Chapter 14:

The Ballad of Time Cop

The Web Novel Club

“I come bearing gifts!” Yumiko proclaimed, cans of juice from the school’s vending machine in her hands. Masako had finally coaxed Natsuki out of her fetal position by that time; she sat with a forlorn look at her desk.

Yumiko handed Natsuki a drink. “Look on the bright side - at least you didn’t cry! I’ve cried over a lot of things. There have been plenty of times where I felt so frustrated with my story and knew it wasn’t going anywhere that all those feelings came out via my tear ducts.”

Natsuki wanted to cry, of course. She could whine and yelp and spiral, but crying was a line she wouldn’t cross - public tears would be the ultimate embarrassment. But as Yumiko said, she really did feel frustrated - but for a reason she didn’t entirely reveal to her clubmates yet.

“It’s alright,” Masako offered as Natsuki glumly drank from her can of juice. “It’s just your first story. They say failure isn’t failure at all, just a learning experience.”

“After myself, failure is the greatest teacher,” Yumiko confirmed.

Natsuki sighed and looked out the window. Between her friends’ words and the summer sun, she found the strength to say what had really been on her mind since late last night.

“I wanted this to be my magnum opus,” Natsuki said. “But, to be perfectly honest…I want to move on. I want to write a new story.”

After making that big declaration to Masako at the train station about being alive and wanting to write a story that defined her current period of life, Natsuki felt ashamed and looked away. When she heard nothing, she snuck a glance back and saw Masako and Yumiko looking at her in sympathy.

“My first story was supposed to be for about 120 chapters,” Yumiko recalled. “And it only went for eighteen.”

Masako smiled gently. “And you know I’ve stopped working on my magnum opus, too.”

Yumiko leapt over and placed her palms on Natuski’s desk, nearly startling her out of it. “I still get that feeling. You ever watch a television show or read a book and think, wow, I really want to write something like that. But you’re knee-deep in your current book, one who’s ending seems so far away.”

Natsuki nodded. “The outline would’ve had Time Cop go for three hundred chapters. But I only made it to five. I feel like a quitter.”

Masako shrugged. “You’re an amateur writer. The world’s your oyster. No offense, but you don’t exactly have a fanbase that would be disappointed either, right?”

Natsuki shook her head. For all her chapter-posting efforts, her views ended up at a measly thirteen. Natsuki nearly tackled Fuyuki in excitement after reaching that number yesterday night, but now that the view counter remained stuck at it for the foreseeable future…it was the same number, yet had somehow gotten a lot smaller in value.

“I’ve been writing the same story for almost three months now,” Natsuki reflected. “Like Yumiko said, there were a lot of times where I got ideas for other stories. But Time Cop was going to be the one. It would be my defining story. But now that I hit a tangible milestone - ten thousand words - and as I took a break this weekend and started reading some of the other stories on Persepolis, some of the old ideas in my head turned into something more concrete.”

She held the can of juice in her and made small motions with her hand, watching the juice swirl around inside like a spiral. “I’m excited to write a new story, but at the same time…was all the time spent writing the old story just a waste?”

For once, Masako didn’t immediately answer, but Yumiko had already stepped up to the plate. “Of course not! Let me be a spiritual adviser to you right now, Natuski.”

She slid next to Natsuki and hoisted an arm around her shoulder; with her free arm, she pointed toward the distant possibilities of the future made possible only through the hard work of the past and present (to put that into more tangible terms, she pointed at the whiteboard).

“No writing is ever a waste of time,” Yumiko explained, putting on an old, raspy voice that sounded like it belonged to a dojo master somewhere deep in the mountains. “Think about it. You enjoyed writing that story. You must have so many fond memories of bringing that story to life.”

Natsuki nodded, starting to see what Yumiko saw beyond the tip of her pointed finger.

Yumiko continued. “Writing that story has led to you becoming friends with someone possessing a towering intellect and gracious good looks. And you made friends with Masako, too. And even if you achieved none of that, writing that story was still good practice. You can write a few hundred more words per day now, right? I’ve seen your writing - it flows better, the sentence structure is more varied, and you’ve got better with habit of yours - forgetting to include the word ‘that’.”

Natsuki chuckled, since that last comment really hit close to home.

“And even if you didn’t make friends, even if you didn’t improve - which is impossible, since all writing counts as practice - it was still something you did. And doing something is better than doing nothing.”

Natsuki felt a warm feeling somewhere in her heart. She brushed a strand of brown hair off her forehead. “You know, if it weren’t for the voice, that might’ve been one of the most genuinely heartfelt things I’ve ever heard.”

Yumiko smirked. “Outside of my ability to feel completely at ease in any sort of social setting, my ability to come up with inspiring speeches completely on my own is one of my greatest qualities-”

Masako stared Yumiko down, her piercing eyes appearing right at the end of Yumiko’s finger. “This is the same speech I told you when you got upset over your first story!”

Yumiko chuckled awkwardly, then poked Masako in the forehead. “You know, my third greatest quality is my ability to make people smile.”

Masako sighed, then smiled. “Well, I can’t say you’re wrong. Sometimes, I even envy you for that.”

For once, Yumiko was caught flat-footed. Her face displayed a happy sort of embarrassment, and she twiddled her fingers without saying anything.

With Yumiko now caught in a trance, Natsuki managed to free herself from the arm around her shoulder. “What should I do now? I feel a little better about moving on, but still…”

Masako rubbed her chin in thought. “Technically, you don’t have to do anything. It’s your story, you can just stop writing if you like. And that even goes beyond published stories. Yumiko and I have published probably around twelve stories between us, but we’ve written at least double that. With some stories - maybe you just lose the spark, maybe you’re just experimenting-”

“Maybe you were just drunk that night!” Yumiko added, now out of her trance.

Masako went to continue, but could only sigh and chuckle. “Don’t push your smile-making ability too much, Yumiko. Anyway, for some stories, you just stop writing, even if you’ve been at it for a few months. Even if you’ve been at it for a few years. And that’s alright. You can’t put a price tag on the experience.”

Her eyes displayed a brief hint of ambition. “But - and this is just me - I feel like you owe yourself a little something. Maybe it’s unlikely, but perhaps you’d like to come back and pick up writing this story someday in the future. It would be good to at least write up to a natural stopping point. Or maybe, especially since it’s published, you’d at least like to end it with an actual ending, shortened as it may be. I think it would feel nice to read something that has a true ending rather than an abrupt end.”

“Where did you leave off writing? Yumiko asked.

“Time Cop just went back to Renaissance Florence for his second time jump,” Natsuki explained, “And he beat up the Pazzi until they told him of their plan to steal the Mona Lisa and the map inside the frame.”

Masako pondered that. “Hmm…Time Cop is going to meet his daughter after the third time jump, right? It would be a prison visit, with him still jailed, but a visit nonetheless. Maybe you can write two chapters - protecting the Mona Lisa, and then meeting his daughter. I think that would be a good place to end off at.”

Natsuki mulled it over, trying to ignore the temptations of her new story and the lament of the ignoble end to Time Cop and her experiences with it. “That would be a good stopping point…” she admitted, but still…

“It’s only a suggestion,” Masako said. “You’ve done more than enough with it. I’d only say you should tough it out if you were only something like five chapters away from finishing it. But the ultimate choice is yours.”

She placed a tender, yet firm hand on Natsuki's shoulder. “You’ve hit ten thousand words, you’ve hit your daily routine. It’s your story. It’s entirely up to you on how you want to approach this. Think on it.”

Natsuki smiled and nodded.

Masako shifted gears. “And as for today’s club session - we’ll hold off on writing for today to go over publishing, as promised. Though, since you published this past weekend, I guess you’re the expert on it now, Natsuki.”

Natsuki tugged on her collar. “Ehehe, I don’t know about expert…”

Yumiko gasped. “What’s your username, Natsuki?”

Natsuki opened her mouth, but then closed it. She had gotten more comfortable with showing people her writing…but that didn’t necessarily translate to usernames now, did it?

She squirmed in her seat. “Uh…w-what’s your name, Yumiko?”

“SunsetonSunday99,” she simply answered. She heard a sigh from nearby and frowned. “Pop culture references that nobody else gets and dates your story are funny, Masako!”

Natsuki laughed along, hoping they’d all forget, but Masako and Yumiko looked at her relentlessly.

Natsuki stammered. “It’s…it’s, uh…it’s embarrassing!”


At the apartment later that day, Fuyuki watched an anime episode while waiting for the night’s baseball game. The episode ended with an embarrassed girl backed into a corner; with no way out, she cried out in time with the camera panning upwards into the sky.

“Huh,” she mumbled. “I wonder why they do that. A lot of scenes end like that.”

The sound of the door opening pulled Fuyuki out of her thoughts.

“I’m home,” Natsuki said, her voice sounding firmly neutral.

“What’s the matter?” Fuyuki asked from the couch. “Usually when you come home, you’re either happy as a clam or as sad as a…sad animal. But you sound right in the middle today.”

“I feel right in the middle,” Natsuki supposed. She put her bag away and got changed in a thoroughly average manner. “I’m excited to start a new story, but sad that I never got to the end of the old one. I guess they cancel out.”

“The power of PEMDAS,” Fuyuki realized. “But a new story, that’s great! You’re doing a great job with the writing, Natsuki. I’m sorry about the old book, though.”

Natsuki emerged from her room in a t-shirt and shorts. “It’s alright. I had a therapy session in school today for it.” She sighed. “But I guess there’s still some unfinished business.”

Fuyuki’s eyes lit up. “Speaking of finishing - can I read it now, Natsuki? You’re done with it!”

Natsuki recalled her promise. She briefly imagined Fuyuki reading through it - scrolling down each digital paper, her young eyes following her sister’s work. And then - and then the work would end abruptly.

When it came down to it, perhaps the only people to ever truly read Time Cop would be Fuyuki, Mitsuko, the club members, and a handful of internet strangers. No, there would be one more person - Natsuki herself.

She knew she didn’t have to get to a good stopping point. But a fire rose within her heart. She wanted Fuyuki and everyone else to read a story that ended on something tangible, not an unplanned, abrupt end.

But more than that - she herself wanted to sit down and read something she wrote with a true ending.

“Sorry for the delay!” Natsuki exclaimed, bowing. “But you’ll have to give me one more week. I’m not quite done with it yet.”

Fuyuki smiled. “Take your time, Natsuki.”


Time Cop sat on one side of the jail visiting center spaceglass window; his teenage daughter, Judith, sat on the other.

One hand chained to the wall, Time Cop sighed. “Sometimes, I wonder if it’s all just a waste of time.”

Her daughter spoke warmly for the father she hadn’t seen in some time. “What’s a waste?”

“Traveling through time,” he said. “I can never change the timeline, so it’s not like I’m really doing anything important. And it’s not like time slows down for me. I’ll be old by the time I finally get to see you.”

Judith smiled and placed a hand on the glass. “But you’re doing it to see me, right? And you’re protecting these relics from bad guys, right? To me, that doesn’t sound like time wasted at all. You’re making friends, right?”

Time Cop and the nearby guard briefly glanced at each other and then let out “hmphs” and looked away.

“...the joy’s in the journey,” Judith concluded. “Think of all the stories you can tell me when you’re finally back. I miss you, Dad.”

Words like that found their way into Time Cop’s hardened heart. He used his free hand to touch his side of the glass; his hand was bigger than hers.

“Stay out of trouble, you hear me?”

Judith laughed. She stood up and fished a coin out of her pocket. “I have to say, I appreciate the government letting me take over your bank accounts, Dad. It’s a bad day to be a casino on this side of Venus.”

She flipped the coin; both of them watched it fall into her waiting hand.

“Just like I used to do it,” Time Cop mused.

Somewhere, deep down, it made him proud.



Steward McOy