Just like that, the entire world froze, every single person on Earth, all except for Matthew Harris, a brilliant, young software engineer student in enemy occupied Colorado. At first, it's all fun and games as he takes advantage of what appears to be an incredible opportunity to act without consequence, but as the weeks wear on, he begins to wonder if this is going to be his new reality. There's something off about all of this, though...He just has to figure out what it is.
I’m standing in front of the entrance to Valley View Regional Medical Center, the hospital where Kim was taken to after the bombing, just staring at it, deciding if I really want to do what I’m about to do. Water trickles down my cheek and forehead, and I wipe it away with the back of my hand. It’s raining pretty hard now; lucky for me the weather didn’t decide to freeze like everything else…
Kim is asleep back at the fancy hotel where she’s chosen to camp out while in this alternate reality, safely asleep with no idea what I’m doing. It’s better that she doesn’t know. She wouldn’t approve of it, not in a million years. I tried falling asleep myself, but there’s a pit in my stomach tonight that’s refusing to go away, refusing to let me fall asleep. I’ve had it since taking that flight with Kim almost a month ago, since she told me about her year in here, in this heaven-forsaken reality. I haven’t been able to shake the feeling, which is why I’m here now, at this hospital, hoping that somehow it can be taken away.
I walk in through the automatic doors, finally cementing my conviction, and move past the mess of people gathered in the lobby. Some of the hospital’s patrons are seated, clearly having waited for a considerable amount of time for their appointment, judging by their expressions. A few of them are arguing with the attendants at the front desk. One person is halfway through a sneeze; I wonder if germs are frozen too. I certainly hope so.
I move behind the receptionist’s desk and slide her chair out of the way with her still seated in it. She skids over against the wall, her arms still raised as if she’s typing. I take her spot and scroll across the display with one finger, moving applications out of the way in search of what I need. There are so many open, I wonder how this lady’s computer hasn’t crashed, or at the very least been bogged down to a speed so slow it’s going backwards. Finally, I find one called Patient Portal and move through the various functions until I find the patient registry.
“Reisberg, Reisberg…” I mutter under my breath, moving through the list of patients. There’s a Daniel Reisberg, a Julie Reisberg. Jeez, there’s more than one of them? How common is that name? No Kim though. I double check and cross reference with records from the other hospitals in the region, but there’s no Kim. If she’s real, and not some trick on my messed-up mind, and she really was put in a medical coma like she described in her story, she would—in theory—still be on record in the hospital. My current theory is that there’s a disconnect between mind and body in the Pause. It has to be. How else do you explain all the things we’ve been able to do, all the risks we’ve been able to take, all with impunity. A year to be in a coma though? Kim’s clearly not awake and well, and if she’s not registered in any of the hospitals around here…
I dive deeper and expand my search to the time she was first admitted, including discharged patients. I look through the list again, but still, nothing. Then, the pit in my stomach surfaces again, guiding me to what I already fear. I select the check-box marked Deceased and refresh the search. If I were being honest with myself, this is probably the whole reason why I came in the first place. I hold my breath, waiting for the results.
Kim Reisberg. Admitted: 4 August 2181. Deceased: 7 August 2181. TOD: 0838.
The rain continues to pelt the windows outside, creating trails of water that crisscross down to the ground in static patterns. My heart feels like it’s stopped inside of my chest, and for the first time since meeting Kim, I wish it really were stopped.
Maybe it already is.
She’s dead. But I can still see her. Does that mean I’m dead, too? I mean, I can’t say this is how I imagined the afterlife, but what other explanation is there? How did I die? Was I killed by the Europeans? Or was there another rebel attack and I got caught in the middle? Panamerican citizens have been caught in the crossfire before.
I’m trembling; I see my hands shaking. My legs feel weak; there’s no way I’ll be able to stand on them.
I’m dead. And this is my eternity.
Somehow, despite whatever rules exist in this reality, I throw up.
“Hey, Matt! I was thinking today I could show you Garden of the Gods. You been down to Colorado Springs yet?”
She slips her arm into mine and walks with me down the commuter railroad tracks, but pauses when she sees my face.
“Woah, you don’t look so hot. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, fine,” I lie.
She turns me to face her and gives me a probing look.
“I know we’ve only known each other for like, what, three, four weeks? But I can still tell when something’s off. What is it?”
I grin and look into her knowing grey eyes. It’s true; despite the limited amount of time we’ve been around each other, we’re already picking up on each other’s cues, likes, dislikes, moods. I can tell there’s no hiding where I was last night for very long.
“Have you thought about what your reality is? Like, if this is all in your mind and your body is somewhere else?” I say, gesturing to nothing in particular
She gives me a twisted smile that seems to shout Please, son. We continue walking. “I’m surprised you even have to ask that. Of course I have.”
“What do you think?” I press. Kim furrows her brow, but after several pensive moments she takes a deep breath in and out.
“I like to believe that my real self is still out there somewhere and that what I see and feel right now is just my mind, somehow. That I’m just waiting to be brought back. It’s that little light I hold on to, you know?”
“You know,” she says, gesturing with her hand. “That one thing that you keep in your back pocket for when the rest of your scaffolding of explanations comes crashing down, that one simple truth you’ve decided to let yourself believe, no matter what?”
“Ah,” I say, the hole in my stomach returning. I can’t do this now, can I? But hiding it is definitely out of the question. She already knows I’m holding back.
“What brings that up?”
“Well,” I begin hesitantly. “What if…it’s not?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, what if, you know, we don’t exist in the other world, the one we came from?”
She chuckles. “Matt, what’s got you so worried? Were you thinking too long last night? I told you to always drink chocolate milk before bed. It does wonders.”
“Hey. What is it? What’s wrong? Tell me the truth.”
We stop again, and she looks up at me with concerned eyes. Jeez, why does she have to look at me like that?
“I went to Valley View last night. I went to your hospital.”
Kim drops my arm and takes a tentative step backwards.
“You did what? Why?”
Here we go.
“I just couldn’t get it out of my head. It was keeping me up and I just had to know. I had to go find out somehow.”
I rub my hands together, wringing them red in seconds.
“Know what?” Kim questions. Her voice has lost its warmth, and I can tell she already knows the answer to her own question. She already knows what I’m about to say.
“It’s been a year, Kim. I mean, that’s a long time, and I just had to find out if…”
She looks me directly in the eyes, the corners of her mouth twisted downward, a tear moving gently down the side of her face. She shakes her head, and her lip begins to tremble. I prepare myself to continue.
“I looked up your record, the one at the hospital, and—”
“Don’t!” she says sharply. I tilt my head, a pained, apologetic look on my face. She lifts her hand and takes several more steps back. “Don’t. Don’t. How dare you!”
“How dare you violate me like that! You had no right to do that!”
Tears roll freely down her face now as she moves away from me.
“Please, Kim. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“Shut up! Shut up! Screw you!” she says, her voice coarse and about three times its normal volume. “Why do you even exist? Why did you have to come and mess everything up? I was fine before you! Screw you!”
Then she turns, and I watch as she sprints away down the tracks, her deep brown hair flowing behind her. I make a move to follow her, but I know she won’t stop until I’m out of sight.
And just like that, I’ve lost the last person left in the world.