“What day is it?” Iris asked the refrigerator, “Tuesday?”
“Today is Thursday, May 14, 2020” Basil, the refrigerators’ digital voice agent, responded.
“Shit, how am I off by two days?”
Iris tapped either side of her jaw bone with each index finger as she contemplated what to quickly grab for lunch on her way out. She stood in the subtly cold breeze for several undecided minutes before Basil turned off the light and powered the door closed automatically.
“Technology has gone too far,” Iris said, deciding to forgo lunch entirely.
Iris grabbed her bag, cell phone and tapped the sweatshirt pocket for her keys. The screen door to her apartment balcony was wide open, a welcoming sunshine and pollen-y smell of the new spring cascaded inside.
Iris reached out to close the door when she heard a loud buzzing coming from just outside the screen. Curious, she poked her head out onto the balcony to find the source.
Clung to the outside shingle of her apartment was an insect unlike any she had ever seen. Void-like black exoskeleton, over five inches in length and scarlet wings that fluttered threateningly towards Iris.
Iris stepped back inside without as much as whisper and slammed the door shut.
“Mother of sin,”
Iris’s skin crawled. Suddenly, going outside in the nice warm sun made her anxious knowing that monstrosity was out there and could fly. Realizing she was going to be late to work the longer she thought about the ugly black beast, Iris shot from her apartment, running from the front door to her car without so much as looking up.
“Today is Sunday, May 17, 2020” Basil reported.
“But that’s impossible!” Iris argued with the appliance.
“Would you like to order more…eggs?” Basil displayed a bizarre chicken cartoon on the LED screen.
Iris scratched at her head. Hadn’t yesterday just been Thursday? Where was the time going? Work had been chaotic lately but days and nights were really starting to blend together. Once again, the sun was bright and warm, flowing into her apartment like an ember wind. Iris balked at the thought of spending the day in front of a computer accepting (likely rejecting) job applicants.
“Eggs? Confirm order?” Basil insisted.
Iris walked away from the fridge to enjoy the relaxing sun for a moment before heading out the door. Her heart double-beat when she heard a familiar hum that she had the day before (or three days ago?).
The wasp-like insect didn’t bother to cling to the shingles of the apartment exterior. This time, the scarlet wings flapped from just outside the screen itself. Iris got an up-close and unpleasant look at the insect.
The exoskeleton was the blackest black she had ever seen. Its wings waved briskly and with purpose as its tiny, needled legs climbed across the screen, making its way a little further away to Iris’s relief.
She had never seen a wasp this big. Her earlier estimate of five inches may have been underscoring just how large the flying monstrosity was.
The crimson wings snapped open and the behemoth took flight, dizzying off her apartment balcony and into the spring air with a missile like trajectory.
Iris instinctively stepped back from the screen as the bug disembarked.
“What in the world are you?”
“And why can I still hear you?”
Iris turned her head slowly, coming to the realization before her eyes revealed the unkind truth. A second mammoth black wasp. This one had managed to get inside her apartment and was clinging from the ceiling above her murky brown curly head.
She screamed, throwing the screen door nearly off its hinges as she ran in the opposite direction. The red winged wasp snapped its wings open, flying straight down, buzzing swiftly past Iris’s fleeing screams and out the opening to follow its familiar into the Spring day.
Iris sheepishly made her way back to the screen and closed it tightly, locking it, as if insects could pick locks. Suddenly, busy work at an office desk felt comforting.
“Your eggs are due to expire soon, should I order more?”
Iris pawed sleepily at Basil, ignoring his routine egg questionnaire. The humidity in her apartment was suffocating as the early sun burst through her windows. The weekend had whipped by in a whirlwind of sleep, more sleep and Netflix.
“Today is Friday, May 22.”
Iris cartoonishly side-eyed her refrigerator as she poured iced coffee from a carafe, she had retrieved from it.
“Bro, it’s Monday,” she said.
Iris walked away to stand on her balcony, still cautiously on the outlook for the oversized hornets she had seen. She opened the screen, timidly stepped outside, double-checked the coast was clear and clasped her thermos with both hands, taking in the dewy breeze of the early morning.
Feeling safe from flying death bugs, she checked her phone.
“Seven new texts and WHAT THE…” Iris stared down at her phone screen in disbelief.
Was she in a dream? Just above the face of her and her sister on her home screen read: Friday, May 22, 2020, 6:44am.
Iris’s mind raced. How did she lose track of a whole week? She tried to think of what she could have done at work all week, only to remember things she swore had been from the week prior.
The sound only added to her panic, like water overflowing a clogged sink.
Iris looked up, the slope of black tarp making up the roof of her apartment building had at least a dozen black wasps creepy-crawling up and down. Almost in unison as she noticed them, each of their wings flicked open and they all swarmed into the air, encircling her balcony in a matter of seconds.
Iris screamed, dove back inside her ‘safe’ apartment and slammed the door. Where were they all coming from? What even were they?
She felt her lungs contracting to pull down air in her panic. She couldn’t decide which issue was more alarming; the loss of time she was experiencing or big, scary bugs.
Her gut told her it was the big scary bugs.
Iris slung the blinders of the balcony slider shut. If there was ever a day to use her dozens of hours of accumulated sick time. Today, was the day.
Iris had her cell phone in one hand and watched the digital clock on Basils screen intensely as Friday, May 22 reached 11:59pm. She listened to the wall clock in her living room as she watched the digital displays, feeling the tock of the second hand seem to sync with her heartbeat.
The wall clock chimed and the numbers blinked and redisplayed. Iris felt a knot in her stomach and then the G-force of spiraling down a rollercoasters big drop.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 3, 2020; 12:00am.
She looked from her phone to the fridge to her phone several times over until she was 100% sure that both screens displayed the same impossible typeface.
The whir of the refrigerator’s cooling system came to life, followed by the familiar AI voice.
“Would you like to offer your guest a cold beverage?” Basil asked.
“What? I am alone.”
She felt the hair on her neck stand one by one.
“Would you like to offer your guest a cold beverage?”
“I am alone!”
“I think your – device – is referring to me,” a strange, eerie male voice crawled through the air and wormed into Iris’s ears.
From there, the voices’ cadence snaked down her spine, thru her stomach, ping-ponged along the veins thru her heart, choked her gag reflex and then finally exploded in red-alert pandemonium in her brain.
“Dispensing H2O,” Basil said robotically.
Iris felt water pooling at her feet as she remained frozen in place.
“That took an enormous amount of energy,” the voice continued, “I am exhausted from traveling.”
Despite every muscle in her legs screaming in protest, Iris slowly turned to face the source. It was not worth the endeavor.
Wall to wall and across the ceiling, her once quiet apartment was now covered in dozens of black wasps, crawling and swarming. Scarlett wings and devilish buzzing filled the room, which now hosted a single, human-like entity standing in front of her open balcony.
“W-w-who are you?” Iris stammered, reaching for any kitchen utensil to use as a weapon.
She reached blindly, hoping for a knife, a cleaver or a sturdy wooden spoon, but instead swung forward a threatening silicone pastry brush.
The entity did not answer, but instead treaded closer, entering the ambient light of the living room at midnight. Again, Iris wished that it hadn’t.
It wore a mask. Sharp, jagged edged and with two bugged eyes and a needle-sharp mandible; it was the mask of a wasp.
The wasps seemed to horde around him – Iris decided it was a him – as he calmly, almost floated, a few more steps.
“Stop!” she said, holding the pastry brush like a switchblade.
The wasp masked man did as instructed.
“Who are you and what are these…things?”
The man looked around at the swarm of wasps as if he had just noticed them. He shrugged one off his shoulder and Iris watched sickeningly as it landed on his mask, crawling across the large, black bugged eyed.
Iris flicked the pastry brush, indicating the answer was insufficient.
“Time wasps is their common name,” he said, “They are sort of like the pilot fish of interdimensional travel.”
Iris swatted the answer with a crooked eyebrow.
The masked man reached for his headpiece, “May I?”
She reluctantly nodded. The man removed his mask and Iris was somewhat relieved he wasn’t a human sized wasp underneath it. He was human, yet inhuman at the same time. Iris couldn’t quite put her finger on it at first.
The wasp man had blue eyes, not blue like she had seen hundreds of times, but an azure blue like a police strobe light. Beside each eye, the man had a distinct triple freckle that extended to his temple. His hair was flat, short and greying and his ears were decidedly not round but not pointed. Not alien, but not human.
It was then Iris noticed that the wasp man’s face, down to every feature, was perfectly symmetrical.
“What are you?”
The wasp man ticked at her answer with his lips. The time wasps fluttered threateningly. The chime of her wall clock suddenly clanged again. She whipped her eyes quickly back to Basil.
SATURDAY, JULY 25, 2020; 12:00am.
The pastry brush fell loose from her hand and thumped softly on the floor.
“Interdimensional travel takes an enormous amount of energy,” the wasp man restated, “The time wasps feed on that energy and allow a traveler such as myself to pass through. Unfortunately for you, the energy they chose to feed on was yours.”
“Think of it like a bug bite,” the traveler said, smiling “Only instead of a physical bite, it’s more of a temporal bite.”
Iris started gape-mouthed.
“Likely while you were sleeping. They tend to appear in a vulnerable space with their prey, walking all over you, devouring time right from your reality…”
The wasp man chuckled.
“Did you just snicker?” Iris snapped.
“Would you like to reorder ‘King-Sized Snickers, 12-pack?”
“SHUT UP, BASIL!” Iris shouted.
The wasp masked traveler comfortably strutted across Iris’s living room until he was on the opposite side of the kitchen island beside her. He thumbed the freckled corner of his eyes, as if he were wiping away sand from them.
“The time wasps bite creates a link between dimension, the more they feed, the stronger the connection, blah, blah, blah. Here I am.”
“Can you make it stop?” Iris demanded.
“No,” he said, almost offended, “And why would I want to do that? I won’t be fully stable until they are done feeding.”
The wasps, at least forty if Iris had to guess, buzzed and swarmed again, their horrifying crimson wings beating by her face as they flapped around.
“Today is Tuesday, February 7th…” Basil started, his voice momentarily wobbling as if he was losing power, “2023.”
“Excuse-a-fuck-me?” Iris felt her head rush and wanted to throw up.
“Yes, it starts to get like that,” the wasp man said, seemingly uninterested in explaining anything further to Iris and instead reached for and re-secured his mask over his face, “I’ll be on my way.”
“Now? You’ve been here for three years, apparently,” Iris snarked, body-blocking the traveler, “Put me back!”
The wasp man flickered, momentarily vanishing, then reappeared on the opposite side of Iris. He calmly walked to the door. The time wasps buzzed after him, although Iris noticed there were fewer now.
“The alterations to your timeline will stop. They never usually feed on more than a decade. They seem to be disappearing, all is well!”
“Is that long for you?” the wasp man countered, turning the door knob to Iris’s apartment, ready to leave her life in a shamble as quickly as he had come.
Iris felt her jaw and lip tremble. This was just a very lucid dream. She was overworked. She was tired. She would wake up and it would be back to normal.
The wasp man lowered his head in a weird bow before swiftly leaving. Iris listened to the murmur of his footsteps until pure silence was all that remained.
“Basil, what day is it?”
“Today is Saturday, February 11th, 2023.”
Iris wiped the sleep from her eyes. She had remained in her apartment, blinds shuttered and un-showered, for four straight days waiting to wake up. She did not hear a buzz. She did not lose time. The phenomena had ceased when the wasp man left.
Each day that passed when things did not revert back, Iris’s overactive mind began to further accept this as her new reality. Did she still have a job? Was her sister OK? Where did everybody think she had been for three years?
As the morning hours withered away, Iris finally decided to take action. In three swift movements, she opened her phone and called her sister.
“Hello?” the familiar, loving, welcoming voice answered.
“Emily!” Iris breathed relief through the phone line, “How are you?”
“I’m great! What are you up too?”
Iris felt alarmed but how unalarmed her sister acted.
“Em, it’s 2023.”
“Uh, it sure is. New Years was last month!”
Iris swallowed deeply, unsure how to ask anything of the last three years without sounding nuts. The silence only lingered uncomfortably.
“You, ok?” Emily asked.
“Yeah, yeah. Emily, can I ask you a weird question?”
“What did I get you for Christmas?”
Emily did not respond. The phone line hung silent.
“Yeah, what did you want to ask me?”
Iris felt another pulse in her chest.
“I asked you what I got you for Christmas last year.”
Another pause. Emily simply did not respond, as if she hadn’t heard her. Iris remained silent for almost a full minute before saying anything else.
“Emily, when did we last get dinner together?”
“Emily, what did we do for Diwali last year?”
“Emily, has it snowed a lot this winter?”
“Emily, has it…
No response and then –
Iris stopped asking questions. The sound was low but felt deafening. Buzz.
“What did you want to ask me, sis?” Emily repeated.
“Nothing. Forget it.”