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January 28, 2018

Deleted Scene Fom THE CONTINUUM by Wendy Nikel

THE CONTINUUM was written during my first attempt at National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), an online event in which writers challenge themselves to write 50,000 words in one month. Although this story started out longer, I later realized that it would work better at the shorter novella length, which meant cutting out a large number of words -- oftentimes, whole scenes.
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The Continuum
What was in those scenes? Well, check out this one below, which takes place early in the story, while Elise is making her way back to the Place in Time travel agency -- which specializes in trips to the past -- after a job that didn't go quite as well as she'd hoped.

Maggie's nephew is holding a fluorescent sign the size of New Jersey, labeled with my name in big, black-Sharpie letters. I contemplate sneaking past him. Maybe I could call a cab and tell Maggie he never showed up. I try to duck my head and slip by, but it's too late.

He shouts my name and jumps up, grinning like he's part of a toothpaste ad. I cringe as the curious faces of other passengers turn my way.

"How was your flight?" Erik asks. "It must have been an exciting trip, seeing half the world in one morning!"

"Right. Um… it was great." I rush through the familiar airport, half-hoping to lose him somewhere along the way as he struggles with his bulky sign. When we arrive in the parking structure, though, he's still here — panting slightly, but still grinning. I try to grin back.

"Where are you parked?" I ask.

"Oh, I'm right over here."

I frown at the crater-like dents on the door and fender, and consider the taxi again. It might be safer. He opens the door for me and reluctantly, I lower myself into the passenger's seat and buckle up. With one foot, I try to clear out a space on the floor for my feet to rest, but forfeit the attempt when a carton of fries topples over, spilling out onto my shoe.

Erik plops himself down in the driver's seat. "I'm so glad Aunt Maggie called me up. It's always nice to be able to help out a friend."

I try to smile, but it feels more like a grimace.

As we pull out of the parking structure, he takes the turn too sharply, and the car hops the curb. I clutch the seat beneath me, but when my fingers touch something slimy, I pull them back onto my lap.

"My Aunt Maggie says that you were overseas checking out a cruise ship. Any beetles in the soup this time?"

For a moment, I blank out and simply stare dumbly ahead of me. Oh, yeah. The beetle soup. The last time Maggie sent Erik to pick me up, he had asked so many questions about my assignment that eventually I resorted to making up stories based on the objects around me. There certainly was no lack of items in his car to choose from. The tale I fabricated about finding a beetle in the soup of a fancy foreign restaurant was inspired by a pair of CDs — the Beatles and Bowling for Soup — that were falling out of his broken glove box.

"Nope," I say. "It was a fairly uneventful trip. I see you got your glove box fixed." I point to the dash, where the door of the glove box is closed tightly.

"You noticed." His grin spreading even wider. "I had to superglue it shut so stuff would stop falling out."

The rest of the trip consists of Erik rambling on and on about one thing or another, and me politely responding with a "yup" or a "uh-uh" while simultaneously holding on for dear life to the bar above the door. Finally, he pulls up in front of the PITTA headquarters. I don't know that I've ever been so happy to see its big block-lettered sign or the sun-faded travel posters hanging in the front window. As I swing the door open, Erik stutters. "You wanna... do lunch sometime?"

I turn to him, so distracted that I place my foot right through the lid of a cardboard box. Freeing it buys me a few seconds, but when I look up, he's staring at me expectantly.

"I'm sorry. What?" I ask.

"I— I mean, if you want to." He turns beet red and stares straight ahead, now concentrating on the road far more than when the car was in motion. "You know how Maggie's always trying to throw us together. I thought you might want to go out sometime, for coffee or something."

Around us, New York City buzzes. A horn bleats at us as -- another driver waiting for our parking spot.

"I'm sorry, Erik. I'm just really..." I sigh. This is going to sound so cliché. "My job doesn't allow me a lot of free time right now; it's not fair to drag someone else into that."

My strange, fractured existence of being here today, gone tomorrow — or, yesterday, I suppose — doesn't often work as an advantage, but right now, it seems the perfect excuse.

"I understand," he says but refuses to meet my eyes. After another few seconds of awkward silence, I quietly thank him for the ride and hurry up to the building. My feet stumble up the steps. Would it be crueller for me to look back before I enter or not? I decide not to, but it's probably the wrong answer anyway.

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About the Author:

Wendy Nikel is a speculative fiction author with a degree in elementary education, a fondness for road trips, and a terrible habit of forgetting where she's left her cup of tea. Her short fiction has been published by Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Daily Science Fiction, Nature: Futures, and various other anthologies and e-zines.

For more info, visit wendynikel.com or subscribe to her newsletter!
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