“Well, that’s two hours I won’t get back again,” Sharon complained as she and her date left the cinema.
“Do you often get time back, then?” said Darren, her date, fed up with Sharon and her incessant whining.
“What?” said Sharon.
Darren looked at his watch. He was going to cut this short. “Look,” he made an apologetic grimace, “I’ve got an early start.”
“Fine!” said Sharon. “I’ll get a taxi. Call me.”
Yeah, right, thought Darren. He scurried away and didn’t look back.
Around the corner was a bar. Darren bought a drink and found a quiet corner but it was not long before a shadow fell over his table.
“Excuse me,” said a deep voice, “May I join you?”
Before Darren could speak, the man hitched himself onto a stool, swirling his cape behind him. He took off his top hat and placed it on the table. Darren stared at it. Who the hell wears a cape and a top hat these days?
The man tugged off white gloves and observed Darren through the lens of his monocle.
“What if…” he began, “What if you could have your time all over again? You need never have gone on that disastrous date this evening. You need never have sat through that awful film.”
“The film wasn’t bad – what I could hear of it,” Darren found himself saying. “What is this?”
The man reached inside his dinner jacket and took out a small wooden box like a miniature treasure chest. He slid it across the table towards Darren.
“One of these little lozenges will take you back to a turning point in your life. You need not show up at the cinema. You need not agree to meet that young lady. You get to have that time all over again so that you can do something else.”
“Piss off,” Darren scoffed. The man opened the lid, revealing colourless discs that emitted a faint glow.
“Observe!” He dipped his finger into the box. One of the discs adhered itself to it. The man placed the disc on the tip of his tongue.
“Excuse me; may I join you?”
Darren frowned. There was a man in a cape and top hat standing at his table. Darren’s eyes widened.
“You see?” the man chuckled and sat on the stool.
“How much?” Darren stared at the man’s pocket – that was where the lozenges were.
The man took out the box and pushed it across to Darren.
“First one’s free. First box, that is.”
Darren opened the lid. The glow of the discs played on his chin. When he looked up, the man was gone.
Darren dipped his finger in and withdrew a lozenge. It felt like a fairy’s contact lens on his fingertip. He stuck out his tongue and dropped the disc onto it. It tasted of nothing. Darren closed his eyes to concentrate. He felt foolish. The man was probably some stage magician having a laugh at Darren’s expense.
He opened his eyes and reached for his pint. The beer was gone. The pub was gone. Darren was at home, holding his phone to his ear.
“Hello?” said Sharon’s voice.
Darren gasped. He threw the phone across the room. He had done it!
He went to the cinema alone and enjoyed the film by himself.
The next few weeks saw Darren working his way through the box of discs, going back and changing life decisions, simple ones and important ones. By the end of the month, he was a millionaire living in a penthouse flat in the centre of London.
There was a knock at the door. Darren looked at the monitor of his security system. It was the man in the top hat and cloak.
“Yes?” said Darren, through the intercom.
“Greetings, my dear fellow. I imagine you’re running short of your little helpers by now. I have brought you some more. I imagine you’re in a better position to pay for them by now. It looks like you’ve done very well for yourself, I must say.”
The top hat tilted as the man looked at the overhead camera. The monocle flashed red with the glow of his eyes.
“I don’t want money,” he sneered. “I want back all the time I gave you.”
“Wait there,” said Darren. He dashed across the flat to find the little chest, which he had awarded pride of place on the mantelpiece. Fumbling, he opened the lid. One last lozenge remained. Darren tipped it into his mouth.
“Sweet or salty?” he asked Sharon at the popcorn stand. “I’ve been looking forward to this date for ages.”