I must have passed the same tower every day for the last thirty years. It stood so tall and yet, it blended so seamlessly into the background. I knew it was there, but it didn’t register as anything other than part of the scenic backdrop to my focussed world. That was until the day it all changed…
Have you ever wondered how technology really works? Up until that day, I had taken it for granted. Sure, I had a working knowledge of airwaves, sound waves, and even microwaves, but did I really know what each of them actually entailed?
The answer to that question is a resounding no. As it turned out, the experts really had no idea either.
It was a Friday. I remember the day clearly; it was the first time in ten years I took a different route to work. I hesitate to think of what would have happened had I not taken that right turn when I did…
I made it to work, a little later than usual, but I was still early. I liked that; having the time to grab a coffee from the tiny kiosk in the lobby before my busy day began. Nothing like a moment to yourself to clear and refocus your head after the hectic grind of traffic. It was at the kiosk that I first heard what had happened.
It’s odd, you know. Hearing the news for the first time. I still find it hard to believe and if I hadn’t seen them with my own eyes, I may not have.
You’re probably wondering what happened and to be honest, I’d love to tell you. The fact of the matter is that I don’t know what happened. That’s not entirely true either; I know what happened, but I don’t know why it happened. No one knows why.
The only thing we do know is that it was the microwave tower.
At 7:23am, the microwave tower sent out a signal or pulse or something that reached outward in a five kilometer radius around itself. Anything within that radius, simply stopped.
They stopped, but they didn’t stop living. They just stopped moving. Everyone and everything froze in the exact place that it had been occupying at the moment of the event.
The vehicles. The vegetation. The people. All stuck in stasis.
At first, emergency responders were afraid to enter the circle, but with their first tentative steps inside the ring, nothing happened to them. They tried to render aid to those who were affected, but there was no help for them.
While technically not dead, they were certainly not alive either. The site has terrified some; so much so that the government attempted to cover them. You see it was impossible to move them; the pulse fused them permanently with the environment.
I remember the first time I passed the circle after it happened. The eerie feeling of utter stillness washed over me and for a moment, as the world around me slowed, I was sure it had happened again. My throat filled with my fear and I vomited onto the steering wheel of my car. Once the moment had passed and I was dropped back into a world full of movement, the waves of relief, tinged with a fair amount of disgust flowed over me.
Many months elapsed before I even had the nerve to drive by again. My heart still exploded into my throat and my stomach crinkled itself into knots; my breakfast, thankfully, stayed on the inside this time.
It was years before I could approach the ring without the security of my car surrounding me. By that time I was an old man, ancient by the standards of my grandchildren. I know why I felt compelled to search out those that had stopped that day, their souls and actions frozen in time, but that didn’t stop me from being afraid to do so.
I stood just outside the barrier that had been erected all around the ring. It wasn’t the type of obstacle that would stand in your way; it was more of a demarcation for people to comprehend that passing into the inner ring could have disastrous effects should the tower decide to malfunction again.
Even as I fought the urge to turn away, my body propelled me forward, through the fence and into the living monument. In silence, it waited. For what, I cannot say with any certainty. The overwhelming emotions of despair and loneliness played along my nerves like a song of pain and nostalgia. It was a heady phenomenon, this mix of emotions that resonated deep into my soul.
As I walked along the sidewalk, I studied the statuesque people as I passed by them. Men, women, and children caught unaware in mid step, in mid swallow, in mid call. If you haven’t seen inside the circle yet, picture the busiest moment on the street that you can remember and capture it for an instant, as if you’ve taken a photograph. That’s the best way to describe it; a photographic moment etched in life-sized stone relief. Every detail down to the last wisp of hair blown awry by an errant gust, petrified against the elements that now assault it.
When I found her, my heart broke again. After I returned home that fateful day so many years ago, I had searched the house for her, hoping that she had never made it to work that day. My cell phone pleas had all gone unanswered and deep down I knew what that meant, despite the fact that I refused to believe it. The empty house was the proof I received.
The second piece of corroborating evidence came in the form of two FBI Special Agents about three months after the event. I had reported my wife as missing and potentially within the ring as the authorities had instructed us to do in the days following the pulse. My heart was heavy making that call, but what else could I have done? I wanted the answer even though I knew it would hurt to hear it. I knew what the truth was, but I still wanted to see it for myself.
That was why I entered the ring so long after the pulse. It had taken me that long to build the nerve to do it, the nerve to see Catherine again.
When I found her, it was like so no time had passed. She had been caught in mid stride, her left hand searching the expanse of her purse for something. She looked as if she might topple, but strangely, her body was balanced on the ball of her right foot. By the laws of physics, there was no way that she should have remained upright, but the pulse had somehow suspended them. I stood for a long time, my eyes gazing upon her beautiful face and my heart breaking because I know that deep inside her body still lived. Scientists who studied the phenomenon had recently let it be known that while time had essentially stopped for those caught up in the pulse, life had not.
Life. It’s such a funny word. Those poor people were not living by the standards that you and I would define, but they were alive. Alive. Such a sad word when taken into context sometimes.
Placing one last kiss on her face, I left the circle from the way that I came; dreading the coming months of loneliness as contemplated my own death. Even in death, we will not be reunited and that is a hard truth to swallow.
And so the circle around the tower remains; a silenced and creepy garden of statuaries that stand in effigy of what can happen, of what did happen.
One thing is for certain, people no longer live within five kilometers of any tower. Anywhere. A lesson has been learned and a wariness of technology born from that moment. The moment that froze time and space in the oddest of ways.
Julianne is the author of the Days with the Undead, a cult web series turned novel, and Glimpses of the Undead. Writing in the realms of speculative fiction, Julianne has roots that go deep into horror and is a member of the Horror Writers Association. With pieces of short fiction in various publications, Julianne always has a few surprises up her sleeves.