Jack squatted down and peered at the pavement. He’d let this stranger interrupt his jogging to look at concrete?
“Do you see it?” The young woman leaned over, her dreads falling forward. “There.” She pointed at a small jagged line at the edge of the sidewalk.
“You can’t see the light? Oh probably not, if you’ve never been inter-dimensional. It’s a rip in space. In reality. We have to stop it before it becomes bigger.”
She didn’t smell like she’d been drinking, or look deranged like a drug addict—didn’t drug addicts look deranged?—and she was rather cute, so Jack offered a tentative smile.
She glared. “I know it sounds mad, but you have to believe me.”
“My name is Lora. And if we don’t do something, this rip will open big enough that who-knows-what might come through, or what from here will vanish!”
She escaped from a loony bin, most likely. Could he tactfully just back away, say he had some place to be?
She grabbed his arm, her brown eyes pleading. “We have to stop it!”
“Uh. . .how?” With chewing gum perhaps? he wanted to add, but he doubted facetiousness would be a good idea.
“I have a rift sealer in my apartment.” She hooked a thumb over her shoulder. “You keep an eye on the crack, I’ll run and get it.”
Unchecked appreciation of her figure as she ran toward a nearby building was not to be taken for granted. She glanced back, and he blushed, but no—likely she was just worried about the crack.
I’m an idiot if I just stand here. Self-consciously switching his weight from foot to foot, he looked around. A prank. His face flushed. She and her friends are probably watching from a window, laughing at me.
He walked backwards a few steps. I’ll just casually fade away. He glimpsed at the crack and stopped. It was bigger. He blinked. Power of suggestion. It’s really the same size, I’m just imagining it’s bigger.
But he stayed, stretching his hamstrings, as if he were just pausing to rest from his jog. His attention however, was drawn back to the crack despite himself. He didn’t think he had a very active imagination, but it was certainly in overdrive now because he would swear that crack was twice as large as it had been.
He squinted across the lawn to see Lora running toward him, cradling a contraption the size of an old boom box and made of heavy cardboard with several knobs, blinking lights, and analog dials, all held together with duct tape.
“I know it doesn’t look like much.” She came to a stop, breathing hard. “I had to cobble it together with what I had. I’ve been stranded here for quite some time.” She flashed a grin—white teeth in her pretty, dark face.
He smiled back at her, then kicked himself. He wasn’t going to get besotted over some whacko. Fortunately, his common sense kicked in. “Don’t tell me: you’re a time traveler.”
“Don’t be silly. That’s impossible. I just travel between dimensions, or did. I was, um, stranded here. I’ve been making do as best I can.” She tipped her head, the light emphasizing the angle of her eyebrows and her cheekbones. “And don’t be so cynical, it doesn’t suit you.”
Before he could frame an answer, she looked down at the pavement and frowned. “Oh dear, it is growing fast. You do see it now?”
With a non-committal shrug he offered, “Perhaps it’s just a trick of the light.”
“What, you can’t measure? It wasn’t as long as my hand when I left, and it’s longer than my foot now.” She set her sandaled foot—with cute toes, red polish—next to it. “See?”
He couldn’t deny it, but it didn’t mean he believed her story. “Well, can you fix it with your ‘machine’ there?”
“I think so, since it’s still so small.” She hoisted her gizmo and aimed the side with a cone-shape—he swore it was a cheap, kitchen funnel—at the crack.
The crack widened and emitted a definite bluish glow. Jack hissed an expletive and jumped back.
“Uh oh.” She turned off the machine, knelt, opened one end of the box, and rummaged inside. “I’m not much of a mechanic. And finding useable materials hasn’t been easy.”
Jack leaned forward to peek at what she was doing, but it was a jumble of wires and various electronic bits and pieces. Nothing made sense to him. Anyway, his job was to watch the crack so he did. It was bigger. Much bigger. He swore he could see it growing wider and longer every second. “Could you hurry?” His voice broke and he swallowed. Twice.
“Sorry, I can’t figure out what I did wrong.”
“Well, since you made it bigger, perhaps if you. . .reverse something?” He thought of an old television show he had watched. “Reverse the polarity—isn’t that what they always do?”
“Oh, yes! How clever.” She stared at the dials. “I did have the polarity reversed. Told you I’m not a mechanic.” She fiddled with a knob. “There.” She pointed it again, and the crack contracted then disappeared.
Lora rose, not quite gracefully as she still hefted the awkward armful of her homemade rift sealer. “Thank you.”
Jack found his voice after a few moments. “You, uh, do you seem to find very many cracks?”
“Not many, but this area is a weak spot, so I do try to watch for them. I have a rift detector.” She lifted her arm to show what appeared to be a bulky watch on her wrist.
Jack nodded, feeling like a bobble doll. Ten minutes ago he wouldn’t have believed her. “That’s. . .great.”
“I’m glad you were willing to stop.”
“Uh, glad I could be helpful.”
“Me, too.” She slowly grinned. “Want to go get a cup of coffee?”
Jack returned her smile. “Sure.”
(Available for download on Smashwords in e-pub, Kobi, and pdf.)