Welcome to Sucky Story Sunday, where my goal is to prove Ray Bradbury wrong and write 52 bad stories.
This week’s prompts:
A former beauty queen
Hannah’s face hurt from all the smiling. She lost count of the people asking for selfies – mostly women her mother’s age, proudly holding up the Peace and Beauty Planner that Hannah was currently hawking. Maybe next time the product should be a shade that was more flattering in the photos. The pale pink held up to her face was washing out her skin tone. A deeper pink, or even a kelly green, would be better. The green would highlight her eyes. But for now, it was smile after smile for the people who were truly supporting her work.
She took a glance back at the stage behind her, where she had just finished her second TedxTalk ever. The stool that held a bottle of water, her laser pointer, and her treasured hourglass was still on the stage. Hourglass? It only lasted ten minutes, but a ten-minute-glass wasn’t a thing. She had bought it at a yard sale when she was six. It was so pretty, and only a dollar. Her mother had already given her a quarter to buy a toy at the sale. It took a bit of begging and pleading to get possession of this treasure.
And at this very moment, a tall, athletic-looking man was picking up her treasure. After one more painful smile, she decided this was a good time to step away and go see who that man was. He was standing next to her stool and held a machine with a silver wand. There were little green lights on the machine, and they blinked faster as he moved the wand around the hourglass.
Hannah rushed over, grabbed the hourglass, and hugged it to her chest. “Excuse me, can I help you find something?”
The man smiled. “Hi, I was just admiring your timepiece there.” He tucked the wand back into a slot on the side of the machine. “They don’t make them like that much these days.”
Hannah hugged it tighter. Did he know?
“Heard your talk. Very good. Practical advice, for the most part.” He looked at his wristwatch. “Amazing how much information you can pack into ten minutes, right?”
Shit. He knew. “Um, you know, it takes planning. You have to have organized notes about what you want to say and –”
“And it helps to have twenty minutes rather than ten.” He smiled.
Hannah looked down at the floor, wishing a trap door would appear. “I am not sure what you are talking about.” No matter how helpful the hourglass was, it wasn’t magical. There would be no trap door. She would have to run for it. But where? The backstage area was so crowded, she would be pulled into more selfies. There was a set of steps on the side of the stage going down into the auditorium. If she could get to those stairs, then right out the door, maybe she could get away.
“You know exactly what I mean, otherwise you wouldn’t be plotting your escape.” He put his hand on her upper arm. “You don’t even know who I am.”
“You are one of the time police and you are going to take my hourglass away from me.”
“I am not a Time Ranger, and I am not going to take it away.”
Hannah’s shoulders and neck were still tight. If he wasn’t a Time Ranger, then what was his problem?
“How about we get some coffee and talk about our mutual interests.” He held out his hand. “Name’s Thomas Madison, but most people call me Turk.”
“When I was six I got sick at Thanksgiving. Too much turkey. My unimaginative family thought it was cute. Now, in my line of work, it seems to fit.”
“Your line of work? You steal turkeys?”
He laughed. “No, I steal time.” He loosened his hold on her arm. “C’mon, let’s get some coffee and talk about time.”
The coffee shop wasn’t very busy. A couple of people here and there, but none were holding the Peace and Beauty Planner, Hannah made sure before they ordered that she didn’t see any pale pink on any of the tables. The last thing she needed was for her little fandom to find out her secret. It’s so much easier to manage your time when you have more of it than everyone else.
“So, tell me about the hourglass?” Turk said as they sat down. “The truth about the hourglass.”
“I got it when I was six. I was at a yard sale with my mom and thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.”
Turk shook his head. “The things that get lost in yard sales..”
“What do you mean?”
“Just – just go on.”
“Well, as I said, I was six and I loved just watching the sand pass from one globe to the next. My parents were arguing a lot, it was right before their divorce. The flow of the sand – it was so comforting. Mesmerizing, even.”
“When did you discover what it did?” Turk had already finished his coffee and was playing with the cardboard heat sleeve.
“Really, when I was sixteen. I had an essay due and naturally, I put it off until the last minute. It was due on a Monday and I had a pageant that weekend, so homework was the last thing I wanted to think about.” She took a sip of her latte. “It was overwhelming, but then I thought, what if I started my hourglass and just worked for ten minutes and see what I could do. And I got a lot of words on the paper, so I did it a few more times until it was done. I was exhausted, I knew that i had to have been working on it for hours, but it turned out, it took me forty minutes.”
“Forty minutes of chronos time,” Turk said.
“There is chronos time, that the world experiences. Nice, neat, orderly. It’s where we get the word for chronological. In time order. Kairos, or the time you enter when you are turning the hourglass over, it’s a bit messier.”
“I don’t understand. How can time be messy?”
“You just gave a speech, a twenty-minute speech, in ten minutes. You slowed time for everyone in the room for ten minutes. Possibly everyone in the world, but I would need to investigate further. “
“Wait, when I turn this over, time stops for everyone in the world?”
“Slows down, but yeah, that is a possibility. The main thing is, no one knows it’s going on but you. And now me.” Turk smiled. “This could be quite a profitable partnership for you, for us.”
“I don’t understand. Are you going to try to take my hourglass and rob banks with it?” Hannah nervously touched her bag with the hourglass safely tucked away.
“Please, much more subtle than that. And actually, I think of it as a way to serve humanity.”
“That sounds a bit dubious.” Hannah glanced over at the pastry shelf. She hadn’t eaten since yesterday so her TedTalk suit would fit. The pastries sure looked good.
Turk turned his head toward the pastries, sighed, and got up from the table. Returning with a chocolate croissant and an iced bear claw, he put both in the middle of the table. “Choose your poison.”
“Oh, I can’t possibly. Those things are sugared calorie bombs.”
“You are practically drooling. Eat.” Turk pulled the bear claw to his side of the table. “Can’t make decisions on an empty stomach.”
“I have no decisions to make,” Hannah picked a tiny sliver of the chocolate croissant. She put it in her mouth and let the richness assault her taste buds. Just one bite couldn’t do too much damage.
“A good friend of mine is a hospice nurse. People always want a few more minutes with their loved one at the end of their life. Why not take advantage of that?”
“Are you crazy? That is horrible! Taking advantage of people at the worst possible time in their lives” Hannah pulled a chunk of the croissant and stuffed it in her mouth. She calculated the calories in her head. This was fine, she wouldn’t eat anything else the rest of the day.
“It’s an act of kindness. It would be like the family is renting the hourglass. We would sit in another room and turn the hourglass.” Turk smiled.
“We?” He had a nice smile. Hannah took another bite of the croissant. She was starting to think a bit more clearly now. The hot coffee had relaxed her facial muscles and they no longer ached from smiling. Her stomach had stopped growling. Turk had finished his pastry and was licking his fingers. What would it be like to eat as freely as men did? The only boys she knew who dealt with weight issues were the wrestlers who had to make weight for a match. Turk did not appear to be like them. If he played a high school sport, he would be a football player. Bigger is better and all the glory, right? He had to be a quarterback, scheming and plotting for yards. She took another small bite of the croissant. “You played football in high school, didn’t you?”
He tilted his head. “No, I played baseball. I am all about subtly. What does that have to do with helping hospice patients?”
“Just trying to get to know who I would be partnering with. What kind of person you are.”
“Obviously someone who would like to profit off of dying people, so I am not a nice guy.” Turk laughed.
Hannah didn’t know why she agreed to this. Okay, the thousand dollars that would be in her pocket was the main reason. She shifted on the porch steps, wishing she was wearing leggings instead of a black sheath. But leggings didn’t seem respectful. None of her pageant books covered what to wear to someone’s death. Turk sat next to her on the steps. He was whistling a tune, but Hannah couldn’t recognize it. She shuddered involuntarily. This was a mistake. She should grab her hourglass, go home and write her next TedTalk. They already asked her to do three more. Those and planner sales would be a better way to earn a living. She reached out and touched the hourglass sitting on the step between them.
Turk put his hand on hers. “We had a deal. Three turns. They get an extra hour with their dad, and we get three thousand cash.” He gave her hand a squeeze. “It’s not like we are killing him. The cancer is doing that.”
“We have to be breaking some law.”
“We are not breaking any local, state, or federal law. Now Bonnie the nurse may be pushing the HIPAA rules a bit, but she didn’t give us medical information, just the family name and the prognosis.” He squeezed her hand again. “Now the rules of time travel, well, they may look for us, but I’ve been playing with Time toys all my life. They haven’t caught me yet.”
Hannah sighed. They hadn’t caught him YET. “What would they do if they caught you, I mean us?”
“You would get a slap on the wrist and they would take your hourglass away. I am a bigger fish, so I will just not get caught and avoid all the unpleasantness.”
No, losing her hourglass was not an option. It was how she got to do TedTalks, create her own planner series, and become an influencer on TikTok. She needed the hourglass to get it all done, then be able to sit and sip coffee and answer questions on TikTok about how to do it all. She probably flipped then thing 9 or ten times a day. Not a lot, just an extra hour and a half was all she needed. She could get it all done and still get her 8 hours of beauty rest. Because if you lose your looks, there’s no getting them back, her gran used to say. Helping Turk was one thing, and he was actually very fun to be with, but she could not risk her hourglass.
“I think this is the last time for this.” She said.
“I just told you, a slap on the wrist –”
“I can’t lose this thing. My entire business is built on it. I have to speak at a conference on time management next week. How am I going to do that without my helper?” She pulled the hourglass close to her body. “Planning and organization is my brand.”
“You can’t do it all in 24 hours like the rest of us?” Turk raised an eyebrow.
“No one can do it all. Which is why they need planner and time management experts, such as myself, to help them get as much as it done as possible.”
Turk pointed toward the front door with his thumb, as if hitchhiking. “You think the people inside are worried their father didn’t get everything done? Or that they have to hurry out to be productive after sitting at his bedside all day?”
“That’s not the point. Sickness, death, those are excuses to not be productive.” Hannah shifted on the step. This was not the most comfortable place to be sitting. How much longer was this guy going to last?
“Excuses? This is what life is about, being together with your family. No one in there is checking email, at least I wouldn’t be.”
“Email is a great way to use up small pockets of time, especially when waiting for things.”
Turk stood up. “Death isn’t something like waiting for the cashier in a check out like. What kind of monster are you?” He went down the stairs and turned to face her.
“I’m not a monster, I am just extremely practical. I didn’t realize you were such an emotional sap. I am reconsidering my business association with you.” Hannah stood up and flounced down the stairs, passing Turk and heading for the car. It was his car. Maybe a dramatic exit was not in the plans.
“Be a human. At least stay and finish this, this process. We can get coffee and talk about the future later.”
“I am totally human. What is your deal? You seemed to want to make money and get back at your time police people. Now you are all sentimental about some strangers losing their father. I mean, I‘m sure it’s hard to lose a parent to death, but really, what good are fathers?” She looked down. She did not mean to say that. Maybe Turk had a dad who made his child support payments. Maybe he had a dad who went to his school programs and games. Hannah sure didn’t.
The front door opened and a young woman stepped out on the porch. “It’s over. Thank you so much. Some of us traveled and just got here this morning.” She held out an envelope. Turk took the stairs carefully. Instead of grabbing the envelope and getting to the car, he held his arms wide open. The woman hugged him.
Hannah couldn’t hear what they were whispering. Then Turk held the door open as the woman went back into the house. He slowly walked down the steps and approached Hannah on the sidewalk. He held out the envelope. “Here. I believe our partnership is over.”