“Hello, Edwin Lee!”
It was the chirpy tone of voice more than surprise at someone else in his (he thought) empty studio apartment that made Edwin spin around so hard his elbow banged against his seat back. A woman in a shiny dress stood in the middle of the floor, grinning wide enough to bite a slice out of the moon. It dwindled by a few degrees of longitude when she saw his expression.
“You are the great novelist Edwin Lee, aren’t you?”
“Edwin Lee, yes. Novelist, wannabe. Great, definitely not. Who are you?” He rubbed his elbow, wincing.
The smile dwindled even more. “Didn’t you write that epic historical fantasy trilogy?”
He glanced at his laptop. “The one with vampires in the Spanish Inquisition?”
“Uh,I’m still on book one.”
Her smile twisted. “The bastards! I told them and I told them, but nooo, what do I know, I’m just the jumper. And now look what they’ve done. They’ve sent me back too far!” She kicked angrily at the wall.
“Hey. Hey! What do you think you’re doing?”
“Increasing urban decay!” She gave one last vicious kick, then slumped down on the floor in a puddle of shiny cloth. “And now this timeline is locked…”
Edwin, whose hand had been creeping for his phone, froze. “What do you mean, timeline? Where are you from?”
“From the future,” she wailed.
“And you’re here for…my novel?”
“Not just any novel. The last one! The completion of the most epic fantasy trilogy of the twenty-first century! Everyone wants to read it, but it can’t be found anywhere. There are no more existing copies in our time.”
Edwin winced. “Chances are good I didn’t even complete it.”
“Oh, but you did.” She sat up straighter, eyes shining with fervor. Or maybe that was just tears. “There are plenty of historical records and literary critiques from future times talking about the trilogy, so we know it exists. But things get lost over time, even if they shouldn’t. This was supposed to be my breakthrough,” she said, so softly now that it was more to herself than to Edwin. “I was going to retrieve your third book and show all those snotty techs that I’m not just a jump grunt. And all those chronologians going on and on about not altering past events…” She sniffed, just once, then scrambled to her feet. “Guess I’ll just have to go back empty-handed.”
She looked so mournful that Edwin found himself saying, “Just for the record, I’m really happy to meet a fan.” Even if it was for something he hadn’t even written yet. He held out his hand.
At least she managed something of a smile as she took it. “What can I say, I’m a big fan. I especially love how you start the whole thing off. ‘Famine starves at a feast for the mind…'”
Edwin frowned. “What are you talking about? That’s not how it starts.”
The woman froze mid-shake. She gave a nervous laugh. “Oh, of course not. What was I thinking? Silly me, always running around not knowing what I’m saying or doing. I mean, look at me, jumping back to the wrong time. Don’t mind what I–hey, what’s that?”
“What?” Edwin spun around. He saw nothing. Except for his novel open on his laptop, and as his brother liked to say, that was so close as to be nothing’s Siamese twin.
Faint wind touched the back of his neck. He turned. The woman was gone.
“Huh,” was all Edwin could manage.
A short while later–just long enough time for someone to reasonably spend searching a studio apartment to make sure no one had ducked behind the futon/couch or into the bathroom to hide–Edwin sat back down at his laptop and rested his hands on the keyboard. Thoughtfully, he stared at the scrawls of text filling the screen. Three years of labor, not to mention his family’s increasingly unsubtle mockery and three meals of instant ramen a day for the last six months.
He hit Delete. Then, elbow throbbing with pain, he began again.