Listen up, Slick. Maybe you are accustomed to hanging out with imbeciles, but I’ve got a degree in literature and a fat measure of life experience to back-up the sheepskin. It’s not like I’m some granddaughter of Franz Kafka either, and I’m certainly not a reincarnation of his cockroach-boy. I’m a serious woman talking to you and I’m in a desperate state, so I hope you’ve the sense to surmise my need for a real solution to a real problem.

I trust you’ll appreciate my need for expediency here because this thing is breathing down my neck. It’s like a cop on a felon. A marlin on a tuna. A hummer on a salvia… Point being, I need to figure out a course of action, and I need to do it soon because time is deserting me.

* * *

Though I may speak of time, this is not some jive yarn about time travel. This is more like time transpiration, or maybe memory vaporization is a better term. At first glance, you might conclude my troubles with time seem banal; but unless you’re some chucklehead, you’ll soon comprehend why I mentioned Kafka and why I’m going to start capitalizing Time.

In case your imagination is running a little slow today, let me spell it out for you. Suppose you engage in some humdrum enterprise occupying a specific interval of Time. A few minutes later, your internal clock erases the sector of your Timeline previously occupied by the aforementioned humdrummery. After a few more heartbeats, an equally astonishing thing occurs: the vanished Time reappears as a matching interval of unused hours and minutes ready to be filled with another activity. You can still see the tangible results of your boring activities: the leaves are blown and bagged, the car’s gas tank is filled, your muscles ache… but the minutes previously occupied by the boring stuff have been replaced with an equal amount of brand spanking new, unused Time. And you have no control over any of this.

* * *

Still with me, Buttercup? Okay, let’s go back a year to when this Time thing first set my nerves a-quivering, I thought it might be a symptom of dementia or early onset something-or-other. I went to my doctor. She ran a battery of tests, and though she found nothing amiss, neither could she explain what spell had turned my Time so f’n evanescent.

I left the doc’s office without an explanation, but our talk started me on a rampage to discover what the hell was happening to my Time.

With curiosity brimming, I fired up a mad plan for unfettered inquiry. You’re correct if you’ve guessed I was about to launch a serial Googling attack. This I did by entering all the relevant phrases I could think of, terms like ‘malevolent Time,’ ‘Time-stealing witches,’ and ‘trading minutes for small children.’ I pushed back from the screen and refilled my coffee cup. By the time I returned from the kitchenette, I saw my queries had already garnered a barrel of imaginative replies, but alas, though many were zany, most were irrelevant, and none referenced personal Time loss.

Continuing my online search, I found a promising YouTube infomercial offering spiritual counseling. After PayPaling the requested funds, I asked a dark-eyed, young sadhu calling himself Korla if those many-armed, azure deities featured in his presumed theological doctrine might be insinuating their mycelia-like fingers into my Timeline for their own selfish objectives. Though earnest, Korla’s response was rather defensive and, once again, avoided any mention of malevolent mucking about in people’s personal Timelines.

Disinclined to implicate witches or gods, I determined I would bring science to bear on my Time anomalies. I consulted scholarly articles in peer-reviewed journals. I talked to people more educated than myself. I perused Einstein and Feynman. With the calculus of waves and atomic particles spinning in my possibly porous head, I began to ponder the possibility that the temporal truancies plaguing me might be derived more from the crypto-dualities of quantum mechanics than from some supernatural hijinks. My Time drops were probably nothing other than Schrödinger’s slippery cat slurping up my quotidian minutes. I’ll bet when that dippy feline regurgitates my fur-balled moments, they’ll be good for something more exciting than humdrummery. Still there, Ace?

* * *

I first noticed these bewildering abridgements of my timeline during my walks to and from the gym. Within an hour of returning, all memory of my ho-hum walks and the tedious workout had faded, yet I felt tired and I could clearly see I’d been gone for ninety minutes. Just to be sure, I asked the attendant if I had missed any sessions lately. She gave me a funny look and said, “You be like clockwork. An hour a day, three times a week… and just look at you, girl! It’s obviously paying off!”

Pardon me for slipping in that disguised brag. And please don’t mistake this for one of those narcissistic screeds where some cutsey influencer describes how her personal coach or her green smoothies have restored the gleam of youthfulness to her countenance. The fact remains, Kiddo, when my family or friends look at my appearance, my physiology, or my DNA analysis, they all agree I don’t seem to be aging.

You might be a sharp cookie, but here’s something I bet you haven’t considered: these bizarre changes come with significant consequences. My incredulous children are worried about me. My alarmed partner frets I’ll find someone younger. My envious friends want to know what the heck I’m taking. My cynical lawyer thinks she smells a big case. This despite the fact none of them have heard of Feynman.

* * *

And still, I wonder what’s happening to my good ole, hitch-free Time. Errant witches and blue gods failed to get traction. Heavy science just confused me. I was just about to conclude I’d tried everything when the notion of introspection popped up. I’ve always loathed using such a blunt tool to poke around inside my head; never know what’s going to pop up, do we? Just the same, given my lack of progress with speculative and scientific approaches, I was compelled to mull the distasteful notion of looking within. Out of ideas, I arrived at the obvious, if a little tardy, conclusion: it was imperative I commence introspecting.

* * *

Maxing out on mindfulness, I was only a few steps into my first introspective trek when, to my befuddlement, I encountered something quite incomprehensible: for just a moment I thought I saw a pack of brainwave mice running for the shadows. Raising a figurative eyebrow, I knew I would never relate to a passel of mental voles scattering in the beam of my similarly figurative miner’s headlamp. Magnified mitochondria, perhaps, or even personified migraines, but seriously, tiny cerebral rodentia?

Whatever they were and are, they leave a vapor-like aura hanging in my brain. That foggy aura even has an aroma, a fish market kind of odor. Now, when my day turns boring or tedious, this lingering vapor goes kinetic, gets pushy, and crowds my head. Something akin to steam or smoke issues from my nose and ears and I gag on a smell like cod left too long unrefrigerated. Jostling like crabs on beach carrion, prehensile vapors snag my most recent pieces of humdrum Time–only loosely anchored to begin with–and reel them in for redaction.

You think I’m imagining things here? That I tend toward hysteria or paranoia? That I dreamed this up out of thin air? Well then, Missy, you’ve obviously failed to understand my pain… and my fear. Yes, fear. What if that dumbass conspiracy is true and someone did put nanobots in the vaccine? Wouldn’t you be alarmed to find you have microscopic Time saboteurs running around in your brain?

I apologize. That nanobot comment was asinine, and this glitch in my Timeline is too serious for frivolity.

Am I the only person for whom Time is a riven thing? The only being on the planet for whom Before gets spliced to After? Then perhaps my dilemma, in all its groping, worrisome seriousness, might conceal an advantage available only to me. If so, perhaps I should binge boring, bound-for-cancellation humdrummery, accumulate tons of new minutes and hours, and so doing, extend my Timeline indefinitely. It would be monumentally boring, but Time extension equals life extension, right? Maybe this thing can lead to immortality!

Then again, it could go the other way. What if my temporal chicanery starts setting its sights on more than mere humdrummery? What if it starts erasing all the good stuff on my Timeline? What if I become a blank? A mindless zombie? Would I… die?

From immortality to death in two paragraphs? I’m afraid this Time thing might lead to some aggressive expression of entropy like the simple, drastic, ultimate sensation of my sands running out.

So, do you think Time will tell?

W Goodwin is a writer and visual artist bound by blood and experience to salt water and directed by mixed genetics to explore uncommon places and themes. W graduated from UCLA (biology and English), traveled extensively, taught high school and university-level sciences, and is raising two excellent children.