The watch stopped and everything around it came to a grinding halt. If she hadn’t been there to witness it, she would have never believed such a thing could happen. People had dreamed of stopping time or propelling it forward – time’s manipulation is the stuff of science fiction. But this was the real deal. Men and women were frozen in mid stride, babies sat silent with their mouths wide open, birds dotted the sky like motionless specks of dirt on the horizon, and water in a nearby fountain waited endlessly for droplets which may never reach it.
Eliza tapped the delicate and fractured face of her family heirloom and wandered further into the street. There was an uncanny silence that hung like a dense blanket over what was normally a loud and chaotic city. Her ears felt muffled and she strained to hear something but only the beating of her own heart rang in her ears. There wasn’t even a breeze. Her long, dark hair fell limply over her shoulders. When the watch stopped, she was about to meet her lover at the train station. She had been watching the hands moving on the time piece at what seemed like a tortuous snail’s pace. All she had wanted was for the train to arrive. Now it may not for a long time or perhaps never.
It seemed that she was the only person who had not been affected by the watch’s spell. Was she the only person in the city, in the country, on earth, or in the universe who was experiencing this? And if she was, why? Was it because she was the owner of the watch or did this have absolutely nothing to do with her? Was there some lesson she was to learn from this or was it just a random occurrence? A man sat on a motorcycle in the street, his hair was blowing in a non-existent wind. A woman, cleaning a window, leaned precariously on her ladder but never fell. Eliza suddenly broke into a jog. She needed to get to the train station.
The watch had been her grandmother’s and Eliza was fairly certain that it had been passed down through many generations . Their family hailed back centuries but the history was uncertain. No one would talk about the past whenever Eliza had asked. They all said the records had been lost. Her grandmother, however, had spun an impossible tale…or a least it had seemed impossible until now. She tried to recall the details of the story but in her desperation for the world to return to normal, her grandmother’s words wouldn’t come to her. She didn’t really care why this had happened anyway. She only wanted to be kissing James.
James was a married man and Eliza was a married woman. He lived 600 miles away. Their love was powerful but hidden from the world. Most of their time they spent apart but when an opportunity arose for them to be together, they both wished for time to slow to a crawl or even stop when in each other’s arms. What was happening now was not at all what Eliza had had in mind when she wished for more time with James. At least, she didn’t think so but, then again, maybe when she reached the train station she would see James wondering aimlessly and trying to figure out what had happened just as she was now.
But the station was as silent as everywhere else. Eliza slipped past a guard who had been collecting tickets when the time stopped. She felt victorious somehow, as if she had achieved the impossible. But she also felt criminal. Never once had she driven above the speed limit or even littered. But in this timeless, still world there was nothing to stop her from doing whatever she wished except for the thing she really wanted to do – be with James. She stood on the edge of the platform and stared at the stationary trains. Some had obviously been disembarking passengers, some accepting them. Some were either on their way in or out of the station. But which was James’?
All the times James had visited, Eliza never wrote down his train number. He was very fastidious in telling her every detail of his travel arrangements – a characteristic she had always found amusingly adorable. But to her, the only important information was the time. She would just wait in the station at the correct time never caring which train he was on as long as it arrived. Now this number was excruciatingly critical and she didn’t have it. The automated arrival and departure boards were blank. There was no way around it, she would have to check every train in and around the station.
There was something very unnerving about being in a train full of inanimate people. They were like posed mannequins. She wondered if they were actually alive or dead. Had time sped up for Eliza while the rest of the world was functioning at a much slower pace? Or was nothing or no one functioning at all? Would they eventually just decay where they stood or sat? Could decay happen without time? A shiver run up Eliza’s spine as she hastened her pace through the train. She started to imagine a post apocalyptic world and her breathing quickened. She was beginning to feel panicked.
“James! James! Think of James! You have to find him. Ignore these people! They are nothing more than objects.” She said forcefully to herself and managed to slow the pace of her breathing.
She searched every face in three trains and could not find her James. She could feel the frustration mounting inside her. Frustration and fear. What if she never found him? Would she ever see him again? Eliza steadied herself against the wall of the station. She felt dizzy and slightly nauseated – exactly the way she felt when she was stricken with claustrophobia a few years back in an elevator. She had to get back outside. She could return and search again. It wasn’t as if time would run out. Or would it run out for her and no one else? Contemplating the situation made her feel worse. It was mind-boggling.
Eliza rushed back past the guard, up the stairs and outside again. She sat on an outdoor bench and held her head in her hands. Everything remained silent and still and she remained alone.
(to be continued…)