[Running Late, 1,671 words, Genre: Science Fiction]
* Photograph courtesy of Martin Rumsby
He lived in Geelong, but worked in Melbourne. Keith worked as an account manager for a government entity. It wasn’t exactly the government, rather a branch of. The travel time that took him from home to work each morning was a mad dash. He had already received three prior warnings for tardy behaviour in arriving to work each morning. But in a realistic approach, it couldn’t be helped. Each morning he had to navigate through traffic to his job, an office in the western suburbs of Melbourne. Every morning he had to wake up before the sun rose so that he was able to start up his car. And sometimes he had to kick the engine into running, the morning frost that gathered on those winter mornings would cause the engine to seize up. And whenever it did that, it was unpredictable as to whether or not it would fix itself or whether he would be stuck there holding his dick in the wind and praying for a spot of luck.
This particular morning, after the consecutive warnings of his tardy behaviour, he woke up to the sound of his alarm buzzing. That alarm, that god damned alarm. It was the most annoying sound in the world, but it was the only sound that would wake him up. Every other alarm, he had tried, such as morning music or any other kind of soft transition from being asleep to being awake would never work for him. It was the loud beeping like a car horn or it was nothing. He understood it, he was not a morning person. This caused him more problems in adult life, it had always been a struggle in secondary school. But now, now this was his livelihood, his daily bread, how he afforded to keep a roof over his head and food in his stomach.
The beeping throttled him awake. He would wake like emerging from the deep waters of the ocean, gasping for air and suddenly shocked. He placed himself at the side of his bed and read the alarm clock. There was something wrong with it. The alarm, somehow, had ceased to go off for a ten minute period. There was a disturbance with it. There was a disturbance with time. He had not encountered this ever before. The shock of reading the time on the alarm clock sent waves of adrenaline to his heart and he immediately went to the kitchen. He turned on the kettle and while the kettle was being boiled he dressed himself in his business ware. White shirt and black pants. The standard attire for his position. He made a mad rush of it. Throwing on his pants and socks at an accelerated rate.
There was something wrong with the surrounding air. Something was drastically going awry. He didn’t understand it. Whatever was going wrong. But it felt like these little bubbles of air were coming to and through in his household. He would pace back and forth between his bedroom to check on the time on the alarm clock and was surprised at what he saw. At points the clock would shift forward a couple of minutes, and then like that ten minutes had passed. Like little bubbles. He found it completely contradictory to his own sense of time, but put it down to fatigue and thought that he had lost a little time here and there while sitting on the couch with micro-sleeps. He was too tired to think about what was happening around him with any deep consideration. The kettle had boiled and he was growing frustrated with how much time had passed. He made himself a coffee and put it one of those mugs that he could take with him in the car.
He grabbed his keys, taking the coffee with him as well as his security pass for work. Then he entered the car. He put the keys in the ignition and turned them over. Kick starting the engine had always been a hassle, it was one of those old cars, a Holden rust bucket from the 1980s that he had picked up on the cheap at an auction. Just like in his home, he felt like time was draining on him. He repeated the process of kick starting the engine with the turn of the keys a couple of times until it eventually got the engine humming. He revved the accelerator a couple of times to pump fuel into it and then it was started. He reversed the car out of the driveway and starting going down the side-streets until he found the main roads.
He held his coffee in his hand and brought it to his lips. By this time the coffee had become cold, even though he couldn’t account for the amount of time that had passed, he took the liquid’s temperature for granted and gulped it down.
Soon he was on the highway. There was a storm brewing outside. Not one of those regular storms, but hail storms. He just swore to himself over and over again by himself within the car as he came to the realization that the storm would probably result in a decreased rate of speed down the highway. The car’s clock didn’t work, but the radio did. So he tuned in to various stations throughout the public broadcasting system so that he could tune into a time to get a reading on how late he was running for work. Maybe if he called ahead in proper time they’d forgive him because of the storm. It was quite hectic outside, little balls of ice were falling onto the car windscreen and the wind flew around him at an increased rate. He could feel the wind within his hold on the steering wheel. The car was small. It was unlikely that it would turn the car over, but he could feel it as he made his hectic drive towards his destination.
He tried tuning into radio stations on his car’s radio, but had difficulty doing so. The surrounding storm was causing some form of interference. Finally, he found a station which was announcing the time with a news report, “The time is currently seven o’clock and we are in for a day of wild weather, nobody could have predicted it, this storm seemed to come from out of nowhere…” And then there was white noise that interrupted the radio station’s programming. That couldn’t be right. His alarm clock read at seven o’clock, just as he was leaving his apartment. He tried tuning into another radio station, the wild weather outside was picking up and he could feel it as he drove around curves on the highway. He finally picked up on another radio station’s transmission through the mass of white noise that was, “It’s coming up to ten o’clock and we don’t know what to tell you, this is something otherworldly or supernatural happening outside…” Ten o’clock! What the hell was going on outside!?
He decided to ignore the radio and attempted to call his supervisor so that he could report that he was running late. He dialled the number. On the first two attempts, he found that he wasn’t getting enough reception and there was a ‘no signal’ on his phone. It must have something to do with the storm raging on outside. Finally, on the third attempt, he got a signal and was able to call his supervisor, “John! John! It’s me, it’s Keith, listen I know I’ve already received three warnings, but I’m running late again. It’s the storm man, it’s causing bad traffic conditions.” The bad traffic was an excuse, but there was definitely something that was going on.
“Keith? It’s four in the morning, why are you calling me at this hour?”
After his supervisor said that, he immediately hung up. What the hell was going on?! He decided to focus on his driving. He saw the traffic going in the opposite direction down the highway and it was insane to witness. But it was as if time itself was stuttering. He would open his eyes and the car driving in the opposite direction would pass him, only then in the blink of an eye would the same vehicle appear on the visual horizon. He looked at the road, he was driving on… The same thing was happening to him too. He would pass a speed sign only to encounter the same speed sign in a couple of minutes time. What the hell was going on!? Was he dreaming!?
Then in another blink of an eye, he was passing a petrol station. The first time he passed the petrol station, he ignored it and kept on driving. The second time he came across the same petrol station he decided to drive into it and seek shelter from whatever the hell was happening around him.
He pulled into the service station and got out of his car and ran into the service center. Attempting to find out what was happening around him, trying to get some answers, trying to find another human being. But every time he got out of the car and made his way into the service center, the same thing happened that was happening while he was driving his car. Like an old VHS tape being torn up in a VHS player, it would cause these repetitions in time. One moment he would be outside of the car running towards the service station of the petrol station, the next moment he would be in his car opening the door again. And then time jumped forward again… He was in the service center asking the service attendant what the hell was happening.
And he received his answer in a blurred haze, the service center attendant, his body folding in upon itself, “It’s the CSIRO, they say they’ve succeeded in their attempts to create a miniature black hole,” as time and space crumpled in upon itself, being sucked into a vacuous hole.