This was the first of our 500 Word Contests. The story was supposed to be a survival story, told from the 1st person and the main character was supposed to be named “Bob”. I know, really specific on this, right? And it was only supposed to be around 500 words…well, I went a little over board. I learned my lesson when it came time to read.
Retired at 24
by Kirby Cobb
I was in a bar the other night, for reasons I’ll explain later, and I met a man who appeared to be older than dirt but told me that he was only 24 years old. I waited for the punchline, the snicker, the grin or any other clue to the joke, that never came.
Him looking old and then telling me he was only 24 was not what choked my beer. It was his opening line…he went on to rattle off a well rehearsed list. A list that included a forgotten number of banks he had robbed, the remembered lives of 47 people he had saved, the simple fact of killing 2 men, and walking around the globe…twice.
“…and, oh yeah, I’m really only 24 years old”, he said. But to me, he looked like he was pushing 80 years or more. And no matter how much I wanted to be astonished by his casual confession of crimes, I kept coming back to the “24 years old thing”.
He finally said that his name was Bob and that he could stop time for everyone else. Then wander around doing whatever he liked, and start it all back up again without anyone noticing…and he told me this mid-drink which I almost spit up. This was when I began to realize, I was in the middle of a professional-drinker-bar-room-whopper. This was going to be the “fishing” story of a lifetime. The one that got away. I hoped and prayed that he was a good story-teller because I liked what I heard so far. Yes, I was in the mood for a seriously good yarn. Fasten your seat belts ladies and gentlemen and keep you hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times.
“Ok…”, I said, wanting more, “tell me how you’re only 24 years old. Is this a therapeutic ‘inner child’ thing?”
Bob said that when he stopped time it would naturally continue for himself. So that when he started time again for everyone around him he would have aged for however long he had stopped time. Let’s say he does a small trick and instantly refills my glass right in front of me. For that he had just aged two minutes more than I had. And I looked down and saw a fresh drink where my empty glass was. The bartender was further down the bar flirting with two very attractive women and no where near paying any attention to this little world of make-believe that was being spun around my head. I didn’t remember whether I was too drunk to notice the bartender’s possible refill, or this was something…
Seeing the astonishment on my face Bob told me that he had just stopped time, gone back behind the bar and made drinks for us both, set them down in front of us, cleaned our old glasses and replaced them on the shelf. Then he sat himself back on his barstool and re-started time. For him it had been about 2 minutes passing, for me it wasn’t even a blink.
“You have just been frozen in my time” he explained,”and I have just aged two minutes more than you.”
Bob settled in to his explain and said that his first memory of this was when he was a small child. When he was in any some sort of situation that scared him or made him angry everyone would simply freeze. He could then walk away, or hide in a his room until he had calmed down.
He briefly touched on that his parents weren’t what you would consider “ideal” parents. They fought a lot. They would spend more time arguing about each other and would quickly lose interest in him. These are the times he would freeze to stop the noise of their arguments. He would spend many happy quiet times by himself to simply avoid their arguing. But by the time he was 5 years old his parents started noticing these small “blips”. These times where their child would simply disappear right in front of them. How they would always find him quietly playing or sleeping in his room. And, how their 5 year old child looked more like a 10 year old boy. How had he grown so fast without their notice?
He was taken to doctors and specialists. All thinking he had some rare sort of aging disease but Bob knew the real story. He was really just a 10 year old boy, but his birth certificate said he should only be 5 years old. He had spent half his life alone avoiding all those unpleasant arguments and scary times. Freezing half the days to run away from the screaming and the fighting.
By the time he was 10 years old, according to his parent’s calendar, Bob was shaving and was taller than his father. His parents began noticing these changes more and more as he grew and their fighting increased. His father dealt with his unusual child by drinking more, escaping to the tavern away from his “freak show” of a son. Each parent had their own idea of what might be wrong with their child since the doctors and specialists were of no help, and each was always blaming the other for their poor parenting skills or their bad genetic history or their crazy relatives. Bob had just become another excuse for them to fight more. And this drove Bob more and more into his own timeline.
As Bob grew he began spending more time at the library rather than in his room playing with toys. He began to realize more about what was happening to him in comparison to everyone else in the world. He began to understand that he was aging when he froze time for others. He started to record his own time a small book that never left his sight. This was a way for him to understand more about how old he actually was.
Around the time he figured he was about 17 years old, according to his time book, he knew it was time to leave. His parents thought he was only 10 years old. There was no place for him in their world. The more they fought about him the more he froze time, the more he aged alone. This only increased the loneliness he felt at home. So it was time to go.
“Where did you go?” I asked. “Where could you go?”
“I went looking for super heroes,” Bob replied, with a grin that made me think he had made himself laugh at this idea.
He couldn’t be the only person like this, he thought. There should be others, but how to find them. If others could freeze time then how would you know…unless they specifically told you? It’s not like you can see someone freeze time. What if they could do other things? Other super-abilities? What if there really were superheroes out there?
But before he could find any, reality set in and he found himself homeless and hungry on the streets of a new city…no friends, no family, always alone. He had run away from home, a 10 year old boy according to his parents. For him he had simply moved out as an adult. But his planning wasn’t quite what it should have been and it all started with him three states away climbing off a Greyhound bus with nothing but a backpack of belongings and not nearly enough money to survive.
He told me that he never wanted to be a thief. He wasn’t really a bad buy and he never wanted to hurt anyone. His only excuse, now that he was much older and wiser, was that he was just selfish. He had lived a life alone from everyone and had grown accustomed. So he began stealing. It started with simple things like cash machines. He would slowly walk up to cash machine as someone else was withdrawing some money and as soon as the bills came out of the machine he would freeze time. For him, the world would stop, walking steps frozen in mid-air, silence beyond the breeze, a stillness that was more comfortable than a warm bed to him. He would quietly walk up, take the bills from their hand or from the machine, and slowly walk away. Once he was a block or so away he would restart time. Only once or twice did he relish in his victims puzzlement about where the money went. He figured the bank would review the video recording and in a small moment of bewilderment reimburse the person after much complaining from them.
Over a weeks time Bob had collected a month’s salary from walking around the new city. Each time he made sure to record the frozen time in his book. His own personal calendar. At the end of his first week in the new city he sat down to count up his money…and his time. He was really surprised to see that he had aged another 6 months just in that week’s worth of cash machine “work”. He was freezing time too much, he was aging too quickly without living his life. So he got an idea.
He was standing in a new bank waiting to open an account when he noticed the large vault, the armed guards and the carts full of money. Time froze. And when the guards next looked around they were missing a strong box. Upon further review of the video footage later that afternoon by the FBI, they noticed a strange glitch when they saw a young man standing in the lobby simply disappear at the same time the box of money disappeared. That’s when this case was handed over to the Nothum Division of the FBI. They specialized in such matters.
Bob had taken the box all the way back to his apartment before returning time to it’s rightful place. He bought some tools at the hardware store and started working on the locks, the hinges, the steel. He realized that any tool that would open this box would also trouble the neighbors, so he returned to the hardware store with the box in hand and time fully frozen. It took him almost two days to figure out how to break into the box. For his troubles he got a pile of cash and a quiet knock on his door as soon as he returned time.
The man at the door was nothing special. There were no gadgets or special effects. He only wore a regular suit and flashed a regular badge. He spoke softly and kindly letting Bob know there was no trouble to be had and he was not here to harm or restrain him in any way. “Please don’t run” he said to Bob, “I only want to explain to you how we handle situations like this”.
Bob told me the man had made a nice enough offer, laced with a shallow hint of threats. The man said he could offer Bob employment and a chance to help the world. He explained that there were others like him and they all worked together as a team. He said they made the world a better place. He said a lot of things, but in the end Bob had killed two men…two men that he didn’t even know. Two men that could have had families. Two men that were supposed to be “bad men”…but how was he to know? Bob was now an assassin for a shadow government agency. He was told to freeze time, walk in and kill his particular target, then leave with time returned.
Bob’s eyes watered as he remembered the faces of the two men he had killed. “I didn’t know them, I didn’t know why they wanted them killed…I didn’t care”, Bob told me, “I just knew that I couldn’t do that again”.
He said that was the low point in his life. The only thing he still lives with to regret. His sins he must redeem.
The man in the suit was not happy when Bob left the Nothum Division. He told Bob there was no way he could leave. There was no place far enough away they couldn’t find him. Now that the man in the suit knew he wouldn’t stay, the thinly veiled threats became more credible. Bob ran. Bob froze time. Bob hid the way Bob knew how.
He told me that it was years of hiding that truly aged him. He lived a life frozen from the rest of the world. He returned time when he couldn’t take the silence any longer, but it wasn’t long before agents showed up on the streets near Bob. He began to spot them so easily. Sometimes it was days, sometimes months, all depending on how extreme Bob was with his time freezing pranks but sooner or later they would show up and Bob would simply freeze time and run. That was the first time he decided to walk.
Time frozen wherever he went and silent. Bob walked around the world…the first time.
And that took years.
Bob’s eyes drifted off to something far away. I could tell he wasn’t sitting in this bar anymore. He was remember a life-time ago all the things he had seen, all the things he had experienced. Walking through rain frozen in the sky, lightning striking locked in time and glowing hotter than the sun. Sunsets and sunrises that could last a lifetime as long as you would want to sit and watch…but always alone.
He told me that it was the second time he had started to walk around the globe when he stopped. He had gotten in the habit of starting and stopping time so he wouldn’t feel so lonely. This time it was a small town in central Asia and he was hungry. He started time and wandered into a street side café. It was remarkably western for such a small town in the middle of the Asian continent, right on the edge of the Tibetan plateau…the high wastelands of Asia with scattered signs in Chinese and Russian. That’s where he met her.
He looked to be around 40 years old at the time, she was around the same. Her name was Pam. She was a journalist traveling through central Asia gathering footage for an upcoming documentary. They talked for hours. This was something so new to him. His life had been frozen in time and alone up until that point and now the world was covered…warm silent safety that he normally felt when time froze…but time didn’t freeze. People walked by, ordered food, laughed, talked all around him and he still felt that warm blanket covering him while he talked with her through the night.
Again Bob’s eyes drifted off to that memory far away and long ago as he told me his story. He looked like such an old and broken man but had a deep fire burning inside him.
They never had time to really fall in love. Bob had needed some money to live in the world-time and that always brings out the men in suits. It was just a few short weeks later that he noticed the first one stalking him. He wanted to confess everything to her and take her with him, but how would that sound. I mean really…”Hey honey, how was your day? Me? Oh the usual. Top secret agency stalking me, wanting me dead, but I freeze time and walk out of here undetected…wanna come along?” Crazy huh? Well, he actually tried that line. It didn’t work well. She ran out of the room scared. He had tried a couple small “time-freezing” tricks to show her that he could really do this, but that didn’t play well. Such a crazy man, she must have thought, and her so far away from home…and she had really thought she loved him.
It was because of this scenario that he saved the lives of 47 people. He didn’t plan this, but he might have been responsible. The men in suits were everywhere. They saw Pam run out and they grabbed her as an opportunity to get at him. All their commotion set off a chain of events that forced a bus load of people on a collision course with them. It was hard for him to explain what really happened. But he froze time. The bus hadn’t crashed, his love was still captured, the men in suits were everywhere. He stood there frozen in time without any idea of what to do. If he returned time everyone would crash and many would die. If time remained frozen then all would…well…remain frozen…but no one would die.
Bob sat there for days trying to figure out how to change these events. He had never liked to forcefully move people when time was frozen. He had done this a couple of times when he was younger, just to see their reactions and it was not good. People couldn’t really come to terms with what had happened. It was as if you instantly teleported to a new space and that was really difficult and jarring for most people to deal with. It created too much chaos and pain so he never let that happen. But this was a life or death situation. He needed to pull all those people off the bus and his girlfriend far away from the men in suits. It took him several weeks to pull them all carefully off the bus. He could only manage a few per day as they were all dead weight and frozen. After carefully moving them from the bus to a hand cart, he then put them out in the middle of a nice field where the noise of the city and the inevitable crash of the bus would be minimized on their fragile psyche.
In the end he took Pam back to her hotel room. He knew that once he returned time he wouldn’t have much of it to explain what happened to her, and he knew she wouldn’t be able to handle much of his explanation either. For her it would have been like she was running out of her hotel room from a crazy man and then captured by some ominous looking secret agents and then instantly teleported back into her hotel room. What would she think? Would she scream? Would she freak out? He stood out on the hotel room balcony looking down on the bus about to crash. All the people had been cleared from its path, including the men in suits. He was no killer, even of his own killers. Then he looked at her, frozen in time with a look of terror as she realized she was being kidnapped by men in suits. For him, that time was weeks ago. For her, it was happening now. She would instantly have this terror and then he would have to try to explain all this before the men in suits got to the room. He sat there for two more days before he realized what he must do. He realized there was no way he could ever explain this situation to her properly. He must leave. He could always find her again. The world was only as small as your time when you could freeze time. He could find her again.
And for the third time that night at the bar, Bob’s eyes wandered off to a distance a life away. He was remembering that warm silence of time flowing and as he gazed distantly I felt it also. He had survived so much in such a short time, for us. For him, it was a lifetime and more.
Now…I don’t know if this old man’s story was true or if he was just making up a really good bar-room legend, but I knew that in there somewhere was a bit of truth, like a yarn it was spun expertly. He told me that he had lived a full life in his short 24 years. He never told me if he ever found Pam again. Or if he had ever come to terms with the men in suits. All I remember is that since my glass was empty, I turned to the bartender who was still flirting with the two girls at the end of the bar. When I turned back Bob was gone. And my drink was full.