Prompt: Coming undone | Word count: 1,200 | Genre: Fiction
Home after a long work day, Elise was sitting down at her desk to complete a complicated spreadsheet for a presentation the following week. She liked to get things done, and felt that, with only a week to go, she was already pushing the deadline beyond limits she was comfortable with.
Just out of reach of her vision, she saw - or rather sensed - a purple streak, like a hummingbird, dressed in a purple hoodie darting across her field of vision. How peculiar!
At the office the next day, she worked through the items on her to do list in her usual efficient manner. She listened to a podcast during her morning brisk walk ‘break’ and to a literary classic during her afternoon laps. Her lunch of antioxidant salad was followed by the writing of a weekly email to her mother.
That afternoon was dedicated to final preparations for the upcoming presentation. An assistant and an intern were helping to assemble the documents, but Elise liked to oversee it all herself. Well, she told herself she was overseeing it, when in fact she actually did the work herself while the other two looked on. Hopefully the intern was learning something while hovering over Elise’s shoulder. If not, ordering green tea from the corner café would be the extent of her experience at Fletcher and Fletcher.
Elise sat at the conference table, happily imposing order on the chaos of paper spread before her. She was quite looking forward to the presentation, after which she might even take a day or two off. There was the garage to sort through and she’d been meaning to trim the shrubbery where it closed in on cars entering the lane. There just never seemed to be the opportunity on weekends no matter how carefully she scheduled her time.
Hmm… perhaps it was also time to book an appointment with the optometrist. She rubbed her eye, thinking there must be something in it. She’d seen two black spots move quickly in her periphery, but when she turned her head to discover what they might be, saw only the assistant and the intern. Irritated at their lack of activity, Elise sent them away to get tea and sticky notes.
Friday afternoon arrived, and with it the usual plans around the office to meet up for drinks after work. Elise was always included in the invitation, but seldom (in fact never) joined in. Friday evening was the perfect early start on her weekend tasks!
Elise believed in structure, so her weekend routine didn’t vary much from her weekdays. She woke and rose early, had breakfast accompanied by her one daily coffee, and spent precisely one half hour with the newspaper. (The latter was an indulgence she didn’t take time for during the week.) Then she tackled her to do list, working diligently from the first item down to the end. She would break for a walk in the morning and again in the afternoon, with a brief halt for a healthy lunch between.
Twice on Saturday she saw something on the periphery of her sight. Once, while washing the car she thought a deer or perhaps something smaller scampered away too quickly for her to see. Then while sorting the linen closet she sensed movement away to her right. But again, when she turned to look there was nothing there.
On Sunday, it happened several more times. A hint of motion. A vague glimpse of something not really there. A nearly imagined presence of something she couldn’t see. At first she put it down to visual fatigue. She had been spending a lot of hours in front of the computer lately. Perhaps it was mental strain? She was working hard on the presentation and while it was something she usually thrived on, maybe this time it was too much? Or… what if she was being haunted? Maybe there’d been a death in the family recently and the soul needed help getting resolution for something before finding peace.
Elise shook her head at the last scenario. She really wasn’t the imaginative type and it seemed far too unlikely that a person she didn’t even know would seek her out after death in order to gain eternal rest. As for the first two possibilities, they were much more likely, but she didn’t appreciate the distraction as it affected her focus and efficiency.
Monday morning found Elise back at the conference table. Twice already that day she had experienced near-vision episodes and she was beginning to actually worry. What if they were a sign of imminent break down?
After a fourth event, she shooed the assistant and the intern out of the room and firmly closed the door behind them. She slumped into one of the big office chairs, clutching her head in her hands. “This isn’t happening,” she repeated as a mantra over and over to herself, trusting in the power of words to take care of things.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw a drift of white settle at her elbow. It was a piece of thick vellum paper on which was written:
Dear Miss Tempovola,
Please excuse this rather startling communication. Your increasing distress at certain recent episodes has prompted the writing of this note in order to explain matters.
You are not having visions. Neither are you losing your mind or being visited by a lately departed family member.
Rather, we, the Time Wardens, have been intervening in your experience of time. Practicality and efficiency are fine qualities to possess, Miss Tempovola, but life is meant to contain moments of joy and wonder; a soul will harden and wither without them.
Several times - more frequently than you have noticed - we have (only momentarily, mind) halted your internal clock. What you saw as fleeting images was life progressing around you at a normal pace. The result, given enough - pardon the expression - time, would be that you would naturally begin to allow for moments of quiet and delight. You are so tightly wound up that your inner clock is liable to stop at any time - again, please forgive the expression.
Under normal circumstances, our interventions remain undetected and unexplained: our clients reset their tempo and carry on, none the wiser as to what actually happened. In this instance, as more direct contact was required, the procedure is somewhat altered. You will not remember either having read this letter or the information it imparted. However, given that you do in this moment know what has happened, you must decide whether or not you will allow the resetting to occur, or instead, continue life as you have been living, but accepting the consequence.
Elise hummed along to song on the radio as she washed the evening dishes. This was her favourite time of day. The sun, in preparation for setting, painted the landscape with touches of rose and antique gold. Elise often noticed such fanciful details, and in the evenings, forced to stand for a time at the sink by the window overlooking the back garden, she delighted in how beautiful it all was.