It’s a full moon night, so I plan a photo mission. I load up 90s dance tunes on my phone and cruise social media to see what’s happening downtown. I keep getting ads for this special effects photo app, LoveSnapCraft, so I download it into my Visuals folder where I keep Canva and Boomerang and Layout..
Daisy calls to tell me she can’t come over, but joke’s on her, I never expected her to. Ever since we kind of hooked up a few months ago she’s been drifting away. We hadn’t been hanging out that long. I think she is into me and just not willing to come out to herself yet. She hangs out with a group of girls who like to play “sexy lesbian” games on the dancefloor. A couple of them had fooled even me, and I’m no frat boy. I should have known better.
Challenge 1 - Take a clock shot at 3:17 am. It’s a notification from my new app.
Sure, why not?
I have always loved being downtown in the city in the middle of the night alone. It’s about as free as you can be. I take my headphones off and crank up the sound on my phone. I’m playing a Technotronic song and busting my moves down the north sidewalk. The bars are just closed and people are spilling out and clotting up the south sidewalk, waiting for cabs or making a last play to not go home alone.
No one pays attention to me because A - they are mostly all drunk and therefore B - they assume everyone else is drunk too, or crazy – because why else would you be dancing alone down the sidewalk in the wee smas?
“The wee smas” is one of the best things I got in my English degree. A few cool phrases, an insight into the timelessness of the human condition and a buttload of debt.
So I’m dancing along and the cabaret crowd are smoking and squeezing each other’s junk and waving dazedly at taxis, and it’s coming up on a quarter past three, which I can see on our City Clock. It hangs over the downtown like a pendulum out of a Poe story, ticking away the unchanging decades. This city has felt stalled the last forty years: no new developments, no new plans or schemes. Of course there is change – a gradual slide into decay that happens at such a slow rate it just feels like no change at all.
I take one photo of the light flooding around the clock with grey clouds scudding across the face of the moon. Then I open the new photo app to log the challenge photo.
Click. The minute hand flips to 3:17 and then it disappears. Not the clock, the hand. In fact, both hands. I squint in the mist. Had I imagined them there a second ago? I flip back to the photo. Nope, there they are.
I think I’m seeing things. I glance at my old school Swatch just to remind myself what a clock should look like. No hands on it either. Just a pink and orange and blue blank face, staring at me through its brandmark.
I can’t understand how to make sense of it so I keep staring and then I notice how quiet it is.
Nothing is moving. The crowds are still clotted but unnaturally still. Cars are stopped. There is no wind. I click my phone to life again.
My phone’s clock is gone.
My music is still paused from turning on my camera.
I move across the street, warily, but I am the only thing moving. I walk around the groups of people. I almost drop my phone when it buzzes.
Challenge 2 - Find a friend. Take a selfie.
I don’t understand what is happening. I stare at the screen and a five minute timer appears on it.
“Hello?!” The shout comes from down the street, maybe on the next block. I am so creeped out that the sound makes me jump and then I begin to run towards it… it’s a human voice and maybe they can tell me if I’m going crazy.
I spot her, the only thing moving. She is running towards me. Daisy’s friend Tara. All I know about her is she is on the rugby team and she is unspeakably hot.
“Callie!” she gasps. “What is happening right now?”
“I was hoping you knew. But you see it right? Nothing’s moving? I’m not losing my mind?”
She nods, her eyes rolling around at the still people.
My phone buzzes again and the challenge reminder flashes. One minute left on the timer.
I hold out my phone and pull Tara in, snap a selfie.
“What the fuck, Callie? The world is ending and you’re taking selfies?”
“It’s a photo challenge,” I protest, realizing how weird a thing to say this is. “This,” I gesture around us, “started when I took the first challenge, I guess I thought….”
Tara was staring at me, her light brown hair waving across her forehead in the light breeze. “You think your phone made the world stop working? Man. I can’t believe you made out with Daisy…”
Challenge 3 - Make out challenge. Take a snogging photo!
“Oh, ha ha,” I say at my phone as it starts another five minute timer. I guess it’s true, your phone is always listening. Tara pulls my phone out of my hand, reads the notification. Narrows her eyes at me.
“Wait, Daisy told you we made out?”
“What happens if you ignore the challenge?” Tara replies, ignoring my question. She taps the hamburger menu. “Where did you get this app?”
“The app store? I guess? I don’t know, there was an ad. I’ll ignore this one and see what happens.”
She has started shaking her head, scrolling on the phone.
“Uh, let’s not do that. The terms of service are fucked up, but it looks like time restarts after the fifth successful challenge.”
“Tara, that is bananas.” I raise my eyebrow.
She waggles my phone at me. “You ought to read your terms of service.” She tosses it back to me, pulls me to a low wall with stone posts. “Set up the phone there, with your timer. We’ll do the snogging photo here.”
It occurs to me that she didn’t say, “I can’t believe Daisy made out with you.” Interesting.
“What if I’m not that into you?” I am flailing, but tingling with Tara’s proximity.
“30 seconds left. Come on,” she arches her eyebrow and I get the distinct impression that she is not hating the challenge. I remember she is on the rugby team, admire her muscled legs.
I set the ten second timer and slide my arms around her waist. She leans into me, and our lips lock. I think the flash goes, but who can tell? The fireworks behind my eyes are enough, as she runs her hand over my chest and I reciprocate. Damn. I could learn to like this app.
“Why do you think I am not affected by the freeze?” she wonders as we pull apart awkwardly.
I wonder this myself.
The phone buzzes. Next challenge.
Challenge 4: Photo of an illegal act.
I admit I was hoping for something sexy again. Illegal? Tara’s eyes are glinting though.
“We can just jaywalk,” I say.
Tara shakes her head. “Come on. Let’s have fun with this! We could steal something!”
Everything is locked of course. And the cars don’t work. We consider stealing handfuls of pickled peppers from the Subway, but that just seems sad. Then we see the cop, hanging out in front of the Boules Club. Tara runs up and takes his hat, putting it on her own head.
She pulls his gun out of his holster and checks all over him before sighing, “No cuffs, sorry Callie.”
I am experiencing serious internal conflict as to whether I am feeling more freaked out or turned on.
“So, imitating a cop?” I ask, holding up my phone.
She gets a devilish look and reaches out, grabbing the cop’s junk. “Nope, sexual assault.” She hikes her leg up beside him, revealing an elaborate tattoo of a squid-like creature, with tentacles wrapping around parts of her anatomy I dare not think about too hard..
I didn’t realize any of Daisy’s friends were like this. I snap the shot with 10 seconds left.
Challenge 5 comes up right away. A picture in firelight.
I wonder if any of the people around us have a lighter. Tara grabs my hand, though, and pulls me up the hill.
“The Memorial,” she says. There is a statue at the top of Wales Hill in the centre of downtown, a war memorial with one of those eternal flames. We run, and she reaches it first.
“What if time doesn’t start again after this?” I pause.
“It will.” She pauses, thinking. “Or we’ll try something else.”
“Thanks for being here with me,” I say, thinking it is a kind of pathetic thing to say, but meaning it.
“I am glad it was me you got unfrozen,” she says, implying it was a choice I made. “I think you’re an interesting chick, Callie. I have since we did Historical Spec Fic together.”
Right! It clicks - she was in the class where we studied HG Wells, Poe, Jules Verne, and Lovecraft. I snap her picture, freezing the provocative look on her face in the dancing firelight into permanent pixels.
The next second, we hear it… not the sounds of cars and people but a faint whistling roar. It’s coming from my phone. I stare at the screen. Eyes look back at me. The phone grows hot and expands.
“Callie, look out!”
As a tentacle emerges haltingly through the screen, I fling the phone away.
Tara, who has kept the cop’s gun, somehow knows how to use it. She fires three rounds into the phone, which gives out a keening shriek and then sparks and is silent.
And then time resumes. Sirens, chatter, cars revving all start suddenly. On the shattered screen the words “Challenges completed” are etched.
“So, is it too late for a nightcap?” asks Tara.
“Got any absinthe?” I ask, sliding my hand through hers. “Or maybe just tea.”
She smiles. “How’s camomile and thyme? Lots of thyme!"