Three and a Half Oaks

Based on a prompt found here.


Between the blink of an eye, in a heartbeat, in a breath, in things that stopped mattering, the world stopped – or at least we did.

People froze. I froze. Animals froze. Insects froze, I think. 

It was – when I thought about it clinically, it was fascinating.  My body didn’t hunger, didn’t ache, didn’t have any needs.  My eyes didn’t dry out.  I’d been sitting in the park.  The others in the park seemed the same – stuck in a single moment.  They didn’t fall over, even if in mid-jog.  The squirrel hung in mid-climb.  The ducks stopped in mid-nibble. 

Nothing moved.  Nothing but plants.  Nothing died, nothing rotted, nothing breathed, nothing but plants. 

Plants grow quite a bit when there’s nothing else to watch.  Plants become rather interesting when there’s nothing else to distract you. 

I practiced memory techniques I’d heard about and never bothered with.  I wrote a whole novel in my head, and then a whole series.  Then a whole set of papers on the weed which was taking over the park immediately in front of me, and then a very incoherent one on the effects of isolation and the lack of input or change on the human psyche. 

I lost things, I lost time.  I believe I slept.  It’s hard to tell; I’m fairly sure I wasn’t breathing. 

I know that I watched an oak tree grow from a fallen acorn to a sapling to a tree, to a lightning-struck fire that didn’t touch me at all to a twisted adult tree which managed to stand another – another long time. The life span of two pine trees, at least. 

The fire didn’t miss all the frozen people.  Or animals.  Half of the ducks remained, half were ash.  The lady with the long blonde hair was still there; the man who looked like he was on meth (can you imagine? jonesing for a hit for hundreds of years?) wasn’t. 

That was the first sign I had that something was going wrong. 

After that, it became a little bit nerve-wracking. 

It is hard to feel fear when your body isn’t involved. 

There’s no dry mouth, no sweaty palms, no pounding heart.  There’s nothing but circles your brain can run in. 

When the squirrel fell over, I spent a pointless amount of time trying to calculate how much time had passed.  

When the jogger crumbled to the ground, I did it again. 

Storms came and didn’t touch me.  Snow fell and enveloped me and I felt nothing.  Fire came again, and I remained. 

There had been twelve people, seven ducks, and one squirrel in the park when I froze, when we all froze. 

The first time I felt a raindrop on my cheek, there was one duck and two other people left. 

The blonde-haired lady moved first.  Then the one I’d nicknamed Professor.  

The blonde shifted, looked around, and called out.  She seemed confused, lost.  She seemed scared. 

I was scared, too.  But I couldn’t move, not yet. 

Then the professor, and I was certain he was going to have a heart attack before he managed to calm himself down.  

Neither of them gave any sign they’d been aware of the passage of time.  Neither of them seemed to know anything about what had happened.  They looked around; the Professor called out Sally! several times. 

I could’ve told him that the one who was probably Sally had crumbled into bones which were now under the oak tree beside him. 

I could’ve told him where his valise had gone, too – as that was also missing. 

Not their clothes, not mine, but he’d put the thing down for a moment, centuries ago. 

When I could finally move, I was so encased in vines it took several minutes to move.  I was gasping for breath by the time I broke free; my heart was pounding.  I was shouting. 

“The life of three and a half oak trees,” I told the Professor, before he’d even looked at me.  “The span of three trees and then this one here.  We’ve been sitting here for-“

“A millennium,” the blonde breathed.  “How? Frozen? Stasis?  Some sort of time machine?”

“Not a time machine.”  I was surprised my voice worked.  I was surprised I remembered how words worked.  “The plants grew.  The storms came and went, the weather came and went. Just us.”

“How do you know that?”  The Professor glared at me.  

“The same way you do.” Even as I said it, I was losing all belief that it was true.  “I watched it.”

“You – no, I was walking with Sally, my assistant, and then-“

There’s not need to transcribe the whole thing; you get the feeling.  I went through this with those two until they, if not believed me, accepted that I was not completely full of nonsense.  Telling the professor where to find the few bits of his valise that had survived helped.  

Then we went through it with the next group of people we found together, and the next, all the while I pushed people towards plan in case of being un-frozen number thirty seven: the nearest partially-intact building, which had been built far before many of the others and was thus amazingly sturdy. 

They all looked at me a little funny, every one of them.  I sounded, someone said, like some sort of General.  I sounded like a madwoman, someone else said.  

But I had a better idea of what was going on than anyone else, so if they also said I looked like a hooker, well. 

That had been three and a half oak-tree lifespans ago. It had been half of the world ago.  It had been seven novels (that I could still remember) and too many fires and one awful blizzard that never seemed to end ago. 

We had thawed out, now, and there were bigger problems to be had.

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4 thoughts on “Three and a Half Oaks

    • Dunno! It’s kind of a neat premise, could be the beginning of something. 1000 years gone… there’s a lot of why going on. and who, and how, and where even.

    • I’d guess that the time-stop of animals was flawed. Whether they should have been protected from the fire is unclear — whether the fire was what broke that locally is unclear, everything about cause-and-effect here is unclear — but the squirrel falling was clearly not how it had been working …

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