The near future.

It’s morning, and nightmares again. Perhaps the social worker at the mall can help me to try deal with the insomnia. I text them from bed.

“Sure, maybe this has all happened before, maybe you are in some kind of time loop, maybe you’ve said this to me a dozen times, but I also want you to be open minded, you have to be equally willing to consider that it might be psychological. Can you at least grant me that?”.

I’m downtown at the mall; meeting with my provisional social worker. We’ve never actually met before, I don’t even know his name. It’s just what you get assigned when you move in to the community housing blocks nearby. I’m not really supposed to use up this much of his time, but I guess he likes my story.

The mall/skyscraper has been repurposed long ago as a social center for the large homeless population; it’s a resource now, we all use it; walking dead or in the blocks.

We’re walking through the vast atrium in the early morning; our voices echoing through largely empty space; only a few vendors starting to setup their small mats and kiosks.

“I feel like the same thing is happening over and over; and I feel like I’m not the only one this is happening to”. I say.

“In fact you’re not the only one. There does seem to be something going around.”. He unfolds a piece of paper. “Just yesterday I met with one of the artists that are squatting upstairs — she says this is happening to her too and she said you would come in and that I should give you this”.

The scrap of paper has two words on it:

“top left”

We both know this means the illegal spaces above the atrium; in the skyscraper proper.

“Look, I do care and I’ll climb up with you before work. I just have a lot of people to see today, so I can’t spend more than 30 minutes”.

I think to myself “but we’ve done this millions of times” — but I say nothing out loud.

The climb to the top of the atrium isn’t hard. Access the elevator shaft a bit tricker, taking the emergency ladder, there’s a slight sense of vertigo in the shaft, dripping water, pipes run by hand through the rungs; a claustrophobic feel, having to work our way around the pipes. At least it doesn’t smell bad.

At the top the space opens up into a long corridor lined with doorways, each a different art studio loft; the hallway is colorfully graffitied; huge murals melt into each other sprawling images from different artists, each in a different style.

There’s a man in one of the passageways; we look and feel awkward, like interlopers.

“What are you looking for?” He says.

We’re about to reply when a white parka appears from the corridor shadows; “hey they’re with me” she says to the other guy.

We look at her, and she blinks at me says “Can you get a piece of gum out of this pack for me? My fingers have a hard time with it”.

I pulled two pieces of gum from the pack and gave her one and held the other piece in my hand because I knew she would ask me for it later.

I pulled a piece of gum from the pack and gave it to her.

I pulled two pieces of gum from the pack and gave them both to her.

I pulled a piece of gum from the pack and gave it to her.

There was no gum.

I pulled two pieces of gum from the pack, gave her one and put the other piece in my mouth.

I pulled two pieces of gum from the pack and gave her one and gave one to the doctor.

I pulled a piece of gum from the pack and ate it and then looked at her and blinked once slowly.

I pulled a piece of gum from the pack and gave it to her.

There was no gum.

I pulled a piece of gum from the pack.

I blinked at her.

She blinks at me.

She winks at me.

She stares at me and didn’t blink. Why did I think she blinked?

“I overheard you talking below — I have the same story” she says to the social worker as we walk along the corridor.

“I call it a time bow”.

“Come on, this way”.

The social worker and I fall in behind, and her friend tags along behind as well like a wary street dog looking for a snack.

Her studio is cramped; the windows are floor to ceiling but are painted over with black paint, sunlight pokes through a few holes, illuminating the room somewhat. It is an artists creative space; traditional paints and easels abound; no digital media to be seen; no interfaces to be queried.

There are stacks of paintings; the same image is repeated over and over; a large blackness; a distorted splash of stars; black stars, distorted by a massive presence, variations on a theme over and over.

“Here, draw something” she says holding out a pencil and a pad of paper, gum visible in her mouth.

“Oh I can’t draw”

I draw a stick figure

I draw a stick figure

I crudely draw the four of us;

I draw a single brush stroke of her eyebrow

I draw our fourths companions face tattoo as he lingers in the corner eyeing us.

I roughly sketch out the chair in the corner; the one she obviously sleeps in.

I draw the waste bucket.

I push back the pen and paper. I don’t draw anything.

In a few strokes I catch the essence of my social workers bemused face.

I draw a time bow.

*

I wake up with a pounding headache. I reach to the pad of paper I keep in my head and I draw a snake; at the last minute I draw it eating its own tail.

There’s a message from the social worker; he can meet me this morning before work at the mall.

My bunk mate is asleep; so I gingerly crawl over them, failing to rouse them and then drop to the floor; it’s still early and the room is quiet; heavy breathing from several of the cubby holes.

I’m back in her art studio again. The sun pokes through tiny holes in the painted over windows.

“I think it’s real” she says. “I’m experiencing it too and there are others”.

*

I’m in the mall with the social worker when the filtered sunlight through the morning window disappears; the building shudders and twists and then tears like a dusty old rag.

“Run” says the social worker in terror, grabbing my hand.

I run.

I stand there looking at him.

I pull my hand free.

I hold their hand and run desperately.

I scream.

I look at my hands.

I am silent; no expression on my face.

The concrete and rebar pillars twist apart; windows shattering and the floor tiles crazily rippling upwards like a dozen angry zippers.

The social worker flies away from me sucked out through the glass facade as my own body sprays apart in a torrent of blood.

Again.

Of course this isn’t what happens; we merely just cease to exist; one moment we are breathing, the next moment we are not.

But I think the sun blinks out first.

It is occurring on such a vast scale, that everything we are and know, our whole solar system, is erased in between one thought and the next. Every atom is torn from every atom.

First the sun goes away, then between breaths, it is as if we are erased.

Then we are back.

*

I wake up; there’s a message from the girl: there are several others to meet.

“Make the time” she texts.

I push past my sleeping bunkmate; raising a mumbled “ugh” from their side, and stumble to the floor.

Down the hall, the shower area is mostly empty, just a couple of people I recognize in my pod. It is still very early. I step under the nearest shower and turn the water on, getting the temperature just right and just stand under the spray for a moment.

Still in the shower I flick through the messages under my eyelids.

She’s collecting all of us; all of the people who are trapped in what she calls a time bow.

There are several of us now in an online thread she’s started. Perhaps it is a collective insanity. A fringe kook group; is this how conspiracy groups start?

There’s a physicist who says that they think our entire world has just collided with a super massive black hole or some kind of esoteric phenomena; they point out that most of the universe is invisible objects, only visible through microlensing events; and that sometimes stars just disappear.

I don’t bother to dry myself; just tugging on a paper shift, darker blue patches where it meets my still wet skin. I throw my tooth brush into the recycler.

Some people say the blocks are a bit cramped but you’re always meeting new people, and people are pretty respectful of your privacy, even though there isn’t much of it, and it’s warm and there’s food. I can’t complain.

The mall is in an old skyscraper; poking its way out of a maze of beat up old RVs, tents and plastic boxes emblazoned with care provider logos.

What’s nice about mornings is that there are fewer walking dead, those people are so out of their skull they don’t know where they are. I’m unaccosted as I make my way to the mall. Social services is here; the walking dead, the crazies are stopped at the door but the door still lets me through — for now.

When the world ends again I hardly notice.

I’m meeting my social worker; he’s the same age as me; 40 perhaps. “Still having nightmares?” he says?

“The same; I feel like I’m doing the same thing over and over and then the world ends”.

He looks at me and says nothing.

“Don’t you remember we went to the art spaces in the upper floors? We talked to that girl? She’s texted me this morning; she remembers. Let’s go talk to her again”.

He looks at me doubtfully. “Those art spaces are not a safe territory; there’s no working plumbing, or utilities up there — and it’s hard to even get up there. If you’re willing to consider that you might be wrong then this is an easy way to help. I can give you 30 minutes of my time — let’s go meet this girl of yours”.

I stop at a cart and trade a token for a pack of gum.

The early morning sun sends broad beams shafts of light through the glass of the atrium as we climb towards the upper floors. We find the elevator shaft and climb the rungs carefully avoiding the home-made plumbing apparatus strung through the steps. Eventually we reach the old office tower spaces.

The corridor stretches out into the darkness, Passage ways lead off to art spaces; and large graffiti pieces stretch out along the walls. A man slouched against the wall jolts awake. “What do you want?” he says in what would be menacing except that he’s obviously not much of a threat.

She emerges from the dim passageway; wrapped in a dirty white parka, only her head and skinny fingers poking forth.

I hand her a piece of gum.

She blinks at me with no expression and turns around wordlessly.

In her studio I grasp at the pencil and paper and, ignoring everybody else, in a few short strokes I render an image of the skyscraper; fragmenting apart, bodies flying away from each other.

“You might be affecting me” says the social worker. “I seem to recall being here before as well”.

The girl says “does it make any difference?”.

The floor to ceiling windows are blacked out; painted over; but suddenly the sunlit glow from behind them vanishes. The world howls in grief and ends again.

*

“There’s a physicist”. She says.

“But what can we do about it?”.

*

I’m woken by a priority message alert. Eyes still closed. “Who is it?” I mouth quietly so as not to wake my bunk mate.

“I’m the physicist, the girl said to call you”. He’s an older man; in some ways what one would expect a physicist or professor to look like; slightly rumpled, laugh lines in his eyes, but sunken and darker now. Palimpsests of an earlier age; a throwback to when we all had time.

“On a natural phenomena as large as a galactic black hole any matter is subject to a lensing effect; it undergoes a quantum phenomena; it is pulled apart but then put back together on the opposite side. This rebounding can go on forever if there are no other observers.”

“I don’t know anything about physics.” I say.

I stumble through a few equations online.

It’s so easy; it’s obvious.

I understand the physics implicitly.

I rudely push past my bunkmate and pull on yesterdays shift and sandals while messaging the social worker.

*

I grab the pen and paper from the girl and I sketch out the time bow.

“We are here” I say. “We’re spread out as an epi-phenomena along the probability distribution of the absorption event”.

The physicist is nodding in agreement — “that’s correct”. Unlike me he’s not physically present but I’m letting him share my view. There are thousands of people riding my view now. They’ve been joining in all morning.

“If every instance of us agrees to a consensus reality then maybe we can choose to rewrite the time bow”.

She looks at me; I can see the gum in her mouth.

*

It’s morning. The world ends.

It’s morning. The sun suddenly stops. A vast screaming starts in the distance and then sweeps over us; we’re torn from the ground and look at each other in terror; floating momentarily before being torn apart by a vast fist.

*

“We can’t talk to other versions of ourselves; we just all have to agree anyway”.

“So in a sense you’re saying we have to trick the universe; tell it what we want it to believe?”

“In a way, but more we have to trick ourselves”.

“On the plus side we get infinite tries”.

*

It’s an early morning in the vast remnants of this obsolete city. My bunkmates are breathing softly in their bunks; as I crawl out and drop to the floor.

I shrug into yesterdays shift and sandals, head to the front hall and keycode the doors; stepping outside.

Parka, the social worker, and tattoo face are outside my co housing space. The physicist is riding with Parka. Millions of people are riding from the digital ether, but are not present in body.

We pick our way past the tents and RVs, out to the edge of the dried up water channel; the mall towering not far off.

The sun just begins to peak above the horizon, the hint of a bright yellow warmth setting the horizon aglow.

“You know, I’m not sure I ever actually got your names” I say.

It’s going to be a beautiful day.

SFO Hacker Dad Artist Canuck @mozilla formerly at @parcinc @meedan @makerlab