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 turn down eighth avenue, my hands wringing the steering wheel with a nervous iron grip. It’s dark, but I can’t stop looking now. She’s the only thing that matters to me, the only reason why I can stand things the way they are. Kim talked about that one little light, the one thing you hold onto no matter what, the one that I took away from her? Well, Kim is that light for me. She’s the one thing I hold onto when everything else goes dark, when I start losing hope in this new reality. Does that sound too cliché, or dorky? Maybe. But I don’t know how else to describe it.
It’s hard to see anything in the darkness; there’s a surprising lack of streetlights on this road and no moon to make up the difference. I quickly scan the sidewalks, but the only people here are immobile, a distant reminder of the way things used to be. Then, something makes me pause. I tap the brakes and bring my car to a halt. A figure, in one of the tangent alleyways, it almost seems like…but that can’t be.
I strain my eyes to look down the alleyway, but now the figure is gone. Was I imagining it? I keep my gaze trained on the black corridor for several moments, trying to reconcile my sight and reasoning together. After replaying my mental recording over in my head, I determine there was definitely someone there. And now there isn’t. I hurry and get out of my car and jog lightly over to the alleyway where the shadowy figure was, but sure enough, there’s no one here.
Just as I’m about to give up hope, I hear the faint clicking of footsteps in the distance. My ears perk up and I make a rapid dash down the alley.
“Kim!” I call out, but the only thing that does is encourage the footfalls to a higher tempo. “Wait, please!”
My steps are powered by a motivation I’ve never felt before, carrying me faster than I’ve ever been able to run. All I need is for her to listen to what I have to say, to hear how I feel about her. And if she still cuts me loose after that, I’m willing to deal with the consequences. It’s what I deserve, after all. I took away her light, she takes away mine.
I turn a corner in the alley and look to my right.
There’s a man standing there, staring straight back at me. His upper half is cloaked in a black overcoat, and his expression seems to be filled with a mixture of panic and confusion. He’s older—maybe thirty-five or forty—but he still manages to look like he isn’t even the slightest bit out of breath. Meanwhile, I’m over here heaving like I’ve just completed a mile run.
“Hey!” I call out to him, taking a few steps forward.
The man bolts down the alley again and makes a quick turn down an adjacent path. I hurry to chase after him, despite my panting. If there’s another person moving, it makes me wonder how many of us there are now. Is this someone who has died too? Or are people starting to unfreeze? This person seemed to notice me.
I turn the corner behind which he disappeared, but I’m greeted by a dead end, a brick wall about three stories high with only a dumpster and a couple of broken sink basins against it. I stare at it, completely bewildered. There’s no one here. The man has disappeared. I look to the sides and up the walls surrounding me, but there’s no way anyone is able to climb up and over.
This reality, whatever it is, is only becoming more and more mysterious by the day.
My car is at the edge of the mountain overlook, way up in the hills above Denver. The city stretches north and south in a brilliant blanket of lights, but I pay no attention to it. I have my head down on the steering wheel, my eyes trained on a pile of dirt gathered in the corner by the gas pedal. How could I be so stupid? I just had to go to that hospital and look, didn’t I? I just had to know. I beat myself up mentally, wondering why I went down there at all. It’s not like knowing has changed anything, except now that the only person I care about has left me.
Honestly, I don’t even care if I am dead, if she’s dead, and both of us are here in some strange purgatory of an afterlife. If this is eternity, then I’m fine with that, as long as it means that I can share it with someone, with Kim. Just listening to my thoughts play out, it sounds cheesy; I mean I’ve only known her for what, less than a month? But that’s just it. No one has impacted my life the way Kim has. It hardly took me a week, let alone a month, to feel a connection with her stronger than I’ve felt with most anyone else in my life.
I feel the warm touch of tears on my upper cheek, and watch as my vision clouds, blurring the image of the glowing fuel indicator on my dashboard. There’s a soft pat, pat, pat as drops fall from my eyes onto the rubber mat beneath my feet.
I’ve never felt more alone.
There’s a beeping. That’s all I hear. Wait, no; there’s the sound of a soft discussion in the distance. I can’t make out what they’re saying, and I don’t recognize the voices.
I open my eyes and try to lift myself up, but a mountain of pain surges through my body and I abandon the effort. I turn my head as much as my tolerance allows and look around the room that I’m in.
It’s white all around except for one corner, which is lined with windows that present a magnificent view of downtown Denver. On the wall opposite of me is a screen playing the morning news—images of the battlefront around Bogota with soldiers in jungle camouflage battling in-between a thick matrix of trees. The sound is off, but I can almost hear the gunshots and feel the ground rumbling from memory.
To my right is a nightstand with a cup of water on it, and next to the stand is a monitor. I realize I’m hooked up to a mess of wires and tubes, some putting stuff in me, some taking stuff out. Then, I look down and notice I’m in a hospital bed, and my entire body is wrapped in bandages and splits.
I’m in a hospital. People are talking. I see them through the window now—two doctors in white coats. It can’t be…
They stop talking, and one of them opens the door and enters. She looks at me with a smile and pulls out a tablet as she approaches.
“Hey there, Mr. Harris. How are you feeling?” she says kindly. She takes a seat on a rolling stool next to my bed and scoots herself forward.
“Not great,” I croak out.
She laughs and begins checking the fluids dripping from the tubes attached to my arm. “I’d imagine getting hit by a bus would do that to you.”
“Mmhmm,” she confirms. “You know, you’re actually pretty lucky. Had your ribs broken a centimeter in any other direction, or if the bus had been going any faster at all, you wouldn’t be here. As it is, we expect you to make a full recovery.”
“How long have I—”
“Alright, try not to talk,” the doctor cautions as she makes some notes on her tablet. “You’ve been under for about a month. You had some pretty serious internal bleeding and head trauma, so we were forced to put you in a coma. But you seem to be doing pretty well now. In fact, I think we might be able to get you out within a couple of days.”
A month? That's how long everything was frozen. Was that all just my imagination? Was Kim just my imagination, a dream, just a product of the coma?
"Where am I?"
"You're at Valley View Regional, Mr. Harris," the doctor replies as she stands up to leave.
My heart skips a beat.
“Wasn’t I hit downtown?”
"They had to airlift you here because we have the city's best traumatic brain injury specialists—you know, ever since the European occupation."
"Valley View Regional," I muse. The doctor makes her way to the door and puts her hands underneath a sanitizing station.
"Just give a ring if you need anything. We have nurses down the hall to help you."
And with that, she's gone, leaving me alone with my thoughts.