Edited by Brian J. White

July 2014

“Wake up, Daniel.” Opening my eyes, I saw a man in a gray business suit with slicked-back blond hair.

Looking around, I saw that we stood in the lobby of the Nation’s Pride bank. Black leather sofas and wooden coffee tables adorned the office.

“What is this? Where—” I asked.

“You’re dead,” the man interrupted. “And this,” he said as he raised his hands, gesturing at the lobby we stood in, “is where you died.”

I stood there, trying to comprehend what the man was telling me. Before I could ask him what he was talking about, he raised his hand and snapped his fingers.

The lobby came to life around us; tellers at their tills, customers standing in line, and a lone security guard watching over them all near the bathroom doors. There, about halfway in line, I saw myself like some reflection in the mirror.

I could clearly see my gray T-shirt, tucked into jeans. My black hair, only about an inch long, was barely combed back at all, further hampered by my hand running through it.

Without warning, a man wearing all denim and a ski mask walked down the hallway that led into the bank and barged through the door. With a pistol in his hand, he aimed and fired, killing the security guard.

“Everybody down, this is a robbery!” the man shouted. Without hesitation, everybody complied and fell to the floor, my copy included.

I stood in the middle of the lobby in complete confusion, the armed man and everyone else ignoring me. It was as though I didn’t even exist.

Another security guard came out from the back office, armed with a pistol. The gunman, upon hearing the guard coming, grabbed a nearby woman by the throat and placed her between him and the guard.

The security officer hesitated, not wanting to hit the hostage, but the robber took advantage of that. One quick pull of the trigger and the guard fell to the ground, his gun striking the floor no more than two feet from my copy.

“And this is where it goes wrong for you,” the blond-haired man said, watching the scene from alongside me. I looked at him, noticing how he watched the events unfold like a movie he’d seen a dozen times.

I looked back at my copy as he jumped over to the side, grabbing the fallen gun. My copy made the same mistake as the guard and hesitated, my inexperience with guns showing, before firing.

The bullet was intended to hit the gunman. Instead, it struck the woman he used as a human shield. My copy and I both watched in horror as the woman collapsed to the ground, a look on her face of pure shock as to what just happened.

The gunman, however, did not pause. He aimed and fired three times, each bullet striking my copy in the chest. The clone collapsed, face still locked in horror as to what he’d just done.

Everything stopped around us, as if someone had pressed the pause button. “Your actions led to the death of an innocent woman,” the blond-haired man said. “Her name was Nayad Monroe.”

It all came back to me, every sight and every smell in that bank. Now I stand there again, recalling what I did, mouth gaping wide open and a tear running down my cheek.

“She was not meant to die that day, but…” the man said, pausing so that I could stare into his golden eyes, “She doesn’t have to.”

“Wha— what do you mean?” I asked, guilt demanding I undo this tragedy.

The man stepped closer to me, no more than a foot away. “I will let you try and fix your greatest mistake before you pass on. Make your time count, for there is only so long you can try,” he said before snapping his fingers.

With a flash of light, I now stood in the line. It all played out like before; the gunman walked into the bank, shot the two guards, and the gun fell. He still held the woman hostage, except this time, the man next to me dove for the gun. He fired and hit the woman, and the gunman returned fire and killed the man.

“Your inaction claimed the life of another man. Again,” the blond man said, snapping his fingers. The scene began again, the gunman walking down the hallway.

Again and again I tried. I tried kicking the gun away; another man and I were shot for moving. I tried grabbing the gun and not firing, the gunman shot the woman and then me. Again and again, I failed. Eventually, when I saw the glimmer of doubt in the blond man’s eyes, I opted for something different.

I stood in line again. I could see the gunman walking down the hallway. Walking away from the line, I went toward the bathrooms. Before I got to the door, however, I reeled back and slammed my elbow into the face of the guard.

While he stumbled, I pulled his gun and spun around. Taking aim at the gunman as he walked through the door, I pulled the trigger. No one stood between me and him, letting me unload the gun without worry of hitting an innocent. When the pistol clicked empty, I saw the gunman fall to the ground.

“You saved the woman’s life, along with the two guards,” the blond-haired man said. “Well done.”

As I listened to what the man had said, the second guard came out of the office, pistol raised. He aimed at me, the gun still in my hands, and fired. The last thing I felt before the bullet struck me was a sense of satisfaction at fixing my greatest mistake.

© 2014 James Darrow

About the author

James Darrow

James Darrow is a science fiction and fantasy author from Washington state. After debuting his first solo piece, Blood in the Machine, at the end of 2013, he took an overly long hiatus from actively working on new projects. After waking up and realizing that all the stories in his head wouldn’t be put to the page unless he started writing again, he began working on future projects. His current line-up of future works is a science fiction and fantasy crossover novel along with a compilation of short stories and pieces of flash fiction.