Shane Callaghan was a graduate student, heading home to visit family for spring break, when he was involved in an automobile accident that totaled his car and put him in the hospital. Recovering from his miraculously superficial injuries, he returned home to find that no one, not his neighbors, his landlady, not even his parents, seem to remember him. His apartment is now occupied by someone else, and every trace of his existence seems to have been systematically erased.
As reality shifts every time his back is turned, only one other person besides Shane is aware of what's happening -- another student, Claire Lewis, whom he had never met before being driven together by the bizarre and terrifying experience of being in a world where what things are now and what they were five minutes ago may be entirely different. Between Shane's intuition and Claire's logical, scientific mind, they work to figure out what is happening -- before it's too late for them to escape from it.
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In the following scene, Shane and Claire have decided to leave Claire's apartment to see if they can find any information that will help them understand what is happening to them. They are both fully aware that if they leave, they might come back to find that the world has shifted again and Claire's apartment no longer exists, so that in leaving the apartment they are risking losing the only secure place they have.
"I have a feeling that we're leaving this apartment for good," Claire said, as Shane laced up his sneakers.
"I don't know," Shane said. "But you said it last night; whatever new thing the universe has in store for us will knock us flat. Nothing that has happened so far has been predictable in any way." He stood up, then wrinkled his nose, and tugged at his t-shirt sleeve and sniffed it. "God," he said, "I smell like a gym locker."
"Don't worry about it," she said. "If I still have an apartment tonight, we can wash it. If not, we'll have other more pressing concerns."
The weather was still beautiful, the sky a rich blue, the air cool and clean. It was a Monday morning, and there was still a good bit of traffic up onto the campus, despite its being spring break. They walked up the hill and over Garland Falls bridge, and followed Jansen Road as it wound its way up the hill toward the Arts and Sciences Quad. They approached Meeker Hall from the east, heading for the big wooden double doors instead of the row of greenhouses. The building's halls were empty.
"The offices are on the second floor," Claire said. "They'll be open even during break."
She trotted up the stairs, and Shane followed.
A wooden door with frosted windows in the middle of the second floor had a placard stating, "Botany Department Main Office," and Claire opened it and walked in. A heavyset woman sat behind the desk, typing on a computer, but she looked up and smiled as they entered.
"Mrs. Cassetti?" Claire said.
"Can I help you?" the woman said.
Claire gave a sidelong glance at Shane. "Is Dr. Trehearn in?"
The woman followed. "Dr. who?"
"Trehearn. Andrew Trehearn."
"I'm sorry, miss, we have no faculty by that name."
"Oh," Claire said lightly. "I must be remembering the name wrong. Who is the chair of the Botany Department?"
"Dr. Alicia Thompson."
"Oh, that's right. I don't know what I was thinking."
"Would you like to leave a message for Dr. Thompson? She's out for the morning, but will be in this afternoon."
"No, that's okay. I'll come in another time. It's not urgent."
Mrs. Cassetti smiled. "That's fine, then."
"One more thing," Claire said. "Are there grad students in this department named Lisa Janklow and Jimmy Donnelly?"
Mrs. Cassetti shook her head. "No. I know all of the current grad students, and there's no Lisa or Jimmy in this department."
"Thanks," said Claire, and turned, her face deadpan. She took Shane by the upper arm and propelled him out of the office before he could speak.
When they got into the hall and the door had closed behind them, Claire said in a fierce whisper, "Well, they're gone. All of them except for Mrs. Cassetti, and you could tell she had no idea who I am."
"Well, it's not like that's a big surprise."
"No," she admitted. "But it's another avenue closed."
They went downstairs, their footsteps ringing against the tiles in the empty building. They exited into the bright spring sunshine.
"Where now?" Claire said. "That shoots down the only idea I had. Not that it was exactly an inspired one to begin with."
Shane looked out over the quad, which was empty and seemed a little forlorn. There were only three people in view; a woman who was walking toward the parking lot on the far side, a tall, gray-haired man who was descending the steps of one of the nearer buildings, and a still figure standing on the other side of the quad, near the steps of the library.
A big man, wearing a bright green stocking cap and a raincoat.
Shane said, his voice sharp with alarm, "Claire, it's the guy who was looking into your apartment window!" and shouted at the man, "Hey! Hey you!" Before Claire had a chance to react, he began to sprint across the quad toward the library. A moment later, Shane heard Claire's running footsteps following him. And suddenly, the man turned and began to stride purposefully away from them. He reached the corner of the library building, turned left, and vanished from sight.
Shane got there only moments after the man disappeared around the corner, and stared down the shaded corridor between the library and the building that housed the history department.
There was no one there.
Shane just stood there, breathing heavily, and turned as Claire came up behind him.
"Where'd he go?"
"Gone where? Where could he have gotten to that fast?" Claire demanded.
Shane pointed to the sidewalk, where there was a line of wet boot prints contrasting starkly with the light color of the dry cement. The tracks followed the man's path from the turn at the corner of the library, passed where Shane and Claire were standing, continued about ten feet further, and suddenly stopped. After that, the sidewalk was completely dry.
Shane looked at Claire with a grim expression. "One of the rules of the game, I guess. No talking to the fat man in the raincoat."