Rick woke up, ready to get to class, but saw that his clock had stopped. The batteries had died.
He found some spare batteries but had to fight the clock’s battery compartment door to get it open. He chided himself for not spending the extra five dollars for the other clock that had a plug-in cord. “Cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap,” he told himself.
After he got the battery door open, he still had to fidget to remove the old batteries and put in the new ones. His mind wandered and he thought, “Maybe the clock is fine and the real problem is that time has stopped.” He laughed at how stupid that sounded, telling himself, “Rick, you have way too much time on your hands.”
In fact, Rick did have way too much time on his hands.
The clock blinked to life, showing 11:35 a.m., which made Rick realize he must have missed his class. He had set the alarm to wake him at 7:00 a.m. but must have slept right through it. He began to wonder what class he had missed. Even more, he wondered what the word “class” meant. What did it refer to? He was drawing a blank. It seemed to be a mere noise, a sound, referring to absolutely nothing.
Returning his attention to setting the clock, Rick looked at his smartphone for the time. But it showed the same time — 11:35 a.m.
His computer also showed that it was 11:35 a.m.
Then he checked his TV; which was attached to a streaming device and displayed a clock as a screen saver, a digital clock that also showed the seconds ticking by. This clock displayed 11:35:18. But the 19th second never came. The clock was just stuck that way.
Rick wondered if these digits might have any meaning. It was before noon, so there was no reason to convert to military time. Staring at the digits, Rick saw that there were three 1’s, but also one 3. And you might say that the 3 connected to the other digits because adding the 5 to the 3 produced the remaining digit, 8.
After a brief moment of fascination, Rick came to his senses and realized these digits didn’t mean Jack.
About to give up, Rick used his phone to find out the hour according to Greenwich Mean Time, since that was some kind of world standard. GMT was 19:35:18. That was 7:35 at night, which, in Rick’s time zone, was the same time shown by his TV, computer, smartphone, and clock.
Then Rick had an idea: at one time, you could call a phone number and a recorded voice would tell you what time it was. The phone number was in the back of his mind somewhere. What was it? Finally, it came to him and he dialed. A recorded voice told him, “At the tone, it will be time for you to make a generous donation to my CharityFund.com campaign. Go to charityfund.com/time-lady and remember: BE GENEROUS. I’ve been retired for over 30 years, living on food stamps. The world used me, cast me aside, and then forgot me, as if I were just another two-bit, cheap-ass time whore.” The message ended with a beep. Rick sort of laughed, though disappointed that he still didn’t know the time.
After what seemed to be a long time, Rick realized he had become lost in his thoughts. He wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but he was sure that none of his time-keeping appliances would help him figure it out. As far as they were concerned, it was still 11:35:18.
Rick grew frustrated, sensing there was something he just had to do, but he couldn’t focus enough to bring it to mind. “Something to do.” It was just more noise that referred to absolutely nothing.
A ten-year-old boy bounced on the bed and sat next to him. “Maybe if we play 20 questions…” the boy said.
Rick saw that he himself was the boy. It was Rick, as he was at ten. He thought, “OK, I’m talking to myself and hallucinating.”
“Well?” the boy said.
“I don’t know. How would 20 Questions help?”
“I ask you questions and try to guess what you’re thinking.”
“You don’t have to guess. I’ll tell you what I’m thinking.”
“OK,” the boy said, as he kicked his feet back and forth.
Rick was about to tell his thoughts to the boy but realized he wasn’t sure what his thoughts were.
“I’m waiting.” the boy said, popping his bubble gum.
“I guess I’m not thinking anything,” Rick said.
“You’re no fun,” said the boy. Then, he jumped off the bed and ran out of the room.
Rick stood, waving the boy back. “Wait!” Then, he noticed something on the back of his hand — liver spots. “What the hell? This is what old people get.” He felt an eerie dread, went to the dresser mirror, and saw an old man staring back at him. Rick was that old man. He told himself none of this was real, but somehow he knew it was.
An angel appeared. But she looked a hell of a lot like a nurse. A really hot, gorgeous nurse. “Rough day?” she asked.
He sort of nodded.
The nurse/angel asked, “Do you want me to explain it all to you?”
“Not really sure,” he muttered.
“I understand.” She took his hand and said, “Come with me.”
He let her lead him, though his mind, his soul, — his whatever — felt vacant.
Then she squealed like a cheerleader at the home team’s victory touchdown! “Ooh, look! A door!” And, indeed, a door had appeared out of nowhere. She whispered to Rick, “This is my favorite part.”
“I’m scared,” Rick said.
“I know you are, but I’m here. And you’ll meet others, too. We’ll all help you.”
The door opened, magically — or was it a miracle? — and so much light streamed in that it was like looking right at the sun; but, in this case, the light didn’t hurt his eyes and he could see clearly; not that there was much to see except more and more light.
The angel tried to pull Rick across the threshold, but she had to wait because he was drawing back.
“I knew I should have bought that other clock,” Rick said.
She looked at him warmly; he felt as though her presence embraced him.
They both crossed to the other side, and after the angel had pulled the door shut, it vanished.
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