Even after six, no, maybe seven thousand years, no science, modern or ancient, can yet explain why the same day kept occurring. Over and over, it was the same day. Everyone immediately understood what was happening. You’d wake up. You’d fix breakfast, or brush your teeth, or roll off your futon, and the day would begin. Calendars always read the same date: May 15. The Earth would spin, and the sun would shine where it could, and then it’d set. You’d finish your day and no matter where you lay down your head, or what you did, you’d end up back in the same place at the day’s beginning.
It was May 15 again. You’d wake up on May 15 again. Everyone would wake up on May 15 again. That same May 15. The last day was erased, and we were all back on May 15.
And we all knew it. Again and again, we lived, laughed, and endured the day. Now and then, people ran from it. They refused to attend work. Others just left their kids in the rain at soccer practice to blow the fire department’s pension at the dog track. It didn’t matter. The kid could die of hypothermia or fall in a septic tank trying to walk home. The next morning, baby Janey was back in her bed, because it was May 15 again, and she, unlike her mom, knew what it was like to drown in shit.
The Team Of Top Scientists studied the phenomenon from every conceivable angle. They studied the Earth’s soil. They studied the air. They drew blood from all types of people, imagining there could be some sort of X-Men style time-dilation at the root of the problem. It turned out, people were still people. It was tricky remembering what they’d tested because they couldn’t really write anything down, could they? They all woke up in their beds, no matter how deep they worked into the night, and it was May 15 once more, so all the notes they’d written down didn’t exist anymore. Or they didn’t exist yet; anymore.
The seriously concerned citizens (SCC) were certain it had something to do with a comet. Over and over, the news played footage from the evening of May 14. Around 9:23pm GMT, a comet was spotted by a British naval vessel off the coast of Ireland. It became very famous. It hung in the sky for an inordinate amount of time, clearly visible for roughly twenty-six seconds. Because it was excellent footage, and certain observatories had spotted it at the last minute, too, the Team Of Top Scientists could make a guess at its composition. It wasn’t just ice and rock. There was something else in the comet, but there was literally not enough time in a day to determine what.
There was a solid eight hundred years where the comet was everyone’s favorite explanation. Decades of Mays 15 came and went, and folks believed that was that. The comet had done something to spacetime. Earth was snared in a relativity field by some manner of science humans couldn’t comprehend yet. It also seemed we never would comprehend that manner of science, at least not until mankind could figure how to retain messages for itself.
People got good at remembering. And people got good at forgetting.
Social stigmas carried on. People still met for lunch and drank coffee, sharing what TV or movies they’d watched on previous Mays 15. Some days, people didn’t show up for work, but most days they did, just to feel like something was getting done. There was kicking and screaming for the first few hundred years. The nukes went off a bunch of times. The Earth was back and the radiation was gone. Everybody woke up in bed, and the taste of melted teeth was just a memory.
They stopped making new movies and writing new books. Everything just got smaller. The news was both the same and also different, just so it felt like things weren’t quite so identical. The anchors did their best to tweak and re-write the broadcasts for the 6 o’clock hour every time the day neared its close. They were professionals and they did a decent job. Over on YouTube, the bearded adults kept publishing, knowing it wouldn’t exist come morning.
Hospitals were tough. New mothers were left producing the same child on May 15 over and over. Doctors walked into surgery, well aware it was going to immediately become complicated when they cut their patient open, and then again, that man already under anesthesia was never going to wake up before May 15 finished. Other nurses started their May 15 already on their feet, repeatedly, because that’s where it happened.
The time was always the same: 2:12am east coast time. Much of the world slept through what remained of May 15, stuck waking at the same moment every time, but the Team Of Top Scientists found their way at least to understand 2:12am EST was the moment the day began, and it ended at 12:01am EST the following night. Or, if you died.
That stung. Dying meant a semi-unconscious limbo state. To the dead, it was instant, returning to the start of May 15 again, no matter the moment or style of death. However, there was an asynchronicity. The day completed and people continued living, despite these untimely deaths, even though it always reset. So the question the Team Of Top Scientists couldn’t stop asking was: where did the dead people go while the others finished their day?
This question’s potential answer, of course, was hindered like most by a lack of memory. Experiments simply couldn’t be fully tracked, not without a way to send to messages. People with excellent memories became key players. The science teams would run an experiment, show the results to a memory-expert, and then kill him dead on the spot. This meant the memory-expert’s sole responsibility was remembering that one piece of data. No reason to let the rest of the day clutter his thoughts. The moment the memory-expert died, he woke, and he’d roll over in his bed and write down the bit of data, before returning to university, or the observatory, or the lab to report the findings.
This was effective in passing data back to the start of May 15, but it was also exhausting and traumatizing. No matter how many times a man is shot in the head, poisoned, or thrown off a rooftop, after a while, it takes a toll. The human mind is remarkable, but it’s not supposed to die quite so many times, from a biological standpoint. It’s not supposed to face and accept death, then start over, say, more than a few times in one’s life. Thousands, tens of thousands of deaths, professionally (clinically) conducted, in the memory-experts’ case, and it gets rather wild up in the noggin.
All the time in the world to address these questions. It kept being May 15 for thousands of years. Eventually, nobody could track exactly how long it had been. Humanity had no future. It had a past, regrettably, and it was ugly. After a while, when there was nowhere to look but back, regret became valuable. Forgiveness among nations flowered. Fatigue from conflict arose quickly. There were ripples of anger now and then, rising from some individual’s inconsistent rate of accepting the new reality, but these days passed. Even though it was still May 15.
People pursued noble desires. When they could muster the energy, they studied language, and culture. They plumbed the depths of literature from all types of humanity. They confessed love and expressed all the kindness they could in the brief hours before they’d return to the same morning, both certain and uncertain what tomorrow meant. If it meant anything at all. Life’s mystery was no longer scientific. There was no time to build monuments to this new god, this May 15. What celebration there was of life on that day must occur on that day, and without fireworks, more often than not. It took years for some to make peace with the terrible, outsized, inhuman affliction brought upon the species. If this was peace. It was not a place somebody could run toward. It was not a destination anyone might reach. It was a noble fear of total, choking existence, that this was living, no matter where you woke up, or how you lived, the human body housing your soul was fragile and very-near worthless.
What persisted was the person, forever and ever. There were only memories. The pettiness and the problems littering the repeated day did not compose a person. The opportunity for shared, unspoken connection among all who could muster courage in the face of incomprehensible, repeated damnation, was life’s no-prize.
And it was life itself.
In the thousands of years of Mays 15, thoughts and recollections came and went. People reached out and did their best to try to comfort, or at least address, the lingering human spirit, suffering as it was under a tyranny it couldn’t quantify.
Every day ended. Every day started over. One day, I can’t remember when, it didn’t.
-- Alex Crumb
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