Marie sat in a small crowded café waiting. All of the tables were full and there was a steady stream of people ordering something to eat and drink. Marie could hear a constant buzz of conversation around her, but was struggling to concentrate on anything other than what was in front of her. The mug of tea sitting on the table was steaming and she could smell the floral scent wafting through the air. And next to her cup was a plate with a half eaten club sandwich and fries.
Joshua would be here soon and then maybe she could start to relax. He was her childhood friend and he always calmed her down after a stressful day. The time dragged by and Marie sighed in boredom. Her life was one continual repeat. It seemed like she woke up, went to work, met with Joshua and then went to bed and then repeated.
The bell over the shop chimed and Joshua walked in in all of his blond haired and blue-eyed glory. Marie could agree that he was a good-looking man, but he was practically her brother. He smiled when he saw her, but took a few minutes to go to the counter and order his regular and then came over to join her.
“Hey Marie,” he said as he sat.
“Hey Joshua, how was your day?”
“Good. And yours?”
“The same as always.” They smiled at each other as they sat waiting for his food to arrive. Marie picked at what was left of her sandwich and took a sip of her tea. A few minutes later a teenage server set a plate of food and a drink on the table and then wandered off. Marie couldn’t help but frown as the kid walked away.
“What?” Joshua asked.
“Deja-vu. I feel like I’ve seen that exact moment before.”
“Same as always huh?” Joshua said. And Marie nodded and then shrugged.
“Just one of those weird moments.”
Joshua waved it off and then they chatted for a bit about work and the up coming weekend. Marie really didn’t have plans, but she was sure she would come up with something, even if it was just watching reruns of her favorite cooking shows.
“Sometimes I just feel so bored. Every day is the same as the day before you know,” Marie said.
“Yeah. Alright. If you’re asking for something different, where would you go if you could go anywhere in the world?”
“Huh…” Marie paused to think. “I don’t really know. There are so many amazing places I could go to.”
“You know you could tell me any place even if it is dumb.”
Marie rolled her eyes and then looked around the room as she thought. Suddenly a conversation from two tables over piqued her interest. The woman was on the phone and Marie could only hear what the woman was saying.
“You want to know where to go for dinner. You should know. It’s the same as always,” the woman said with a small smile on her face.
Marie shuddered. Suddenly something felt wrong. Marie couldn’t put her finger on it, but something wasn’t right.
“Hey,” Joshua said as he snapped his fingers in front of Marie’s face. “Where did you go? Did you decide a place then?”
“What,” Marie muttered, and then her eyes widened as she focused back on Joshua. “Oh, sorry. I’m not really sure. Maybe somewhere with a beach. Somewhere super warm.”
“Come on more specific,” Joshua said and as he spoke Marie couldn’t help but lose track of what he was saying as she heard the man at the counter of the café suddenly say, “Oh, same as always.”
Marie closed her eyes. Something didn’t feel right. She closed her eyes and then pressed the heels of her palms into her eyes and tried to think. Her head hurt. Suddenly a hand grabbed her arm. Marie jumped.
“Hey Marie, are you okay,” Joshua asked concern dripping from his voice. For some reason that grated on her right then and she pulled her hands from her eyes and then her arm from his hand.
“I don’t know. Suddenly I don’t feel very well. Maybe I’m just really tired. I think I’m going to go home and call it an early night,” Marie said.
“Do you want me to walk you home?”
“Nah I got it,” Marie said as she stood and gathered the remnants of her meal and her purse. “I’ll be fine. I think I just need quiet.”
Joshua nodded from his seat as he watched her.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Marie said.
“Yeah. Let me know if you need anything,” Joshua replied.
Marie quickly threw out her trash and exited the shop trying to ignore everyone around her. She shuddered. Something still felt wrong and her mind couldn’t quite grasp what it was.
She rushed home.
Once she was in her apartment she collapsed on the couch and shoved her face into a pillow. She could smell the lavender spray that she sprayed all her furniture with and sighed. Eventually she moved her head just enough to be able to see the tv. She reached out with her arm and found the remote on the floor and then turned on the tv. She stared at it trying not to think. Whatever happened today didn’t mean anything. Everything was fine. There was nothing to worry about.
And then she heard the words.
“Same as always” spoken by a man on the screen. Marie had no context to what was happening in the show, but she couldn’t deal. She turned off the tv and closed her eyes. And she kept them closed until she drifted off.
The next day everything was, ironically enough, the same as always. The same thing for breakfast. The same routine. The same walk to work. The same conversations with coworkers and clients. It wasn’t until lunch that Marie noticed the day before wasn’t just a dream.
Marie had gone out to the food truck on the corner of the street by the entrance of the park and was standing in line to order. There were four people in front of her and the first one ordered normally, but then the second person said, “Same as always,” and Marie couldn’t help but take notice.
The third person said the same thing and then the fourth. Marie was practically shaking by the time she ordered her food and hightailed it back to the office to eat in her small cubical. Her head was beginning to hurt and her eyes felt tired.
Marie closed them for a minute and then the day seemed to go on in fast forward. And the next thing she knew she was standing in front of her café with her hand on the door. She shook her head and entered. She walked forward on autopilot and then stood there to order and suddenly the words were pouring from her lips.
“Same as always.”
The teen behind the counter didn’t look surprised or unsure. She just nodded and smiled and pushed buttons on the screen and then said an amount. Marie was still running on autopilot as she handed her card over, got it back, put it in her wallet, and then wandered over to her usual table.
Same as always.
Something was wrong. And her head hurt. She doesn’t remember it ever hurting this often.
It felt like no time had passed when Joshua sat down across from her with a smile, but then frowned as he looked at her.
“Are you okay? You look worse than you did when you left yesterday,” he said.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m,” Marie paused as the words ‘same as always’ almost crawled out of her mouth again and she forced herself to say, “Okay. Just talk please.”
“Okay.” And Joshua spoke. He chatted about nothing and Marie relaxed more and more as the words didn’t appear in anything he said. He looked at her with a sly grin.
“You know you never did tell me where you would want to go. Come on there has to be one place that just stands out. You feel a strong connection to. Or just love the look of.”
Marie opened her mouth and paused.
And then a man walked in the door speaking on the phone and said, “same as always.” While at the same time a woman across the room grinned at her husband and said, “Same as always.”
Marie froze and her head pounded. Something was wrong pounded through her brain. Very, very wrong.
“What’s the trigger? We need to negate it,” a voice said from right next to Marie’s right shoulder and Marie quickly turned her head to look. No one was there. There was just a wall.
Marie stood and Joshua instantly stopped talking. “You okay?”
“I just realized I have something I need to do.”
“No, you don’t.”
Marie frowned as she looked down at Joshua’s face. There was a look of frustration on his face. Marie stood there frozen staring at the face that she knew so well and suddenly felt like she didn’t know him at all. She stumbled back slightly and then grasped the back of her chair.
“Come on Marie, what is going on with you? You have been acting weird ever since yesterday and I can’t quite figure out what is wrong.”
Marie shook her head as it screamed danger. “I’m not sure. But I really do have somewhere I need to go.”
Joshua grunted and scowled and Marie walked to the door and fled down the sidewalk. She walked without thinking about where she was going.
Her mind suddenly remembered a lecture she couldn’t seem to fully remember hearing.
It always seems real. Look at the oddities. The glitches. The repeats. The brain can only handle so much for so long, so it will hurt.
And then the words were gone and she crouched down clutching at her head. It was wrong. She knew it. The world seemed to fuzz for a moment and she reached out and leaned on the nearest wall to her. But then everything sharpened back up and she wasn’t sure about what she had seen. She wandered with her hand dragging across the walls of buildings, fences, posts, and whatever else she could touch. It felt real, but what did that really mean. Could it all be fake.
There is always a pause and reset.
Marie frowned as she thought about the sudden words in her brain. How would she miss a pause and reset? She would only miss something if she was sleeping during it. So, what would happen if she just didn’t sleep?
Those questions and thoughts seemed to solidify into her head and she squared her shoulders. She wandered outside as the sun set. After a few hours she came upon a park with a bench and sat down to rest. She barely allowed herself to blink afraid of not opening her eyes again until morning. She needed to stay awake.
As the hours dragged by the couldn’t help but think about Joshua. She felt like she had years of history with Joshua, but at the same time she remembered the moment back at the café when she felt like she didn’t know him at all. Honestly how well do people know each other anyway?
No matter how she felt she couldn’t help wondering why the relationship felt hollow. She looked up at the sky while she thought about what she knew of Joshua. Not much. His name. Where he grew up. A few likes and dislikes. What he does for a job. And not much else. For over twenty years of friendship, she felt she didn’t know anything about him at all. Why did she ever feel comfortable with him, or like she could trust him.
When the sun eventually rose, Marie decided not to go to work. Not that work mattered. Instead, she decided to find Joshua. She waited for him outside his workplace and when he showed up, he stared at her in surprise.
“What are you doing here,” he asked. “And why do you look like you didn’t sleep last night? Did you even go home?”
Marie waved that away in frustration and then tilted her head as she looked at him. “None of that matters. What matters is this one question. Who are you?”
Joshua looked startled. “What do you mean. I’m your best friend.”
“No, you’re not. I don’t know you,” Marie closed her eyes for a second in exhaustion and then opened them slowly. “I really don’t care to argue with you, but you want something. Who are you and what do you want?”
Suddenly the world around her twitched.
Joshua jerked back slightly.
And Marie grinned.
“I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“I’m sure you wish I would believe that, but the world around me is glitching and you are pixelating right in front of me. I think my brain running on fumes can’t handle what is being fed to it and the fact that there was no reset last night is causing extra glitching.”
Joshua stared at her for a moment and then said, “Same as always, same as always, s… me as …wa…s.” His mouth was moving oddly for the words pouring out of it and then his face distorted in a disconcerting blur.
The world glitched again and then went dark.
Marie tried to grab something, to pull herself out of the darkness, but there was nothing there.
And then her eyes were opening and in front of her was a woman she knew.
“I’d call that a pass,” the woman, Evalyn, said as she wrote a few notes and then stamped the head of the paper with green ink.
Marie tried to sit up, but Evalyn put her hand on Marie’s shoulder.
“I wouldn’t get up just yet. Your head is probably in a lot of pain and your body needs to readjust.”
“How long was I under? How did I do?”
“You were under for just under twenty hours and it went well. You told us absolutely nothing and recognized the problems really quickly.”
“I’d say you’ll be mission ready within the month.”
Marie smiled and muttered to herself a couple words, “Same as always.”