Asher's Dilemma

By: Coleen Kwan

And then, just as suddenly, it was over.

The fiery winds disappeared. The tornado in his head subsided to a dull ache.

Asher peeled open his eyes to find himself lying face down. The uneven brick floor beneath him struck cold through his sketchy clothing. Frosty air licked at his cheek, frilling his skin with goose bumps. He dragged himself up to a sitting position, and almost vomited as his brain spun like a top.

He was still in his workshop, but instead of sultry August it was now the depths of winter. His breath hung in the air in vaporous clouds, and he had begun to shiver uncontrollably. Frisking his arms, he forced himself to ignore his violent nausea and take in his surroundings.

His invention was still there. Yet, it wasn’t quite the same masterpiece he’d built. This contraption was still a prototype, incomplete, the tarry black promethium magnets incorrectly placed on the copper shell. He remembered how long it had taken him to work out the correct position of each magnet. This machine exactly resembled one of his earlier attempts.

Which meant…his calculations were correct, and his invention had worked! He’d done it.

He, Asher Quigley, had travelled back in time.

Cold sweat trickled down his spine as his success sank in. He’d made the impossible possible. He’d broken the time barrier. He’d discovered a way of traversing the once-immutable dimension.

But where in time had he landed?

Lifting his hand to massage his forehead, he saw he was still clutching the stalking compass, though he had no memory of picking it up. He tucked the object into the pocket of his trousers and rubbed his eyes as he concentrated all his fractured thoughts on the buttons his stalking compass had bounced over. What parameters had been set before the lever had been pulled? Think, man, think.

Out of his brain haze memory came teetering back like a gin-soaked drunk. Eight months. He’d been flung back in time eight months, which explained the teeth-chattering cold.

And then from the mist more memories began to pour out. Only, these came screaming out at him like banshees, and the howling cut him to ribbons. He squeezed his eyes shut against the pain.

Eventually the shrieking disappeared, but the anguish inside him coalesced into a suffocating lump.

Finally he knew who the woman was who teased him day and night. She was no figment of his imagination. Not here, not now, eight months earlier. Here she was real. She was living flesh and blood.

She was Minerva Lambkin. She had captured and fragmented his heart twice over. Yet in the future she did not exist at all. The realization made him break out into a cold, gut-clenching sweat, and the torment only intensified as instinct told him he was responsible. The details eluded him, but he knew he was right. He had somehow caused Minerva’s extinction.

* * *

On the train trip to Manchester Asher had ample opportunity to think through all the implications of what had occurred, and the conclusions made his stomach froth with trepidation and awe. From a newspaper hastily purchased at the station he’d obtained the precise date and thereby confirmed the truth of his journey through time. His chronometrical conveyance, for that was the name he’d given his invention, had catapulted him eight months back into the past, but a past which was different from what he remembered. Prior to his time trip he had no memory of a Miss Minerva Lambkin residing in Salford, Manchester, but here, eight months ago, she played a very important role in his life.

Minerva was the daughter of Silas Lambkin, the inventor-entrepreneur, who’d charmed Asher into being his apprentice and then later stolen his invention of a perpetual motion machine, his millennium machine, so called because once set in motion it would run for a thousand years. While working for Silas, he’d fallen in love with Minerva and wanted to marry her, but when Silas had defrauded him of his millennium machine, he’d believed her to be in cahoots with her father and broken off their brief engagement. Five years had passed. Then, just four weeks ago, he’d rescued her and her ne’er-do-well father, and fallen in love with her all over again. Once more he’d proposed to her, confident she would accept him, but he’d been flabbergasted when she declined, at which point he’d stormed out of her house in high dudgeon, vowing never to speak to the vexing woman again.

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