Month: August 2020

Tick, Tock


This post was originally published through Patreon on April 16, 2019

Tick, tock.

The wall-mounted clock declared the passing of another second. With each stroke, Felicia imagined someone somewhere marking another tally in an invisible ledger, debiting some cosmic account. How much time that account had left, who could say? The thought that Death could visit her at any time terrified her, and she was determined to keep the mysterious figure at arm’s length for as long as possible.

Tick, tock.

The clock spun on, and with it, time. But that was about to change because Felicia had discovered something during one of her restless nights, a quirk of the cosmos that might allow her to pass on this temporal debt to someone else, theoretically providing her own account with an unlimited balance.

But can I really steal time from someone else?

Technically, the answer was yes. Morally, however, Felicia was in murkier waters. The night she’d dreamed up her trick, she’d obsessed over the ethical consequences. How could she steal one person’s life in order to extend her own? The answer, she’d decided, was in numbers.

Steal from just a few people and it’s basically murder, but steal from a large enough group, say, an entire population, and it’s like filching pennies from someone’s coffee table, technically wrong but hardly worth noticing.

Indeed, if her theory was correct, the loss to any one person would just be a second or two here, a minute or two there. Hardly worth noticing. Hardly worth feeling guilty. Only that had never sat quite right with her, and she’d spent many nights since her epiphany debating with herself.

But her fear of death and the unknown was a powerful motivator, and in the end, Felicia decided to go through with it.

Tick, tock.

Now, even though she’d chosen to test her theory, she hesitated. Because, she thought, it was a line that, once crossed, would change her in some terrible, irreversible way.

It’s just a test, a proof of concept. I won’t be taking anything of value.

But all time was valuable. This Felicia understood more than most.

Tick, tock.

Felicia shuddered.

Just do it. What are you afraid of?

At last, Heart pounding, Felicia closed her eyes.

Before the blackness danced a shimmering ocean of blue and silver fibers. These, Felicia had learned, were the threads that connected every human being to the cosmos and whatever lay beyond. Through these fibers, every mortal creature received their individual allotment of time, and once it was used up, their thread would be severed.

Felicia made out her own, vibrating to a unique and familiar beat. She took hold of it with her mind, then hesitated again. All she had to do was brush her thread against any one of a billion others. If she did so just right, the friction generated would divert a few small units of time, forcing them instead to flow into herself. But she was still afraid of how such a theft might taint her soul, and even now, on the cusp of acting, she was afraid.

I can’t, whispered a voice inside her head.

You can, whispered another.

It’s wrong.

It’s just a couple of seconds. They won’t notice a thing.

It was such a convenient lie, and after one last moment of self-doubt, Felicia decided to proceed.

Carefully, calmly, she surveyed the other threads. There, beside her, was one that seemed thick with vitality. She reached, her own thread firmly in hand, and—

A spark, followed by a flash. Startled, Felicia rebounded, almost tumbling out of the couch and onto the floor. She waited for her inner vision to clear, and when she was able to perceive the consequences of her actions, she gasped. Somehow, her thread had entangled with a thousand others. The resulting friction had sucked them all dry, leaving them burned out and severed.

Felicia licked her suddenly parched lips.

Tick, tock.

A thousand threads severed.

Tick, tock.

A thousand lives lost.

No, she thought. No, that can’t be.

But it was. A thousand human beings had died instantly, a sacrifice that imbued her with more time than she knew what to do with.

I’m a murderer.

Dazed and numb, Felicia didn’t realize until much, much later how long she would have to live with that fact.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.

Dorian’s Unfinished Work


This post was originally published through Patreon on April 9, 2019

Dorian’s fingers dashed across the keyboard—forward and back, like a concert pianist in the throes of a wild composition. The light from his laptop’s monitor lit up his face, making him pale like a ghost. And that was precisely what he would be soon enough, for Death was coming, and Death would brook no delay.

Words tumbled out of him, but none were the right words; like broken keys, not a single one fit the unique lock that shuttered his imagination to the outside world.

Have to finish before Death takes me away.

And, as if the thought were a summons, the clock on his desk chimed the hour. Startled, Dorian looked up, and there he stood.


He hovered in the doorway, staring at Dorian with thinly veiled amusement.

“Are you ready?” Death asked. “The hour grows late and I have others to visit before the night is done.”

“If you could just give me one more night, maybe two—”

“No,” said Death. “Seventy years is time enough to accomplish any task. It’s time to go.”

Dorian gazed hopelessly at the laptop. The ideas he wanted to communicate were all there in one form or another, but they were disjoint, jumbled, incomplete.

“Then could I at least have an hour?”

“I’m afraid not.”

“Please. I have to finish my work.”

Death offered him a smile.

“May I let you in on a secret?”

Death moved forward into the room, his shadow sweeping over the wide wooden desk, and Dorian shrank back.

“A human’s work,” he whispered, leaning close to Dorian’s ear, “is never finished. There will always be imperfections and some way to improve upon what’s already been done. It’s part of your species’ charm.”

“You don’t understand. If I don’t finish, others won’t know what I’m trying to say.”

Death offered him a sagely nod.

“Perhaps. But I’ll let you in on another secret. That, too, is part of your species’ charm. Consider Pascal and his Pensees. He only outlined what would have amounted to volumes before he died, yet what he did to commit to paper has inspired generations of philosophers, not to mention his notable contributions to science and mathematics. Sometimes, that which is unfinished provides the greatest value.”

Dorian weighed Death’s words, and at last, he nodded.

“Then could I take a moment to print what I have so my family can find it in the morning?”

Death considered Dorian’s proposal. “That,” he said, “would be acceptable.”

So Dorian and Death sat together in silence while the printer regurgitated his life’s work, and when it finished—when the last page emerged, the internal fans quieted, and Dorian shut down his laptop for the last time—Death crooked a too-pale finger, and Dorian, breathing deep, rose to follow after him.

“Will it hurt?” Dorian asked.

“Only for a moment.”

Dorian found this to be acceptable, and after taking Death’s hand, the two of them marched forward into the dark.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.