Excerpt: Reversing Time by Charlotte Mendel

Reversing Time: One Boy’s Quest to Change History is the full title of a new work of fiction by Charlotte Mendel. It is being published by Guernica Editions and will be released on December 1st, 2021.

Here are her introductory comments to this excerpt:

“We are all aware of the climate crisis, so why is everyone talking the talk, but not walking the walk? If the message isn’t working, change the message. As so often in history, artists can play a leading role in this change. That was the premise of the inspiration for this optimistic, yet realistic, book—to serve up difficult facts within the context of a gripping fantasy that focuses on what we can do about it. It has already inspired readers to look at their actions through the lens of climate change.”

None of the bullies were in the classroom, so for once Simon could saunter out like a normal student, except his heart was heavy with dread.

Sandra linked arms with him again, but he shook her off. “This isn’t a stroll along the promenade. You’ve got to be ready to run.”

Sandra giggled. “Promenade? Where do you come up with them words?”

Simon didn’t answer; he walked slowly, swivelling his head in all directions as he checked the ground, the sky, behind and to the sides. Sandra sensed his nervousness, and punched him playfully. “Hey, loosen up. I’m with you, remember? I can beat those wusses with one hand.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. There’s three of them, and they’re all Neanderthals.” But Sandra’s compact, muscly body gave him courage; she probably was a much better fighter than him. In any case, two against three was a lot better than one.

They walked slowly, Simon shushing Sandra every time she talked. His 360-degree scrutiny paid off; they had a second’s warning when Shawn and Tyler erupted from behind parked cars on either side of the road. Simon and Sandra spun in unison and started running back towards the school.

Then the bullies’ plan became clear, as Jake leapt from behind a bush, directly in their path. They must have passed Jake’s hiding place, but Simon hadn’t noticed, despite his care.

Two chasing them from behind, one in front: Simon pivoted sideways and began to run up someone’s driveway.

“Let’s fight,” Sandra screamed, grabbing a rock and hurling it at Jake, smacking him right on the chest.

He howled in pain and doubled over.

“Run,” Simon yelled over his shoulder, half-ashamed that he’d already taken to his heels, leaving Sandra to attack alone. From his periphery vision, he saw her pelt past the crumpled Jake, back towards the school. A rock came sailing past his shoulder.

Shit, she’s given the morons a new idea, Simon thought. He could see that both Shawn and Tyler were chasing after him, leaving Sandra to her own devices. He was alone again. A constricted, miserable feeling stained his heart like mould.

He vaulted over the fence separating the yards and raced over someone else’s property. He would probably get lost. He was sick of this. Running, frightened, bullied every day. A sick mother, who was now crazy. She’d probably do something terrible and get locked away. He hated his life.

Simon stumbled over the unfamiliar terrain. There was some type of backyard waterfall coming up. Simon veered around it and headed for the road beyond. He didn’t have to turn around to know the bullies were closing in; he could hear their rasping breath. Two, three? He was sick to death of running. He was sick of his miserable life.

A rock sailed through the air and cracked against the asphalt. Then one thudded against his shoulder, sending a jolt of pain shooting up his neck and jerking him forward. He stumbled, and almost fell; tears rose unbidden to his eyes. How could those morons throw rocks and run so fast at the same time?

I hate my life. I hate my life.

Simon knew the tears would blind him, slowing him down. He wasn’t sure he cared. Let them catch him. Let them beat him up. Maybe the physical pain would alleviate the heaviness weighing on his heart.

The pendant thumped unpleasantly against his chest in time to his strides. He pressed it still with one hand.

I hate my life. I hate my life.

Another rock whooshed over his head.

I wish I was dead.

The ragged breaths of his pursuers seemed to be getting closer, but he didn’t dare look over his shoulder to check. Looking back slowed you down.

I wish I was done with school. Done with that miserable house and my crap parents. I wish I was 18.

A strange whistling invaded his ears. His vision went dark, as though someone had slipped a blindfold over his eyes. The strangest sensation enveloped his body; it felt like a strong wind was spinning him around, lifting his feet off the ground. He opened his mouth to cry out, but before the sound materialized he felt cold tile under his knees, and the darkness fell away from his eyes.

He lifted his head. He was crouching on the floor outside a half-open door. A long corridor stretched in either direction, with similar doors lining it on both sides.

He was alone in the corridor, although many of the doors were half-open, and he could hear a jumble of voices. Music was blaring from a door down the hall. Rigid with surprise and wondering what the hell was going on, Simon watched a girl and a boy, just a few years older than him, emerge from one of the doors in deep conversation and stride up the hallway. He jumped to his feet as they passed him, embarrassed to be crouching on the floor, but they didn’t pay him any attention.

“Excuse me,” he whispered. “What is this place?”

The couple ignored him.

He cleared his throat. “Excuse me!”

They glanced back at him, without breaking stride.

“Where am I?”

“You’re in Clancy Hall,” one replied unhelpfully.

Simon watched the couple disappear around the end of the corridor, and turned back to the half-open door nearest him. He poked his head inside. The first thing he saw was the coloured shag rug that was usually slung across his bedroom floor, except this wasn’t his bedroom. He didn’t recognize the room. It was much smaller than his room at home; there was a single bed in the corner, and the sun blazing through the window on the opposite wall illuminated the piles of books and papers strewn over the floor. A young man sat at a desk in the corner of the room with his back to Simon, peering at a laptop.

Simon felt embarrassed and confused. He was about to clear his throat to announce his uninvited presence, when someone shoved by him, propelling him into the room. Another young man entered, and flung himself across the bed. “Jesus Simon, haven’t you finished studying yet? I told Owen we’d meet him for lunch.”

Simon jumped when he heard his name, smiling uncertainly at the man on the bed. The man looked at him in surprise. “You didn’t tell me you had a little brother, Simon.”

The man sitting at the desk turned around. “Do you mind waiting outside, Chad? I just need another five minutes, and I’ll finish faster if you’re not breathing down my neck.”

“All right, but get a move on. We were supposed to meet Owen ten minutes ago.”

The man strolled out, winking at Simon on his way. As soon as he was gone, the man at the desk jumped to his feet and locked the door. As he did so, Simon looked directly in his face. The cry that had lodged in his throat burst forth.

The man … had his face.

And he was looking right at him.

“This is your first time, isn’t it?” he asked.

“The first time for what?”

The young man laughed delightedly. “I remember it! I remember every detail—those bastards chasing me and throwing rocks …”

Simon felt faint. “Chasing you? Please, what’s going on?”

The young man jerked slightly, almost as though he’d forgotten Simon’s presence. “Damn, I’m breaking the rules. Communication is strictly forbidden.”

“What? You have to tell me …”

“No! There are rules. Ask Mum.”

“My Mum?” Simon asked uncertainly.

Older-Simon laughed uproariously, as though he’d made a joke. “Go on now, scoot. Go back to your own time,” and he snatched his wallet from the table and zipped out the door, apparently forgetting the five minutes of studying he’d intended to do, in his haste to preserve the rule of no communication.

Simon looked after him in consternation. His own time? How was he supposed to know how to get back? He closed his eyes. What had he been thinking when this had happened? He’d been wishing he was older. I wish I was fifteen.

Nope, still in Older-Simon’s room.

He tried to recall his exact actions as he ran away from the bullies. He remembered the pendant thumping against his chest. He had grasped it in his hand, to stop the thumping. Of course, how stupid of him. He plucked the pendant from under his shirt and held it firmly in his hand. I wish I was fifteen.

Charlotte Mendel was born in Nova Scotia and spent three years travelling around the world, working in France, England, Turkey, Israel and India. She is the author of Turn Us Again (Roseway/Fernwood, 2013), which won the H.R. Percy Novel Prize, the Beacon Award for Social Justice, and the Atlantic Book Award in the Margaret and John Savage First Book category. Her second novel, A Hero (Inanna Publications, 2015) was shortlisted for the 2016 William Saroyan International Prize for Writing, and was a Finalist in the 2016 International Book Awards in the General Fiction category. Charlotte currently lives in Enfield with twenty chickens, four goats, three sheep, two cats, two children, one husband and thousands of bees.