I stumbled as my feet scuffed against the irregular surface of gravel instead of the smooth, wood decking I’d expected. Confused, I looked around. I was standing in the park by the waterfront, staring across the river at the same expansive view of industrial buildings I’d always seen from my favored bench. What happened to the entryway to my apartment? To the covered hallway that led down battered steps to the courtyard?
I turned back to the door. It stood on the lawn behind me, shimmering like a hologram projecting out of the grass, the cityscape vaguely visible through its translucent flickering.
“Yeah, that’s not weird at all,” I grumbled, turning away from the disembodied door to my apartment. Its presence confirmed what I’d already suspected — the memory was disjointed, jumping through the timeline. I’d skipped the two mile walk to get here. Why?
Derek-Past was already seated on the bench, his back to me, sketching away. I approached him slowly, eyeing every aspect of his posture, the bench, his shoes. I circled him like a vulture for several minutes before deciding there was nothing to be gleaned from him. I still couldn’t gain his attention, no matter what I tried.
The sketch was nearly finished to the level it had been before I’d been interrupted; the confrontation with the homeless woman was imminent. I scanned the park, searching for her signature drab clothing. Maybe, since I couldn’t reach him, I could reach her. But there were only the same park patrons I’d seen the first time.
And then suddenly, there she was, leaning against the nearby tree with her arms crossed, glaring at Derek-Past like a predator sighting dinner. Where had she come from? It was like she’d stepped from the tree itself, appearing out of thin air.
I shook off my unease and made my way over to her, bracing myself for the smell I knew would assault me. But oddly, there was no odor wafting from her. All I could smell was the earthy, wet scent of the tree.
Stopping squarely in front of her, I could tell she couldn’t see me either. Her eerie, green eyes never left Derek-Past, piercing through me in a way that immediately skewered my hopes of interacting with her. Sighing, I gave a half-hearted wave in front of her face, but, as expected, there was no response.
Abruptly, she dropped her arms to her sides and shuffled forward, stepping right into me. I shuddered as she walked through me, my skin tingling and crawling like I was covered in spiders. I felt myself congeal again as she moved beyond me and danced in an overzealous outburst of revulsion, patting my body to confirm that it was once again mine. Was this my life now? If so, it was going to get really old really fast.
Disgusted, I turned around to observe the confrontation. It was now blatantly obvious that I wouldn’t be able to do anything to prevent the repetition. So instead, I focused on watching for clues about how she’d cursed me.
I listened as the argument started. Their voices had a strange echo underlying the dialogue, like a movie soundtrack piping in a few seconds behind the main track. Distracted, I briefly scanned the sky, just to make sure there weren’t disembodied speakers floating above me, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. Forcing myself to ignore the echo, I focused on the confrontation as things grew more heated.
So far, everything was playing out exactly as it had originally. There was still no sign of the cement, no clue as to how she’d turned me to stone. I crept closer, unsure why I felt the need to play ninja when no one could see me, and waited. There had to be something I wasn’t seeing that would restore my life and make all of this go away.
Derek-Past stood, anger and disgust etched on his face. This was when the confrontation had gone from irritating to downright strange. I scooted closer. Whatever I’d missed the first time had to be here. I was sure of it.
As Derek-Past looked away, shoving the sketchbook angrily into his half-zipped jacket, I studied the homeless woman, and saw clearly what I only vaguely remembered seeing originally — the flash of something metallic glinting off her chest.
I moved closer as she raised her hands to prevent Derek-Past from leaving, careful to avoid her touch and a repeat of the disconcerting sensation from earlier. I was standing directly in front of her again, my back to my past self, searching for the source of the flash.
I heard the same cryptic line about losing one’s self as she fished in the layers of clothing around her neck. Her hand seemed to slow as she grabbed whatever she was reaching for. At first, I thought it was just the adrenaline coursing through me, but a quick glance around showed that it was indeed the memory itself. The other park patrons were barely moving, joggers were suspended mid-stride, dogs paused mid-leap, straining to continue against the weird morphing of time.
I watched as the homeless woman pulled the ugly pendant from the folds of her ragged clothing. All motion ceased, awarding me a clear view of the thing before it would have been enclosed in her hand, before she started chanting.
I scanned the surrounding area; everything was still. Frozen. Had God pushed pause on the remote, or what?
Trying to ignore the growing feeling that I was being toyed with, I inched as close as I dared to the homeless woman, peering warily down at the pendant held in her outstretched hand, as if it might suddenly leap from her palm and bite me. It was still the same funky mess of tarnished wire it had always been, an empty vial wrapped within the blackened coils. I didn’t understand.
Frustrated, I turned away from her. Throwing my hands up, I yelled at the sky, “What? What am I supposed to see here? I don’t get it!”
And then, suddenly I did. An image flashed in my mind, a fragment of a memory from nearly fifteen years ago — a pendant, silver wire twisted around a vial of shimmering white glitter, lying on a nightstand.
It couldn’t be.
I turned back to the homeless woman, staring down at the pendant she held out to me like a peace offering. It was so obvious! I couldn’t believe I’d missed it. It was the same pendant. Battered and worse for wear, but definitely the same.
Suddenly, everything around me shuddered, the images fracturing like glass. I watched in shock as the homeless woman disintegrated before me, fragments falling to the ground in a shiny cascade. I stumbled backward, crashing into Derek-Past, feeling the shards of him rain down through my flesh with that same creepy tingle. I turned and started to run, the world around me splintering and cracking, Portland disappearing in a cascade of shimmering dust. The void was growing rapidly, black swallowing everything in a tidal wave. I knew I couldn’t outrun it, but I tried anyway.
Panting, I watched the ground beneath me fall away. Screaming, I followed, sliding into the abyss.