4 min read

Things Elan Reacquainted Himself With After Breaking Out of His Single-Day Time Loop, by D. A. Straith

Golden apricots
Photo by Jason Leung / Unsplash

Content warnings

Parental emotional abuse; Trauma; Food.

1. The colour ochre, painted by the city mageguard around his front door as a warning: do not enter, premises unsafe.

2. His parents’ address, which is where he tells the mageguard captain to find him while he waits for them to untangle the knot of curdled time living in his room. In four years of Mondays he has visited his parents many times, and often wished he could forget their coordinates. But he can’t think of anywhere else to go: his flatmates are being temporarily evicted too, and he’d normally lean on them, but he feels guilty on the anomaly’s behalf—as though it’s his fault—and tells his flatmates he’s fine. He’s got somewhere to go. He’ll see them when it’s all sorted.

3. The cobblestones outside the townhouse, right in front of the stoop, which he vomits onto after the mageguard leave to address the next cross-temporal flare on their list.

4. Tuesday. Elan has not seen a Tuesday in more than four years.

5. The market on the way to his parents’ place. The fruit seller, who should have red apples on the left and green on the right, but who—confoundingly—has them swapped around. The pastry vendor, who for four years of Mondays has sold Elan’s favourite onion fritters as the day’s special, and now has apricot pastries for sale. This should, in theory, be exciting, but the sight of sun-bright apricots nestled in leafy pastry makes Elan dizzy with dread.

6. His parents’ door, free of warning ochre and yet thoroughly unwelcoming. When his mother answers she tells him he looks sick and should be at home. When his father greets him it is with a nod; then he goes back to studying his own smoke-rings. They feed Elan, sure, but in all the visits he’s paid in all the Mondays he’s lived through, he has never managed to convince them that their planet’s intensifying temporal decay has finally found their family. “If I can’t see it with my own two eyes,” his mother says. His father says nothing at all.

7. His mother’s cooking, which tastes like ash, because she’s so annoyed with him that she sets the plates down just loudly enough to steal his appetite.

8. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

9. His calligraphy tools, which he has lost touch with. Before this all started, he was skilled with quill and ink. But then the loop. In desperation to escape he abandoned the quill and spent two in-loop years learning how to build cross-temporal emergency flares; then, after failing to achieve the speeds necessary to build magical artefacts in a single day, he learned the art of burglary. In these uncertain times, flares can be bought as emergency supplies from any magecote, but someone of Elan’s minor standing can’t easily access those. And every morning things reset. Or they did.

Now he’s back to looking for scribing work, but his hands and attention have been irreversibly retooled.

10. The way his mother ignores him for days at a time when she’s angry with him for not finding work. The way his father wilfully ignores this, or disappears altogether, like he always has.

11. The ochre-painted door of the flat, which is unguarded even by the lowliest mageguard recruit. All they have on the door is an enchanted security seal, and past that, a single magical observer eye. Easy.

12. His beloved, familiar bedroom; his beloved, familiar bed; the anomaly itself, which he cannot see or smell but which he is certain he can feel, and which he stands there, staring at the bed, waiting for.

Waiting for what?

For it to take him back?

13. The ochre-painted door. The cobblestones. The market. His own nausea. No, he can’t go back, except the loop is the only place that makes sense.

14. The pastry vendor, who catches him by the elbow when Elan falls against the strut holding up their stall’s awning. Time sickness? they ask, eyes crinkling knowingly.

Time sickness, Elan confirms.

The vendor nods. Took me months to recover when I had my first. Kept jumping forward and back. Strange world we live in, nowadays.—What kind was yours?

Elan swallows. Time loop. I lived Monday over and over again for years. He doesn’t add I kind of miss it; surely that would make him seem ungrateful.

Ah, well then, says the vendor, who has already been crinkling paper around an apricot pastry, and now offers it. Welcome back to a world that changes.

Elan almost refuses, terrified. What is the world if not defined by onion fritters? But the orange apricot glows up at him like sunrise itself, and Elan thinks, why not taste kindness for once, and when he bites through shattering crust and the soft cheese hidden in the centre, he feels the snapping grit of crystal sugar and the honey glaze, and the world blooms in his mouth. He catches his chin with his hand—catches drool and stray flakes—and swallows a moan, and the vendor laughs, pleased with his pleasure.

Good, huh, they say, and Elan smiles, and he thinks, maybe I will come back again tomorrow.

D. A. Straith

D.A. Straith (they/them) is a nonbinary writer based in the Greater Toronto Area. Their short work can be found in Augur, Translunar Travelers Lounge and All Worlds Wayfarer. Find them at straith.ca, or outdoors, at least when the weather’s good.