Aubrey felt the cool mist of the early fall breeze cross her neck. She’d bundled up before leaving her small apartment, taking the stairs down and out into the late morning of the city. With the wet sidewalk greeting her feet, she stopped for a small coffee at the corner store then she went outside again to meet the quiet like an old friend in the park two blocks away from her building.
The last few weeks had been a whirlwind for Aubrey. Twenty-eight years old, and after a mind boggling number of ups and downs, she was now in possession of approval for a book with a well-known Publishing house, and writing away the hours happily in the warmth of her own place, under the watchful eye of her cat, Sir Winston.
Recently diagnosed as autistic— someone on the autism spectrum, she’d found a strange satisfaction, even a measure of joy in coming to terms with the oddities of understanding her own unique mind functioning. She’d shared the news of her diagnosis with a couple of her closest friends, online relations, but was still mulling over how to– or even if she thought she ought to– share the news with her own parents.
Her Mother would undoubtedly scorn her, tell her she’d always known her child had something wrong with her mind, even though she’d labored night and day to raise her to lead a full and normal life. It was her Dad she would most like to tell about her cerebral discovery.
Keller, her Father, always seemed to quietly glow whenever Aubrey was near him. The two of them had always been close, seemed to share a secret language– much to the not-so-hidden seething dismay of Aubrey’s Mother.
Aubrey imagined he would smile at the knowledge, not with his mouth but would transmit his understanding along the hidden frequency he shared in secrecy with his daughter. Keller, the eccentric collector of old radios, who knew the frequency of his Aubrey.
Lost in her thoughts, she nearly walked into the man standing in the middle of the sidewalk in front of her. Somehow, she’d not even noticed his approach, which was odd because she was good at noticing such things, often quickly changing her step, her plot to steer around others. He seemed to just be there, where an instant before no one had been.
Aubrey’s impulse was to simply step back, reorient herself and walk around him. But he spoke to her directly, and then as if off the pages of some strange Frank Baker short story of the weird, she began to fall down into unexplainable depths of oddity.
The young man looked her in the face, his deep warm brown eyes feeling so strangely familiar, disorienting as they locked comfortably with hers. Aubrey ordinarily avoided eye contact, as it often felt painful, overflowing– like trying to drink a lake’s worth of water when she only needed a sip. And then a heartbeat later, the weird moment tipped right over into a free fall down the Rabbit Hole.
Frozen, while every fiber of her being told her to walk, or even run directly away from this strange figure, she felt as if she were floating above the scene while this person– in a oddly calm way, told her some fantastical things. The first impossible thing he said to her was her name. Aubrey. Great. A stalker, or maybe a creeper who eavesdropped on her at the corner store as she traded bright hellos with the daughter of the store owner?
Aubrey. He said it again. But now he spoke with a clear urgency, telling her she would be an observer, that she would do something called “flickering,” and she would not be able to influence the historical timeline, only see it. Later, she recalled asking him– as if in a dream, why she needed to see these things?
The stranger only smiled, a bit wistfully it seemed, and said she would understand later. And then– at the end of what seemed an eternity, but was only a moment, he grasped her wrist gently and put something looking like a restaurant on-call disc into her hand. Enough. Part of her wanted to laugh at this weird charade, but the frightened part of her had now found a moment to run.
The odd stranger– with the dreamy eyes, looked away for a second, and then Aubrey bolted. Dropping her paper coffee cup at her feet, she ran stumbling down the sidewalk back towards the coffee shop, towards safety. And then the forgotten strange little disc in her hand seemed to be tingling, warm, and sounded as if it was singing something. Aubrey felt as though she were falling off a cliff, although she was running down the sidewalk, while nothing around her was moving.
Everything, and every sound was suddenly stilled. And in the silence she watched as everything around her was reordered, as if reality itself was splitting apart, coming unglued, unstuck and caught up in a whirlwind of madness. She felt nothing, and then she felt herself standing on a quiet street corner, in the evening, in a place she didn’t recognize.
Looking around her, as she stood now centered on a rough stone sidewalk, the buildings looked odd, both old and new. Two things leapt to her attention; all of the lighting on the street, and coming from windows of the buildings, looked like lamps and not lightbulbs. Secondly, as she glanced up, she found herself nearly gasping at the sight of the night sky.
The stars. She could see everything. The stars in their untold numbers, stood out vividly against a deep black backdrop of the heavens. And then, right in front of her she noticed a small group of persons, standing at the top of a small flight of stairs knocking on a huge door to a building of several stories, with what looked to be an open-air patio on top of it.
As if walking through a dream, she walked up the stairs and simply followed the small party as they were ushered into the house by someone dressed in authentic looking English house butler attire. She could hear them speaking, but it came to her with what seemed to be a fraction of a delay, almost imperceptible. They spoke of something called the Royal Society, of notes and their colleague, their host– a man named Newton.
Several other people wearing antique clothing shuttled into view and out again. Almost catlike in their purposed quietness. All of them were led up several flights of stairs, into the most exquisite library she’d ever seen, and then up single file– as she followed the group, up a small back staircase and onto the roof of the building.
A moment later, she watched as the group was greeting a tall man with long silver hair and wrapped in a very soft looking coat. Behind him, mounted on a sturdy wooden platform was what looked to be a huge telescope with it’s brass casing pointing up at the stars above.
Speaking in soft, deliberate, measured tones to the small group gathered in a semi-circle before him, he suddenly paused and looked directly at Aubrey. No, not at her but through her somehow. There in the flickering of the candles, lamps around him, his deep, intense eyes seemed to reach out, lock upon her face. A brief silence followed, as he stopped speaking, seeming to search the space in front of him, looking intently behind the others for her. In the awkward moment of his silence, as he seemed to be searching for something, one of the others said to him, “Sir Newton, are you in need of water?”
Nearly forgotten, though she still clasped it in her hand, the disc now feeling smaller, gave another of the strange tingling sensations, and as before seemed to sing out something between words, instruments and then everything around Aubrey seemed to fall away in a million shards of light, dark and matter.
One light stayed before her, grew into a steady presence. Then she was standing in a small library of sorts, with books, papers covering everything and a lovely old wooden piano next to a small desk where a man lay with his head on the desk, seemingly exhausted, shrunken in an oversized robe of some sort. Aubrey stepped forward, making no noise whatsoever.
Suddenly the man raised his head, his eyes searching the dimness of the room as if he’d heard her somehow. A page of old paper, covered with musical notes briefly stuck to his face, a face looking as if marked by tears, then fell onto the floor. His reddened eyes, were still penetrating as he searched the dim room, looking it seemed in her direction.
A smile seemed to cross his face, like a warm splash of breeze. He spoke something softly in a language which sounded German, quizzically. Then sensing no reply, he put his head back down on his desk in a pile of papers, musical notes.
Another storm of time, material things blending into a snowstorm of time. She sat down on the floor of a sunny room, watched as a bespectacled man in a white lab coat sat on the wooden floor in front of a young man with flailing hands, looking trustingly at the face of the man in the lab coat. Then their hands came together, and Aubrey knew she was seeing something beyond research, beyond medicine or psychiatry. She was seeing a man searching for a unique human frequency.
Flickering now, Aubrey stood behind a huge amassing of persons in what looked to be an official assembly room. Even from the back of the room, seeing people from behind their chairs, she realized she was seeing political leaders, scientists, and many media stars and their entourage. A hushed whisper ran through the room, and then a young girl with a braided ponytail on each side of her head, carrying several sheets of notes walked quietly onto the stage, stood behind a podium hung with a sign reading, “Austrian World Summit.”
The young girl with a fixed, steely look in her eyes, spoke of a planetary emergency, and pleaded with a fierce intensity for world leadership to do something to save planet Earth. Then followed waves of applause, a standing ovation, and Aubrey was flickering into somewhere else.
Aubrey stood overlooking a vast ocean of multi-colored waters, and waves. Next to her stood a woman who looked out also over the scene. Then, with no noise, no wash of heat, an oval shaped craft descended silently, touched down noiselessly behind them.
Two persons wearing simple smocks approached the woman beside Aubrey, and said in the delayed speaking pattern she’d heard before– they were ready to leave for the Gathering of Minds. The woman turned from the railing, but paused as if remembering something, and then as if sensing something which was unsaid before. While the others looked at her curiously, the woman spoke clearly in the direction of Aubrey.
“I know you are here. I can feel you near me. The eyes of your time still see war, hunger, ruin, pain. But you will also see much hope. One day, all minds will be united as one in truth as fully human, will all be fully aware. And one day, all will be respected, celebrated. Trust me in this.“
And with that, the woman turned, and led in her blindness by the other two persons, guided her on board the craft which silently, smoothly departed into the clear alien skies.
Aubrey stepped out of the Rabbit Hole of time, back onto the sidewalk near her apartment. She was aware she was still running, and stopped to look back for the man who had stopped her, sent her on the impossible journey through time. He still stood there, as if not a moment had passed since she fled from his presence. Only now the disc was in his left hand and not hers, and he looked admiringly at her. Though he didn’t smile, a gentle warmth came to his eyes before he simply faded from her sight.
Her mind spun, and she sat down on a park bench to collect herself. If it was even possible to be collected anymore. Suddenly, she knew. All of those people she’d seen across the expanse of history were autistic. Like her. And the odd young stranger who had pushed her off into the crazed current of time?
She thought hard for a moment about him, the lines of his face. His eyes, that chin. As to a Mother seeing a future picture of her own child– she knew.
Aubrey knelt down and picked up the now-empty coffee cup, dropped it into a trash can, and then made her way home.
She had some writing to do.