When it came time for Bert Vila’s 90th birthday, Josephine knew exactly what to get him.
“A couples’ Youth Suit rental?” He raised his eyebrows at his wife over the top of his birthday card. “This some trick of yours to get me out swing dancing?”
“Honestly, Bert,” she said, waving off his teasing and cutting him a large-but-not-too-large slice of strawberry cake. “I know you only went dancing all those years to appease me. This is your birthday gift. You’re always saying how you miss the old days when you were strong and spry and could do whatever you wanted. Now’s your chance to relive those moments.”
“I suppose if it’s a couple’s rental, I’d better find someone to bring with me.” He stroked his white beard. “Maybe one of the girls in your knitting club is free next week…”
Josephine set the plate down in front of him with a thunk and placed her hand on her recently-replaced hip — a little too sharply— and cringed. Darn thing still smarted.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Bert said with a smile, “I’d love to have you along. But I was pretty wild in my younger days.”
“You don’t think I can handle it?” Before he could answer, she’d left the room. When she returned a moment later, she was holding two suitcases. “I’ll have you know I’m already packed.”
Josephine pressed her hands against the Jeep’s dashboard and gritted her teeth.
Bert pressed his foot against the accelerator and whooped as the car tore down the empty country lane. “Mort and I used to race down this road every weekend, each of us trying to push it a little faster every time. Back then, we thought we were invincible.”
Josephine nodded encouragingly and clung to the door for dear life. The buttons on her Youth Suit flashed, monitoring her vital signs and compensating for her frail old body’s weaknesses. It pressed snugly against her arms and legs, lending them strength as she braced against the vehicle’s frame, and a surge of brightly dyed hormones surged through the tiny tubes, on their way into her bloodstream. She’d never felt so young. Or so terrified for her life.
“One time, Old Farmer Tucker happened to be coming up over this very hill,” Bert said, pointing. Josephine wished he’d put his hand back on the wheel. “Mort and I both slammed on our brakes and spun out… Hang on, honey, and I’ll show you.”
Josephine squeezed her eyes shut as Bert jerked the wheel and the vehicle seemed to fly out from beneath them.
It was only Bert’s laughter in the seat beside her that kept her from screaming.
Josephine stood at the edge of the cliff, looking down at the valley below. She could hardly believe they’d climbed the entire way, and she felt great! Exhilarated, even. Just wait till the knitting group heard about this.
Bert stepped toward the cliff’s edge. A little too close.
“What are you doing?” Josephine reached for his arm.
“Base jumping, of course. Didn’t I tell you how Cousin Frank and I used to come up here and do this all the time?” He inhaled deeply. “The wind in our hair… the sheer thrill of the drop…”
“You’re going to kill us,” Josephine muttered, shaking her head at the craggy rocks below them.
“Nah,” Bert said as he took a leap forward. His voice echoed around the canyon: “It never killed me before!”
For a moment, Josephine just gaped. How was she supposed to get down now? Retracing their steps down the trail would take hours. She inched to the edge of the cliff and, as terrified as she was, Josephine had to admit that at least it would be an interesting way to go. Imagine the obituary!
She cinched the strap on her parachute, checked that her Youth Suit was functioning properly, and jumped.
“I think we have time for one more activity,” Josephine said as she settled herself down in the Jeep once more. Her Youth Suit was soaked from the harrowing trip down the river in Bert’s old canoe, and she’d need to make an appointment with her hairdresser to fix the mess that the white-water rapids had made of her hairstyle, but the Suit had done its work. Rather than feeling sore and achy, she felt refreshed.
But even the Suit couldn’t take away her apprehension about what Bert would choose next. Rodeo-riding? Swimming with sharks? Juggling dynamite?
“Just one more thing,” Bert promised.
The room was dark, but Josephine could tell by the echo of her shoes on the hardwood floor that it was large.
“What is this?” she whispered tentatively.
“Reliving some of my fondest memories,” he said, his breath soft in her ear.
The lights came on, and suddenly they were on a dance floor, with a brass band playing the intro to Josephine’s favorite song.
“You expect me to believe you missed dancing?”
He spun her around, and thanks to her Youth Suit, she was once again young and graceful, without the arthritic joints and pains of recent years.
“It’s not the dancing I’ve missed,” he whispered in her ear. “It’s seeing you so happy.”
Elise Morley is an expert on the past who’s about to get a crash course in the future.
For years, Elise has been donning corsets, sneaking into castles, and lying through her teeth to enforce the Place in Time Travel Agency’s ten essential rules of time travel. Someone has to ensure that travel to the past isn’t abused, and most days she welcomes the challenge of tracking down and retrieving clients who have run into trouble on their historical vacations.
But when a dangerous secret organization kidnaps her and coerces her into jumping to the future on a high-stakes assignment, she’s got more to worry about than just the time-space continuum. For the first time ever, she’s the one out-of-date, out of place, and quickly running out of time.
Wendy Nikel is a speculative fiction author with a degree in elementary education, a fondness for road trips, and a terrible habit of forgetting where she’s left her cup of tea. Her short fiction has been published by Analog, Nature: Futures, Podcastle, and elsewhere. Her time travel novella series, beginning with The Continuum, is available from World Weaver Press. For more info, visit wendynikel.com