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A Happy Ending, If Not A Happy Sequel
It’s sixteen minutes to noon but time doesn’t really matter anymore at this point.
By Yoga Arif Posted in Short Story on July 19, 2021 0 Comments 14 min read
Midnight Maelstrom Previous Next

It’s sixteen minutes to noon and Gus’s typing on his laptop like the email company won’t send his replies once the clock strikes lunch hour. The clacking of his keyboard fills his room of glass wall, pushing him to go faster. The faster he types, the faster the replies are sent and he can get out for lunch early.

It’s an attempt to increase productivity, really. He always picks the last half-hour before the lunch break for replying to emails so he won’t dwell too much on it — a designated time frame to reach specific goals with a real stake at hand. If he fails, he’ll lose his precious lunch break. Today, Gus simply can’t miss lunch.

He has a date with Erin and he’s going to propose. Nothing big or fancy, because he knows Erin prefers the smooth, small, and private surprises over the grand gesture and the let-the-world-witness-our-love type of surprise. Erin’s a gentle soul who likes the sky, a painter who adores meaningful details, and a sweet girl who loves him.

Gus bought the big ring, though. Just in case. He reached for the ring box inside his jacket, felt the velvet surface soft on his fingers. Making sure it’s still there. Everything’s going according to the plan.

As he finished replying to the last four emails, Gus caught the sight of the black digital clock on his table. 11:44 AM; it’s still sixteen minutes to noon. Okay, that thing’s broken. Gus knows he couldn’t have typed four emails in under one minute, so he checks the clock on his laptop.

The digital clock didn’t lie and wasn’t broken. His laptop confirms the time. His watch, the third opinion, agrees with the two. 11:44 AM.

A new email enters his inbox. Timestamp: 11:45 AM.

Oh, good. I thought I went crazy.

It’s a no-reply email from an unknown, strange email address that somehow didn’t get thrown into the spam folder by the system. Subject line: Sorry, Gus. You’ve been bumped.

Bumped? Like pranked?

Gus double-checked on the time again, it’s still 11:44 AM.

“Cathy! What time is it?” Gus shouted from his room to his co-worker. His door is open and he’s sure Cathy heard him.

“11:44! You wear a watch, Gus. And there’s a clock on your laptop and your phone.”

Gus checked his phone. 11:44 AM and there is a new email notification to all three of his email addresses — his work email, personal email, and backup junk personal email — all at 11:45 AM. The same email. Same subject line.

Something ticked in his head and profanities slipped out. No one knew his backup junk personal email. It’s under an alias and there is nothing that could link it to his personal let alone work email. He compartmentalizes his life as such. Furthermore, the subject line is personalized to him: Gus instead of Gustave.

Did I get hacked? But what the fuck happened with the time?

“Cathy! What time is it now?” Gus shouted again.

“11:44! You wear a watch, Gus. And there’s a clock on your laptop and your phone.” Cathy replied again. An exact reply, right to the tone.

Gus sits there, counting the seconds for a minute and the time stands still. He wrote an email, as a test, from his work email to his personal email. Successfully, but the timestamp is still 11:44 AM.

Panic, Gus texts Erin. She replied instantly that she’s still up for the date. But every text in their exchange is still stamped as 11:44 AM. She even said she’ll be there before he arrived since the bistro is close to her studio.

“I’m still painting and it’s not even noon yet, sweetheart. You know I’m closer.”

Gus puts down his phone. It’s not hacking, but he can’t think of a way that this is possible if this is a prank. Too weird and elaborate. Assuming these weird things are happening because of the mysterious email, Gus double-clicked it.

Gus, we’re sorry to inform you that the progression of your story is halted.

The Writer is moving to another project and your story is not a priority anymore for the time being.

Title: In Time, We Will

Genre: Romance

Main Protagonist: Gus (Gustave Diamarre)

Progression: 22/24 chapters

Status: Paused Indefinitely

We will reach you once we have more updates. Thank you.

Please do not reply to this message.

*

It’s sixteen minutes to noon, still.

Gus went to Erin’s studio. Erin, like most of the time, is in her paint-riddled white jumpers, plastic goggles on her face, brushes in both hands, and her beautiful long brown hair tied tightly up. When Gus told her everything, Erin just laughed him off.

Erin’s in the middle of painting a flying train, arching and speeding through the blue cloudy sky. But then Gus noticed that she kept painting the same spot. With the same brush and the same maroon color for the train outer body.

Erin responded to every question from Gus like they were having a normal conversation, but when he repeated some questions four times, she answered exactly the same every time without a hint of annoyance.

As the ultimate move, Gus pulled out the red, velvet ring box and showed her the ring. He proposed to her right then and there but he didn’t get the reaction he had hoped. Erin replied to his proclamation of love and offer of unity with the same answer she gave him when he asked her to leave her painting and go to lunch right now.

“Gus, we’ve talked about this. I’m painting. We’ll talk later at lunch and we’ll go to see your mom. Okay, sweetheart? I still got sixteen minutes so let me do my thing.”

With a broken heart and frustrated mind, Gus stormed out of the studio and angrily walked towards the nearest bus stop. It’s somehow still 11:44 Am. The bus arrived like time has been moving the whole time but it’s not. Gus steps in, ready to go home.

Everyone inside the bus goes about their lives as if nothing happened. Gus strikes a conversation to see if any of these people would repeat their answers without annoyance when he asked them multiple times. They all did exactly what Gus has been afraid of. Same answers, exactly to the tone. Like broken records or faulty AI.

At home, Gus drops his whole weight down on his grey sofa. He looks around the room, his belongings, photographs, and he’s questioning and contemplating his existence and the whole world. If the email is true, then everything else is false.

He tried to call his best friend Sean but no answer. The same goes for Mom. Every happenstance is moving in a limbo-like loop while time stands still at 11:44 AM and Gus is the only one who’s aware.

Now Gus knows that God is not real and that his life is written by a writer, who, as the email stated, has abandoned Gus for his other creation. Gus needs answers but the only clue he has is the mysterious email. He read it dozens of times, tried to send a reply, even trying to find clues in its address, but nothing works. He’s stuck.

What a character can do when its creator has abandoned him?

*

It’s sixteen minutes to noon but time doesn’t really matter anymore at this point. Gus tried everything to move the clock and revive his story but instead, he experienced more evidence that his existence is completely bogus.

Gus retraced his own past, his memory, he can remember all of it but when he tried to reach out to his old friends, visited his old high school, went to a bar where he used to bomb on open-mic stand-up comedy nights; all he stumbled upon was deactivated numbers, albums full of faces he did not recognize, and empty buildings.

He tried to leave the city. He doesn’t have a car so he was thinking that it’d be fine for him to borrow one — grand theft auto — but he couldn’t do it. He chickened out at the very last second. He wanted to do it, but somehow he convinced himself not to do it. As if doing such a crime is out of his character.

Turns out, that’s exactly what it is. He can’t do anything that is out of his character. He almost started a fight with a random pedestrian —  he has never been in a fight all his life and was both the class-clown and class-coward throughout high school —  and he ended up apologizing to the man he bumped.

The same thing happened when he tried to break up with Erin, whom he loved too much, and not even a word came out of his mouth. He tried to kill himself but couldn’t convince himself to jump in front of a moving train.

“Death won’t save you from this, Gus.”

The voice startled Gus. He looks around and is sure he’s alone on this side of the platform. No one is close enough for him to hear them talk.

“Down here.”

It’s a white cat, licking its foreleg and then staring right at him with its pair of orange and hazel heterochromatic eyes. “I’m Vic. Before you ask, the answer is no, I am not the writer. Come, there’s no point for you to wander here any longer.”

“What do you mean, there’s no point?”

Vic tilts his little white head, making him look insanely cute. “What you don’t get, Gus? There’s nothing left for you here. You’re the only one in this incomplete realm who knows it’s fake.”

For a second, Gus couldn’t believe he’s having a conversation with a cat on a train platform, but he’s too desperate already at this point. The talking cat is clearly part of this nonsense, so maybe it knows what’s up.

“Is there a way for me to turn everything back to normal?”

“No. You already know your existence is made up, your whole life is just a lousy romance story. Is normal really an option for you at this point?” Vic replied calmly.

Gus stood there. Staring blank, remembering Erin. Her smiles. Her excitement whenever she paints, although to be honest Gus doesn’t understand much about painting. But he loved her. To be with her alone in this broken world would be enough for him.

“The writer should’ve left me clueless. I could’ve stayed here, mindlessly, alongside Erin. I’d be pretending, but I’d be happy.”

“I don’t know what the writer has in mind, but I am the organizer of his tales and I know this for a fact: a dead end is a dead end. You saw what happened. If the writer lets you have your Erin with you, aware of this fake existence, you think she’ll just pretend?”

“Then why am I here? I am abandoned. What’s the point of everything?”

As he was asking this, a maroon train came in. The door slides open right in front of Vic, who jumps in without a doubt. “Come find out.”

Gus glanced at his watch. Still 11.44 AM. He can’t go back, and he can’t stand time being still. So, he gets on the train as the door closes behind him.

As he follows Vic to another car, Gus realizes that they are not inside the same train car that Gus is used to anymore. There are vibrations under his feet and faint engine sounds that are unfamiliar to him. The windows on both sides of the room, the moving scenery of green pasture and hills.

Vic keeps walking forward and Gus follows. Every time they moved to another car, it was a completely different car in terms of style, materials, and passengers. The scenery outside also changed along,  as if the whole car is made up of a different car of a different train in a different time and space, all connected into one.

They went through at least a dozen train cars. There was one train car that was designed with impressive practicality and modernity, mainly white gold or silver in color with an uninterrupted view of a supernova outside the windows.

Another was a lounge car, loud with music and glamorous people dancing in colorful fancy clothes, brilliant pieces of jewelry, with the view of parades outside the windows.

“Is this something like…train of imaginations?” Gus finally asked Vic, who’s still walking in front of him.

“Like that phrase ‘train of thoughts’, yes. The Writer has this weird sense of humor.”

Vic stopped and turned around. The orange and hazel eyes pierced through Gus’s again. “Gus, look to your left.”

Gus already looked to his left when he entered this car. It’s a view of a weird city with architecture he had never seen before. Like a middle-aged architect who’s too much into Baroque and Art Nouveau was given a whole city to plan and design with an unlimited budget and minimum supervision.

“It’s a city, so what?”

“You saw the people in these compartments?” Vic gestured to Gus to check the compartments that they had walked past earlier.

“Yes. A pair of detectives, a jamu peddler, a weird kid with a samurai, em…who’s that again…oh the bald woman who can’t stop shadowboxing, and a freaking white lion. What’s your point?”

“Each car represents the world that the writer has built. Each character in this train has their story either paused, cut, repurposed, or abandoned by the writer. The samurai kid murdered his cousin., The white lion is a bartender cursed by a sorceress, and I’m a fucking cat who organizes abandoned tales. Everyone wants a happy ending, if not a happy sequel. Do you want yours?”

Gus draws a deep breath and nods, then he follows Vic to the next car.

The view outside this car is just endless blue and clouds as if the whole train is floating, speeding, and splitting the sky. Gus doesn’t even feel the vibrations under his feet anymore There is only one compartment in this car.

Gus looked inside and saw a familiar brown-haired woman in an aeronaut jacket, with the endless blue sky behind her. It’s Erin…but from another story?

Gus looks at Vic in disbelief.

“I don’t know if your story will ever be finished, Gus, but this Erin, she’s about to have her sequel and she wants you in her story. A happy sequel. Would you go for it?”

Gus’s heart urged him to take the leap. He glanced at his watch.

11:45 AM.

*

“Hello, Cathy? This is Erin. Yes, I’m sorry, I can’t get hold of Gus…He left before noon? That’s weird…did he leave any message? No, he hasn’t shown up. Alright, thank you. Yes, I’ll let you know. Bye!”

Fantasy Romance


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