At 5:31pm, between the 21st and 22nd second, Adam Gordon Eggler slipped out of time. For him, the world froze. For the world, a man disappeared between one step and the next. Had anyone been on the street at that time, or peered out a window, they might have scratched their head in wonder, or suspected their eyes of playing tricks. No one was walking on that street, however, or peering out a window. The sole witness to Adam Eggler’s disappearance was a squirrel. For the squirrel, a disappearing man was far less interesting than the enticing scent of a peanut.
Adam’s first several hours in-between were filled with adventurous awe. He rearranged people on the streets. Helped himself to a burger and fries in a nearby diner. Sang and danced in the middle of an intersection. Eventually, the gaiety wore off. He returned to his apartment and slept, hopeful for once to be awakened by the sounds of jack hammers and honking taxi cabs.
Waking was an eerie disappointment. The utter silence of the city was a weight in his head. He stared at his phone, still on the screen he’d been gazing at when it had happened. A photo he’d been in the process of deleting. It had been a mistake capture, blurred colors and shadows of the street. He wondered that his phone’s battery hadn’t run out overnight, but remembered with a dropping sensation that nothing was changing. Not even loss of power. He tried to switch on the television but it didn’t respond. Nothing electronic did. Lights that had been on stayed on. Off stayed off.
Days or weeks or months passed in sameness and stillness. He had no way of telling. Not one to succumb to lethargy, Adam pushed himself to keep this new reality interesting. He held conversations with the frozen people around him. He challenged himself to make up stories about what was happening for each person he passed, in that moment. He even came upon a mugging and rearranged the scene so the mugger’s pants were tangled around his ankles, his gun was empty and the police car down the block was now parked at the alleyway entrance.
Most of his time, though, was spent in the library, reading every physics book he could find. He’d never had much of a mind for the sciences, and the concepts were often baffling when discussing time. He turned to religion, and the esoteric when that fell short. Not finding answers, he took to wandering.
He decided to check on his friends and family. These were long trips, often requiring what he now thought of as days to walk, but he had nothing else to do, so the effort felt good. He helped himself to food and lodging wherever he needed to, thankful that he’d been in a city when time stopped. The “Moment,” he was now calling it. He learned that temperature held to what it had been in the Moment, so dining was mostly done around restaurant kitchens. Toilets were a consternation, so he kept a mental tally of nearby construction sites, and their portable facilities. In all, Adam had figured out how to live this new life in between. If only it wasn’t so incredibly lonely.
By the time he reached his mother’s house, Adam felt he was doing some good things for the world. He made adjustments as he walked, trying to improve the next second for everyone he passed in small ways. At his mother’s house, he had big plans. He couldn’t remember a time when she hadn’t complained of being the only one working to keep her house clean. As kids, Adam and his siblings had rolled their eyes and found excuses to be elsewhere. Now, Adam had all the time in the world to do this one thing for his mother. He spent what he thought of as a week scrubbing from top to bottom, learning a few things about his siblings and parents along the way. His mother stood at her kitchen counter, laughing with his brother while she prepared dinner. Adam had left that meal alone, opting to take his meals in small bites from neighboring houses. He wanted his mother’s dinner to be perfect for her. Finally, he sat down and wrote a long letter, explaining what had happened to him and the gift he’d chosen to give. Kissing each of his family one last time, Adam left his childhood home with his mind on adventure.
He wandered aimlessly for some time, perusing different towns before heading back into the heart of the city, and the restaurants he preferred. Stopping at a cafe, Adam paused at a table where a pink haired woman was shading a drawing. It was magnificently done. She was talented. That wasn’t what had caught his attention, though. The words she was busy embellishing were, “Adam, you have a purpose. Live it!”
It felt as if she’d written the message just to him. Carefully, so he didn’t mar her artwork, Adam lifted the pencil from her fingers and set it on the table. Then he slid her sketch book from her hands and leafed through it. Many of the sketches were still life. Candy wrappers and sagging backpacks. Old shoes. She had a gritty, city style. On none of the other pages were there words.
Trembling a little, Adam slid the sketch book back in place. When he lifted the woman’s hand, a deafening noise sent him to his knees. It was over in a second. His ears rang in the silence. He gazed around the cafe, but all was as it had been. Or was it? With a jolt, he realized the pink haired woman had her gaze fixed on him.
He ran. He ran until the adrenaline and the fear and the shock were less of a thrum than his aching muscles. Panting and sore, he sank down on a curb and tried to find a single good reason for his reaction. Something had happened. Finally, after all this non-time, something had changed. And it had to do with that pink haired woman.
It was probably cowardice, but Adam returned to the library. It was a different one with a different selection of volumes on various belief systems. Adam hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about religion, but given his reality post-Moment, he was willing to believe quite a lot. Again, though, after what he considered to be weeks of research, he left without any new insights on his situation.
He haunted the window of the cafe, gazing in at the pink haired woman. He didn’t like pink hair. Or piercings or tattoos. Everything about her was off-putting to him, beyond her artwork. He wondered why that mattered. He didn’t have to be attracted to her, he just needed to find out why she seemed to be the key to… whatever this was. Finally, he pushed inside and drew up to her table, facing her. He reached out and grabbed her hand.
He recreated all of the things he had done. He placed the pencil back in her grasp and removed it, setting it carefully on the table. He perused her sketch book and set it back, exactly as he had before. Nothing. Feeling frustrated, he searched through her jacket and pulled out her wallet. Lime green faux leather with metal studs. He grimaced with distaste. He pulled out her ID and studied it.
“Hello, Amelia Rose Carson,” he said, noting her address. It was time to do some snooping.
Under any other circumstances, Adam would not have had the gumption to let himself in to a stranger’s apartment. The Moment had changed him. Plus whatever had happened at the cafe. He was surprised, once he stepped inside, at how pleasant Amelia’s apartment was. He’d expected punk band posters and a layer of artfully ripped clothing littering the floor. Instead, he found light. Colorful paintings dotted the walls and a jungle of house plants reached toward the evening sun happily. A cream and orange colored rodent slept in an aquarium with some sort of tiny jungle gym attached to it. Beyond the artwork and plants, she lived simply.
Adam stayed in Amelia’s apartment for some time. Her bedding smelled like lavender. He read through her book collection and studied the artwork. Most of the pieces propped against the walls bore her signature, while the pieces hanging on display were created by other artists. Her sketch books were the most interesting. Going from page to page, the subjects seemed randomly selected. Just an artist drawing things nearby to refine her technique. Seen together as a whole, though, they told more of a story. She drew the trash and forgotten things of the city while within her own walls she nurtured plants. In her closet, a shoe box was filled with drawings and handmade cards from twenty-three different children. That mystery took some sleuthing, but Adam eventually found that “House” scribbled each week on the calendar in the kitchen corresponded to a place called “Helping House” down the block. It seemed Amelia volunteered there. He took to sitting across from Amelia in the cafe, asking her the questions the clues in her apartment didn’t provide answers to.
“How long have you volunteered at Helping House? What do you do there? Why don’t you draw people? I found some of your sketches up on the walls there. You can tell they really care about you. You draw the things that nobody looks at, which means you noticed them. You noticed me. In whatever happened here, before, you saw me. Why? I wish you could see me again. Like in that book – the orange one about perception… oh, which of your books is your favorite? Have you read them all or are some of them on the ‘read later’ list? Why the pink hair and that whole… pierced look? I mean, your apartment is so serene. Self-confident. But out here, with your clothes and your hair, I mean, you look like you’re trying to prove something. It’s – I don’t know, it’s kind of a lie. Isn’t it? Is it an act? And why would you need an act? I mean, we all act, I guess. Look at me. I act every day. Or, I used to, before the Moment. When it happened, when time stopped in that alley, I was trying to take a selfie in front of graffiti. A selfie. ‘Hey world, look at me posing for you.’ It seems ridiculous now. You don’t have any photographs in your apartment. And the only mirror is in your bathroom. Do you not like to see yourself or is it the opposite? Self-confidence? Like you know you look the way you want to and you don’t have to remind yourself that you succeeded? I have like ten mirrors around my apartment and at least one picture of myself. Although, to be fair, that was placed there by my sister and I never bothered to move it. Do you have any sisters? Brothers? I’ve been all through your apartment and I didn’t find a single…”
Adam sat back in thought. If the Moment had happened in another generation, he probably could have learned a lot more about Amelia, but these days nothing was committed to paper. He couldn’t access phones or computers. Did Amelia have a family? He thought about his mother’s house. His siblings. The fights and squabbles he’d had with them, certainly, but also the support he felt just knowing they were there, somewhere. Did she have that support? Did she not? Maybe that was why she seemed so self-contained. Or why the only connections she seemed to have forged were with the kids at Helping House.
He realized that no amount of snooping into Amelia’s life was going to help him to know her. Not really. Her thoughts weren’t written out in some diary somewhere. Her calendar and reading list pointed to her being a person who felt a level of responsibility toward the world, a responsibility Adam had never considered, but that was guesswork. Her plants and that healthy looking rodent, whatever it was, indicated that she was good at nurturing them. That was all he had. Guesswork and assumptions. He’d been trying to make a connection with her through context. Like having a relationship with a photograph with a list of facts scribbled on the back. It was probably all the time he’d spent attempting to learn about her, but there was something fundamentally familiar about her, once he looked past the hair and tattoos and the rest.
“I’m sorry,” he said at last. “I thought I was trying to get to know you, but I think I did it in the wrong way. I want to know you. The real you, not just the clues to you. I wish I could meet you and go through every awkward, stupid step of being allowed into your life. Get to know you like a normal human being. You’re obviously a good person. I wish I could learn from you. Try to be a better person, myself.”
He reached out and touched her hand lightly. “Goodbye, Amelia Rose Carson.”
Amelia was startled from the affirmation sketch she’d promised Adam over at Helping House by a light touch to the back of her hand. She dropped her pencil in alarm, staring at the man who had just appeared across the table from her. For a second, he seemed superimposed on himself. She really needed to get her eyes checked.
The man clasped his hands to his ears and cringed, but not before she recognized him. Seriously? Now? She’d given up believing a long time ago. But there was no mistaking it. He was the boy she’d seen in her dreams, all her life. They’d grown up together, in a way, as they bumped past each other in dreams now and again. She’d searched for him, initiating conversations about dreams whenever someone felt instinctively familiar. She had never found anyone else who had experienced what she had. Yet here he was, at long last, cowering strangely in his seat.
“You took your time,” she smiled.
This is a work of fiction. Any names and places depicted are purely fictitious and do not represent any real persons or places, living or dead.
This post was made possible by my patrons at https://www.patreon.com/wcmcclure.
A special Thank You to Dustin Martin, Rainy City Ukulele School, Nicole Tuma, Stephanie Tuma, Sarah, and my eternal gratitude to my World Shapers, Ann & Jess. Thank you for your support!