Asher's Dilemma

By: Coleen Kwan

And so he had rushed back to London to work on the properties he’d suddenly uncovered of his millennium machine, determined to forget everything about Minerva Lambkin forever. And in the intervening eight months his wish had been granted. Something had happened, something terrible and catastrophic. Something that had wiped Minerva Lambkin out entirely. She no longer existed, which was why Asher had not been able to recall her.

Except, remnants of Minerva had clung to him, plaguing him like a recurring fever, and the echoes of this memory lingered in the aching of his bones and the grinding of his teeth. But what event would cause not merely Minerva’s death but her complete extinction? Whatever it was, he sensed it was linked to his chronometrical conveyance. Someone had found out about it and used it to devastating effect. God, to think his pride and joy could wreak such havoc so quickly. A thousand pities it could not manufacture more hours and days. But now, he had an opportunity to relive the past and set right his mistakes. Would he be able to save her?

He had no idea how much time he had but knew he had none to waste.

* * *

From Manchester Victoria Station, Asher took a hackney carriage and urged the driver to hurry. He ought to have remained in London, unraveling the mystery of Minerva’s imminent extinction, but he could sooner fly to the moon than stop himself from laying eyes on his beloved Minerva once more. Especially today of all days, when he knew how cruelly the present Asher would treat her.

Half a mile from the Lambkins’ house the horse went lame. Asher got out, tossed the fare to the driver and walked the rest of the way. The January afternoon was already growing dark, the wintry bleakness seeping through his coat as he hurried towards his destination. At the gate to Minerva’s house, he paused. He heard a door slamming shut, then through the gloaming he made out a tall familiar figure charging down the gravel path towards him.

He almost gasped aloud. A biting prickle rolled down his spine. That furious stride, that thunderous face, that burning pique—all so horribly recognizable.

It was himself, the present Asher. Stalking out of Minerva’s life just because she’d had the temerity to want her own independence. After being held hostage to her father’s scheming for so many years, she had a yen to establish her own income and not be wholly dependent on anyone, least of all a husband. He, future Asher, perfectly understood her reasons.

But not the present Asher. Oh no, just look at the way he marched out all stiff-shouldered and square-jawed, nursing his injured pride. The fool deserved to have his ears boxed.

The future Asher fell back among some bushes as his doppelganger approached. He daren’t allow a face-to-face meeting. He wasn’t sure what would happen. Would the laws of physics be violated? Would he tear a hole in the very fabric of the universe? He had no idea and thus couldn’t risk it. He melted into the shadows and waited until the present Asher disappeared into the gathering murkiness.

His thoughts turned to Minerva. She would be upset now, dismayed at his wrathful departure, perhaps even weeping. At the thought of her tears his heart constricted. He raced up the path and hammered on the door until the maid answered. Pushing past the startled girl, he flung open the door to the front parlor and dashed in.

There she was at last, the peach of his dreams, dressed in a simple, worn frock, but more alluring than Aphrodite. Her head was bowed, revealing the graceful curve of her neck adorned by curls. As he barged in, she lifted her head, and the sight of her tear-splashed eyes speared him to his core.

In his coat pocket, the stalking compass vibrated shrilly. He shivered, the constriction in his chest unlocking.


Time stood still.

* * *

“Asher? Is it really you?”

“Of course. Who else?” On first entering he hadn’t been able to resist sweeping her into his arms. Now, he set her down carefully. “Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten me already?”

This now was the acid test. Would she detect any difference in him? “But what’s come over you?” she asked. “Just a few minutes ago you stalked out of this house vowing never to see me again.”

He stumbled over a fabricated explanation of coming to his senses. “Minerva, I was the damndest fool to let you go even for five minutes, and I detest fools. Will you give me a chance to put things right?”

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