*** This time travel story was originally published in Deep Magic and Escape Pod. I've updated it to reflect today's era! You can listen to the podcast version, read by Mur Lafferty, by clicking the story link. ***
On the night she turned thirty-nine, Jane sat on her narrow bed, watching TV and drinking alone. She'd gone through a bottle of wine and was mostly through a second bottle. Tomorrow morning would be painful.
Or she could stop worrying about tomorrow. The ibuprofen in her cabinet kept popping into her mind. Jane wasn't sure if all those pills chased by alcohol would be enough to end her life, but the idea of looking up how to commit suicide online seemed just too pathetic.
The front door of her tiny apartment creaked open.
Jane leaned forward, peering through her bedroom doorway. A black wine bottle stood on the floor, with a placard dangling from its silver ribbon.
Her gaze immediately went to the deadbolt. It was in place, as she'd left it.
Jane shut the TV off and listened for noises from the hallway. All she heard were the sounds of Boston traffic outside. Several weeks ago, after she'd come home to find her boyfriend screwing a skanky-looking chick on her couch, she'd had the locks changed. No one could have gotten in.
Yet the bottle sat mysteriously on the wooden floor.
At last, Jane crossed her apartment, checking every shadow for an intruder.
She picked up the bottle. The placard had gilded letters, making it a potentially expensive gift.
Warning: There Is No Return
Jane flipped the placard over twice, but nothing else was written on it.
She listened, alert for any noise. Mystery had never been much a part of her adult life, and it gave her a strangely excited feeling. If the warning label meant something like poison, it seemed like a more dignified way to go than pills and alcohol.
Her reflection on the black surface of the bottle was disturbingly clear. There she was: Plain Jane, a frumpy woman with a double-chin and acne scars.
She unscrewed the cap and popped the foil underneath. A stringent smell wafted up, making her wrinkle her nose and salivate at the same time.
"Happy birthday, Jane," she told herself, and swallowed a mouthful.
Jane gagged on the sour taste in her mouth. She was so dizzy, she'd fallen ... but she was sitting in an office chair, with no memory whatsoever of leaving her dark and quiet apartment.
Florescent lights beat down on her, and the familiar voices of a call center surrounded her. None of this was possible. She was back at her old workplace. It was a workday, late afternoon, judging by the angle of light. Ultimata Insurance had laid her off months ago, yet here she was.
A man rapped his knuckles against Jane's desk. "I gave you the files you needed, right?" Her old boss, Moore, didn't bother to wait for a reply. He was always in a hurry. Jane barely started to nod before he rushed away.
The walls of her cubicle looked exactly the way she remembered. There was the photograph of herself and mom. There was the generic Ultimata calendar, flipped to October 2013 ... Jane double-checked the year. 2013 was a full two years before the company downsized. If this was October 2013, then she was still employed.
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What if time travel is like alcoholism? Shouldn't mermaids have blubber to stay warm in the ocean? These short stories of fantasy and science fiction explore the weird, the bizarre, and the concretization of untenable fantasies.