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Fiction Sad

BONG. The clock awoke a small child curled up in the corner of a dark, damp, musty room. The girl stretched and yawned, then began to look about her. Finding the cause of her search, she retrieved a piece of chalk from the rotting floorboard next to her and turned to the wall.

           The wall was covered up and down with tally marks as far as the eye could see. On the far-left side, the girl had written CENTURY, under which there were nineteen chalk marks. Below the CENTURY marks, DECADE was written and beneath that lay seven tally marks. Finally, in the bottom left corner, YEAR had been inscribed along with six marks.

           Next to these inscriptions there was a long line separating these sections of the wall. At the top of this next section the word MONTH was printed neatly in bold letters accompanied by eleven tally marks and after that DAY, displaying twenty-six, followed by another line.

           The final two sections were marked A.M. and P.M. Beneath A.M. there lay twelve chalk marks and beneath P.M., two.

           Now, at the striking of the clock, the child took the chalk and etched a third mark next to the other two. Then she looked about her, lay down, rolled over, and again she slept.

           Woken again by the striking of the clock at four, she repeated this strange process, and then again at five, six, seven, and eight. Always the same routine: she awoke stretched and then eagerly searched for the chalk. Upon finding it, she would smile happily, mark the wall, and then, with a satisfied expression, lay down again to sleep.

           At eight o’clock, she did not go back to sleep, but instead looked about her. She stood up, carefully folded her dirty blanket, and crept soundlessly from the room, down a flight of creaky stairs, and into a small, well-lit shop. An old woman was purchasing something from the shopkeeper, a stooped, middle-aged man with dead eyes and greying hair. The woman handed him a few bills and waltzed out of the shop, leaving it empty but for the girl and the man behind the counter.

           The man began counting the money methodically. When he had finished, he opened the cash register and placed the bills inside. He closed it and, without looking up, spoke harshly, “Go back to bed.”

           “But Daddy-”

           “Now.”

           The girl’s eyes filled with tears, but she stood determinedly on the steps. “You forgot my dinner.”

           The man’s face softened. “I’m sorry,” he said softly. He went to a back room and returned a moment later with a plate piled high with food. Handing it to her, he kissed her lightly on the forehead. “Now get to bed.” He returned to the counter.

           The girl made her way back up the stairs, pausing for a moment at the top to allow her eyes to sweep across the shop, drinking it in like medicine. The shop was full of clocks- grandfather clocks, pocket watches, bedside clocks, any obtainable manner of clock. At the head of the shop, an enormous grandfather clock stood in the window for decoration. It was this clock that kept the girl notified of the hours and days that she passed alone in the flat above the shop. This was the watch shop and the man behind the counter was her father, the Clockmaker.

           As the girl ate her dinner that night, she thought for a long time about clocks. She always thought about clocks and time. The Clockmaker had once spoken to her about it in that gruff way of his.

           “Time, Little One, is so much bigger than all of us. While people have all sorts of reasons for doing things, only time gives them the ability to do those things. Somehow or another, we’re all slaves to Time.”

           He had gone on. “Everyone is at the mercy of time. Some people want less Time, most want more. But Time only gives a certain amount to each person. Time is generous, but it is not eternal. And, at some point, everyone runs out of Time.”

           The girl knew that, someday, she would run out of time, just like her mother. But she didn’t want to just yet. And so, from that day on, she had always kept track of the time, no matter the circumstance. But it wasn’t easy for her.

           Shortly after her mother’s death, the girl had asked the her father for a pocket watch. He hadn’t even looked at her. “The cobbler’s children go shoeless,” he had told her.

           And so she had begun to tally. Her tally system was flawless, at least in her own mind. No matter what happened between the bongs of the clock, if she marked every single hour of every day of every year, everything would be as it should be.

           The clock struck now, jerking the girl from her thoughts. She scrambled about for the chalk and made a ninth tally mark on the wall. Then she curled up with her blanket and lay awake to wait for her father. Some nights he would come upstairs to put something away, and then she would catch a glimpse of his figure in the darkness.

           She lay awake as the clock struck ten, eleven, and finally midnight. After she made the final tally, the girl erased all of the tally marks under the A.M. and P.M. columns, leaving them blank. Then she added a single mark to the DAY column. Relieved, she rolled over and fell asleep.

           BONG. The girl made the ninth mark under A.M. Picking up her book, she heard footsteps on the stairs. Her father entered carrying a tray. He sat it down silently and made to walk out of the room. He never spoke to her, but she had decided that today she would try.

           “Daddy, wait,” she called. He stopped and turned around.

“Come see, Daddy,” she urged. He walked over and she continued. “I’m reading long books now. Look. This one is called The Secret Garden.

The man looked at the book. Then, wordlessly, he turned about and began to leave again. The girl’s eyes brimmed with tears.

“Daddy,” her voice broke.

He stopped once again and turned to look, not at her, but at the wall full of tally marks.

The girl made one final attempt. “Daddy, it’s a really big book.”

The Clockmaker stared at the wall for another moment and then without a word turned and left.

The girl’s eyes spilled over and tears rolled silently down her cheeks, but she didn’t make a noise. Wiping her eyes, she threw her book across the room and then collapsed in a heap atop her blanket. In a few minutes, she fell asleep to the noise of the pouring rain outside, tear tracks still lining her face.

BONG. The clock was barely audible over the rain, but the girl still awoke and, rummaging for the chalk, prepared to make a tenth mark on the wall. She stopped short abruptly and stared.

The wall was completely blank.

The world began to spin. This couldn’t be happening, she was dreaming, because if the tally marks were gone, then nothing made sense, and everything would be wonderful again if she could just get the tally marks back. Panic and despair overcame her, and she began to scream. She screamed and screamed and cried desperately, her heart breaking.

Collapsing on the floor in a heap, she continued to scream and sob fitfully. Through her tears, she heard a frantic voice.

“Little One! Little One! My daughter, I’m coming!”

Footsteps pounding up the stairs. “Hold on, Little One! I’m coming!”

But the girl was still crying hysterically. Then, all of a sudden, she felt strong arms sweep her off the ground and hold her tight.

“Little One, Little One. I’m here. I’m here.” Her father’s deep voice spoke into the darkness.

The girl’s sobs instantly began to quiet. “My- my tally marks, Daddy. Th-they’re g-gone.”

The man examined the wall as his daughter continued to cry into his shoulder.

“The roof leaked, Little One.”

Tears splashed again from the girl’s eyes and ran down her face. The man drew her in close and, carrying her with him, made his way out of the dark room and down the stairs.

The shop was crowded with people, all staring at the clockmaker and his daughter, but the clockmaker paid them no heed. He took his daughter to the back room, opened up a drawer, and pulled out a beautiful, golden pocket watch.

The clockmaker handed the watch to his daughter.

“Here, Little One.”

The girl took the watch and clasped it tightly in her hand. Finally, nestled in her father’s strong arms, she was safe. Safe at last from the rule of Time.

January 02, 2021 02:58

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2 comments

Gracie G.
21:04 Jan 04, 2021

i notice a very interesting pace here, but i liked it! i see much room for more stories in this universe as well, great job!

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Zilla Babbitt
16:20 Jan 03, 2021

I wonder if she'll ever get to write another tally under CENTURY? At first I was hoping this would go the fantasy route and she'd be an immortal being or something, but this turned out much better. This is a study of time and how it directs -- or how we let it direct -- us. She seems devastated that the tallies are gone, and I would too, if I'd let it direct me like that. But in the end, it's a good thing they're gone. Well done, Daphne!

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