One More Time. By Virginia Burns

As the flames arose from the charcoal-stained ruins, I realized just how royally I had screwed up. Smoke puffed out of the remaining window sills as the building rooves crumbled. A cat ran across an empty street, his home probably destroyed. Flies buzzed as they investigated the mess that had been left behind.

I inhaled, trying to get the oxygen flowing in my lungs once again. It burned my insides. The fire wasn’t there anymore, but its shadow remained.

Is this what was supposed to happen? Everything would be destroyed, everyone left without a home? Without resources? Without.. anything? 

My hand was heavy, and I looked down. A jug of water, still half full from earlier. I raised it to my face and downed what was left without taking a breath. It left me gasping for air, even more so than I had been before. Everything was burning.

There was cloth on the ground. Was that from me? I reached my hand down to pat my pocket, checking for the watch. It was still there. I sighed, preparing to click the button on its rounded top again.

One more time, one more time, one more time.. 

My eyes snapped open, and I found myself in my bedroom once again. I had done this too many times to mess up again, too many times to not have a solution by now. My sheets were cold and damp with sweat, and stuck to my body as if they were grasping onto me, holding me down. I struggled for a minute, managing to pull them off. Right about now, Isabella should be walking past the doorway, knocking down the plant in the hall.

Crash!

Dirt and water spilled out over the hardwood floors. Original timeline, my mother had tripped in the water, fallen, and hit her head on the small table nearby. If matters weren’t bad enough, the lamp that was on it fell on her and shattered. She had ended up in the hospital. All because this stupid cat knocked over the plant in the hall. She wasn’t even a nice cat, certainly not worth the stress she had caused. 

I hadn’t been home at the time, either. I didn’t find her until hours later, all because I was pissed at her after a fight we’d had earlier.

My first reset, I thought the fix would be simple– clean up the water, she wouldn’t fall. I shouldn’t have had any problems. 

Boy, was I wrong.

The cat was in the way of cleaning up the water, because she liked to lap it up from anywhere but her bowl. It couldn’t have been healthy for her, to drink dirt-water, but it wasn’t the first time she’d done it. 

I sat her on the table with the lamp, underestimating her stupidity by a lot. I started to hear crackling in the wall beside me, and my eyes went to the outlet. The only outlet in the hallway, and the plant water was covering it. Not only was the lamp plugged into it, but Isabella was chewing on the cord.

Before I had time to comprehend what was happening, the electricity was already coursing through her body. Her hair stood up on end, like a cartoon, and she made an awful, strained cry. I didn’t know if it was safe to touch her; I didn’t know what to do. And just as quick as she had started chewing it, she fell off the table with a dull thud, unmoving except for the occasional twitch that made my skin itch.

I pressed the button again without investigating further. Tears streaming down my cheeks, I reset for a second time.

Cleaning up the water wasn’t the fix. Two end goals were in my mind now– don’t let Mom fall, don’t kill the cat. Still seemed simple enough.

My next idea was to just not leave the house. I’d just keep watch and everything should be fine.

We still needed groceries though, and since I hadn’t gone out, she decided to. What could it hurt, right?

When she hadn’t returned a few hours later, I began to worry. A few more hours passed. Surely something hadn’t gone wrong, again.

I opened my Facebook to be greeted by the local news. Three-car pile up by the grocery story. “More details to follow.” Air caught in my throat, and my lungs seemed to stop functioning.

I reset for a third time. And after that, a fourth time. Then a fifth. 

Nothing I was doing was working. I was losing hope, losing patience. 

What was there left to try? Every single time, something worse happened than the last. But then, I got an idea, which seemed pretty normal. The most recent reset I had done– the one that leads to the almost present.

We could go to the skate park up on 5th Street. I skateboarded frequently, but my mom hadn’t come with me in a while, so we grabbed the board and headed down.

We arrived in one piece, and it was mostly empty. I attempted some tricks I hadn’t done in a few years, and we had fun laughing at me as I fell small distances.  

My mom wasn’t as young as she used to be, but she wanted to try to skateboard.

“I haven’t been since I was a kid. D’you think I could try it?”

And who was I to deny her?

What we didn’t plan on was the dog that would come running through, two kids chasing after it with a leash in their hands. Or that my mom would lose control of the skateboard trying to avoid said dog. The park was positioned on top of a hill, with the street perpendicular to 5th having a steep slope downwards.

And so she went rolling down the hill. A truck coming up swerved desperately to miss her, landing himself in the lawn of a nearby neighbor who was burning leaves. The truck went crashing into the pile as the driver slammed on his breaks, and the truck stopped.

I was standing at the top of the hill, still, in shock. But looking down it appeared no one had been injured. Even through all that, I took a breath.

And then everything went wrong.

The fire popped as it resurfaced in the leaves now spread widely across this yard and others. It lit the truck, too, which promptly popped along with the leaves. Red and orange flames filled the property, and the wind moved the leaves along, setting other things alight as if it wanted everything to burn.

I heard the driver yell something and duck out of the way, not a moment too soon as the truck exploded violently, sending debris aflame in every direction it could go.

Frozen in my place, I watched as other things caught on fire. The house in the yard where the truck was. The building next door, because it was all so close together. There was so much greenery everywhere you could see. It turned from green to a bright, angry red. The wind blew the flames, helped them jump from place to place to place. I started running adjacent to the majority of the action, looking for water, looking for anything. I tripped and felt my head hit something, hard, and my world went black.

When I opened my eyes again, the scene I saw looked apocalyptic. It was unbelievable. I was in a horrified state of awe. And after gawking around, I reset the day again.

I never wanted any of this to happen. But sometimes things just have to happen, and you have to let them. I threw the pocket watch down onto the floor and repeated that motion until it shattered, it was in pieces, it was destroyed. 

I sat back down, preparing myself for the day. I called up the florist and ordered some flowers, because I was going to need them later for my mom’s room. I didn’t fight with her before I left, and I headed out to the store. Before I left, I set the landline phone on the table in the hall.

I knew what was going to happen as I entered the blindingly white hospital room, carrying a bouquet of bright yellow and red and purple. 

“Hey, Mom.”

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