Seven minutes left. Seven minutes until an asteroid crashes into the Earth, decimating ten billion people in one clean swipe. Sure, people have planned for this sort of thing on many occasions before, but they weren’t based on cold, solid facts. However, this time… I think this will be the one. The only thing that has been talked about for the past few years comes down to this one moment; I’d be a fool to look the truth in the face and then turn around to say there had been nothing there.
Tic toc. That ominous sound: time. I’ve never wished so hard for a moment to last forever. But I can only watch as those precious few seconds slip away, as if morbidly eager to discover what will become of us.
They claim they have found our salvation. The Rewind, they call it. And all we have to do is trust them. All we have to do is put our entire existence into their smart, scientist hands, cross our fingers, and hope that humanity’s last ditch holds.
Seven minutes later
Huh. They’ve either gotten both the asteroid and their miracle all wrong, or they were right about our fate and managed to reverse it. Or maybe nothing went as planned and I am still awaiting a belated doom. Or perhaps the after-life is just a cruel joke, replaying a mix of my sweaty palms, hitched breath, and racing heart for all eternity.
An hour earlier
So we aren’t doomed after all. The wide, handsome smile of the scientist who ‘saved us all’ is projected on my screen, drinking in the praise as he leaves to a disclosed room with the presidents and government officials. Seems more like government control to me. At least it spiced our lives up a little.
A spout of dizziness comes over me as I finally get to my feet. I don’t know which way is up or down; I reach out to steady myself against the wall but it slips right past me and I’m stumbling, tipping, falling… I wait for the world to stop its mad spin around me, and then I wait a bit longer for good measure.
I get to my feet with care, and, after making sure I won’t fall flat on my face again, I step outside. People are already out, transfixed by the glaring sun’s descent. I follow their gaze. Pretty, I guess.
Soft muttering rises and falls like a chant beside me. I strain my ears to hear the little girl as her finger points up, right, bottom, left, her lips moving almost imperceptibly as she recites her mantra. “Never eat shredded wheat, never eat shredded wheat, never eat…” What on earth is she doing? Orange light creeps across her features as she looks up, her mouth half-open like a possessed, blubbering fish. “Dad! Dad the sun, it–it’s… Look!” She isn’t even that young. Nonetheless, she stares breathlessly, as if there were something amazing about our star, something extraordinary enough that—woah.
The east. The sun is setting in the east.
A day earlier
The Rewind truly did work. Even though this means I will only ever live in the 21st century, it suits me fine. What worried everyone most at first were the secondary effects of it. I learned that I hadn’t been the only one stumbling around like a drunkard after it happened, and the little girl wasn’t mistaken when she saw the sun set in the east; it has been rising in the west too ever since. The strangest thing so far has been my watch, the one that’s been working for as long back as I can remember, back when I used to stare at it endlessly as it ticked upon my mother’s wrist. I feel somewhat betrayed, to have such a familiar object go anti-clockwise as if it were the most natural thing to do.
I don’t feel any different though. The toe I bruised a day before the Rewind – which was today, I suppose – still has a purplish, blotchy appearance, and my hair hasn’t been growing shorter or backwards into my skin. None of that, thank goodness. “It’s not an exact science.” I’ve heard that one about a million times by now. Living beings aren’t supposed to be affected like the sun, wind or water. It isn’t supposed to. But I can’t help wondering whether tinkering with time was really such a good idea.
I suppose only time will tell.
The tide foams and crashes and roils, threatening to draw me out and away into those murky depths. Except that it, too, seems to be fleeing. Where those waves once rose high and proud, they now recede from the shore, a scattered army’s retreat. The roaring and crashing are subdued, just like the glaring sun that used to retire behind them. The bottled wildfire is to my back, its heat pulsing, as if aching and reaching towards its old friend.
This beach is the same as I remember it, and yet so much has changed since you were last here. The shimmering play of orange upon the water on those calm, azure days is gone. So are the cries of gulls, which used to echo up and down the creek. Today, the sea, the tide, even the upcoming storm seem to hold their breath. I wish I could dive into it all to find you. I wish the turning of time could bring back what it has snatched away forever.
The world has gone mad. Absolutely, positively mad.
Children have been vanishing on the day of their birth. Just like that, without word or warning; some say they crumble and return to the soil, others claim they fade away and depart from this world. Either way, these disappearances have not gone unnoticed, and yet there doesn’t seem to be a solution.
As I hurry by, the little girl next door gives me a wave before returning to her rope skipping, with the light, slightly reckless innocence of childhood. I give her a quick, tight-lipped smile as a sick feeling forms in my gut. She doesn’t seem to have changed over the years, but I know that she was born just a few years from now. Will she be next?
Breakfast, work, lunch, work, dinner, sleep.
I’m starting to think that perhaps it would have been better if we just all disappeared into the void, instead of hanging onto borrowed time. At least we would have all been in it together. At least you would have been there with me in the end. But not all are willing to let go of this life, and they have continued fighting, even for those who don’t care much for it anymore.
The girl next door is gone. My only hope is that she is in peace now, no longer tormented by the knowledge that her days are counted. For days, I saw them go out, as a family. Their daughter’s shrill giggles filled the air, and a protective bubble formed around the unit as she skipped and shrieked and hung tightly to their arms. But bleak expressions crawled onto their faces when she didn’t pay attention, filled with the damning knowledge of what was to come.
And then there was silence. The soft silence of mourning, that wraps around you and holds you like words never could. I feel it radiate from them as we cross paths on the sidewalk, so strong I can barely look at their sunken, sagging expressions. All I can do is nod, averting my eyes, the loss heavy in the air.
Guilt wells up in me as a kindling hope stirs my chest. If the Rewind can claim lives, couldn’t it give them back too?
At first, I discarded the idea. It feels dishonest, as if I were using their loss for my own gain. But is it really selfish if I manage to do this for you? Would it be bad to simply make the best of this situation that has been thrust upon us?
I know it to be folly. I know this, and yet I can’t shake it off. My younger self surely would have gone with it without question, but I have changed, the whole world has changed, and I’m not so sure anymore. Would you want this?
I feel it tugging at me, the spray lifting up and tumbling back into the water that had scattered it moments earlier. Every time I come here, it tempts me, calls me; I remember you calling me as you faced those curling, roaring walls of water and dived into them with open arms. I remember the rush that sent me wheeling off, keeping me crushed in its merciless grasp, and then subsiding, dragging me the other way as I struggled to tell up from down. And then I would feel a hand pulling me up, up and out, and you would be there, breathless exhilaration upon your face, already awaiting the next wave.
My vision snaps back into focus as a drop of water shoots up from the greyish depths, continuing up into the distant, dismal gloom. A few more follow its lead, rising like specters in response to the summons of some faraway master. Everything here feels so wrong. I know that the pitter patter which I hear and used to expect is only a fragment of my imagination, a remnant of a lifetime’s worth of contemplating those angel tears fall from the sky.
You are so close. So close, and yet, I know you are still too far away. Past and present meld together and I can no longer tell one from the other; it happened right now, and I know, I know you can’t be here because this is now and that was before and you—you’re up there now. Except that everything is just the same as I remember: the full moon, in all its glory, bathing the beach in a silvery blanket; the sand’s nooks and crannies made all the more visible because of it, undulating into those shrouding shadows. Only the crashing waves are different, their once familiar sound now unevenly distorted.
The unforgiving irony of it weighs upon me, the bitterness of having to relive this day teasing my heaving heart.
Nevertheless, your voice fills the night, echoing in the lonely creek. My throat tightens at the sound and I hug my legs closer to myself as a hiccuping sob escapes me. I bite my lip to stop its feeble wobbling.
For all those times you hauled me out of the water when it threatened to pull me too far out. For that one time your stubborn self refused to turn back and I just watched like the fool I am as you swam on. And then I couldn’t see you anymore.
I get to my feet, the cold shock crawling up my spine as they meet those backward waves, and before I know it, the water is lapping up to my shoulders and I’m still walking, walking right into the embrace of those swirling waters, just as you used to embrace those roaring walls of water. I am afraid, but there is nothing else to do if I am to find you.
The moon laughs darkly as silence reigns once more over the night. How ironic. How tragically stupid.