“There’s no arguing with the math.” Sigurson sat back and fiddled with his pipe. He had the self-satisfied look of a pipe-smoker–as if his tobacco habit was somehow better than Edwards’ own two-pack-a-day nic-fit. They were sitting in Sigurson’s office, of course. Ever since the discovery, people were expected to come to Sigurson.
Lousy Swede, Edwards thought. “You can always argue with math. Did you carry the one?” he said, lighting up his third cigarette of the hour. Sigurson laughed. God, he hated that laugh. A horsey haw-hawing. Edwards shook his head. “It isn’t funny.”
“Of course it is.”
“No, it’s not,” Edwards said, softly. Sigurson puffed on his pipe, smiling gently. Edwards hated that smile. “Do you not grasp the ramifications of this?” he snapped.
“What ramifications?” Sigurson said. He spread his hands. “It’s elementary physics, man. Things speed up.”
“Are hypothetical at best!” Edwards barked, chomping down on the end of his cigarette. Ash dribbled into his lap and he jerked, pawing at it. He glared at Sigurson. “They’ve never been proven to exist!”
“Well now they have, my friend.” Sigurson said with a smirk, gesturing at Edwards with the end of his pipe. “And they are affected by entropy like everything else.”
“Don’t sound so happy about it!”
“Why shouldn’t I?”?
“Because time is speeding UP!” Edwards nearly shouted. He half-rose from his chair, fists clenched. “At the same bloody time, every bloody day!”
“Yes, but it always slows back down,” Sigurson said soothingly, motioning for Edwards to sit. “Now, doesn’t it?”
“That’s not what I’m worried about,” Edwards said, sitting back down heavily. “How much time passes? Has anyone figured that out yet?”
“How much time passes? A few minutes more than an hour? A few hours? Days?” Edwards slumped in his seat. “How much time are we losing?”
“We’re continuing with the–”
“How much, Sigurson?”
“It’s not like anyone actually feels the effects of–”
“You don’t know that.”
“Look, it’s not like it just started–” Sigurson began. Edwards stood, jerking his crumpled pack of cigarettes from his coat pocket. He held it up to his mouth and grabbed one with his lips, pulling it out. Cradling it in the corner of his mouth, he stormed out of the office, hands stuffed in his pockets. He heard Sigurson calling after him, but chose to ignore him. It was the easy choice. He’d never liked Sigurson. Nobody liked Sigurson. Or they hadn’t.
Lousy Swede, he thought. He paused in the hall to light his cigarette. Lights flashed overhead, a silent warning that the rush hour was approaching. They were recording them now. Edwards couldn’t help but squirm a bit. It never failed to unnerve him.
Didn’t anyone understand?
Time was being lost. Precious minutes, seconds, microseconds. All gone. His stomach twisted and he rubbed it instinctively. Outside. He wanted to be outside when it happened. He headed for the doors. Outside was best.
The human mind couldn’t process the movement of time in anything but the most rudimentary fashion. It was why people invented specious units of measurement like hours and minutes. He opened the door and was suddenly splashed with sunlight. It was a beautiful day. He couldn’t bring himself to enjoy it.
Edwards closed his eyes. He could feel it coming, despite what Sigurson maintained. Another example of the human desire to order the natural world, he supposed. That’s what Dinkins in the psychology department would call it.
He kept his eyes shut, teeth clenched. He could hear his heartbeat thumping in stereo, every beat echoed by another ad infinitum. Boom-boom, boom-boom, boom-boom. He clenched his fists and chomped through the end of his cigarette. Ash spilled from his lips, but he ignored it this time. His eyes opened and fell and he saw an ant hill beneath his feet, surrounded by swirling black forms. It hadn’t been there before. He closed his eyes again, trying to control his breathing. When he opened them, the ant hill was gone, brushed aside by his foot perhaps. He hadn’t felt himself move, but then, he never did.
That was the big secret no one was spilling. That was what Sigurson was ignoring in his scramble to preen for the press. Things still happened in the rush hour.
Time wasn’t stopping, it was speeding up. The world kept going, just faster than the organic mind could follow. That was why they hadn’t known it was happening until they got the computers involved.
The world kept going, even if they couldn’t process it. And things that normally took time, well, they happened faster. In the blink of an eye. Edwards coughed, feeling a rusty taste in his mouth. He spat without looking. Flowers still grew in the rush hour. Kettles boiled. Ice melted and evaporated.
He coughed again, harder. He reached for another cigarette, then stopped himself. He thought of the taste in his mouth. Thought of the malignant cells packing his system. Thought of what the next rush hour might bring.
He crumpled up the pack and flung it away.
Joshua Reynolds has been previously published in magazines such as Black Ink Horror, 365 Tomorrows, and Not One Of Us, and anthologies such as Read By Dawn 2 & 3, and Hell’s Hangmen. His life is better than it should be, by rights. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit him at his blog.