The Day Time Stood Still
“Look, mommy! Look.” Carla heard a young child shouting in the distance.
Carla sighed and tried to focus on her Calculus 2 homework. She slouched down lower in her on the picnic table bench. Her brow furrowed deep with frustration.
“Come here, honey,” the mother yelled, her voice tinged with anxiety.
Carla growled and covered her ears with her hands to try to block out the noise. She had come to the park for peace and quiet. To get away from her obnoxious roommate.
She had thought that boarding with someone from the same country as herself would be a good thing. But two weeks into her stay, Carla already regretted it. She was already looking for another place to move to.
Carla had had enough of the girl’s endless drama. Her roommate created mountains out of molehills. Even though she had always been a homebody, lately, Carla preferred to be anywhere except at home. Which was how she ended up here in the park.
Enough was enough. Carla was going to find a new place and move. Even if she lost her security deposit or had to pay extra for breaking her lease early.
The young woman pulled a scrunchie off her ponytail. Shook her thick, black hair. Pulled her sweater sleeves up farther over her palms. Then ran her long, slender fingers through her dark locks.
It wasn’t cold, but the late afternoon temperature as the sun prepared to set was colder than she was used to back home in the southern hemisphere at this time of year.
She took a deep breath and shook her shoulders to psych herself up for one final push to get this homework finished up.
The sweet, strong scent of the French Lilacs that surrounded her assailed her nostrils. It gave her a heady rush and brought a smile to her face. She paused for a moment to relish the smell.
She tried to take advantage of the moment to remind herself that she should just breathe and enjoy the moment. But the sound of the young girl’s shrill voice broke her train of thought and shattered her reprieve.
“What is it, mommy? What is it?”
“Vitoria May! Come here right now.” the mother shouted, almost hysterically.
She grabbed her open backpack and shoved her books and paper inside with an irritated growl. Carla looked up toward the girl with a scowl. The young woman hoped the girl would look at her and see just how annoyed she was.
The innocent child stood in the middle of a grassy knoll, pointing up into the sky. Her mother was scrambling to gather up a few food and drink items scattered on a checkered red and white blanket for their afternoon picnic.
The frightened woman threw them into a dark brown, hand-woven basket and threw the blanket over her shoulder. She grabbed the child’s hand and began to pull her along.
But the girl never turned back around toward her mother. She continued to look back over into the sky behind Carla. Still pointing up into the air. It was a strange scene. Almost as if the child had been frozen in place, and the mother was simply dragging a statue through the grass.
Carla glanced up in the general direction the child was pointing, but couldn’t see anything through the branches of the tree overhead. When she glanced back, she could no longer see the young girl, but the mother had turned to drag the child with both hands.
After they disappeared from view, Carla noticed the brown basket still sitting in the grass where the mother must have tossed it aside to take care of the kid.
Carla shook her head. Kids these days. They were entitled little brats that wouldn’t obey their parents. And parents had no backbone to keep their kids in line. Giving them whatever they wanted.
The young woman swore to herself that if she ever had kids that she would make sure they obeyed her. She wouldn’t put up with screaming little brats throwing fits in the middle of a restaurant or supermarket.
Since the screaming girl had left, Carla sat back down with a sigh of relief. Leaving now wasn’t the right thing to do. She still had to solve these last few equations. After that, she would grab a bite to eat and continue her search for a new place to stay.
Carla unzipped her pink backpack to pull out her Calculus book and purple notebook again but became aware of a strange vibration in her core.
It was hard to describe, but the closest she could come to an explanation was that it felt like the time she had her hair buzzed over the summer.
It had been sweltering that year. So, before the fourth of July marathon, she had gone in to have back and sides of her head shaved. And right now, she felt like her hairstylist was pressing the buzzer firmly into the base of her skull.
Carla shook her head and stood up to walk out from under the tree toward the grassy knoll. She wanted to see what was going on for herself.
As she came up to the top and could see down the hill, Carla stopped in surprise. The mother was still standing there, holding the little girl’s hand. The child was still standing there, pointing up into the sky. Her mouth frozen open. Both frozen in their tracks.
Carla could see other people scattered on the hill below. All seemingly frozen in their tracks as well. Some looking up into the sky over her head. Others appeared oblivious to the strange events around them.
But no one moved. Everyone frozen in place. And only she was able to move around and observe them.
Carla turned slowly in the direction that the child was pointing but then paused. Wondering if some strange Medusa-like object in the sky froze everyone who looked in its direction.
She backed up quickly under the tree. Sidling up behind the tree trunk. Peeking carefully around the tree and between the branches. Gasping at the sight in front of her.
The sprawling city lay before her. Majestic as always. But above the skyscrapers and buildings, she saw giant, round orb floating in the sky above the clouds. It looked like a giant, black yo-yo with neon-green circles.
The sight absorbed all of her attention at first, and she failed to notice the smaller ships hovering around it. But when she finally did see them, Carla wondered how she could have missed them. There were hundreds of them. All waiting silently as if for a command.
After a few minutes, the smaller ships began to move out in all directions over the city. Each moving slowly and purposefully to fulfill its orders. Some were coming in her direction.
Carla scooped her books back into her backpack and slid it onto her shoulders. Then swiftly climbed up the trunk of the large tree in front of her. Clambering her way into branches. Hoping that the foliage would keep her hidden from their sight.
When she found a stable branch to perch on, Carla hugged the tree with one arm and reached into her pocket for her phone with the other. Her hands shook, and fingers trembled as she took pictures and filmed the scene in front of her.
Two of the ships floated almost silently past her hiding place. The only thing she heard was a slight whirring that seemed to be in sync with the buzzing at the base of her neck, which seemed to be coming from the giant, black ball floating over the center of the city.
One ship hovered over the child and her mother. The other floated on past to a boy who had been preparing to throw a football. His arm still frozen midair with his fingers wrapped around the rough, brown leather.
Carla watched in horror as a glowing, neon-green, tractor beam lit up the child and pulled her limp body up into the ship. Her finger still pointing into the sky the entire time. The other ship did the same with the boy below. His arm still frozen in place, and his fingers holding the ball the entire time.
She shivered as she flipped the phone back toward the other ship. It slipped in her fingers and tumbled from her hand. Carla tried to snatch it but wasn’t fast enough. Her fingertips brushed against the phone, knocking it out farther away from the base of the tree into the grass and bushes below.
Carla gasped as the ship turned in her direction. It’s light shining toward the place her phone had fallen. She placed her hand over her mouth and held her breath. Trying to hold back hot tears and loud screams that threatened to overwhelm her.
The beam of light scanned the ground under the tree. It lit up two large, city rats that had raced toward the sound of the falling phone, hoping for a treat. They sniffed the phone. Discovering nothing edible, they immediately scrambled into the bushes and away from the light.
The green light moved away from the tree. The ships floated silently back to the giant, black ball of what Carla assumed was their mother ship.
Then green lights faded. The buzzing at the base of her skull fell silent. People began moving around on the hill below.
But the giant, black ship still overshadowed the city. It wasn’t so much that she could see the ship, but that she could see stars shining around it and couldn’t see the stars shining behind.
The mother looked around in confusion for a moment but then began picking up the items that had fallen out of her picnic basket as if nothing had happened.
Carla glanced back at the sky. The ship had begun to shimmer softly. Now she could see the stars behind it again. Dully at first. Then more brightly. As if the vessel were disappearing or else cloaking itself from view.
Then it was gone completely. The stars shined brightly across the sky. Clouds floated silently over the city. Life went on as usual. People continued milling around as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Like they weren’t even aware that a giant, black orb had appeared over their city and hauled off with members of their society.
She waited. Making sure the orb was really gone before climbing out of the tree. Wondering when the mother was going to realize that her child was gone. But the woman finished putting everything in her basket. Then turned and walked toward the car without looking around for her daughter.
Carla scrambled and slid back down the trunk of the tree. Trying not to scrape herself up any worse than she already had. The young woman brushed herself off, picked up her phone, and raced after the woman.
“Wait! Ma’am! Excuse me. Hey! Wait.” Carla yelled as she ran down the hill.
Her arms flailed wildly. Her hair flying around her face. The woman looked frightened when she turned to see Carla racing in her direction. She pulled out a can of pepper spray and pointed it in Carla’s face.
Carla held up her hands in front of her face and bent over to catch her breath.
“What do you want?” the woman demanded angrily, trying to mask the fear in her voice.
“What about your daughter? Aren’t you going to wait for her?” Carla asked.
“What are you talking about, lady? Are you nuts? I don’t have a daughter,” the woman replied.
“Victoria. Victoria May. The girl that was just here with you.” Carla said, still gasping for air.
“I don’t know anybody named Victoria May.”
“Nobody? Never?” Carla said. Her voice trembling. Trying to hold back the tears that threatened to flood her eyes.
“May was my Grandmother’s name. But I don’t know anyone named Victoria,” the woman said emphatically, backing away toward the car. The can of pepper spray still pointed in Carla’s direction.
Carla turned on the phone and opened her photo album. She played the video of the woman and girl in the distance. She showed the woman the tractor beam pulling the girl up.
The woman shook her head emphatically. “That does look like me, but I’ve never seen that kid before.”
Then she relaxed and put down the can of pepper spray. She started to laugh and look around.
“Wait a minute. This is one of those prank video things. Isn’t it. Where are the hidden cameras.”
She looked back at Carla expectantly. The woman waited for the punch line. But Carla couldn’t hold back the tears. The woman cocked her head to the side. Opened her car door and tossed in the picnic basket.
“You need some help, girl. This isn’t funny,” the woman said.
Then she jumped into her car. Backed up quickly. And sped off into the night. Carla took a picture of the license plate in case she needed to track the woman down later.
She climbed back up the hill. Picked up her backpack. Sat down at the picnic table. Her homework long forgotten. Her search for a new apartment pushed aside. No longer hungry.
Waiting. Watching the sky for any shimmer or sign of a strange ship. Waiting long into the night. Wondering what had just happened. Wondering what was going on.