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.
The hallway is immaculately clean, and the hospital staff seem happier than I'd typically expect, for some reason. I drag my monitor along the neatly polished floors, taking care not to stretch or pull at the wires attached to me. Over near the middle of the floor is a nurse’s station with monitors along the wall displaying the vital signs of all the patients in the intensive care unit. It's all much nicer, surprisingly, than my own recovery ward a few floors up.
I hobble over to the desk and catch the attention of one of the nurses.
"Hi sir! What can we do for you?" she asks, her voice bubbly with politeness.
"I have a question. Do you know anyone who was here around a year ago? Back during the initial occupation?"
A shadow passes over her face, but she maintains her smile and folds her hands.
"I was here then. Why?"
"I have a friend who I think was here, and I just wanted to know what happened to her, maybe pay the family a visit."
It's a long shot, but I have to know if I imagined the whole thing. The nurse's face twists sideways in a sympathetic rejection. "We can try, but there were a lot of people who passed through here around that time. And we’re normally not supposed to do that sort of thing…What's the name?"
"Her name is Kim Reisberg. She would have only been fourteen or so at the time. Maybe fifteen."
The nurse shakes her head, but turns to the computer and taps on it a few times. "I can’t say I remember her in particular, but it looks like we did have someone by that name back then."
I breathe a sigh of relief. At the very least, I'm not insane. But then the implications pile up and my mind jumps into overdrive. So she wasn't just my imagination. She was definitely real. But then what was it that I experienced this past month?
"Yeah, it says here that she died only a few days after being admitted," the nurse says sadly. "Sorry."
The whole floor seems to give way underneath me, and I lean on my monitor for support.
She's dead. Has been for more than a year. And yet, somehow, I interacted with her for the whole time that I was in a coma. My mind struggles to process what the nurse has just told me, to make sense of this new revelation, but I’m just as baffled as I was when I first entered the Pause. I thank the nurse quietly and then wander back towards the elevator, my mind a flurry of questions and hurt. Before I reach the door, though, I feel a hand on my shoulder, and I'm stopped.
"Hey, did you say you knew Kim?"
I turn around to find myself looking up at a rather large nurse with thinning hair and a bag of saline in his hand.
"Yeah," I say, surprised.
"She's not dead yet, but she’s not far from it."
"How do you know?" I ask, both exhilarated and alarmed at the same time.
The nurse looks anxiously to the side and leans in closer. "I was her caretaker while she was here. She was one of my favorite patients, I have to admit."
I feel like crying and laughing at the same time.
"Why did the nurse just say she's dead? Where is she?"
"There are a lot of records like hers from around that time. The E.A. was giving out money to hospitals for civilian casualty compensation, but giving nothing for the care of the living ones, so we tagged a lot of the living patients as dead, especially the ones who came from poor families, the ones that couldn't afford their care. The money only recently ran out for Kim, though. Her family took her home a few months ago. It’s a shame. She was actually pretty close to recovery before she left, but the hospital just doesn't have the means to care for everyone."
"So, you just kicked her out?" I ask incredulously.
The nurse shakes his head slowly. "Believe me son, I fought it harder than anyone, but these are different times we live in."
My mind is running at a million miles per hour as I stand rooted to the spot, still in shock that Kim is real and that she’s alive somewhere in the city. Is money really the only thing keeping Kim in whatever state she’s in? Because that's easy! I'm not using any of mine, at least not for anything useful.
"Do you have an address for the family?"
"Sure do. I drop off groceries there every now and then. Let me grab my phone."
I pull alongside the curb outside of 24991 West 17th Block, one of several dozen residential towers in this neighborhood. Rubble still adorns the streets and sidewalks from the invasion last year; many of the cleanup crews understandably refuse to enter this part of town due to the high level of crime. It was already a rough town before the invasion, but now it’s like it never stopped being a war zone. I’m grateful to be driving the same beat-up hand-me-down sedan that I’ve been driving since I was sixteen. I don’t entertain the thought of being in this neighborhood for any longer than I have to be.
I take a deep breath then get out of my car and enter the building, making my way up to the fifth floor and over to apartment 553, just as the nurse from Valley View Regional directed. After knocking briefly on the door, I take a step back and wait. My hands are sweaty, and my heart feels like it’s about to jump up out of my throat. The whole time I was driving over, I didn’t even think to come up with a plan for when I finally got here, and now my mind is racing with dozens of things to say, none of which seem appropriate.
Hey, I know your daughter from weird coma land! Good to meet you Mr. and Mrs. Reisberg!
I know you don’t know me, but your daughter is a good friend of mine. From where? Oh, you know. We met while asleep, and we connected because we both thought we were dead.
I barely have time to dismiss the nonsense spilling out of my head when the door opens and a pallid-faced woman opens the door, her hair thin and greying. She looks me over with wrinkled eyes and gives me a questioning look.
“Can I help you?” she asks, her body still blocking the door.
“Hi, are you Kim’s mother?”
She nods, still waiting for a better explanation.
“My name is Matthew Harris. I know this may all seem strange, but I know your daughter. She’s a good friend of mine, and I’ve come here to help.”