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News & Features » January 2019 » “The Time Stitcher’s Revenge” by Jean Wolfersteig

“The Time Stitcher’s Revenge” by Jean Wolfersteig

In October 2017 we published An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon, a rare literary science fiction set in a future universe so gorgeously described and perfectly self-contained—and yet so harrowing and cruel—that its only parallel universe is our own. Solomon’s novel has inspired this speculative fiction series. We’ve been through the past, and we haven’t really learned from it. The present? We’re too busy attempting to survive it. So we’re asking you to provide us a glimpse of what comes next. Illustrate the essential choices we must make in the present that will lead us to your brilliant utopian future. Or, if you cannot anticipate utopia, provide us instead with your cautionary tale. Show us where we will fall if we—when we—fail to alter our course. Fri-SciFi stories are published on Fridays because we expect we’ll need the weekend to contemplate your vision. 

This week, when the pattern of time unravels, only the Time Stitcher’s can save (or destroy) Earth.

The Time Stitcher’s Revenge
by Jean Wolfersteig
Year 2178, Planet Earth

Time marches on! What a ridiculous cliché. If I had a minute for every time I’ve heard it, I’d . . . well, don’t get me started. Let me just say, we learned the hard way that time is shaped like a figure eight, looping back on itself at the place where the past moves through the present into the future. Horribly, the figure eight unraveled during the climate change catastrophe of the twenty-first century, causing an abrupt shift in the earth’s axial tilt. No tilt means no seasons. No rotation means no day and night. No figure eight means no past and no future.

We were left a world where humans from every era populated the earth simultaneously, half in continuous light, half in continuous dark, all in chaos. The world’s tyrants battled until their armies came together under the command of one straw-haired demon. He turned us against each other. His militias poisoned the air, soured the waters, trashed the libraries. Only the Great Hall of Books remains, locked per the Dictator.

Now, weakened and poor, humans live segregated lives on trains traveling the earth.

Except for the Time Stitchers. We inhabit the underground. We are the women entrusted with stitching time together.

I preside over the Time Stitchers—spinners, weavers, quilters, embroiderers, tatters, knitters, crocheters—and the rows of sewing machines surrounded by steam lines powering our work and energizing the trains. They call me Grandmother.

It’s time to stitch.      

We take our places at the sewing machines. One tiny mistake—one dropped stitch—can change all time.

I make the first two seams, stitching dawn together with daylight and midnight together with night, setting the other Time Stitchers in motion. One seam for each time zone stitched in sequence. Then, we use our individual talents to adorn the day.

The room teems with women. Some women spin sunbeams and light the heavens with woven stars. Others determine the beginning and ending of life and all that happens in-between. They spin, measure, and cut the thread of life.

Together, we balance light and dark, create and carry out Destiny. We spin and weave opposing threads, one of sweetness and harmony, the other of bitterness and revenge. We are the source of good and evil, the creators and the destroyers. We are the scales of justice.

But we are not free.

My passion is weaving. With my sharp tapestry needles, I register every infraction, biding my time. What we Time Stitchers fix with cords and thread is bound to happen.

The gongs in the Great Hall of Clocks—a room the size of a train station filled with grandfather, mantel, wall, and cuckoo clocks—chime. All is well.

Quietly, when no one is looking, I drop a stitch.      

Alarm bells sound. Timepieces stop dead. Sewing machines go into overdrive, workers fully focused.

Light disappears when it shouldn’t. Darkness descends in the wrong places. The Northern and Southern Lights reverse. The past and future are all mixed up. Lives don’t get spun, weaved, or cut at the right times.

A burst of light is eclipsed by a loud pop.

The power goes off. Only manual treadles and shuttles work – and bleeding fingers stitching long bolts of time together by hand as fast as they can.           

Trains stop rumbling overhead.

Suddenly, there is only stillness.

A few women break the silence and raise their voices.

“What happened?”

“It’s dark up there.”

“If we want humanity to survive, we’d best start spinning.”

“No!” I say it quietly but with force. I have a score to settle. I did everything the Dictator demanded to “save the world.” Look what happened.

“Grandmother Spider?” someone whispers.

They stand around me, stock-still, waiting for me to think the world into existence with the conscious weaving of my web. There was a time I might have done it, but not after all that’s come and gone. The shroud on my loom is filled with names. Someday, when the earth is healed, we’ll bring them back. Minus the Dictator and his armies.

I leave the women to their hopes, set down my shuttle, cross the room to the Great Hall of Books, and unlock the door. At last, I give them my answer. “We’d best let time march on.”

Phewww! The slow release of breath swells to a low cry, and the sighs of sorrow and relief ripple through the air.

Not such a bad cliché after all.


JEAN WOLFERSTEIG retired as CEO of a psychiatric hospital in upstate New York and turned to writing fiction and teaching yoga. She is currently looking for a home for her novel, The Room Where the Elephants Go to Die. She lives in the Mid-Hudson Valley and spends her spare time in her sewing room making quilts.


Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Fri-SciFi series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines.

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a conceivable, not a fantastical, future. No dragons, please.
—With your byline, include the date or era OR galaxy or ship or planetary system in which your story takes place. Or both. But not neither.
—To be perfectly frank, we prefer dystopias. But feel free to surprise us.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words, and must be previously unpublished.
—Please include a short bio with your submission.
—Accepted submissions to Fri-SciFi are typically posted 1–3 months after the notification date, and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Jan 11, 2019

Category: Original Fiction, Fri-SciFi | Tags: , , , , , , , ,