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Kas is hearing a voice as he goes about his much anticipated ski vacation with his girlfriend. Things seem destined to go wrong until he realizes the real reason behind the vacation.

Time Machine

by Gabriel Merithew

The first time Kas heard the voice was right as the car lost traction and four-wheel drifted on the snowy road towards the ledge. He swore loudly and jerked the wheel as the back end of the car spun around.

And the stars were right there…

The sound came from behind him – in the backseat, or maybe on the radio, as if the car too was panicking. But after an elongated two or three seconds, either time stopped or the car did, and Kas realized his eyes were clamped shut. When he opened them, he was greeted with the expanse of the frosty valley spread out below. He didn’t dare breathe as he shifted into reverse and pulled slowly out into the middle of the road to see the front tire marks indented so close to the abrupt slope of the mountain, he wondered how it hadn’t gone over entirely.

Remembering how to breathe again, he took in the rest of the winding icy road in silence, and even laughed a bit when he replayed the event in his head.

It wasn’t until he pulled into the unplowed drive of the Airbnb condo that he remembered the voice, but he didn’t think much of it.

“How was the drive?” Kas’ girlfriend Lina paced the carpet in her ski boots, flexing the tough plastic and only half paying attention to little animated Schroeder hammering away at his piano on TV.

Kas tossed the pizza dough theatrically into the air and caught it again. “Mildly perilous.” He said.

“Groomers is open ‘til eleven in the village. No reason to make pizza from scratch.” Lina sat on the bench by the door and tugged her boots off with a grunt.

“Tradition. Remember?” Kas walked back over to the tiny kitchenette and laid out the dough.

“It’s hard to forget with this.” Lina held up her index finger to show off the little patch of unnaturally smooth skin just below the knuckle.

“Still don’t know how you can lose a metal spoon amidst the toppings.” He chuckled.

“It’s a stupid tradition.” Lina scowled.

“Oh yeah?” Kas said, exasperated.

“And not just your pizza.” Lina hesitated, on the verge of saying something, then plowed on. “My parents would’ve bought us tickets to Cabo if we’d asked.”

When Kas looked out the condo window the next morning, ‘I heart skiing’ mug in hand, it was as if nature had decided to recreate his most picture perfect memory of bluebird days in the mountains.

He turned to Lina, who was still wrapped up in blankets on the plaid-pattered sofa. “I’m getting deja vu.”

Lina yawned and looked up, a bored expression on her face. “I don’t think so, but I could check with the kitchen.”

“Har har.” Kas rolled his eyes and looked back out into the life size snow globe. He grinned giddily, glad Lina had no idea of what he had planned.

Kas rushed Lina as much as he dared and soon they were out the door and clicking into their skis. As they pushed off and glided through the canopy of snow-laden trees down toward the village, Kas reveled in their good fortune to find the same condo his parents used to own, up for rental as an Airbnb. This was the same familiar route to the village. The cozy little condos they passed hadn’t changed much in the last twelve years either. The sight made his heart happy. Soon they’d be greeted by the same comforting whir of the chairlifts and the loud clang of the bell in the clock tower. Then they’d hit the slopes and take a few runs Kas was certain he’d still know every inch of like the back of his hand. Then they’d made their way to the surprise.

As they slid through the gleaming snow-muffled forest, even his underwhelmed girlfriend asking loudly why the fuck he was ‘grinning like a horror villain’ couldn’t begin to dampen his spirits. It just felt so good to get away from the city and into the mountains again – as if the landscape around him was proof he was the first person ever to go back in time.

Kas heard the voice for the second time, right as he lifted his goggles and withdrew the tiny black velvet box from his inside coat pocket.

And the stars were right there…

Lina hadn’t seen yet. She was reading the graffiti on the far wall of the cave. Kas had fond memories of this cave. It was famous in local culture for also being a ‘huckable’ cliff for skiers, but for him it meant one thing: Lina. He couldn’t remember how many times the two of them had clicked out of their skis when they were high school age to duck into this cave for a quick makeout as the clueless skiers flew overhead. This was a special place. And Kas knew it was no small feat that he and Lina, high school sweethearts, were now together again after all those years. It had been hard work for them both and if all went according to plan in the next thirty seconds, this would be their reward.

“Imagine being bad at spray-painting penises. …Or is it ‘peni’. Look at this. The lack of effort.” Lina looked around to see Kas on one knee, holding the little box. She fell silent. They stared at each other for a long moment, Kas’ heart pounding.

“It’s kind of fitting, don’t you think?” Kas gestured around at the cave. “Minus the penises. Those are new.”

“Hm… m…” Lina clapped a hand to her mouth.

“I want you to marr…” Kas began, but before he could finish the request, the cave exploded with a short burst of laughter.

“Oh shit!” Lina suddenly had to cough from the severity of the laugh. “Are you joking?”

“What?” Kas could feel his face going red. “I… I thought this was a nice spot.”

By the time Lina had finished lecturing him about how they were in no condition to do anything of the sort and left him there in the cave, Kas’ ears were ringing. The only thing he could hear was that voice.

And the stars were right there…

As he slipped the ring box back into his pocket, he wondered for the first time if it had been the worst possible idea to get back together. He didn’t even know her anymore. Not really. For one thing, she used to be excited to go skiing. Now, for some unfathomable reason, she would rather be in Cabo. Would she have said ‘yes’ in Cabo?

By the time he dried his eyes and stepped out into the sun, he saw that Lina’s skis were missing. She’d gone.

The chill on his face as he flew down towards the village was soothing, but it wasn’t enough. The trees looked different. The snow, all coarse and uninviting. His toes aching with cold. He made the unconscious decision then and there not to enjoy another minute of his failed vacation.

It was dark out and much colder when he emerged from the lodge into the nearly empty village. He swayed a bit as he took several deep breaths, then shouldered his skis and made his solitary way up the road.  It took about fifteen minutes to walk all the way back to the condo, and when he stepped inside, he wasn’t at all surprised to see that Lina and her things were gone. He considered his luck that they’d had to drive separate vehicles.

Kas briefly recalled the eerie voice he’d now heard three times as he finished the leftover pizza and had another beer, but didn’t hear it again or wonder why he was hearing it until the next night.

He’d been walking to the car to retrieve something he could no longer remember when he heard the voice.

And the stars were right there…

Only this time it wasn’t coming from the radio, or behind him, or in his ear. It was coming from somewhere to his right. He turned and looked into the towering snowbank.

“Hello?” He called aloud.

The voice didn’t reply.

Then he heard it again, the sound muffled.

And the stars were right there…

Sure he was imagining the voice, and still clueless as to what those words meant, Kas wasn’t sure what made him rush back into the house for a hat and gloves, but soon he was back at the snowbank and digging furiously. He channeled all of his pent up energy from spending the last full day cooped up and miserable in the tiny condo into digging a hole in the snow.

Soon he disappeared completely, hacking away at the tunnel wall and kicking the excess snow out the entrance with his boots, now completely convinced that he was about to find the source of the voice and finally claim his chance to shut it up for good.

Kas panted furiously as shovelful after shovelful was carved into the massive drift. He grinned despite himself. This was exactly where he’d dug snow forts with his brother and Lina when they were little. Now he was doing it again in his twenties, having lost his mind entirely, searching for a the source of a… voice. He kept grinning his sadistic grin, right up until his shovel connected with something hard. The jolt sent a wave of pain up his arm. He sat back with a sharp intake of breath and massaged his elbow as a burst of red bloomed on the tunnel wall. It was a long time, or maybe just several seconds until he could dig any further.

He stared at the purple-faced middle-aged man for a long time once he’d managed to dig him out and lay him on the tunnel floor. He’d done so in such a hurry with his bare hands that he now had to hold up his numb fingers and blow on them to try and get some feeling back. He didn’t know how long he sat there, but soon his heart rate returned to normal and he backed out of the tunnel and went to call the police. Within the hour, a firefighter in a puffy coat was emerging from the narrow tunnel with the body and drove away with him shortly after. The police didn’t stick around long either, and soon Kas was all alone with the black notebook, retrieved from the dead man’s jacket.

Back inside, having held his aching fingers under hot water for a good long while, Kas sat down on the plaid-pattered sofa and stared down at the notebook in his lap. He stared at it so long that he soon fell asleep, but awoke with a start an hour later and went back to staring at it. He wondered if he would ever have the courage to open it, or maybe he just didn’t want the whole thing to be real, and flipping through its pages would make it so. But curiosity soon overcame him and he lifted its worn leather cover.

Inside was the kind of messy scrawl that middle school girls made fun of guys for having. Each page was dated and seemed to contain only the best memories of the mysterious man’s life. There was a trip to Tierra del Fuego in Argentina, where he’d ridden horses with his ‘mates’. There was a hilarious recount of a boat breakdown leaving him and his friends stranded in the middle of a lake in North Idaho. There was even a sentimental tale of how the man had befriended a lost dog, only for it to die of old age in his possession.

Each page was something bizarre and of similar significance. Kas read on as the sun sunk below the mountains. And by nine pm he’d reached the back cover where the man had ran out of paper and had to get creative.

Imprinted into the supple leather in pen was the following passage:

I thought I could live it again. All of it. The way I couldn’t sleep ‘cause the roof kept creaking. The way I nearly couldn’t make it up the driveway ‘cause it was so darn icy. The way we watched those old Warren Miller movies as we talked through our favorite runs of the day. The way I laid outside on the ground with you at night, just looking up at the sky – at the stars – and the stars were right there. Like we could reach out and pluck a few to take home.

I came here to find the guy who did all those things when they felt special and perfect. But guess what? It’s not here. And I’m just a dumbass who thought he could find it.

When he’d finished reading, Kas threw the notebook across the room and into the garbage can, stifling his sobs until he remembered that Lina wasn’t there with him to tell him not to cry. He muttered a ‘fuck you’ to her empty spot beside him on the couch. This time he didn’t hold back, and let the mountain know for damn sure that he wished the man in the stories was still alive.

The next day, Kas fished the notebook out of the garbage can and buried it in the snowbank where he’d found it and its owner, then clicked into his skis for one last run.

The End