By S.F. Flanigan
I hurry along the street, a blustery breeze gasping from the direction of the afternoon’s fading sun. I haven’t made it on time to rehearsals yet this year, and tonight’s the performance, and I promised, I promised I’d be there.
The train’s in four minutes. If I run, I can make it. The next one isn’t for twenty-minutes.
People wander sluggishly ahead of me, and I can’t manage to squeeze past them. Instead, I’m forced to watch the pedestrian light ahead of me switch to red. Do not walk.
I groan in frustration, but come to a stop at the intersection, other commuters trickling to a halt around me. I check my phone. Three minutes.
And three missed texts from my partner.
(1) Have you left yet?
(2) You’ll be late
(3) Millie won’t forgive you this time
I huff a sigh and tap out a reply.
I’ve left. Coming as fast as I can.
I nearly left work on time, too. But then my boss wanted to discuss the meeting tomorrow. Which isn’t a good enough excuse. It never is. Not for Millie.
I glance impatiently at the lights, noting their cycle positions. The traffic coming past stops, hitting a red, and I start across the street, before the pedestrian light can change.
But I misjudged the cycles, and cars from the turning lane whoosh ahead of me before I can cross. I bounce from foot to foot on the narrow traffic island in the middle of the road. The cars stop whooshing past, and the turning light turns amber.
Maybe I can still make the train.
I sprint across the road. Screeching tyres rend the air, and I step back just in time for a bright red sports car to fly by, close enough that I can feel its wind gush across me, leaving me cold. It smells of bitumen and petrol. The wind whips across my face, and a chill permeates my head.
I’m left gaping after the car as it flies away.
“Asshole,” I mutter after the driver, looking around shakily.
The pedestrian light now turns green, and the other commuters start across the street. Most don’t look at me, but some have wide eyes as they approach.
I drag in a deep breath and hurry onward. The station is still a block away. I won’t make it.
I do my best, jogging around plodding commuters, holding my briefcase out of the way. The temperature continues to drop as the sun disappears behind buildings. The wind tickles through my hair at the side of my head.
I race into the station, fumbling for my pass, and hurry on.
I reach the top of the escalators just in time to see the train start moving. By the time I get down to the platform, it’s fading from sight. My heart sinks like a lead weight, clenching painfully.
I missed the train.
Millie will never forgive me.
The memory of her prancing around the house dancing, beaming, evidently feeling as beautiful as she looked, makes my heart ache. My breath catches in my lungs.
I imagine her at the dance studio, made up in her leotard and costume make-up, watching for me, waiting for me.
Then her arms fold, her feet stamp, when my partner arrives alone.
“She never comes! She doesn’t love me!” I hear her wail.
“Mummy’s…” my partner tries, but Millie pushes away, to stand with the other six-year-olds.
I can’t seem to let the air out of my lungs. The cold in the side of my head is getting really bad. It prickles uncomfortably. I reach a hand up to it absently. It’s wet. Why?
She doesn’t love me….
I love Millie more than anything. And I’m coming.
I glance at the platform’s announcements. I can’t make out the lettering.
Dazed, I glance at my hand. It’s bright red.
Red? I’m bleeding? How?
I glance up at a fuzzy white face, outlined by a greying sky.
My head is so cold. Actually, so is the rest of my body. My arm is icy and throbbing. I look down to it. White protrudes through the blazer.
My skull feels funny. The pressure is wrong. I glance around, but my cold head stays still, whilst the head I look with is weightless.
A stopped red car has its hazard lights flashing nearby.
The pale face bends closer.
I glance down at a woman’s body, bent in places bodies don’t normally bend.
The skull is impacted on one side.
I can’t stay though; I need to get back in time for Millie.
I wait at the intersection, surrounded by commuters as the last of the sunlight fades from the grey sky.
The pedestrian light remains red.
About the Author:
Sarena lives on Wurundjeri land in Melbourne, Australia, where she works as a biochemist and serves two kittens. Aside from her academic work, she’s been published in an Australian SF/F charity anthology, STORIES OF HOPE (2020), and the SF/F anthology UNLOCKING THE MAGIC (2019).
LATE’S protagonist makes a spirited appearance in her most recent manuscript, a paranormal romance.
You can follow her on Twitter @SarenaFlanigan, but only if you promise to look both ways before crossing the street.