When they found me, they thought I was dead. I guess I should have been, my heart had stopped and there was no sign of brain activity. I was lying in a crumbled heap next to a bookcase, as if discarded toy doll. For all intents and purposes, that should have been the end of it.
They thought that I had died alone in my flat. No suspicious circumstances, no evidence of suicide. A detective flicked though my journal. He read in the last entry that I was looking forward to visiting a friend at the weekend. It had been my no show that had led to me being found.
“I am a little nervous at seeing Jane. As I always am. Don’t know why. Even at Uni, We’d be together all day in class, but if we were going out in the evening, the butterflies would begin to take flight in my stomach.
So, I haven’t seen Jane for a couple of months, when she came down for my birthday. I am soooo looking forward to it, despite my perpetual uneasiness. I hope she has lots planned – walking, eating and drinking! Should be cool!”
The police and ambulance crews did what they had to. They sealed my body in a body bag, ready to haul me off to some cold coroners table. They took as many photos as they thought were needed, they checked for any signs of forced entry, they made humourless jokes at my video collection (more than a few went missing), they dusted for prints and checked for signs of drug use, and they helped themselves to the contents of my fridge. They talked to my neighbours, show knew nothing of me, and my flatmate Alex, who confirmed my excitement at my impending weekend away. He told them I had a ‘thing’ for Jane.
They did what they did and moved on. They informed my family and friends who began the process of grieving and arranging.
Wasted emotion, wasted time. I was not dead.
As my door closed, the phone rang. It was sometime late in the morning, and Alex was at work, so I let the machine field the call. Listening through the door I could just make out the lyrical Welsh tones of Jane. Smiling, I threw my keys in the air, and caught them behind my back. A smile adorned my face, and there wasn’t a care in my heart – the butterflies had been subdued for the moment.
My mind turned from the future to the present. I had an appointment to keep.
I’ve never liked time. In fact, I hold a mild contempt for it. It’s all so false, too structured and mostly inconvenient. I do want I want, when I want. That’s not easy when society has become so devoted to the divisions on a clock.
It always infuriated my folks when I was younger. They were the types that had to have every detail of every event planned to the minute. The words I heard most during my childhood were ‘…but when?’ as I explained I would do whatever they wanted, whenever I was ready. I think what made it impossible for them was the fact I was never late for anything, homework, the structured mealtimes, anything.
To this day, I am rarely late, and I don’t wear a watch. I do know, however, that it is past the time the estate agent agreed to meet me.
I’m thinking of buying this flat. I am tired of sharing. Don’t get me wrong, I love Alex, and I always will. He is a great friend. You have to be, if you still hang around through childhood, into university and into a responsible adult life. I just think its time I made the break, take on new responsibilities. And anyway, I need the space, I have too many videos and books. I need the investment and I need the privacy. And any Alex is talking about moving in with his boyfriend.
The woman who I was to meet discovered me sitting on the wall, reading a science article in a newspaper concerning a new species of fish that has just been discovered in waters around Devon. Scientists are claiming it wasn’t there several years ago and has no near relatives anywhere on Earth. They speculate a rapid mutation event caused by polluted waters. If I’d been forced into it I would have said they were aliens. Just because that’s what I always say when faced with something unexplainable. Blame it on the aliens.
‘Sorry I’m late,’ she said, panting for breath.
‘’S fine.’ I replied. I didn’t look up from the article as I was on the final paragraph. It was her turn to wait, although I think she appreciated the opportunity to put herself right; catch her breath and straighten her jacket.
Eventually I looked up. She smiled at me, waiting for something, maybe an explanation. I rolled up the paper and, waving it around said, ‘New species of fish.’
‘Yeah, aliens, if you ask me.’
That got an unexpected reaction. She suddenly looked concerned. The smile was replaced by a scowl. It revealed her face to be somewhat older and harsher that I thought. Amazing what a smile can do!
‘Shall we go in?’ Her tone sent an unexpected shiver down my back.
‘Sure,’ I said. I hoped I had forced enough uneasiness into that final syllable to show that I had noticed her changed demeanour.
She simply strode off in her grey trouser suit and pony-tailed blonde hair and, I assumed, ignored the whole moment.
…moments in time. Despite my uneasiness with the way we have divided time up into ever decreasing units of measurement, I do understand why humanity did it. A fear of death, a misguided attempt at understanding, the need for order. Time is fluid and unstructured. Of that I’m sure, and hence the river of time becomes meaningless. It is the moments in time, the suspensions in the river, that are important. They deflect, churn, interrupt. Moments in time…
She tried to show me around the flat. Well, she did, but I was more interested in what I felt. Her reaction was all wrong.
After the kitchen, and both bedrooms (I was hoping to turn the second into s study) she seemed to loose interest.
‘Take your time, look around.’
‘I wanted to ask a few questions. What…’ I failed to finish the sentence. My hostess had left me in the main bedroom. I decided to challenge her.
She was waiting in the reception area. It was large, as I had hoped. It had a grand fireplace, and a huge bay window. It was high ceilinged and some spiders webs draped across the picture rail. She was standing in the centre of the room, on a particularly gaudy carpet.
I felt physically sick. I often get like this. My body reacts to jolts like this. I never understood why. Once, I violently threw up on my way to school – one moment I was fine, then wallop: breakfast takes a curtain call. And then I’m fine again. Later that day, a girl asked me out. I said yes and we spent almost four years together, only breaking up after her family moved away. If I had not been sick, I’m sure that she wouldn’t have asked me.
The reception room was perfect, I told her, could she tell me where the bathroom was?
‘Sure, this way.’ She headed off back through the hall, gesturing flamboyantly as she went, as a bad actress might, nervously over-compensating to impress a director.
‘Sorry,’ I called out after her, ‘I have to go on my own!’
‘Of course,’ she said, ‘how silly of me. It’s through there, on the right.’ She pointed through the reception area towards two doors. I almost ran into the bathroom, and discovered that’s exactly what it was, a room with a bath. No toilet. Stupid fuck, I thought, as I burst out the door and into the one on the left.
Just made it.
As I knelt on the floor, I heard a knocking on the door. ‘Are you OK?’ I replied with a further wretch.
‘Oh!’ I heard.
A few moments later I emerged from the bathroom, wiping my face on my shirt. I had returned to wash myself. ‘No towels,’ I said.
‘No.’ She looked away, nervously. She walked over to the window and pulled back the nets. She was obviously working out what to say.
I was trying to work out what was going on. My mind had long since kicked out the issue of the flat. Maybe that’s what I was not getting? I looked at her hand as it held the net back from the window. A gold band, and a diamond ring. OK, good!
So what was it? What was making me feel like this was a moment in time?
We stood there a while, she remained fixated on events beyond the glass. My eyes observed only the floor and my mind searched for clues.
Eventually, she asked, ‘The flat?’ Her tone was the same as the word, flat. Uncaring.
Then it hit, she was doing an absolutely awful job of selling the flat to me. It was if she didn’t care, as though a more important weight hung around her neck.
‘I don’t think so.’ It was deliberately double-edged. I wanted to see her reaction. But she had not moved at all. I was to be disappointed.
‘Too bad, nice view.’ With that, she walked back into the kitchen, a moment passed, and then reappeared at the door with her bag and a pile of papers. ‘I have to lock up. I have another appointment.’
That was it. We expressed our farewells and she walked quickly away as I watched. I just didn’t get it!
I jammed my paper under my arm and my hands in my pockets and sauntered off in the same direction. It occurred to me that maybe I was the one acting strange. After all, I was the one who threw up, and was acting if something immanent was about to happen!
Perhaps whatever made me sick would happen later, or maybe it would happen to her and not me, and I was simply caught up in the current. Or, perhaps I’d reacted badly to last nights curry.
I wandered around for a while, until I came to the tube station. I felt like some lunch, so I called work to tell them I was taking the rest of the afternoon off. I had little to do, as I was off the next few days. I was visiting a friend in Wales for a few days. I hopped on the tube and headed for Marble Arch. Putting the events of the morning behind me, my mind returned to Jane. How lovely would it be to see her smile, to feel her warmth and to share our thoughts. So, I grabbed some sandwiches and sat under a tree in Hyde Park. I watched the world go by. I watched tiny ants clambering on blades of grass, I watched young lovers climb into bushes and I watched groups of youths chase footballs around as if they were a priceless artefacts.
I no longer felt ill or uneasy.
I fell asleep.
When I returned to the flat, I played the message from Jane. She would be at the station in time to meet me, and we could go straight to lunch.
My flatmate, Alex, was not home, so I cranked up the volume on my CD player and made some pasta and sauce. I watched ‘Detour’ as I ate. Moments in time. The hero’s life was full of them. Mostly accompanied in three dimensions by a road and a car. There was nothing he could have consciously done to avoid killing the women. I was surprised, as I always am when I watch it, that he is not physically sick. ‘I can relate to you, my friend,’ I told the TV. ‘but at least you understand what is happening, if not why.’
I heard the door open as my flatmate returned home from work. He knocked on my door.
‘You sure?’ I shouted. He never knocked!
‘Can I come in?’
He told me that his sister had just given birth, so he was jumping on a train to Winchester and that he would see me next week.
‘Wet the kid’s head for me.’ I reached into my wallet and tossed a tenner in the air, which he caught. Then he was gone.
Later that night, I died.
…moments in time. I have no idea how the conscious mind works, nor do I particularly care. It does a job. That’s cool enough for me. It occurs to me now, however, that I have no memory of the occurrences from the point Alex left my room on the day before I was due to leave for Wales, to the point where I woke up a few days later after my ‘death’ experience. I can, however, describe the actions of others while I was ‘dead’. I know how I was found. I remember seeing my Mother’s face when she identified me – let me tell you, that is not a sight that it’s easy to live with. And I remember the coroner cutting me open. That’s when I woke. Screaming in pain. Moments in time…
They couldn’t explain what had happened, and I didn’t understand. All I knew was I was not who I thought I was. Obviously! I recall some images from the time before I woke. They were of a strange land, and a strange people. These people did not seem to be figments of my imagination, or characters from a dream. These people were my friends, and this land was home.
They said they were going to perform tests on me. Find out what had happened. Find out why they thought I was dead.
You should have seen my Mothers face when she saw that I was alive. That one I do recommend.
Some realisation was dawning. I was starting to understand what had happened. Can you imagine what it is like to be told all your life you are one thing, only to discover you are something else? Something…
I couldn’t let them test me. If they found out then what I know now, well, I’m sure they would have killed me for good.
However, at the time I was only sure of one thing. I was scared.
So, I planned my escape. Like a caged rat, I sought my freedom. I couldn’t let them find out the truth about who I was, who I was becoming. Unfortunately, my planning and scheming would come to nothing.
I became a minor celebratory. The local news crew got wind of what happened and turned up to interview me. I suspect Alex. He loves a gossip. Anyway as a result, I was moved (I don’t know where) and security around me tightened. They wouldn’t even tell my family where I was for ‘fear of my safety’.
So much for escaping!
I had no idea the true passage of time, as I spent most of it sedated, but about a week or so after my death had been greatly exaggerated, I had a visitor. I knew, because before I woke I had a dream. A dream where I felt sick! When I woke, I still had that sickly feeling. Then, she was in my room. Came from nowhere. The estate agent.
She was smiling again.
I threw up again.
She seemed more friendly than our last meeting, more familiar. And, she was more beautiful than I remembered. A dignified beauty I had never known before. I knew why she had come. It was time….
She walked around my room, as if inspecting it, looking for something.
I sat up on my bed, mopping my face with a paper towel. She reached over to help me. ‘Is this to be a habit every time we meet?’
Shaking my head, I wretched again.
And passed out.
When I woke I was back in my room, lying on my rug, next to my bed. I was alone. I was very unsure of what was going on. I was swamped with disorientation. I couldn’t recall anything. Why was I hear? What had happened to me? I got off the floor and immediately returned to it. Seems my legs had gone on holiday. I tried again, more cautiously, and with slightly better results. I struggled to my window. It was night. I staggered to Alex’s room, grabbing on to every extrusion and fixed point as I moved myself along. I called out his name as I fell into his room. It was empty.
I felt like my head had been bombarded by the contents of a particle accelerator. Every atom was rattling around at top velocity, looking for a way to escape. There was too much excited energy and not enough volume.
Attempting to rise, I wretched painfully. Nothing in there to displace, it would seem. For the first time in my life, I needed a reference based on time. I have no idea why it became important. I simply needed to know when I was.
Crawling on all fours, I dragged myself into the lounge. Somehow, I managed to locate the remote, and find the button with the ‘on’ frequency. I manipulated the control until I had a text screen on. Date and time.
Several moments passed, as my eyes failed to focus on what they saw. In the mean time, I clawed agitatedly at my arm, as if some incurable itch had found a home.
Thursday 13th, 0235 hours.
I couldn’t relate to what that meant. I returned to slumber.
I awoke to the sound of my alarm buzzing incessantly. I was on the lounge floor and the alarm was in my room. I couldn’t recall what I was doing on the lounge floor and assumed I must have been drunk or something. It wouldn’t be the first time. I tried to think about what I had been doing last night, but the only thing in my head was the sound of the buzzing.
My alarm was my one concession to time. After all, if I consistently stayed up half the night drinking, or watching my black and whites, I was bound to sleep in every now and then. I didn’t love my job, but I didn’t want the sack either.
Slowly, as I stretched and groaned, the events of the previous day returned to me. I had been looking at a flat. That was Wednesday. It therefore occurred to me that it was Thursday, and I had a train to catch. Jane would be expecting me. Was she meeting me at the station, or was I to make my way to her house? I couldn’t recall.
There was something else nagging, and it wasn’t a hangover. My throat was dry, but there was no sigh of the headache or general feeling of shittyness.
There was something about a woman…
I shrugged my shoulders, shoved in a CD and took a shower.
‘Shit!’ The elderly woman opposite me took a sharp intake of breath, shaking her head at me. I held up the bloodied finger, a result of a particularly stubborn ring pull, as an excuse, but she turned away in disgust. As the Cardiff train trundled out of London, I reached into my back pocket to retrieve my emergency handkerchief.
I resolved to down the can of beer in one in defiance of the cantankerous old cow. Half way through my swig, I looked over the rim of the can, hoping she was taking notice. She wasn’t, but I did notice that there was something strikingly familiar about her. Her hair, maybe, or the fact I suddenly felt queasy.
‘Do I know you?’ I asked, cutting my demonstration short, and feeling slightly foolish. What if I did know her? What a prick!
Without looking away from the window – looking through a window, that stirred a memory, that was were I had seen her before – she said, ‘We met yesterday, but you won’t remember.’
‘What do you mean, I do remem-?’
‘Excuse me.’ she said, somewhat curtly. She rose, without further comment, and headed passed me towards the toilets.
What the hell did I do yesterday? I remember being shown round a flat by a particularly poor estate agent…although come to think of it, the details were quite hazy. After that, nothing.
I must have took the estate agent for a drink, and ended up having a session somewhere. I have been known to pass out on occasion, but this time, something felt wrong. Staged, as if I had been set up.
the fish are not the only aliens
‘Huh?’ Who said that? I looked around, confused. No one paid me any attention. I felt slightly embarrassed.
moments in time
I turned and looked at the seat behind me. It was empty. The train was not very busy. After all, it was mid-morning on a working Thursday.
Thursday…that didn’t seem right. It seamed so very long ago, as if so much had happened to me, too much to fit into a day.
Momentarily, the woman opposite returned to her seat. After glancing out of the window she reached across the table and opened her clenched fist. She held a small box. It was red velvet, the kind that contains engagement rings. ‘Please take this…’
‘I…’ was all I managed before she continued:
‘Give it to Jane, do not open it, she will know what to do.’
They invented the word dumbfounded for that moment!
Moment. Moments in time. My eyes glazed over, as though the fluid didn’t want me to see anything. I was lost in thought. It seemed like I was remembering tomorrow. Events that I had experienced, but couldn’t possibly have happened in such a short period of time.
Eventually, one of my senses started working. I managed a third ‘I…?’.
Soon after, my sight returned. There was no one to talk to, no one to see.
One thing I never do is sleep on trains. Call it paranoia, or whatever, but I’m sure the moment I fall asleep, someone will steel my walkman, or whatever. And so, I fell asleep. Put it down to the beer.
I dreamt about dying and I dreamt about being home, yet the place was not familiar. I recognised nothing and no-one. Yet it felt like home. It had that kind of warmth, like when you return to your childhood haunts as a man, or the comfort from your favourite ice cream.
A place that will always be home.
The inspector shook me awake. ‘Ticket please, Sir.’
‘Sure.’ I reached into my back pocket and slid out my ticket. While he examined it I checked my belongs; walkman, check, tapes, check, mysterious box, check.
What the hell? I tried to open it, but the lid would not budge. The inspector handed me back the punched piece of paper.
‘How long to Cardiff?’ I asked him, as he turned away.
‘Another hour.’ he replied, looking out of the window, pensive.
I spent that hour staring out of the window. It seemed like a popular thing to do. I had a feeling that I knew what had happened. I knew who the old woman was. I knew what I did last night. I knew what was in the box. Something, some part of me was preventing my conscious access to that knowledge.
Not the right moment, I concluded. Not yet! But I knew that soon, it would be my moment. My moment in time.
Jane met me at the station. By now, I had recalled that she would. More of my memory stepping forward from the shadows. She looked radiant, but different from how my mind had saw her. It had been several months since her last visit to London, and longer still since I had journeyed to Wales. Perhaps it was the cut of her hair, or maybe she had lost a little weight?
The moment she saw me she bounded up to me, arms spread a millions years wide. She leapt into my arms and kissed me on the cheek.
‘Look at you,’ she said. ‘You look great.’
‘And you my dear.’ I squeezed her again. It was so lovely to have that familiar rock with me. Perhaps I held the embrace a moment too long, or squeezed a little too tight, or perhaps she could feel a tenseness to my body, but like a hawk coming to life in the presence of new prey, she pushed me away.
‘What?’ she asked, as if reading my mind.
‘I have something for you, Jane.’
‘What? No?’ She reacted as if she had been expecting me to say those very words, but maybe not so soon. ‘Oh, Mark, that’s wonderful.’ She jumped into my arms again.
‘Jane? What’s going on?’
‘Don’t you know, don’t you remember yet?’
‘Remember what?’ I was completely baffled, and I was now feeling quite queasy.
‘Give me the box, before you throw up.’ Jane was an excited school girl. She was literally bouncing with glee. I reached into my bag to retrieve the box, the gift from my contact. Following my gesture, her hand was in the bag in a flash. Before I knew it, she had the box open and the diamond ring on her finger.
‘Oh Mark, it’s beautiful!’
‘Huh!’ was about the best I could manage.
Jane grabbed my hand, and picked up my luggage. Anyone watching would have seen the most confused man on the planet being dragged off by the happiest woman.
‘Have you thought about a date, can I tell your parents, here or in London, reception or church…?’ the questions trailed off into the distance, as I was dragged helpless into a new life.
So, now I ‘die’ twice a year. That’s OK, Jane looks after me, making sure no-one whisks me off to the local morgue, just as I look after her when she has to ‘die’. Getting back home only takes a moment in time, but these bodies are so damn useless!
I dream about home most nights now.
And soon, there will be enough of us to have an influence, to start taking over. I hear we even have a representative on the Cabinet.
I ‘died’ just this last week. In my report, I told them it was nearly time for them to send the fleet. It would get here in three or four millennia.
By then Earth will be home.