We Are Nowhere And It's Now

So here I am, out in the middle of nowhere, and I have no clue what time it is although I'm not really sure that matters. The weird thing is that I'm pretty sure I just saw the most imporant thing in human history. 

Let me back up and explain.

This is a response to Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge of 6/26.

Go to your music player of choice, pull up a random song, and use that song title as the title to your story. You don’t need to make the story about the song or inspired by the song (unless you want to) — all you really need is the title to run with. On iTunes, it’s shuffle, I think, but if you google “play random song” you’ll find plenty of ways to conjure one from the chaos.

Write the story with the song title as your story title.

This sucker's gone through so many permutations so far, being a completely different story 3 days ago, that it's both a 13th draft and a 1st draft, so it needs a hacksaw to cut away huge chunks as well as some sandpaper to smooth it out. I like the story, though. I'll like it more, I suspect, the next time I go in and mess with it.


So here I am, out in the middle of nowhere, and I have no clue what time it is although I'm not really sure that matters. The weird thing is that I'm pretty sure I just saw the most imporant thing in human history. 

Let me back up and explain.

Last Spring, Tomas and I were going through a rough patch. More specifically, I thought he was being distant and evasive and I was acting like a jealous asshole. We weren't exactly fighting, but we weren't exactly not, if you know what I mean. Tomas was ready for it to be over and I wasn't. That's the best way to put it, even if it lacks poetry.

Anyway, like any guy raised on John Cusack movies, I did the only thing that made sense to my panicked mind: The Grand Romantic Gesture. One of those stupid blinking ads that should have been blocked popped up on the right side of some story I was reading. It promised a romantic New Year's spent at the South Pole, where, for twenty four hours, you could re-experience the new year every hour, on the hour. 

I clicked on it and, by some force of sheer luck, didn't wind up with any ransomware. Twenty thousand dollars and thirty minutes later (their site was as shitty as the ad you'd expect from a company using pop-up ads), I'd booked the two of us on a ten day vacation highlighted by "the Longest New Year's Kiss on planet Earth!" 

Of course I didn't tell him exactly what I'd planned, but I made sure he knew I'd planned something big because, otherwise, what's the point? As you might have guessed, with the relationship already on fumes in the Spring, a huge New Year's celebration was too much, too late. Tomas was emotionally involved with someone else and was reaching the point where he didn't care too much if I knew. Which is all a long way of saying, I took off from Baltimore, heading as far south as a body could get, by myself.

Ten days sounds like a long time to spend at the South Pole and it probably is, but we never found out because all but about thirty-six hours of your vacation package is travel. By the time the dozen or so of us got off the little ski plane, we weren't going to be too picky about where we finally stop moving for a little while. A good thing, too, as our romantic day at the South Pole was going to be spent in a big, only slightly-glorifed tent.

The tent was huge, probably big enough for a hundred people, and it was weirdly festooned in some of the cheapest New Year's regalia you'd ever encounter at the dollar store. Lots of cardboard numerals indicating the year hung from strings, a needlessly plastic ice sculpture, folding tables with cheap white table cloths, and extremely harsh LED lighting. Oh, and there was champagne. There was a lot of almost decent champagne and, if you dug a little, enough vodka to keep us from paying too much attention to the cheapness of the fixtures after a very short while.

The key feature of the tent, centered around the thirty-foot tentpole, was a huge ring, with twenty-four spokes, one for each time zone. The idea, obviously, was that we would all huddle inside the slice representing the zone which would be experiencing the New Year next, and we'd yell, and kiss, and toast, and be merry for a short time, then do it again in an hour, fifteen degrees further along the circle. Not exactly what I would call "romantic." If I weren't so miserable and lonely, I would almost be glad that Tomas and his scientific brain weren't here to see this. 

Around the sides of the room were cots partitioned off by canvas walls. I presumed these were for people who couldn't hack twenty four hours of revelry, but it slowly dawned on me that the copious amounts of alcohol and the forced romantic nature of the event might tip the ickiness-to-horniness ratio enough to make sharing a cot seem like a good idea. Ew. I made note of two couples who seemed most likely to pursue that line of action: Two trust fund babies from an American university for whom the "mile high club" probably also seemed attractive, and a middle-aged German pair whose affection I may have mis-identifed as lechery, but there was no point in risking it. I avoided both couples all day and night as best I could.

Now, the first really strange thing I noticed was that, outside of a small crew in jumpsuits that were supposed to have sort of looked like tuxedos, obviously the "staff" at this establishment, there were sixteen people including me. It didn't take world-class math skills to recognize that there was either someone else alone or some group had an odd number of members. 

It didn't take long to discover it was the former, and the identity of the other loner wasn't too difficult to figure out. A young dude, tall, rail thin, dark curly beard and thick glasses that were more "old" than "retro." He hunched over slightly, wearing, of all things, a yellow Cleveland Cavaliers basketball tank top under and enormous, furry grey coat. I thought I looked out of place, but this guy was light-years past me in that regard.

We guests all milled around, staking out areas to put our stuff, chatting awkwardly with whoever spoke our language. For a five-digit vacation, it sure felt a lot like a high school dance. Fortunately, one of the perks of being a grown up is that you could spike your own punch up to whatever level of oblivion-inducing goodness your heart desired. One of the staff hit a button to start up a little generic techno and this party was, for better or worse, started.

slightly less conspicuously awkward, we gathered in the slice of the floor circle just this side of the "International Date Line" and counted down to midnight. There was a little thrill in being among the first people on the planet to transition to the new year, a big twang of loneliness at not having anyone to share this with, and then it was back to a bunch of folks with nothing to talk about, talking.

We repeated this dance a couple of times, getting more and more "festive" but at the same time less interested in the event of the new year each time. We'd blow our little paper horns, then step forward into the past, magically an hour earlier, and just mill around. Honestly, the times in between the times were the most interesting. The German man stepped outside to take a piss, which was not recommended by the staff as we had indoor facilities. He somehow managed to communicate with hand gestures and a few cognates that he was terribily disappointed that the stream didin't freeze while he was peeing. It was, after all, summer in Antarctica, at least as summer as it got.

The little pie slices were labelled with the major cities in each time zone. Somehwere between Tokyo and Singapore, I found myself sitting on a little plastic folding chair next to the other solo attendee. I wasn't paying too close attention, but as far as I could tell, he hadn't said anything to anyone all night. He just started a lot, made noises when a new year rolled around, and kept turning his head suddenly, like a bird. Birdman.  That's what I started to think of him as. Oh well, might as well talk to him.

"Do you speak English? My name's Dave. I'm American."

He turned to me, seriously, and said, "Charles. I am Charles."

"Where ya from Charles? Cavs fan?"

There was a short delay before he answered, during which time I noticed his face was...well, it was odd, but I'm not exactly sure how it was odd. Everying was right where it was supposed to be: Nose, eyes, lips, ears, all present and accounted for. Hell of a beard. But it was like the transitions between those parts were half-assed, if that makes any sense. Which I know it doesn't.

"Cavs?" he said, more to himself than me. "Cavaliers. No. Thank you. I have little English, Dave."

Ooookay. The only other single guy here and very, very much not my type. There wasn't enough vodka in the tent to even pretend. I was going to be a wallflower at this shindig.

I opened my mouth to say something and he cocked his head to listen, but I couldn't think of anything, so I excused myself to pretend to go talk to someone else. I don't think he was even watching, but you know how it is.

The endless birth of the year just kept going and going, but by now, the time we got to Nova Scotia, the alcohol had pretty much disabled our volume control. It was starting to sound like a party, at least until they switch the music when another year was looming, and everything got very, very big band sentimental. A pretty girl, Persian if my guess is right but it's just a guess, leaned into the man she was with and cried and cried. She looked happy, but he seemed very upset.

My favorite couple were Canadians from a university in Vancouver. Tomas and I always got along with educators: Tomas, the science teacher, and me, the middle school English guy. These two were right up Tomas' alley. Eddie was a smallish guy with an unfortunate hairline, but he was having a great time. He and Marie, his Quebecois wife, were dancing around the center of the room, laughing about how she'd get hours ahead of him and then he'd suddenly leap towards her, making up six hours in a single bound.

Eddie found time zones very funny. He was a topographer or something, studied shapes and dimensions. He found this whole exercise delightful, and it was contagious. Everyone seemed to be having a great time, even Birdman. He wasn't talking much, and he wasn't drinking, but he was smiling and even doing something that might have passed as dancing wherever he was from.

All parties hit lulls, and this one was no exception. We were well in our cups by the time Las Vegas rolled into the next year. We'd pulled the plastic chairs into a circle. The people who'd worn formal wear had long since discarded their coats, hats, and in the case of the German woman, her shirt, although her taupe bra provided more than ample modesty. Our bodies, the booze, and the always-on heaters had made the tent almost warm, which was welcome and unexpected.

In one of the quiet moments, Eddie folded his fingers together, stared straight ahead and spoke aloud to himself. 

"You know...time. Time as a dimension. Something you move through," and then a long pause.  "What shape is the universe, when you look at it from outside?"

"No such thing!" answered the American student, a little louder than she meant. "The universe is defined as everything. There's no outside, right?"

Eddie smiled a little. "Maybe from one angle, yes. But we are almost certain there are other angles, other vantage points. Starting from an explosion, like one of those big fireworks, everything going out from there. Even if there's nothing outside it, that's a globe."

"Love, you are boring the people. We are not here to work." Marie's, and her marvelous accent, stopped just short of scolding. Birdman, though, appeared very interested. His eyes were closed, but his body language was tense. Not drunk.

I jumped in. "Go on. This is fun, and besides, we're so drunk, you could just be talking gibberish and we'd never notice the difference." It beat listening to the speakers blare whatever dance song they were playing for the umteenth time and, besides, Tomas might be interested.

"Heh..thank you. Marie, I will try to keep it interesting." Eddie was having fun. "Here's the thing: I can stand in the center of this room, the puckered belly-button of this planet, and I can jump through time."

The Persian man spoke enough English to call bullshit. "No, I do not think you can. This is just a trick of the arbitrary lines of hours, is it not?"

Eddie thought for a moment before responding. "Well, it is and it isn't. It's not objectively true that we move through time this way, not in any sense you'd measure with the speed of light or anything."

He stood up now, looking up and to the left, on a roll. "But we subjectively measure time based on how we move through it. It is absolutely a true statement that I can take one step and move twelve hours on this planet and it is not a trick."

"So the fuck what?" The American student, one of them, not sure which. Their voices were remarkably similar despite the difference in genders. They were not really paying much attention anymore. Pretty much no one other than me and Birdman. Marie got up to refresh her drink, which was always champagne, never vodka.

"Well," said Eddie, "Ok, the universe is a globe, or sphere, or whatever, now, time. We don't really know time very well. But suppose time is like the dimension through which the universe spins. Spinning spheres have an axis..."

I'm not sure at what point during Eddie's speculation that Birdman got to his feet because I having to concentrate pretty hard on what Eddie was saying. He didn't move gracefully, but he was quick. Got right up in Eddie's face before the Canadian or his wife could do anything. He held...something...up in Eddie's eyes and, as if reading from a script, said,

"You are very drunk. You have had a foolish idea which would embarrass you if you told anyone about it. Sleep, now, and forget." 

Someone made a crack about "hypnotists!" without really going into detail while Birdman carried Eddie over to a cot and set him down. Birdman scanned the room quickly and saw me coming to help him with Eddie. 

Birdman watched me for a moment, then confided, "I have to leave now. You. You were watching the small man?"

I thought for a moment, and lied with all of my drunken might. "No, just staring off in to the distance. Not really paying attention."

Birdman had one of his weird pauses and then came to a decision. "I think you did watch." He reached for whatever he'd put in Eddie's face...

...and I put my knee into his gut. What the hell was I supposed to do? I kicked him, then brought my fist down on the back of his head, which seemed to put him out. 

This alerted the other guests, who drunkenly, swervingly, wandered over my way. I looked down, feigning disgust, and said loudly enough for them all to hear, 

"She was my sister, asshole."

In retrospect, it wasn't very convincing, but apparently, I didn't have to be. No one seemed to really care, to be honest. Marie rushed back, saw Eddie on the cot, and thanked me for taking care of him, which was sweet if somewhat undeserved.

Everyone else went back to seeing out the last few new years on the clock, more of a chore now than anything. I stayed with Birdman, dragging him up on to a cot. I kept my eyes on it. Which is why I was the only one to see his body move, as if dragged, in a direction I couldn't for the life of me focus on, and I was starting to sober up. 

Funny thing: Birdman wasn't on the guest list. I checked.

So here I am, in the middle of nowhere, who knows when, but I know something. I know something that, to the right person, feels like it could be very, very important. Someone sure thought so.

I bet Tomas would think so too. That thought warmed me a little, but you know what? Fuck Tomas. Marie gave me Eddie's contact info and I think I'd really like to visit Vancouver.