's 2017 Horror Write-off:

Losing Time

Submitted by Samsinater (email)

I first noticed it when my wife did.

She asked me teasingly when I got home, "Had to work late tonight, huh?" And I could only tell her the truth: No, I left work at the same time I always do. She accepted that, shrugging as she resumed watching her movie, but a thought repeated in my mind: the commute home had actually been a little bit quicker today.

The first few times, it was enough to pacify her just to cite worsening traffic, or a motor accident on the freeway, even when I knew the roads had been clear and free. But I noticed more as she accepted less just how pronounced the effect was. The worst part was that I really had no excuse; time was simply getting away from me.

What was only five minutes at first soon became fifteen, then thirty, then an hour, and by that point she didn't bother asking where I had been; she knew it would be the same old story, just as she knew she wouldn't be able to pluck from my unchanging alibi any new details about who I had surely been secretly seducing after hours. It must have frustrated her, how I never came home with a dissheveled tie, lipstick staining my shirt, or the lingering scent of cigarettes and alcohol belying a night of unadulterated adultery. And it frustrated me, too: I was just driving home like I always had.

It didn't happen every day, I noticed, and there I discerned a method of avoiding it: simply not allowing my mind to wander on the drive home. Simply not losing track of time.

It wasn't too hard; usually I liked to listen to the radio, let my mind wander and decompress after hours of pointless pencil-pushing, but if I instead drove in silence, keeping my eyes between the road and the stereo clock, I'd be fine. And for a while, things returned to normal. Time was on my side.

A week later, the effect began affecting other things, even worse than it had before.

I would walk into the local grocery store and stock up on only a handful of things, only to find the hands on my watch had swapped places; outside, what was previously a sunny morning had now become an overcast afternoon. Half of my day, gone, all in the name of a fresh gallon of milk and a carton of eggs.

When I would sit down to watch a show, I'd heave a contented sigh to myself once the half-hour long production was concluded -- only to do a doubletake when I suddenly heard my morning alarm going off on my phone, now finding the TV on a different channel entirely, my wife suddenly next to me on the couch as we looked at each other blankly.

I suppose I should be grateful that particular skip happened, because she finally believed me when I said I didn't know where all the time had gone. But it was bittersweet, because time only continued to slip away from me faster and faster, an accelerating spiral of temporal entropy and chronological uncertainty.

We tried fighting it, my wife remaining faithfully by my side as I practiced mindfulness, meditation, and mental gymnastics meant to maintain awareness, acuity, and presence of mind, and again for a time it seemed as though I had found a solution, that I was finally keeping proper track of time. But as before, time escaped me.

We would sit down for dinner together, my wife and I, but if I looked down at my plate instead of over at her, she'd be halfway finished eating, distressed and apologetic all the same after seeing me disappear before her eyes, too hungry to wait for me to come back each time just to take another bite. I didn't blame her, and I told her as much, but we both knew how upsetting it was to be stuck with a problem neither of us could control.

If we tried to get intimate, it didn't matter how focused I was; one moment we would be flirting and teasing one another, the next all the lights would be off, my wife's sleeping form huddled under our blanket beside me. I was not the type of man to wake his partner for a round of fun in the middle of the night, but even if I were, it was already plainly obvious how little good it'd do.

Days became weeks, in more ways than one, and soon I could hardly talk to anybody, let alone my wife, without disappearing midway through a sentence. Though I wasn't oblivious to the rift forming between us in this time, it grew much faster than my heart could bear, a problem I suspect my wife did not suffer from on the grounds that she had had much more time to think about it.

The day she told me she couldn't wait for me anymore was a gutpunch, especially knowing she needed to stand still for upwards of an hour, one last time, just to hold up the piece of paper that said it. I showed her with a faltering smile I understood; there was only so much you could do to support a man who couldn't even hold down a steady job, for sake of the fact that it took him thirty minutes to drive to work, and thirty hours to arrive.

She had already moved out by the time I got back from my walk, just a quick loop around the block to clear my head and gather my thoughts, and I never saw her again. It seemed quick, even for me, but I can't know how much time I lost thinking about irrelevant matters, nor how far in advance she had planned this.

Though she might have struggled divorcing a man who was never around anymore, she was kind enough to leave me a month's worth of savings in our joint bank account, more than enough to survive on while earning an income from interest, though it ultimately proved irrelevant: ATMs would time out as I tried to use them, cashiers swapping shifts on me before they could scan my goods, banks closing before I could consider entering them. I couldn't even use a shopping cart anymore, or else it would disappear from under me the moment I went to grab something.

I'm not proud of what I had to resort to just to survive as the time flew by, silently roaring, screaming with its speed. But if there's one good thing about letting time so eagerly pass you by, it's that you could hardly be pinned down for swiping a box of granola bars when the discarded wrappers only appeared one month at a time.

I grew more and more resigned to my fate as a day for me quickly equated a lifetime for anyone else, and burned faster still. Eventually, people stopped looking at me with their wide eyes as they swapped around every second, and I couldn't tell if it was because they knew about the man who skipped through time, or I disappeared too fast to see surprise register on their faces.

They all died just as fast as I could ask them the time, anyhow, so I suppose it doesn't really matter.

Walking down the sidewalk became a montage, a building falling into disrepair with each step, another torn down as its architecture became instantly obsolete, new ones reforged sleeker and taller every minute. It was a wonder that I didn't bump into anyone at any point, or appear horrifically in the same space as them, and I can only imagine why this worsening corruption of a superpower required that I stay alive and intact in its inescapable grip.

I will say one thing: society as a whole lasted longer than I expected, making it well into the 34th century, but it ultimately ended following a war I never even saw. I sneezed and missed it.

Hunger and thirst have become meaningless to me, wild fruit growing faster than I can pick it, new rivers splitting underfoot just slow enough for me to step out of the way. I haven't been want of shelter in a while, though I also haven't slept, and truth be told I'm afraid to; the last time I did, I swear the sun got bigger, closer to going supernova than anyone has any right to witness.

I've watched evolution happen like a slideshow, squinted as the wind-blown clouds above resembled static, braced myself as a snowstorm began to blow only to be instantly replaced by the summer a decade later, and it's frankly lost its novelty. You see one mountain rise before you as tectonic plates collide, you've seen them all.

I no longer wonder, as I wander this earth alone, skipping centuries with each careless blink, constantly accelerating toward infinity, whether I ever truly lost track of time. No; as grass explodes out of the ground, the celestial bodies create a disorienting strobelight above, and I continue to approach the heat death of the universe, I can't help but think time lost track of me.