Something is wrong. There was no wind last night and the morning sun hasn’t seemed to move since around 10. Birds were hopping from tree to tree on branches that didn’t move - not even the leaves. Above me, the clouded dome of the sky stood still. And so did I.
Am I high?
I run and grab my smartphone off the kitchen table. Screen on. The clock reads 10:23. But there’s no way. Unlocked. The home screen clock reads 88:88 and there’s no data or cell service. And the wi-fi’s down. Hold on, though.
What in the entire fuck?
Walking back to the window, I look down this time. The city isn’t the same. Something is wrong. There are too many people outside. No wind. Asking Siri why the wi-fi’s out. No internet. Just then my phone rang - I look back down at my hand. And I saw who was calling.
The power went out on the second ring.
On the third, I threw the phone across the room to the couch and slumped back against the wall until my knees were in my hands and I sat literally trying to hold myself together.
The fourth ring sounded like a spiral fracture and suffocation.
And then it was over. But in the time it took me to let out a breath in the dark, my eyes closed, my forehead on my knees, the phone chirped. The text message sound. All I can think, still, is what in the actual fuck.
I stubbed my toe on the coffee table as I made my way to the couch and the phone’s lit screen. It wasn’t eerie a minute ago. It is now.
I can’t look directly at it, lest I turn to stone. Or water. Or nothing at all. The truth is, I didn’t even know the number that called. It’s just - something was wrong. Something is wrong.
Is it me?
And then it clicked.
“Have we been unstuck in time?,” I said, to no one in particular.
I clicked on the TV. No satellite, but the 2 local channels worked. The news was yelling frantically. All the clocks, all the weather, all the satellites - literally the planet - have stopped. Just… stopped; I really don’t know how to process that. But we’re still moving. The stray cat on the sidewalk is still moving.
And that’s how it started. Or rather, stopped. And when the sun never set, things got weirder.
At least if the power’s gone forever I won’t need to learn to make candles.
Just then, the power came back on.
No stopping it now; I've got to look at the phone sooner or later.
It was a number I didn't know and a feeling I knew like it was second nature. He had finally found me and this was his last warning. All I could think was, 'RUN.' But instead, I stood still and watched everyone outside start to also realize that, yes, something was very wrong.
And in the time it took for us all to realize the fall leaves were never going to turn orange to red to brown again, the world was completely changed:
On 13 September the UV index over Southeast Asia and the Pacific - the side of the planet that faced the sun when the planet stopped - became toxic, triggering mass evacuations and weeks of FEMA triaging extreme burns.
On 26 October the last piece of the International Space Station fell into the Mediterranean Sea.
On 4 November a polar bear was sighted by hunters in Southern Canada.
On 17 November mass wildfires erupted over the Ring of Fire, which burned so hot the land is still burning to this day, and wiped out every single human and animal life left in The Ring. Tens of thousands of people who hadn’t evacuated - bone and ash.
On 1 December the US took advantage of Russia’s attention to the fire at its Eastern borders to declare war and mount an air attack on St. Petersburg.
On 2 December Texas, Alabama and South Carolina led the red states in seceding from The Union. Just as the press conference announcing the secession ends, a van drives off the road and onto the pavement, up to the steps of the Capitol, and sets off a bomb so large the explosion leaves a crater where the steps were. The remains of all the people who’d been in the blast zone were unrecognizable.
On 5 December the UN and NATO announced that all formal relationships and alliances between nations were dissolved and war. broke out. Everywhere.
What was it all about? Opportunity, fear, hate, flailing? Nope.
It was watches.
It seemed that someone had told Russia and its neighbors a heads up they’d need all the quartz clocks they could muster sometime before time had gone away. By the time all the governments realized what was happening, they had already gathered an estimated 70% of the quartz-run time mechanisms in the world. And China must have heard a whisper from Russia; it manufactured tens of millions of quartz watches, beginning mere hours after time had gone. The US couldn’t catch up, and it couldn’t handle losing. So it invaded Kenya, Ethiopia, what was left of Indonesia, and India and set all their production capabilities towards quartz timepieces. But, within a few days we learned that anything manufactured after The Stop simply ceased to exist the moment no one was looking. It didn't matter that you can find quartz everywhere, because you can't do anything with it once you've got it. Not anything that'll stay, anyway. There was no such thing as moving forward. Which meant finite numbers of people, finite numbers of weapons, finite boxes of ammo. Which meant that Russia has the upper hand, and likely will forever.
I never understood how much people need and rely on the concept of time to stay organized. Civil. Sane. Until I watched the world collapse over the only time-keeping mechanism we had left. Did the ticking of a watch really even mean anything when the sun never sets, the world’s on fire and the ocean is rising as the Arctic and Antarctic melt at an unprecedented speed?
It certainly seemed like it.
There was a culling. Infighting, Civil Wars. Invasions. Takeovers. And so much death. And it never changed.
It took about six months until people started to realize no one was aging. Infants just… stayed infants. Moms couldn’t lose their baby weight and frighteningly strange things happened to people who had surgeries. Stints would disappear. Pacemakers. Rods. Birth control implants. Flu shots didn’t even do anything anymore.
And no one said a word.
Ten years after The Stop, we’re still trying to understand this new life. How it will look; how long it will last. Last year researchers began to notice that people were still dying of natural causes, but that it seemed as if those who were dying were younger and younger over time.
They were right. People never changed or looked any different after we left time, but it looks like our organs still felt the wear and tear of keeping us alive every day. And there were no new children, because there couldn’t be.
Which means we were just waiting to die.
Was this something the Earth itself was doing to eradicate a race that had so damaged and desecrated the land and waters of its face? Was it a government experiment gone wrong? Would the wars ever stop? Would it ever rain again?
No to all of the above.
We were back to the age of radio, broadcast TV, phones that were just phones, and constant war and panic. And nothing ever changed. And that was it. Now we’re all waiting to die.