3:34 AM

by Erik Cotton

I awoke to daylight, which meant I was already late for work. The alarm clock next to my bed was blinking 3:34 a.m. There must have been a power outage. I jumped out of bed and headed for the closet, intent on skipping breakfast and getting to work as soon as possible.

Ah, what the hell? I figured I was already late, so I might as well take advantage of it. I changed direction and headed into the bathroom. The lights flickered on and I drew a steamy shower. Formless thoughts drifted around my head as I undressed and stepped under the blistering hot water.

I couldn’t remember when I had gone to bed last night, nor for that matter what I had dreamt. That alone was fairly unusual for me, I remember everything I dream. Of course, if it was a late night, or I had gotten plastered at the local dive, then it wouldn’t be so unusual.

I closed my eyes and let the water invigorate me. My thoughts drifted away with the rising steam. I felt greasy and my hair was sticky. I fumbled for the shampoo and washed the filth away. I tried to concentrate on what I was supposed to be doing at work today, but I couldn’t recall clearly. Something about a meeting and final coding.

Oh, that’s right, the meeting with Peterson’s group. Seems they’d discovered a bug in the latest interface that crashed the back-end database. Well, no problem, the meeting was mostly going to be a bitch session. I’d fix the bug in less time than it would take to drive to work.

I finished washing up and opened my eyes. Steam swirled around the room and obscured everything. Hey, I like it hot.

I stepped out of the shower and ran the red towel over myself. I wiped away some of the condensation from the mirror and combed my hair. I pulled out some small, vaguely sticky bits from my hair. I tried, but couldn’t identify them. I really must have been drunk last night, passed out, or simply fell out and hit the bar floor, and got junk stuck in my hair.

Nevermind, it doesn’t hurt to get wasted occasionally. I went to the spare room and grabbed some fresh clothes, fiddled with the damn tie and shrugged on a jacket. Why programmers in our company have to dress like managers I’ll never know. Ours is not to reason why I guess.

Downstairs I noticed the clock on the wall said 3:34 a.m. as well. I’ll fix it when I get home today. I thought about breakfast, decided against it. I wasn’t all that hungry. I grabbed my keys, my helmet and kevlar jacket and headed for the garage.

The lights were already on in the garage, again I must have left them on when I got in last night. The garage door was open as well. I was starting to get pissed at myself for all this. Granted I live in a good neighborhood, but a pair of targets like my Maserati and Ducati sitting wide open for invitation is plainly asking for it.

The Maserati was parked askew, partly on the lawn. That settled it then, I was drunk out of my ever-loving mind last night. I don’t normally go on binges like that, but something must have set it off. I didn’t really have the time to park it right, so I decided to ignore it until I got home. The lawnkeepers could mow around it assuming they’d ever show up. I tell you, it must be nice to charge what they do, and show up when they feel like it.

Oh well, I fired up the Ducati, let it warm up and put on my helmet. The world got dark and quieter. When you are on a bike, you’re a target for everyone, even the little old lady in the Geo Metro, so no point making things easy for them.

I backed out of the garage, hit the remote door button and slid onto the street. The rumbling v-twin powerplant helped to clear the dust from my head and I started to really wake up. At the end of the street two cars were blocking the lane, drivers deep in conversation with each other. I’m as patient as the next person and I waited a few minutes, I’m late already right? They didn’t seem to notice me and I got tired of waiting, so I honked the horn. Still no response and I was starting to lose my cheerful disposition.

I laid on the horn good and hard for thirty seconds, and with no response still, I gunned it past the right side of the near car. I didn’t pay attention to what these two clowns were doing but I swear the fast glimpse I caught of them looked like they were frozen in place. Chalk that one up to the booze I suppose.

At the end of the street the traffic light was out, further confirming my theory of a power failure. I didn’t see any traffic at all, unusual for a morning. Or at least I assumed it was morning, I never checked. For all I knew it was late afternoon.

Making a left out of my subdivision was my first clue that all was not right with the world. The streets were deserted, and I mean completely empty. No cars, no pedestrians, no animals, nothing. I slowed my bike at the next intersection, lights also out, and looked crossways. No cars oncoming either. Just past the intersection, I pulled it over and killed the bike.

I got off and removed my helmet and listened for a few moments. Nothing, no horns, no birds, no city sounds, nada. A prickly feeling climbed my neck and my scalp started to itch. I didn’t like this one bit, it was simply too damn quiet. I walked to the corner block and looked down the road. A solitary car was in the far lane, motionless, driver staring straight ahead. I jogged over to get a better look.

The car was a late model Lincoln with an elderly white guy behind the wheel. His facial features slightly distorted as I attempted to get a better look. In fact, I noticed that the entire car was slightly distorted, out of focus in some odd way that I couldn’t pin down. I removed a glove and knocked on the driver’s side window.

There was a rush of noise, a blur of motion and I pulled back my hand fast. The knuckles were bruised and bleeding as if I’d just scraped them along a brick wall. What the hell? The car wasn’t on, as near as I could determine, but that blur still surrounded it.

I tried to peer closer to the car, without touching it again. The driver was moving slightly. No, that’s not correct. There was motion, but it appeared as a cloud around the driver, giving the illusion of movement.

Hangover or no, this was not normal. I backed away from the car, and ran towards my bike. I got back on, fired it up and tore ass down the road. Here and there were cars and trucks, motionless like the Lincoln. I could see people inside, frozen in time like the old guy.

Answers weren’t forthcoming, at least not out here. The whole world had gone crazy and I was the only sane one left. Although I knew what I would find, old habits die hard and I found myself in the parking lot of my office. A few cars, thankfully empty, were parked in their usual spots. Out by the dumpster was Sam, the night janitor. He was dumping a load of garbage into the compactor. Relief flooded through me as I saw him. I got off my bike and raised a hand to greet him when the realization struck. He was motionless like the rest. I ventured nearer to him. That same cloud of indistinct motion surrounded his body. I pulled off a glove and risked a touch.

Sights and sounds flooded over me. Sam, taking out the trash, sneaking a peak in the boss’s cabinets, playing a video game on the company computers. My hand was buffeted and shoved about, but not hurt, more like someone had bumped into me.

Or like I had bumped into someone. I removed my hand and looked at it. Slightly reddish with a buzzing sensation. I rubbed my hand and I could sense the fading life experiences of Sam. I looked toward the office. Something told me I’d find answers in there. I ran to the front doors, electro-key operated and tried my key. No power of course. I stood back and thought for a moment, figured what the hell, and reached for my gun. Only it wasn’t there. Okay, fine then, I’ll do it the hard way.

I went back to my bike and fired it up. I secured my helmet, zipped the jacket completely up and tightened down the glove straps. I aimed squarely at the plate glass and took off. A Ducati can reach 140 miles an hour in a little under 1000 feet. I didn’t need that kind of speed but I hit doing 60 anyway. The glass shattered, twisting the door frame in the process and spewing shards over the marble concourse. I managed to keep control of the bike and slid to a halt next to the guard’s station. No movement from the security guard of course. He was glued to his sports magazine, oblivious, frozen to all that surrounded him.

No sounds issued forth from the building, no fire alarms, no screams of shock at my entrance, nothing. As quiet as the rest of the world. The stairwell door gave me similar life experiences as when I touched Sam, but I was getting used to that. I raced up the stairs and, as I neared my cubicle, I began to get a feeling in the pit of my stomach. That same kind of sickening sensation one gets when something bad is about to happen.

The lights were out upstairs, but enough light filtered through the tinted windows for me to easily see my cube. The desk was a mess, as it always is. The computers were there, the programming books, cork pin board and the…

I lurched, and vomited on the floor. My shirt was soaked in cold sweat and I knew what had happened. Like rolling thunder, images and memories came flooding back. I staggered and slid to the floor staring at my desk. I had been wrong, the answer wasn’t here, only the question. The answer was at home.

I crawled, stumbled and tripped my way back to the stairwell. I tumbled down to the landing and somehow managed not to break my neck in the process of getting back to my bike. The journey home was a blur, and had there been real traffic I’d have never made it in one piece. In sight of my house I lost control, my mind swirling with last night’s events. I laid the bike down, scoring the expensive fiberglass of the Ducati. I rolled off the bike and ran the rest of the way to the front door.

Momentum carried me through the door and I clawed my way upstairs. More images flared in my mind, the argument, the accusations, the look on her face, the drunken rage. My bedroom door was askew and I shoved it open, and hung onto the frame as I looked inside. There, on my bed was my gun, the red sheets stained a darker red and here and there were chunks of sticky, unidentifiable bits. I slid to my knees, my eyes transfixed on the clock.

It was blinking 3:34 a.m.


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