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The Slow Time Man

by Rudi Dornemann

That's what we called him. He'd come with the house, which was an ornate Victorian dilapidated enough for our parents to afford. He came with the garden, really. When we moved in, he was at the top of the slope leading down from the backyard to the river. When I graduated from high school, he was a foot or two down the hill.

We used to hang tinsel from him in December -- most of which wound up in birds' nests the next spring. We never let birds nest on him, even though the flat of his top hat was popular roost. Some kind of field kept him isolated from our time; when we dared touch him, we discovered his skin, clothes, and handlebar moustache all had the hard slickness of glass.

He was nothing but a statue to us until the summer night rainstorm when, amid the thunder, we heard a rapping at our front door. Dad went down and discovered that it wasn't the wind -- it was a man in clothes of the same vintage as slow time man's, only more tattered and worn. He'd collapsed on the welcome mat.

This turned out to be Oliver, the slow time man's scientific assistant and time-traveling companion, and we learned much over the next several months about their discoveries and adventures. He told us tales of ancient civilizations and future wonders, dinosaurs and dying suns. He'd sit in a lawn chair in the evenings and talk while the swallows skimmed the river and the chronostatic field glittered like early stars on his friend's skin. It was Oliver's theory that something had gone amiss with the field, it had lingered and slipped out of sync with wider time, trapping the inventor forever out of step with the world around him. After the rest of us had gone to bed, Oliver would sit, watching his friend and muttering equations to himself until well past midnight.

One morning, we were surprised to find Oliver gone, a five-page letter of thanks and farewell left on the neatly made-up guest bed. Although he never quite said, we understood he'd gone back to his apparatus, to his travels, to the researches he and Reginald had shared.

The next morning, however, there were two slow time men in the backyard, one wearing the old clothes of my dad's he'd borrowed. They walk, while the world ages too fast around them, and on quiet afternoons, we imagine we can hear the subsonic rumble of their infinitely gradual conversation.

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