Free Time, a short story

I was talking to a reader about my novel Pocket Money yesterday and in a slip of the tongue, it was called Pocket Change. That reminded me I had written a short story titled Pocket Change. Pocket Money is a psychological thriller about four friends who reunite for a day of memories…and murder.  (And it’s available on Amazon!) It’s told from a male perspective. The short story is the tale of a young woman escaping an abusive relationship–she realizes she’s as disposable to him as pocket change.

I thought I’d post that story today. It’s been a while since I shared my writing with you. (The next novel is coming, I promise!)

Of course, I couldn’t find Pocket Change, but I did come across this Prompt Club submission I originally wrote in March of 2012. I hope you enjoy it.

Free Time

I don’t think there was a single person on earth who recognized the initial stages of the invasion. It happened gradually and seemed like a blessing at first.

I was happy to be so productive! I’d set my ten-minute project timer and actually make headway before it dinged encouraging me to move onto another task. I have found that I’m more productive if I break my day into little bites. Ten minutes up – cleaning or walking on the treadmill, then ten minutes on my butt at the computer doing work. Well, ten minutes of work and then a timer reset for goofing around, playing online games or checking email. But then ten minutes up again. No, really!

I remember bragging to my husband about finishing several hours of work in half the time. I was completing projects, lots of them, despite the usual distractions and life interruptions. He matched me brag for brag, proud of the efficiency of his entire office.

Soon, it seemed, I could get through a full day’s to-do list in barely one hour, checking the clocks regularly with disbelief. My time-wasting skills were obviously improving, too, as I could play my games, read my books, check my social networks repeatedly and still have time to spare. There was no need for the timer anymore. With all this free time I was able to get everything, plus some, done. For the first time in my adult life, I was bored.

I began taking breaks throughout the day. More than a luxury, a catnap became a necessity. I also found myself snacking more frequently but I didn’t seem to gain weight. Must be all the running around getting things done, right? Who was I to complain?!

My two dogs, Alvin and Nomi, were showing signs of incessant unrest, their behavior erratic and unbalanced. They slept fitfully, ate and drank constantly, and barked often for no apparent reason. The cat, Poobah, on the other hand, registered no visible changes.

Our evenings were off, too. I’d have dinner ready when the hubby got home, as always, although the planning got tricky because preparation went faster. We’d eat and settle in for a night of relaxation and television. I’m a big fan of the DVR and the ability to fast-forward through commercial breaks, but I had to wonder how long the shows were since we could zip through four “half hour” programs and the digital clock on the cable box would only have jumped by a dozen minutes. Then we’d need a nap. Barely a quarter past eight and we couldn’t keep our eyes open! We joked about getting old, but then we began to adapt. We’d watch a couple of shows, nap, wake up, eat, watch some more, maybe read… Repeat as necessary. It grew ever more necessary.

Plants were growing so fast, you could watch them develop. Crops were abundant. Until they withered and died on the vine before they could be harvested. And the weeds! It was impossible to keep up with mowing, spraying, and weeding. Even the most dedicated of lawn-tenders became overwhelmed by the junglelike growth.

The rest of society was equally advancing, and regressing. The headlines screamed efficiency, blared productivity, and blasted down-sizing and the increase of unemployment. Unexpectedly, fifteen employees could get the work of fifty accomplished in roughly one day’s shift. Sudden “advancements” allowed trans-continental flights and cross-country truckers to deliver in record time. It was amazing and unreliable since it messed with predetermined schedules. Unable to adapt as proficiently as individuals, the industrial world began tumbling like a row of dominoes.

The morning I awoke to Alvin’s stiff and aged body, I cried and cried for what seemed like hours, but of course, it wasn’t. Poor pup was only three years old! Barely legal in dog years. By that afternoon, Nomi was staggering on geriatric joints, her breath labored and her fur almost completely white. I held her as she huffed her last exhale. She would have been two next month, still a puppy. Poobah had gone out for her evening prowl a couple of nights ago and not returned.

The days expanded, filling to their brim. First with swollen seconds, then with bloated minutes, followed by engorged hours. Our clocks read familiar, keeping the same time as always with no inkling of exaggeration. They were ticking off seconds, the same sixty it had always taken to complete a rotation, but they were ticks of lies.

Time became international news. Scientists and science-fictionists joined forces to theorize. The conclusion was Hyper-deceleration. They believed the time that humanity had always known was losing velocity. Slowing down.

The death toll rose exponentially with the expanse of each moment. Children grew as if on time-lapse, their tiny bodies ill-prepared for the kind of forced maturity the overstuffed hours generated. Fatigue, starvation, heart conditions, hastening of cancers and even treatable disorders; life as we knew it was no longer the rule. Globally, people were dropping like fruit flies on day three. Our corporeal bodies could not keep up with the extended hours.

Sunrise to sunset became an unbearably long day.

When we were exhausted and overwhelmed, completely confused on all levels, and thinning out with mad swiftness, they made themselves known.

By then, what had it been? A month? Six weeks our time? With very little technology still functioning, they managed to hijack a signal and relay a message. “We awake in peace,” a mechanized voice uttered unhurriedly, followed by what sounded strangely like a chuckle.

It was difficult for the remaining survivors to understand the concept of time as a physical thing. Aliens, sentient beings with their own agenda. Lying dormant for thousands, maybe millions, of years while man evolved on man’s time.

They had awakened and their activity wreaked havoc on humanity.

I outlasted my husband by, oh, who’s to say how long? Maybe two years in human time, maybe milliseconds now. It’s irrelevant. Life, I mean. And time.

(Author’s note: This is a version of the original story. Yes, seven years later, there are things I would like to change, lol, but that’s one additional affect of time, right?)



About Mary Fran Says

I am an artist, crafter, designer and writer. I enjoy working with mixed media-- applying visual and tactile manipulations to telling a story. Not a lot of market for that, though, :), so I'm focusing on short story submissions and novel completions. Yes, plural. Lots of beginnings, too many ideas, not enough focus.
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