His eyes opened a crack, slowly. The bed he was lying in was a makeshift conglomeration of comforters, pillows and yoga mats jumbled on the floor. It felt as haphazard as it looked. His back ached from sleeping on it for as long as he had. At first, he didn’t know where he was and a jolt of panic shot through him.
He sat up in bed and looked around at the unfamiliar room, his heart immediately kicking into high gear. Darkness occupied the room wall to wall, only reluctantly giving up its turf to a faint line of light from under the door.
It took a moment for him to remember. When he did, the sudden stab of panic broke down into a lingering sick feeling in his gut. Even though he’d just woken up, his whole body sagged with bone-crushing exhaustion.
He moaned and rolled over with the half-hearted intention of going back to sleep. He knew he’d never be able to get back to sleep, but the alternative was getting up.
Eventually, he gave in, pried himself off the floor and stood up. After stretching for a few moments to try and ease the ache in his lower back, he stumbled through the darkness to the door and opened it.
In the hallway, dim morning light filtered in through a window. The man blinked and squinted, not moving further until his eyes had time to adjust. Was the light the same as before? Different? He told himself not to hope, not to even think for a half-moment that things might be different. But he still found himself staring at the pattern of light on the carpet.
There was an irregular stain on the carpet in the hall near where the light was coming in the window. One ray of sun was touching one of its edges.
The man stared at it for a long moment. He remembered the stain from when he’d arrived. Had the light been touching it then? Was it different now than it had been when he’d gone to sleep? Had the light shifted toward it, just a fraction? Was it closer? Or further, maybe? Had the light moved? It might have, just there, just at the edge. He looked and tried to remember. It could have moved. It might have.
Hope surged through him in a sudden rush, like a drug.
Suddenly frantic, manic with possibility, the man rushed down the stub of hallway to the kitchen. His footfalls on the carpet made the only sounds.
In the kitchen, an older woman was standing at the range, frozen. She was looking down at the pot on one of the burners. Her right hand was frozen in the act of lowering a wooden spoon down into the water. Was it closer than last night? The smooth shapes of unmoving blue-white flames emerged from the burner beneath the pot. Had they shifted, just a millimeter? The man rubbed the last crusted residue of sleep from his eyes as he hurried past. Then he barged out of the kitchen and out of the front door of the house, leaving it open behind him.
Outside, the sun was in the process of rising. In the gap between the houses across the street, a thick slice of sun could just be seen over the horizon despite the blanket of clouds. In the dim light, he could just make out a few individual raindrops, hanging suspended in the air like tiny crystalline meteorites. Each one burst like a tiny water balloon as he pushed through them, leaving a tunnel that held the exact shape of his body.
He stood on the step and frantically measured the sun’s progress over the horizon, using the houses across the street to gauge its progress. Was it touching the eaves of the gray house? Did the pre-dawn glow reflect off the windows at the same angle?
It looked the same, but he measured again, squinting and angling his head. Maybe it had shifted a millimeter? Or half that? Maybe just a hair’s-breadth?
He let out a little sob. “Please,” he said. “Please. It’s too much. Please, let everything go back to how it was.”
Behind him, in the house, something stirred languidly near the door. It curled up from the floor like smoke slithering up from the end of a cigarette. “This was your most fervent desire,” it said in a bass voice as slippery as lamp oil.
“Please,” he said again, his voice shaking. “I didn’t mean this. I didn’t want this. Please. I want to see my family again. I want time to move forward again. I want to take it back.”
“You wanted all the world’s problems to stop,” the voice replied. “They have stopped. A wish is a wish.”
BIO: Michael Manzer lives in the Seattle area with his family and requisite writer’s cat. He has only meddled with ancient magic and upended the horological order of the world twice. If you are so inclined, you can find him on Twitter @nevtelenuriembr.