Eric only noticed that everything stopped when he took his nose out of the newest Harlan Coben book. He sat on a bench in Meadow Lane Park, and there weren’t a lot of people around, a couple pushing a stroller on the walking path and a few kids playing frisbee. But the couple and the kids were completely still, and the frisbee hung in midair, going nowhere.
Terrified of being discovered by some awesome power at work or of exposing himself as a madman, Eric kept still himself, observing everything around him. The trees were perfectly silent, and he soon spotted a squirrel, immobile. Not even the slightest breeze touched him. He set the book down and looked up at the sky. A contrail led him to a jet, which he stared at. No movement.
He’d come to this park as an act of rebellion, having been stressed out from work and overburdened with his mother’s care for months now, he finally stole just a short while for himself. He was just freaked out enough to wish he was back in the grind.
He finally couldn’t take it and stood up. He walked to the couple to wave his hands and snap his fingers in their faces, but they didn’t blink or flinch.
“Hey. Can you hear me?”
He found he could move them slightly, though they were semi-stiff. He took the white visor off the mans head and the sun hat from the woman. He checked the baby. They were all warm and had a vital appearance to them. He put the sun hat on the man and the visor on the woman, then checked out the kids.
Three girls and two guys.
“Enough goofing off,” said Eric. He nudged one of the boys and he started to fall, so he caught him and balanced him again. He walked around the frisbee, hanging just about eye level. He grabbed it and found he could move it.
“I seem to be in my own sequential time, which means…” Eric gasped. “Time has more than one axis, and somehow I’ve been kicked onto a different one.” He shoved the frisbee down the back of a boy’s shorts.
He retrieved his book and walked home, worried about his mother. She’d been living with him ever since his father went into a coma after a car accident two years ago. In the middle of his street, Eric came across Mr. Jenner in his car, a trail of exhaust holding still in the air. Eric opened the door, turned the radio on as loud as it would go, though no sound came out, and turned the heat and fans on full blast. Then he went the rest of the way to his house.
Inside, his mother was in the middle of chopping an onion, the knife half way through it.
No answer. No movement.
Eric took a deep breath. He didn’t know what to do, so he chopped up the onion for his mother and cleaned up the kitchen. Then he put her apron on her backwards.
He sat at the kitchen table for a while, stunned and afraid. When nothing changed he went where he always did when he was unsure of himself. He visited his comatose father to talk to him.
No cars would start and no buses moved, so he had to walk seven miles to the facility. Inside as everywhere else, everyone kept completely still in the middle of whatever they were doing at that moment Eric fell off the axis. As he walked by each room, it struck him how vital all the coma patients looked, no less alive and active than anyone else.
In his father’s room a priest had his mouth open, apparently reading aloud from a book about Byzantine Philosophy. Eric didn’t recognize him, but was grateful for his presence. He took a chair to the other side and sat next to the bed, holding his father’s hand. He cringed at the instruments, the heartbeat monitor showing no movement, but no flatline, either.
“This is a weird one, Dad.” Eric pulled on his ear. “You couldn’t have prepared me for this one.”
As soon as he said it, he realized it was false. His father had prepared him for every eventuality by cultivating a courageous and generous spirit. Eric hadn’t always followed through with that guidance, but it followed him around and overshadowed everything he did.
“I see,” he said. “I guess I’ll make the best of it. Who knows how many people I can help simply by rearranging the moment.” Eric patted his dad head. “If this holds, I’ll have a lot of time for it.”
Eric squeezed his dad’s hand and went out to explore the hospital. He returned to his father’s room with an Archie comic, a nurse’s cap, and Groucho Marx glasses. He switched the philosophy book with the comic, dropped the nurse’s cap on the priests head, and carefully fit the Groucho Marx glasses on his father’s face.
He walked to the door. “Thanks, Dad. It’s going to be lonely.”