. If I got back on the spell’s tail, then by now we’d be harvesting a bounty.

Rainbow-stitching led me to the small space on the stairs’ underside. We never stored anything here. This should keep me from being impaled if I stayed with the crates, especially after I’d disturbed them.

The clasp protested, forcing me to pinch harder until it opened. With how the necklace trembled, I had a hard time closing the circle off. Miraculously, the metal held together.

“Each day a need, the seasons twisted,” my voice rasped. I pictured the perfect spring planting day. But what if the necklace had only one back in it? I should save Ashley’s dad.

I let myself remember seasons of softball practices with him coaching Ashley and me. My arm, my swing. Batting cleanup and delivering, like the game where I’d drilled it into right field, legged it into a triple, and led our team to the win.

And if she had only one go, was that the event she should change? What would she do, say, Mr. Penderley, don’t go to work today? And what of each day after? That was not the root of this problem.

When the Certains had taken the necklaces, we’d had no warning, no chance to hide them. That she could change.

Where wouldn’t they look? Nestled in that year’s potato trenches.

That morning, the oatmeal dusted with cinnamon, tickling me awake as the sun joined me, but not a single cock crowed, as if they knew where the day would leave. Mom would still be out in the barn. Plenty of time before the Certains raided us at lunch.

I started the spell again, then moved into “Me duty bound, the wound to mend, ’til next sun rises, sends me back again.”

Fire burned into my neck. The world lurched, like the time I’d played every game in the dusk to dawn tournament, and the next thing I knew, I was looking up at the crappy dugout roof. The water I’d had in place of breakfast spewed out. Sunlight flashed strobe fast, the days spinning back.

Then, pitch dark. Sun creeping. Not a rooster crowing. The morning it all went wrong. And I was the cleanup hitter to put it right, mangled time-twisting necklace and all.
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