The Eleventh Hour

Edited by Brian J. White

July 2015

She gave me an hour to save the world.

Literally gave me an hour, the intangible made inexplicably solid. It sits in my palm, encased in a golden box, waiting to be loosed.

I don’t know if what holds it frozen inside is magic or science, if this extra hour was borrowed or stolen or conjured, or created by smashing particles together in one of those colliders deep underground. I don’t know if the person who pressed the box into my hand was god or demon or just plain human. “An hour,” she said. “Spend it wisely.”

Only, I have no idea how. Or on what.

If I were a scientist facing down a deadly viral outbreak, I could use it to run one more test and find a cure.

If I were on a rocketship’s crew, set to intercept an asteroid hurtling toward Earth, I could buy us time to unjam the stuck part, then launch us homeward before the explosions began.

If I were the president, with news of an impending alien attack, I’d call one last desperate summit, find a way to join the world’s forces, and fend off the invaders.

But I’m none of those things.

I wonder if I’m the only one with an hour, or if there are others out there faced with this same impossible task. Are there ten more like me? A hundred? If we found each other and pooled our time, a century of us could buy the world just over four days.

A lot can happen in four days.

A lot can happen in an hour.

At home, I look for clues as to how the end might come. The news is filled with disasters, but none suggest certain doom will come in a day or a week or even a decade. The least she could have done was tell me what exactly the world needs saving from.

Perhaps she was a demon after all, keeping me in the dark, hoping my panicked choices will lead to catastrophe. Or maybe she was a time-traveler, forbidden to divulge the details lest I bring the end about anyway, or bring it faster, or make it worse.

Must I spend the hour all at once? Or can I parcel it out in slow sips, a minute here, twenty there? Can I break minutes into seconds? Seconds into nanoseconds? So much can happen in the blink of an eye.

If I open the box and let the hour out without giving it direction, would it go where it’s most needed, or will it linger around me, borrowed time ticking down while I do nothing of use?

I wish the time-travelling demon-god had left me an instruction manual.

I wander through our house, picking up pictures of you and me, wondering if we ought to hurry up and make new memories, good ones, before everything changes. So many places we haven’t been; I should make a list in order of priority. Or would that be a waste of time?

You’re in the living room, in the chair by the window. Your book has fallen into your lap as you drowse in a sunbeam. The urge to wake you nearly tugs me forward, but I resist. The woman never said I can’t share this burden; I’m simply not sure I want to. What was she thinking, giving something so precious to someone so indecisive? To me, who can spend the whole of my lunch hour deciding what I’d like to eat?

Is this a sun-goes-out sort of cataclysm? Planets spinning out of their orbits, the Earth pulled apart by cosmic forces? The kind with no survivors? Or is it the kind where a percentage of us make it through alive? What made the woman so sure I’d use it to save humanity and not just you and me? If I had warning, I could stockpile supplies, build defenses, get us an hour’s headstart on the way to safety. We’ve had thirty years together; I was hoping for at least thirty more. Through richer, poorer, thick or thin, world ravaged by plague or zombies or little green men, doesn’t matter, long as we have each other.

I should give it to the police. The FBI. NASA. The six o’clock news. I should auction it off online, buy us a remote island and a hundred years of food with the proceeds.

Instead I put it somewhere safe, tuck it away for later. I’ll watch the news for signs. This is too big a decision to make in haste.

When the time comes, I hope I’ll make the right one.

But I can’t promise that, when disaster looms, I won’t choose instead to spend that hour quietly, selfishly, unrepentantly, with you.

© 2015 Lauren M. Roy

About the author

Lauren M. Roy

Lauren M. Roy has been an independent bookseller, a publisher sales rep, and is completing her bookselling hat trick as an author. Her Night Owls urban fantasy series is published by Ace Books, and her YA fantasy The Fire Children is published by Solaris. Her flash fiction has appeared in Fireside Magazine and on Podcastle. Lauren lives in Southeastern Massachusetts with her husband, their cats, and the ghosts of the houseplants she forgets to water.