I was walking through the mall when I saw a kiosk that claimed to be selling time. And I don’t mean in a “buy some labor-saving device” kind of way. I mean, little white boxes each labeled 10 minutes.
I stopped and picked one up. The act of holding the box made me feel strange. I couldn’t tell if I were suddenly relaxed or impatient.
“Hey, what is this?” To my right, a couple of teenagers addressed the kiosk attendant, a bored-looking goth girl who sat on a tall stool. A book was open and lying face-down on her thigh.
“10 minutes,” she said tonelessly. A steel ring glimmered in her unsmiling lip. “If you ever need an extra 10 minutes sometime.”
The kids looked at each other and snickered. The girl picked up her book (Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus) and the boys were dead to her.
“Yeah?” said one. He picked up a box and opened it.
From where I stood, I tried to discretely peer inside. As far as I could tell, the box was empty.
“There isn’t anything in here,” the kid said. “You’re ripping people off, lady.”
She turned the page and sighed. “So you’re going to spend it bitching?”
“You can’t just sell people empty boxes.”
“What do you care?” she said. “You didn’t even buy it. You stole it.”
“I didn’t steal anything!”
She held out a hand. “Not if you pay for it now.”
“You’re kidding me.”
“The price isn’t negotiable.”
The kid made a noise of disgust and dropped the box onto the floor. He stomped it beneath a pristine sneaker. “Screw your little boxes. This is bullcrap.”
His friend laughed. But the kiosk attendant said, “Fine. If you think it’s okay to take anyone’s time, I’ll just take some of yours.”
A ringtone chirped from the kid’s back pocket, and he pulled out a phone and answered it. “Yeah? No, I’m at the mall. What? But Mom — we just — Mom! Get Dad to do it. Well, get him to do it later. But it’s two hours away!”
The girl raised her book higher and bent her head, a smile finally curling around her lip ring.
The kids stomped away. The crushed box remained on the floor like a wounded pigeon. I picked it up and held it out to her. “Do you, uh, want this back?”
She stared at me. I realized that I was still holding the box I had picked up originally. “Oh!” I set that one down on the kiosk, atop another box just like it. “Sorry. I’m not going to do anything to it.”
She didn’t say anything.
“And anyway… how much of that kid’s day did you just take?”
The attendant almost smiled again. She reached for the box I had just set down and swiveled it around. The label now read 12 minutes. “Two times the number of boxes here,” she said.
“So that would come to…”
Her eyes moved over me — the head-to-toe assessment of a woman considering. With one hand, she set Rilke on the kiosk, and with another, she picked up a box and flipped the lid open.
“You’ve got some time to work it out now. And to ask me questions, if you’ve got any.”
I smiled. I gave her my own once-over, and though she did look young, there were fine lines on her hands. She was probably my age.
Actually, I had all the time in the world.
KJ Kabza’s short fiction has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Daily Science Fiction, Flash Fiction Online (here, here, and here), and others, and has been called “Delightful” (Locus Online) and “Very clever, indeed” (SFRevu). For updates on forthcoming releases and links to free fiction online, he invites you to follow him on Twitter @KJKabza and peruse kjkabza.com.
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© 2015 KJ Kabza