“It happened again,” Albert said as soon as he burst into the pub. As usual, he was smirking.
“What happened again?” one of the locals asked without interest.
“Someone tried to kill me!” Albert joined a group of his followers and accepted the first of what he expected would be many pints. “I was on my way down the Varner Fell when a boulder tumbled in front of me. It missed me by inches!”
“Just an accident, unfortunately,” someone muttered.
“Oh yes?” Albert said, instantly belligerent — his defining trait. He swaggered over to the man who had spoken, an elderly shepherd with a dog under his chair. “That’s the third time this week alone I’ve had an accident.”
Half the pub guffawed, which made Albert’s face go blotchily red with fury. He kicked the dog. It took two more pints and all the skill of his followers to keep him from starting a fight.
“I missed him again.” Vera paced the laboratory room. She looked out of place among the sleek scientific equipment and brushed steel tables, since she still wore her country-lass outfit: a cotton frock, battered Wellington boots, and a handbag over her shoulder with knitting needles and khaki wool sticking out of the top. “I spent all morning digging up those boulders and getting them placed properly, and not one so much as clipped him.”
Scott decided he had better put on his lab coat. It would remind Vera that he was a physicist and not someone she should punch. He donned his reading glasses too although he had to slide them down his nose to look over the lenses. “The rocks were just a side project, remember, while we arranged the next few experiments. Our request for a firearm was OK’ed this morning.”
“Why didn’t you say so?” Vera put her hands on her hips.
“I didn’t get the email until you had left. Can you shoot?”
“I’m an excellent shot.” She sneered. “Guess who taught me.”
Scott shuffled back a step without intending to. “Well, that will be wonderfully ironic. Are you available tomorrow afternoon?”
“Of course. You know he made my life a living hell growing up. And my poor grandma died young because of him!”
“Deep breaths. You don’t want your emotions getting in the way of your actions, remember.”
“Yes I bloody well do!” Vera shouted. “Why not tomorrow morning? Can we get the experiment underway earlier?”
“I’ll be here at eight.”
“Missed me!” Albert bellowed once he judged he was safely out of firing range. He looked around to make sure no one had witnessed him running and skipping like a demented hare to avoid the gunshots. He was alone in the cheerful spring morning, though. He strutted — maybe a little faster than usual — to the post office, where the postmistress didn’t believe his story and he had to shout at her.
The next week fell into a baffling pattern for Albert. Whenever he was alone, something happened to threaten his life: gunshots, a tripwire stretched at the steepest spot of his usual path, a funny taste in his dinner. He caught a glimpse of his attacker once, a woman driving an Austin 7 who tried to run him down, but couldn’t see her face under her cap. All she left behind, after she smashed into the bank building and fled, was a ball of khaki wool. The car had been stolen from an outlying farm.
“Admit it, Albert, it’s all coincidence,” a friend at the pub said that evening. “Who would want to do you in?”
“That woman. You saw her too, George!”
“She’s only some girl got a bit tipsy and decided to go for a drive. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“What about all those other things, the gunshots and traps?”
Albert’s face went red. “I haven’t got an imagination!”
George hastily bought another round. “Maybe it’s a sign, like. You’re leading a charmed life.”
“Right.” Albert thought this over. “Maybe I’ll marry Flo and take her to London after the war. Make my mark there.”
“That’s the spirit.”
Vera turned up at the lab the next morning, even though Scott didn’t expect her. He put his lab coat on hastily.
“Once more,” she said, fury in her eyes.
“We’ve reached the end of the experiment,” Scott said carefully.
A man entered the lab, still doing up his fly. “Couldn’t find my way back from the loo. Am I late?”
Vera handed him the pistol Scott had forgotten to return to its locked case. “Here you go. Ron’s a sharpshooter, aren’t you, sweetie?”
“I could shoot a pigeon’s eye out at five hundred meters.”
Vera said, “Right. So let’s start up the machine. One more trip.”
Scott shoved his specs on with shaking hands. “But we’ve established that it’s impossible to go back in time and kill your own grandfather.”
“It’s not me. Ron’s going this time.” Vera smiled chillingly and patted Ron’s arm. “Who says you can’t kill someone else’s grandfather in the past?”
K. C. Shaw lives in East Tennessee and writes fantasy and science fiction. She also produces a podcast called Strange Animals. Her fantasy novel, Skytown, is available from Fox Spirit Books. Visit her on Twitter @kc_shaw.