Tick. Tick. Tick.
The clock thumped with a peaceful echo in the dimly lit hallway. As it always had, the pendulum swayed with the turn of each second. It was one of Theo’s favorite sounds. He appreciated the exaggeration of it whenever the house was empty of everyone but himself. Sometimes, he’d mindlessly pace to the beat and knocking. Today, for Theo, it was one of those days.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
He also noted that he always counted in threes. It was a calming practice that he’d committed himself to for so long. Without it, his mind felt unnatural and crowded. The counting was something to focus on, after all. Oh, how beautiful it was.
The third never came as Theo waited patiently. Several seconds pass, and the third was forever frozen. He ended his pattern of steps to shuffle into his beloved hallway. To his surprise, the clock had halted. It was supposed to strike noon, but it hadn’t. In fact, it was slightly off from the largest mark in the center at the top of its face. That was particularly odd, he thought, because it seemed the signal of noon was intentionally skipped. Then, another observation followed.
Not only had midday been skipped over, but the hands were also stuck in the space between noon and the first tick.
“Twelve o’clock and half a second. That’s not—.”
Sirens rang through and sent Theo darting from the house. They weren’t the typical warning of a storm. Instead, the alarm rang with a squeaking hiss. It almost deafened him. The giant screen set in the middle of the city flickered to life, and though he lived on the outskirts, his view was clear. After he clapped his hands over his ears, a mysterious voice broke beyond the noise, and sirens were cut from the air.
“For thousands of years, we have been neglected the number thirteen. We possessed a thirteenth month, or so it has been said. But more importantly, we were once gifted the idea of a thirteenth hour. It was imperfection at its finest. As time went on, this number lost its value. It became a bad omen, so thirteen had been lost to our historians and book readers. However, that is not the case anymore, it seems. Our thirteenth hour has reclaimed its place by force. Such a wonderful time this ought to be! It did not come without its cons, I’m afraid. For now, we are suspended—frozen between the marking of our first and last hours between the midday.”
When the muffled talking stopped, Theo found the courage to pull his hands away from his ears. In the distance, he heard panic erupt through the streets of his city. What was once a consistent rhythm of calmed chaos was now a mass of confused cries and yells. He heard the crashing of cars, the screaming of desperate people, and he was sure he recognized the sound of gun shots, but he couldn’t be sure.
“Thirteen,” Theo mumbled in thought as the screen went dark, “it’s the cursed number. Isn’t it? That was why we got rid of it. It wasn’t just an inconvenience or an imperfection in the world that needed fixed. No, it is a curse, and now, we’re stuck here.” He rushed down the steps of his home and stared up at the sky.
Clouds rushed in as if possessed by an unseen spirit. The soulless dark that followed buried the sun in a hurry. Theo decided this was part of the curse in thirteen, and whatever it was, was pissed. Soon after the sky became a pit of despair, there was a crack of thunder, and it was angry. Mother Nature wanted to take back what was hers, and she wanted to do it without mercy. Her loss of the extra hour, Theo agreed, had occurred centuries ago. In those centuries, Nature had her time to brew and boil over the loss. Oh, it was an awakening that would surely be recorded.
Another snap of thunder roared through, and it appeared to be approaching the city. The sound of Mother Nature’s anger did not linger, and it did not echo. Her anger was beginning to travel into the heart of the city. As it did, things darkened even further—so dark that when Theo attempted to wave a hand in front of his face, not even a hint of his fingers showed themselves to him. He wanted to rush inside and flip on his lights, but he was afraid the disturbance might trigger the Mother.
He was well-read enough, he thought, to understand the degree of his possible consequences of his actions. If he defied Mother Nature’s darkness while it surrounded him and the city, would her wrath become even more severe? He wasn’t sure, but he wasn’t about to push her limits with something as unimportant as a light source. The panic in the city seemed to intensify at the loss of sight.
He wished to see anything and everything. Simultaneously, he was glad to be blinded. The idea of thirteen was a curse, and with a curse comes horrid things. In the city, there were possibilities of people being ripped to shreds or being subjected to something as quick as spontaneous combustion. He’d read enough to think those ideas might be too easy.
Despite his total blindness, Theo took three, shaky steps as he counted the seconds in his head and waited in the silence. He thought that his movement would disturb an all-seeing eye. Maybe, if he was heard, he’d get a glimpse of something moving through the blackness. He stared up as he took three more steps. An open field that separated himself from the howling city before him was entirely his property, so he wasn’t worried about colliding with someone else.
In this situation, he was glad to be a hermit. There wasn’t anyone around to kill him with madness from the lack of sight. Darkness only added to the mystery, and it increased the panic tenfold. He was sure that violent acts, even in their blindness, were being committed. It was the animal feasting on fear—the animal that lived within all of humanity. It was the reaction of fight or flight, but the switch in a human’s head was no match for Mother Nature. She created it, so by all rights, she could destroy it.
With the sense of sight deprived, Mother Nature was accomplishing just that. Without sight, they could not run. Without sight, they could not hide, and without sight, the idea violence was hard to come by. If one could not see, Theo thought, how could they kill one another. Surely, there was a way, but would there be people crazy enough?
There were. Night vision existed, but how would they see to find it? It wasn’t just the sky that had gone dark at the strike of the thirteenth hour. Theo realized the whole city was swallowed. The timed lights of neon signs sputtered once or twice, but their life was quickly drained away. In the thirteenth hour, with time stopped, the time of day was altered—if it was even day at all.
“With a gap in time,” Theo whispered to himself, “there is darkness. This is darkness. For thousands of years, we have prayed and worshipped, but we’ve done so toward the wrong Gods and Goddesses. This is Mother Nature,” he kept his whisper as low as he possibly could, “and she is Hell.”
He took a deep breath and sat himself in the field. There wasn’t anything else he could do. If anything, he was the safest. Cries and screams dwindled into puzzled silence. Would the thirteenth be permanent as punishment for humanity’s neglect? Would Mother Nature forever have her claws dug into them? If she did, Theo decided, they’d deserved it. There was a thirteenth hour and a thirteenth month for a reason, and without it, thousands of years had been altered… Thousands of years were lost. Now, unbeknownst to the humans of Amaranthee, those years were to be repaid one millennium at a time.
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Very neat premise!
It's one of my favorites!
Wow! I love this story!
Thank you so much!
You packed in so much in such few words! I really got a good sense of the character and the curse that frames most of this story. Nice work!
Thank you so much! I appreciate it!
breathtaking/ Well done. Please read mine "3% -minute missing" Thank you in adavance
Thank you! I will!
The beginning of this story is so immersive, it really sucks you in and you feel the seconds as your MC is counting them in threes and the exact moment that the clock stopped. The part about 13 was excellent and unexpected.
Thanks! It was part of my dystopian lit class. We learned about it!