Chronophobia (Fear of Time Moving Forward)


Chronophobia

(Fear of time moving forward)

The clouds in the night sky were slowly sailing along, occasionally cutting across the diminished face of the full moon. It had rained the night before and, due to the cool daytime temperatures, there were still puddles of muddy water on the ground and beaded drops on the blades of grass. In a corner of the south wall of Sharpsville Prison, a black widow spider was beginning to spin a fresh net of silk for potential prey.

I suppose it was around midnight when Terry “the Terror” Tannenburg, who was looking forward to being released from solitary confinement soon, came up with a plan for escape. Terry, who recognized his crimes as vessels for the passing of time, didn’t resent being caught for the things that he had done, but resented his inability to find ways to fight boredom while he was incarcerated. Solitary Confinement only made things worse, both for him and any other inmates who ran into him after he had been released. It’s not that Terry would start up with someone who rubbed him the wrong way; its that Terry would walk around with an extra chilly stare on his face and you knew, just knew, that he was cataloging everything in his head and, woe to the person, either cop or con, who was around when Terry couldn’t contain his rage anymore. That’s how he got the nickname “the Terror”. Now, as I was saying, Terry decided that he had had enough of prison, especially solitary confinement, and the only way to avoid the later was to escape from the former. Thus, the next few days after Terry had been released from confinement, he rarely said anything to anyone and, when he did speak to someone, the person either got out of Terry’s way or did as he told them; it all depended on what he had said to that person. Anyway, I happened to have arrived in Sharpsville the day before Terry got out of solitaire. He happened to notice me as I was sitting in the dining hall, which for some unknown reason suddenly became vacant. No one had bothered to tell me that when Terry “the Terror” was out of solitary, you did not sit at his table unless he gave you permission. Now, since I was new to the state penitentiary system and had not been informed about the hierarchy of said system, I was blissfully ignorant of “the Terror’s” status and disposition. I had, while I had been on “the outside”, occasionally seen films such as “Shawshank Redemption”, “The Green Mile”, and even an odd episode of “Oz”, which I felt was enough for me to know that if I did not want to become a, how shall I put it? “plaything” to this imposing person, then I would have to use my wits and, like certain primates in the jungles of parts of Africa, make myself appear larger. “The Terror” looked down at me as I tried to keep from shaking, and loudly cleared his throat. I looked up at him, stood up, and in a fairly calm voice said, “Would you care to join me?” He glared at me for a moment, set his tray down on the table, and started to laugh out loud. “You got some real balls on you man. What’s your name?”

“Angelo,” I said.

“Alright, Angelo.” That was all he said then proceeded to eat his dinner.

After this ice-breaker, Terry would occasionally let me hang out with him. He became my protector without me having to satisfy his animal appetites. When he found out that I had been incarcerated for “cooking the books”, as they say, for a giant oil company and not for anything involving violence, he looked on me as someone whose brains he could pick, especially for what he had been planning. A couple months later, Terry and I were out in the yard, lifting weights. Actually, Terry was the one lifting the weights while I spotted him. He had tried to get me to take up weight-lifting, and for a while I tried, but I have a problem with discipline. Anyway, after finishing his workout, he asked me,

“Angelo, let me ask you something. How well do you know this place?”

“What do you mean? Like what?”

“I don’t know. Do you think that there are any weak spots that we could use, if we were to try to bust out of here?”

“Why would you risk busting out of here? It’ll just be worse if you do and they catch you.”

“Yeah, I know but I can’t spend the rest of my life in here. I got things that I want to do and sitting in prison until I’m old won’t help me to get them done.”

“What kind of things do you still want to do?”

“Well, like go to Hawaii, or better yet, Jamaica. I could probably make it big in a country like Jamaica.”

“Doing what? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“Set up a bar, maybe close to a tourist hotel. I’m sure that I could get rich doing something like that.”

“Yes, but you’d need some start-up money for that and, despite what you may have heard, Jamaica isn’t exactly cheap. To set up something like that, you’d have to have money for licenses, “special payments” to local officials, and so on.”

“Well, whatever. All I know is that I’m wasting my life sitting around here and I got to take my chances, so are you with me?”

What do I say to somebody who could break me in two if he thinks that I don’t agree with him and is paranoid enough to think that I might turn him in to the warden? Of course I said OK. After all, he has kept me from being beat up or “used”. I told him to give me a few days to check around and that I would get back to him when I found out anything useful. He said “OK, but make it quick before I do something to be sent back to solitary.” In a way, I could sympathize with his situation since he was facing twenty years in prison, on the other hand, I only had to be there for two years. In spite of this, I felt that it was worth the risk.

Two days later, Terry and I were talking at our table in the dining hall. I told him that I had found out that every Friday, the garbage truck came around and that, if he was willing to get dirty and smelly, we could knock out the driver and his assistant, take their places, and drive out the front gate. The guards only checked when they came in, not when they left. He slapped me on the back and said, “Good thinking”. I told him where to go and at what time. I even managed to bribe one of the guards to look the other way when we hijacked the truck. Now, if “the Terror” stayed calm, we would be free within two more days.

On that Friday, we took up our positions and waited. Soon, we heard the sound of the truck and went to our hiding places. I had thought about us hiding in the dumpsters, but realized that we might not be quick enough to get out of them before they were emptied and the garbage was crushed. What we did was, Terry was waiting behind the dumpster and when it was being lifted, using it for cover, he ran up, opened the truck door, and knocked out the driver. I waited until the dumpster was back on the ground and overtook the other guy while he was rolling it back into position. We exchanged clothes with the men and took off. The guard at the gate didn’t say a word and waved us through. Terry drove down the road and, when we found a place to leave the truck that wasn’t within sight of the prison, we made our way towards town, using a small patch of woods for hiding. In the meantime, two miles away from the woods…

Muriel Donaldson lay in her bed at her small two-bedroom home watching television. She was enthralled with the emerald cocktail bracelet that was on sale on the shopping channel. Muriel didn’t necessarily need or want the bracelet, but she was fascinated by its look and reduced price. Now, Muriel lived in this town, which barely had a population of two thousand people in it, and which was fifty miles away from the nearest large city, and she never had an opportunity to go to any events where she would be able to wear such a beautiful object. No, Muriel watched the shopping channel because they would have things for sale that, if she were 40 years younger, would make her feel like her life hadn’t gone by so quickly. She had been married to her husband for 52 years and had four children. Her husband had died the year before and, occasionally, one of her daughters would ask her to watch her two children while she went to one of her two jobs. Everywhere that Muriel looked seemed like a reminder that her life had passed by in a flash and that the only thing left to look forward to was Death. Watching meaningless programs, like the shopping channel, took her back to her past and made it seem that time had gone backwards for her. Before they had had their first child, Muriel and her husband, Dwight, would go on trips during the weekends and have fun. Once, when Dwight had earned enough time to take a whole week off for vacation, they went to Yellowstone National Park. Muriel, at first, didn’t care for camping but by the time the vacation was over, Dwight had made a convert of her; she learned how to fish, loved taking nature walks, and learned some of the history of the park. The one trip that she really enjoyed was when Dwight surprised her by taking her to Kansas City and a stay in a first-class hotel. They had gone dancing, which Dwight was not very good at, but Muriel managed to overlook this flaw because he loved her so much that he would risk making a fool out of himself for her. Muriel’s memories of Kansas City were interrupted by a knock at her front door. She sighed, got out of bed and put on her robe, went to the door and asked who was there.

“It’s me, Mom, Cynthia.”

Muriel peeked through the curtain covering the glass on the door, saw that it was her daughter, and unlocked the door. Cynthia opened the door, saw that her mother was still in her bedclothes and said,

“Mom, it’s nearly noon. Why haven’t you changed your clothes?”

“Noon? Really? Oh dear, I suppose that I should change. Are the children with you?”

“No, Mother, they’re with their father for the weekend.”

“Then why are you here?”

“What, a daughter can’t come visit her mother without a reason? Actually, the main reason that I came over is to make sure that you were alright. There was a story on TV about two convicts who escaped from Sharpsville earlier today. I just thought that it might be a good idea for you to come over to my house and stay until those men are caught.”

“Well, I appreciate the thought, dear, but I can take care of myself.”

“Mom, you’re 83 years old. I’d be worried sick knowing that you were all alone here with convicts running around.”

“Dear, I have the police on my speed dial, so if those men come around, I’ll be able to get Officer Jefferson and his men here in no time.”

“Are you sure? Why don’t you go change and I’ll take you over to the Old Farm Cafe and we’ll have lunch together.”

“Very well, Cynthia. Have a seat while I go shower and change.”

For the rest of the day, Muriel and her daughter spent the day with each other, having lunch and doing some shopping. By four o’clock, Muriel told her daughter that she had to get back home to prepare her supper. Cynthia took her mother home, still not convincing her to stay over at her house. Her mother really did appreciate her daughter’s concern, but still insisting that there was nothing to worry about. When Muriel got home, she took out a sauce pan and heated up a can of chicken noodle soup. She also made herself a ham sandwich and, placing everything on a tray, went to her living room and turned on the television. She watched the news for a few minutes, then turned to watch her game shows.

Terry and I wandered through the woods, trying to keep out of sight of the roads, and eventually, found a log and sat down. We had decided to wait for night to fall before we would try to find a place to hide out. We were hoping to find a house that we could talk our way into so that we could get something to eat, because we had not thought to bring anything with us. We did find a clear brook where we were able to quench our thirst and do a little cleaning up, but that was all. Eventually, night fell and within half-an-hour we found ourselves at the edge of the woods. We saw a few houses with their lights on about half a mile away and there was hardly any traffic on the road. We gradually made our way to the other side of the road without seeing any patrol cars around or, surprisingly, any tracking dogs barking. The first house that we snuck up to had some men’s clothes hanging on a wash line, so we stole those, changed, then peeked in a window to see how many people were in the house. There was a husband and wife with three kids just sitting down to dinner. The food looked good, but we decided to pass since I didn’t want to cause any harm to the children. Terry, on the other hand, was not so fussy, but I convinced him that it would be safer for the both of us if we found a place that only had one occupant. He eventually agreed with me, even though I could hear his stomach rumbling. We went around the back of the house and followed along a row of fences until I was able to find a house that didn’t have any dogs and looked almost empty. Just as I was about to tell Terry to quietly open the back gate, I heard a screen door open. I looked through a slit in the fence and saw an old woman taking out some trash. Terry pushed me aside and also looked. I suppose he thought that the old lady would be a push-over, so we waited until she went back in and then opened the gate. We went into the backyard and, having thought about the best way to do this, told Terry to wait by the backdoor and I would go to the front door and gain the old woman’s confidence. I got up to the porch, rang the doorbell, and waited for the woman to open it. I saw a curtain pull away from the window on the door and heard a quivery voice ask who I was. I told her that I was a volunteer with the sheriff’s department going door to door asking people if they had seen any suspicious characters around. The curtain was pushed back, the door opened, and the old woman stared up and down at me suspiciously.

“What’s your name, young man?”

“Angelo, ma’am. May I come in and speak with you?”

“Why? What have you got to say that you can’t say to me here?”

“Just this.” and having said that, I barged my way past her, grabbed her arm and pulled her back into the house. I then called out for Terry to come in. After hearing the back door open and close, I pulled the woman to the couch and told her to sit down and be quiet. At that moment, Terry walked into the living room, eating a sandwich he had made for himself when he had come in, and glared at the old woman.

In between bites, Terry asked me,

“So what do we do now?”

I turned to the woman and asked her if she had a car. She told me that she had sold her car after her husband had died. Hearing this, I was about to ask her if she knew if any of her neighbor’s had a car, when Terry decided to turn on the news to see if there was anything about our escape. We had just missed a story about our escape on one channel, so Terry switched to another local station. In the meantime, the woman told me that she was sure that her neighbor had a car, but she had no idea if they were home or not. I told her that that would be very easy to verify, but she just sat there without saying a word.

Muriel was trying to do two things at once; a.) not have a heart attack and b.) try to think about how to get to her telephone without drawing suspicion from these two thugs. The first thing that she did was calm her thoughts. She wondered if it would be a good idea to fake a heart attack or, maybe, an asthma attack and try to convince them that her medicine was in her bedroom. She discarded that idea when she realized that she wouldn’t be alone in the room; one of these men would insist on looking for himself or accompanying her. Another idea that she came up with was to see if they would believe her if she said that she would fix them something to eat. If she could get to the kitchen without one or both of the men following her, maybe she could make it out the back door and escape to her neighbor’s house and have them call the sheriff. While she was trying to come up with a plan, she noticed that the bigger man had started to pace the room and becoming very agitated.

“Did you hear that, Angelo? They said that the cops were going to go to every house in town to look for us. What are we gonna do? We got no guns to fight back with if they find us, and I’m not going back to prison!”

“Let me think a minute, Terry, will ya? Lady, do you have any guns or rifles in the house?”

“Heavens no! My husband and I don’t believe in guns.”

“Do you happen to know anyone who does?”

“I don’t know anyone in this town who was a weapon, except for the sheriff and his officers.”

“Well, that doesn’t help us!”

Hesitantly, Muriel asked the man called Angelo if he and his friend would like something to eat and drink. Muriel told him that she could make them some sandwiches and lemonade.”

“You got any booze?” the larger man, Terry, asked.

“No, young man, I don’t allow alcohol in my house.”

“Too bad.”

“Terry, you keep an eye out the window in case a cop car comes by; I’ll watch the lady while she makes us some sandwiches.”

Terry just nodded and peeked outside. I escorted the old lady to the kitchen. I didn’t want to hurt her, but Terry and I were desperate. I saw a carving knife laying on the counter and I took it and threatened the old lady with it. She was brave about the whole situation, I must say! I was sure that she would have a heart attack when we burst into her house, but she was just a little peeved. I suppose that when a person is her age, the thought of death doesn’t really scare them.

“So, what did you boys do, to end up in Sharpsville if I may ask?”

“Why do you want to know?”

“Let’s just say that I’m curious.”

“I got five years for embezzlement and Terry, let’s just say that he didn’t like the looks of someone and shot him a few times.”

“Oh my! How did you two decide to, what do they call it in those Cagney movies, oh yes, “bust out” together.”

“That’s not important. Is the food ready?”

“Yes.”

“Fine, then let’s head back to the living room. Terry doesn’t really like to be alone in stressful situations.”

We left the kitchen and sat down in two chairs while the old woman handed us our sandwiches and lemonade. The news reports were starting to get to me, so I turned off the television. Terry wanted it back on, but I told him that it was getting on my nerves. The old woman just sat on the couch and watched us eat. We had just finished eating and the old lady was taking the dishes back to the kitchen, when, suddenly, we heard sirens. I jumped up and looked out the window and saw at least three police cars. Terry quickly got out of his seat and ran over to the old woman and held her from behind.

“If they try to break in on us, I’ll kill the old lady. You tell them that, Angelo!”

I didn’t quite understand his logic for holding the old lady hostage, but…

“Don’t do anything rash, Terry. Let me go see if we can get out through the kitchen.”

I ran to the back, but at that moment a shot rang out and I saw a hole appear in the screen door. I ran back to let Terry know that we were surrounded. He didn’t take the news very well. A bull-horned voice rang out and told us to come out with our hands up, but Terry yelled back that we had a hostage and that she would be dead if they didn’t back off. For a moment, time seemed to hold still. Then it exploded, along with a red hole right through Terry heart. His body collapsed on the floor and his weight took the old woman down with him. I was running over to help her up when I noticed a tiny red light on my shirt. I froze. A minute later, three officers burst through the door; one went to help the old lady, and the other two held and cuffed me. As I was being led out of the house, I thought, “At least Terry won’t have to worry about solitary anymore”.

The reporters surrounded Muriel Donaldson asking her questions about her ordeal. She answered each one patiently.

“Mrs. Donaldson, how were you able to summon the police if you couldn’t get to your telephone?”

“Well, earlier today, my daughter and I were doing a little shopping. She was worried about me so she insisted that we stop in and get one of those life alert necklaces. I had put it in a kitchen drawer and forgot about it until one of those men watched over me in the kitchen. While I kept him talking, I pushed the button.”

“Were you terrified?”

“Actually, no. I used to be afraid of dying, that’s true, but while waiting for the police, time seemed to slow down. You see, I was afraid that time was going too fast and I was afraid of Death. Now, I just realized that I’ve already faced Death and survived, so I’m no longer worrying about when I’ll die, but what I’ll do to live.”

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