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.

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White Noise

Joe Techapanupreeda/Shutterstock.com

This post was originally published through Patreon on March 6, 2019.

Daniel sat at an outdoor table, sipped a Starbucks cappuccino, and watched the world unfold like a silent film. Deep, resonant sound waves plowed through his ears like an ocean, and while the world was usually a loud and discordant place, as long as he had his white noise—as long as he could stick a pair of buds in his ears and drive the outside sounds away—everything would be all right, everything would be fine. The terrible memories that haunted his every waking hour would slumber for a little longer, and everything would be fine.

Only now and again, there was a hollow space in his mind that the static couldn’t fill, and when it finally bubbled to the surface, when his conscious mind reengaged with those dark horrors he always tried so hard to forget, he’d realize there was no running from the nightmare, that the nightmare would never end.

They killed her, he would think, and though his eyes would remain fixed on a neutral subject like a parked bicycle or a truck stopped at a red light, the eyes inside his head would stumble over unseen obstacles as he rushed headlong, back into the endless dark.

Like humans, they’d been…at least approximately, if one didn’t look too closely. And that had been Daniel’s mistake, hadn’t it? He’d looked too closely, and after returning home one night to find them standing in a circle outside his house—after following the contours of their too-long faces, angled down, to find his wife, Jennifer, splayed across the floor, her soft, unblemished body alabaster white, eyes wide, glazed, and unseeing—something inside him had broken.

In his mind’s eye, Daniel would, until the end of time, behold those grotesque and sharply-proportioned bodies. The white noise would never stop him from hearing his breath catch in his throat; would never stop him from staring again into those dull, onyx-black eyes; would never stop him from reliving the mad, soundless cry that had taken shape deep within his constricted chest, only to get stuck midway and never come out.

He would, as always, remember how one of those almost-human creatures had met his eyes, how it had opened its mouth, and how it had strained to speak. Only the profane secrets it uttered in the stillness of the night would remain a mystery, and that was not because of the white noise but because of Daniel’s steadfast unwillingness to remember. Some things were too dark, too unholy, to ever be allowed into the light of conscious thought.

But beneath the ocean of static, beneath even the subterranean layer of his subconscious, Daniel sensed its malevolent echo, a fetid residue that, like a grease stain, he would never be able to wash away. This abstract terror he knew intimately well, and white noise or no white noise, Daniel knew that sooner or later, it would catch up to him, that sooner or later, he would have no choice but to respond to its dark summons.

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