This is the ninth finalist in Young Post’s 2016 Summer Story Competition in which a Samsung Gear VR headset and a 32GB Samsung Galaxy S7 will be won. Each week, we will publish one of the finalists’ stories, with the winning entry appearing in Young Post on August 27
A moist summer breeze enveloped me in warmth, blowing a few strands of my hair over my face. I twirled it back behind my ear with my eyes still fixated on the book. Through the locked door, I heard some indistinct noises. It sounded like someone on the TV show had just cracked a joke. Shaking my head faintly, I focused on the book again. Laughter echoed through the door, and annoyed, I glanced at the clock, which read 20:47. As if there had been a pause button, the clamour came to an abrupt stop, which put a smile on my face. I went on reading until midnight, undisturbed, which was rare.
When I finally put down the book and rubbed my eyes in drowsiness, I was halfway through. Stretching, I glanced up at the clock again, which still read 20:47. I frowned at the hands of the clock with slight annoyance and checked my watch for the actual time. It also read 20:47. “Things always have to break at the same time – literally,” I complained out loud.
Stumbling out of my bed into the living room, the scene awaited was not what you’d expect at midnight, nor under any circumstances. I let out a screech and my legs went limp.
Mum, Dad, Jason and Hazel were still sitting as I had left them hours ago. But they weren’t moving. Dad had his cup of tea raised halfway to his mouth and Mum was fixated on the TV. Jason was sitting with his legs bent, and Hazel had her eyes glued to her phone; her finger mid-scroll.
They were frozen in the moment when someone from the TV show had made a joke. The moment when the noises ceased suddenly. The moment when 20:47 struck. The moment when I was the only one left behind. The moment when the population of my world went down to one.
The scene was disconcerting. I didn’t know what to do so I fumbled frantically with the door to get out of the house. And I ran.
Time had frozen at 20:47. But I had not.
I tearfully tried to stop the scene of my frozen family, which was now engraved in my mind, from taking over my thoughts; spreading horror. But it was all I could think about.
As I stomped my feet on the vacant streets, I listened to the echo bouncing off the concrete back to me. I had liked silence but now I didn’t because it had never been this loud and terrifying.
Now panic was stirring in my stomach, but I didn’t dare to stop. I didn’t know where I was going, but I wanted to know if time had stopped everywhere. The streets were frozen – open taxi doors with passengers getting out, traffic lights permanently red, pedestrians frozen in their dash across the road.
What should I do now? What would happen to the others? What would happen to me? I faltered and caught my breath. Why was I different?
That was when I heard a door creak. I turned around and saw one of the metal doors to an old apartment block opening.
What was more frightening, finding out you’re the only exception of a time collapse or hearing a sound when you least expected it – no, when it was impossible? I couldn’t decide but all the same, I ran, just like I always did when I panicked. Back in kindergarten, when teachers picked some of us to play in a drama, I was scared of being chosen. So I ran away. In primary school, when Mum and Dad fought, yelling at each other, I was terrified of getting hurt. So I lingered at school until it closed. In secondary school, when the bullies spread rumours about me, I was afraid of what people thought of me. I escaped by immersing myself in books and the world of fantasy and building walls between people and me.
The door kept creaking, louder and louder, I kept running, faster and faster.
“Hey, wait!”, someone – a boy – called.
Fighting back a scream, I fled. I was relieved a little when the voice behind died down bit by bit. As always, I had outrun my fear.
But after I while I came to my senses. I reflected that I had heard, for sure, a boy – a person – calling for me. “What have I done?” I thought out loud, the realisation sinking in. “I just ran away from the only person who I could speak to about this! The only person who might know why this happened, and who could help me unfreeze time!”
Crouching with my head in between my legs, I silently wept for the first time since 20:47. Reality started to sink in. What if I was stuck in this limbo forever? I wouldn’t be able to go back to my room and read peacefully, knowing that my family were outside, breathing and very much alive. But then again, nor would I get teased and criticised by people who didn’t even know me.
“Gotcha!”, said a cheerful voice.
Taken aback, I nearly fell over, and my fear was mixed with relief by the presence of another person.
Before me stood a boy around my age, just a few inches taller than me. He was putting on a deliberately crooked smile but beside that, he looked very ordinary; like someone whose face you would easily forget.
“Hi,” I said weakly, waving in courtesy. He shook my hand. “So was that you just now?”, I tried to steady my voice, but it came out like I was having a serious sore throat. “If you are asking if I was the person who you ran away from. Then yes,” he said, without even pausing to breathe, and finished with a smirk. I stared at him blankly and blushed, now embarrassed that I had run away.
“By the way, I’m Nate,” he shrugged, taking my silence as shyness. “I’m Kate. So, what do you know about the ... situation?” I responded, sounding a bit too eager for the latter part. His face fell and he sighed deeply, “Yes.”
“Things like this, you know, time being frozen, happens every second. The difference is just if you are a part of it. And obviously, we are this time, at 20:47,” he quietly said. “How does it happen? I don’t know. But why does it happen to us particularly? I have a theory,” his voice was getting softer and his words were more difficult to make out. “My theory is that for time to eliminate a person from existence, the person has to have great desire to leave when they look at the clock,” he said, “and they need to be reading.”
I opened my mouth in bewilderment and was about to ask a question. But he hushed me and went on, urging me to sit down on a bench. “Because I believe that when a person is reading, a part of their soul is transferred to the book to experience the emotions of the characters. In short, when you’re desperate, and your soul is not whole, and you think of time, boom, here time is frozen for you.”
Silently, I tried to take in his words. I didn’t know what to think. It was mind-blowing but part of me understood. Accepting was the difficult part. I had indeed dreamt of disappearing because of the noises when I glanced at the clock but I never realised my desire was that strong. Was it really that easy to take yourself out of time? If it were, it should be very common given that the world is such a miserable place. “Is there a way to go back to the time stream?” I asked. His head jerked up to stare at me in perplexity. “I thought you wanted to leave. What makes you want to go back? Don’t you want to live a peaceful and quiet life here?” he murmured, shaking as head. He was right. I always wanted to leave, to escape, to run away. Now, I wouldn’t need to panic, wasn’t it perfect? Didn’t I want it? I bit my lips, fiddling with my fingers, then a question popped up. “What would happen if I stay?”, I blurted. He beamed weakly and avoided my eyes, “You would vanish. Disappear for good. And forgotten by everyone.” I nodded. I reasoned that was why we knew close to nothing about frozen time, despite it being fairly common. People would just disappear and those left behind would be none the wiser.
“But what would happen if I go back? Would I be able to start over with a new identity?”, I wondered out loud. Shaking his head, Nate answered for me. “No, no, no. You would resume your life like nothing has happened. What a naive thought you have,” he said, laughing bitterly. “Do you think I’d still be here if I could have a new identity?” I blushed at being called “naive” and we remained silent for quite some time.
Leaning back against the bench, I strained my senses to feel a breeze from the sea. But it didn’t come. Everything was quiet and at ease. I felt weightless. I tried to imagine living like this every day – strolling along the harbour, reading books all day without a care in the world. It sounded perfect but was it still living? Life was hard but at least it felt like I was actually breathing and being a human and living. If I stayed in this eternal bubble I wouldn’t grow or change as a person. But I could escape from my bullies and everything against my wish. I could be happy here. Would I be?
“How come you know so many things about this?” I asked Nate, to distract my knotted brain. He tucked his hands under his thighs and scooted forward, “I have been trapped outside of time four times already. This is my fifth,” he said. “I have gone back again and again, thinking it would be different every time. But here I am, and I’m not going to leave this time. It’s better than anything else.”
I thought of how many times had I run away and how it was my family who saved me from the edge. Being separated from my family was worse than death. I was a coward, yes, but I got strength from them. Sometimes they annoyed me, yes, but I never wanted to leave them, to run away from them. Not even when my parents fought. Not even when I was at my lowest. This time was no different.
“Help me go back, please. And please give yourself another chance. Yes, you have been disappointed every time so far but how do you know that this time won’t be different?”
He stared at me, and I stared back.
My eyes flickered open and darted to the clock, which now read 20:48. Glancing down at my wrist, I smiled. “2047” was written on it, proof of my bizarre adventure. I heard laughter ringing through the door and I sighed in content.