To You, My Time Loop
By Connor Mellegers
Connor Mellegers is an author and charity governance specialist who lives and works in Toronto, Canada. When not reading or writing, you can find them running, cooking or struggling to grow a garden.
Day 36: When you wake up, you don’t know he’s been waiting for you. You throw off the blanket and swing your legs over the side of the bed. You don’t know he’s listening for the sound of your feet hitting the floor and the dull rustling as you slide on your slippers. You don’t know he’s in the kitchen, trying to time the omelet to the sound of your steps. At the fifth from your bed, he flips it and turns on the coffee maker so it will be ready when you get there — hot, but not burned — just the way you like it. You don’t know he does all this so that your apartment will smell like home before you notice anything is amiss. He hopes that the smells will reassure you enough that this time, when you see him, you won’t scream.
A strange man is making an omelet in your kitchen. You scream.
Day 49: You sip the burnt coffee — he turned it on too early — and eye the man in a plaid shirt and ripped jeans. He’s pacing back and forth in your kitchen, trying to explain why he’s there. He told you to grab a knife as you listened so that you’d feel safer. You did, and you level it at him as you drink your coffee. He smiles whenever he catches you doing this and continues his story, waving his hands with every few words.
When he’s done, you lower the knife. You ask him once again how he knows so much about you. You ask him if he’s been following you and how he knows your apartment so well. You ask him how he always seems to know what you’re going to say. Once again, you ask him to repeat his story.
You wait in silence and drink the rest of your coffee before meeting his gaze. Before you can open your mouth to ask, he tells you again how he knows he’s living the same day. He tells you how he knows he’s the only one stuck in this “time-loop” and what he’s done to try and get out. He tells you how many days it’s been.
He smiles as you stare open-mouthed. He waves his hand as if to say, “go on”. He knows you have one question left. You frown and ask him why he came to you.
Day 73: You follow a few steps behind the man, Adrian, as he talks. You’re still afraid of him, but you’re no longer sure that he’s full of shit. He guides you like a ballet dancer across the busy streets, always one step ahead of whatever obstacle is hurtling his way. At first, you’re amazed by his prescience, but as the disbelief wanes, you realize he’s just showing off. You call him out on it. He grins sheepishly and apologizes. It’s the first genuine emotion you’ve seen from him and you understand that’s because he wasn’t prepared for it. You become more convinced that he may be telling the truth.
You follow him into a flashy-looking condo, and he leads you up to the fiftieth floor. The elevator’s led screen reads “Viewing Platform”, and you get nervous again. You remember that you’re with a strange man you found cooking breakfast in your apartment. He gives you a knowing look and reassures you that he’ll go out first. You roll your eyes but make no move to stop him as he steps out.
The viewing platform is both beautiful and tedious. Manicured flower beds adorned with wrought-iron animal sculptures line AstroTurf walkways. You’re amazed and appalled.
You follow a safe distance behind him to the edge of the platform and take in an uninterrupted view of the city. It’s beautiful from this height, and you let your guard down enough to stand next to him. There’s a gentle breeze and the city is more peaceful than you’ve ever seen it. The world is vivid from this height — impossibly crisp.
“Do you see it yet,” he asks, and you turn to him, confused. “There,” he points off in the distance, to where three islands sit in the middle of the lake. You follow his gesture, not sure what you’re looking for until you see it. You gasp and clutch the railing. Out past the islands, at what you thought was the edge of the tree line, there’s a jagged break. Instead of green and blue and grey, there’s nothing. Emptiness that’s neither white nor black, just gone. A ripped-out piece of the world and the tree line continues again. You scan the horizon and spot another missing chunk out past a sprawl of suburban homes. You see it again every so often, as if parts of the map haven’t been filled in yet.
You turn and see that he’s already left. You jog to catch up with him.
Day 94: His expression is strained. He keeps rubbing his temples with the tips of his fingers. This is exhausting him, but you don’t care. You have to know everything he does, and you pound him with questions. Why the dark spots? How does he know it’s the same day? What happened the day before? He’s cagey and frantic. He dodges with half-answers and mutters to himself.
He cuts you off in the middle of a question and asks, “Hungry yet?” You resist the urge to scream at him and admit that “Yes,” you are hungry.
“Perfect,” he says. “This always helps.”
He takes you to a small sandwich shop with a cold counter and grabs two without asking you what you want. You grind your teeth but take yours without protest. Playing along might buy you a few answers.
You take a bite and spit it out immediately. “This tastes like drywall,” you say.
“I know,” he says.
“Then why did you take me here?”
“I took you here because it tastes like drywall. Everything at every restaurant tastes like drywall. Except for the breakfast you make, the lunch you eat at work and your dinner at the Korean restaurant you go to with your friend Kathy. All of it, every single thing I have eaten for three months, save the times I steal your dinner right out from under you, tastes like drywall.” He takes another bite without reacting.
“I don’t understand,” you say.
“You wanted to know about the black spots at the edge of the horizon?”
You nod, desperate for an explanation. You take another bite of the horrible sandwich without thinking and spit out again.
“Have you ever been in any of those directions where the image faded? Past the north side of the islands or into the suburbs out east?”
You pause and shake your head. You haven’t. You couldn’t even guess what those areas look like.
He smiles and offers a smug flourish of his hand as if to say, “there you go.”
“So, what are you trying to say, we’re trapped in my head? We can only see what I’ve seen?”
His smile is so bitter you flinch. It breaks and he hangs his head.
“No,” he whispers.
Day 123: You reread the names on the cheap liquor bottles and grip the edge of the wooden bar.
“As far as I can tell,” he says. “You don’t exist. None of this does. I can’t even figure out what city we’re supposed to be in, if this even is a city. There’s no end to it, and the layout is insane.”
You scoff and sip the whiskey he poured for you. The bar is loud, but the sounds are like a gentle wave oscillating in and out. They’re like the sandwich, the shape of bar noise without any of the substance.
What he’s saying is ridiculous, but it makes you nervous and you need to know more. Nothing he’s shown you so far makes sense. The missing pieces of horizon, the horrible food, the fact that no one notices either of you. On the way to the bar, he tripped two men and they both got up as if nothing happened.
So, you drink, and he talks. He tells you about his first few days here, trapped with no idea why he couldn’t seem to speak to anyone or taste anything. He thought he was in hell. Even when he got to the point of smashing windows and torching cars, no one seemed to react, and any damage was repaired the next day. Then he started to notice the patterns. Every day brought the same newspapers, the same buses, the same people walking by at exactly the same time. He was stuck in the same day, in a loop that never ended.
He had no idea what to do about it until, one day, he ran into you. Literally. He knew you were different because you told him to fuck off. At first, he thought you were his savior, his chance out of this place, but then you reset like everyone else. So he stuck with you, followed you, got to know you. He told you what he’d learned, measured your reaction, tried to get your help. And one day, he came to the realization:
“We’re inside of you. I mean, I’m inside of you. You are this place and the body in front of me is the avatar. You are the focal point for the broader you to run its day around. It’s like a lazy computer program, but rather than write backstories for every character they just wrote one for you and put a whole damn system around it.”
He drinks his whiskey and then yours and pours two more.
“It kind of makes sense to do it that way. Whatever this torture or trap or is, it needs a shortcut. I wish they’d given me more food options than a second-hand omelet, but I don’t think my welfare is the prime concern here.”
You don’t respond. He turns to you and laughs.
“What, you don’t get it? You don’t exist and I am trapped inside you. You are my hell.”
You slap him and he laughs again, high and loud. “Been a while since you did that,” he says, and you storm out of the bar.
Day 159: You sit on the bench and try to keep still. Every question he asked is a dagger in your mind. “Can you tell me a memory you have outside this city? What do you know about your parents? What did you want to be when you grew up? What is it that your company does, I mean really? Cause I’ve honestly never been able to figure that out. Have you ever loved anyone?”
You struggle not to collapse as you try to answer each question. You know it’s not true. You’re real. Everything about you is real. You can name good days and bad days, friends, family, begrudging acquaintances. You can cycle through happy memories and sad ones and your opinions on everything from food to music to movies. You know things. You studied philosophy for fuck’s sake.
But at some point, you stop. You stop trying to think. You stop reassuring yourself. You stop denying it. Because he’s probably right. You don’t love anyone. Or anything. Not a single person. You can’t even comprehend the emotion. And the more you think about that, the more you realize you can’t answer any of the other questions. There’s no foundation, no basis, no real emotional backing for any of your memories. Not a single one.
At the bar, after you went back in, after all his horrible questions, you asked him what he wanted from you.
“I want you to let me out,” he said. “I want you to dissolve and go away so that I can be free.”
He said that you need to decide to do it. He’s tried killing you before, he told you, without blinking. He said he didn’t even hesitate. But it didn’t work. He woke up in the same day he always does. It needs to be you.
You took a deep breath, gripping the bar, and, after building up the courage, you asked him if he wants you to kill yourself.
“Yes!” he shrieked greedily. “For the love of god yes.”
You cried hard without thinking and left the bar again. He didn’t seem to notice and poured himself another whiskey. You don’t know if he was even getting drunk or trying to force it. He didn’t bother to explain. He doesn’t care what you think. He never did.
Day 211: It’s late. He found you in the park. He looks tired. He stops in front of you on the bench and sits on the ground, crossing his legs.
Look,” he says. “This is the part where I don’t know what’s going to happen. Usually, we get here in one way or another and I ask you to do what I need you to do. I beg and plead with you until you finally cry and run home. I don’t want that to happen again. I need you to do this. I don’t know if it would even work, but I need you to try. I need you to. I’m dying in here. Do you understand that?”
He grabs your hands and stares up at you. He’s crying. You’re both crying now.
“I’m tired. I’m so fucking tired. Day in and day out. No real sleep. No real food. No real anything. You’re the only person I have to talk to, and you don’t even exist. Not really. You’re goddamn empty and you can’t even remember one day to the next. Please, please, you aren’t real. You have to understand that. You can’t save yourself, but you can save me. Please, please, please, please, please, please let me out of here. Please, god just let me out of here.”
He puts his head in your lap.
You don’t exist. Not really. He sobs into your jeans.
“If I’m created as you say, how do you know I could even do it? Maybe I’m not built that way.”
He shuffles on the ground and stares up at you again. “I know you can. I believe it, I do. Please, please,” he sniffles. He moves forward on his knees and places a plastic bag on the bench next to you. You unwrap it and pull out a small kitchen knife.
“The next day will be the same,” he tells you. “The same over and over and over again.”
He grips your knee “I have a family. I have kids and a wife. I have a life. I don’t know if I can get back to it, but I need you to try. Please. Please set me free.”
You stare at the small knife in your hands. You pity Adrian. This is torture for him. You think about what he’s asking you to do. You wonder, knowing what he does, believing what he does, if it’s hard for him to ask you. If it’s hard to plead with you to take your own life.
You think about your life. Your missing memories. The gaps in your vision. Your lack of love. You think about what separates his life from yours. You think about what it means for you to be alive. What it means for him.
You think about the day you were meant to have. You think about your office, your lunch with coworkers, your dinner with Kathy. You think about your life and what it means to you. You ask yourself if it means any less than his. You decide.
You raise the knife. His eyes glimmer with hope. The taste of freedom. You pity him. You turn the knife towards him. You plunge it down. You set him free.