Frozen In Time

A short story by Meg Sorick.

Bright. Blindingly bright. He felt awful —his head was pounding, his stomach was roiling and his mouth tasted like blood and bile. And he was cold. Very, very cold. Alex shielded his eyes from the sun and tried to remember what had happened. The party? Yes. The fight with Valerie? Oh, yes. He couldn’t remember leaving and —god, he hadn’t actually tried to drive in that state, had he?— crashing the car.

He tentatively opened his eyes. The front of the car seemed undamaged. A look in the rear view mirror told another story, though. The back windshield was a spiderweb of smashed glass and the trunk of the car was pushed up and backwards so as to obscure the view. Alex returned his gaze forward. The sun was just coming up over trees that shimmered with a thick glaze of ice. It had apparently snowed heavily overnight, though he couldn’t remember that either. The effect was disorienting. He couldn’t get his bearings. Where was he? The car hadn’t gone into the ditch, rather it seemed to be stopped in the middle of this unfamiliar road. He tried turning the ignition. Dead. Not even a cough. Wishful thinking.

Where was his phone? He found it lying on the floor in front of the passenger seat, screen cracked but operational. He sliced his finger trying to swipe it open. Cursing, he stuck the bloody digit in his mouth. To his dismay, he discovered that he had no cellular signal. How could he have driven so far away from the party to lose coverage? He checked again, moved the phone in all different directions but it was no use. He wondered, without much hope, if Valerie would be looking for him.

After checking himself over to assess the extent of his injuries, Alex unbuckled the seatbelt and tried the door. The impact had jammed it forward but with a huge shove and a creaking groan, it finally opened. He gingerly stepped out into the snow and looked around. Behind the car, the faint imprint of his spin-out was just perceptible beneath the deep snow cover. Further beyond, was the apparent cause of the accident —a train, stopped on the tracks that crossed the road.

“I must have run through the crossing and nearly made it,” Alex said aloud as he examined the back of the car. Twisted metal and plastic protruded from the wreck. He turned his gaze to the motionless behemoth, its engine quiet, just a residual trail of smoke rising from it’s stack. Smoke? A steam train? “What the…? What is this, some kind of tourist attraction?” Alex muttered as he stared in confusion. “Where is everyone?”

He took a step forward, struggling in the deep snow. “Hello?” he called out. Only the soughing of the trees was the response. A chill not from the cold crept up his spine. He checked the phone and again got only a bloody finger for his trouble. By the time he reached the train, the cold air breathed in through exertion was hurting his lungs and he’d lost the feeling in his feet. Soon, he realized, the cold would turn deadly. He either had to find help here at the train or find a spot where his phone picked up a signal. Surely, the train, even if it was an antique, would have some sort of modern communication system.

As quickly as he could manage, Alex trudged to the front of the train. Finding a step and hand bar to grab onto, he hoisted himself into the engineer’s compartment. The space was empty but fortunately slightly warmer thanks to the coal still burning in the firebox. He saw no electronics, not even a radio that he might use to call for help. Alex took a minute to thaw out and consider his options. He could only assume that the engineers had gone back into the passenger cars to check on the people.

After he’d warmed himself sufficiently, he once again braved the cold and snow to forge a path to the first car. Pulling himself up by the handrail, he pushed the doors open into the compartment. The cold penetrated to his bones as he stared into the blank, frozen eyes of the passengers. Every single one of them was dead. Not just dead, frozen in time. Frozen with newspapers in their hands, teacups raised to their lips, leaning over to whisper in their neighbor’s ear. Nothing in nature could freeze a living, breathing human so quickly. Alex slumped against the doorway of the last car to steady himself. As the cold stiffened his limbs and thickened his blood, his last thought was of Valerie and he wondered if she’d ever forgive him.

Moving forward….

It amazes me to think I’ve been blogging for the better part of four years. I started this blog in 2014 but didn’t really start posting regularly until August of 2015. And when I look back I think: man this blog is a mess. Rather than have a fixed format, I have managed to post about everything under the sun (except religion and politics – which will stay that way). But this was supposed to be a WRITING BLOG!!! Ehhh… I am too interested in too many things to focus. Luckily, you beautiful people haven’t seemed to mind. I finish 2018 with over 3300 followers and a nice group of regular commenters and friends. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

So what is the plan for the easily distracted author/artist in 2019? Is there a plan? Can I even stick to a plan with all the big changes next year will bring? Probably not. However, what I’d like to do is….

  • Concentrate on my series Inhuman. I would like to turn this rough draft into a novel. For those of you reading along, please offer constructive criticism, including flagging me on inconsistencies and mistakes. Be truthful. I can take it and your feedback is very valuable.
  • As a result, I will probably write fewer essays on The Great War. I am still reading and researching for the very delayed (I should be ashamed of myself) Here Lies a Soldier so I will share some of the gems I uncover.
  • Poetry: it seems to have returned to me so that might appear more often.
  • Art: I will ‘Draw Adventurously’ again but maybe not so frequently. Also, I’ve been painting a lot more and just ordered new brushes and a supply of canvases so I may subject you to that in the new year. 

Ah, but the best laid plans (if you can call that a plan) of mice and Meg often go awry. 2019 brings big changes personally and a big move geographically. I’m not making any promises. However, if you hang in there with me during this tumultuous time, I’ll be eternally grateful!

All the best to you and yours at the conclusion of the year! Love Meg!

Also that’s my latest painting in the header image.

Inhuman (12)

To read from the beginning, please visit the Inhuman Page.

Sunday had proved uneventful. After a fitful night’s sleep, Amanda set to work putting her house together: hanging artwork, shelving books, organizing the kitchen and bathroom. By dinner time, she was weary and ready to put her feet up. She heated some soup and had just turned on the television when her phone rang. Nathan’s name came up on the ID. “Hello?” she answered nervously.

“Amanda, how are you settling in? The house to your liking?” he asked.

“Um, yeah. It’s great, just great.”

“Good. I called to give you instructions for coming to work tomorrow. Are you ready?”

“Yes.” As if there was an option, she thought.

“Excellent. We have a bus service dedicated to bringing our staff into the facility. That way we don’t have a lot of traffic or wasted space for parking cars. You need to walk out of your development to the main road where you will see an unmarked shelter. That is the pickup location. Be there by 8:00 sharp for your bus.”

“Alright. I’ll be there,” she replied.

“When you arrive at the facility, I will meet you and take you to Human Resources where you will be issued a photo ID badge…”

“What no retina scan?” she asked sarcastically.

He ignored the remark. “…and then I’ll take you to your department. After tomorrow you’ll be on your own. Any questions?”

She sighed. “Nathan, I have a million questions…”

“About tomorrow, Amanda,” he cut her off. “Anything else you need to ask me can wait, do you understand?”

Not safe to talk on the phone, then, she thought. “No, I guess not.”

“Good. I’ll see you in the morning,” he said and disconnected abruptly.

Amanda set the phone down and chewed her thumbnail. A bus. She wasn’t the only agency employee in town, then. It made sense. She had checked the area on the map and saw that besides Makepeace, there were no other towns within ten miles, just a few isolated farms and a truck stop out on the interstate. Wouldn’t a bus service attract attention, though? The rest of the people in town surely would wonder about it, wouldn’t they? There must be some sort of cover story… Just one more question to add to the list.

Despite her exhaustion, apprehension kept her tossing and turning all night. In the morning, she showered and dressed on autopilot. Then, after coffee and cereal, she made the short walk to the bus stop. Three other people were already waiting. She pasted on a smile and said hello. They all returned the greeting but when Amanda looked away, she immediately felt their eyes on her again. She stared at her phone and checked her email to avoid the stares. The bus arrived exactly on time and as the passengers all boarded, they quietly acknowledged the driver and found seats. Amanda sat next to a woman who appeared to be in her late forties or early fifties, reading a paperback novel. In fact, everyone on the bus seemed to be middle aged or older. I’m so much younger, she thought. Maybe that’s why they’re all staring.

The bus made its journey not out to the main road, but along a narrow, winding country road which eventually left all signs of civilization behind. Not long after leaving the town, a chain link fence perimeter, marked with warning signs for the hazards of the underground coal fire beyond, appeared along the right side of the road. When the bus stopped, there was no evidence whatsoever of the sprawling facility beneath their feet. Unsure what else to do, Amanda rose and followed the other passengers exiting the bus. They swiftly and wordlessly hurried toward a small, dilapidated building just outside the fence, which must have once been a storage shed or garage for the mine. Amanda followed at the end of the line. Once inside the building, she found Nathan waiting for her. Relieved, she squeezed through the crowd to his side.

“Amanda, good to see you,” he said. “All’s well so far?”

“I suppose. Except I feel like everyone is watching me,” she replied.

He gestured for her to walk with him. “Hm, well, considering we haven’t had a new employee join the team in over ten years…”

“You’re kidding. Isn’t there any turnover? People retiring? That kind of thing?”

“Not yet. The original staff and support personnel are aging, but this program is new enough that no one has retired yet.” They joined a queue of people at the back of the building. Amanda couldn’t tell what was happening at the front, but the line steadily moved forward.

“And no one just decides to leave? To find a new job elsewhere?” Amanda lowered her voice. “Or isn’t anyone allowed to leave?”

Nathan frowned. “It’s a situation we have yet to encounter. The doctor is the first person who demonstrated a desire to leave. Anyone else who may want to go has kept it to themselves,” he said quietly. Then looking at her out of the corner of his eye, he added, “So far.”

When the line of people had dwindled to just a few, Amanda was able to see that one by one, the employees were being retina scanned at a panel discreetly camouflaged as an intercom. As the employees were cleared, a hidden door opened and closed behind them. After everyone had passed through and she and Nathan were the last ones left, he stepped forward to be scanned and pulled Amanda close to his side. “We’ve got to go through together, Amanda. It might be a tight squeeze.”

As the door opened, Nathan stepped in and pulled Amanda into his arms. Amanda gasped as she was pressed up against his body and the floor seemed to drop beneath their feet.