3 AM

By James Heaton

She made it up the stairs carrying four bags of groceries. “Damn that elevator” she thought to herself. She couldn’t understand how the landlord could let it go for a week. Afterall there was an elderly lady, what was her name? Mrs. Cunningham in 2D that had a difficult time with the stairs. “What a piece of..” Never mind, she was at her door and there was no sense in worrying about that now.

She fumbled with her keys and unlocked her door; the cat was no where to be seen. Probably in the bedroom curled up on the comforter and looking out the window. Oh to live that cats life. Lay around all day and sun yourself, it surely beats having to write legal briefs for a sex crazed boss who, after several HR complaints, still insisted on calling all the females sweety and honey. She wished she could shove a stapler down his throat the next time he said, “Hey Honey can you file this for me.” It was the same thing every day but because he was a partner in the firm he got away with that trash.

Just as she was starting to pull the groceries out of the bag her phone rang. “Where is it?” she thought to herself, “probably in my purse.” She plunged around in her bag and found the phone, unknown number. “Should I answer it,” she thought, but it might be important. So she pushed the answer button and politely said, “Hello.”

The voice on the other line was hard to understand it had a weird static and was choppy.

“Carol, this is Richard. Please don’t hang up. Please just listen.” The man begged, but she didn’t know a Richard.

“Who is this, I don’t know a Richard.” She said politely, again trying to be friendly, but she always tried to be friendly even to the assholes in her life.

“Carol, I only have three minutes. Listen the experiment backfired, and I am in stuck the future. Its 2021 in your time and I am stuck here in 2024. I can fix the problem, but I can only return to your current time. I can’t return to the moment I left because I can’t jump more than three years at a time. We are married, at least in my time. I will call you in three days to tell you where to meet me. Please answer when I call. I miss you; I am dying without you.” The voice crackled and then the call went dead.

She held her phone in front of her. That was the strangest call she had ever had, but the man was so sincere, and he sounded so desperate. She remembered three years ago being stood up by a man named Richard. They had talked for a month before deciding to finally meet. They met on one of those dating sites and he had been very sweet, but when it came time for the date he never showed.

She tried to contact him, but he just ghosted her, and she was so hurt and so mad that she swore off of the dating scene. Three years she has been single, but this man sounded like that Richard, at least she thought he did. And did he say they were married? And what experiment? If he thought this was funny she wasn’t laughing. What a cruel joke to pull on someone. But still, she had a weird feeling that he was telling the truth.

It plagued her mind for the rest of the night. She fixed herself some shrimp stir-fry and curled up on the couch with a glass of white wine. The cat, Jinx, finally showed himself. She looked at him and had the strangest memory of a man helping her pick out the cat. Was that just déjà vu? If it was it has been happening a lot now that she thought about it. At least three times at work and twice today. Was she getting enough sleep? Surely she didn’t have issues there, after all she had no life. Come home every evening and curl up on the couch after dinner, some nights with a box of ice cream. But she still wondered about it.

She grabbed her phone and searched déjà vu. She opened up an article that said if you have a large amount of weird memories throughout the day then you are going in an out of dimensions. What? That sounds crazy, she thought. But it was something to consider and it was happening more and more frequently.

That man who brought her Jinx, he was a tall man with dark wavy hair, and he wore round glasses. But she remembered picking Jinx up as a kitten from her friend Kelly’s apartment. She had a momma cat that had just given birth and Carol wanted one. She would see Kelly at work tomorrow and confirm this memory, just to settle her mind.

It was 9:30 pm and she was tired. Another night spent curled up on the couch watching true crime shows, what a waste. But she felt guilty for even thinking about dating, but why? That thought perplexed her, as if she were cheating on someone for even considering going out. There was that guy in the IT department that had asked her out a few times, David. He was a nice guy but every time she turned him down. It was too late to be thinking of that. She stood up and carried her plate over to the dishwasher and filled it up with the dishes and started it. The hum and rumble was comforting, sort of like a white noise machine. And she could hear it in the bedroom, it always helped her fall asleep.

She walked down the hall and did her nightly routine, she undressed and slipped on her gown. It was her favorite; he had given it to her as a gift. Wait, did she just think that? Who was he? For gods sake, I’m loosing my mind she thought. She clearly remembered buying it at Victoria Secret last year. She only bought it because she had a gift certificate, otherwise she would have never bought anything from there.

She pulled the sheets back and crawled into bed, the sheets were cool, and her pillow was fluffy. It wouldn’t take long to fall into sleep with the sound of the dishwasher and the ceiling fan blowing gently. Jinx jumped on the bed and curled up next to her legs. And slowly she drifted off into sleep. But then the dreams would start.

He had wavy hair, darker on the sides than on the top. But a beautiful brown that was shiny. Men didn’t normally have such wavy hair that had that sheen unless they took care and used some products. He obviously cared about his appearance. And she loved the round glasses, like John Lennon. He had a soft kind face that was almost feminine in a way but not enough to take away from her attraction to him. He was just manly enough to make her heart skip and sweet enough to make her feel loved. Richard, it was Richard. And she felt safe in his arms, he was wearing a blue shirt with his little name tag hanging around his neck on a lanyard, he was just coming home and the first thing he did when he came through the door was to hug her. He embraced her, not just hugging, it was clearly an embrace. It lasted longer and said that he truly missed her. But that name tag, she tried to see it, it was blurry. She focused harder, something science department and Richard, and his picture. He was talking but it was mumbled and confusing. Something about time displacement.

Then the alarm clock went off, 6:45am. Jesus, she had just fallen asleep moments ago it seemed. But she was rested. She had that dream again, she tried to remember it. But there were only bits and pieces. The man with the round glasses. But she couldn’t remember anything else. The harder she pushed, the more she tried the more the memories faded, and it was all she could do to focus. She looked at the clock again, 6:48am. It was time to shower and fix breakfast if she was going to be at work at 9am.

The bus ride to work was always interesting. She saw some of the strangest people on the bus. Once she had seen a girl with something inside her coat and then she caught the girls eyes. The girl smiled and opened up her coat to reveal a baby opossum, it was cute. And the girl put her finger up to her mouth to signal for Carol to be quiet, but she just laughed it off.

Rounding the corner on Third street she saw him standing on the edge of the sidewalk talking on his phone. It was Richard, those round glasses and he was carrying a messenger bag around his chest. She blinked and he was gone, another déjà vu moment. Was she loosing her mind? Would he call back like he said in three days? It would be tomorrow because today was the second day, right? She was loosing her mind, she thought.

***

All day at work she had little flashes of moments that she knew hadn’t happened. The more she tried to focus on her work the more her mind drifted. And then when she went to the copier room she ran into Kelly.

“Hey Kelly, I am having a little memory issue, did I get my cat from you?” Carol asked with a quirky tone.

“What cat would that be?” Kelly replied, obviously shocked at the question.

“Okay, I was trying to remember where my cat came from, and I could have sworn that I got it from a litter that you had.” Carol said, trying to play off her confusion without sounding absolutely insane.

“I had a litter of puppies, you were interested in one, but you said your boyfriend was going to give you a cat. Are you okay? Are you getting enough sleep?” Kelly asked, honestly concerned.

“My boyfriend?” Carol asked quickly.

“Oh did you guys break up. I am so sorry; I know that can be a touchy subject. I didn’t mean to bring up bad memories. Anyway I have to get these copies down to Mr. Caldwell he is in a mood today!” Kelly said as she slipped out of the room.

Carol stood there trying to understand, trying to piece it all together. One more day and she would get another call. She was dying to find out more from this Richard person. Could he be honest, could what he was telling her be true. She was beginning to question everything. She made her copies and quickly returned to her desk. She opened up the search engine and typed in, time travel through dimensions, and hit search. Several pieces came up, one of them was a college site with a paper by Richard Harland. She clicked on the link and opened up a science paper detailing the possibilities of alternate dimensions. This Richard guy wrote that he believed alternate dimensions existed and that after several studies of people who experienced déjà vu, he was convinced that it was because someone had experienced something in another dimension that was rippling through time and space, interacting with other dimensions. He summarized that many things played a part in this phenomenon, things like solar flares, cosmic radiation and natural occurrences like earthquakes and the Earths shifting on its rotational axis. All of these things factored into the dimensions as they were affected by gravity and cosmic energy that was yet to be seen by science. But each subject in the study named times when they experienced déjà vu and each time there was one of more occurrences. He notated that during a solar flare in 1997 that over one hundred people reported experiencing moments of seeing themselves in different dimensions. He sited that further research was needed to determine the effects of temporal activities.

Carol clicked on the link for Richard Harland, and it went to his page from the university, and there was a picture of Richard Harland. It was the man from her dreams, the dark wavy hair, and the round glasses. That beautiful face that she had remembered.

She picked up her phone and dialed her supervisor, the phone rang a few times and then the voice said, hello.

“Shannon, look something has come up, I’m having some headache issues, probably the first signs of a migraine and I need to head home. I can have those drafts done tomorrow morning. I know they aren’t due until Friday, and I promise they will be on Cunningham’s desk that morning, but I need to leave.”

“Sure hun, take the day off. I hope you feel better.”

Carol gathered her things and headed out catching the bus one block down from her office building. She pulled up the route on her phone and entered the address for the college. The phone gave her the bus numbers and she hopped on bus thirty-three and headed to Greenbrier Technical Institute. It was forty-five minutes away and she was incredibly anxious, to the point of shaking. This man actually existed, and he was a scientist who worked with temporal probabilities, just a fancy term for time travel. And in the call he said that the project had gone wrong.

She reached in her purse and pulled out the little notebook that she kept her grocery list and her passwords all written down in. She opened a blank page and started writing down all the facts. Kelly mentioned a boyfriend and that he had given her the cat. She wrote down as many of the memories that she could pull out of her head, she was so confused and dazed by all of this. If she couldn’t find this Richard and confirm all of this she needed to consider checking herself into a hospital, maybe get on some medication to help with all these intrusive thoughts. But that was an extreme idea, but she knew that it was the right thing to do. None of this was normal, none of this was something that a sane person experienced. She couldn’t even remember where she got her cat. But it was just one day away from the next phone call. She had so many questions to ask him, but she remembered that he said he could only talk for three minutes at a time.

She opened her phone as the bus was on its last few miles to the college. She typed in solar flares, and there it was, there was a solar flare projected for the next few days that was said to possibly interrupt cellular service and some satellite transmissions. She read further and saw that there was one predicted for tomorrow. He was calculating the solar flares as a time to communicate. All of this was so far over her head, but she was able to understand this. How was she able to know this unless it had been explained to her? Had he explained it to her? Had he really been her husband?

The bus pulled to a stop at the entrance to the college and she stood to exit. She looked at the sign outside the bus, it read, bus stop thirty-three. That number was showing up more and more, was it a coincidence? She walked to the directory that was posted on the outside of the student center and found the science department. It was in building 303, again with the number three. She walked through the campus following the sidewalks, students all around having conversations with each other. She remembered her time in college, or did she? It was a blur, she tried to remember the little details about it, but she could only see bits and pieces of the dorm room and her friends, she remember some of the classes. She had majored in law, but her father… He had become ill, and she had to move in with him to care for him. He had dementia and her mother was remarried and living in California with her new family. She was the only one who could care for her father. She had to settle on becoming a paralegal instead of becoming an attorney. It was coming back to her now, she remember more and more as she walked on the campus, was it the campus that was triggering the memories? She had been here, before and many times in the past. She could see herself carrying a bag of take-out food. She knew exactly how to get to building 303, in fact she knew a quicker route, through the corridor of the library and student center and there it was in front of her, building 303.

She walked in and the smell of the building was familiar, it was so familiar. She walked to the steps and walked to the third floor and then walked left down the hallway to room 323C. She knocked on the door and withing minutes a man opened the door. She could see lots of equipment in his office, but it wasn’t Richard, it was an older man.

“Can I help you, young lady?” The man asked, puzzled at her appearance. She wasn’t young enough to be a student.

“I’m looking for Richard Harland, this use to be his office. Did he move somewhere else?” She asked.

“We are all looking for Richard, he just disappeared three years ago. We saw him that morning going into this office and one of his students came to talk to him and he was gone. He didn’t show the next day and after a week the Dean called the police. They couldn’t find any trace of him. Did you know him?” The man asked.

“I think I was married to him.” She said, hearing herself and thinking that she was insane.

“Come in and let’s talk. Come to think of it, I thought I recognized you.”

She walked into the cluttered office, machines everywhere and chalk boards full of equations. The man cleared a seat at his desk and sat down facing Carol.

“Richard was working on a project where he was trying to reconstruct temporal anomalies. He was convinced that all the people in the world that experienced déjà vu were really experiencing flashes of other dimensions. He believed that there were numerous dimensions in the universe and that they were all layered on top of each other, but they vibrated at different frequencies. Things like cosmic radiation and solar flares disrupted these frequencies and caused them to some how mingle and mix with one another but only for brief periods of time, mere seconds. Richard was convinced that he had built a machine that could replicate these anomalies and he experimented daily on different subjects. And just when he told us that he had made a breakthrough he disappeared. We all thought he went mad and just disappeared. The police looked everywhere that he was known to visit, they went to his home, but his wife had moved out. That was all of three years ago and I had seen some of his photos that he had on his desk, and you look exactly like his wife.”

“Three years ago I moved out of my home for some reason and rented a little apartment. I don’t know why I just know that I felt different.” Carol said as she began to tear up. The man offered her a tissue.

“Stay right there, we stored his personal effects in the storage room down the hall I will be right back.”

The man jumped to his feet and left the room, Carol looked around and she felt the strangest feeling as though she had been in this room many times. She could hear Richards laughter and she could smell the Indian food that she had brought him. He loved Indian food, absolutely loved it. He could have eaten it everyday if she would have let him.

The man came back in the room and had a framed picture in his hand. He handed it to Carol, and she took it. She stared at it and then looked up at the man, “How?” she started to cry.

“I cant explain it. Richard was ahead of his time with his research and was convinced that he could travel from one dimension to another using the machine he built. But this is you in the picture. This is you and Richard. I knew I had seen you before. Your hair is longer now but this is you or else it’s your twin.”

“I can clearly see it’s me, but I have no memory of this.”

“That is probably some effect of his disappearance. He created some type of anomaly in time, so much that it wiped his presence from most everything. But it hit you the hardest, because you were so close to him, somehow it wiped your mind without him actually being in this dimension.”

“He called me yesterday and said that he would call back with a location for us to meet. He said that he could only talk for three minutes and that he could only call me every three days. Do you understand any of that?”

“The entire universe is concocted of three’s. We are having a pattern of solar flares every three days and the earth is built around the number three. There are twenty-four hours in a day, divisible by three and much of religion is based on three’s. The Earth’s axis is 23.5 degrees, it all revolves around threes. Somehow he has figured out an equation that will allow him to return, maybe in the time he was gone he recreated the machine that took him from our dimension. Did you say he said he will call tomorrow? I suggest you wait for that call and do exactly what he says. Richard was a brilliant scientist and he understood all too well how this works. I believe he has worked out a way to return but even I don’t understand it. We will all be happy for his return and the knowledge he has to share with the world. Will you call me when you hear from him?”

“Yes, can I take this picture?”

“Of course. Here is my number, please call me when you hear from him, and I want to be there when he returns.” The man said as he stood to escort Carol out of his office.

***

The next day she took off from work and sat on her couch with her phone in front of her. She waited all day, never walking more than ten feet from her phone. She simply stared at it and the picture of Richard and herself. How could all this have happened she thought. But she wasn’t anywhere near as smart as he was, she just couldn’t understand any of it. She couldn’t fathom other dimensions and even begin to think of what the last three years had been like for him. Had he found the version of her in that dimension, or had he poured himself into his work and why had he just been able to call her and how was that even possible? She had so many questions but with each passing day, each passing minute she remembered more and more of the man she was married to, the man she had loved for so many years.

She could remember when they first met and how she had been amazed at his mind. She was intrigued with his ideas and thinking back to when he disappeared she had suffered a breakdown and chalked it up to migraines, but it was all attributed to this, this interaction between dimensions.

She stared harder at the phone as if that would make it ring. She looked up at the clock, it was two minutes until three. She had called out of work that morning and of course they weren’t happy about it, but this was more important. This was her husband, the man she loved. And nothing was more important at this very moment.

And like clockwork, the phone rang precisely at three.

“Richard!” She answered quickly.

“Yes, listen I only have three minutes. I need you to go to the corner of Irving and Shaw Street tomorrow at 3pm. If the solar flare happens like I predict I can return to that place. I’ve run the calculations and I know that location is directly where my office is located in your dimension. I have to be precise or else I will destroy myself in the process. Be waiting at three tomorrow. I love you and I miss you. I never meant for this to happen, but I have the solution and tomorrow I will return to you.” And with that the phone went dead.

“Hello! Richard!” she said but the line was dead, and he was gone once again.

She dialed the number on the sheet of paper and told Dr. Carlisle about the phone call and the location where Richard would return. He assured her he would be there.

For the next few hours she sat staring at the phone, thinking that he might call back. But she knew that he could only communicate at specific times but still she felt the urgency and desire to try. But soon she fell asleep on the couch and awoke the next morning with Jinx curled up on her hip as she looked up at the clock. It was 10:30am. She jumped up and ate some breakfast, nervous at the possibility that something could go wrong, and this made her feel sick to her stomach. But she knew she needed to eat.

She showered and put on a nice dress, if this was going to be her reunion with her husband she wanted to look nice for him, but that was silly. He wouldn’t care what she looked like, he had been away from her for three years and if he felt the same toward her as she felt toward him, all he would care about was that they were once again together. As soon as she had showered and dressed and put on a little make up, she rushed down the stairs and caught a taxi to the corner of Irving and Shaw Street.

The corner was located at one of the busiest intersections in town and there was a coffee shop and a deli on either side of the road. Behind the deli was the Broadwell Building, a large technologies company that dealt with things she knew nothing about. Could this be where his office was in the other dimension? She pondered the existence of another dimension; would it be similar to her own? Would buildings be in the same place, surely they were if he gave her this location? But what if things were off slightly and he returned in the middle of the building like she had seen in movies where people were transported from place to place and missed their location by a few inches. She had never been this nervous in her life. She looked at her watch, it was 2:45pm, only fifteen minutes to go. And it would be the longest fifteen minutes of her life.

She was surprised by a tap on her shoulder, it was Dr. Carlisle, and he had a young man with him. The man was carrying a video camera and was setting it up on a tripod.

“Dr. Carlisle, what’s going on? Why is this man setting up a camera?”

“This is going to be one of the biggest scientific break throughs in the world. Don’t you think it would be wise to get it on camera? That is why I wanted to be here. To see this marvelous thing happen.”

“I suppose you are right. But I am only concerned with getting my husband back safe and sound.”

They both watched their watches closely and at 2:59pm they both prepared themselves. What was there to do on their end? Nothing, nothing could be done. Nothing but waiting.

The air turned warm, and it was getting hotter every second, it was as if they had walked into a summers day from the cold fall air of the city. In the middle of the road they could see a disturbance that could only be described like water and oil on a road, with the rainbow of colors shifting and warping. Then there was the large hum, and the ground began to shake. In the distance a moving truck was driving down the road headed for the exact spot where the disturbance was. Carol panicked and tried to motion for the truck to stop. The driver could see her stepping into the street with her hand up and yelling, he applied his breaks and began to slow when a figure appeared in the light directly in front of him.

He had slowed but was still unable to stop before hitting the figure that just appeared out of nowhere. The truck hit Richard from his side, sending him plunging forward and hitting the road. All the traffic came to a screeching halt as Carol and Dr. Carlisle ran to Richards side. His head was bleeding, and he was unconscious. Several people called 911 and withing minutes there was an ambulance and police car along with a fire truck blocking off the road as the paramedics loaded Richard into the ambulance. Carol climbed in the back of the ambulance with her husband, holding his hand.

***

At the hospital, Carol sat in the ER with her husband, he had suffered a broken arm and a concussion as well as a few lacerations that needed to be stitched up.

“That was quite the welcome party.” He said as he started to come too.

“I have so many questions.” Carol said as the tears rolled down her cheeks. She brushed her hair off of her face and squeezed Richards hand harder. She never wanted to let go, she feared if she did he would be gone again.

“Your hair is longer. And you wore the dress from our first date. I suspected that my removal from this dimension would wipe any memory from your mind of my existence.”

“I had memories, little passing thoughts of someone with round glasses. I didn’t know your name or who you were until I went to the college and met Dr. Carlisle and he showed me a picture of us. But those memories all came flooding back. Did you know that there was a chance this would happen when you were experimenting?”

“I had an idea, but I took every precaution. It was Carlisle that suggested I increase the power to the device. In some weird way this was his fault, but he hadn’t meant for it to happen. Did I see him there?”

“Yes he was there with a student to record it all. He said it would be the biggest scientific breakthrough in the world.”

“I met myself in the other dimension, he and his wife had a son. The other me, helped me to construct the machine that returned me. We had to wait until the time was right and when there would be a solar flare in this dimension until I could attempt to return. It was all so surreal. I lived with myself and his wife and their son. I couldn’t have ever returned if it hadn’t been for him.”

“Are you going to try to go back? I know you; your curiosity will get the best of you. You wont be able to help yourself and you will try it again. And maybe then you will get stuck, and I will lose you forever.” Carol said as she fought back the tears, the emotion that was filling her with such agonizing pain. The thought of going through all of this again was terrifying.

“I had three years to watch my other self with that version of you. I watched them love each other so deeply and how they loved their son. No science is worth losing that. I was miserable because I could remember everything. I wasn’t sure if you could if you even knew that I existed. That dimension was beautiful, and it was peaceful. Things were so different. But none of that meant anything without you. I may have been in a sort of paradise, but it was hell without you. I promise you that those days are over, I will never do anything to jeopardize this, this love we have.”

“I dreamed of you every night. Even though I didn’t know who you were I still dreamed of you. All I know now is that what we have must be true, if your memory fought so hard to escape the deepest parts of my mind, then I must truly love you. I remembered the night we were supposed to have our first date, but you never showed. And I moved out of our house for some reason that I cant fathom. Everything is different. You’ve come home to a different world.”

“All that matters is that I have you, we can start over and make it even better this time around.”

“I would like that very much.”

She looked down at her watch as they had been in the ER for so long and all she wanted was to get back to her home with her husband and start her life over again. As she raised her wrist to look at her watch it read, 3am.

All rights reserved copyright James Heaton 2022

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