Enjoy an excerpt from JM Williams’s “Time to Set Things Right” featured in our new anthology ON TIME.
The subway station buzzed with motion. People passed by in a rush, some heading up or down stairs, some waiting to board the coming trains. One screeched to a halt as another sped away. Voices struggled to be heard over the mechanical clamor. The doors of the train car slid open, breathing people in and out.
The bomb exploded.
The wind hissed. The ground rumbled. Glass shattered. The dirty metal of the train burst outward. The force toppled the cars over the rails. Fire and shrapnel assaulted the overcrowded platform. Metal and flesh shrieked a chaotic symphony. Men, women, and children disappeared into the white-hot corona, no time to express their horror. When the flames came within mere feet of Amed’s face, he stopped time.
The wide space of the subway platform became still and silent, like a photograph, everything frozen in its place. Amed rearranged his black windbreaker, the hot gale of the blast having pushed his collar open. He passed a hand through his almost black, almost long hair, which had been disheveled by his proximity to the explosion. His hand trembled, despite the confidence he held in his own safety.
He crept forward, glancing around at the carnage of the moment. Brilliant whiteness covered the area like a fog, shielding its interior from prying eyes. Amed could only guess at the sort of destruction and slaughter that was hidden by the light. But he didn’t have to try hard to develop a basic idea: savage hints all around him cemented by frozen time. Broken bodies were suspended in the air, others lay battered down by jagged projectiles. Bloody mists hung in clouds. Amed pressed his finger to a large, red droplet, which came to life with his touch and spread across his fingertip.
Moving on, step by cautious step, he examined the chaotic beauty of the fire, its tendrils of red and yellow lancing out from a white core. A sense of heat came from the creature, but it was not real heat. Real heat required movement, which required time. The fire lacked both. Now, it stood as rigid and noiseless as a statue.
With a thought, Amed rolled time backward; the flames condensed into a smaller and smaller sphere, shards of glass spun through the air and reassembled into sheets. People emerged from the fire cloud, their expressions relaxing as they walked in slow reverse, back into the doomed train cars.
This power—the ability to manipulate time, like someone would an old VHS tape, spinning it backward and forward, pausing it for indefinite periods—was something Amed had only recently discovered, and he was still getting used to the fine control needed to move milliseconds.
Strange being removed from it all.
The world depends on time, the fourth dimension. Sound, heat, movement, the passage of energy—are all bound to time, dependent on it for progress. Time is a thread that weaves everything together in a physical universe. Nothing is supposed to exist outside of time, but somehow, Amed could step away from those constraints. He could observe the potential of time, even without its passing. He could manipulate objects in the frozen world. In a way, he could change history, though no one else would ever notice the change—all of it should be impossible.
He had discovered his power shortly after his brother’s murder. Amed lived in the country for several years, and after his success at a semi-prestigious university—as a history student, as far from the realms of science and physics as possible—he convinced his brother, Nadir, to join him. A choice Amed quickly came to regret. The recently-immigrated Nadir, along with several of his friends, had been shot dead by a local ultranationalist.Stuck in the desolation of loss and isolation after his brother’s death, and being a foreigner in a foreign land, without family to console him and share in his grief, Amed turned away from the world. In that place of solitude and creeping insanity, he discovered his power, discovered time. It came to him as a wish, a desperate wish to start over. Or perhaps the answer to a lonesome a prayer.
Author of In the Valley of Magic and Call of the Guardian, JM Williams has also published around forty-five short fiction pieces in a range of venues including Bards and Sages, Over My Dead Body! Mystery Magazine, and The New Accelerator. He has earned six Honorable Mentions in the Writers of the Future Contest and several other writing awards. He currently works for Fiction Vortex as the head of the Of Metal and Magic StoryVerse, managing six other writers and publishing two series. He lives in Korea with his wife and cats—teaching, writing, and blogging at www.jmwilliams.home.blog.