In the Shadow of Next Tuesday
1190 words long
When you've been living in the shadow of two years ago yesterday, falling into future days' shadows is easier to do.
Notes from the author:
Somebody turned me on to The Hidden Almanac, a whimsical podcast written, produced, and voiced by Ursula Vernon and Kevin Sonney. Three times a week—on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays—it brings the listener some four or five minutes of delightfully made-up facts about gardening, history, and hagiography.
I wrote the seeds of the following fictionette after I’d heard the title of the podcast but before I’d listened to an episode. A hidden almanac, I reasoned, might chronicle the shadows of days, as a regular almanac chronicles the days themselves. And why shouldn’t a day have a shadow? You have a shadow; is Tuesday any less substantial and worthwhile?
My sister took a wrong turn at three o’clock and wound up in the shadow of next Tuesday. It happened only this week Monday, but the future sun hung low at that hour, and it made Tuesday next cast a shadow eight days long. Most of the time we step over such shadows like we do over cracks in the sidewalk, small things we barely feel and certainly don’t fear falling into. But my sister was distracted by private thoughts, and she set her foot just wrong. A stumble, a heart-stopping plummet without dropping any distance at all, and there she was, in next Tuesday’s shadow.
She told me about it when she came home late Monday night, and all of us worried sick. I could see for myself that it was no more than the truth. When she came through the door, shreds of time-shadow still clung to her hair, and the smell of next Tuesday permeated her clothes. I didn’t recognize it as the smell of next Tuesday, precisely, but I knew it for the scent of a day I’d not yet seen. These things are unmistakable.
Besides, my sister would never lie to me.
So there she stood, watching people she knew walking by with eight more days of aging in their faces. It makes a difference, my sister said. You’d recognize it in a heartbeat. Snatches of conversation swirled by like the last ten pages of a book you’ve only read up to Chapter 3. And things that weren’t yet true were giving themselves undeserved airs. It was a confusing place to be, and she couldn’t quite see how to climb back out. So she stood very still and thought very hard, and that’s how the shadow creatures found her.
All manner of creatures thrive in the shadow of a day, especially the shadow cast by a day not yet come. They are strange, but most of them are harmless. Think of all the creatures you meet on any Tuesday itself. Aren’t most of them more or less just trying to get by? Likewise with these. They graze on the promise of future harvests, on rumors and reflections and omens and portents. They are all slender things, getting by on the slimmest of pickings, but I suppose one must evolve to fit the niche one finds oneself in.
None of them, my sister reassured us, eat college Sophomores, not even those most plump with the present day. Seeing as how she didn’t yet know this, the creatures were quick to reassure her.
“We wouldn’t even know how,” said one, in shape much like a Pekingese-poodle puppy but with feet that sank up to the anklebone in the concrete and eyes gone shadowy with peering into the future. As its mouth flashed wide and happy in that classic Peke-a-poo smile, my sister could see that it had no teeth, just a sort of green-gray spongy substance lining the track where its gums should be. “We suckle on possibilities and probable outcomes. You are far too resolved to be food for the likes of us.”
“Can the likes of you tell the likes of me how I’m likely to get home?” asked my sister. She felt a terrible urge to pet the Peke-a-poo-ish creature, which she quite correctly assumed would be irreparable bad manners. She looked instead at its companion, which resembled nothing so inviting. It looked more like a crocodile on stilts, with stubby vestigial wings that flapped and fluttered against its constant sinking into the ground. It seemed that the creatures in next Tuesday’s shadow were too substantial for their home terrain.
“Depends on when your home is,” said the stilt-o-dile, “and how the shadows fall.”
“I’m looking for last Monday afternoon,” said my sister, “and I can’t tell which shadow is which.”
“Well,” said the Peke-a-poo, “you can’t get out the way you came in, because you’ve already begun casting your own shadow upon the future. You can’t take that back, you know. All you can do is go on.”
So they walked with her, following the shadow she was casting. As they went, she peered every which way after something that looked like the day she’d stepped out of. But she didn’t know for sure that she could recognize it. She was very grateful to the Peke-a-poo and the stilt-o-dile, who acted as travel guides extraordinaire.
“Here is where the shadow of two years ago yesterday intersects the shadow of next Tuesday,” the stilt-o-dile said, and she thought, Ah, yes, that was the date the doctors gave us the bad news about my little sister. And next Tuesday is the date of her operation. Of course the one would have some bearing on the other. But try as she might, she could not recognize them for herself.
(That’s me, of course, that my sister is talking about. There are only the two of us and our mother, and I was born in the October that my sister was six.)
“And here is next Tuesday itself,” said the Peke-a-poo, “and you may walk into it if you like.”
My sister looked closely at it, the day when the doctors would wheel me into the operating room. She stood in that shadow and watched, from her perch in timelessness, as the hours of next Tuesday unfolded. And as I waved to our mother from the closing door, and as the clock ticked on and our mother passed the time knitting, and dropping more stitches the longer the hours stretched, and as the doctors came out to give her a piece of news, my sister hated to see her cry alone. She should be there, holding our mother’s hand, but she knew she could only properly get there the long way around.
“I wouldn’t give them a week of missing me and not knowing where I’d got off to,” she told her guides. So they walked her back down her own shadow, and soon they found their way to a likely hour of Monday night, the very Monday upon which she’d disappeared.
“Here, I think, is as close as we can get you,” said the stilt-o-dile, and my sister said it would do. It meant we’d be worried about her all afternoon (and so we were), but if it was the best they could give, she’d take it with gratitude. And so she did, and so she came home to us, and so she told us her story.
“But why was our mother crying when you saw her Tuesday next?” I wanted to know. “Didn’t my operation go OK and make me cured?”
My sister gave me a big hug, big enough to steal my breath for a moment. When I could breathe again, I smelled the floor polish and all-purpose cleaner smells from the hospital waiting room’s future. “Everything’s going to be just fine,” she told me.
So I’m not scared of Tuesday next, because my sister would never lie to me.
This has been the Friday Fictionette for November 6, 2015, and the Fictionette Freebie for the month of November. In addition to reading it here, you download it from Patreon (whether you're a Patron or not) in PDF or MP3 format.
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