Early Warning System (HTML excerpt)
 
Ophelia sat calmly at the window, waiting for something to come. Something, and someone. A person. An incident. A future. Ophelia was good with futures.

Natalie stood beside her, hand on her shoulder. “We had such a nice picnic last weekend,” Natalie pleaded. “Didn’t we? Lemonade and tuna salad sandwiches. You won at Scrabble.” The past belonged to Natalie. In the face of crisis or unhappiness, she tried to cheer everyone up by recalling them to the good times. “You cheated, of course. It’s obvious, now that I think back on it. But we had so much fun.”

Ophelia ignored the accusation. She couldn’t help cheating any more than Natalie could help catching her at it a day later. Ophelia could see what tiles her sisters would draw two minutes into the future; Natalie could see the truth of what happened as soon as it was in the past. “Things are going to get complicated and dangerous,” she said.

Myra exploded. “Will you two quit maudling?” Myra was a creature of the present moment. All this mumbling about pasts and futures exasperated her. “Give us something we can do about it now.”

Currently she was making the rounds of the house they shared, pouring carefully measured streams of water into each houseplant in turn. There were many of them—ferns, spaths, spider plants, jades, orchids, even a rack of kitchen herbs growing in halves of eggshells. Myra took care of them all. Permanently grounded in the present, she was the best suited to take care of immediate household needs. Sometimes Myra resented this. It was rough, being the only one likely to notice that they were low on bread or toilet paper right now. The future requires little and the past even less, but the present is alive with demands.

Still gazing out the window, Ophelia murmured, “I can’t yet see the nature of the threat. All I can advise is vigilance.”

Myra sighed. Of course there was a limit to what Ophelia could see, she accepted that, but the whys and wherefores of it were beyond her. Ophelia had tried to explain about multiple possibilities, shifting probabilities, human indecision, and so forth, but as far as Myra could tell, it was just a damn convenient excuse for being unhelpful. “Well, can you see ‘the nature’ of what’s bringing the threat? Describe it to me, maybe I can make a plan.

Ophelia turned from the window and fixed her eyes on Myra. Myra shivered. Limits notwithstanding, Ophelia could count Myra’s store of tomorrows or at least get a sense of how it was diminishing. Myra probably looked to her like a collage of future moments, each pasted on top the previous, smooth dark skin transitioning to leathery wrinkles, scars, or rigor mortis in a single glance.

“A man will arrive today,” Ophelia said. “He will jeopardize our immediate safety and destroy our continuing peace.”

“Describe him. I need details.”

“A white man. Tall. Sandy-brown hair. Business formal dress.” Ophelia paused, scanning her vision. “Driving a tan car. A sedan, a huge one, big as a boat, with fake wood paneling on the sides.”

“No.” Natalie stumbled back from the window as though the sedan were already there. Recognition haunted her eyes. “No, no. He dragged me into that car. It took so long to find my way home. Everything hurt.”

“Natalie—”

“Don’t make me talk about it!” Natalie covered her face. “That picnic was nice,” she said. “Scrabble. Ophelia cheated, we had lemonade, it was fun. Does anyone want some lemonade? I’ll get out the Scrabble board.” She fled the room.

Myra watched her go. People call the past a foreign country, as though there were only one of it, one unified land forever growing larger, encompassing everything from the moment of one’s birth to the breath one took just an instant ago. But that was absurd. The past is an uncountable number of nation-states, their borders and policies constantly shifting and volatile. The Land of Scrabble and Lemonade was doubtless a happier place than the Kingdom of Long-Ago Kidnappings, but fleeing the latter for the former wouldn’t keep Natalie safe if her stalker had indeed tracked her down.

No, keeping them all safe was Myra’s job. “Hold down the fort,” she said. “I’m going shopping.”

Ophelia’s head snapped up and her eyes went wide. “That won’t help.”

“What?”

“Don’t ‘what?’ at me. You know what. You came to a decision. You made a future. I can see it. It’s not a good future.”

“Then tell me what else I should do!” Myra threw up her hands. “Look, I’ll call the police first, if that’ll make you happy. They were oh so helpful last time, weren’t they?” She found her purse hanging off a chair at the kitchen table, slung it over her shoulder, pulled out her cell phone and started dialing it. “Don’t either of you answer the door until I get back.”

But of course one of them did. Probably Natalie. Ophelia would know better; she could see the possible repercussions clear as day. But all Natalie could see was the past. It gave her a tendency to repeat history. The upshot being, the huge sedan with the fake wood paneling was parked at the curb when Myra got back, and the front door of the house stood open. Raised voices reached her even in the driveway. Myra quickened her stride.

In an instant she evaluated the scene: Natalie at the kitchen table, crying. The tall man speaking to her, hypnotic and fast. His hand gripping hers bruisingly hard. Ophelia, quiet in the corner, overwhelmed by the near future, unable to act in the now.

Myra didn’t hesitate. She pulled the brand-new pistol out of her purse and fired.

It had been several years since she regularly practiced at the range, but her aim was true. The bullet took him in the eye and knocked him over backward. Natalie followed him a few steps out of her chair; death was slow to loosen his grip on her hand.

Silence fell. Natalie straightened slowly and turned a look of beatific gratitude on Myra. The moment had passed into past, become a safe haven she could run to: The Country of Sisters Shooting the Bad Guy and Saving the Day.

Ophelia sighed, unsurprised and resigned. Her gaze traveled the formerly white wall. With all the certainty of a prophet, she said, “The stains will never come out.”

“Then I’ll buy another houseplant,” Myra snapped. “A tall one.” And she turned her attention to this latest mess that was, like all the others, her job to clean up.
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This has been the Friday Fictionette for September 15, 2017. It's also the Fictionette Freebie for the month, so anyone can download the full-length fictionette (1111 words) from Patreon (as an ebook or audiobook) regardless of whether they're subscribers.

Cover art incorporates public domain photography from Wikimedia Commons.