In the very center of the grassy commons stands a regal statue of Thaddeus Wallace. One hand grasps a weighty tome while the other thumbs a jacket lapel. Wallace University’s founder faces the administration building and oversees the comings and goings of all students, but his bronzed eyes aren’t the only pair watching. Waiting. Looking.
From beneath the plinth on which ol’ Thaddy stands, a small wisp of silvery smoke emerges, like steam from a grate yet no underground system traversed WU’s campus. First wisp, then cloud, then human, fully formed, appears alongside the statue. Hawkish eyes search as a sly smile steals across his lips.
“Perfect timing,” he whispers to himself then laughs mirthfully as, of course, the Day Trader is always on time. Never early. Never late.
He feels a little lift in his step today, the first day of the new semester. He so dearly loves welcoming new little lost souls to night school. They were so different from those cheery daytime students, the ones with time and sunlight on their hands. These night-school souls, they have worries. So troubled were their feverish minds as they scurried about in the dark working hard to matriculate.
There were many ways he could help these little poppets, and they could help him too. He kept his steel gray eyes peeled for one little Red Riding Hood in particular. Samantha was her name and her energy was so, so…delicious. He could hardly wait to have a taste.
Samantha smoothed the wrinkles from the front of her simple blue shirtwaist dress. A hand-me-down from her cousin, it was a little too big and a little thread worn around the hem, but it was clean and didn’t smell of smoke. Fussing nervously with her auburn hair and huffing in frustration when the errant strands refused to lie down, a million thoughts ran through her mind.
Today was a big day, the proverbial first day of the rest of her life. It had been eighteen months prior that her mother, father, beloved little brother, and even her adorable pug dog had perished in an awful house fire. A fire for which she blamed herself every single day of her broken life.
Today was going to be different. She was going to focus on the future and not the unchangeable past. Things were already improving. She lived with her cousin and found work as an office manager for an insurance man. The pay was enough to save a little.
Tonight began the last piece of rebuilding her life. She was headed to night school to pursue a degree in accounting. With a degree, she could find better work and maybe eventually learn to trust herself enough to have a place of her own.
It was too much to think of all of that right now. “One step at a time,” her cousin told her when the overwhelming waves consumed her fledgling happy thoughts.
She took a big deep breath, put away her hairbrush, and stood up. Ten minutes walk to the bus. Who knew what magic lay ahead?
“Hello there, Mr. Jason, welcome back. I hope to provide my services again,” the Day Trader said in a silken voice to the passing young man who quickly looked away.
“Hello, Miss Lucy, and to you too, Miss Megan. You know where to find me,” he said as the two girls waved to him with big smiles.
Ah, it’s going to be a good season, he thought to himself. Then, scenting the air as a bloodhound after prey, the Day Trader stopped and turned quickly, eyes darting. She was near. A Cheshire grin spread wide.
Her bright blue dress was hard to miss in the clear mid-Autumn evening, standing out as it did against the dark coats and gray moods of the other students. She walked with Alice in Wonderland delight, led by another student, an older woman the Day Trader didn’t care for much. He was willing to put aside past differences for the sake of making a good first impression.
“Miss Amelia, how are you, darling girl?” he asked, applying words with the scent of roses and daffodils. Taking the hand of the older woman, he brushed a small kiss across the back.
"Oh, uh, hello,” she said dully in return.
“You are looking more lovely than ever. I can tell that night school agrees with you,” he said and could feel her resistance. She was trying, willfully, unsuccessfully, to close her mind to his words and charms, but it was useless. He’d taken her on a day trip just a few months back, and she could hardly pull herself away.
Even as she thought she hated the Day Trader, Amelia would be back. She was intoxicated by the possibilities of what he could do. But today it wasn’t poor dear Amelia with her hopeful memories of young and fumbling love that fed his hunger.
“Do introduce me to your lovely friend,” he said, turning his shining eyes toward Samantha and holding out his hands.
“Oh, yeah, she’s new. Samantha, meet Addie.”
“Hello,” Samantha said, falling entirely for his charms. “Addie? What an unusual name.” Her heart skipped two, three beats when he leaned in and placed soft kiss on her cheek. There was something intoxicating happening, and she lacked the resolve to resist.
“Darling girl, I am an unusual man,” he grinned, pulling back from her powdered cheek and pressing a business card into her hand. “Please, let’s meet soon. We have so much to discuss.”
Samantha turned to look at Amelia, to gape in wonder at the amazing good luck of meeting such a charming man. A man who wanted to see her again. When she turned back, the Day Trader was gone.
If she didn’t know better, she’d say he had vanished into thin air.
“So tell me more about that delightful Addie,” Samantha said as she slid into her seat next to Amelia. Her keen anticipation for night school’s possibilities was long past. Her mind only contained exciting thoughts of seeing him again. Of hearing that voice and feeling the light brush of his lips on her skin.
“He’s bad news; stay away,” Amelia replied.
“How can you say that? He’s wonderful!”
“No, he’s not.” Amelia said and looked away, shutting down any further attempts at discussion.
Samantha looked more closely at the friend she had just met earlier that day. Amelia had been attending WU night school for a semester and promised to show Samantha the ropes. Only a few hours ago she had found Amelia bright and wonderful and was excited to have a friend, but now she wasn’t so sure. Samantha suddenly noticed how dull and boring and well, old, Amelia seemed.
“All right, class, welcome to Accounting 101.”
Samantha turned forward and listened intently to the teacher. She absorbed the material and took good notes, but couldn’t keep her mind from wandering over and over again.
Debits and credits held no sway as an enchanting man rambled through her mind.
“It took you forever to reach out to me, naughty thing, but I’m so glad to be with you now,” Addie said over the top of his cup of Earl Gray.
“You silly man, it was only a day,” Samantha said with a girlish giggle that felt unfamiliar on her lips. When was the last time she had laughed? Before the fire, certainly.
“A day, an eternity,” Addie said and sighed like a lovesick schoolboy as Samantha giggled again.
“Tell me, why does such a pretty girl like you have sadness in her eyes?”
Samantha immediately cast her eyes downward, feeling embarrassed at having been caught. At what though?
“Yes, angel, you have such a deep sadness. Tell ol’ Addie, then. Is there a day, one day in your life you wish you could live again?”
Her eyes snapped up and met his stainless steel gaze. There was no reason to trust him so completely but she did. A lump rose in her throat, and she dared not speak but nodded solemnly.
“Well,” Addie said and moved in closer, creating a protective bubble around them as everything else in the school cafeteria dimmed. “I can help. You see, I’m the Day Trader. I can give you back a day.”
Samantha’s brows knitted together in confusion.
“I have been granted special, well, how shall I say this? Capabilities. I can help anyone re-experience a day.”
Samantha sat up and leaned forward.
“There is a small price for my services, however.”
At this her shoulders sagged and she sat back. “I can’t afford to pay,” she whispered.
“No, no lovey. Money is not what I’m after.”
Her brows knitted together again, but she was listening.
“This is the indelicate part, but I have to just say it outright. Can I be that open and transparent with you, my pretty bird?”
Samantha nodded, slightly afraid but unwilling to draw away.
“I can allow you to relive the best day of your life. I can turn time and let you have it back, for the very small price of one day from the end of your life. It’s a simple trade. You get a day and I get a day.”
Samantha puzzled on what he proposed. She wasn’t horrified at the idea of losing a day from her own soiled life. On the contrary, she was intrigued. “You say I can relive my best day, but how about my worst day?” she asked, ready to negotiate.
At this the Day Trader was astounded. “Your worst day? You want to relive your worst day?” he asked, voice dripping with incredulity.
“Yes. Something bad happened and I need to know if it was my fault. Can I alter the relived day?”
Addie rubbed thoughtfully at his chin and viewed the little bluebird of a girl with new respect. “Yes, but you can only change your own actions. And it will cost you.”
“I’m willing to pay the price if it means peace of mind,” she said. “How much?”
“To alter your re-day? Well, I guess it depends. How much alteration are we discussing?”
“The kind that could save four lives.”
The Day Trader took in a sharp breath. “Well. I’d have to ask for at least ten days for something like that.”
“Seven. Not a moment longer.”
It was Addie’s turn to sit back in his chair. He had underestimated the little minx. She was clearly made of sturdy stuff, but that was good, very good. Since each day of life he took added one to his own, young energy was the best. Young feisty energy even better.
In the early days he’d pursued the very old and sick, thinking it expedient. At the end of the road, they became more willing to part with an unhealthy day for the sake a good re-day. But an elderly day didn’t last a full sundown to sunup for the Day Trader. He needed robust days to fill the tank. That’s why night school was the perfect hunting grounds.
This deal on the table, this was interesting. He could probably get a day and a half from each of Samantha’s spirited units. Maybe longer. Seven Samantha days was a bargain. He might even be able to take some time off with that kind of energy surplus.
“You drive a tough bargain,” he said, unctuous smile returning. “When would you like to begin?”
“Now? You don’t want time to prepare?”
“I’ve spent eighteen months preparing. Let’s go.”
“Well, I’m sure I never,” he said, as the surrounding room vanished. They quickly found themselves in a darkened chamber containing a plush purple couch. Samantha went to the couch and lay down, as though she knew exactly what to expect.
“Dear heart, have you done this before?” Addie asked, puzzled by her brazen confidence. Most customers were shaking with terror at this point.
“No. I just know this is exactly what I need,” she replied.
The Day Trader regained his composure and moved to her side. He uttered a quiet incantation, and soon Samantha felt herself compressed, folded, made into origami. A crane, a tree, a star—and pop, she was there, in her family home. It was maybe fifteen minutes before the fire would begin. She could hear her mom in the kitchen washing dishes. Dad was in the basement fixing a broken toaster. Her brother Buddy was in his room doing homework.
Samantha moved through the scene like a ghost in her own house. She went down the stairs, past her father fiddling with a soldering iron, and into her basement bedroom. She saw herself there, putting the finishing touches on her hair. She had wanted to look good, hoping to catch the eye of a particular young man.
Samantha watched her own hands lay the curling iron down on the table. That extraordinarily hot curling iron that caught a bottle of nail polish remover on fire and killed her family. Her vanity and their death.
She watched her other self turn and leave the room but stayed behind, waiting to see the point of ignition. To feel her guilt burn with the wallpaper and cheap Scandinavian furniture.
Only, she noticed a small movement as the original Samantha dashed from the room. That Samantha yanked the plug from the curling iron from the socket as she dashed out the door.
How was that possible? What about the fire?
As her mind reeled, Samantha saw her father enter the room. He was looking for something and laid his battery-powered soldering iron on her table, near the nail polish remover. Finding what he needed, a small hand towel, he exited the room leaving behind the heated tool. The “on” light glowed like a single red eye.
He stubbed a toe when rounding the corner and a gas line feeding the hot water heater moved a fraction of an inch. Just enough.
The Day Trader appeared at her side. “This wasn’t your fault. You can’t alter the course.”
Samantha walked from the room, the Day Trader following closely behind. “We must leave quickly. No refunds.”
“No,” Samantha said while dashing up the stairs and out the front door. She found her other self waiting to catch the bus. “Go home,” she said and the other self obeyed. Both Samanthas returned quickly as the apoplectic Day Trader ran behind.
“How did you…? We must return now!”
“We are required to round trip together. If you don’t go back, I can’t go back. You can’t die on a re-day!”
Two Samanthas walked up the stairs to Buddy’s room and sat on the carpet playing with the pug dog. They tossed a ball between them and laughed as the dog yipped and jumped. Below, ignition.
Flames grew in intensity while the Day Trader’s continued pleas fell on deaf ears. Two hundred years of trading days went up in flames.
A vanishing wisp of silvery smoke.
Karen Fayeth | I was raised in New Mexico and, in 1997, moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. I have had three features published in New Mexico Magazine, and my short story, “The Broken One,” was awarded first place at the San Mateo County Fair. I have been published in Foliate Oak, Griffin, Jet Fuel Review, Ragazine, The Storyteller, Tower Journal, and Wild Violet. My style blends the influences of Hispanic, Native American, and the deep rural soul of the American West, along with a newer city sense learned in places like San Francisco, Singapore, and London. My baseball photo, “Bromance,” was featured on Intentional Talk, hosted by Chris Rose and Kevin Millar. I also run a blog, entitled Oh Fair New Mexico, at blog.karenfayeth.com.