I vaguely remember reading a short story many years ago where something happens and the protagonist gets a bit "out of step" with the rest of the world. Everyone else keeps acting as if he's still doing what he would have been doing before the event, to the point of carrying on one-sided conversations and the like. I can't remember much of the plot, but the premise stuck with me.

Edit: To try and explain it more clearly, based on the comment I just wrote, I think everyone else was effectively acting like they were robots with a prerecorded program. If someone would normally wake up, drink coffee, put on pants, then walk out the door to catch a bus, then if the protagonist broke his coffee cup, stole his pants, and jammed the door, the victim would pour coffee into a broken/nonexistent cup, walk out pantsless, but when he got to the jammed door he might suddenly realize something was up (and thus being "out of step" spreads) or he might continue to go through the motions. In either case, no one else would notice that the victim was pantsless (or that he didn't make it to work)...

How much of this actually came up in the story, I don't remember.

  • Do you have any examples of how he was behaving strangely? What is the time setting and the place? – Robin Salazar Mar 29 '12 at 4:14
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    @Robin - one example has to do with a manually-operated elevator. He gets in a few minutes early (I don't remember how he knew that), and the operator doesn't react at all. I think he ends up taking the stairs. Then a few minutes later, after he reached the floor he wanted, the elevator reaches that floor and the operator is having a conversation with someone who isn't there (him). I think that was his concrete clue something was going on. What I recall of the setting seemed mid-20th century. – Bobson Mar 29 '12 at 4:56
  • @Richard - Generally the newer question is marked as a duplicate of an older question. I'm not sure what the etiquette is with identification questions, though - just because the answer is the same doesn't mean the questions are. – Bobson Sep 14 '14 at 12:29
  • @Bobson - General rule of thumb is that the newer ident question is marked as a dupe. If you wanna get fancy, you can ask a moderator to roll the answers over. – Valorum Sep 14 '14 at 12:40

It sounds like Fritz Leiber's The Sinful Ones (An abridged version was published as the title story of a collection, You're All Alone.).

One review says:

Carr McKay is a clerk at General Employment. One day, a frightened young woman comes in, asking if he's one of "them," and if he's been "awakened." Carr has no idea what she is talking about. A few minutes later, a man sits at Carr's desk, pretending to smoke a cigarette, and answering employment-type questions like he's talking to an invisible person. One of Carr's colleagues suddenly starts ignoring him. His original thought is that this is some kind of strange joke, He soon learns differently.

A cover image might refresh your memory:

  • That sounds very much like it. I'll see if I can track down a copy. I probably read the abridged version. – Bobson Apr 4 '12 at 21:01
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    I read the start of it off of Google Books, and you got it right. "Merely by coming a few minutes ahead of time, merely by omitting to shave, he had broken the clock-work rhythm. That was why the clerk hadn't spoken to him, that was why the elevator hadn't worked when he'd first pushed the button, ... It wasn't time yet for those little acts in the clockworks show." Thanks for helping me finally track it down! – Bobson Apr 10 '12 at 21:30

The only thing I can think of is the Choose Your Own Adventure book Cave of Time In one of the end scenarios the character (you) end up stuck out of time by 5 minutes.

It always struck me as strange because it didn't actually seem feasible in that like your example he is moving 5 minutes ahead of the rest of the world and yet everyone reacts to him mostly the same. He gets on a bus and no one notices him yet five minutes later the bus wouldn't be there so he would just walk out into traffic yet that doesn't happen. If this isn't what you were thinking of then I would like to read your book or story to see if it makes sense.

  • Definitely wasn't a CYOA. In this case it would be more of either A) The bus stops, he gets on and no one acknowledges him (the driver may even close the door on him), no one makes room for him, and he can push the stop button but the driver won't stop (because it's not what should be happening), or B) He's not there, but the bus stops anyway, people make room for an empty space to squeeze on, someone apologizes for stepping on a non-existent foot, and then the driver stops to let no one off, even though the bell wasn't pushed. – Bobson Mar 29 '12 at 17:29

No elevators in it, but Terry Pratchett's Mort has the theme you're asking about. In this novel, the queen is alive but almost everyone else pretends she's dead. The protagonist Mort tries to convince everyone that the queen is alive, without much success.


Was it Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman?

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    The bit about "He appears to have become invisible; he loses his job, where no one seems to recognize him, and his apartment is rented out to other people." sounds similar, but the rest is not at all familiar, and even that is more about "I disappeared" than "I'm not in the right place". Also, I'm pretty sure it was in a short story collection, not a whole novel, although I could be wrong. Thanks, though - I have something new to go read now! :) – Bobson Mar 29 '12 at 16:05

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