The Loop takes déjà vu to a whole new level. A father and daughter must combine their intellect before time runs out.
by D. Leroy
When the pastor said, “Life is like mud, if you don’t have Jesus,” Jack realized something might be wrong. And actually, it wasn’t Jack who noticed.
“Dad,” Laura tapped his arm and whispered, “Didn’t he already say that?”
“What’s that, sweetie?” Jack leaned closer to her.
“He keeps saying the same thing over and over.”
“It probably just seems that way.” Jack patted her hand and smiled. Truth be known, he hadn’t been listening.
“No,” she said, “he said the same thing four times.”
“What’d he say?” Jack asked her. Since she’d turned thirteen, just humoring her eased everything.
“He said ‘life is like mud, if you don’t have Jesus,’” she said. “Listen… I’ll bet he says it again.”
He focused on the pastor, a man he’d known for better than five years. A man he adored. But, consequently, this morning, a man he wished would shut up and dismiss everyone. Jack thought about Taco Bell. His stomach rumbled. The Texans were playing today. Lord forgive him, but he couldn’t wait for church to end.
He glanced at the clock hanging on the wall: 11:48 a.m. Could time go any slower? Pastor James settled into a wooden chair perched next to the pulpit and spoke softly about the terrible choices we make. Wasn’t that the truth?
Jack forced himself to avoid the clock, keeping his eyes forward until he could no longer stand it and then glanced over: 12:07 p.m. When you wanted time to pass quickly, it seemed to stall in low gear. He stared down at his hands, lacing his fingers together, watching them as if he’d found a new toy.
Then he heard it.
“Life is like mud, if you don’t have Jesus.”
Laura hit him in the arm. “See!” she said in a high-pitched whisper.
“Ah, c’mon, he’s probably just saying it again,” Jack said and smiled. But this was a little weird, strangely familiar, like watching a movie and then seeing something that made you think you might have seen it before. I don’t think he was standing the last time, Jack told himself. He clearly remembered the pastor sitting down. He leaned over to Laura and whispered, “Was he standing the last time he said it?”
“Yes!” Her voice squeaked and he shhhh’d her. She whispered, “Something’s wrong, Dad… he’ll set down in a second.” And he did.
He glanced around at the congregation. One little boy picked his nose and examined his finger. A young girl texted on her phone, sitting between her parents, her thumbs working faster than light, her eyes focused in vigorous concentration. She had no idea that Jack was watching her. Kids and their damn phones… shouldn’t be allowed to use it in church. He faced back forward, a little disgusted, then glanced at the clock again.
His breath caught in his throat and for a frightful moment, his heart stopped: 11:46 a.m.
“Life is like mud, if you don’t have Jesus.”
“Okay,” he said. “This is weird.”
“I know.” Laura leaned forward and gazed around the room. “Watch this.”
She jumped to her feet and clapped her hands, then yelled “Hey!”
Horrified, Jack reached out and grabbed her arm, yanking her down into her seat. Red warmth spread through his cheeks and ears, engulfing him like a black cloud. “What are you doing?” he hissed. Thank God, no one was staring at them.
“They can’t hear us, Dad.” Her mouth fell open, and he read the fear in her eyes, a simple spark that said, Please tell me I’m dreaming all of this.
“That’s crazy. You…” but then he stopped and gazed around the room again. No one was looking at them. Not one person. No one had so much as shot a scowling glance in their direction. Pastor James just kept on preaching as if nothing had happened. Nothing at all.
“Dad,” Laura jumped up again. “Something is so wrong here. Look.” She pointed at the people behind them. “No one even knows I’m standing here.” Her voice echoed off the walls as if spoken in a tomb.
The first words that popped into his mind were, They’re just ignoring you, sweetie. But that wasn’t right, and he knew it. His brain wouldn’t let go of logic, and he searched desperately for a reason. He was a software engineer for Christ’s sake; there was always a logical reason.
“They can’t see me, Dad!”
“Would you sit down,” he said, still whispering, though he wasn’t sure it mattered.
She plopped down, folded her arms over her chest, and cried.
Jack reached behind him and tapped a man named Brent McAdams on the shoulder. He’d known Brent for years, and Brent wouldn’t think he was too weird, he didn’t think. “Hey Brent,” Jack said.
Brent didn’t move.
Jack tapped him harder. “Brent.”
Jack stood and touched Brent’s cheek. “Brent!” The soft flesh of Brent’s cheek dimpled where Jack’s finger pushed on it, but the man still didn’t acknowledge him. Now, who the hell wouldn’t react if someone were pushing on their cheek? Jack turned to Brent’s wife, Megan, a pretty young woman who sat with her hands folded in her lap, her eyes fixed on Pastor James, who was still preaching as if there wasn’t a man standing up in his congregation, touching Brent’s face.
“Megan!” Jack yelled this time. “Megan!”
“Daddy, they can’t see us.” The skin around Laura’s eyes was red.
I’ll work this out, sweetie. That’s what he wanted to tell her, but couldn’t.
“That’s impossible.” Jack turned back to Brent. “Brent!”
Nothing. Not so much as a blink.
He whirled around, nearly losing his balance, having to grab the back of the chair in front of him to keep from toppling over. He gazed at the clock: 11:58 a.m. What the hell was going on here? He forced himself to breathe… in through the nose, out through the mouth. His heart pounded. More than pounded, it hammered like an animal about to rip itself out of him. I’ve got to calm down. A logical explanation existed somewhere. But damned if he could come up with anything.
He dug his cell phone out of his pocket and flipped it open. He punched in the house number and hit SEND. Nothing happened. He waited, and still nothing happened. He pulled the phone away and stared at the face, gaping stupidly. The clock in the upper right-hand corner of the screen read 12:08 p.m. He looked at the clock on the wall again: 11:59 a.m. His brain churned, unable to deduce anything but to stand there like an idiot. His fingers tingled, his mouth dried up.
“Daddy!” Laura yelled from the front of the sanctuary, up next to the stage where Pastor James sat preaching. “No one can see us!”
He gawked at her. A sudden, insane urge to laugh bubbled up inside him, and he stifled it with his fist, shoving his knuckles into his mouth and biting down. The sight of Pastor James preaching as his daughter yelled unnoticed right below him was a hysterical, horrifying sight.
Just dreaming, that’s all this is. Am I at home in bed, or sleeping right here in the church seat?
“Daddy, I’m scared.”
A strange, gravelly voice echoed through the room. “You’re not dreaming, Jack my boy, you’re not dreaming at all.”
Jack spun around, temporarily ignoring Laura, and faced the door at the back of the room. Dread swept over him as he stared at the dark silhouette filling the doorway.
“Who’s there?” Jack yelled.
Laura cried and asked, “Who is that?”
“I ain’t nobody you know,” the dark man said, “You in my world now.” An eerie silence hung in the air and nothing could be heard but Pastor James speaking, which had become irrelevant in the scheme of things.
“What’s going on here?” Jack heard himself say the words, but they sounded silly, almost surreal. Another urge to break into wild laughter lurched into his throat, and he swallowed it back.
The dark man said, “You in the loop, young fella. You both is. Ain’t no gettin’ out of it.”
Sweat broke out on Jack’s palms, and he rubbed them nervously against his shirt.
“Just watch out, now. There’s some bad stuff in the loop. Stuff that’ll kill ya, if ya ain’t careful. Loops about to go around again.”
The question What are you talking about? bubbled up to Jack’s lips, and then it dawned on him. He glanced at the clock and saw it was 12:08 p.m. He was about to yell to Laura.
She screamed as Pastor James said, “Life is like mud, if you don’t have Jesus.”
The clock read 11:46 a.m. He was back in his seat, Laura next to him.
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