I was inside the bathroom in my apartment. My boyfriend Richard was pounding on the door. “You better come out of there, Cathy.”
It was early evening, but Richard was already drunk. Back when we first started dating three years ago, he never got this drunk. Now it seemed like he was drunk all the time. Sometimes when he got like this, I could talk him down.
“I’m trying to pee, Rich. All that pounding isn’t helping.” I wasn’t trying to pee at all. In fact, I was standing next to the sink, hugging myself, staring at myself in the mirror and wondering if he was going to hit me again. There were still traces of a bruise on my cheekbone from last week. “Why don’t you just go into the living room and wait for me? I’ll be out in a minute.”
“Do you think I’m a fucking idiot? I know you’re just hiding in there from me.”
It would have been hard to explain away the bruises, but Richard made pretty sure that I never saw much of anybody these days. I supposed that was something, anyway. “Richie,” I said in my most calming, sweet voice, “you’re overreacting.”
“I know what I heard. Don’t tell me I’m overreacting, you lying, cheating bitch.”
Sweet voice, bad idea, apparently. I tried to remember how all this had started. I’d been on the phone with someone from customer service, because our internet was down. Richard had been slamming whiskey. Suddenly, he’d ripped the phone out of my hands and started screaming at me. According to Richard, the tone I’d been using with the customer service representative had let him know that I was only pretending to call about the internet and that I actually had a secret boyfriend who I was flirting with.
“You were coming onto him right in front of my face.” There was another slam on the door. He was going to break the damned thing down, wasn’t he? “I heard you, you bitch. Now come out of there and take your licks.”
That’s what Richard called it. Licks. Take your licks. Like I was some snot-nosed kid, and he had to teach me a lesson. “I’m really just trying to pee,” I said. How much more time could I buy in here?
Richard’s voice was ugly. “Stop lying to me.” Another crash against the door. He must have used his whole body. The bathroom door strained against its hinges.
I cringed, thinking of our security deposit if I didn’t come out. I tried my best to keep Richard from completely destroying our apartment, but it generally meant that I ended up distracting him with wailing on me instead. I didn’t know how things had gotten this way. Things hadn’t been this way in the beginning. I wouldn’t have ever moved in with Richard if things had been like this back then. But now Richard was all I had. My only family—my brother Reese—had disappeared earlier this year. Richard didn’t let me work anymore. I was trapped.
I flushed the toilet. “Okay, I’m coming out. But let’s try to talk about this for a little bit, please.” I opened the door.
Richard snatched me by the hair and dragged me out of the bathroom.
Pain shot through my skull. I bit my lip to keep from crying out. If I made noise, Richard just got angrier. “I swear to God, I was only talking to customer service.” I sounded whiny and high-pitched from the pain. I knew my tone would just piss Richard off worse.
Richard slammed me up against the wall in the hallway outside the bathroom. “Stop lying to me. I know what I heard.”
The phone started ringing.
“Let the machine get it,” Richard snarled. “You’ve got licks to take. I’m going to make sure you understand never to run around on me again.”
The phone was still ringing. “How could I be messing around? I never leave this house. I never talk to anyone—”
“Shut up!” Richard pulled back his fist.
I cowered, bracing myself for the blow.
The machine picked up. “This is Cathy and Rich. Leave a message,” said my cheery recorded voice.
“Catherine?” said a female voice that I’d never heard before on the machine. “Duck!”
Richard’s fist hurtled through the air towards my face.
I ducked. I wrenched my shoulder out of his grip and dropped to my knees.
“That’s a good girl,” said the voice on the machine. “Now run! Run for the door.”
Richard shot a funny look at the answering machine. “Who the hell is that?”
“Never you mind who it is,” said the machine.
Both of us froze then, staring at it.
“Stop wasting time, Catherine!” snapped the voice on the machine. “Run! Get to the door. Do you want him to beat you senseless again?”
“Who the fuck is that?” roared Richard.
“I don’t know,” I said.
He grabbed at me. But for some reason it seemed like the voice on the machine was talking sense. Sense for once. I didn’t want him to beat me again. I didn’t want anything to do with him, drunk, angry man that he was. I looked up at him, and instead of my boyfriend, he looked like a monster from slasher movie or something, his face contorted, his eyes burning.
I dove out of his reach, still on my hands and knees.
“Cathy, stand still and take your licks,” said Richard.
“Catherine,” said the machine, “by all means, do not stand still. Get the hell out of there. Now!”
I stumbled to my feet and raced for the door.
Richard lumbered after me, but he was drunk, and his reaction time wasn’t great.
I made it there without his hands on me. I flung the door open and sprinted outside.
Across the street from the apartment, there was a woman in an open doorway. She waved at me. “Catherine, in here!”
She had the voice from the answering machine.
I shot a glance over my shoulder. Richard was right behind me. “Get back here, you fucking bitch!”
I ran for the open doorway.
The woman moved out of my way as I streaked inside. She pulled the door closed after me.
Out of breath, I surveyed my surroundings. I was in an empty pub. A long bar ran along one wall, complete with swivel stools. Behind the bar, I could see an assortment of bottles of liquor. This was strange. Richard and I had lived in our apartment for two years. There was no bar across the street. I looked up at the suspended lights that hung from the ceiling and then over at the pool table in one corner. What was this place? What was it doing here?
The woman from the doorway was leaning against the closed door. She had short-cropped curly hair, bright eyes, and she wore an oversized pink t-shirt over bright green leggings. “You’re welcome,” she said.
I gazed around the bar again warily. “Thank you.” At least I thought I wanted to thank her. “Did you just open this bar?”
“Nope.” She crossed the room and settled behind the bar. She gestured in front of her at the empty bar stools. “Have a seat.”
I didn’t move. “Because I’ve never seen this place before.”
“Of course you haven’t. Usually it’s not here,” she said. “Would you like a drink? After that, I think you’d like a drink.”
I folded my arms over my chest. “Did you call my answering machine?”
“Yep.” She grinned. She turned to her vast liquor collection. “What’ll it be? Something stiff? Bourbon on the rocks?” She turned back to me to gauge my reaction. “No? Maybe something fruity, like a rum runner? I make pretty excellent rum runners if I do say so myself.”
I walked over to the door of the bar. I started to open it. I wanted to know if Richard was outside, following me.
“Don’t do that!” She was out from behind the bar and beside me in seconds. She wedged herself between me and the door. “You really can’t go back out there.”
“But what if he’s outside? What if he comes in?” Really, we were just two women. Maybe Richard would decide the kooky bartender wasn’t much of a threat.
“He won’t,” she said. “He can’t. Not anymore.”
“What do you mean?” I was beginning to feel very, very confused.
“Just sit down and let me make you a drink, please.” She gestured at the bar. She’d already gotten out a carton of pineapple juice. It was sitting unopened in front of a stool.
I did like rum runners. I chewed on my lip. “I don’t have any money with me.” I’d kind of run out in a hurry.
“On the house, of course,” she said. She smiled again.
I looked back at the door. I looked at the pineapple juice. “Okay, I guess so.” I went to the bar and sat down.
The bartender returned to behind the bar and began to mix together various juices and rum. “I’m Elegy Flynn,” she told me brightly. “And I think I got to you just in time.”
“How did you…” I didn’t know how to frame the question. She’d talked to me on my answering machine. “Could you hear Richard talking from over here?” Of course, that wouldn’t explain how she’d seen what was going on. She’d told me to duck.
“Oh, all of that kind of stuff about me is just a lot to take in. Let’s get to that to that in a little bit, shall we? Calm your nerves. Have a drink.” She set a tall glass in front of me, complete with a paper umbrella and a straw.
I leaned forward and took a hesitant sip through the straw. It was hands down the best rum runner I’d ever tasted. “That’s good.” Wait. Everything was extremely strange right now. “What do you mean, just in time?”
She leaned over the bar and caught my chin with one hand. She turned my face from side to side, looking me over. “Ooh! That’s a nasty bruise you’ve got there. But don’t worry. It’ll heal.”
I ducked away, embarrassed.
“He hit you a lot, didn’t he?”
“N-no,” I said. I didn’t want to tell my troubles to this stranger, even if she was a bartender. “I ran into something. I fell down—”
“Please.” She waved her hand in the air to stop me. “He’s a jackass. He was going to kill you. You’re going to be okay now, though. You’ll see.”
Kill me? “Sometimes Richard just gets drunk. He gets a little out of control. But he’s not a bad guy. He takes care of me. He makes good money. We’re happy most of the time.”
“Sure.” She began putting the juices she’d used to make my rum runner under the counter. “As long as he doesn’t decide out of the blue that you’re cheating on him for no reason, he’s a prince.”
I took another drink of my rum runner. “How do you know that?” I was beyond denying it as this point. This was all too weird. What the hell was going on here?
“I know lots of things,” said Elegy. “But we don’t have to dwell on unpleasantness. You’ll never see him again, so we don’t have to talk about him if you don’t want.”
Never see him again? “I’m sure he’ll be there when I go home.”
Elegy made a face. “Home. Right.” She took a deep breath. “Listen, I guess I should explain something. When I stopped you from going out the door, it was because you really can’t leave this bar. Ever.”
I got off the stool. “What are you talking about?” I suddenly wasn’t sure that dealing with Richard beating me wasn’t better than this place, where I was completely confused.
The door to the bar swung open. A man walked in. He looked to be in his late twenties. He had a Mohawk and wore a beat up leather jacket over shredded jeans. A cigarette dangled out of his mouth. “Jesus Christ, Elegy, where have you been?” He had a British accent. “I’ve been stuck in the Middle Ages for weeks. Do you have any idea how dirty those people are?” He sat down next to me on a stool. “Oh, hello, Catherine.”
I took a step backwards. “How do you know my name?”
He gave me a funny look. “Well, you’re Catherine, aren’t you? You travel around in the bar with Elegy. You’re like her sidekick.”
Elegy put an ashtray on the bar in front of the man. “Timelines are different for us. I’ve just met Catherine, actually. Just picked her up.”
The man stubbed out his cigarette, raising his eyebrows. “Oh. It’s your first time here, then?”
I put my hands on my head, grasping at my hair. “I have no idea what’s going on here!”
The man approached me, hand outstretched to shake. “I’m Kellen Henley. I’m a volur. I travel through time and fix mistakes, stop paradoxes from happening and the like.”
I glared at his hand. “Travel through time?!” This was ridiculous. One second I was waiting for Richard to hit me, the next everything wasn’t making sense. I was getting out of here. I ran to the door the bar and threw it open.
“No!” yelled Elegy.
I stopped short. Outside the bar, instead of the street to my house, was a dirt road and a bunch of dilapidated little houses. There were chickens wandering through the street. Women in long dresses carried baskets of vegetables.
Elegy slammed the door shut. “I thought I told you that you couldn’t go out there.”
“What happened to my apartment?” I said.
Elegy put her arm around me. “Nothing happened to your apartment. It’s still right where you left it.” She led me back to the bar. “It’s just that the bar moved. Have some more of your rum runner, why don’t you?”
“How does a bar move?” I put my hands on my hips and refused to sit back down at the bar.
“Well, it’s not really a bar, of course,” said Elegy. “It just looks like a bar. It can look like whatever it wants. It’s actually a praxidikai.” She patted the bar. “It’s alive.”
“Take me home,” I said.
“I can’t,” said Elegy, looking apologetic. “You don’t want to go back there anyway, not really.”
Kellen was back beside me at the bar as well. He was studying my face. “Where’d you get that nasty bruise?”
I touched it. I didn’t want to go back to Richard’s fists. But all of this was too much to take in. I felt like I was going absolutely insane.
“Her boyfriend did it,” said Elegy to Kellen. “He was about to start hitting her again when I intervened.”
“So that’s why you picked up Catherine?” Kellen said. “I always wondered why.” He considered for a moment. “Actually, Elegy, that’s not like you at all. Didn’t you just change fate there? Isn’t that, you know, bad?”
Elegy glared at him. “You want a drink?”
“Sure. Double screwdriver,” said Kellen. “If you keep her in the bar, what happens to the rest of her life? All the things she’s supposed to do in the world?”
“You can’t keep me here for the rest of my life,” I said.
Elegy went behind the bar. “Maybe we should just start from the beginning.” She got out a glass and filled it with ice. “In the late twenty-first century, humanity discovers the time portals.”
“The what?” I said.
“Time portals,” said Elegy, grabbing a bottle of vodka from the shelf behind the bar. “They are rips in the fabric of time. If you go into one, you can travel in time. They’ll take you wherever you want to go. Well, whenever you want to go, more accurately, I suppose.”
I sat down heavily on the stool. “Time portals.”
Elegy poured vodka over the ice. “At first, they set the time portals up as some kind of amusement park. A tourist attraction. But then the governments wise up in about fifty years and they regulate them and only let people use them for research. Still, you’ve got people who still find ways to break into them to go back in time and mess things up. They do it for fun, or because it’s illegal or because they’re insane. And they create all kinds of nasty issues.”
I took a gulp of my rum runner, not even bothering with the straw.
“That’s where I come in,” said Elegy. “I’m a goddess of Fate.”
“What?” I nearly spit out my rum runner.
“Fate,” said Elegy. “You’ve heard of us, right? We’re all over mythology. In the Greek stuff, with the spinning and the one eye and the Norse stuff too? Come on. Moira? Norns?”
“But that’s all mythology. It’s not real.”
“Well, they’ve got a whole bunch of it wrong, of course,” said Elegy. “But there are Fates. And I’m one of them.”
I snorted. “So instead of spinning threads of life, you’re tending bar?”
Elegy splashed orange juice into Kellen’s drink. “I sort of got demoted.” She gave the drink a stir and then slid it across the bar to Kellen. “So instead of making fate, I just correct it now.”
“I think you’re crazy,” I said. “I think this whole place is crazy.”
“Look,” said Elegy. “It’s not difficult to understand. You’ve seen Back to the Future, right?”
“That Michael J. Fox movie?”
“I love that movie,” Kellen spoke up, sipping at his screwdriver. “I just can’t get enough of Christopher Lloyd.”
“Right,” said Elegy. “Well, in the movie, you remember how he’s got that photo, and he and his siblings are disappearing out of it because he’s messed with the past?”
I squinted. “Sort of. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen that movie.”
“Well, that’s what I do. I fix things that people mess with in the past so that the future isn’t screwed up.”
I took another drink of my rum runner. I was remembering more and more about those movies. “But when you change something in the past, doesn’t it create like a parallel world or something? Like in the second movie, when Biff takes that score book back to the past?”
“There are no such things as parallel worlds,” said Elegy. “That’s just completely made up.”
I had to laugh. “Right. But bars that move position and the Fates are real. I get it.”
“When you mess up something in the past, you mess up everything,” said Kellen. “See, if I decide that I’m going to go back in time to fix something, and I fix it, then when I get to the future, I don’t need to fix it anymore, so I won’t go back in time, therefore I can’t have fixed it. It’s a paradox. Paradoxes make the fabric of time completely unravel. Everything gets screwy.”
I blinked, trying to follow what he’d said. “Paradox.”
“Yeah.” Kellen lit a cigarette. “So what I do is I go back and stop people from changing things, so there aren’t any paradoxes.”
I looked at Elegy. “I thought that was what you did.”
“Sort of,” said Elegy. “I can’t actually leave the bar. It’s a praxidikai. It imposes justice. It’s kind of like my prison.”
I made a face. I was really, seriously confused.
“It’s a long story,” said Elegy. “At any rate, I pick up the volurs, like Kellen here, and then I take them back in time, and they fix paradoxes. The minute one happens, I feel it, and I know where we need to go to correct things.”
Kellen took a drag from his cigarette. “Which reminds me, what are we doing today?”
“Someone killed Hitler again,” said Elegy.
Kellen groaned. “Seriously?”
“Isn’t that a good thing?” I asked.
“Weren’t you listening about the paradoxes?” Kellen asked. “It’s not a good thing.”
Right. Paradoxes. I tried to remember what Kellen had said about paradoxes. I squeezed my eyes shut. “I don’t believe any of this.” I looked at the door. “What was out there, anyway?”
“The Middle Ages,” said Kellen.
No. That couldn’t be true. I couldn’t be in a completely different time. I shook my head. “I want to go home.”
“You can’t,” said Elegy. “I feel like we’re going over the same stuff over and over again.” She picked up my glass, which was mostly empty. “Want me to top off your drink?”
“No,” I said. “I want everything to stop being absolutely insane right now. I want everything to go back to normal.”
“But that’s what we do,” Elegy said. “We make everything go back to normal.”
Kellen puffed on his cigarette. “So what part of Hitler’s life am I going back to this time? Is it World War I? Is he a struggling artist?”
“Nope,” said Elegy. “He’s a kid.”
“A kid?” said Kellen. “That’s kind of sick.”
Elegy shrugged. “Eight years old.”
“Who would do something like that?” Kellen put his cigarette out, looking disgusted.
I chewed on my lip. “Well, it is Hitler.”
They both glared at me.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s just that it’s the ultimate question, isn’t it? Everyone’s wondered what they’d do if they got the chance to kill Hitler. Most people would do it.”
Kellen shook his head. “Don’t I know it? How many times have we been back here to save Hitler? Eleven? Twelve?”
“Our timelines are different,” said Elegy, smiling.
I finished the last of my rum runner. “You said that before. How does that make Kellen know who I am, anyway?”
“Well,” said Elegy. “Think of it like this. We drop Kellen off in 1965 today. When we pick him up again, he’s in 1130, where I dropped him off last week. For us, a week has passed, for him, only a few hours. So, timelines are different. In our future, we’ll pick up Kellen again. It just so happens that our future is Kellen’s past. Make sense?”
Sort of. Not really. “Maybe I do want another drink.”
“Coming right up,” said Elegy.
The door opened and Kellen walked back into the bar. I was on my fourth rum runner, and I was feeling a little woozy. Near as I could tell, the only way to deal with this craziness was to be drunk. I didn’t want to believe that I was stuck in a time-traveling bar, but when we’d stopped to let Kellen out, I’d looked out the door. Another completely different place. Either I’d lost my mind, or it was true.
“That was quick,” Elegy said cheerily.
“I was too late,” said Kellen. He walked over to the bar and threw himself onto a stool. “It was awful, really. They pushed him off a high wall, and he fell down. His skull was cracked open. He looked so small. He’s only a kid. I yelled at the guys who did it. They seemed upset about it, actually, but fat lot of good that did them.”
“Guys?” said Elegy.
“Teenagers,” said Kellen. “Probably from the twenty-third century by the looks of their clothes.”
Elegy raised her eyebrows. “Must have been kids who snuck into a portal to mess around, then. They weren’t thinking their actions through. Killing someone, even if it’s Hitler, is a pretty big deal.”
I leaned forward on the bar. “Well, isn’t this bad, then? Isn’t there going to be a paradox, if Kellen didn’t stop it?”
“There’s a paradox, all right,” said Elegy. “Open the door a crack and look outside.”
“Why?” I said.
I went to the door and opened it a few inches. Outside, the sky had turned a strange red color and all of the houses were floating in the air. I slammed the door shut. “Why is that happening?”
“Everything gets really weird when the fabric of time starts unraveling,” said Kellen.
I was having a hard time catching my breath. “And this isn’t a parallel world? Because the sky did not turn blood red in the 1890s. I would have heard about that.”
“We’ll fix it,” said Elegy.
“And all the people who are witnessing this right now?”
“Won’t remember it,” said Elegy. “Once we go back and stop these kids, their memories will change and the paradox won’t have happened.”
“Unless you’re like me,” said Kellen. “That’s why I’m a volur. I remember a paradox happening. It completely freaked me out. One minute everything was all floating and falling apart and the next minute it was normal again. I tried to talk to people about it, and they just locked me up in a mental facility.”
“That’s when I got the message to go pick him up,” said Elegy. “The Fates can’t have people wandering around remembering the paradoxes, so we put them to work fixing stuff. There aren’t very many humans who would remember, anyway. Those who can are like seers. We call them volurs.”
“So you can’t go back to your life anymore?” I asked. “You have to wander around in time fixing stuff?”
“Pretty much,” said Kellen.
“Does that piss you off? Do you want your life back?”
Kellen shrugged. “Well, there’s Elegy now, isn’t there? She’s kind of a nice compensation.” He waggled his eyebrows at her.
Elegy laughed suggestively. “Later, you.” She set a shot glass on the bar and poured some whiskey into it.
I looked from Elegy to Kellen. Were they like…a couple? They did both dress equally badly.
“So how are we going to fix this?” asked Kellen. “I can’t cross my own timeline.”
Elegy drained the glass of whiskey and shivered. “I need liquor if I’m going to deal with teenagers,” she told me. She turned back to Kellen. “I’ll go back to the point in time where they got out of the time portal, and I’ll open the door of the bar and you can yell for them to come in here.”
Kellen looked around. “In here? It’s a bar, and they’re teenagers.”
Elegy filled her glass again. “Oh, yes, well, I’m sure you never drank alcohol when you were a teenager either.”
Kellen shrugged. “Good point.”
Elegy looked up as if something had changed, even though nothing has as far as I could tell. “We’re here.”
Kellen started for the door.
“Hold on,” I said.
They both turned to me.
“If they see dressed like that, doesn’t it, you know, confuse people? I mean, wouldn’t your clothes mess with the fabric of time?” I asked.
“Fate fabric,” said Kellen. “These clothes will look like they belong to whatever time period I end up in. They’re made especially by the Fates for volurs.”
“He’s not leaving the bar, anyway,” said Elegy. “The bar can make things look however they need to look.”
I nodded. “But your clothes really look like that?”
He must have noticed something in my tone. He lifted his jacket and surveyed himself. “What’s wrong with the way they look?”
“You just both like of look like rejects from videos on MTV in the 1980s,” I said.
“I like the 80s,” said Elegy.
“I’m from the 80s,” said Kellen.
Okay, then. I went back to my drink.
“Be back in a sec,” said Kellen. He went over to the door of the bar and began yelling.
“He’s definitely got a cute ass,” said Elegy.
“Are you guys like dating or something?” I asked.
“Absolutely not,” said Elegy. “Volurs are only good for occasional rolls in the sack. You can’t get serious about them. Besides, he’s human. I’m a goddess. Explain to me how a relationship like that could ever work.”
“So you’re like fuck buddies.”
Elegy made a face. “That’s so coarse. Really.”
I toyed with the straw in my rum runner. “So if I met a nice volur, could I date him? I’m not a goddess, after all.”
Kellen was still yelling. He was apparently having a long, involved, shouted conversation with the time travelers.
She pursed her lips. “I thought you’d be all sworn off men after that jerk beat you black and blue.”
What was I thinking? I had a boyfriend. Maybe he was right that I wanted to run around on him. Maybe I did deserve what he’d been about to do to me. I was going to find some way back to Richard, eventually. Of course I couldn’t date guys like Kellen, even though he did have a cute ass. “It was just a hypothetical question. I won’t be here long enough to form any kind of attachments. You’re taking me home after we save Hitler.”
“Sweetie, really,” said Elegy. “I’m beginning to think you might be deaf. You can’t leave this bar. Ever. What part of that isn’t making sense?”
That made me angry. “You can’t keep me prisoner here.”
Elegy poured more whiskey into her shot glass. “Here, you might need this.”
The smell of whiskey made me think of Richard. I shook my head. “No. And I’m not staying here.”
“You have to,” said Elegy. “You see, if you leave the bar, then you’ll be back in the regular time stream of the world. And you won’t belong in the time stream. If the Fates see you out there, then it’ll be curtains.”
Kellen’s voice had become more cajoling. He was saying something about beer.
“I’ll belong in my own time stream. If you take me back right to the point where I ran away from Richard, then it shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Well,” said Elegy, “you see, you weren’t supposed to run away from Richard. I sort of interfered.”
“Why does that make a difference?”
“Because, if I hadn’t interfered, Richard would have—”
Kellen came back over, dragging along two kids by their collars. One of the kids was wearing a large puffy metallic jacket with fringes at the elbows. The other had on tight purple bib overalls. I guessed fashion took a turn for the worse in the future.
“This place doesn’t look like it belongs in 1898,” said one of the kids.
“Twentieth century all the way,” said the other one. “What the hell is going on?”
“It’s like I’ve been trying to tell you,” said Kellen. “You can’t kill Hitler.”
The two boys couldn’t have been older than sixteen. They swiveled back and forth on the stools at the bar while Elegy made them drinks. Their names were Derek Yost and Henry Underwood.
“I can’t believe you’re serving us,” said Derek. “What kind of bar is this anyway?”
Elegy set a drink down in front of him. “I can’t believe you’re traveling in time. What kind of society lets underage people through a portal without supervision?”
Derek and Henry exchanged a guilty glance.
“We kind of snuck through,” said Henry.
Elegy set a drink in front of him too. “That’s what I thought.” She rested her elbows on the bar. “Teenagers. All set out to rebel against everything and don’t even take the time to realize they might be ripping apart the fabric of time and space.”
Derek and Henry looked at each other again.
“Uh,” said Derek. “What are you talking about? We’re just trying to save people’s lives.”
“There’s a thing called a time paradox,” said Kellen.
Elegy waved a hand at him to stop him. “Let’s not even get into that for a second, Kellen. There are all kinds of reasons why killing Hitler is a bad idea, even if it doesn’t cause a paradox.”
Henry held out a hand to Derek. “I told you it would cause a paradox, buddy. Pay up.”
“No way,” said Derek. “I’m not paying until we try it and see what happens.”
“You did try it,” I said. “And it did cause a paradox. I saw it.”
“We did not,” said Henry. “We just freaking got here, when he—” he jerked a thumb at Kellen— “showed up and dragged us here.”
“Right,” I said, “but we came directly from the future, where Kellen saw you do it, and then everything completely got messed up.”
Derek eyed me suspiciously. “Who the hell are you guys anyway?”
“We’re the time police,” said Kellen. “Elegy, can I have another screwdriver? Dealing with these guys is making me crazy.”
“I’ve never heard of the time police,” said Henry, crossing his arms.
“Who we are is not important,” said Elegy, getting the vodka to make Kellen another drink. “But Catherine’s just brought up a good point. The first reason why you shouldn’t kill Hitler.”
“Oh yeah?” said Derek. “What’s that?”
“Taking a human life would take a psychological toll on both of you.” Elegy scooped some ice into a glass and began to pour vodka in it. “If you kill someone, it eats you up inside. You’re too young to set off down a path like that.”
“Killing Hitler wouldn’t do that,” said Henry.
“When he’s eight years old?” said Kellen. “You probably can’t even imagine what it would be like to see his little body lying on the ground, his skull cracked open, blood everywhere. The knowledge that he was a living, breathing person one minute and that you stole it from him.”
Elegy poured orange juice into Kellen’s drink. “It would either make you wracked with guilt or drunk on power. You’d either become frightened headcases or little mini-Hitlers yourself. Human life is sacred.”
“If you really thought human life was sacred,” said Derek, “you’d let us kill Hitler. He commits genocide, or did you forget that?”
Elegy stirred the drink and gave it to Kellen. “Oh, Hitler’s a bad man, all right. But you shouldn’t have any control over what he does. You should only have control over what you do.”
“If you’re stopping us from killing Hitler, then how do we have control over what we do?” said Henry.
Elegy got out a shot glass and filled it with whiskey. “Teenagers,” she muttered. She slammed the shot back.
“Wait,” I said. “He has a good point. I mean, if you’re fixing time so it runs properly, then that means that things are already decided, right? So, if there’s fate, and you’re enforcing fate, then people don’t really have free will, do they?”
Elegy glowered at me. “Sure there’s free will. As long as you’re moving forward in time, there’s free will. But once events happen, they’re woven into the fabric of time. You can’t change them just because you want to.”
“But you can move all around in time,” I said. “So that must mean that the fabric of all time is already woven, isn’t it? From your perspective?”
Elegy shrugged. “I guess so.”
“So, then everything’s set. It’s fated. There’s no actual choice.”
“Catherine, we’re getting off topic here,” said Elegy. She turned back to the boys. “Let me make this simple. You can’t kill Hitler, because even if you could be successful, you’d completely destroy the timeline of humanity. Nazi Germany is responsible for rocketry and highway systems and medical advances in cancer and Volkswagens.”
“Volkswagens?” said Derek.
“I forgot there are no cars in the twenty-third century,” Elegy muttered. “But do you see my point?”
“Yeah,” Henry said. He looked down at the bar.
Interestingly, neither of the boys had touched their drinks. I wasn’t sure why that was. Maybe they didn’t feel comfortable drinking in front of Elegy. She was kind of letting them have it.
“There’s also the time paradox issue,” said Kellen. “See, if you change something in the past, then in the future, you can’t be motivated to go back and—”
“We know what a time paradox is,” said Henry. “That was half the reason we did this anyway.”
Elegy raised her eyebrows. “It was?”
“We had a bet,” said Derek. “I said they wouldn’t happen. Because people have been using the time portals for hundreds of years, and nothing bad has happened so far.”
“That’s because people like me are out busting my ass stopping you idiots from screwing everything up,” said Kellen.
“The time police,” said Henry. “That’s crazy.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty cool,” said Derek.
“People are still saying cool in the twenty-third century?” I asked.
“The bar translates things,” said Kellen. “You hear your own language. That includes slang.”
I looked around at the bar again. It was pretty amazing, wasn’t it? Could any of this possibly be real? Really? I turned back to the weird kids from the future. Yeah. It was real. Or I was crazy. Either way…
“The real question is,” said Elegy, “why are two kids like you making bets about time paradoxes instead of living it up? Don’t you have friends? Girlfriends? Lives?”
Derek and Henry both stared at the bar.
“We’re not exactly popular,” said Derek. “We thought maybe if we did something big, like kill Hitler, then…”
“Then you’d get a date,” said Elegy. She rolled her eyes. “You really didn’t think this through, did you? If it had worked, no one would have known Hitler ever lived in the first place, would they?”
“I guess not,” said Henry.
Elegy gestured at their drinks. “Drink up, boys.”
“Go ahead,” said Elegy.
Derek took a tentative drink.
“Look,” said Elegy, “you’re obviously pretty intelligent guys, if you’ve thought through time paradoxes. And you’re brave too, if you went ahead and snuck through a time portal. So my guess is that all you need is a bit of confidence. Which you’ll find in the bottom of those drinks. Go ahead, drink.”
Henry took a drink.
“Here’s what’s going to happen,” she said. “You’re going to finish your drinks, and I’m going to drop you off right wherever all the girls hang out, and then, knowing full well that you’re worthy of them, you’re going to march in and talk to them.”
“Um…” started Derek.
“Nope,” said Elegy. “No arguments. You can do it.”
An hour later, I was sitting on a couch that I didn’t remember seeing when I first walked into the bar. I didn’t want to think that it had just materialized on its own because I wanted something to sit on besides a bar stool, but there it was.
Elegy had gotten the kids nice and tipsy and then dropped them off in their own time, making them promise never to mess with time ever again. Then she’d told me I could amuse myself by reading some magazines, and she and Kellen had disappeared into a room behind the bar for a long, long time.
Occasionally, I heard muffled noises that let me know what they were doing. It was a little embarrassing.
I tried to concentrate on the magazines that Elegy said I could read, but I couldn’t help but think about how completely strange everything was all of the sudden. What was I doing in a time-machine bar with a Fate and a volur and teenagers from the future who tried to kill Hitler? Also, my rum runner buzz was wearing off. I hadn’t realized how much easier the alcohol had been making it to accept everything.
I thought about Richard. I remembered how he used to be nice and sweet. I remembered how controlling he’d gotten lately. I wondered if I really did want to go back, assuming I could even convince Elegy to take me back. She’d seemed pretty adamant that I wasn’t going anywhere.
Kellen wandered out of the room in the back. His hair was a little mussed. He was carrying his leather jacket. He came over to me and threw it over the arm of the couch before settling down next to me. I looked around for Elegy, but she didn’t seem to be following him.
“I think she drank too much whiskey,” Kellen said. “She’s sleeping it off.”
“Oh,” I said. “I wasn’t aware that goddesses could get drunk.” Or have sex with people, for that matter.
Kellen laughed. “Elegy’s quite a believer in alcohol. Nothing a good drunk can’t fix, according to her.”
I thought of Richard. “I don’t think being drunk’s really a good cure for anything.” It made Richard meaner, that was for sure. “What kind of damage did she do to those kids, teaching them that they have to get drunk to talk to girls anyway?”
He shrugged. “She’s a Fate. She’d know if she was screwing anything up too bad.”
Kellen leaned back on the couch. “I kept telling myself it was because the timelines were messed up.”
“What? The fact that Elegy drinks a lot?”
He chuckled darkly. “No. The fact that she doesn’t feel the same way about me as I do about her.”
I sat up straight on the couch. “See, that’s the problem with the friends with benefits thing. It’s never mutual. Someone always wants more.”
Kellen looked stricken. “Is that what she said we were? Friends with benefits?”
“Well, not exactly. I think her exact words were something along the lines of, ‘Volurs are only good for a roll in the sack.'”
Kellen stood up from the couch. “Volurs? As in plural?” He looked at me sharply. “Does she sleep with the other volurs?”
I shrugged. “How would I know?”
“Oh right. It’s your first day in the bar.” Kellen walked over to the pool table. “It kind of sounds like she does, though, doesn’t it?”
“I…” I didn’t know what to say.
Kellen selected one of the cue sticks that was hanging on the wall. He tested its weight. “She’s just so amazing, you know? How could a guy not fall for her?” Kellen started putting balls up on the pool table. He didn’t rack them up, though. Instead, he just started aimlessly hitting balls around the table.
I got up and went over to him. “Maybe she just can’t like you back that way or something. She is a goddess after all.” Hadn’t Elegy said something like that? Hadn’t she said there was no future in the relationship?
Kellen didn’t look at me. “Yeah, I guess it would be tough for her. I’m nothing special.”
“I’m sure that’s not true,” I said. “You, um, you seem good at pool.”
Kellen shot me a withering look over his shoulder. “You’re really not very good at cheering people up, Catherine. I’ve told you this before.”
“Yeah, well, I haven’t heard it before,” I said. I guessed I wasn’t much of a cheery person. “Besides, you think you need cheering up? I’ve basically been kidnapped. She said she won’t take me home.”
Kellen set the pool stick down and leaned on it. He studied me thoughtfully. “She took you away because your boyfriend was hitting you, huh?”
I went back to the couch. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“That’s not like her,” said Kellen. “I’ve been travelling around with her on and off for a long time. She doesn’t do things like that. She doesn’t help people.”
I picked up a magazine. “She helped Hitler.”
“Because she’s supposed to. Because that’s the fabric of time. She doesn’t do things that would mess stuff up. Why would she snatch you right out of your timeline like that?”
“You’ve met me before,” I said. “Haven’t you asked me about this already?”
“You were always just here,” he said. “I never thought about how you got here. You don’t talk about it.”
“Maybe I want to go back.”
“To your abusive boyfriend?”
“Maybe it’s better than being stuck in a bar completely out of time for the rest of my life.”
“No way. It’s awesome here.” He hung the pool stick back up. “Look, I’ll make you another drink. A drink’s always good.”
“Are you both functioning alcoholics or something? I don’t think a drink is going to make everything better.”
But Kellen was already behind the bar. “I don’t know if I can make anything as fancy as Elegy did. But I can throw together a cranberry and vodka or a seabreeze if you’re interested.”
I went over to the bar. “I don’t want a drink. I want to go home.”
Kellen bent down behind the bar. “I know the cranberry juice is down here somewhere.” Abruptly, he stood up again. There was a piece of paper in his hand. “Whoa.”
“Whoa?” What was that piece of paper? It looked like a newspaper clipping. It was narrow and folded on grayish paper.
“What day was it when Elegy picked you up?”
“No. Like the date.”
“August tenth. What does that have to do with that piece of paper?”
“And the year?” Kellen asked.
“Two thousand eleven. Is that important?”
Kellen swallowed. He set the piece of paper down in front of me. It was from a newspaper. It was an obituary. My obituary. I read it through once. Then I read it again. My hands were shaking. “Is this a joke? Where did you get this?”
“Your boyfriend was going to kill you,” said Kellen. “If Elegy hadn’t brought you onto the bar, you’d be dead.”
“No,” I said. “Richard would never have done that.”
“Are you sure?”
I remembered his angry, contorted features. I wasn’t sure. I picked up the obituary and read it again. “So she saved my life,” I whispered.
“It makes a little bit more sense,” said Kellen. “I mean, if you were dead, you would have been out of the fabric of time anyway. Your thread would have just stopped. So if you’re in the bar, then you don’t mess anything else up. It’s kind of the same thing, from the perspective of time.”
“Being in here is like being dead?”
“Is there vodka when you’re dead?” Kellen lifted up a bottle of cranberry juice triumphantly. “Sure you don’t want a drink?”
“Yeah,” I said absently. “Okay.” I was supposed to be dead. Elegy had saved me.
“It still doesn’t make sense, though,” said Kellen as he put the drink together. “Why you? Why would she save you, when she lets everyone else die?”
“Maybe I was lonely.” Elegy was standing in the doorway to the room behind the bar. “Maybe I wanted someone to hang out with me on my own timeline for once. All you volurs experience everything completely differently than I do.”
“Th-thank you,” I said. “I mean, for keeping me from being killed.”
“No problem,” said Elegy. “Kellen, who said you could mix drinks? This is my bar. I mix the drinks.”
“Lonely,” said Kellen. “I don’t buy it. You’re not lonely. You’re Elegy Flynn. You’re a Fate.”
Elegy gave Kellen a little shove out of the way and took over where he’d left off making the drink. “I could be lonely.” She put a hand on his cheek. “You’re a fantastic lay, but you’re not the greatest conversationalist.”
Kellen looked hurt. “Well, you don’t really talk to me much, do you?”
She kissed him. “You’re too gorgeous. It distracts me from talking.”
Kellen shook his head. “Right. Whatever.” He stalked out from behind the bar.
“Did I say something that pissed you off?” Elegy asked.
Kellen picked up his jacket from the arm of the couch. “You just can’t take me seriously, can you?”
Elegy looked confused. “I didn’t know I was supposed to.”
“Of course not.” He shrugged the jacket over his shoulders. “Where’s the bar right now? Are we still hurtling through time?”
“No,” said Elegy. “I left it in the twenty-third century.”
Kellen headed for the door. “Great. I’ll hang out here then.”
“I can take you somewhere else,” Elegy said. “Why don’t you let me make you a drink? A drink will make it better.”
He shook his head. “Not really. I’m trying to have a dramatic exit here.” He started to open the door. Then he paused. “You had that obituary, so you planned to pick up Catherine. You knew it was going to happen, and you went and got her. So she’s important. You wanted her. You didn’t do it just because you were lonely.”
“Kellen, wait,” said Elegy.
Kellen opened the door and ducked outside, slamming it after him.
Elegy sighed. “I guess we weren’t exactly on the same page about what sex meant in our working relationship.”
“You think?” I said.
“He’ll get over it,” she said. “Or at any rate, I’ll pick up Kellen from a different point in the timeline next. Some time before he got mad.”
“Well, that’s healthy.”
She didn’t say anything.
“Why did you save me?”
She shrugged. She stirred the drink she’d made and gave it to me. “I just did. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, okay?”
I realized now that I didn’t want a drink. I looked at it, but I didn’t drink any of it.
“You’re supposed to be dead now,” she said. “While you’re in the bar, it’s okay, because in the bar you’re out of time. But if you go outside the bar, the Fates will see you. They’ll kill you. You have to stay in here now. It’s the only way you’ll stay alive.”
I nodded. It could be worse, I supposed. I could be dead. What the hell? I took a drink of the cranberry and vodka. At least the drinks were good here. And free.
“I didn’t ever want to hurt him, you know,” Elegy said.
I looked at her.
“Kellen,” she said. “I didn’t want to hurt him. It’s just…” She looked around the bar, and she suddenly looked very sad and very old. “Maybe I am lonely.”
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