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Topic: Does anyone recognize this story?

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Subject: Does anyone recognize this story?
Date Posted: 3/11/2011 6:26 PM ET
Member Since: 5/10/2009
Posts: 826
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I'm trying to remember the title/author of a story I read years ago.

A woman in her young teen years either does or doesn't do something, which causes the death of her friend.  As a result, she was convicted of negligence or something of that nature.  Her sentence was to have some sort of display implanted in her forehead for everyone to see that counted the time elapsed since whatever it was she did or didn't do.  The idea was that then everyone would be aware that she'd caused something horrible, and how long ago it was.

The story takes place decades later when she is a very elderly woman.  She's still haunted by guilt for her action/lack of action, and an outcast to society because they're constantly reminded by the time display.  She's about to run out space on her display, the upper limit of how much time can be shown.

I recall lots of musing because it's going to reset back to zero, and she feels that when it does, her period of being outcast would be over.  She'll feel that she's paid her debt, made up for whatever it was that killed her friend, and thus that she'll be free of the guilt she has had for decades.

At the end of the story, the display rolls over, back to 0.  She feels better, feels like she should be free of guilt, can rejoin society, not be outcast, etc.  Goes outside - and everyone is horrified.  She has not looked into a mirror since her display had rolled over, but her timer has still kept counting up, though now the numbers showing are low.  Everyone assumes that she's committed a crime again RECENTLY, and that's why the number is so low, and thus she's even more outcast than she was before.

The entire story takes place in the hours just before the timer turned over and maybe an hour or so afterwards.  Anything before that time was told as a flashback.  The woman in question spent the majority of her time (now that she was elderly and didn't work) staring at the display in the mirror - just watching the timer count up.  I believe that she could also see out her window by looking in the mirror and watch people go by in the street outside.

I believe it's a short story or novella, though I'm not entirely sure.  It was sci fi, but not hard SF and I don't remember any details about the setting, other than it was rather populated. 

I think I read it in the mid to late 90's, and at that time I was reading lots of pulp SF stories originally published early to mid 20th century.  So, if it's a short story, it could have been published anywhere from 1905 to 1995.  If it's a novel, it was most likely published 1980 or later.  How's that for a wide range of possible publication dates?

But.. I pictured a display like the old physical rolling odometers in cars, or a digital display with a set number of digits when they were talking about the timer reseting to zero, so that part kind of suggests it was written in the latter half of the century.

Does anyone recognize it?  Any help would be greatly appreciated!  This has been driving me nuts for a couple of weeks now.  I thought it was by Ray Bradbury, but I've flipped through most of his collections and haven't found anything like it yet.

I know there's a few places dedicated to searching for books/stories, but I thought I'd try here first.

Date Posted: 3/12/2011 9:21 PM ET
Member Since: 7/7/2007
Posts: 4,815
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I couldn't find a snyopsis that fit, but does this cover image look familiar?


It is the cover art for the magazine, Science Fiction Quarterly, (Aug. 1956),  specifically the story Time-Lockers by Wallace West.  I couldn't find a synopsis for the story, but there's a book by the same author/title, though reports seem to indicate the book is 2 stories put together, and maybe you read the magazine version.

Anyway, maybe I'm totally off base, but it was the only thing I could find. ;-)


Date Posted: 3/14/2011 2:37 AM ET
Member Since: 5/10/2009
Posts: 826
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It sounds like it could be interesting, but, no, that isn't it.

Thanks for trying though.

I think the hard part about finding this story is that it's a short story, rather than a novel, so any synopsis is going to be brief and rare.

Date Posted: 3/14/2011 5:26 AM ET
Member Since: 1/19/2008
Posts: 14,818
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it sure sounds interesting.  i'd love to know where to find it if anyone manages to identify it.