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Suspense Fiction Urban Fantasy

My eyes shoot open. 2:19 A.M. stares back at me in glowing green text.

I shift positions, intentionally obscuring my wristwatch. Three hours until the Barcelona presentation. I shouldn’t be awake. It was already a late night of preparation. Any less sleep and I won’t be on my game tomorrow. The entire account is at stake.

I squeeze my eyes shut. I try to will myself out of consciousness. No luck. I feel the familiar tinge of dread spreading through my limbs. “The drive for perfection,” as my fellow investment bankers would say. The beginnings of a panic attack, more likely. What I wouldn’t give for a few days—even a few minutes—of calm.

I open my eyes again. It wasn’t always this way. I remember the orange leaves and the crisp fall air. Tucked away in a coffee shop a few blocks away from campus. Dreaming of writing academic papers and teaching monetary policy to fresh young minds. “That kid, Randall, he could change econometrics if he really put his mind to it,” I overheard a professor say to a colleague one day. His name is lost to me now. But I still remember the smell of his office, like parchment and wet ink—odd for a modern office, but somehow fitting for his. And it wasn’t all work. I had friends, I drank beer, I dated. It was a foreign concept now, the idea of a life outside of finance.

I try and fail to readjust into a comfortable position. I never saw myself here, even if deep down I knew it was inevitable. On an overnight flight above the Atlantic. Hurtling toward Spain to pitch one of the biggest companies in the world on behalf of the most prestigious bank in Manhattan. The pinnacle of my career. But also exhausted in a way only a financier could understand. Barely able to keep my eyes open but still wide awake at 2:19 A.M.

Resigned, I unbuckle by seatbelt and stand up. I inch my way to the bathroom through the crowded aircraft, turning sideways to squeeze by a flight attendant. I envy row after row of sleeping passengers, lulled into oblivion by the dim lighting and the dull hum of the engines. Lonely souls dot the cabin, backlit screens broadcasting their presence.

I squirm through the awkward entrance to the bathroom. The light flickers on automatically. I look worse than I feel. My eyes are bloodshot, framed by purplish bags. My face is sunken. I splash water on my face. It’s ice cold, from the altitude I presume.

I glance down at my watch.

#

My eyes shoot open. 2:19 A.M. stares back at me in glowing green text.

I try to get up but can’t. I panic—feeling trapped—until I realize it’s just my seatbelt, still fastened.

I take a deep breath. I am OK, I remind myself.

The Barcelona presentation. I remember the instigating force behind my restlessness. I already long for worrying about feeling disoriented, that brief respite from my mind’s singular stressor. I glance back down at my watch. 2:19 A.M.

I let my head drift back into my chair’s headrest. I need to sleep. I try a trick that a colleague taught me my first year at Monaghan & Williams. I focus on relaxing my neck, then my chest, my arms, my fingers. I continue until I’ve consciously released every extremity in my body from the near-constant state of tension to which they have become accustomed. I feel my thoughts begin to slowly run together as fatigue begins to overtake me. Thank God I’ll be prepared for—

The Barcelona presentation. The fatigue is gone. The tension floods back into my body. If only I could sleep.

I glance down at my watch.

#

My eyes shoot open. 2:19 A.M. stares back at me in glowing green text.

I swivel my head rapidly left then right. Everything is quiet. My fellow passengers are still asleep. The cabin is dim. The engines hum softly. I see a flight attendant making her way down the aisle, offering cups of water to the insomniacs.

I check my watch again. 2:19 A.M. Am I awake? My fatigue gives everything a fuzzy gloss, but I don’t feel like I’m dreaming.

I unbuckle my seatbelt. I pace the cabin. If I can get my legs moving, I’ll be able to ground myself, snap out of it. Perhaps some kind of delirium brought on by too many transatlantic flights in too short a time. I’m really going to have to take some time off after all this is over. But it’s not over. The Barcelona presentation hits me like a brick wall.

My pacing intensifies. I don’t have time for the consequences of sleep deprivation. I need to show up ready to go tomorrow. Yet here I am. Pacing. My mind denying me sleep with its constant reminders to sleep.

I glance down at my watch. 2:19 A.M.

#

My eyes shoot open. 2:19 A.M. stares back at me in glowing green text.

I flick my watch. 2:19 A.M. I stare at the screen. 2:19 A.M.

I stand in an awkward half-crouch, pinned down by my seatbelt. I crane my neck for a view of my surroundings. The cabin is silent. Nobody has moved, save for a lone flight attendant with her tray of drinks, hunting for LED screens among the darkness.

I look back down at my watch. 2:19 A.M.

I keep staring. I need to see it change. I’m sure everything is OK. If I can just see the numbers flick to 2:20, I will feel much better.

I struggle to hold back a blink. Surely, I must be approaching a minute. Surely, it has to change soon. Surely.

#

My eyes shoot open. 2:19 A.M. stares back at me in glowing green text.

Eyes wide, I rip my phone from my pants pockets. Against a picture of the Manhattan skyline—the ominous spire of the Monaghan & Williams building jutting above the others—2:19 A.M. stares back at me in white text.

I feel adrenaline begin to course through my veins. Something isn’t right.

I look around. Nothing. Just the flight attendant offering drinks to the insomniacs.

I unbuckle my seatbelt. I squeeze through the narrow aisle. Even in her unassuming blue uniform, the flight attendant is attractive—attractive enough that I notice it despite my growing panic.

“Hey, could I get the time?” I ask, just loudly enough to exceed the bounds of social acceptability.

The flight attendant—”Maureen” according to her nametag—smiles. It’s her job, but I appreciate the warmth nonetheless. She eyes my hand, adorned with a watch and holding a mobile phone. She’s still smiling, but she looks puzzled now.

Nevertheless, she nods, humoring me. She pulls her own phone out. Against her background—the blue-green water of some faraway beach—I see three white numerals. I feel ice in my veins.

#

My eyes shoot open. 2:19 A.M. stares back at me in glowing green text.

My eyes start to well up. What is this?

I nudge the passenger to my left. He’s wearing a red hoodie, his face pressed against his seat’s foldout tray.

He looks up, eyes tiny slits. He’s a young man, couldn’t be older than 23. He looks disoriented—and annoyed.

“Qué?” he grunts through a patchy beard before I can explain myself.

“Lo siento,” I say, holding back tears, longing for my translator. “Look, I didn’t mean to disturb you. I’m just feeling a little anxious, like maybe something is wrong.”

He frowns. My feeble attempt at Spanish clearly wasn’t enough to fend off his annoyance at an American expecting him to do the linguistic lifting.

“Estás como una cabra,” he mutters before putting his head down again.

I bury my eyes into my palms. I try to stay calm, but I can feel the panic setting in.

“Hey buddy,” I hear a voice from behind me.

I quickly turn around.

“Hey, I heard you say you’re not feeling well,” says a man in a green polo shirt. He has shaggy hair and red cheeks. “I’m a nurse. What’s going on?”

“I—,” I hesitate, scared that I will come off as deranged. “I’m just a nervous flier.”

“You’re okay. Safer than being in a car,” the nurse says.

#

My eyes shoot open. 2:19 A.M. stares back at me in glowing green text.

I quickly look left. The scruffy Spaniard’s head is pressed against his tray table, red hood up.

I turn around, twisting awkwardly beneath my seatbelt. The nurse is behind me. He’s on his tablet, playing a game. He tries to match words with pictures as an hourglass in the corner slowly depletes.

“Hey,” I say.

He looks up, blue eyes framed below his shaggy brown hair. He gives me a quizzical look. “Yeah?”

“Weren’t we just chatting?” I ask, my voice unsteady.

He cocks his head, pursing his lips in thought. “Nope, I don’t think so.”

“You’re- you’re a nurse, right?” I stammer.

“Hey, how’d you know?” he asks with a warm smile.

“No,” I say more to myself than the nurse.

“What?” He looks concerned.

I rip my seatbelt off. I sprint down the aisle, triggering groans as I careen into stray elbows and knees.

“Can I help you?” Maureen, the attractive flight attendant, asks.

“Do you have a pen?” I ask between breaths.

“A pen?” she replies. She looks concerned.

“Please, I need it now,” I shout.

I can see bright spots popping up around the dark cabin. LED screens signaling passengers joining the living.

“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to calm down,” she says. “You’re disturbing the—”

#

My eyes shoot open. 2:19 A.M. stares back at me in glowing green text.

I squeeze my eyes shut again. I ignore every fiber of my body screaming for me to get up. To run. To escape this unseen force.

I take a deep breath. I open my eyes. 2:19 A.M.

I stand. It’s a slow and shaky rise, but it’s also deliberate. I force myself to walk at a normal pace to Maureen.

“Excuse me ma’am,” I say—as evenly as I can manage—to the flight attendant.

She makes eye contact. Her smile is as warm as ever. No hint of concern.

“Yes?” she says.

“Can I borrow a pen?” I ask. “I seem to have misplaced mine.”

She pats down her jacket pockets for a few moments before procuring a pen.

“Here you are honey,” she says.

I grab it. My composure is quickly deteriorating. I yank the cap off. It falls to the ground. I ignore it. I begin scrawling on my wrist.

“Excuse me, are you alright?” the flight attendant asks.

I ignore her. The pen doesn’t work well, so I press down hard. It works, but I leave beads of blood in my wake. I hear Maureen talking, but it’s just garbled noises.

I admire my handiwork. “Ben” stares back at me in blue text from my wrist.

#

My eyes shoot open. 2:19 A.M. stares back at me in glowing green text.

I check my wrist. No Ben. No scratches. Just my skin.

I scream.

#

My eyes shoot open. 2:19 A.M. stares back at me in glowing green text.

I cry.

#

My eyes shoot open. 2:19 A.M. stares back at me in glowing green text.

It must be the thousandth time.

#

My eyes shoot open. 2:19 A.M. stares back at me in glowing green text.

I think about Ben. When’s the last time I’ve even seen him?

#

My eyes shoot open. 2:19 A.M. stares back at me in glowing green text.

I missed his first birthday. I got dragged into a last-second project. Pitching a Slovenian oil company on refinancing options.

#

My eyes shoot open. 2:19 A.M. stares back at me in glowing green text.

I missed his Christmas choir concert. He was so excited for me to come, his mother told me. I downed one energy drink after another, trying to turn one hour into two, two into four. Feeble attempts at temporal alchemy.

#

My eyes shoot open. 2:19 A.M. stares back at me in glowing green text.

His mother left me. I failed to pick him up after school. It wasn’t the first time. The court gave her custody, but—after everything—I at least had money. I hired the best family lawyer in the city. He charged me a fortune but got me more visitation hours than I deserved.

His mother didn’t seem concerned. Even then, she knew I would never have time to use those hours. It’s why she left me in the first place.

#

My eyes shoot open. 2:19 A.M. stares back at me in glowing green text.

I wish I could see him. If I could just escape this flying prison. Trapped between the sleeping Spaniard and the friendly nurse in the green polo. Listening to Maureen offering drinks to the insomniacs. What I wouldn’t give to see Ben.

I’d take him up to Connecticut. To the lake. I’d teach him how to fish.

We’d go to ballgames. I’d give him my old mitt and show him how to catch. Just in case a stray ball came our way.

I’d teach him how to shave. Was he old enough for that? Had I already missed it? How old was he?

I would do better.

#

My eyes shoot open. 2:20 A.M. stares back at me in glowing green text.

My eyes go wide. I force them shut. I open them again. 2:20 A.M. I flick my watch. 2:20 A.M. I take out my phone. 2:20 A.M.

I let out a strangled laugh. The sleeping Spaniard groans, but I don’t pay him any mind.

I turn around. The nurse is playing his silly word game. In the corner of his screen, I see those magic digits. 2:20 A.M.

I approach the flight attendant for what must be the hundredth time. “Can I get the time?” I ask.

She takes out her phone. Before she answers, I see it. 2:20 A.M. stares back at me against the blue-green waters of her background.

I can’t stop smiling.

I am free.

But then I remember.

The Barcelona presentation.

I check my watch.

June 18, 2021 16:04

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7 comments

19:30 Jul 01, 2021

Absolutely loved this one dude, you knocked the repetition idea out of the park. Hooked me in from the start and kept me till the end. Excellent pacing. Love your use of language and how you portray his emotions so vividly it almost felt so real to me :D. Obv did not expect the failed father undertone but great job! (Also i noticed how the first repetition was the longest and it got shorter as it increased and got longer as the plot was explained. Really nice detailing which I appreciate.) Amazing story, looking forward to more from you!!!

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Michaela Dennean
02:24 Jun 27, 2021

This was so great! Amazing job!

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Tybor Tigadoro
03:08 Jun 27, 2021

Thanks, Michaela!

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Link Arneson
18:39 Jun 26, 2021

This is so creative! I also thought Groundhog Day when I read this prompt. I'm glad someone executed it so well. The repetition made for excellent pacing. I'd never considered a time loop as short as a minute, but it felt like real. Loved it <3

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Tybor Tigadoro
19:51 Jun 26, 2021

This is such a nice comment; thank you, Link! I'm really glad you appreciated the homage to Groundhog Day :)

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Graheet Shenoy
18:03 Jun 26, 2021

Bellissimo. 💘

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Tybor Tigadoro
18:26 Jun 26, 2021

Thanks so much, Graheet!

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