Dr. Fabre wasn’t always the top scientist running the program to the Machine. What event caused her to be the woman to give Avery and Sierra so much pain? Find out in the next chapter of Catching Time!
[Read First Chapter Here.]
Chapter 16: Happy Birthday
December 10th, 1994
A crisp winter breeze shook the trees on a bright Monday morning. It was a beautiful day for anyone that was paying attention. The thing was, Annabelle Fabre wasn’t paying attention. She was standing on the grounds of Princeton University as a group of undergrads walked by. They were slowly making their way towards their first class. Annabelle’s eyes trailed them but continued unfocused as her mind raced through calculations on her latest hypothesis.
At that moment, it felt like time was standing still. It was almost ironic if only Annabelle could catch this feeling in a bottle and ask how it worked. What she dedicated her life to was figuring out the passage of time.
Standing up straight, she reminded herself that getting lost in thought was something she needed to stop doing. Casually she adjusted her glasses as she pushed back a strand of hair that brushed across her cheek. This semester, Annabelle taught only one class, but teaching wasn’t her priority. Her mind focused on her research; it was why she took this position in the first place. The pay was modest for her qualifications, but the University’s support was unparalleled to any offer she had gotten.
Maybe, one day her research on the Tipler Cylinder could pave the way for time travel to be a reality.
Annabelle’s eyes creased at the corners as she squinted from the intensity of the sun. She only had four more months of funding, and then she’d have to pack up and leave. That wasn’t enough time to finish her ongoing experiment. Annabelle bit the corner of her lip. The stress was getting to her.
She wanted her name to be in history books forever. It would be her way of making her mark on humanity. Annabelle hated attention, but she wanted to do something extraordinary with her life. The longer the years dragged on, the only problem was that it started to dawn on her that her dream would never happen. She would die a nameless academic. In the last ten years, Annabelle had nothing to show for herself or her work. She’d have to rebuild the exact specifications of her equipment somewhere else if anyone else would offer her the chance. Now, that possibility was looking increasingly unlikely.
“Hey,” a student called up to her from a group of rowdy undergraduates, “happy birthday, professor Fabre!” The student finished. The other kids in the group ignored her, but the boy that called up waived excitedly.
That was the other factor that was causing her stress. Today was her Birthday.
Annabelle sighed disapprovingly after the students walked out of sight. She recognized the boy immediately. He sat at the front of her lecture hall and participated in class discussions almost daily. Annabelle couldn’t tell if he was the classic teacher’s pet or that he had a crush on her. Either way, she didn’t want to be reminded of her Birthday. Annabelle didn’t want to remember that she was wasting her life away, toiling at work that would never matter. It was true that her doubts about herself became magnified because of the significance of her Birthday.
Annabelle completed her walk and made it to the front of her department building. She strode through the doors, itching to get back to her office. The first thing she needed to do was to pick up her bag before heading to the lab. The fresh air hadn’t helped her fix any of her problems. It would take more than a handful of months for her to come up with a working experiment. This funding deadline was a nightmare.
If she could have some promising results on her work, she could get another year of funding. If only she could magically come up with a solution.
For right now, the University seemed uninterested in letting her continue. Her ideas seemed far fetched to the eyes of her peers. Two months ago, she published the results of her last calculations. Within the first month, her hypothesis was tested and rejected. The feeling stung beyond words. She knew she was right, but she needed more money and more time.
“Hey Anna, wait a minute!” A voice was heard down the hallway, followed by a slam of a door.
Annabelle looked down the hall. One of her colleagues stuck her head out from behind a corner. The woman had to do a slight skip to catch up with her down the hallway.
“Hey,” Annabelle said, looking at the woman’s face, “Are you all right?” Something about her quickness to catch up with her told Annabelle that the woman had something on her mind.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I wanted to ask, can you take a look at my lesson plans for a moment? I want to make sure the order of this makes sense,” The woman said as she stopped walking abruptly in the middle of the hallway.
“Well, okay, I’ll take a look,” Annabelle reluctantly agreed. She’d rather be on her way to the lab instead of chatting in the hall.
Occasionally, she would get asked for help from other professors. They didn’t respect her research, but at least they accepted her knowledge. Annabelle never considered herself a people person, but in the last few years, other people around Annabelle found her approachable with her wide smile and kind eyes. If only they knew her. The real her.
This willingness of others to easily approach her came as a surprise.
When she first arrived at Princeton University, Annabelle thought she’d spend her days focusing on her lab work and put socializing and teaching on the backburner. This whole socializing thing had been new to her. Despite the fact she considered herself a so-so friend, she enjoyed interacting with the students and staff. Not only was her research not going to get complete, but she’d miss the connections she made in her time here.
In the hallway, the woman pulled out a notebook and let Annabelle lean over her shoulder to go over the syllabus and some worksheets. They stood in the hallway while Annabelle read.
“Here,” Annabelle pointed at the syllabus, “If you move this lesson up to week four, it will make more sense for the class before you get to week six.”
“Okay, yeah, that makes sense,” The woman pulled out a pen from her pocket and made the edits on her paper.
They looked at the syllabus for several more minutes. The woman would occasionally scratch some notes out with her pen while she seemed to be looking at her watch. Annabelle ignored the movement. She guessed that the woman had a class starting soon, and Annabelle’s own readiness to leave evaporated once she started making corrections. Her full attention was on the task at hand.
“Okay, I think that’s it. Everything else looks great,” Annabelle said, standing up straight. She was getting tired now and wanted to get to her office. Maybe, she needed up a coffee before heading to the lab too.
“Thank you, you helped me there,” The woman smiled and looked at Annabelle. The woman’s eyes were bright, a look of mischievousness sparkling behind a dark grey glint. She neatly folded the papers back under her arm, “I wanted to make sure. Can I walk you back to your office? I have a few more minutes before I have to leave.”
“Sure,” Annabelle smiled. At this rate, she wouldn’t get to her lab until noon. Another wasted morning was something Annabelle didn’t need.
Talking politely, they made their way down the hallway until they got to Annabelle’s shared office door. Without thinking, Annabelle reached for the door only to be caught by surprise. The door handle wouldn’t budge. It was locked.
“Is everything all right?” The woman asked as Annabelle tried to turn the handle of the door one more time.
“That’s strange; I didn’t lock it this morning?” Annabelle tried knocking on the wooden frame. Maybe, her co-worker, another professor in the physics department, accidentally locked it, she thought. Annabelle had left her keys in her office, along with her tote.
“I think I got something for that,” The woman said with a sly smile as she took out a key from her pocket. She quickly slid the metal into the doorknob and turned it. It unlocked with a faint click.
“Who gave you a key?” Annabelle raised her eyebrows.
“I’ll tell you later, why don’t you step inside.”
Annabelle stared at the woman questionably. She knew, deep down, that this had something to do with her Birthday. Annabelle wasn’t sure what her colleague had planned. However, she didn’t think that it was worth going through any trouble for her sake. Especially since she would be leaving soon.
When they stood before the office looking in, the lights were off. Annabelle’s eyes didn’t have time to adjust to the darkness, but she didn’t need to see. All she had to do was reach into the corner and grab her tote. Quickly, Annabelle stepped through the doorframe with the woman following behind. The woman flipped the switch to the lights.
A loud pop went off, followed by a shower of confetti as the lights flicked on.
Most of her colleagues in her department, some undergrads, and TA’s stood up from under desks and behind corners. The tiny office overflowed with people. To Annabelle’s shock, someone even brought out a cake. Everyone around her smiled up at her.
Saying that she was stunned was an understatement.
“Did you suspect anything?” Another one of her colleagues asked.
“No-no, not at all.” Annabelle was trying to absorb everything and everyone around her.
“We got you,” A young undergrad walked up to her and hugged her, “You deserve it. You are my favorite teacher here,” The student said as she pulled away from the embrace.
“Thank you,” Annabelle said to the student before turning to the crowd, “you guys didn’t have to do this.”
The woman with the grey eyes laughed at this. “Yes, we did,” she said, leading Annabelle to the cake to get a better look at it.
“Thank you,” Annabelle was genuine. She didn’t think she deserved this because she wouldn’t have gone through any of this trouble for anyone. Maybe, she should have felt bad for this. The reality was, Annabelle didn’t.
The car jolted to a standstill with the twist of a key. It was still light outside as Annabelle Fabre returned from work to her apartment. Immediately getting inside her home, the smell of freshly cooked pasta wafted through. She closed the door behind her, kicked off her shoes at the entrance, and placed them next to two tennis shoes. One belonged to Annabelle, and the other belonged to her fiance.
“How did work go?” A male voice greeted her from inside.
Annabelle walked over to the voice and met the man it belonged to in the kitchen. Pots and pans littered the room around him. It was a rare sight to behold; the kitchen was not a room they used. Walking over to the counter, she plucked a cherry tomato from a salad bowl.
The man was tall, taller than her, and clean-shaven. He was still just as charismatic and attractive as the first day she met him. His name was Mark, and he was her fiance. Although he wasn’t an academic, he was smart in his way. Today, he was trying to make this day special by trying his hand at cooking.
“Good, some of the students and faculty got together and threw me a surprise party.” Annabelle popped the cherry tomato in her mouth. She chewed it thoroughly before swallowing.
“I bet you hated it,” Mark teased as he placed a kiss on her forehead. He lingered before he walked over to a saucepan to give it a good stir.
“Can you believe I liked it?” Annabelle picked up another cherry tomato.
The truth was that Annabelle didn’t like it, but she loved teasing Mark about it. For the first time today, she felt at ease. This surprise was also a lot better than the first. Typically, they would have gotten take-out, but today was special.
“You, like parties, in your honor?” Mark smiled back at her, “No, I don’t believe it.”
“I hope you weren’t the one that told them about my birthday.”
“Maybe, I told the nice kid that always seems to answer your phone at the lab.”
“I did. What the kid did with that information was out of my hands.”
Mark took a bite out of his pasta, seeming satisfied with himself and the information he let slip. Annabelle placed another tomato in her mouth, smiling at him. Casually, she leaned on the kitchen counter and pulled up a chair to watch him.
Mark wasn’t as skilled at cooking the same way he was at welding. His profession was as far away from her job as humanly possible. He worked in a trade, but what they did for a living didn’t bother the other. The only thing was that she really liked him, but deep down, she didn’t want to marry him. It wasn’t that she didn’t love him; she didn’t like the idea of marriage. They had been together for seven years and were practically married to anyone that knew them. Friends and family stopped asking about it, and even Mark didn’t bring it up anymore.
Annabelle reached for her third tomato, but she was interrupted by the doorbell.
“Who’s that?” Annabelle looked across the apartment. Mark didn’t seem surprised as he hurried over to take her hand away from the salad bowl and pulled her to her feet with one easy tug.
“I have one last present,” Mark said, pulling her towards the door.
“I hope you didn’t invite anyone.”
“You’ll have to see,” Mark said with a wink as they made their way to the front of their apartment.
Mark undid the locks excitedly, and Annabelle watched him. Everyone was going through to much trouble for her. Mark paused, then looked at her with a smile. He opened the door slowly as though he was revealing a magic trick.
The first thing that caught Annabelle’s eye was a small lump of fur in a woman’s arms. The woman was familiar, but the chunk of what appeared to be hair wasn’t. Mark’s sister stood on the other side of the door, but what she was holding was a mystery.
It wasn’t a blanket because it started to move.
The fur was golden brown and wispy. The ball turned from it’s curled up position, and two yellow eyes beamed brightly through curly ringlets. A tiny black nose stuck out from a brown snout. It was a puppy, and it started wiggling around excitedly.
It looked like a golden retriever, and it must have been only seven weeks old. The puppy looked up at Annabelle, causing her to smile. Their guest, Mark’s sister, looked like she was struggling not to drop the small dog.
“Come in,” Mark said.
“Happy Birthday, Anna,” The woman said, putting the puppy down as soon as she walked in the door.
The puppy bolted immediately to Annabelle and Mark and sniffed at their ankles; it’s tiny tail wagging.
“Thank you,” Annabelle said to her and hugged the woman. She then knelt to pet the dog, who immediately lifted its nose to give her a lick.
“Do you like her,” Mark kneeled beside Annabelle to pet the dog too. The puppy went over to Mark and licked at his hands.
“I love her,” Annabelle scratched the puppy behind her ears.
The dog looked like it was enjoying the attention, and it let out an excited bark.
“Oh, wait. I forgot about the pasta,” Mark said, he bolted to the kitchen and the small puppy chased after him. The two women laughed behind him at the dog.
A warm feeling bubbled inside Annabelle’s chest. Her life might not be perfect, but this was as perfect as it was going to get.
“It’s done.” Her voice caught her off guard, but she wasn’t the one who had spoken. Quickly, Annabelle looked up from her desk.
“Can you go away? I’m busy.” She said out loud to no one. It was the only thing she could think of to say. She never believed in the supernatural. Whatever uneasiness she was feeling was inconvenient but had no base in anything. This feeling had to be a safety mechanism in her gut that was telling her to leave. She was alone, and it was dark. The campus security was scarce late at night, and tonight something felt off. Annabelle knew it was essential to pay attention to her gut. Something in her subconscious was telling her to go.
The lights on the machine flickered, and just like that, she finished the experiment. Scribbling down some notes, she wrote what she needed to expand her test. The uneasy feeling soon went away as the groundwork started for the next phase of her hypothesis.
She gathered her bag to leave.
Before she knew it, Annabelle was swiftly walking towards the parking lot. The dark pavement looked like water as her shoes clicked across the asphalt. In the distance, a person stood out in the emptiness. Annabelle froze. That person was leaning against her car.
She stood a reasonable distance away, trying to figure out what to do next. It was unfortunate that she never packed pepper spray, and for the first time, she wished she had.
“Don’t be afraid,” A familiar voice said. It was the voice of a woman.
“I need to leave,” Annabelle said to the woman, taking a cautionary step closer. She couldn’t make out the woman’s features from a distance she was standing.
“Is that all you have to say to me?” The woman sounded out of breath, but something about the way she talked was familiar.
“Who are you?”
“You know, deep down who it is.”
Annabelle got closer to the woman, and for the first time, she felt genuine fear. This woman wasn’t a stranger; she looked like an exact copy of herself.
“No, this isn’t right,” Annabelle placed a hand over her mouth to hold back a gasp.
The thing that made them stand apart was strikingly apparent. The texture of the woman’s skin stood out. It was too perfect, and somehow this version of Annabelle looked alien. She didn’t fit in with the surroundings around them.
The woman slumped from the way she was leaning. Deep red caught Annabelle’s eye. It was blood. This version of herself was injured. The paleness of the other woman’s skin had nothing to do with the perfectness of it.
“I need you to listen,” The woman rasped.
“You’re hurt?” Annabelle stepped even closer.
“I’m going to die,” The woman said, “you’re going to die.” The woman tried standing up taller but only managed to cough up blood, “How interesting is it that you’re going to watch yourself die.”
“Wait, please don’t move,” Annabelle felt a sense of panic. She didn’t know what to do.
“I came here to give you a delivery,” The woman pulled out a journal from inside her jacket. “What you wrote down, it’s going to work. Everything is going to work, and this is how we’re going to die. Interesting, isn’t it?”
“I don’t understand?” Annabelle was now standing inches away from the woman, but she was afraid to touch her.
The woman’s legs buckled from under her, and Annabelle leaned in to catch her despite feeling uncomfortable.
“Don’t let this happen,” The woman looked up at her.
“How can I do that?” Annabelle didn’t know what to say. She had to be hallucinating. She couldn’t be looking at a mirror of herself right now. That was impossible.
“Don’t bother telling anyone because no one will believe you. Follow the words in the journal, and you can live forever,” The woman gasped. Something about the way she was responding was changing.
“Wait, what’s happening to you?” Annabelle cupped the woman’s cheek, trying to get her to face her. The woman’s eyes were wide in pain. Something was happening inside her. The woman’s gasping got shorter and gurgled as she tried to speak again. It sounded like she was choking on her blood. “Please, tell me what I can do,” Annabelle asked, more urgently, her voice cracking.
Everything felt helpless at this moment. Filled with fear, Annabelle didn’t know what was going on. The woman’s body started to convulse against her, and her bloodshot eyes stared back at Annabelle in fright. Suddenly, the woman’s body stilled, and her eyes rolled back. This woman, this other her, was dead just as suddenly as she appeared.
Annabelle couldn’t explain to herself what had just happened. Now, with the woman gone, she was alone again in the parking lot. It was true that no one was going to believe her. How was she going to explain this to the police?
Trying to stand up, Annabelle knocked the journal from the woman’s hand. Shocked, she picked it up and flipped to the first page.
I’m sorry you had to witness that. Today, I’m sure you’re aware that tonight will change the course of your life forever. Let’s prevent this day from happening. Only you have the power to change your destiny. This journal is the best gift you will ever receive.
Added incite to the main villain in this chapter. You can find out about her future self in chapter 13! This note is for readers who are not following the story in chronological order.