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The In Between Place

Kat Day is a writer and science teacher living in Oxfordshire in the UK. She has written nonfiction articles for various publications and contributed a chapter to the book, The Secret Science of Superheroes. This story is her first piece of published fiction. You can read more of her work at thefictionphial.wordpress.com.

John and I bought Katie a domino run for her eighth birthday. She and I spent all morning setting it up, lines of colored tiles all around the house. When it was done we held hands and tapped the first one, and watched as they began to topple.
Without thinking, I murmur an apology as I slide around a man and walk through the gates set in lichen-covered stone. It's always been peaceful here, but now the silence is absolute. The only sounds are the hurricane of my breathing and the explosions of my feet on the gravel. The air is cold and thick. I have the unpleasant sensation of inhaling slush, and I fight the impulse to hold my breath.
I pass a woman with iron hair and golden skin. She is sitting on the grass next to the path, face upturned towards the horizon. She's the first person I've seen who wasn't running.
People think that time is like a river, and they're drifting along in it as though they're part of some sort of huge, cosmic water cycle. But time is not like that.
It's much more like Katie's dominoes.
My feet stop in front of two raised stones. My fingers reach out, but hover a millimeter from the surface of one of them. The dark, flecked granite reflects the strange light. There's a yew tree nearby. A magpie sits in the branches, its usually-twitchy eyes unnaturally still. One, for sorrow.
I take my time, collecting my thoughts and stacking them into neat piles. Putting them into boxes. I don't know how long I can exist in this space. John and I experimented, but we never found the limits. How could we, anyway? You can't measure something that isn't there to measure.
I consider staying put. I'll just sit here and see what happens. What is there to lose, anyway? I look towards the horizon where white light is frozen like a lens flare on a photograph, stare at it until blue spots dance in front of my eyes. It's nice here. No fear, no desperation. No screaming.
Yes, it's tempting to stay. But it's not right. The stones must be allowed to fall.
I rise and walk back along the gravel path, past the statue-like woman and out, through the gate and past the man. His legs are fixed in an almost balletic pose as he runs but does not move. Neither of his feet touches the ground.
I pick my way though motionless cars, grim-faced drivers clutching their steering wheels. Presumably they want to say goodbye, too. Perhaps some of them will make it.
I'm headed to my house, where the machine is. The machine that John and I built out of old car parts and dismantled computers. And when I reach it, I'll slip from this in-between place, and the seconds will start to fall again.
For a moment, I think I can feel small, warm fingers in mine.
"It's okay, Mum, we can build it again," whispers Katie.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, November 13th, 2017

Author Comments

Once upon a time, Before Children (BC), I used to attend a pottery class. The teacher's son was a physicist and, because she knew I was a scientist, she used to chat to me about his work. She told me he was carrying out research into the smallest units of time. The thought stuck with me. What if time isn't a smooth, flowing thing, but more a series of individual, frozen moments, like a film reel? And what if you could somehow find a way into one of those moments? After the series of unfortunate events that was 2016, I started to think it might be quite nice to stop everything and go to such a place, just for a little while. The rest, as they say, is story.

- Kat Day
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