Martin Hooijmans | Lars de Ruyter
It had changed. Again. Jeffrey couldn’t attribute this to his mere imagination anymore. Two months ago the building across the street had been a hairdresser, a week after that a pet shop, then a bicycle store. Jeffrey had heard rumors about their downfall, each unlikelier than the other. The hairdresser’s customers left with longer hair, the pets were dementing by the time they were sold and the bikes turned rusty before the owner’s very eyes. Now, after several other transformations, the building across the street was merely deserted. A building that looked like it had been vacated for many years, that was. The wood in the front looked rotten, the white paint hardly visible anymore. The sign that had belonged to last week’s occupant, a young and ambitious grocer, hung sadly on one of its hinges, the words ‘Speedy Mart’ faded by what seemed like decades of exposure to sunlight.
Either Jeffrey had a very vivid — and very situational — imagination, or something was definitely wrong here. He convinced himself that of all the things he was, nut job was not one of them, and rang the municipality.
“I am sorry, sir, but all we can attribute this to is a very long stroke of bad luck for the store’s previous owners.”
Another phone call to the real estate agent in charge ended the same.
“We do not know what is going on, but for the time being this property is not for rent.”
Jeffrey had no idea himself about what was going on, but he knew that he would not rest until he found out. So five minutes later he stood downstairs, hands cupped against the door window, trying to peek inside. Without success. The layer of dust on the glass was already too thick. Curiosity stronger than his common sense, Jeffrey’s hand traveled downwards towards the doorknob and came to rest upon it, curled around it, started to turn. The click was unexpected, the ease with which the door flung open even more. Jeffrey was greeted by a small number of aisles, all thickly covered in dust, all still filled with everyday products. Everyday products that looked ancient. The packages were at least as faded as the sign, the pieces of meat reduced to bone, the vegetables mere dust. Then, as if to complete the picture, the sign came falling down on Jeffrey. He was barely able to dodge it, rolled into the shop, was caught immediately by a huge coughing fit, definitely induced by all the dust. When it was over, his initial surprise made way for another emotion. Fear. Something about this place was eerie, very eerie indeed. He turned to run, to leave Speedy Mart alone to rot, when he heard the faint buzzing sound. It sounded like a machine, which seemed odd. What piece of machinery would still work after such a long time had passed? A time machine, perhaps? Jeffrey felt the rough stubble on the cheeks he had so cleanly shaved that morning, and all of a sudden the idea did not seem that strange anymore. Something altered the flow of time in this place, that was clear. And whatever it was, it turned out to be catastrophic for anyone and anything inside, including the building itself. Already Jeffrey felt the effects, and he had not even been inside for longer than one minute. How much longer would it take for the foundations to collapse? This building was a hazard, and no one was doing anything about it. Not before Jeffrey came.
Finding the source of the sound was not difficult. Right in the center of the store it was most present, and it seemed to rise up from the floor. Jeffrey ripped away the linoleum covering, then began tearing at the old wooden boards. After a minute’s work, he had uncovered a small, simple-looking device with three buttons. The right one, a traditional fast forward one, was currently pressed. The middle one indicated normal speed and the left one, fast reverse. Jeffrey did not hesitate and pressed the middle button. He immediately noticed the change in his hair. He could not feel it growing anymore. Also, the swift gathering of dust had come to a halt. Everything seemed to be restored to its proper state. Jeffrey gathered up the boards he had torn away and started replacing them, when his attention was drawn to the final button. The machine in front of him had taken away a little bit of his life, so it seemed only fair that it paid him back. With interest, that was. As with the doorknob, Jeffrey’s hand automatically moved down to the button and pressed it, without a moment’s hesitation. The strangest sensation of his life overtook his senses now, as he felt his hair grow shorter, his sight grow sharper, his heart grow stronger. Around him the dust vanished, the store’s products slowly restored themselves to their original, brand new appearances and the wooden door started to look like the tree it originated from was cut down yesterday. Jeffrey was amazed by all this, completely absorbed, but he felt it when his body was at the right age and reached out to press the normal speed button. It would not go down. He pressed harder. Still nothing. Then he tried the fast forward button again. It was jammed as well.
Jeffrey could only think of one thing now: get out. Get out while you still can. He turned to the door and began to run. Run on shorter legs, that were growing shorter by the second. He was turning into a child again. He felt himself shrink, his thoughts grow more simplified. He reached out to the doorknob, found he was not tall enough to reach it anymore. Found out it did not matter. There was so much to play with, so much to explore in this shop! He turned around, fell on his hands and knees and started crawling back inside. After a few seconds, he could not support his weight anymore, rolled over and began to cry. A few moments later, all thought went away.
Jeffrey slowly faded out of existence.