The Weeping Man
By Kenneth James Crist
Out of time
Calvin Wallace was an inventor.
Over the time he’d been
inventing, since he was about ten, he’d come up with thousands of ideas, most
of which, when he did some research, had already been thought of by someone
But, every once in a while,
his fertile imagination would
come up with a gem—a can-opener that left no sharp edges, a snap-on device that
fit on a pop can and kept that half-can of soda from going flat, a
hook-and-loop fastener that took seven times as much force to pull apart as to
press together. He even invented a better pleasure device for women—yup, a
better vibrator, with a more subtle pulse and longer battery life. Selling the
patent rights to these and other devices had made him somewhere between damned
comfortable and moderately wealthy.
On a Wednesday in April
of 2015, he made the ultimate
breakthrough he’d been seeking for thirteen years. He perfected the first time
displacement device. It was not the stuff of science fiction (a booth
controlled by six computers and super-cooled with liquid nitrogen, or anything
like that); modern-day micro circuits had enabled him to build the whole thing
into the case from a garage door opener. There were two small metal pips on the
outside that had to be in contact with one’s skin, and then, with the push of a
button, you were off on a great adventure.
At least, that was the theory.
And the math equations bore
out his idea, in fact showing that it wasn’t just possible to displace oneself
in time, but that whenever he got up enough nerve, it would be mandatory that
he would bump out of his
present time. He knew he could not travel into the future. Everything pointed
to a dead end in that direction—in short, you couldn’t go forward to where
something hadn’t happened yet. But
you could go back. And that was what
Cal Wallace was determined to do.
At 9:41 on the morning of
April 22nd, he fed his
cat Molly, told her goodbye as she consumed her gluey feast, and sat down in a
chair at his kitchen table. He pressed the two metal bumps on the device to the
skin on his wrist and pressed the button. His ears popped and the cat
disappeared. And suddenly, there was the most profound silence he’d ever heard.
He carefully got up and
walked around the house, noting in
his scientific-inventor way that the clocks had all stopped, that the motor on
the refrigerator was not running and neither was the air conditioner. He went
to the front door and stepped outside into the suburban street and saw
everything he’d always seen before, with one basic difference: nothing moved.
There was no traffic visible, even though he could hear the sounds of traffic.
There were no pedestrians, but from the freeway, less than a mile distant, he
could hear the usual morning traffic roar. Overhead, no planes cut through the
sky, even though his house was near the flight path for Teterboro Airport.
There were also no birds, flying, sitting, or shitting on his car, although he
could faintly hear birds.
“Well, fuck me!”
he said, and slowly sat down on the glider
to think this over.
He was still sitting and
thinking about what might have
gone wrong, when he heard at last the roar of an outbound airliner, and jumped
up and ran out onto the front lawn to observe it. But, even though the sky was
clear, he could see no aircraft. And somehow the fading roar of its engines
sounded subtly wrong. It didn’t sound sharp enough, for one thing. The sound
had sort of an echoing quality, as if it came from down in a well, rather than
from the sky.
“Okay,” he said
aloud, “time to go figure this shit out.”
He soon found that the garage door opener wouldn’t run, so he pulled the escape
lanyard and raised the door manually. He got in his Prius and hit the key.
Nothing. The car showed no power at all. He tinkered with it for a while, then
gave up and got out his bicycle. He put on his helmet and gloves and the clip
he used to keep his pants out of the chain and pedaled off toward the city.
As soon as he hit one of
the main streets, things started
to get stranger. He could hear cars passing by, but they were not there. He
could even feel some air movement after they passed him, but not the solid whoosh
he would expect with most
drivers, who never seemed to move over far enough for bicyclists.
He heard dogs barking, again
faintly and fading away, and
he heard echoes of sirens and horns bouncing off buildings. When he got to his
favorite breakfast stop, things got freakier.
He parked his bike in the
rack in front of the Little Red
Hen and locked it up, as always. He walked inside to the smell of bacon and
coffee and observed that the place was completely empty of people, yet there
were some residual sounds. He could hear the clatter of silverware and, once in
a while, a snippet of laughter.
There were plates of food
on tables and at the counter, and,
as he watched carefully, he could see food disappearing and the liquid levels
in water and juice glasses getting lower and lower. Over here, a plate suddenly
appeared on the pass-through from the grill. Over there a coffee cup suddenly
was full that had, a moment before, been empty.
Now he found himself in
an experimental mood. He stepped
carefully behind the counter and waited until a plate appeared with an omelet
and toast. He grabbed it and quickly walked over to an empty table, grabbed
some silverware and began to eat. He was almost finished when the plate
abruptly disappeared. Evidently the kid who bussed tables had snatched it away.
Cal realized he had just
stolen breakfast and that it would
do no good to leave money behind. He was slowly figuring out that he had not
travelled in time for much distance at all. In fact, he was mere seconds behind
the reality he had always known. Everything in the world that was in stasis,
such as buildings, trees, and the very Earth itself remained, while everything
that lived and moved was just a few seconds ahead of him, out of phase, so to
His was now a world unpopulated,
a world where he could do
whatever he wanted, take whatever he wished, act as crazy as a loon and no one
would ever know.
He briefly thought about
stealing someone’s keys and taking
their car, but then he remembered that his own car wouldn’t run, so he decided
the bicycle was probably better. In a few minutes, he was headed downtown and
over toward the harbor. The streets were empty of traffic, even though he could
feel the air from passing cars. It made no difference if he rode in the middle
of the street. He was invulnerable because everything in the real world was
just a second or so ahead and nothing ever hit him.
At the waterfront he had
a couple of freaky moments. He
could faintly hear seagulls and he saw the wake of a ferryboat crossing the
harbor, but not the boat itself. He could smell diesel exhaust and the
lingering odors of fish and he knew there was activity all around, but he could
not be a part of the hustle and bustle of the seaport. He was as isolated as if
he were in solitary confinement.
His mood began to darken
and he started for home. In
another block, the street was suddenly wet and he could smell rain, but none
fell on or around him. It had already rained wherever he went.
Arriving back home, he mooned
around the house for a while,
mulling over his problem. He thought about Molly and realized that until this
problem resolved itself, he would never be able to feed her. She would starve
unless he just opened the house and allowed her to go about the neighborhood,
getting food wherever she could find it. Once this problem became apparent, he
propped open both the front and back doors so she could come in and out at
Then, he thought about it
and realized propping open the
doors would do her no good. She would always be that second or so ahead of the
opened door. For her the doors would always be closed. He remembered the broken
basement window he’d never gotten around to fixing. Cats were pretty damn
smart. She’d probably find her way out when she got hungry enough.
He found his time displacement
device sitting where he’d
left it on the kitchen table and he decided it was time to try and reverse the
effect. He was considering the experiment a failure now and knew it was time to
He had built the device
simply enough; all he had to do was
flip a toggle switch the other way and press the device to his wrist again and
push the button. When he did this, of course, it did not work. Just as he had
determined he would never be able to travel into a future that did not exist
yet, he found he could not travel ahead, even just a second or so to get back
in phase with the real world.
He sat down on the porch
again, stared out at his now-empty
world, and said quietly to himself, “Well, Cal, now you are well and truly hosed.”
“Well, old buddy,
ya better get yer lazy ass up and face
another day.” In the last seven months, Calvin had taken more and more to
talking to himself…and answering. In fact, he was pretty good at doing voices
and had created a whole set of people and surrounded himself with company.
Trouble was, they were all just him. But, at any rate, he didn’t need to worry
about people calling him crazy. He was utterly alone.
“Yeah, I know. That
goddamn yard needs to be cut, and using
a push mower really sucks. But I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been.”
His routine now included
biking to the grocery store and
helping himself to whatever he needed. The milk was always fresh, as was the
meat and produce. For the first couple of weeks, he’d kept scrupulous track of
every penny he owed the stores. His checks were still coming in the mail, but
of course there was no way to cash them. Finally one day, he caught sight of
himself in the store windows at the empty mall and realized he had turned into
the equivalent of a street bum. He looked like shit, and it wasn’t likely to
get better. After that, he decided the hell with it.
Eventually, he got tired
of sitting around home day after
day and packed the panniers of his bike and loaded a backpack. He didn’t bother
to lock the house. The cat had not died—at least, not in the house. He knew
this because if she had died, her remains would have showed up.
For the next eleven months,
Calvin travelled. He never saw
anyone else. He was never rained on, though he rode on rain-wet streets.
Sometimes he even heard rumbles of thunder, but never saw a lightning bolt. The
highways, teeming with high-speed traffic, were empty to him, so he rode right
down the middle of the road. God-damn
He was beginning to blame
God, or Fate, or Karma for his
predicament, totally ignoring the fact the he and he alone had put himself here
by dicking around with time displacement. Somehow, it just didn’t seem fair
that he should suffer just because he had bumped himself back a few seconds.
At the end of two years,
he found himself back home. The
place had definitely gone to shit and the squatters and druggies had been there.
It was pretty well trashed and he could do nothing about it. They could be
living in his house just a second or so ahead of him and he had no way of
The time displacement device,
which he had left on the
table, was still right where he’d left it. It was half buried under piles of
old mail and drug paraphernalia.
He walked out of the house
and headed back downtown. This
time he walked. He would not be back, not in this lifetime.
Scientists and astronomers
tell us that the Earth slows in
its rotation about one second every eighteen months. Eventually “leap seconds”
become “leap minutes” and, when enough time has gone by, we get a calendar
adjustment. It takes many, many years.
On a lazy afternoon, thirty-seven
months after Calvin
Wallace had apparently disappeared off the face of the Earth, Officers Ron
Espinoza and his partner Davey Carter were parked in their black-and-white near
Hickory and 27th Parkway, watching a couple gang bangers on the
opposite corner. The kids were well aware of the officers and they wouldn’t be
doing anything until “five-oh” decided to leave or got a call.
From the incessant chatter
on the radio, Ron and Davey
heard: “Units in the four-one-three and any supervisor, report of a man sitting
on a park bench at twenty-fourth and Cleveland. Caller was hysterical. Stated
he appeared out of nowhere. I still have her on the line and she says she’ll
stand by for officers.”
Davey picked up the mike
and acknowledged the call as Ron
swung the car into traffic.
“Units in the four-one-three,
caller now states the man is
screaming and weeping uncontrollably. Possible mental case…approach with
caution. I’m rolling EMS to your call…any supervisor, go ahead…”
Miles away, Molly the cat
stretched and yawned, then
settled herself into the corner of her new owner’s sofa. She had no memory of
Calvin Wallace and the tough times after he went away. She had love and food
and security. Her world was on time and complete.
Kenneth James Crist, email@example.com, www.blackpetals.net, of Wichita, Kansas, wrote “The Weeping
Man” for BP #72 (+ “Pebbles” for BP #71,
“The Diner” for BP #67, “New Glasses” for BP #61, “Ones and Zeros” for BP #50,
the novelette Joshua) and has edited
BP for many years, continuing as Editor Emeritus, then Coeditor/Webmaster. Widely
published, esp. in Hardboiled and on Yellow
Mama, he also has four chapbooks currently for sale in Kindle
format on Amazon.com: Dreaming of
Mirages, The Gazing Ball, Joshua and Groaning
for Burial, his latest zombie fiction.