Wish You Were Here
by Dustin Reid Brown
Elliott Peterson was a very plain man. Every weekday, at precisely 6:42 AM, Elliott would awaken to the sound of his blaring alarm clock, clambering out of his bed and spending exactly six minutes and twenty-three seconds of his time getting dressed. He would then begin his morning routine, devoting two minutes and thirteen seconds towards brushing his teeth, eleven minutes and thirty-seven seconds towards a hot shower, and fourteen minutes and three seconds towards preparing and consuming breakfast. After this was all said and done, thirty-four minutes and sixteen seconds after he had woken up, Elliott would leave his apartment at exactly 7:17 AM, embarking on his twenty-eight-minute-long commute to work, where he happily occupied his time as a Telecommunications Analyst.
Every aspect of Elliott's life was heavily regimented and solely driven by his own stringent schedule, as constant as a drumbeat and as certain as the sunrise. In Elliott's world, straying from The Law of the Schedule could only end in madness; it was his saving doctrine, his chief guideline. With its guidance over his life, he became who he was meant to be: a reliable, responsible adult, contributing to society and making the world a much better place ...
... Or so he believed. In actuality, what is apparent to both you and I was tragically not so for Elliott. His life was missing all that truly qualified it as such; it was devoid of all indulgences, joys, aspirations and dreams. He existed in solely two spheres-work, and home. Not only were they hardly different, but they showed no signs of becoming so any time soon. Left to his own devices, he was guaranteed to live out the rest of his days in the insipid existence he had created for himself.
However, unbeknownst to Elliott, his equilibrium was about to come tumbling to the ground.
Wednesday morning started out just like any other, save for some reports of ice on the roadways-nothing of much concern to Elliott, who, having spent some years in Michigan, learned to drive on ice at a young age. After having completed his morning routine, Elliott began his commute, with nothing unordinary to report ... at first. Twenty minutes into his drive, he was alarmed to discover that the traffic near his intended freeway exit was at a standstill, with a sizable line of cars backed up at least half a mile. Several police cruisers sat parked alongside the series of cars, and traffic cones barricaded the exit lane from the rest of the freeway. Nearby, one of the officers paced up and down the row of cars, stopping occasionally to chat with some of the concerned motorists. Elliott rolled down his window and motioned him over.
"What's going on?" Elliott inquired, bracing himself for the worst.
"There's been a pretty major accident---at least eight cars piled up. We got the call for it 'bout thirty minutes ago, so we're still figuring out what exactly happened, but it's probably safe to say the ice had something to do with it."
"Dear God ... " Elliott exhaled, anxiously peering out across the vast line of cars ahead of him.
"Yeah, pretty serious stuff! It's a good thing nobody got too badly injur---"
"I'm gonna be late for work!" exclaimed Elliott.
"What?" the-officer replied, taken aback. But Elliott offered no reply; he rammed the parking brake down, snatched his keys out of the ignition, burst open his door, and attempted to jump out of the car, only to be catapulted backwards by the seatbelt still slung across his chest. As he floundered about, fighting against the sharp tug of the belt and finally reaching for the release button, the officer found his words.
"Sir, I advise you to remain calm and stay in your vehicle. I'm sure this will all be tidied up within an hour or two." Although the officer made an admirable attempt, Elliott was inconsolable; the schedule had to be kept. Didn't this cop understand the gravity of the situation? Work had to be done! Clearly, the officer had never dealt with anything so serious as a potential delay from the important realm of Telecommunications Analysis! There was only one thing that could be done: If he wasn't going to make it to work on wheels, he would do so onfoot. He pounced onto the icy roadway, immediately lost his balance, and began to flail about on the slippery ground, his arms and legs thrashing about in rapid, sporadic movements. The officer, understandably amused at this flurry of limbs, stifled a snort and placed his hands on Elliott, steadying him and escorting him back to his seat.
"As I suggested before, sir," the officer chuckled, his face now much redder than the cold could provide,"please remain in the vehicle." Elliott replied with a grunt, crossing his arms and sulking into his seat while the officer shut the car door, turned, and walked away. Elliott, still perturbed by the affair, was made even more so at the realization that the only thing he could do was wait. He sank further into his seat. He hated waiting. It was the epitome of inefficiency, the enemy of his being, the opposition to his entire lifestyle; it was literally accomplishing nothing, and that made him miserable. He let out a plaintive moan, and steeled himself for the impending torment.
Snow began to fall. Elliott reached for his cup of coffee in the middle console; he was consuming it faster than his schedule typically provided for, but the current circumstances allowed for a little atypical stimulant, he felt. After all, something had to be done to pass the time, .. speaking of which, how much of it had passed since he stopped the car? Surely the road work was at least halfway complete by now! Elliott grinned; maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all. He glanced down at his watch to confirm his suspicions-and felt the grin slip off his face and plummet to the ground.
Four minutes had passed. Four. Measly. Minutes. Elliott couldn't remember the last time he had been so quickly and effortlessly demoralized. He let out an aggravated sigh as his brow furrowed and his face contorted into a scowl. There had to be something to do to occupy the time-anything. Instinctively, his knee began to bounce up and down, and he crossed his arms. When his knee grew tired of bouncing, he impulsively paused, peered at his watch, became dissatisfied once more, and resume! bouncing. This process continued, repeating itself many times until he reached the point of exasperation, and decided to drum his fingers instead. But this, too, could not bum away the time; eventually, the drumming and bouncing merged, creating an elaborate pattern of intense boredom. Bounce, bounce, pause, watch. Drum, drum, pause, watch. Bounce, drum, pause, watch. Drum, bounce, pause, watch. Sigh, moan, repeat. As time went on, the pattern grew more and more frenetic, until Elliott could stand it no longer. His hands slammed down onto the dashboard-it was time to take matters into his own hands! Only one thing could be done ... he would fix the traffic jam, and by himself if need be! Surging with blind confidence, he latched onto the handle, ready to give it a sharp tug, when he was startled by the sight of an older bedraggled man standing beside his driver-side window, staring straight at him. Elliott was about to lock the door, unsure of the stranger's intentions, until he caught sight of the man's face. Although his clothes looked shabby and grungy, there was something inherently .different about his face. The only way Elliott could describe it was radiant, as if his skin and muscle covered a core made of sunlight. His eyes were at the same time soothing and piercing, eyes that could both comfort someone and look into their soul. Although he looked human, he seemed to be something vaguely "other", something Elliott couldn't grasp. He was both mesmerized and terrified.
The stranger tapped on the window, indicating that Elliott should bring it down. He did so instinctively. The outsider reached into his pocket, pulled out a piece of paper, and handed it to Elliott. He grabbed it, examining and turning it over in his hands. It was an envelope; in long, elegant cursive it bore his name, but didn't provide the sender's.
"Who ... ?" Elliott began, turning back towards the stranger, but stopped short. He was no longer there. The man had disappeared. Puzzled, Elliott poked his head out of the window, looking up and down the freeway. No sign of him at all; perhaps he had slipped and fallen down? Elliott peered down at the snow outside the driver side window, and gasped-there wasn't even a set of footprints! The snow couldn't have possibly fallen hard enough to cover them. Now thoroughly baffled, he closed the window and returned his attention to the envelope. It opened effortlessly, and out slid an old, faded postcard. The image side, like most postcards, was picturesque; the photo was of a long corridor of young trees, their slender branches and light green leaves reaching over to one another, forming a shapely tunnel. Scrawled at the top of the image in the same cursive writing were the words, "Wish you were here!" There was something oddly nostalgic about the writing; he had seen it before opening the envelope, though he knew not where. As he flipped the postcard over and read the scribbling on the back, he broke out into cold sweat:
"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-his good, pleasing, and perfect will.
Elliott felt as if his heart had stopped. GiGi was his grandmother; the two of the had been inseparable during Elliott's childhood as an orphan. She had always been supportive and encouraging, lending Elliott profound advice during his times of doubt, and always challenging him to pursue his dreams. She was the kind of person that woke up every day and sprung out of bed, ready to seize all of the opportunities set aside for her. To her, life was meant to be wrangled; every day was a chance to learn and experience new things.
She had died when he was eighteen. In his devastation, he devised a plan; as long as his mind was on other things-as long as he was allowed no empty time-he would not have to feel the pain. He would not have to relive every bittersweet memory of her, knowing that he would never be able to savor her company again. Thus, the Law of the Schedule was born.
But now, staring him straight in the face was .something that he cou1d not explain, no matter how hard he tried. Elliott felt something he hadn't felt in a very long time: Hope. This tiny scrap of paper---this object of such meager importance---had just toppled his entire way of life. It had not only disproved The Law, but it had killed it. Elliot still wasn't sure what had just happened, but he felt incomprehensible peace, peace beyond all understanding. Glancing up from his card, he noticed the cars in front of him were gradually proceeding forward---the accident must have finally been taken care of. Elliot stole a glimpse at his watch and smiled, realizing that he had actually lost track of time. He turned on the ignition, ready to move on to his next destination; it was not, he decided, going to be work.
That fateful Wednesday morning, as the snow fell in flurries and the sun slept behind the peaceful gray clouds, Elliot Peterson had only one thing on his mind:
It was time to renew.