time

The City Time Forgot

Fog descends. As it falls, obscuring the world you know, you sigh. It has been a long day and you are just trying to return home. Kick back, relax, crack open a beer and forget the nowhere you came from and the nowhere you are headed. Alas, this is not to be. You walk through the mist, totally lost, and knowing that you are transported. The tenor of the air changes, thinner, colder, like you ascend the peak of a high mountain. The street beneath you shifts, from smooth pavement to perfectly set cobblestones. You are disentangled from place.

You have entered the City Time Forgot.

The fog lifts, and you are not surprised to see that the evening you left becomes day. The sun shines bright and blinds you for a moment.

“Welcome!”

You vision, briefly blurry, reveals only a dark shadow surrounded by burning light. Slowly, regaining your sight, the shade becomes an old man, yellow skin like aged vellum preserved in chalk and lime, fragile but enduring the centuries. His smile, open and white, his eyes, clear and amber, are those of a younger man. Every day is his first, and his last, in this city that time forgot.

You ignore his greeting and, knowing that the only way out is through, that one must spend time to escape the timeless, proceed into the city proper. An arch with a black marble keystone heralds its entrance. Still inward, unchastened by the bright dawn, simmer fog and darkness.

Undaunted by your silence, the old gatekeeper continues. “Or rather I should say, welcome back. The emptiness where memories would be tells me that this will not have been your first time. Or that in the future, you were here already. That somewhen, you will be here again, and I have greeted you before and after. Whether it will happen or has is of little consequence here, as I’m sure you know.”

The same speech, the same nonsense. You leave him behind, and he watches you go with the same bright smile.

“I hope you enjoy your time in our fair city, brief though it may be. Forever though it may yet become, or has always been… Farewell, farewell…”

His voice fades as you cross through the arch, though he cannot be more than a dozen yards behind. You turn, and, as you expected, as has, and does, and will always happen, what was behind you no longer exists. Only fog. The time you spent does not occur, only the now. And here, in what was darkness when it was in the distance, is a bright, bustling thoroughfare. And all around you live and work and thrive the denizens of the City Time Forgot.

They smile as you pass, knowing you, knowing your routine, despite the fact that before this moment they did not exist, and after they will not again. This world is a track that will not change, merely looping through the same melody. It is a song played on repeat, and you are its only listener. Windows throw open as you walk past, their occupiers watching in silence. Young children dance under your feet, playing games of such complexity that they must have history, but they do not. And as you pass, so do they. As you leave, they fade.

The architecture is bizarre in the City. Future innovation and archaic design comingle like old friends, and so hover all about creatures of artificial intelligence and glinting metal, serving blacksmiths at their forges, helping farmers peddle their livestock and crops in the marketplace. Every building is carved from the same black marble as the arch, impossibly smooth. Each a perfect geometric marvel. Each made from a single stone, somehow harvested from a giant’s quarry. Or perhaps where once a quarry was grew this city. It is a mystery you will never solve.

Eventually, after a span you cannot determine, if indeed any time passes at all, you come to the end of the city. Another black arch, another vast expanse of dark and fog beyond. You close your eyes, feeling those of the City’s citizens all on you. You do not turn; you do not speak to them; you never have and, you suppose, never will. For the first time, as you leave, you felt a hint of regret.

Why did I not speak that first time? Why, by that first, is my path always, always set? Is this the same memory? The same experience, over and over? The old man greeted… greets me that first time like I come forever and ever. I wonder, as I leave, do I enter again behind? I wonder, are these moments, for them, all there ever is?

And so you exit, and fog descends, and you cannot see your way but proceed forward nonetheless. Stumbling from cobblestones onto pavement, breathing the heavy, smoggy air of your own city. The world housed interminably in time. The world you return to, always wishing you could escape.

At night you dream of sweet air and sweeter smiles. Of old men, and impossible black wonders. You dream of the City Time Forgot.

Nigh Midnight

December 31st, 1999, 11:59:59 PM. It's been nigh midnight for 50 years. The ball never dropped. All clocks just stopped. The whole world is trapped in endless night.

The perma-darkness spawned first in the proverbial East, Asiatic nations awaiting a New Year that never came. As each time zone approached midnight, its time too froze. The whole world shuffled toward the precipice of a new millennium, never quite succumbing to the future.

How was this possible? Science struggled to explain. The Earth still rotated, still revolved around the sun. And yet here we were, frozen. Here was our world, plunged into dusk. The sun's rays unable to penetrate whatever spell held us thus.

We sat before our televisions, waiting, never aging. Champagne in our glasses, never gone flat. Tender hearts untouched, soft lips un-kissed. We gazed at each other with longing, hoping at first that the next second would finally come and we could embrace, then at the last hoping merely for a reprieve, for any end to this suffering. We stared at our watches, waiting for the next second to pass, forever and an instant becoming one. And in this moment, we were immortal.

So here we sit. December 31st, 1999, at the eve of midnight. The New Year nigh, but never approaching. The whole world and all its creatures frozen in the act of birth, of living, of death, trapped on the edge of becoming. The ball never drops. All clocks remain stopped. The whole world trapped in endless night.

 

Time Thief

The old man lies in his bed, waiting to die. The clock by his bedside ticks. The hour is… much later than he thought. It is always later; the years always pass faster. He blinked once, a child. He blinks again, near dying. His only account for in between is hazy and unsure. Memories, Her lie told en masse, fade as soon as they drift from creation into the past.

                Where does it all go? He wonders silently as his body ossifies. The world around him fades to white. Yesterday, wasn't I still young? I had my whole life ahead of me. I… I… Where does it all go?

                The room becomes still and dark as all life leaves it. From the shadows a swirling snicker. A dark presence dances her way out the door in a cloak of looming shadows. The Time Thief departs, her loot in hand, another life lost to her bottomless avarice. Another span of decades passes from our hands into her sea of time that flows beneath the Earth.

"Where did the time go?" We wonder, blind to her grin, deaf to her laughter. We look in the mirror at our lined faces and swear that just yesterday, just a moment ago, just before we blinked, that we were still young. The whole of our lives stretched before us.

We were. And now we will never be again. The Time Thief? She remains young forever.

Time flows differently for everyone. For some it is a stream idling through wilderness, others are lost in a torrent. For some it is slow. It endures, life is a slow marathon lasting for an unknowable amount of miles. A slow-burning torment with no relief. For others it's a sprint. They rush past every moment, appreciating none. Accelerating by leaps and bounds towards the grave.

To the Time Thief, Death's right hand, speed matters not. Whether we slink through life or launch by, we fall right into her clutches. Our lives as they are lived, our joys and sorrows, pass right into her hands. And every man and every woman, as time comes for us to no longer die, find ourselves wandering through crumbling halls of memory. We remember our youths as if they were yesterday, but the in between, the in between fades in patches. Like a dream, like it never happened at all.

So regardless of how it flowed, once gone to her clutches. Once we become one with her sea. We look back at the span of ourselves like it was nothing at all. And so, robbed of our being, we give way.

The Time Thief? She swims in our memories. Luxuriates in our selves. She watches the Earth, waiting for life to pass, waiting for the opportunity to steal again.