When Terry Nicholson woke up, the first thing he noticed was that his wife, Ruth, wasn’t in the bed next to him. He supposed she could have gotten up first, but he had always been a light sleeper, and Ruth had never been the first one awake.
What was even stranger was how her side of the bed looked as though it hadn’t been touched. But he remembered her getting into bed with him the night before. He even remembered when. It was nine o’clock, after her show had ended. He was Jackie Robinson’s biography and she was humming as she changed into her nightgown. They went to sleep by nine-thirty. At least... he thought that was what happened. He almost couldn’t remember. It was like trying to recall a dream, without being certain that anything was in the correct order or even from the same night.
Terry glanced at the old clock sitting next to the bed. Instinctively, he reached for his glasses, but paused when he realized he could see perfectly fine. He didn’t even have to lean in to get a good look at the clock. Before he could question his vision suddenly improving, he was distracted by the fact that the clock seemed to be broken. It wasn’t ticking; neither of the hands were moving. It was frozen on 5:42. He considered himself lucky that the clock couldn’t have stopped very long ago; it was still dark outside.
As he picked himself out of the bed, expecting the usual difficulty he always had before using his cane, he was shocked and delighted to realize that there was no pain in his left leg. He could stand and walk without aid, just like he was a young man again. “Hey, Ruth,” he called, as he strode out of the bedroom. “Check it out!”
His excitement faded when his words were met with silence. Maybe she just couldn’t hear him; she needed a hearing aid for a reason, after all. He went down the stairs before calling out to his wife once more. As before, there was no answer... He checked in every room just to be sure he wasn’t going crazy. But Ruth wasn’t there. He couldn’t even find their cat, Summer, but he could find the remnants of her cat food littering the kitchen floor. Summer wasn’t an outdoor cat, and Ruth would have told him if she were going anywhere. There would have been a note or something, at the very least.
Terry tried to take his mind off his fear and put on the TV for a moment. His wife wasn’t senile or incapable of caring for herself. He was sure she’d come back soon. As for the cat, she might have just been hiding somewhere, or perhaps Ruth had to take her to the vet for some reason, and hadn’t had the time to leave a note.
When he sat down to watch the TV, he noticed that the clock on the wall was also frozen on 5:42. He tried to tell himself his eyes were just playing tricks on him, and reached for the remote.
The television wouldn’t come on when he hit the button. He tried several times, and even smacked the remote a few times. But, nothing. Terry stood up to turn the television on manually, and that didn’t work, either. He sat back down on the couch and reached for the landline, to call the cable company. It might have just been a simple issue, but lacking a computer, and being unwilling to dig in the basement for the manual, he decided he could just ask a professional for help.
There was no dial tone when he picked up the phone, even after he waited a few seconds. He tried pressing a button, but there was no beep. There was just silence.
What was going on? Terry let the phone drop to the couch as he got to his feet to pace. Ruth was gone. His cat was gone. Both clocks were frozen on 5:42. He could walk as though he was a young man. Neither the television nor the phone would work.
He looked out the window above the sink, and waited for something to happen. Something had to happen. He lived in a quiet, suburban neighborhood, but he couldn’t even hear a single dog barking, or a bird chirping, or a car driving in the distance; but that couldn’t be right, could it? Something had to be happening somewhere.
In that moment, Terry decided he would go for a walk around the neighborhood. It would clear his head, and it would get him out of his bubble. Maybe he’d even figure out what was going on.
As he changed, he took note of the fact that the sky was still as dark as it was when he woke up. That wasn’t nearly as strange as everything else, but it was something to think about as he put his coat and shoes on.
In opening the front door, he was surprised when he nearly stepped on a newspaper. When had it arrived? Terry picked it up immediately, if only because the arrival of the paper meant that he wasn’t entirely alone. He couldn’t be. At the very least, the paperboy was still around.
He left the door open in his rush to check the news for any clues, and soon enough, the unsettling feeling returned. The paper, which should have been titled The New York Times, was nameless. The date was correct- Wednesday, March 1st, 2017- but for some reason, that only made him feel more worried. As he skimmed through, his worries were only proven valid by the fact that the entire paper was full of obituaries. They weren’t all in the same language, and as he glanced over them all, one stuck out.
Colonie, New York.
Terry H. Nicholson, 77, of Colonie, NY, passed away in his sleep on March 1st, 2017.
He stopped reading; he didn’t know if it was because his eyes were watering, or because he wasn’t sure how much more he could take.
He was dead, and instead of being greeted at the pearly gates and spending the rest of eternity in heaven, he would be here, stuck on March 1st, 2017, at 5:42 AM, which he now believed was the exact time of his passing. And he would be spending this eternity alone.
With nothing else to do, and no time left to waste, Terry sat in his chair at the table, sobbing. It was the only sound in his house, but he knew that, eventually, he would just have to get used to it.