Part Three and conclusion…
Not a word was said. Max could hear the dying wind outside. He could hear the popping of the wood in the fireplace. He could hear the refrigerator in the kitchen hum. Even though he was sick and not long for the world, his hearing was just as good as it was when he was a teenager. Thank God for little miracles, he thought.
Finally, he heard a voice beside him.
“You mean… stop time?” Mindy asked. She had slowly sat up and looked at him with her forehead furrowed.
“What?” Monty blurted out. A funny look came over his face and repeated what he had just said. “What?”
Oliva couldn’t say anything. She wasn’t sure she had heard him right. She shook her head in disbelief. Abigale just sat there. She was starting to think maybe he was telling the truth. As odd as it is, it made sense. Sort of.
“I can stop time. I’ve been able to do it since I was a kid.”
Mindy suddenly had a thought. Maybe it’s because she’s a nurse and she has been programmed to think of medical prognosis above all things first. She touched his arm.
“You don’t have Werner Syndrome, do you?”
Max sighed. “They never knew what to call what they thought I had. It just resembled Werner’s. The truth is, I’m just an old man. And the old man with old man illnesses.”
Truth started to dawn on his friends, just as it had with Mindy a couple of minutes ago. Max saw this and he laughed. It felt good to get this out.
“I did some calculating as time went on. Everybody thinks I’m a man of about 45 with Werner’s. I’m really a normal old guy of about 85. Just a normal old guy that can stop time.”
They got quiet again. Though they were on the road to accepting what he had just told them, it was a slow process. Except for Mindy. She believed. She just didn’t know how to feel about it yet. He had kept this from her. It was a lie and yet, she really didn’t feel too badly about it. How does one tell you they can stop time and they didn’t really have what they said they had?
“Look. Time is short.” He laughed really hard at this and started to cough. Mindy patted his back. He knew he still had her on his side. Thank God for her, he thought. He patted her knee to let her know he was fine now.
“I have a story to tell you. A story to tell all of you. I need to expunge it from my mind and my soul.” He put his hands out over the table. “Will you forgive me long enough to let me tell you? Please?”
Mindy was the first to put her hand into his. Olivia was next, smiling at Max.
Abigale looked down at the hands. She seemed reluctant but finally did.
Monty had crossed his arms, not looking directly at him, almost like a child that was told he can’t go to Disney World.
“C’mon, Monty. You need to hear this.” Max had a pleading tone in his voice.
“Why didn’t you tell us? If you had, we would have been able to handle it.”
“When you hear my story, I think you’ll understand why,” Max said. Finally, after another minute, Monty reached out and gripped Max’s hand.
“It better be really good, pal.”
“I think it will be. It’ll be something you’ve never heard before.”
They pulled back and Max took a sip of his water. But before he could start to speak, Olivia interjected.
“You put your hand down my bra.”
They all looked at her. Max’s wrinkled face had turned a blood red.
“Huh?” Abigale asked.
Olivia turned to Max. “To put the coin in my bra, you had to put your hand in there.” She was smiling.
Max, still blushing, cleared his throat and wrung his hands. “Uh, yes.”
Olivia laughed and to Max’s surprise and relief, so did Mindy. Abigale shook her head good naturally. Monty just smiled but still a bit upset to really join in.
“It’s alright. I forgive you.” Olivia gave him a quick peck on his still red cheek.
And after a minute of settling down, Max finally was able to tell his story. And it would be the last story of his life.
“I was a normal kid, as far as I knew. I played with my G.I. Joe’s, I rode my bike, I climbed trees, I pretended to be Indiana Jones or Han Solo, I loved comic books and I read a lot. I went to school and learned some. I had friends but not very many around my house that was my age. I was a bit lonely. So, I stayed to myself and pretended that I had friends. And I pretended I had a girlfriend.
“My life was like that until, on one particular day, I found myself in a pretty bad situation,” Max said. He looked around the table and saw he had their attention.
“I was playing with some G.I. Joe’s in the front yard by the large Elm tree that grew there. As I played there, I saw a car coming down the street. This part of the road was on a hill and before it got to my house, the road had a turn in it. From where I was sitting, I could see cars as if they were coming straight for me. And this one was just like those except, what I didn’t know at the time, it was really coming straight for me. The old lady driving had what we found out later as a stroke, lost control of her car. Her foot had pressed down on the accelerator and it was boring down on me at sixty miles an hour.
“I froze. I didn’t have time to stand up. I didn’t have time to roll away. I barely had time to think. But I did. I thought of the phrase, ‘stop-time’ for no reason at all. I closed my eyes and waited for it to be over. I bet my parents would cry. I was glad I wouldn’t see this.
“Nothing happened. I didn’t hear her finally hitting the breaks and tires squealing. I didn’t hear glass breaking or metal twisting as if at the last second, she turned the wheel to her right and plowed into our house. I didn’t hear anything. I didn’t hear the birds playing. I didn’t hear some of the older neighborhood kids playing down the block, kids that thought I was too young to hang out with them. The only thing I heard was my breathing and the sound of blood in my ears.
“I opened my eyes slowly and saw the car was three feet in front of me, the grill of the car seemed to be grinning. I let out a breath of relief and slowly stood up. Part of me was scared it would suddenly start forward and pinch me in half against the tree. I looked at the old woman and she had her eyes shut and her mouth was wide open. She looked like she had been screaming. I looked at her, wanting her to move. She didn’t.
“I looked around then and after a minute of blinking and rubbing my eyes to make sure I was seeing what I was really seeing, I saw nothing was moving. The kids down the block were absolutely still. As a matter of fact, they had been playing kickball. Jimmy, the one that lived there, had been jumping up and down in excitement. He was stuck in midair, about two feet off of the ground. I couldn’t believe it.
“I continued to look around. Mr. Mackey from across the street had been mowing his yard on his riding lawnmower. He just sat there along with the lawnmower. The grass being shot out the side just hung in the air like a green cloud.
“The clouds didn’t move, the second hand of my watch had stopped, and the flag on the pole in our front yard was at an odd angle. The wind had been light, just enough to move it around. Now it just hung solidly as if frozen.
“I looked all around. I was the only thing moving. I slowly moved out of the way of the car. Then I remembered my G.I. Joe’s and moved them, too. One of them was just inches from the right front tire of the car. Snake Eyes was out on a scouting trip and didn’t see the car coming. I should have sent somebody else. Maybe Gung-Ho.” Max chuckled at this. The other looked on, not saying a word. They were hanging onto every word.
“With all my toys out of the way, I glanced into the old lady’s car. Her purse sat on the passenger seat next to her. I remember how big it was. And I looked up at her and noticed how hard she was gripping the wheel. It was a death grip. She was scared.
“Then I noticed she wasn’t wearing a seat belt. As you know, most people didn’t wear one then. Nobody even buckled up their kids. I was one of them. It’s a wonder any of us survived.
“Without thinking about it, I went around to her side and opened the door. I took her seatbelt and tried to put it around her but her arms were in the way. I didn’t think I could move them but when I touched her arms, they moved easily from where they were on the steering wheel. I put her arms through the belt and snapped it into place. I decided to leave her arms where they were and I closed the door.
“I had no idea what I was doing, but then again, I knew exactly what I was doing for some strange reason. I took my G.I. Joe’s and took them to the front porch, and sat down on the steps. I looked around at the stillness and then back to the car. I thought about what I had said right before. Then I said, out loud this time…
“Everything happened all at once. The clouds started to move, Jimmy landed on his two feet, Mr. Mackey started mowing his lawn again and the grass shot out from the side of it in nice little rows, and the car with the old woman crashed into our tree in the front yard. She was yanked forward but the seat belt had stopped her from crashing into the steering wheel and out through the windshield. Parts of the car shot forward past the tree and some got stuck in our chain link fence. The tree shook and leaves and dead limbs fell to the ground.
“I watched this whole thing happen in less than a second. I didn’t even shut my eyes or blink. I watched it all take place like I was watching it on TV.
“The car’s horn started to blare and everybody in earshot turned to see what had happened and started running for our yard. The front door of our house opened and my mom and dad came running out. My mom grabbed me from behind asking me if I was OK. My dad ran to the car to check on the old woman. She was knocked out but alive. I found out later she had broken five ribs from the seatbelt and had whiplash not to mention the small stroke. She would be in the hospital for five weeks. She came around after she got out and gave me a hug. She told my parents she thought I was sitting in front of the tree and she was trying her damndest to stop the car before it killed me. She had a hard time believing I wasn’t killed until she saw me. She said she was so thankful she had been wrong.
“They took her license away. The car’s breaks had simply stopped working due to a lack of brake fluid but they made her stop driving because she swore up and down I was sitting in front of my tree. They thought she was going senile or had dementia.
“That whole thing happened in less than a few seconds. Two, maybe. But for me, it lasted ten minutes. The looking around, moving my toys, putting her in the seat belt. Time was ticking away for me but for nobody else.”
“Oh, my God. I remember that happening. My mom was going to drive me over to your house that day but I got food poisoning. I was barfing everywhere,” Monty said was a look of surprise.
“Good to know,” Olivia said, giving him a disgusted look.
“I know. I thought about that later. If the same thing happened, we would have both have been sitting there, probably. I would have moved you just like the G.I. Joe’s. But when time started again, you would have wondered how you got from the tree to the stairs on the porch. It made it a lot easier on me knowing I was the only one who knew I could do this. I hate to say this but, I’m glad you got food poisoning, buddy.”
Monty looked shocked and then laughed a little. “Now that I think about it, I’m not sure I could keep that kind of secret.”
Mindy patted Max’s arm. “What happened then?”
Everyone else sat forward, waiting to hear.
Max took another sip of water. He was getting a headache. He wasn’t sure if it was brought on talking for so much or his body was counting down. He knew he had to keep on regardless.
“Well, I stopped time, off and on, since that first time. I was too scared to stop it for too long. There was a part of me that was afraid that it may not start up again. But it seemed short times was safe. In high school, I stopped time with a little more carelessness. I did some things I’m not too proud of. I may have cheated on some exams by copying down the answers the quizzes and tests that I was having. The teachers would have the answer sheets on their desks and as students finished, they would check them. So, I’d stop time and go up next to them and write down the answers, go back to my desk, and doodle a bit before I handed it in. I got principles list all through school.
“Some other things I did was punch a guy in the face that was picking on one of the special needs kids. I saw what was going on, this kid, Scott, was pushing a kid around who talked and walked slow. I stopped time and walked up to him and punched him right in the nose. I felt his nose crack. I walked back to where I was, holding my hand. It hurt, let me tell you. Then I started time and Scott suddely flew backward. He fell to the ground, holding his nose. Blood was gushing out between his fingers. He started crying, really hard. Teachers came to him and asked what happened. He said the kid that was picking on him, punched him. But other kids who saw the whole thing said that kid didn’t lay a finger on him.
“They took both kids to the front office and last I heard, Scott went home with a broken nose and the other kid didn’t get picked on again. The teachers thought he did punch him but didn’t pursue it.
“That turned out to be a nice thing,” said Abagail.
Max sighed. “I promised myself that I would tell everything. The good and the bad. Here comes the bad.” He took a breath.
“I wasn’t all that nice. I was really girl crazy. There were a handful of girls I really liked. I knew they would never go out with me. So… I would stop time and… kiss them. I would pat their asses. And when it came to this girl, Carrie Jenkins, I would… touch her breasts.”
“MAX!” Abigale exclaimed. “How dare you?”
“That is pretty shameful,” Mindy said next to him. She had crossed her arms.
“Honestly, I may have done the same thing,” said Monty.
“Of course you would. You’re a guy.” Abigale said the word guy with such venom.
“Now wait.” Olivia interrupted. “As bad as it is, let’s look at his. A teenage boy with no girlfriend. Hormones running wild. It’s no excuse but we’re talking about Max here.” She looked at Max with a hard look. “That was it, though. Right? Nothing worse?”
Max shook his head. “Horny as I might have been, I didn’t take it that far. I was too scared. And my conscience started not just whispering at me, but yelling its damn head off. After Carrie, I stopped doing any of it. Even cheating in school. The teachers noticed a slump in my grades and my parents got involved. They just figured it was, as they called it, senioritis. I was heading toward being valedictorian of my class. Then I had the grade nose drop and I knew that wasn’t going to happen. I was glad, too. I didn’t deserve it.”
Max took another sip of water. His face felt hot. Partly from the embarrassment of looking like an asshole in school and partly from his own body temperature that seemed to be rising.
“So, I stopped altogether. I didn’t even do it for a minute. After we graduated, I got the job working at the book store. Remember?”
Olivia, Abigale, and Monty all nodded their heads. They would visit him right before the store closing and then go hang out.
“That was when I met Natalie.” Max smiled at the thought. He turned to Mindy. “You understand, don’t you? For a while, she was my everything.”
Mindy had uncrossed her arms and put a hand on his arm.
“Of course I do. I know what she meant to you, even now.” She smiled warmly. “I see she changed you from that kid you were in high school.”
Max patted her hand. “She did. She really did. But, unfortunately, just for a while.”
He turned back toward the table. “She came in one night looking for a book of poems by Robert Frost. She walked up to me as I was putting books on a shelf and tapped me on the shoulder. I turned and stopped. I couldn’t speak. You know, they say that kind of thing only happens in the movies, love at first sight. That’s bullshit. It does happen. It happened to me that afternoon. I looked into her brown eyes, just like your’s Mindy, and fell. I fell hard. She was speaking to me but I don’t think I heard a word. I just looked at her face. Finally, I broke my trance.
“’ Excuse me?’ I said. She repeated that she was looking for Robert Frost and I showed her to where his books were. The lights seemed to be too bright. She thanked me and turned toward the shelf. I didn’t want to leave her. I did something then I have never done before or since. I asked her out, right that very second. She looked at me as if I was crazy but she must have seen something in my eyes that I wasn’t. Or, at least, not psycho crazy. She smiled. We talked and she agreed to go out with me.
“Eight months later, we got married. We both had a steady job and was able to get an apartment. And we lived there and worked and lived our lives together until… she got sick…”
“As you know, she got brain cancer. She started getting headaches. I joked to her it was because I was driving her crazy. But they got so bad. We finally broke down and went to the doctor. They took some x-rays and saw a single large growth. It looked like a squid. It had tentacles that were not only wrapping around her brain but starting to go through it.” Max started to tear up. Mindy put her hand on his back and rubbed. Olivia grabbed his other hand and squeezed. Monty and Abigale both had tears in their own eyes.
“She went through chemo because surgery was impossible. And, as you know, the chemo didn’t work. It just made her sicker along with the headaches. Nothing was working and the pain was too great. She died in the hospital five months after being diagnosed. I had thought about stopping time so I could look at her for a while. I couldn’t bear to see her go. But she wouldn’t have wanted that.
“I was beside myself. I was lucky to have known her for four years. I buried her and sat at home crying for three days. I couldn’t take it anymore. Three days after I buried her, I stopped time. I stopped time for two whole years…”
They all looked at him, shocked.
“Did you say two years?” asked Abigale. “Two… years?”
“Yep. Two long years. Instead of running like Forrest Gump, I walked. And walked and walked. I stopped in stores on the way and ate. I didn’t touch anybody and did my damnedest not to look at anybody. I would sleep in yards, department stores, and in mattress stores. I grew my beard and looked like a homeless man. Because that’s how I felt. My home wasn’t home anymore. She was my home and she was gone.”
“Where did you walk to?” asked Monty.
Max looked up at the ceiling, remembering the places. “You can walk to a lot of places in two years. I headed south and stopped at different places on the way. I made it all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. It was odd to see the waters stopped in mid-wave. I sat on the beach for almost a whole day, just looking out at it. People were on both sides of me, it being summer. I wondered what they would think if they saw a dirty, hairy homeless man sitting right beside them. I thought about that for a while and it started to bother me.
“So, here I am, on the beach. I’ve wandered for two years. To be honest, it may have been longer. My watch wasn’t working, no clock would work. But that’s how long it felt. But, I decide I walked here for a reason. I stood up and walked toward the water. The sand would give way under of feet. And it was hot outside. The temperature would be whatever it was right before I stopped time. The hot dry sand gave way to the warm wet sand and as I touched the water, it was cool. The water would move as I stepped into it but nothing would change. If I passed a wave, it was like I was just morphing through it. I could raise my hand up from being in the water and it would be dry. I had an idea that if I was to go underwater, I would be able to breathe. I ducked my head in and tried to breathe. To my amusement, it did. But only with what air was in my mouth. After that, it’s like trying to breathe with a piece of plastic wrap over your mouth.
“I was up to my neck. I thought this was it. I’m going to go out as far as I can and go down as deep as I could and start time. I’d drown and it would be a long time before they would find me. I turned back to the beach for one last look. I saw all the people that were having a good time before I stopped it. I saw all the people’s lives I put on hold for my sadness.
“Then I saw a little girl. She couldn’t have been more than four years old. She was walking between her mom and dad as they headed toward the water. There was a smile on her face that showed nothing but love. But the thing that I noticed the most was she had brown hair and dark eyes just like Natalie. And I bet that if I was to go look, her eyes would be brown. I had seen pictures of Nat when she was little and this little girl could have past for her. Or her daughter. Or… our daughter.”
Max took a moment and wiped tears from his eyes. “I don’t know why but I changed my mind. I had to see what color her eyes were. I walked out of the water. I walked up to this little girl and kissed her on the cheek. And, yes, her eyes were brown.
“Then I left the beach and waited until I was alone and started time. The sound came roaring back that it hurt my head. It took a couple of hours for me to get used to it again, at least enough I could function. To be honest, it took a couple of months. I found myself in Florida with no money. I didn’t want to call anybody because they would wonder how I got there.
“So, until I could get home, I stopped time here and there to sneak into a barber’s and shave and cut my hair and would find trucks going toward home and hitchhiked in the weirdest way possible. I was never caught and made it back in about four days.”
“You weren’t seen for about two weeks. I remember. We thought you had just gone away for a while, to clear your head,” said Olivia.
Max laughed then coughed. Finally, getting control, he said, “Oh, I got away, alright.”
Everyone was quiet then. They all thought about that time period. Abigale had thought Max had got over Natalie a little too quickly. Guess I was wrong, she thought. Mindy didn’t know him at that time and just felt sorry for him. She wished she had been there for him.
A look of surprise came over Monty.
“Wait a minute. It was you. This afternoon. When I tripped coming down the stairs. You stopped me from falling, didn’t you?”
“I knew that was weird. I was heading face down and then the next second, I was on my feet. It felt like getting to the bottom of the steps and thinking there was another step, but wasn’t.” He looked at Max and smiled. “Thanks, buddy. You saved me some pain and embarrassment.”
“So what happened after you got back?” asked Mindy.
Max took another sip of water. His head was throbbing and he started to feel too warm. But he had to continue.
“I got home and thought about what I could do. I thought about how I could use it to better my life. I didn’t want my life to just be normal. I wanted all I could get. And I did.
“First, I started to do little things. I was gone a lot during those first few years, you might remember.” His three friends nodded. “Well, I was traveling around. I knew I needed the money and I didn’t care about how I got it, so… I went to Vegas. I found a house just out of town. It had a detached garage on the side and was pretty private. Then I went up and down the strip, and I’m not proud of this, I stole from the biggest casinos. I was taking hundreds of thousands of dollars. When I did, I put it all in the garage. I stayed for a month, filling that garage all the way up the ceiling. The casinos were seeing a huge deficit in the finances but they couldn’t figure out how it was happening. Police were everywhere and it was on the news. But nothing could be done. They couldn’t stop me from going in and taking what I wanted.”
Max had been telling them all of this with his head down. He knew that he was showing his friends how bad he could be. He didn’t want to leave this world and have him think horribly of him but he had to get it all off of his chest.
He looked up to face them and he was surprised. They didn’t look mad at all. Monty was even smiling. He was enjoying it. Max glanced at Mindy and did see some disappointment on her face.
Mindy grinned shyly. “It’s OK. You wanted to get this out. You need to get this out. I’ll listen.” Then she sat up in her chair. “You never murdered anybody, did you?”
“No. I never did that.” He winked. “I never had to.”
Monty reached over and touched his hand. “Go on. How did you get it out of Vegas?”
“I didn’t. Well, not all of it. I packed up about a million dollars in a bag. And left. But I wasn’t stupid. I never touched the money without gloves and I kept myself to only two rooms in the house, the living room and the bathroom. Before I left, I scrubbed down every surface I touched or might have touched. All the doorknobs, all of the countertops, the sinks, everything. And I just left with my bag. I didn’t even rent the house in my own name. The elderly couple I rented it from was nearly blind and lived in Idaho most of the year. I’m pretty sure they couldn’t ID me out of a line-up if it came to that. And they were only there to rent it to me.
“ I’m not sure what happened to the rest of the money. Maybe the renters came down to check on the property and found it and never said anything. I’m not sure. I never heard anything about it on TV, so they never called the cops. There had to be at least two hundred and fifty million dollars in large and small bills.”
“Holy shit…” Monty whispered.
“I went all over the country for a while. Finding ways that my ‘power’ would come in handy. I knew that if I was going to make this work for me, I was going to need some help. I couldn’t do it all on my own. In Chicago, I met a man that, let’s say, ‘handles things’ in the way of money. You give him some money that may or may not have been yours and he makes it legal. After the trust was there, I was giving him tons of money. And I do mean TONS of money. It was going out on pallets. He was getting rich off of me and I didn’t care. I was becoming mega-rich. I bought properties and gave to charities. I started to make legitimate business deals. My bad money was becoming good money right before my eyes.
“But let me be clear, I never took from honest, hardworking people. I took from businesses that cheated the working person. I would hear about some of these companies and what they were accused of doing. I would stop time and go into their buildings and look through their finances. If it was all squared away, I would leave and not do anything. If I found out there weren’t on the up and up, I would find out how they made money and would find a way to exploit it. I would drain them for as much as I could.”
“What about the people that worked at these places? They couldn’t have all been in on their businesses dirty dealings?” Abigale was looking concerned. She wasn’t sure who this person was sitting in front of her. She thought she had known him. Vegas was one thing. This was turning into something else.
“You’re right. I thought about that. Let’s say that they would have some ‘found’ money come into their lives. I made sure of it. I had quite an organization going. Remember 10 years ago, after you had noticed how wealthy I got by making ‘wise investments’ and I was making contributions to the people of companies that were going bankrupt?” Max held up his hands in a ‘there you go’ pose. He dropped his arms quickly enough. He wasn’t able to hold them up too long. His body was getting weaker.
“If I’m not mistaken, Enron was a company that you helped employees who had got ripped off by them.” Monty chimed in.
Olivia then spoke with astonishment. “Because you had brought them down!”
Max nodded. “That’s right. There were a lot of corrupt people running those businesses. And I think I found most of them during that time. And being able to get in and not be seen. I mean, I could spend weeks going over records right under their nose. There were times when I would be at a boss’s desk while they were still sitting there and I was going through their private files on their computers. And after a while, I realized that no matter what kind of high tech security systems they had, people were people. They would write down passwords and leave them in desk drawers or even written on Post It Notes and have them hanging from their computer screens. It was easy.
“So by the end of it, I was doing good work. I was trying to make up for the things I had done. But I knew that was going to be a long road.
“But then, I decided it was time to cut my ties with the man in Chicago. By this time he had become very rich. And the IRS and the FBI was breathing down his neck. If they got to him, he would point a finger at me. I knew they would never get me if they proved I stole money and had been involved with a lot of crimes. If it came to that, I would just stop time and be gone and start over somewhere else. I could escape it.
“But I didn’t want that to happen, though. I had no intention of starting all over. So I figured out a way to keep him quiet and move away from all of that.” Max chuckled, though it hurt his head worse. “I went to his house and started to move things around. After a couple of days, he thought it was haunted. I would stack books up in his hallways where we couldn’t get past them. I would write things on the walls. For him, one second they weren’t there, then they were. I was starting to have a lot of fun.
“He started to lose his mind. He didn’t tell anybody about it. My guess is they would have thought he was crazy and would lock him up. And he lived there alone. His wife took his kids a few years ago. He only had nameless women every once in a while. He moved out and rented a place in downtown Chicago. I followed him and started to do the same things. I was relentless.
“Finally, I had started to stop time and move his body and start it again. After a few minutes, he was crying. I mean inconsolable. I figured he had enough. He sat in his chair, crying, and I appeared before him. He looked up and saw me and screamed. He grabbed his chest and for a second I thought he was going to have a heart attack. He just stared at me with his eyes really wide. I took a step forward and he drew back as far as he could.
“’ I need you to forget you ever met me. I need you to forget you ever saw me. Do you understand?’ He just looked at me with his wide eyes. I figured I needed to shock his system. I stopped time and started it again after I had stepped to his right side, three feet from where I was. He screamed again. New tears were rolling down his cheeks. I said, ‘The best thing for you to do is get out of the country. Maybe South America.’ I stopped time again and started it again on his left side, right next to him. He jumped in his chair and made like he was going to run but I put my hands on his shoulders and pushed him back down. ‘Do you understand?’
“He nodded his head. I told him to be out of the country by that night. And he was. And as far as I know, he never came back.”
Abigale, Monty, and Olivia looked at Max with new eyes. They had never been afraid of him, never thought he could be capable of doing any harm or being mean. Now they wondered. All of them thought if he could do those things, could he do something to me? Has he done something to me?
Mindy quietly said, “Max. I’m not sure how to feel about what you’ve just told us. Not the stopping time part. As crazy as it is, I believe that. But it’s hard for me to believe that you could be so mean?”
Monty spoke up. “What about us? Have you ever done something bad to us?”
“No, no, no. I never did anything to any of you, other than what has happened since we’ve been here,” Max looked from Monty to Olivia, “the stairs and sitting here at the table. Other than that, I never even thought about doing something to you, any of you.” He looked at Mindy. “I was mean. I did bad things, for years. Just a few years to you, a lot of years for me. Maybe I was still distraught about Natalie. Maybe I felt like I was owed something. Neither one was a good excuse. Even though they deserved it, I cheated companies out of money and I took Vegas for all I could. I even stole things.”
Max had the silver coin near him. He picked it up and placed it in the center of the table again. “I took no regard for my actions and how they might affect anybody. I have had years to think about what I was doing and what I did. I regret most of it. But not all. I did do some good. I stopped a hold up in a store once. Some guy had a gun on the cashier trying to get all the money. Right before I stopped time, a customer went for the gun but the guy turned out to be quicker than he did and the gun was right in his face. I stopped time at the right moment. Any later and that guy would have been dead. I walked up to the gunman and after putting on the gloves that I carried with me everywhere, I pulled the gun from his hand. I saw that the trigger was almost all the way back. One nano-second more and he would have been dead. I extracted all of the bullets from the clip and from the chamber. I made sure it was completely unloaded and I put it back in his hand. I pocketed the bullets and went back to my car outside where I had been pumping gas. Time started back up and the cashier got to beat the hell out of a criminal and be a hero.
“There were other moments I did good things. I think about those and wished I had followed that road instead of the one I took. I thought that a lot of money would bring me happiness. It did in small ways. But in total, it was unfulfilling. Of all the time I spent with time stopped, all of the years that past where I felt alone, I regret most of it. I wasted a lot of my life and what I could do.”
Max’s head was hurting bad enough now that he was starting to lose sight in his left eye. He raised his hand up to his head.
“Are you OK?” Mindy asked. She leaned over and looked at Max. He couldn’t see her with his now nonexistent peripheral vision.
“My head is hurting. I feel I need to hurry and finish my story. My time seems to be running short.”
The others looked at him with worry.
“You should take a break.” Olivia patted his right arm.
“NO!” Max suddenly yelled. “I can’t. I have to tell. I need to get it out so I have a little less weight on my heart.” He closed his eyes and tried to will some of the pain away. And it actually worked to a degree. The head pounding slightly eased a bit, though his left eye was still half-way sightless.
“OK. It’s just a little bit more.” Max rubbed his head for a second and continued.
“As the days went on and I kept stopping time, I noticed that I was getting older even though others were staying their age. I knew it wouldn’t be safe much longer to stop time if I didn’t think of something. I thought about just moving away and not saying anything. Just move away to another part of the country or to another country, stay a while and then move on. Nobody would catch on that I was getting older a lot faster than they were. But I just couldn’t do it. Do you know why?” Max looked at Olivia, Abigail, and Monty, one by one.
“It was because of you three. In the last five years. Well, your last five years, I had finally found some people that took the place of Natalie. Even though we knew each other when we were younger, only in the last few years did I feel closer to you. I learned to care about other people again. And I mean really care.
“So, when I was,” Max made air quotes in the air even though it hurt to raise his arms, “diagnosed with Werner’s Syndrome ten years ago, you stood by me and treated me as you always have. Once I realized that and it sank in, I knew I couldn’t go anywhere. My body kept aging because I couldn’t stop doing it, you three kept coming around and wanted to know how I was doing. You kept involving me. You didn’t want anything from me other than my friendship. And I know the difference when people want something from me when they want money. You never made me feel like that.
“And because of you, I changed. I wasn’t that guy I was before. I wasn’t that guy that I transformed into after that two years in my own silent, stone hell. I was becoming somebody that Natalie would have been proud of. I started to do good things with my money and because of that, it made me even more. Things had become better for me than ever before.
“But, it took a large toll on me. I used up a lot of my years in a very short amount of time. Before I knew it, my body started to break down, old age had set in. I wasn’t speeding up my time but I was losing time with my friends and family.” Max left his arms toward the group around the table. “I spent a lot of time watching the world at a standstill while I did this or that, most of it not making much of a difference but only to myself.”
He coughed again, this time much harder than before. The world waved in front of his eyes. He thought he was going to pass out and his head would come crashing down on the table, maybe splitting his head open. He gripped his head in his hands and willed this wave to stop. Finally, it did. He looked up to see very open eyes on everybody.
“Max?” Mindy had stood up while he was holding his head and grabbed him around the chest. He didn’t even know she had done until she spoke his name.
He patted her hand. “I’m fine. I thought I was going to pass out.” He reached out to grab the glass of water and noticed his hand was shaking. He tried to stop it but this time, he couldn’t will it to do so. The water spilled from the sides of the glass and when he put it to his lips, water dribbled from both sides, pooling on the green felt table under him. It even ran down his neck and wet his collar.
Mindy held onto him, not wanting to let go. She could feel his breathing was erratic and his heart was beating at an accelerated pace. If he was in the hospital, there would have been a lot of machines hooked up to him.
Max tried to pat her arm. It was like pressing a live fish against her skin. Cold, wet (from the water), and wiggling.
“Please, sit down, my love. It’s just a bit more.”
She reluctantly let go and moved to her seat. She did move it closer to sit right next to him. He noticed this and smiled with a wary grin.
Max cleared his throat and continued.
“In the days before our trip here together, I planned. I gathered these gifts I have given you and in a short amount of time and lots of money, I had this all arranged. And after I’m gone, there are still more things that you will receive.” He coughed but nobody moved.
He reached out and touched the coin again. He gently rubbed his index finger across the man on the front, slowly, back and forth. He looked at them one by one.
“You have made life worth living. All the things I did with my power has been fruitless and a waste of time. The moments with you was what really lasted. And they also felt the shortest.”
He focused on Mindy. He could barely see her. His head was hurting him so badly, his sight was disappearing from his right eye now.
“But you… I regret wasting all that time the most because of you.” He reached out to touch her warm hand. Tears were running down her face as she looked into his red eyes. She noticed that one pupil was larger than the other but didn’t say anything. It wouldn’t matter. “I would have traded it all just to spend my life with you.”
Mindy’s tears flooded down her face. She leaned forward and kissed him on his lips, not holding anything back. Monty, Abigale, and Olivia couldn’t hold back their own tears. They streamed down their faces and ran down their necks to wet their own collars. No one said anything. The room was quiet except for the sound of the fire, not as roaring as it had once been, and the dying sound of the wind outside.
Mindy finally pulled away and reached out to brush Max’s white hair from his forehead. He smiled at her one last time.
She never heard his last words. Neither did his three friends who sat and looked at their dying friend because he spoke it in his head.
Max watched them all stop moving. He listened to the sound of the world stop.
He looked around and tried to see his friends. He could just make out their shapes around the table now. He slowly got down from his perch and leaned in to kiss Mindy again. One last kiss.
Before heading to the front door and to the frozen world outside, he placed the silver coin in Mindy’s hand. He wrapped her fingers around it so it wouldn’t fall out when she moved. With that, he opened the door, turned around one last time to look toward where he knew his friends and his last love would be.
He said, “Goodbye.”
Then he shut the door behind him.
Mindy blinked and pulled her head back. She did it to take in the space in front of her. Max had been there and now he wasn’t. He had disappeared. She looked from side to side and even down on the floor thinking he, maybe, had fallen.
But she knew.
She turned to look at the other three sitting at the table. They were all wide-eyed and looking at the place where Max had been sitting. They all looked the same thing. And an empty seat.
“Where did he go?” Olivia asked.
The three friends leaped down from where they were sitting and ran around the cabin. Monty and Abigale ran upstairs to look and Olivia covered the downstairs.
Mindy didn’t move. She had finally noticed the coin that was in her hand. One minute it wasn’t there and now it was.
Max had put it there, she thought. She slowly glanced up from the coin in her palm to the front door. As if in a trance, Mindy got off the stool and felt her body moving toward the door. She felt like she was having an out of body experience. She felt like she was walking through water or outer space without a spacesuit.
She felt herself touch the doorknob and turn it. When the door opened, the cold air whipped next to her, through her. She looked down and saw some faint footprints. They were fresh. But who knows how long they had been there in Max-time.
She walked out through the open door with no coat and no shoes. Her socks were the only thing that kept her bare feet from touching the frozen ground. She didn’t feel the cold bite into her. She just kept walking, following the trail that Max had made.
Mindy made it ten feet out when she felt strong hands on her arms, trying to hold her from going further. Monty was there, barely clothed himself, trying to hold her from going any further. Olivia was right behind, putting on their coats and holding an extra one for Mindy. Olivia carried Mindy’s shoes to put on.
Without a word, they helped steady her as she slipped on her shoes and flung her coat on. They followed her as she followed the trail.
The trail turned left and past the area where they had played and Max had looked on from the window. They walked further still, into the darkness of the forest beyond. It was hard to see ahead but the snow helped illuminate the landscape. And as the three friends followed her, they saw Mindy suddenly stop. She made no attempt to move further. When they caught up to her, they saw what she was seeing.
In the darkness, looking toward the mountains was Max. He was sitting on a fallen log and his back to them. He had no coat on and was still in his pajamas. He didn’t move.
Mindy finally found her feet and ran as fast as she could in the snow. She kicked sprays of it as she bounded toward him, only falling once. The others ran after her.
She stopped right behind Max. She wasn’t sure she wanted to see his face, not sure she wanted to have her fear become reality. But she finally reached out and touched his shoulder.
Her fingers fell on cold hardness, not warm, soft cloth with living flesh underneath. The others stopped just behind her. Olivia already started to cry, while Abigale and Monty only looked on, afraid to go any further.
Mindy slowly walked around to face her fears. She saw Max, his eyes were open and tears had frozen to his cheek but his face was calm and serene. He even a small smile on his lips. His hands were in his lap and his fingers were interlaced. Max looked peaceful.
She knelt down in front of him. She felt for breath, even though she saw none in the cold air. She felt for a pulse in his neck but all she felt was cold skin, unmoving. She looked into his eyes, knowing he was gone but hoping he would blink. He didn’t.
Finally, she laid her head on his knee and cried. Her hot tears turned cold as they started to fall onto Max’s leg.
Olivia, Abigale, and Monty gave her a minute before walking up and kneeling next to her. They all cried and held each other in the frozen clearing in the forest. Frozen air surrounded them as their breath left their bodies and joined the night.
Twelve months later… Christmas Day
Mindy sat in her New York City apartment, looking out the window to Central Park. The snow had started to fall again for the third time that day. As she sipped her hot tea with lemon, she noticed the people walking on sidewalks, leaving their marks on the world in the form of snowy footprints. Some children ran, occasionally throwing half made snowballs at each other in quick attempts to throw more than the others.
She looked up over the building roofs, with their air vents bellowing warm steam into the frigid air. The clouds on the horizon showed that more snow was coming. They were heavy, more grey than white.
Looking down again, she saw a police car with their lights on but driving slow. Behind it was two military Humvee’s. They were keeping pace with the cop car. They stopped near the entrance of her building and just sat there. Nobody got out. She decided it was nothing to worry about. There were too many other things that occupied her mind at the moment.
She stood up from her chair next to her desk that overlooked the city below and put her empty glass in the sink. She would get it later. Now was not the time to worry about such things.
The clock on the wall said it was almost time to link in. Mindy had dreaded this for weeks when she heard that she needed to be involved. It was hard for her to think about what had happened a year ago. Since then, Christmas never felt the same and may never will. But she felt obligated. She knew that no matter how hard it was to think about, to deal with, she was going to do it hell or high water. Or deep snow, for that matter.
Mindy went to her bedroom and put on her best shirt and applied make-up. She wanted to look like she had it together. She wanted to look like things weren’t weighing heavy on her mind. Even though, they were.
She walked back to her desk, checking her reflection in the mirror. Her make-up was light and she wore her best blouse but she still wore her pajama bottoms. They were the same kind that Max had worn that day almost a year ago. She sat down in her chair and opened her laptop. She clicked to her e-mail and found the correct one. On the message from the lawyer was a link for her to click on. Doing that, she waited for it to cycle through. A window popped up asking her to allow the website to access her camera. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When she exhaled, she opened them again and clicked YES.
The window flashed and she heard a chiming through her speakers. Sudden, on the other side of the country, someone picked up. An image appeared and an older man was looking at her.
“Can you hear me? I’ll never get used to these things.” A man in a dark suit and a red tie said a little too loudly through her speakers.
“I do, very well,” Mindy said, showing a smile that felt odd on her face. “How are you, Mr. LaFond?”
She could see Mr. LaFond moving his hands around his computer. She guessed he was turning it up.
“Oh, there we go. Yes. I’m fine Ms. Fulghum. I heard it’s snowing there.” He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. Maybe staring at the screen was hurting them.
“Oh, yes. The world is white here and more on the way.”
Mr. LaFond focused on some paperwork next to him. “Sorry to hear that.”
Mindy smiled. “I actually love the snow.”
“Oh, that’s good”, he said, very distracted.
All of a sudden, he raised his finger to the camera. “Hold on a minute. I have another call coming in. One of the others, I suppose.”
He clicked a key and in a small square in the corner of Mindy’s screen, Olivia appeared. She looked just like she did a year ago except her hair was longer. She was wearing it up in a ponytail but had taken the effort to put on make-up, too. Mindy wondered if she was wearing pajama bottoms, just like her.
“Good morning, Ms. Holmes. Ms. Fulghum is already here with us.” Mr. LaFond unnecessarily pointed at the screen.
Olivia’s face lit up. Her smile was one of excitement. Maybe it was relief that she didn’t have to do this alone.
“Mindy! I’m so glad to see you, even if it’s over the computer. How are you?”
Mindy nodded and smiled herself. She didn’t think she would feel happy at all about any of this, the mystery of this whole thing, but she was probably feeling the same thing Olivia must be feeling, to not facing this alone.
“I’m great. I’ve just been working. How are you?”
Olivia smiled changed some. It wasn’t as large as it had been a second ago. There seemed to be some pain.
“Oh, I’m fine. Just living life. It’s all one day at a time.” Her smile came back. “I watched The Today Show this morning. It’s snowing a lot there, huh?”
Mindy nodded. “It seems I can’t get away from it.”
Through the screen, they shared a secret knowledge, a memory of a year ago. Olivia looked at her and acknowledged that she felt the same thing.
“Me, too, Mindy. Me, too.”
They stayed quiet for a few seconds until Mr. LaFond interrupted the silence.
“I think we have Mr. Gilmour and Ms. Flowers calling in at the same time. Hold on.”
Two key clicks from him and two more boxes appeared on Mindy’s screen. In those boxes were Monty and Abigale. She smiled but looked unsure, her hair shorter than it was a year ago, colored a pinkish shade. A few more lines showed in the corners of her mouth and her eyes but her eyes were bright, though still unsure and it showed. Monty, on the other hand, looked haggard. He had grown a beard that looked unkempt and his hair was longer. He tried to smile but it died on his face after a minute or two. It seemed too hard to try.
Olivia spoke up. “You alright, Monty? You look like you’ve been put through the wringer.”
He sighed. “Miami has not been good for me.”
They all said little things, just making small talk. For some reason, it all felt too hard to do so.
Mr. LaFond interrupted the uncomfortable interaction with a small but loud throat clearing. They all stopped trying to think of things to say at the sound. Mindy was thankful. She felt she had exhausted her chit chat and really didn’t feel like talking anymore, especially over a video conference call. Maybe it would have been better if they were sitting in the same room. She had no doubt the others were feeling the same way.
Mr. LaFond shuffled the papers again, looking at each one as he spoke.
“Thank you all for calling in. They do call it ‘calling’, right? Never mind. But thank you for doing so.” He cleared his throat once more. “Sorry. Now, it’s been a year since Mr. Maxwell Louis passed and his last will and testament have been read. “
On the screen, everyone in their boxes was nodding their heads. Even Mindy was nodding right along with them. This past January, they all sat in an office in downtown Nashville, where Max had been living and the will had been read. Not by Mr. LaFond but by a woman who had been Max’s lawyer for over twenty years. She had seemed eloquent and sorrowful while the will had been read. She had even excused herself once to leave the room. She had come back with a fistful of tissues, red eyes, and tears drying on her cheeks.
In the will, the things that had been given to them on Christmas Eve by Max had been there in black and white and basically set in stone. And there were other gifts from him. Olivia had received a home just outside of Los Angeles and money to maintain it. Max wanted her to pursue an acting and dancing career. As far as Mindy knew, she was still working on it.
Abigale had been given a home in Seattle, not to mention the home in Japan. And he left her a few million dollars to keep her comfortable. Abigale tried to keep a stiff upper lip through the reading but that had sent her over the waterfalls. She broke down. The lawyer gave her some of her tissues.
Max had left Monty more than just the cars but a house in Miami with a huge garage to keep them in. Max knew he loved the sun and the ocean. The house was right off the beach where the sun came in the front in the mornings and sat stretched out over the ocean into his backyard. A large sum of money was also left with a strict stipulation that he invested it wisely and didn’t use it for anything other than making a good life for himself. Mindy wasn’t sure if he was heeding Max’s request based on his appearance.
As for her, Max had given her this apartment looking out over the park and enough money to keep her happy for the rest of her life. Even though she had millions at her disposal, she had remembered what Max had asked, not just of Monty, but of all of them, to live comfortably. She had listened and done so. But she had got involved with a local hospital and with her experience, started to work as a physical therapist. Some had questioned her why someone with so much money would use her time like that. She had simply told them that her time was precious and she wanted to do precious things with it. Most didn’t understand. She knew Max would.
Mr. LaFond continued. “Now, there was another piece to the will that was not read due to the wishes of Mr. Louis. It was not to be read until a year from his death, which happens to be Christmas, being today.”
Mindy’s eyes looked at the others and they seemed to look right back at her. They were all nervous and anxious. It wasn’t fear. They had nothing to be fearful of. Max had cared about them, had loved them. He had thought of them as family. But still, something didn’t feel right. Something made them want to shut off their computers and hide.
They wouldn’t, though, even if they could. They were in this together, like it or not.
Mr. LaFond reached for something on his desk. He lifted it up and showed them that it was a flash drive. They watched them insert it into his computer, causing the screen to sudden turn toward his left as his laptop shifted. He righted it back and spoke.
“On this flash drive is a video that was made by Mr. Louis himself. It was made on December 24th of last year…”
Mindy thought about that and realized it was made a day after getting on the plane to Aspen. She had thought a lot about the whole thing in the past year. She knew that he had planned the whole thing but it still shocked her.
And it still shocked her knowing what he could do. And what he did with it.
“… and he wanted me to play it for you four. In case you are wondering, I had explicit instructions not to watch this video until this morning. Then I was to show the four of you. Other than that, no one else has seen this video. It has been sitting in my private safe for the past year per Mr. Louis’ details.” He seemed to look at each one of them by just moving his eyes slightly. They fell on Mindy’s last.
“Are you ready?”
It took them all a moment but they all nodded or said yes.
“Once the video plays, it will be the end of this call. More information will come to you in a few minutes.”
Mindy thought, ‘What did that mean?’
Before she could ask him that out loud, Mr. LaFond clicked another key and he disappeared along with the view of his office behind him and a black screen appeared. The three boxes that held Olivia, Abigale, and Monty were still there. They were all going to watch it together.
The black disappeared and the face of Maxwell Louis suddenly appeared. It was as if he had been listening to the whole thing and decided to jump out at them as a surprise like the whole thing had been a practical joke.
But, of course, it wasn’t.
Mindy wished it had been.
They watched Max shoot the side of his face for a second before it settled on it. He smiled and looked into the camera.
“Hey guys,” he started out. She noticed that he was sitting in the cabin. She suddenly got a chill running up her back.
“Guess where I am?” He paused for a second as if they were answering him. He grinned. “That’s right. I’m at the cabin, talking to you from the past. And where are you?” He paused again, still grinning. “You’re actually in two places at once. You’re there,” pointing to them through the phone video. “And you’re there.” He turned the phone around to look through the window. They all saw themselves playing in the snow.
Mr. LaFond looked up at the two armed soldiers that stood near the door. They nodded to him. He gathered up his papers and grabbed a framed picture of his wife and children. The room itself was bare except for what was on the desk.
He pushed his chair in, not knowing why. Habit, he thought and headed to the door. One of the soldiers opened the door for him and the other lead the way with Mr. LaFond right behind. The soldier that opened the door, turned to look at the computer still on the desk. He heard Mr. Louis speaking from the video file. He thought about setting a charge on a timer so that it would blow in an hour, way past the video’s run time.
But he thought twice. It wasn’t in the orders and soon, it wouldn’t matter anyway.
He shut the door behind him, leaving the empty room and Max speaking from the dead to the others on the other side of the screen.
Mindy watched the video as she saw herself throwing snow at Monty and getting hit from a snowball from behind by Abigale. She smiled to herself and could see Olivia and Abigail smiling in their little video boxes at the same thing, remembering. Only Monty looked on without showing any emotion. He even looked gaunt, something she hadn’t noticed before.
The phone turned back around, showing Max again. Tears glistened in his eyes. He continued to look past the phone and out of the window. “I really wished I could have joined you out there. I wish I had the strength to throw a snowball or two.” He looked into the camera. “Maybe even taking you down in the snow and kissing you, Mindy.”
She blushed at this. Not from embarrassment but she had wished he could have, too. The three friends looked at her. Olivia nodded.
“But, I can’t. Or should I say I couldn’t? I need to speak in the past tense since you’re seeing this in the future. It’s odd when you think about it. But we don’t have time to do that.”
His smile disappeared and he narrowed his gaze directly into the camera. It felt like he was really there, just on the other side of the phone. And that gave her pause. She suddenly had an alarm ring out in the back of her mind. And she thought about that police car and the military vehicles.
“It’s time to tell you another story. It will make what I have to tell you after that a bit easier. Prepare yourselves.” He took a deep breath and looked past the camera again. Mindy was pretty sure to check where we (they) were in the snow, making sure we (they) weren’t heading back in. Mindy knew they had been out in the snow for almost thirty minutes. Max would have another good twenty minutes or more to say what he needed to say.
He looked back into the camera, looking comfortable he had enough time. “A few years ago… Or I should say ‘a few years ago’ in your time, I thought I would give myself a tour of the White House, the Capitol Building and, just for fun, The Pentagon. I sat in the President’s chair as he stood looking out the window to the garden, almost like how I’m looking out the window to you right now.” He did, just to prove it. “On my self guided tour, I saw a lot of things, things that would have made me billions of dollars from foreign countries. I saw two well-known married people in a side room, right off of the main hall that was engaged in a particular sexual position.”
Max’s face became stone then. The age in his face disappeared and they saw the man he once was. Fear had caused it.
“But I saw some paperwork on the President’s desk that scared me. I spent two hours of my time reading it from front to back. When I finished, I knew I was blessed or lucky or both that I chose that day to invite myself in. I believe things happen for a reason, at least, a lot of things. I felt this proved it.” Max suddenly blurted out. “The world is in a lot of trouble.”
Mindy felt that chill again. Her head suddenly felt hot and she felt slightly light-headed. She wasn’t sure how the others felt but they looked both confused and nervous.
“The paperwork I saw was more than top secret. It had said that the leaders of other countries had the same paperwork. In it, it explained how a worldwide plan had to be put together and working by New Years of next year. Or I should be saying this year, the year you are hearing this.”
Max rubbed his mouth and pushed back his white hair from his forehead. “Two years from this moment that I’m recording this, a little more than a year you are hearing this, an asteroid will find its way through space and strike the Earth. “
Mindy held her breath. What did he just say? Did she hear what she thought she heard? She looked at the other three faces and they looked just as shocked as she must have looked.
Mindy almost thought about asking a question, asking a question to a man that she had loved (still loves) a question, even though she knew he really wasn’t there. She just stared with her mouth open.
Max continued. “Do you remember that movie Deep Impact? The one with Tea Leoni? That’s what is going to happen. Well, mostly. The trajectory is showing that the asteroid should give our planet a glancing blow. But it will be enough to cause major damage. It’s projected to hit Brazil and plow all the way across the middle of South America and into the Pacific Ocean. It may even reach the Hawaiian Islands. Since the information is saying that it won’t hit a downward direct strike, there won’t be a global extinction event.” Max looked again past the camera and out the window. Feeling safe for the moment, he looked back at them. “But tens of millions will die regardless. And it will affect the weather worldwide. Calculations show that dust will rise into the atmosphere and circle the Earth for over two years. Crops will die, animals will die due to lack of sunlight in crop-growing regions of the world.
“And just like the movie, governments around the world have built places for citizens of the countries to go. In the United States, it just happens to be in Colorado. Not too far from where I sit, not too far from where you guys play in the snow. As a matter of fact, when you find me tomorrow on a certain log, I will be looking in the direction you will be going.”
Mindy gasped and started to cry. He knew. He had planned how he was going to die. He looked at Olivia and she was crying, as was Abigail. And finally, Mindy saw Monty showing emotion. His eyes were wide and his mouth was partly open.
“A limited amount of people are allowed into the safe haven. I have made sure that you four will have space there. When this video is over, you will have some time to gather your things. There will be some soldiers coming to pick you and take you to your airports for a flight to Colorado. Or I should say, fly back to Colorado.”
Max paused and glanced out the window again. He let out a breath and turned his attention back to the phone.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I wanted you to spend the next year getting on with your lives. Maybe finding some happiness with fewer worries.” He turned the camera phone back around to the window. They could see themselves trying to make a snowman in the powdery snow. “I wanted you all to have more of this in your lives.” He turned it back around and he had tears in his eyes. “I wanted you to be happy until the time came…” He paused. “Until now.”
He wiped his eyes and got serious again. “You’ll have what you need in the safe haven, food, water, clothes, your own rooms… Take things you care about. Maybe take a few books or pictures. Take things you can’t live without. Leave the rest. I hope it will all still be there after the worst is over. Maybe in the next five to ten years, everyone who’s left can go on living a somewhat normal life. Especially you four.”
Max looked back out the window again and stiffened. “Looks like playtime in the snow is over.” He smiled fondly. “I love you four. And Mindy? I’m in love with you. I always have been since I met you. When I go, I’ll be taking you in my heart to wherever I go. Remember that. And stay safe.”
And with that, Max turned off the camera. The screen on her computer went black. Just before it did, he saw the faces of Olivia, Abigail, and Monty for a split second before they disappeared. Mindy sat there, looking at the screen, not sure on if it would come back up. Tears rolled down her face. She thought that she might burst out crying completely until there was a loud knock on her door. It took her a moment to understand what was going on. She slowly got out of the chair and walked to the door. She didn’t even look through the peephole before she opened it. On the other side of the threshold were three soldiers, two of them had weapons pointed down to the floor. The man that knocked had no weapon in his hand. He was speaking but she didn’t hear.
“What?” Mindy asked him.
“Ma’am. You need to gather your things. We have a plane waiting at LaGuardia. You have thirty minutes, ma’am.”
She stared at him for a few seconds. But before he could repeat what he had said, she nodded. Then she backed up and slowly closed the door on him.
Mindy looked around the apartment. Her thoughts were slow in coming and hard to process. She wanted to take it all, and none of it. She didn’t want to go. And she didn’t want to die, at the same time. She thought if she stayed, she might be fine from the asteroid but then thought about what would come after. The darkness, the blight, the chaos with those that stayed. She wouldn’t be safe.
And the others would be there. She wouldn’t be in this safe haven all by herself. And maybe she could be helpful. She was still a nurse. She would be needed.
She blinked hard and took a deep breath. She had to get moving. Mindy went to her bedroom and packed what she thought she might want to see every day. She took pictures and her favorite books. She grabbed her pillow from her bed. And she changed out of the pajama bottoms into some cargo pants and her favorite sneakers.
And lastly, she packed a picture of her and Max. It was taken when a few months after she had started taking care of him. It had been taken on a day in Nashville at the Parthenon. She had walked with him on that early fall day with her arm wrapped around his. A day he had looked at her and told her he loved spending time with her. She could tell he wanted to say more but didn’t. He had asked a woman that was standing with her husband or boyfriend if she would take a picture of them. Max handed her the same phone he used to send that video. He later had it framed and gave it to Mindy. She loved it. She loved him.
He had held this secret, along with many others, even then.
And he had saved her life.
She grabbed her packed bag and went into the living room. Before she headed to the door, she looked at the clock. It had been less than thirty minutes since she had thought about what she was going to do with her day after the internet call. As she watched the clock, the second hand smoothly glided around the face, passing by the hands. She suddenly had an extreme hatred for that clock. Without thinking, she rushed over and grabbed it from the wall. She then slammed it on the floor where the glass cover shattered and clock pieces came flying out of the timing mechanism. Mindy looked down on it like it was roadkill.
After taking this in and memorizing what she saw, she headed for the door. Before she opened it, she saw the glass in the sink she had left from her tea from this morning. She wondered if it would still be there when she got back. If she got back.
“Fuck it. I’ll wash it then.”
Mindy put on her coat, grabbed her bag, and opened the door. The soldier asked her if she was ready and she told him she was. She shut the door without looking back.
Outside the window, the snow had stopped for the time being. Unexpecting people were still walking about in the New York City snow in the park. They didn’t know a bigger storm was heading their way and an even bigger problem.
Inside Mindy’s apartment, the time had stopped forever.