In between where you are and where you’re going is the meantime.
That indefinite span in which anything can happen —or nothing at all. The time you spend waiting to be on the other side —and how you spend it.
In between buying the guitar and playing the solo is hours of skin-splitting practice. In between first kiss and Golden Anniversary is days of tears, silence, and change.
In between the call and the answer is the waiting.
The meantime is waking up early and going to bed late, shopping and cooking and eating and doing the dishes, going to work and going to school, balancing the bank account and wondering where the money will come from, returning library books and buying birthday presents, doubting that you heard the call at all because the meantime is
And you tell yourself to hang on just a little longer. That one day the meantime will be over,
but it won’t.
Because the meantime is always now.
Because once you pass through this meantime you begin another one. Because you’re always in between—a series of overlapping meantimes, always ending, always starting, always hoping, always moving, even when you think you’re standing still.
In between your first breath and your last is your life, each moment a meantime.
It happened like magic, like lightning.
First she was there, then she wasn’t. It happened so fast I thought I’d
Until it happened again.
A guy in line for
coffee, gone as if he’d never been standing two feet in front of me, glued to
his phone. The barista didn’t miss a beat.
The elderly couple who
got on the A-train but never got off.
I stopped looking to
other bystanders for help after a dozen or so. All I ever got in return for my
panicked asking if they’d seen what I’d seen was incredulous glares and a
breathalyser test. I’d trawl social media and every news outlet worth reading
after each one, but there was nothing to find. No missing persons alerts. No
investigations. It was like nothing ever happened. The fabric of the universe
puckered briefly around the hole created by a person’s disappearance, then
tightened to create a seamless swathe of new reality. Erased. Forgotten.
No one noticed and no
one was interested—not even conspiracy theorist message boards.
For a little while.
It’s amazing what you
get used to. The first year was hard—a series of barf-inducing shocks—but after
that, I only noticed because I felt obligated to.
After that first girl
blinked out of existence, I wrote down as much as I could remember about her,
hoping I’d see her again and confirm my suspicion that it was a mirage, a side
effect of overindulging the night before. But I didn’t. When the second one
happened, I was sure I was nuts. I scrawled pages and pages in my journal
trying to connect the dots of my past to reveal what my parents had done to me
that would lead to such insanity. Three makes a pattern, though, and I eventually
realized that I wasn’t suffering from sudden-onset prosopagnosia (thanks,
WebMD). I was compiling evidence. With each successive event, I dutifully
logged the abductee’s physical description, location, activity, and other
pertinent details in a notebook I carried everywhere. If this was real, the
world needed a record of whatever it turned out to be—proof that these humans
once existed, even if it was flimsy at best.
But aside from that? Not
much changed. I got up, went to work, had lunch, messed around online, went
home, ate dinner, binged Netflix, went to bed too late, got up in the morning
and did it all again. Just like before.
Don’t judge me. What
else was I supposed to do? I’m not a quantum physicist or an investigative
journalist. I don’t even believe in aliens. I’m an accountant. A normal guy who
tried to warn people about the disappearances but got laughed out of offices,
chat rooms, and bars. A guy whose best friend ghosted him because his apartment
was covered in blurry photos and increasingly illegible sticky notes.
I’m not a hero.
Five years in is when things started getting bad. The city had lost over half its population, and it showed. Restaurants closed with linens and cutlery laid out for evening service. Students showed up to classes with no teachers. Trash pickup stopped. Power outages started. But despite the inconvenience and the growing stink, those that remained continued as if nothing had changed. Each person that disappeared was smoothed over by time and space leaving not even a memory behind. The barista still smiled and asked about my tropical fish, and I still grinned back and told her they were a pain in the ass but too expensive to flush down the toilet. At night, I went back to my rent-free apartment (thanks, disappeared landlord) and pored through my journals by candlelight, speculating about what had happened to these missing people—now numbering in the millions, maybe billions.
And when it would be my
It’s weird to have FOMO
about what amounts to an extinction-level event. I had no idea what had
happened to everyone, but my theories ran the gamut from “actually abducted by
aliens and getting a serious probing” to “slow-motion rapture” and everywhere
in between. None of them were something I wanted to participate in.
One day, I walked into
the corner café to find it empty. The barista had vanished. I stood among the
dusty tables blinking at where she had been for the past five years in defiance
of the cosmic weirdness happening around her. I hadn’t realized until that
moment how much of a fixture she’d become in my life. While everyone else
phased out of existence, she was always right there.
I turned in a slow circle,
scanning the street outside through the huge windows. Trash was piled so high
it leaned on parked cars covered in tickets. Storefronts were long since gated.
Nothing moved except a newspaper caught in the breeze. Time spooled out in a
long, unbroken thread as I strained my eyes for any sign of human life. But
there was none.
Panic rising, I fished
my phone from my pocket and opened my contacts list. It had taken me a while to
notice the entries being erased, but it had started happening faster and
faster, whittling five hundred names down to dozens in a rapid purge of
That morning, I’d had ten contacts left. Now, there were none.
That’s when I broke.
You’d think it would have happened earlier. When I realized I wasn’t insane and this was really happening, for instance, or when my brother disappeared in the middle of a family dinner and everyone kept eating. There were thousands of reasons to utterly lose it practically every day. But I never did. Because I knew—absolutely knew—that there would be an answer. That the disappearing would stop or somebody smarter than me would fix it. That one day every missing person would pop back into existence and we could laugh about it (after a while). I’d held on to the unwavering belief that this too, would pass.
But as I sank to the floor of the abandoned coffee shop, the tears finally flowed, pooling around my face as laid my head on the ground.
All gone. All of them. Gone. Everyone. Except me.
It was dark when I woke up. My eyes were gritty from crying, and my legs were numb from passing out in child’s pose. I rolled over, blinking away the blur and willing my feet to move. I lifted a heavy arm to check the time on my phone, but the battery had died. I wondered how long it would be until the world’s power went out permanently. How long until I lost my grip on sanity, alone without the Internet?
A rattle from the door behind me startled a yelp from my throat. I cursed the pins and needles in my legs as I wrestled my body underneath a table to hide. I balled up and held my breath, eyes straining against the darkness to see who—or what—was coming. I tried not to imagine how many tentacles, arms, and eyes they would have.
Old-fashioned bells jangled as the door opened. “Hello?” said a round shadow. “Is someone in here?”
The shadow reached out and flicked a switch. The overhead lighting snapped on, flooding the room and blinding me. It was only for a second, but when I could see again, a pair of legs stood inches from my hiding spot.
“Matt? Is that you? Why are you on the floor?”
The voice was human, too, I realized. And familiar.
Curiosity overrode self-preservation. I risked peeking out from the safety of the table and looked up into the concerned face of Amy, the barista.
I shot up on wobbly legs
to throw my arms around her in an embrace usually reserved for life preservers.
She laughed awkwardly, “Hey! Okay! Good to see you, too,” and patted my back.
I let her go, then stood
back to marvel at her existence. “You didn’t disappear,” I observed. I knew it
was stupid—I’d had this same conversation with her a hundred times over the years
with no result—but I said it anyway.
Instead of her usual eye
roll, though, this time she smiled and said, “I did.” Then she gestured at the
early-morning customers trickling into the café. “We all did.”
Within minutes, I was
surrounded by people. Real human beings with purses and Bluetooth and hangovers
and BO. People that had slipped out of my life one by one without a trace. They
were all staring at me. I stared right back.
I tried to ask all my
pent-up questions at once—what happened, where are we, did we die, is this a
dream or an alternate dimension or the darkest timeline—but nothing came out. Tears
of relief choked off the words.
I had made it. After
years of wondering and worrying, I was finally here. I didn’t know where “here”
was, but I didn’t care. All that mattered was that I wasn’t the last person on
Earth anymore. That I didn’t have to spend the rest of my life going slowly
insane asking why not me. I was with people again, and that meant I was home.
Amy touched my arm
lightly, her eyes sparkling with an excitement I didn’t understand.
“We’ve been waiting for
you,” she said. “Now we can get started.”
I’m finally making an honest freelancer out of myself and taking my writing/editing work legit: hire me!
That’s right, folks! After several years of operating the copywriting and editing side of my business like a speakeasy where you have to know the secret knock to get access, I’m finally going legit.
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Eee! This is so exciting! And terrifying! And exciting!
We’re walking into all-new territory here, and I’m so grateful for all of you amazing folks who cheer me on and for everyone who trusts me with their projects. I love this weird, wonderful work, and I can’t wait to do more of it.
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