"All right," Patricia whispered to herself, her voice dripping with fear. "I'm here. I haven't disappeared. Someone will become aware of this situation. They've got to. Calm down." She was beginning to feel a bit reassured, and less frightened. "How did this happen?" she asked herself over and over again and tried to recall the events that led to her present predicament. At first she couldn't. She closed her eyes, clinched her fists, took a deep breath then relaxed a little. Very slowly she proceeded to remember them in sequence. It started this very morning. That's right, this very morning . . .
It was just another cold, rainy Saturday morning with dark threatening clouds engulfing the skies above. Although winter was nearing its demise, there were many days of clouded grey and chilly winds; as if the harsh season knew of its inevitable demise but was desperately extending its duration before the advent of a crisp cheerful spring.
Patricia cherished long walks alone. Strolling was always relaxing and she enjoyed the familiar outdoor sights. And despite the dismal weather, she intended to enjoy today's stroll too. She dressed appropriately and went for her usual trek choosing the streets laced by tall, leafless trees south of her home.
After an hour of walking in the bleary rain she happened upon a most unusual, beckoning road located behind the old, dead railway station. Although, on occasion she passed near the deserted place, today was the first time Patricia ever noticed the road's existence.
How odd, she reflected. Despite the fifteen years of residing in this city, and of frequent weekend morning strolls, she had never happened upon it before. Yet here it was, daring, mysterious, unkempt and seemingly out of place. She proceeded along the isolated but interesting road. No one could be seen or heard and the street felt strangely lifeless. She was pleased to have her rain gear on and umbrella for cover and listened to the angry rain pound on worn, chipped stones.
She looked about for a street sign. There was none.
The street was certainly none that she had seen before. Dirt-covered footpaths, now muddy from the rain, lined either side of the cobblestone-covered road. Sprigs of weeds emerged between the stones. Located midway and to the left, perched a strange but a quaint coffee and donut cafe. The windows were draped by worn wooden shutters, painted blue. Inside, delightful candle lights graced the interior. At this early hour someone was inside.
By this time she was feeling the chill creep through her body. "A hot cup of coffee and a sweet donut would be more than welcome," she quietly said aloud, although there was no one around to hear.
She made her way to the cafe's entrance; a swinging copper lamp, green with age, creaked above it, and entered. She noticed that it had no name sign. "Perhaps it's recently opened and the owners have yet to erect one," she told herself.
Inside, the cafe was empty of people except for a middle-aged, petite, kindly looking waitress at the cashier register. Patricia smiled slightly as she had always loathed crowded places. This was a treat.
She was pleased to leave the cold grey gloom outside and placed her drenched soft heather green raincoat and hat on a chair by a table. Her rich strawberry blonde curls remained dry although her well-defined face did not. It felt cold and wet from the outside chill and rain. Her matching wool slacks and sweater, colored clover and crimson, remained rather dry considering the outside conditions.
Patricia spotted an old fashioned rectangular Swiss clock hanging on a wall opposite. It displayed the time. Its hands said seven o'clock. She glanced at her watch, more from habit than need.
"Good morning. What may I get for you?" queried the waitress beaming a pleasant smile.
"Good morning," replied Patricia and ordered a large steaming hot cup of mocha Java and a rich glazed donut to accompany it. After paying for the desert she sat at her table and removed a mystery novel from her dripping green leather handbag. Time passed pleasantly while she emersed herself in the story, periodically sipping the coffee and munching on the sweet pastry. Her bones felt warm and comfortable. After awhile, she raised her head from the book to survey the interior of the quaint, mysterious cafe. The flickering candles cast bleak, grey shadows about the room.
Startled, a peculiar and inexplicable feeling overcame her and a brief shudder crept down her spine. "I'm still chilled. Perhaps a fresh hot refill would be nice," she murmured, brushing aside the eerie feeling.
As she turned to the waitress, who was cleaning a table, a faint high-pitched piercing sound emanated from where the woman stood. Suddenly, the waitress began to wipe the table top with rather rapid, birdlike speed, unlike her earlier very normal motions.
"How bizarre," muttered Patricia. Just as she was about to request a refill, the waitress's birdlike movements increased in speed even more. Faster and faster. And then, during what seemed like a mere speck of time, the waitress's motions had become so rapid, she vanished!
Patricia shrieked. A sharp stabbing gust of horrible disbelief gripped her. She stood up quickly, knocking over her empty mug, and just stared at the place where the waitress was no longer. The shrill sound elevated to an even higher intensity than before.
"Don't panic," she told herself nervously,"don't panic."
Patricia noticed the Swiss wall clock again. It registered 12:00. Twelve o'clock! She was perplexed. "I couldn't have been here for five hours," and glanced at her own watch for reassurance. It said 7:20. "That's right. It's still early morning and not noon. Something's wrong with that clock. Perhaps it's ancient, dug up from someone's old neglected attic," she reasoned. With this somber speculation in mind, she sat back down and glared at her empty coffee mug, disturbed over such a bizarre happening. Like a silent but swift cancer, fear and anxiety began to overshadow her sense of reality. "Whatever happened to that waitress?" she asked aloud anxiously. Silence was the only reply.
After fifteen minutes or so of pondering over the bizarre nature of the situation, Patricia glanced up at the counter from her mug. Gradually, a very faint apparition of the waitress began to emerge. The strange high-pitched sound could still be heard but with less intensity. Ever so slowly the apparition began to take on a more solid form, in the shape of a woman. Then there she was, the same middle-aged, kind faced waitress standing at the counter.
Tiny beads of perspiration appeared on Patricia's forehead.
She rose and stepped over to the counter and gaped in horror at the woman.
"Yes, may I help you?" asked the waitress.
Patricia awkwardly requested a refill.
"Of course. In such dreary weather, hot coffee is quite refreshing." The waitress smiled as if nothing extraordinary had happened and cheerfully filled the mug to the brim.
Back at her table, she quietly sipped her hot, steamy coffee. Perhaps it was nothing more than a hallucination, she assumed. Everything appears normal: the waitress, the counter, the tables and chairs, the bleak, dismal weather and the old ticking Swiss clock. She looked hard at the wall clock. As if to taunt her, it returned her gaze displaying the time. It said 7:35, an appropriate time. The high-pitched sound could no longer be heard. Still shaken by the recent event, she closed her eyes and placed her head in her hands, elbows resting on the table top. A slight ache nagged her forehead.
She lifted her head and decided to peruse a bit more from her mystery. She picked it up, and stole a glance at the waitress, still shaken by the earlier disappearance. She remained at the counter, a pile of white cloth napkins before her, ready for folding. The waitress offered a friendly smile as she began her task.
Gradually her movements began to behave strangely. At first they were usual, and then after a few minutes, it appeared the waitress moved a bit slower than previously. "Without doubt, she's over worked and quite tired," murmured Patricia.
And then, without warning, her heart skipped a beat. She was seized by that same peculiar, atrocious feeling she had earlier.
Stunned, Patricia stared at the waitress who carefully and slowly spread out a napkin on the counter top, then folded it into thirds; first one napkin, then two, then the third. Each napkin took a bit longer to fold than its predecessor. Slower and slower she moved. Patricia couldn't believe it. With wide-open eyes, she stared at the sluggish waitress in horror for an extremely long time.
Eventually she turned and faced the wall clock. It mocked her. It was sinister. She disliked it. It now registered 7:45. She peered at the face of her own friendly, familiar watch. It said something far different. It registered two hours later! Why? What is going on? She began trembling. Terror gripped every living morsel of her body. Something felt dreadfully wrong. She knew not what.
Panic stricken, she called out at the waitress. She felt lightheaded and wanted help. She desperately yearned for the presence of another person. By this time the waitress was moving at an incredibly slow pace. It was as if in her time frame, time was creeping toward a complete halt. The waitress did not respond to the call. Patricia called out again and still received no response.
"She can't hear or see me," Patricia assumed, her voice barely audible. "I've got to do something else." She tried desperately to calm herself. She tried to think. What could it be? She reflected upon the motions of the waitress, first so fast she disappeared and now so surrealistically slow. "Of course, right now I'm in a time frame that's accelerated. That's it. To the rest of the world, I have faded to nothingness." She shut her eyes for a moment, hoping the horror would vanish and never return.
"This isn't happening. It's only a terrible nightmare," Patricia wished, trying to reassure herself. She knew differently. "If only I could just communicate with someone, explain my singular situation and get help. But how?" She looked at the fresh white napkin on the table before her and quickly reached for her handbag. Her hand groped inside for an ink pen. Fearfully her trembling fingers began, help me, please help me. I'm here.
A few days later the local newspaper included a missing person's article at the lower left-hand corner of the front page. It stated that, "A white cloth napkin, yellowed with age, was found in the deserted lot behind the old railway station. It appears that the napkin had recently been written on, with fresh black ink, in handwriting consistent with that of the missing woman, Patricia Callen." The piece continued, ". . . neighbors and family of the woman are greatly concerned. A distant relative said that Patricia has always been very responsible and was not one to leave without notifying anyone. On her own, she just wouldn't disappear without a trace."
About the author in her own words:
"I enjoy crafting short science fiction and fantasy stories, this one being my first. Other interests include movies, reading both fiction and nonfiction, general science, and 19-century American History. Some books I liked include "Raptor Red", "The Time Ships", and "Washington Square". I live with my husband and his twenty pet black fish.
My email is: NajlaAnn@hotmail.com"
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