Time and space are dead and gone. Time slept through the lunch hour, and upon realizing the mistake, skipped out on the entire population of Planet Earth.
I don’t know if it holds true for the entire universe, but it damn well might. We now float in a zero gravity soup of bodies of all genders, species, races, and creeds. I’ve lost track of how long this has been going on. It could be an eternity. I’m still alive so I know it couldn’t be that long. My hair’s gone white and I’ve lost a few teeth due to some God-awful cavities I shouldn’t have waited to fill.
Conceptual time and concrete time have become a hot debate amongst those from the office that bonded together. We lost a few of the original gang. Finn floated off with some Chinaman she found “simply fascinating”–to use her own words–for his ability to perform acrobatics in the lotus position in zero gravity.
The others, nobody really cared a hoot or holler about. When they decided to break free from our printer cable chain, it wasn’t a big deal.
I’m sure you’re pining for your old life back. Modern living, that is, the current predicament, so drastically imposed upon us, has introduced a plethora of obstacles. They’re nothing you learned from childhood or through the brutal conditioning of adolescence, nothing your parents or teachers could ever teach you.
A new field of literature, deemed self-help, but verging on manifesto in a message-in-a-bottle sort of way, arose out of our cosmic conundrum. What you’re reading now I wrote on notebook paper I caught floating by a few weeks ago. I’ll soon set various pages free. You may soon be the lucky recipient. So read, absorb, and re-release.
I catch several each day, read them, then send them out again on the rays of the aurora borealis. The messages are quite interesting. They describe new experiences and hazards. Many pose questions and hope for answers. I’ve tried to give that here, an answer to the most common questions, based on personal experience.
1. What is not-quite-dead?
What I mean by dead are those who were moments from giving up the ghost when time went on hiatus. They’re out there, more than you expect, and they’re some bitter folk.
What’s odd about them is that they’re fragmented. We’re all fragmented to some extent, but the not-quite-dead live in three planes, the world we once knew, this gravity-less purgatory we are now joined in, and the beyond. They were in an unconscious state the moment time and space left us.
They seem quite normal unless you happen to come across someone who had been in the middle of heart surgery, or suffering from a head wound, or some other ghastly occurrence where the gore is apparent.
2. How can you be sure you’re dealing with not-quite-dead?
My recommendation is this: Whenever someone new floats near, just ask, “Where are you now?” That’s the first thing you should ask. Skip the idle chit-chat—no “hello?”, “how are you?”, “isn’t this a fine mess we’re in?” “Where are you now?” is the best.
For anyone like us, the answer will be a shrug of the shoulders, “Hell,” or an uncontrollable bout of laughter or fit of tears. The not-quite-dead will roll their eyes until only the whites show. They’ll begin a seizure, a cross between ballet and epilepsy.
You may have already seen this and taken it for one of the numerous mentally disturbed homeless people having a rough go of dealing with modern life and lamenting their inability to find the comfort of the soft musty earth under the freeway overpass. Or the women like Finn with their acrobatic Chinamen involved in an emotional romance that has gotten out of hand and become a tailspin into the unknown. Improbable, but not impossible, and more than likely, just not-quite-dead.
3. What do you do when you’ve confirmed you’re dealing with not-quite-dead? (How many times do I have to tell you?)
You’ve probably already seen them reach out their arms in an attempt to latch on to you. Usually they don’t succeed. Their hand-eye coordination is awful. They look sort of like Frankenstein’s monster meets Mr. Magoo. They’ll try. For the few I’ve seen succeed in the attempt, the sight is horrifying.
It’s a parasitic relationship. They mesh with their host. Their goal is to drain the life out of you. For some this may seem like a pun on a bad marriage, or job-from-hell, but it’s not. This is a very serious situation, folks.
The odd part about these unfortunate souls is that because they were unconscious when this all happened, the conscious part of them is floating somewhere else, outside of them. They’ve lost themselves, in a matter of speaking. The only part remaining is the most primal of the primal self. It’s a combination of adult and infantile state concerned only with survival, which may mean stealing your soul in an attempt to become whole again.
Do not try to help the not-quite-dead. Do not approach them, if you can help it. If you’re fortunate enough to have a tube or two of chapstick or any other kind of lip balm for that matter, just the sight of it works as a taser-like repellent sending them pummeling into the great unknown. I have no explanation for this.
If you do not have lip balm, your best bet is to ask another question, clearly annunciated: “HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU?” You need only say this once.
In this respect, the not-quite-dead differ from children. This sends them into such confusion, a brain-twister, they will again be pummeled into the great unknown.
4. Why does that question work? (The Minz Theory)
Why that question? We at the office have a theory (patent pending). The Minz Theory we’ve named it, after our golden girl of the office, Shirl Minz (if you happen to read this, Finn, you have reason to be jealous). She has developed a mathematical equation that averages the average number of not-quite-dead at the time of timelessness and infracts this upon y = a3/(x2 + a2) where a is the amplitude, or height, of a curve at the origin (x=0).
For those of you familiar with algebra it is very similar to the curve called the Witch of Agnesi. But the asymptomatic behavior of Minz’s formula and that which causes it to differ from the Witch of Agnesi is that she has discovered there is time in our current timelessness (yes, there is hope, folks!).
We are lucky to have a Minz versed in the theory of relativity who has gone so far as to define that missing link between empirical and social science. The question works, in a nutshell, because of the not-quite-dead’s fear of infinity.
The not-quite-dead, as a culture, share a common trait, that of infinity phobia (Apeirophobia). This is a constant among them, that which distinguishes them from the dead and from the living, and from any subculture falling in between those categories and yet to be studied in detail as far as I know.
So, Minz has also added a touch of linguistic theory to her formula (that equaling ½ of the a2), counting up the various occurrence of vowels in “How many times do I have to tell you?”
A significant point is that each vowel in the English language is accounted for: A (2), E (3), I (2), O (4), U (1). There is some dispute over including an explanation of the occurrence of Y and of the OW versus O, the E in time and have versus the E of tell and explanation of why the Italian informal equivalent of the question “Quante volte devo dirti?” works just as well.
(Page torn. Essay ends here.)
Julie Jansen lives in Olympia, Washington where she spends the dark, rainy days of winter writing and planning Italian lessons. Her stories have appeared in Black Petals Magazine, The Harrow, and Nature: the International Journal of Science.
Thomas Cuschieri has a nagging feeling he left the gas on. When not drawing pictures with words he dabbles in mathematics and music. He likes cats, Chris Ware and Dinosaur Jr; dislikes coriander and writing about himself in the third person.