Something was wrong. I knew that straight off, from the moment my eyes opened and I laid awake trying to will myself to get up. I didn’t know what had been wrong though until much later when I reflected upon it and realized that I had been woken because I could no longer smell the strawberry fields. But that is not part of today’s story.
I glanced at the clock and saw that I still had an hour to sleep before my alarm would go off. Unable to sleep, and knowing that something didn’t seem right, I flipped the switch to turn off the alarm, to keep it from beeping at the appointed time, and flung back the covers. I’d be early, it was early, but I’d grab some coffee on the way and that would waste at least a few minutes.
Showered. Dressed. Breakfasted. I climbed back upstairs to brush my teeth and was hit by the same nagging sense that something was very wrong. I brushed it off as just the odd feeling of being up so early. The sun had not yet risen into the sky, and while that was normal for me, the time left until that would happen was not. Teeth cleaned and breath freshened I grabbed the few odds and ends I’d need for the day and headed out the back sliding door onto my postage stamp of a patio.
The sky was overcast, normal for living near the beach, I could tell that even though it was still dark. The chill of morning ate at my exposed arms. A slight breeze tickled the hairs on the nape of my neck. Shivering, just a bit, it took an extra try to get the key in the lock after sliding home the door behind me.
Three steps across the patio and I was unlocking the door to the garage. If I had been paying attention in those three steps of being outside but still being “home” I would have noticed that beside the lack of smell from the strawberry fields the reason I could tell it was overcast was because there was a orange glow pulsing on the western horizon.
The sun rises in the east. I live on the west coast. The only thing west of me was the ocean.
I was not paying attention.
I stepped into the garage, happy for the brief reprieve from the morning air and happy to see that the garage door was still down. I didn’t live in the best of neighborhoods and I was always a little concerned that someone might break into the garage at night. Therefore, every morning I went out to find the two cars right where they had been left was a little win to start the day.
My hand slid up the wall and pressed the button to open the door. The wheels and chain creaked and groaned in protest. I didn’t blame them. I didn’t want to have to work either. But, we all must play our part. We all must do what we are meant to do.
I passed between the two cars, intending to head down the alley to where I had parked my work truck, but the instant I crossed the threshold, leaving my garage behind and stepping into the alley, my world changed.
More specifically, I guess, my time changed.
The keys in my hand disappeared. The clothes I had donned for work changed. The alley in front of switched from well-kept asphalt to a broken and disintegrating mass of tar and dirt. Weeds, years and years of them, had split through the surface and reclaimed the driveway for their own.
The first thought I had as my eyes finally opened to see, to truly see, what I had stepped into was “the world has moved on.”
The wall across from my garage was in shambles. Entire sections had crumbled away to nothing, and only those pieces directly next to the stretches of iron lattice work stood whole. My gaze would have normally had to lift over the wall to see the business park beyond, but in the absence of the normal obstruction I could see that the buildings were matching the wall in their state of disrepair and neglect. Little more than the framing remained. The signs that once adorned the rafters of each business had disintegrated away to nothing.
The pulsing orange glow I had missed earlier finally caught my attention and my swung my head to the west. From the corner of my eye I could see that the rest of my complex also matched the wall in it’s state of decrepitude. Essentially it no longer existed at all. I resisted the temptation to slide past the orange glow entirely and turn in a half circle to peer back at the condo I had just left. That visage, whatever it would be, would wait until I had spent at least a few minutes marveling at the glowing horizon.
There was no set cadence or tempo to the throbbing light. It pulsed quickly then slowly, in brighter and then softer bursts. The color remained constant though: day glow orange. It wasn’t quite neon, but it was brighter than Halloween pumpkins.
I couldn’t see the source. The whole horizon seemed to pulse with the light. I couldn’t see all the way to the water, but there were fewer buildings in my way than there should have been. Finally I turned back to face the garage I had exited moments before. The door frame stood solidly but everything else was gone. The cars I had just squeezed between were gone. The back of the garage was gone. The framing to my condo was gone. The entire second story, where I had woken earlier in my bedroom, was gone. A few beams from the framing remained in place, but not a single one was still wholely intact.
It was at that exact moment I realized that I was no longer holding the keys to my truck in my right hand and that I was no longer wearing the slacks and button-up I had put on after my shower. In place of my typical Monday through Friday garb I was wearing some sort of grey jumpsuit. It wasn’t anything I recognized from my closet.
My mind reeled. My vision blurred. My legs gave out and I sat down before I fell.
I sat there for a long time. I’m not sure how long because I couldn’t see the sun behind the cloud cover, and I didn’t have a watch or a cell phone (both also having disappeared when I crossed over into this when). It was long enough for me to feel like I could stand again and then what felt like 30 minutes more, but was probably only 5. Time is tricky like that.
Regaining my feet, I immediately stepped back through the open garage door, hoping that I could return to my time by backtracking. I continued through the garage, noticing that my clothes hadn’t changed, passed where my two cars should have been, out to the small patio on the other side, and into the wreckage of my condo through the spot the sliding door would have stood if the glass hadn’t shattered and turned to dust years before. I stood in what had been my kitchen, still without my car keys, watch, and cellphone. Still not dressed in my work clothes. Still wearing the grey track suit I had never seen before.
I rummaged through the remains of what had been my home for any clue as to what had happened. Questions flooded my mind: was this a dream? what year is it? what is the orange glow off the coast? where did everyone go? why did the world move on? But there was nothing left in my condo to answer any of these questions. I went back out to the garage to search it as well and also came up empty.
With no idea of what I should do or where I should go, I turned west again and started walking towards the coast. Perhaps if I could get a clearer picture of what was causing the pulsing light I would understand what had happened to me. I searched everything I passed for some hint, some clue, that could help answer the questions that were plaguing me but continued to find no trace of anything useful.
It was only a couple miles out to coast, a trek that normally would have taken only 30 minutes, but it took me several hours to get there. Stopping to search homes and office buildings that still stood delayed my progress. Plus, things were not as they had been in my when. The landmarks I normally would have used to navigate the streets were mostly missing, and the streets themselves were all but gone as well, and occasionally littered with debris so completely that I had to change paths to continue heading west.
I eventually broke free of the commercial areas entirely and entered what had been the luxury homes lining the coastline. At least that’s what I pictured in my head. The visage in front of me was starkly different as where the multimillion dollar beach fronts homes had stood nothing at all remained except the foundations, and in some places even those had disappeared under the encroaching beach sand. I saw a pole with a sign still standing in what should have been the middle of a street that ran perpendicular to the coast. I walked up to it to see if it was still readable.
The letters were cracked, but the pole was still in somewhat decent shape, especially considering the carnage all around it. I could make out the words, barely, but I could read them: Danger – Volcanic Activity and Tsunami area. Do NOT Enter. – Danger
My eyes flitted up to peer into the pulsing orange glow. I wasn’t sure if my mind was just making it up or if I really could see something way out in the distance bulging into the heavens… something in the shape of a cone, with orange and red streaks streaming down its sides. Was that cloud cover overhead or ash built up in the atmosphere? Could I smell a faint hint of burning being mostly overpowered by the smell of the ocean? Could that pulsing light be caused by lava spewing out of an active cauldron?
My eyes returned to the sign, and in the bottom right hand corner I saw the following: Trespassing here is against the Federal Safety Act of 2313.
My eyes returned to the ocean and the hint of the volcano on the horizon. At least I knew it was sometime after 2313…
I turned from the beach and headed north. There was a river that had run through the city in my when and I would need fresh water if I was going to survive. I would need shelter too, but that could be built. I would need food, but that could wait until after I had secured water. Water, above all other needs, was most important.
As I walked I thought about all the things I would need to survive… and I also thought about the wife and child I had left behind in my when. Did I wish they had stepped through whatever time portal I had crossed through that morning? Or, was I happy they were safely back in a when that didn’t have a super volcano that had wiped out at least the entire coast if not more…?
I missed them already.
I pushed those thoughts aside. There would be time to dwell on them later, hopefully. I needed to figure out how to live first.
I didn’t give myself good odds on that…
Written in response to this week’s Writing Challenge – Door:
The door to your house/flat/apartment/abode has come unstuck in time. The next time you walk through it, you find yourself in the same place, but a different time entirely. Where are you, and what happens next?
What would your story be?