For one full second the Earth experienced some kind of weightlessness. Leaves drifting from autumn trees hesitated, seeming to have changed their mind on the departure. People in their sleep stretched, their bodies recognizing the newfound freedom and seizing on the opportunity without bothering to awaken. At other points of the globe a hush fell as this new thing that didn’t yet have words happened to people, their pets, the sandwiches in their hands. It was a gentle lift, for just one second, and the next second a mellow settling back to gravity as we know it.
Over the days and weeks to come there would be endless speculation on what had happened, but only one person who experienced the event was close to the mark, and her guess was made mere seconds after it happened.
Sarah had been sitting down for breakfast, mostly ignoring the news channel and thinking about what she needed to get done by Monday. Her cup of coffee was unfortunately full for what was about to happen. So it was that she was shaking a slightly scalded and dripping hand when she opened the door for John. He smiled broadly and extended his hand.
“Hello,” he said, “I’m…”
“John,” she finished for him. She turned her back on him, disappearing into the kitchen with the door hanging open beside his still extended hand. “I should have known,” she called. “Are you coming in?” she added as she returned with a tea towel.
John wasn’t often surprised. Generally, surprising people was his thing. He stepped into the apartment and closed the door.
“You know who I am.”
He said it as a statement but had meant it as a question. This version of Sarah shouldn’t have met him yet. He hadn’t been here before. That was why he’d come. She had turned out to be so interesting in all of her other forms, curiosity drove him further and further down the possibilities of Sarahs. She gave him a quizzical smile.
“I’ve known you all my life,” she said. Studying him further she added, “though I’m guessing by the look on your face you don’t know that yet.”
John felt a cold shadow pass over him. This was an obvious problem that could arise in time and inter-dimensional travel. He’d always been meticulously careful in what paths he traveled, though, and rarely played with time. He thought of time as a temperamental and sometimes vicious goddess who lashed out if she felt she wasn’t being worshiped adequately. Now he’d have to tinker with her long skirts in order to make this moment happen, and he didn’t like it. Something felt off, as if there was another force at work. He took as seat at her small table and only then noticed the mess she was mopping up.
“You make quite an entrance,” she teased, giving him a wink and going to the sink to wash out her towel. She returned with another mug of hot coffee and slid it over to him. “To what do I owe this pleasure?” she asked.
“I just…” John couldn’t think of what to say. “I wanted to see you,” he said.
He felt Sarah’s scrutiny as she studied him from over the rim of her coffee cup.
“Are the sunflower sisters well?” she asked.
John nearly fell out of his chair. He’d introduced a few of the Sarahs to them but never had he referred to them as the sunflower sisters. No one should know that term. Sarah had become a pet project to him. She was a sweet girl. In no dimension had he taken the role of confiding in her though.
“They are,” he said carefully.
He pinpointed what was bothering him.
“You know what I do,” he said. Another statement meant as a question.
“Oh wow,” Sarah said. “This really is the first time you’ve met this version of me.”
“How many times have…”
“Nope,” Sarah interrupted, shaking her head. “I’m not giving you any clues about your future. I know better than that.”
John didn’t tell her that her statement in itself had given him a clue. He wondered what it would be about this version of Sarah that would make him break so many of his own rules.
“I think I’d better get going to the next time I meet you,” he said, finishing his cup. “How old were you the first time we met?”
Sarah shook her head.
“Fine,” he sighed. “I’ll make it up. I’ll see you soon. About twenty years ago for you.”
Sarah grinned and walked him to the door.
“The gravity thing,” she said, kissing his cheek, “is that completely necessary? I spilled my coffee everywhere.”
John gave her his signature smile in response and took the stairs two at a time, all the while turning over her words. Something was wrong here. What worried him the most was that he didn’t even have a guess. He reached for the controls that would take him out of this version and ended up tripping on a step and nearly plummeting down the flight. The controls were gone. He was trapped.
An hour later John was pacing outside of a door with a placard that read, “Professor Cruz.” A bespectacled young woman rushed into the hall, her cheeks flushed.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ve been everywhere. The admin office has tried every number they could think of. Nobody’s seen him since the… whatever that was this morning. I’ve heard that the Earth wobbled in its orbit. It’s a miracle that all life wasn’t wiped out.”
“Yes,” John said, gesturing toward an unattended television babbling at the empty furniture in the lobby. “I’ve been hearing a great number of theories.” In fact, he had a few of his own and none of them had to do with gravity or orbits. “Please just give him this note when he turns up again,” he said, handing a cryptic message over with instructions that he could be found through Sarah.
Out of habit he reached for his controls again on his way out of the building and was surprised to find them available again. He gave the command to return to his office at the Game Makers’ Academy but found himself standing outside of a hospital. A quick check of temporal positioning told him that his dear little Sarah was being born inside. He found a bench and sank down onto it.
So then. He was a mouse caught in a labyrinth, and he had a suspicion that Sarah was being used as the bait. Who had done this? Why? Cruz being unavailable shouldn’t have sent up alarms for him but bells were ringing. Cruz was an old friend and a masterful inter-dimensional game designer. There were a few elements of this that had his flavor to them but the overall design lacked his finesse. Particularly the part where some kind of shift had been noticeable to the entire world. That was amateur and a bit heavy handed. So. One of Cruz’ students had decided that they had what it took to take on John. The smile that John aimed at the hospital’s façade was neither his signature wide grin nor his less used but equally effective lopsided lift. This was something new to his face. Something sinister, and a bit sad.
“You think you have me,” he said for the benefit of the novice game designer who was no doubt gloating over this small moment of realization. “Your lessons are about to begin. You’ve already made one mistake and I will find the others. I’ll get out of this loop, and when I do, know that I’m coming for you.”
He had never intended to turn Sarah into a player. Perhaps it had been naïve to think that he could display such a fascination with one individual without dragging them into his life. Now he understood what had shaken him so much about his interaction with her. She had known too much. Possibly everything. She would have to in order to be the weapon he’d need. When he found his way out of this game we wasn’t going alone.
Wearing his new smile, John entered the hospital.
Written by W. C. McClure. This may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure. This is a work of fiction. None of the characters or events depicted are meant to represent anyone or anything this side of dreams. Comments are welcome! Also, please help support this indie author by telling your friends about the excellent short story blog at
http://www.farsideofdreams.com and buying W. C. McClure’s books at http://www.wcmcclure.com. Thanks for reading!