Lying in the Sands of Time


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“I took a walk around the world to ease my troubled mind.
I left my body lying somewhere in the sands of time.”

-Brad Arnold
Performed by Three Doors Down

How did I get here?

I’m on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, but it’s like 1970s Berkeley. There’s the Federation Trading Post. They were closed down decades ago after Paramount sued them. The Dark Carnival Science Fiction bookstore. They moved to some other part of Berkeley, on Shattuck I think. I didn’t even know they still existed.

“Oh excuse…”

What the…! I thought I was going to bump into that woman, but she went right through me like I wasn’t here.

How did I get here, anyway? I should be hundreds of miles away in Long Beach. That’s right. I live in Long Beach, not Berkeley. I haven’t lived here since the early 80s.

Here comes someone. Maybe they can help me. “Excuse me, sir. Can you…”

He walked right past me without looking at me at all. Is he deaf?

“Ma’am. Excuse me, I know this might sound crazy but…” She didn’t look at me either. Why couldn’t she hear me?

Another guy. I’ll make it impossible for him to ignore me.

“Sir, if you could just stop a min…”

What? I stood right in front of him. He didn’t stop or walk around me. He walked through me. Am I a ghost?

Why can’t I remember how I got here? I can’t remember what I was doing before I found myself here in Berkeley. What’s going on?

Let’s see. My name is Tom Kenner. I’m a retired software engineer. I live in a small house just off of Ocean Boulevard in Long Beach. I’m divorced. What was I doing this morning? I don’t remember waking up?

That’s it, I must be dreaming. That’s got to be it. What a relief. All I have to do is wake up.

“It’s not that simple, Thomas.”

I whirl around to see who’s talking to me. “What? You can see me. You can actually see me.”

“Of course, I can. I’m responsible for you being here, and no, this isn’t a dream.”

She’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, I mean she’s classically beautiful, like a model, but not cheap. Like an old school model or actress from the 1940s, one with poise and character.

“Who are you?”

“My name is merely Raven, but I speak for one who is much greater than I, one who has all the answers to your questions.”

“And who is that?”

“You will find out soon enough.”

“So if this isn’t a dream, what is it? I’ve noticed that people don’t seem to be able to see or hear either of us.”

“That’s correct for the present Thomas, but it won’t always be so.”

“What do you mean? If you’re responsible for bringing me here, take me home.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t do that.”

“Or won’t” I was getting angry now. Gorgeous as she is, if she’s my ticket home, I’m going to get answers out of her.

“I mean can’t, Thomas. You can’t leave this place until you’ve accomplished your task.”

“Which is?”

“You must save a single human life.”

I’m stunned. I’m not the heroic type. I was a reasonably competent programmer, got along pretty well with most people, but heroic? Not a chance.

“I think you’ve got me mixed up with someone else.”

“No, I don’t believe so, Thomas. Very soon now you will save someone’s life. You are the only one who can. That’s why I brought you here.”

“How can I save someone’s life when no one can see, hear, or touch me.”

“The person who you will save is the only one besides me who can see you. That’s how you’ll tell who it is.”

“Hey, Mister. Why are you and the lady dressed so funny?”

It’s a little boy, maybe seven or eight, holding a basketball. That must be his mother on the street corner. Why am I dressed so funny? I look down and see my clothes, I guess styles have changed over the years.

My hands! Where are the age spots, the wrinkles? These are the hands of a thirty-year old.

Wait! He can see us! Does that mean…?”

I stand there gaping at him. Unsatisfied with my silence, he turns away and starts walking back toward his Mom, but the ball slips from his grasp and bounces into the street. He runs out after it.

“Watch out kid, the car!”

No time. I didn’t even realize I was running after him until I pushed him. The car barely missed him as it screeched to a halt. If I were really here, it would have hit me and probably killed me.

The kid is screaming his head off. His Mom’s with him now. He doesn’t look seriously hurt. I think he scraped his knees when he fell after I pushed him out of the path of the car. The driver’s out of the car and with the Mom and kid trying to help. No cell phones. Someone’s going to have to find a pay phone to call the cops.

I’m still standing in the middle of the car engine, my legs disappearing into the hood. How is this even possible?

Oh, crap! I hope that’s not it.

I turn, but Raven or whatever her name is has vanished. Come to think of it, so has Berkeley.

I’m in a cemetery. Hey. There are my kids. “Bill, Joe, Rikki! It’s me, Dad!”

They’re putting something…flowers next to a headstone. They can’t hear me. Of course they can’t. The name on the headstone is mine.

“Thomas J. Kenner, loving Father and Grandfather.”

The date must be the day I died.

“Hard to believe it’s been a year.” That’s Bill, my oldest. The kids are talking as they walk away from my grave. A year. It’s been a year.

“I know.” Rikki’s the youngest, my only daughter. “I still have a hard time trying to tell little Sarah where her Grandpa went.”

“Come on. Let’s go. I don’t want to think about how it happened.” Joey is the most sentimental. We were always close. I bet my dying has really torn him up.

“You might as well stop following them, Thomas. They can’t hear you. As far as they are concerned, you died in a car accident a year ago today.”

I turn and Raven is standing next to my grave. I walk back over to her.

“Why can’t I remember any of that?”

“There are some things better not remembered. Besides, when you died, Thomas Kenner ceased to exist. You are no longer that person.”

“Then why do you still keep calling me ‘Thomas’? If I’m dead, who am I and why am I still here? Am I a ghost, disembodied spirit, poltergeist?”

“You are none of those things. Thomas Kenner is dead but you are alive and you have new purpose.”

“What purpose is that?” If I’m dead, what sort of purpose could I have? I’ve got nothing to lose by asking. Why not see what she has to say. I don’t have anywhere to go, anyway.

“To save lives. To make the world a better place.”

“How do I do that?”

“The little boy you saved from being hit by the car. If you hadn’t been there, he would have been killed. If I told you his name, you would recognize it. He grew up to become a renowned physician and medical researcher. A few years from now he will win the Nobel Prize in Medicine for creating a general cure for all forms of cancer.”

“This is insane. I don’t believe you. I don’t know what’s happened to me, and don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I was able to save that kid, but this is like a bad science fiction story or maybe just a nightmare.”

“Remember I told you that I speak for someone greater than me, someone who has the ability to change the world, to help others, to make a better life for people.”

“Yeah, so what?”

“Every so often, sometimes once a century or so, one person is selected to fulfill an iconic role, one bigger than simply being human. This person wields great power to do good. Today, you have become that person. The person has been called by many different names over the past two millennia. Today he is known as Jonathan David Cypher, although many call him simply the Never Man.”

I’m standing there half-skeptical of her crazy story and half-astounded at the implications. I mean I’m not really here. I can walk through people and cars, and a few minutes ago I was hundreds of miles away and forty years in the past.

“That is who you are now, Jonathan. You have just experienced the first of many such encounters, but as with any important endeavor, you must be trained. Come with me. I will show you more.”

She reaches out with her right hand. After a few seconds, I hesitantly grasp her hand in mine. We start walking, turn a corner in reality no one can see but us, and then we disappear from the world.

I’m beginning the next adventure in my new life, about to discover the mystery of what I’ve become…a sort of “man who never was.” My name is Jonathan David Cypher, but sometimes I’m called…the Never Man.

This is a variation on characters and concepts I’ve been batting about inside my head for years. I decided to give them form today, but I’m not sure this is the final form. Right now I’m just experimenting. Let me know what you think of Raven and Jonathan Cypher, the Never Man.

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