Killing Time Sample

 

Chapter 1

Sunny Skies Turn Gray

 

 

Wednesday, September 8, 2004, just north of Orlando, Florida

 

Ronnie Andrews pushed the grocery cart down the aisle, the wonky wheel pulling the cart to the left, trying its best to derail the buoyant feelings bubbling up inside her. She felt so free, so alive. Apparently, almost dying did that to you.

It was Ronnie's second day sprung from the joint (the hospital) and a decent meal was at the top of her list of things to accomplish with her new lease on life. With a spring in her step, she sashayed down the next aisle. Her inner voice urged moderation, to save her energy for more important things. Ronnie was halfway down the lane before she realized what was wrong. The shelves were nearly bare. She grabbed the only six-pack of toilet paper that remained, super ultra-luxury, like the last-picked rich girl at the schoolyard game of tag.

Bummer, since the contents of her refrigerator sat rotting in a trash bag in her garage, with the power out for the last five days. She'd already restocked the damn thing three times since moving here almost a month ago. Hurricane Charley had led the welcoming party only three days after she’d moved from out of state, and a few weeks ago she’d moved into her first home.

Hurricane Frances had run wild over the land last weekend, likely stalling all the trucks sent to resupply battered Central Florida. It would be slim pickings until the roads were all cleared, and normalcy could return. Ronnie longed for normalcy. The entire summer had been fraught with turmoil. From here on out it should be easy breezy as she settled into her new house and new job.

“No worries, I'll make something amazing with what's left,” Ronnie mumbled to herself, glancing at the cart's contents—pickles, peanut butter, sundae topping but no ice cream, and a box of raisins. “Oh, who am I kidding? This is pointless.”

On her way to the register, she found a carton of eggs and a lone wedge of twelve-dollar cheese, hopefully not too weird-tasting. She passed on the stray olive loaf at the meat counter.

Undeterred, she turned the corner, ready to pay for her meager supplies, and was greeted by a huge line. The buoyant mood slipped a little and Ronnie pulled it up like an errant sock, hoping to salvage the day.

An elderly lady smiled at her, shaking her head. “You have about as interesting a selection of crap as I do.”

Ronnie laughed, noticing what was in her cart. “I see you’re going to have jelly sardine sandwiches tonight!”

The woman smiled and shook her head. “How can there be a line with so little to buy here?”

Ronnie glanced around, shocked at how many people were there.

The woman reached for a pack of gum, tossing it in her cart. “Did you hear the weather forecast? Another storm is coming. They'd better get something here or we're all going to starve to death. It's not like we can go hunt for our dinners.” She shook her head and pressed her lips together in disapproval.

The smile fell from Ronnie's face. “Another storm? Are you sure? We've already had two major hurricanes. Isn't that enough for a decade or two?”

“This one has already set major records. They call it Ivan, and I'm nicknaming him Ivan the Terrible. Can you believe it? It's supposed to be worse than Charley and Frances. I'm not going to have any trees left! I've already lost two.”

Fear coalesced inside Ronnie's brain, turning it to mush. “I just moved here a few weeks ago from Virginia. I've got rather bad timing. I hope your house is okay.”

She nodded. “Piss poor timing, sweetie. Luckily, it just messed up the yard. My begonia bed is destroyed.”

Ronnie had been lucky. She'd only had slight roof damage. “I didn't hear about Ivan. My power's been out, and I just got out of the hospital.”

“Oh dear, well you look fresh as a daisy. Just be ready. Ivan is going to hit Florida. Now we wait and see if it's like Charley, fast and dirty, or Frances, a long, hard screw.” She winked. “If I were you, I'd move back to Virginia where you came from. Florida is being punished for something. I don't know what, but we have to repent or be sacrificed.”

“I'm tempted to do just that.” Ronnie considered driving back to her mom’s for a while. Her new friend checked out and waved. Ronnie paid for her meager supplies and rushed her cart out to the car, all buoyant thoughts rained out. Should she head north? Her mom could take care of her while she recovered. A crushing, oppressive wave of nausea mixed with the hot humidity of the parking lot washed over her. She could not go back to her old life in Virginia. She needed to face what was happening here. Was the woman right about Florida being punished for something in its past? Was she being punished for a wrong choice of her own? Ronnie took a few deep breaths.

A few minutes later, Ronnie's new lease on life was delivering a painful dose of reality. She turned on the radio, impatient for the ads to be over. Orlando's rush hour was full of angry, sweaty people honking their horns in an attempt to force traffic to move again. The pocket opened, inching them all along, until it stopped suddenly. Ronnie had to slam on the breaks to avoid hitting the car in front of her, causing a new cacophony of horns rising like the crescendo in a symphony.

The carton of eggs she'd carefully placed on the passenger seat smashed to the floor, much like her day. Ronnie reached down to salvage what she could as the honking continued. Traffic moved ahead, leaving a huge gap between her and the car in front. A man drove by giving her the finger.

“That was totally unnecessary, sir!” Ronnie yelled.

Finally, the commercials were over and Terry James, the local TV weatherman, was back on the radio. “The latest track of Ivan shows the potential for landfall in Florida a pretty good certainty. We are still watching this one closely because it is breaking records with every news cycle.”

Ronnie turned up the volume so she wouldn't miss a single word.

“On September third, as we were preparing for Hurricane Frances, Ivan set the record for the most southerly location for the formation of a major hurricane. Within six hours it set another unprecedented record for the most southerly location for a Category 4 hurricane. Today it is approaching Jamaica as a strong Category 4. There is a lot of warm water for it to strengthen further on its northerly journey towards the Sunshine State.”

“Crap!” Ronnie smacked the steering wheel, realizing it was now covered with sticky, raw egg.

Terry continued, “As has been characteristic this summer, the wind shear is absent, allowing perfect conditions for strengthening. I see Ivan reaching Category 5 over the next few days.” Terry signed off and the station picked up its regular programming.

As she took the exit off I-4, a few splatters of rain smacked her windshield, making her heart leap into her throat. Ronnie drove the last few minutes to her house, contemplating the uncanny bad luck of moving to Florida during the worst hurricane season in decades.

On Friday, she would be a Florida resident for one month, and in that time two major hurricanes had devastated a huge swath of Florida. One from the Gulf Coast and the other from the Atlantic, marking a huge 'X' with her house as the intersection of the two. It couldn't have been better executed if it had been planned.

Ronnie tamped down the panic. The storms, as bad as they were, were nothing compared to what happened to her while they raged. Inexplicably, the hurricanes carried her back in time to horrific conditions, ultimately leading inevitably to her death in various gruesome ways.

Fighting tears, Ronnie pulled into her driveway just as the sky was about to open up. She grabbed the groceries and dashed the ten feet to her covered porch, the smell of rain permeating her nostrils.

What a contrast. When she'd left the house, optimism had been high. Now she felt trodden upon. Everything Ronnie had found comfort in before she'd moved here had been overturned, rummaged through, and stepped on, leaving her feeling alone, damaged, and unsure of everything she thought she knew about the world.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

Trust Your Gut

 

 

Ronnie unlocked the door, and a meowing, white blur ran towards her, then stopped, flattening its ears against its skull. A clap of thunder echoed across the hardwood floor. The cat followed Ronnie to the kitchen, where she tossed the broken eggs and washed her hands.

She scooped up her white Persian cat, Fluffy, and clutched the terrified animal to her chest, petting her soft fur. “It's okay, Fluffy. Everything will be okay.” Letting the words soak into her own frazzled soul. Would it be okay?

Ronnie reached for the TV remote, clicked on Channel 13, hoping for more information. Terry James, the lead weatherman, was in front of the green screen, excitedly giving fair warning to whoever would listen. He was showing the cone of uncertainty for the likely path of the storm. Orlando was dead center, but most of Florida was as well because the storm was still so far away. The radar depicted its looming red circulation churning in the Caribbean, poised to hit Jamaica and Cuba.

“Damn it. When is this going to stop?” she demanded.

Terry James shrugged as if in response. “Florida can't seem to get a break. We will watch this storm closely as it develops. The warm sea temperatures make it ripe for further development. This year is proving to be one of the most severe in decades. Stay with Channel 13 for updates on this evolving situation.”

Ronnie clicked the TV off and paced across the living room, trying to tamp down the panic that was threatening to push her blood pressure to near bursting. Fluffy sensed her distress and rubbed against her face, purring into her ear. Ronnie buried her face in the soft, white fur. “Fluffy, I will not be so stupid this time. I am leaving town no matter what!”

During Hurricane Frances, she’d tried to head north to her mom's house in Virginia, but fate had intervened. Fate or her boyfriend Jeffrey. He hadn't exactly been her ally in the effort to get ahead of the storm. Instead, he had been more interested in getting laid than letting her evacuate, and it had almost killed her. This time she'd not let anything get in her way. Screw Jeffrey and whatever he had in mind. Screw work, screw anything that put her in the path of another killer storm.

Thunder crashed again and Fluffy jumped from her lap and ran to her favorite hiding place, under her bed. Ronnie wished she had somewhere to hide. It felt like an oppressive weight was closing in on her, the open portal to another place and time looming overhead to take her away to a more dangerous and deadly one.

She tried to shake the feelings of doom and gloom and walked to the kitchen to put away the groceries. The torrential rain out her back window made her pity her neighbors who had so much damage to their properties. What havoc would this thunderstorm bring to their already soaked homes? Ronnie felt lucky to have a roof over her head and a meal in her own home. Even a weird haphazard one was a blessing. Despite her anger towards Jeffrey, he had come through, swiftly hiring a crew to repair her roof before she'd been released from the hospital.

Ronnie put away the cold foods, barely filling one shelf in the fridge. She would give anything to have a few quiet weeks to recover. If she were to believe the doctor, her mother, and Jeffrey, the time traveling was not real. According to her mom, the visions were just a manifestation of her broken mind brought on by the stress of moving, and a rare disease called Korsakoff syndrome. The doctors still had no logical explanation on how she’d contracted it, but the lack of thiamine in her blood immediately after the episode had led them to that diagnosis. Never mind the typical patient was a severe alcoholic with years of abuse, not a healthy person who rarely drank.

Ronnie unpacked the other sad grocery bag full of weird, desperate purchases. She knew to the core of her being that she had traveled back in time, not just once, but four distinct times and places. Once during Hurricane Charley, and three times during Hurricane Frances, leaving Ronnie's psyche as tattered as the trees in her neighborhood.

The only person who believed that she'd time traveled was her best friend Steph. Jeffrey barely listened to her, claiming she was crazy. Now, when she needed to sort through her experiences and make sense of them, he shut her down, showing anger, mistrust, and jealousy. The initial dream of being a happy couple heading towards marriage that had enticed her to move was fading quickly. Out of self-preservation she needed to sort through what she wanted out of their relationship, if anything.

Ronnie grabbed a paper plate and made a cheese sandwich, hoping the Époisses cheese wasn't the only one left for a reason. She tore open the package and was assaulted by a strong bacon-foot smell. “Ugh.” Without many choices, she hacked off a chunk of the cheese and set it on top of a piece of bread, popping it in her toaster oven. Maybe melting it would add to its appeal. When it was done, she plated it. and sat at the small kitchen table.

Ronnie examined these new and frightening feelings about ending it with Jeffrey, holding them between her fingers as if testing the quality of silk. Deep in the pit of her stomach, she recoiled, and her mind tried to pull her off topic to avoid the pain. What was it that made her so sad? The thought of ending a long-term relationship was emotional, but there was something more to this soul-clenching feeling. It reminded her of the despair she felt when her father passed away five years ago.

The dark, angry feelings reemerged, throwing her right back to the difficult months after he was gone. His death made her feel like something precious had been stolen. Without him her life would never be the same, and the gaping wound from the loss would never heal.

Ronnie took a bite of the sandwich and focused on the warm, sharp flavor, tempered by the bread, setting aside the sad, dark emotions for just a moment of respite. Thunder clapped, but this time farther away, and Fluffy returned to her lap ready for comfort, and her own dinner soon.

Jeffrey Brennan had appeared out of nowhere and swept her off her feet while she was recovering from the loss of her father. Nothing would replace her dad, but having a strong man, much like her father, love her, truly love her, helped piece her heart back together and made her feel whole again. Would leaving Jeffrey drop her back into that depression?

A flash of anger tore through her. She was stronger than that. She hated there was even a single doubt about her ability to stand on her own. Perhaps this was the type of thing you got used to in pieces, like dipping into the cold lake, inch by inch, eventually getting used to the chill.

Somehow it felt like everything was coming full circle now. She'd briefly heard her father's voice the last two times she'd slipped between this time and space and the other. Was that her mind finding another respite, or had he been somewhere in the ether as she transferred between worlds?

The last words he'd spoken to her echoed in her mind—trust your gut. What did her gut say about Jeffrey? Last month it told her to move to Florida to be with him, despite her inner voice telling her that there might be a reason he moved away from their life together in the first place. What did her intuition say now?

A kernel of an idea tore through her sad, foggy mood. Before Frances hit, her new boss, Mike Walsh, asked her to go to Puerto Rico to meet a new client. A glimmer of sunshine poked through her cloudy thoughts. That would solve two problems. First, it would remove her from the path of Hurricane Ivan. Second, it would get her away from Jeffrey and allow her to sort through these feelings.

She looked at her phone and opened her contacts, clicking through until she saw Mike’s number. A thrill coursed through her unexpectedly. His bright blue eyes smiled in her mind, and she knew this was what her gut was telling her to do. Mike wouldn't have an opinion either way about her time traveling because he knew nothing about it. He only knew about her illness, since he'd been there in the hospital. It would be helpful because he would let her rest when she needed.

Ronnie’s phone buzzed in her hand, and she nearly dropped it. It was Jeffrey intruding on her thoughts. She let it ring to voice mail and walked over to the get-well flowers Mike had sent. Ronnie lifted the vase to smell their fresh, happy scent. A warmth spread from her chest to her limbs, and with it a calming wave of energy pulsed through her body. This idea just felt right.

Her logical mind interceded with the ugly fact she'd have to travel all the way to Puerto Rico, but she pushed it aside and lifted the note Mike had sent with the flowers and read it for the umpteenth time.

 

Ronnie,

Welcome home. I hope these flowers cheer you as you recover. Please don't worry about work. We're thinking about you as you heal and welcome you back when you feel ready.

With affection, Mike.

 

“I feel ready, Mike,” she said and chuckled at the possibilities of exactly what she might be ready for with this decision. It was much more appealing than spending time with non-believers. Instead, she could find answers to some very troubling questions about Mike and how he might be connected to her through the past.

After her first time travel episode, she'd had a vague sense that Mike was tied to Mathias, the man who had saved her. The way she'd returned this last time was unmistakable. The shattered image filled her mind of Morris on one side holding her hand in the year 1588, and Mike holding the other hand in the present. Both images merged into one excruciating moment, one extraordinary melding of times, the contrast of modern, sterile, white walls with roughly hewn wood and blood-soaked earthen floors. Merging two men, one her new lover and the other her new boss. Both looked at her with such tenderness. Were these men connected through time and deeply entangled with her soul, her very essence?

What did it mean for her future? In a weird and unexpected way, it felt right and true as anything in her life. Ronnie put the dish in the sink and retired to the couch, letting the memory flood her thoughts. The passion she'd shared with Morris made her breath quicken. He had been so tender and loving until he'd taken her with animalistic abandon. The feelings she had as they lay together afterward were so different than any intimacy she'd shared with Jeffrey. Sex had always been good with her boyfriend, but she'd never felt more connected to another human being than she had with Morris.

Ronnie would follow her father's advice and trust her gut. This was something that needed exploring. It had to be significant. The alternative was the story Jeffrey and her mother told her. She was falling off the deep end, and that was much too horrible to contemplate. Ronnie chose to believe everything she'd been through had meaning, not just mental illness with a jumble of weird thoughts. Maybe this trip would answer some pressing questions about Mike. A smile spread across her lips with the decision made.

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