Semantics in the Pause

The Pause happened in spring. We didn’t anticipate all the changes that pausing would bring. Most of us were unfamiliar with a disruption of this magnitude. Hugs stopped first; then schools stopped. We quit going out. For some of us, work stopped. Sports, music, traveling—all those pursuits we wrap ourselves in—if they no longer existed—did we? 

As the students were told to stay away, the town of Athens gave a great involuntary shudder, ripples racing down the streets, uprooting businesses or swallowing them whole. 

It was not just life events that paused, but life itself, the thrum of humanity’s heartbeat. That’s why time is different now. Because now is different now. I would say obtuse, but I recently learned (learning is still possible in the Pause) that it’s abstruse, and my inability to grasp it makes me an obtuse Quiescent—capitalized because they have made it a proper noun. It is their name for us. 

I thought they meant sentient, so I corrected them, but they insisted they’d found it on They read the definition—well, not “read” in the usual sense, but I could hear the definition in the whirring scream that wrapped my body. (Quiescent: at rest; quiet; inactive.) I didn’t bother telling them that it was an adjective. Adjectives no longer matter, and I’m not fit to be the grammar police on my best day. Besides, the less conversation the better, because of that whirring screaming.

From their perspective, humans are now static, frozen, or at least sloth-like in their ambulation. Humanity itself was paused. “They” are what I call the Subito. (Subito: sudden, abrupt, as in musical direction.) I can use, too. 

Our space program was not paused, and that is what caught their… they don’t have eyes, so I’ll say attention. 

Blasting those astronauts up to the space station was just enough of a blip to cause the Subito, just passing by, to circle back and fall to the Earth, the way a murmuration of starlings whirls and twirls and plummets to your yard, filling it with their cacophonous chatter—so loud, so voracious that reality shifts as your world goes helter-skelter.

That’s how it was for me. I thought maybe I had the virus and that was why my world was all Twilight Zone. This could be a fevered dream of the dying. 

Last thing I recalled was making a cup of tea when I heard something and stepped outside.

Something unseen was there. The whirring softened, or maybe I just grew more accustomed to it. But I was different, less solid. My tea was sludge-like. “Are you the virus?” I asked.      

The whirring shaped itself into a reprimand—surely I recalled that the virus came well before their invasion—their visit. They emphasized their correction and added that only I heard them and responded to their arrival, whereas other Quiescents continued in their hibernation unaware. 

I blame the weather—the collision of cold and warm fronts created some sort of flue to my backyard. If we weren’t living in the time of the Pause, the weather would resume as the most bizarre thing about our current existence (excluding politicians). 

I admit that I’m pro-space despite the risk of this very thing. So I guess it serves me right?

They aren’t just in my yard. They have no container. This information might cause widespread paranoia, but I don’t think my words will ever reach the Quiescent world.

I do not ambulate as I once did. I never drank that tea.

If they saw us outside of the Pause, would all our usual scurrying impress them? Probably not—I suspect all life forms come with species-istic attitudes.

They will leave with their nettlesome whirring. I will be lost in the numbers of the departed, as you remain in Pause mode. I believe you and the town will awaken soon. “Soon” being relative to your space-time perception.

We perceive time in the Pause like being out of sync, because we are doing creatures instead of being creatures, or that is my current theory. I get to experience time differently with the Subito but I would rather be paused with all of you. 

12I don’t know what my life—existence will be like, but I am bringing earplugs on the chance that I still have ears.