far too much writing, far too many photos

Following is a short story of mine that I’ve been reworking. Despite the copyright date, this tale — like the other one posted here [see journal entries for 28 August, 2001] — was first written ten or twelve years back. A darker period of my life, which is reflected in the story. Just so you know.

KILLING TIME

© 2002 by runswithscissors

This is what I want: Sunshine. Birds singing. The irritating percussion of trash collectors. Storms, wind, rain, hailstones the size of golf balls. The idiot noise of a sitcom, laugh track and all. Movement, any kind of movement. Evening fading to dusk. A night sky slathered with stars. Talk shows. Change. My old existence.

This is what I have: Eternal morning, clouds frozen in an overcast September sky. An ex-lover’s caustic laughter echoing in my head.

This is what happened:

Early spring, the grass turning from its dull winter color to the waking green of April, buds sprouting on trees. I stood in my backyard looking up at a deeply blue sky when something caught my eye. A smudge of motion, blurry and indistinct, seeming to alight in the branches of a nearby maple tree. All I could see was a glimmering as if the air itself were shifting about, and as I squinted up she appeared, taking shape suddenly enough that breath caught in my throat.

At first glance, her form seemed human. On closer scrutiny, I saw that soft, fine feathers covered her everywhere save the eyes and the palms of her hands — primarily white, though other soft hues seemed to glide through them when she moved. She had a slender lower body, hips just wide enough to suggest those of a female. Her torso grew broad and muscular as it extended up from her waist, I suppose to support the wings which sprouted angel-like from her back, extending in a strong curve from above her head to her heels. She had fingers but no toes, her feet tapering to soft, feathered points. Finally, she had an earless, streamlined head, its features sleek and angular. A startling, unnerving image, all told, not the kind of fare normally encountered in my back yard.

A moment passed before I realized she’d spoken. At first, I thought I’d heard breeze-borne music. She spoke again — when I remained dumb with confusion, she leaped from the branch toward me, her wings fanning out to slow her descent with two or three powerful strokes. I backed away until she landed, extending a hand to touch me reassuringly.

“Don’t be afraid,” she said, voice soft, and, amazed, I realized I understood her.

“You speak English,” I managed to get out.

“I do. I speak all languages.” My expression must have made it clear that I didn’t see how that could be possible and she shrugged, a disconcertingly human gesture. “I am what you might call…” — she considered for a second — “…divine.”

A breeze passed, ruffling the feathers of her wings. It was only then, with the chill of evaporation on my skin, that I realized I’d been sweating. My hands were damp, I rubbed them against my pants. Looking about, I saw a beautiful day, life going on all around, heard the sounds of kids playing basketball a couple of yards over. I looked from them to her, then back at the kids.

“They can’t see me,” she said. My eyes returned to her. “No one else can. I am visible only to you.”

“Me?” My mouth had gone dry, my tongue growing thick and clumsy. “I’m sorry, you said divine, right? Like….”

“A god.”

I looked around again. What if someone saw me like this, thought I was talking to thin air like a nitwit? What if my wife saw me? I turned to the house, saw no face at any of the windows, turned back. The creature’s eyes watched me, dark gold pupils, lighter gold around them. I swallowed. “So you…,” a pause, a breath, “…you’re telling me you’re a god?”

“I control a fundament of your reality. That may seem godlike to you.” My mouth moved, producing no sound. “What?” she asked.

I tried to pull myself together, speaking the first question that came to mind: “Do you have a name?”

She reached out and took my hand in hers. “I am Time.”

“Time?”

“Yes.” She watched me, apparently amused.

“As in, er, time?”

“Yes.”

I looked around, shaking my head, a disbelieving smile taking form, finally saying, “Come on.”

“Sorry?” She looked puzzled.

“This is too much. I don’t know what’s going on here, if this is a gag or what, but really,” — I laughed here, almost a moronic, choking gargle — “you expect me to believe you’re time itself?”

“You think this is not so?”

“What am I supposed to say? I mean, after all,” — another gagging chortle — “Time?”

“Watch,” she instructed. With her left hand still holding mine, she raised her right hand to point at the sun, remaining in that pose for a beat, marshaling something — energy, intent, I don’t know. She held herself as a dancer might, her body seeming to grow slightly with poise and extension. Then her delicate hand moved, slowly, toward the east, retracing the sun’s arc. And the sun moved with it. Clouds hurried across the sky in the direction from which they’d earlier come; birds flashed around the yard, backwards, at impossible speed. The neighbors raced up their driveway in reverse, poured out of their car, vanished into their house. Late morning retreated as the sun followed Time’s pointing finger, edging toward the east, easing backward hour by hour. “Stop it,” I said, hearing a panicky tone in my voice. “Please.” She lowered her arm, the day picked up where she left it, eight-thirty by my watch. Nearly three hours difference.

I indicated the neighbors’ house. “Do they know what just happened?”

“No.”

“How can that be?”

“They are within the stream of time. It moves ahead for them without difference.”

“But they just went through the morning in reverse.”

“You and I moved in reverse, no one else. You see the difference because you are with me.” She gently squeezed my hand to illustrate our contact.

I stared, unable to process the situation. “I’m sorry,” I finally said, “I still don’t understand.”

She studied me thoughtfully. “The flow of time is a great river in which temporal existence swims. Do you think fish understand the currents that move around them?”

“Um… no?”

“No,” she confirmed.

I turned back to the house. At eight-thirty, my wife and I had gotten up. We’d eaten breakfast together. If I went back in there, would I discover us rising?

When I looked around again at Time, she’d gone. Startled, I glanced about, finding myself alone in the yard.

If the Earth had opened beneath my feet and spewed radioactive postal workers, I don’t think I could have had less of an idea what to do with myself. I finally headed inside, uneasy about what I might come across.

Entering the kitchen, I encountered Helen putting a kettle on the stove. “Hi,” she said. Silent, I continued on to the bedroom, my stomach constricting as I peeked around the corner. The bed lay unmade and empty. A glance into the bathroom revealed no doppelgängers.

“Hey,” said Helen, appearing by my side. I covered skittish nerves with a quick smile. She gave my cheek a kiss. “I never heard you get out of bed.”

“Couldn’t sleep,” I responded, sounding almost normal. “Thought I’d get up and take a walk.” It surprised me to hear a lie come so easily.

“Couldn’t sleep?”

I shrugged. “Full bladder. You know.”

“Poor baby.” She put an arm around my waist. “How about a cup of tea? Long as your bladder’s already working overtime.”

“I don’t think so.” I felt my teeth worrying the inside of my cheek, took a steadying breath.

“Look at me,” Helen instructed. A hand went to my forehead, moved down the side of my face to my neck. “Sweetheart, why are you so warm?” The hand slipped inside my windbreaker, found my shirt damp. “You’re covered with sweat.”

“I jogged some. While I was out.”

Her eyes locked with mine, her mouth opened to speak. The whistle of the kettle cut through the moment and I took advantage, moving an evasive step away. She stared, perplexed, turned and stepped back into the kitchen, casting a last confused look back. When she’d gone I slipped into the bathroom, quietly locked the door, turned on the shower. As steam gathered in ghostly billows, I leaned against the edge of the sink and collected myself.

Two mornings later, out in the yard again. I worked on a flower bed, turning soil. At some point, I noticed a shadow stretching across the ground parallel to mine. When I turned, there she stood. Close enough that I don’t see how I could have been unaware of her. My gaze involuntarily slid around to the house, scanned the windows.

“Your wife?” Time asked. I nodded. “She’s busy.”

“How do you know what she’s doing?”

“You,” she observed, “are a very nervous human. Are you always so?”

“Um,” I ummed nervously, “no. I don’t think so. Not usually.”

“Good.” She took my hand. “Walk with me.”

I did. And found nerves giving way to curiosity. Her manner with me had a disarming effect. The feel of her hands on mine calmed, her voice soothed. She drew me out with questions, seemed interested in my answers. I felt a growing thrill at being with her. And something more, something dangerously pleasurable.

Imagine the touch of divinity. Imagine it coming in the form of the opposite gender. Not in the static manner of an icon or religious image, but living, breathing. Alive. Seeking your company, intrigued by you, and communicating that in subtle, flattering ways. Divinity choosing to reveal itself to you. Only you.

Now, I have never considered myself weak. I’ve never felt inclined to risky involvements, certainly never wanted to endanger my marriage. But Time’s attention exerted a pull on me that came to feel narcotic.

Visits from Time became a regular part of my days, something I looked forward to, depended on. Until being with her became an overriding concern of my existence. A routine developed: I would wake early and leave my wife sleeping; in the kitchen, I’d find Time waiting, sitting by the window at the table; as I sat down, her hand would move over mine, my pulse leaping with her touch.

The season passed, good days. I felt keenly alive, full with clandestine passion. The weeks rippled along then, like the breeze-billowed canvas of striped tents you sometimes see spread on June’s lawns. Friendly. Easy.

Back then my wife rose to meet the day later and later. I’d be in the kitchen, my Elvis mug of steaming coffee in my left hand, the other clasped in one of Time’s, her fingers softly stroking mine. We would sit until Helen wandered in, announced by the soft smack of her feet on linoleum. She’d stop by my side, give me a kiss. I’d smile at her, and when I glanced over at Time, she would wink a golden eye conspiratorially.

Eventually, Time would lean over and whisper, her shoulder pressed against mine, her lips brushing my ear, telling me she had to leave. Maybe she’d suggest a walk the following dawn, maybe she’d simply say, “Tomorrow.” And she would vanish, a soft, luminous blur of motion, leaving me brimming over with the memory of her presence.

I had everything, I thought.

Then came that morning. My wife entered the kitchen, said hello, and stared past me, eyebrows curling in puzzlement. I looked over at Time, who watched inscrutably, then back at my wife.

“What?” I asked.

“I….” For another moment, she peered at the chair that held Time. “Nothing, I guess. I thought I saw something.”

“Saw something?” My stomach stirred uneasily. “Like what?”

“Like light.” I stared at her. “Hey, I just got up. I’m groggy.” I smiled, she turned toward the stove to fire up a kettle of water. When I glanced back at Time, her chair stood empty.

One morning, not long after that, I slept late. Normally, I’d rise early, pull on clothes, move quietly from the bedroom to the kitchen, heart beating quickly with anticipation — my wife behind me, Time before me. This day, I did not. I lay beneath the covers, drifting in and out of unsettling dreams. And then I heard voices, or thought I did. Two voices, murmuring. I came fully awake to a quiet house, thought my ears had been playing tricks, thought my dreams must have bled over into my waking world.

When I stepped into the kitchen, I found my wife sitting at the table, Time seated to her right. Helen turned in my direction, her face adorned with a good-morning smile like lazy welcome itself. “Good morning, love,” she said, standing to put an arm around me and kiss my cheek. Time sat by the window, watching. I looked at her from my wife’s embrace, she winked her customary wink. My wife acted unaware of the divine presence in our kitchen, neither looking at nor addressing her. Helen moved to make coffee, I sat. Time’s soft hand covered mine, my gaze lit on it, then moved to her golden eyes. They revealed nothing. A short time after that, she disappeared.

Later, I noticed a small feather on the floor beneath that chair. I held it near the open window, studying its sheen. When my wife came in from the yard, a gust of air from the window swept the feather from my fingers to swirl briefly around the floor before disappearing out the door and away.

Should I have seen what was taking form? Probably. But up to that time I’d never had cause for suspicion. Time had never lied, or so I thought. “I will never leave you,” she’d whispered to me. “You are special. I will always be here, only for you.” What did I know about the workings of life and the creature who conducts it from the past into the future? Nothing.

After that morning, things happened. I would notice my wife’s gaze flicker past me at something. Looking around, I’d spot no one. Sometimes a soft wrinkle of light, a smudge of motion seen from the corner of the eye, but that’s all. Turning back to Helen, I’d find her attention focused on me as if nothing had ever drawn it away. Other times, my wife would disappear for spells of two or three hours, always returning with a plausible explanation, her cheeks showing a bit more color than normal.

And then early one a.m., I rose, went into the kitchen, found myself alone. Out back, where Time sometimes waited, I saw no one. Walking around the house, then around the block, nothing much stirred apart from a dog behind a cyclone fence, barking half-heartedly as I passed. On my return home, I found my wife up and the day moved on from there. Sans Time.

The next morning Time waited in the kitchen.

“Where were you yesterday?” I asked quietly as I sat down by her.

“I had to be other places. Are you upset?”

“No,” I lied. “You just didn’t say anything. You didn’t tell me you wouldn’t….”

“Must I account to you now?” she said, interrupting me.

“No, of course not.”

“Then why act as if I do?”

“I’m not,” I said, flustered. “I just asked where you were. What’s wrong with that?”

“Shush,” she said, voice low and soothing. “Nothing’s wrong. Everything’s fine.” Her hand stroked mind with a comforting touch, but her eyes showed no love, no anger, no amusement, no concern, nothing.

Uneasy days followed. If I expressed anxiety to Time, she vanished behind an empty smile or grew distant, even impatient. My wife remained sweet and solicitous, yet her attention would, at moments, drift away in a manner I’d never seen before. I decided, finally, that something had to be done.

And not long after that, early one mid-September morn, Helen rose and quietly left the house. I strained to hear the closing of the door, when it snicked shut I pulled on clothes and carefully stepped outside. Moving down the driveway, I spotted my wife walking quickly up the block and around the corner, out of sight. I trotted after her as soundlessly as I could. The sun, breaking brightly from the horizon, began to slide behind clouds, dimming the morning. At the corner I saw no one, but at the next intersection Helen was visible a distance up the cross street, moving purposefully away. She paused to look back in my direction, I ducked behind a parked car. When I peeked out, she’d continued on.

Some blocks up, she veered into a park, a large, wooded expanse of conservation land. I lost her there and paused when I reached the edge of the greenery, wondering about the wisdom of this pursuit. Then I gathered my resolve and moved slowly in under the trees, attempting stealth so as not to announce myself with the racket of a cuckold loose in the woods.

After creeping along for ten or fifteen minutes, sweating from nerves and effort, I came to a pond situated near the center of the conservation land. As the incoming clouds thickened, a breeze rose up and the trees swayed, a few yellow leaves dropping around me. I bent down and inched forward through the foliage on hands and knees as the woods gently rocked with the wind. High, chiming laughter sounded ahead. And there they were.

They sat on a bench, shoulder to shoulder, enfolded by Time’s great wings. As I watched, the conversation lapsed, their heads settled against each other in a pose lovers have adopted for millennia. The breeze swelled then, scattering leaves around the damned couple, and I lurched to my feet and forward through the brush, my body out of my control, until I stopped near the bench, undoubtedly looking wild and haggard. Helen stared up at me, mouth open. Time’s eyes met mine, coolly serene.

“What’s going on?” I said thickly. “What the hell are you two doing?”

Helen started to speak, Time silenced her with the touch of a feathered hand.

“Well?” I wanted to sound solid, firm with righteousness. Instead, my voice held the ghost of a tremble. Time smiled in my direction like one would at a naughty pet, a not terribly bright, naughty pet.

“Why are you bothering us?” she asked, gently chiding.

“Oh, am I interrupting something? Have I showed up at an inconvenient moment?” I noticed my body seemed to be shaking as I spoke.

Helen stood. “Don’t do this. I’ll go home with you.”

“Helen,” Time said, voice soft.

“This isn’t right.”

“Sit.” Time patted the bench. Helen looked at me, then at Time, before sinking slowly back down. Time fixed her gaze on me. “Stop this. Go home. You don’t belong here.”

“Why not?” I asked, anger at last overcoming jilted grief. “Why have you done this? Couldn’t you at least have the balls to be honest with me?”

“‘The balls,’ she said, her lips forming a small moue of distaste. “Such a pungent, masculine way with words.” Her eyes met mine. “Look at you. How can you live with such hypocrisy? Or have you convinced yourself you truly are wounded? I saw no moral outrage when you sat at my side, no qualms. And suddenly you’re scandalized. It’s absurd, don’t you think?”

“Don’t talk to me like that.”

“Why not? I speak the truth.”

“No, you don’t.” I advanced a step. “The truth is you wanted me. And then it changed, just like that.”

“I wanted you?” A slow smile eased itself across Time’s face. “Is that what you think?”

“You did.” I knew I sounded ridiculous — the abandoned lover, impotent and melodramatic — but I couldn’t stop. “I know you did.”

She laughed. “Listen to you. Go home, little boy.”

“Shut up!”

Time turned away, shaking her head in amused exasperation. Helen looked from me to the being beside her, apparently with no idea what to do.

“So you will not leave us alone?” Time asked, her eyes returning to appraise me. I tried to speak, shook my head instead.

Time stood and gazed down at Helen. “Come,” she said. Helen took Time’s outstretched hand and rose so that they stood together before me, the woods waving around us as the breeze swept through with growing force, leaves coming down, a branch breaking with a loud crack somewhere off in the trees. “Don’t let go,” Time instructed Helen softly. And then she raised her other arm, pointing at the spot where the sun lingered dully behind thickening clouds. There was no mistaking her intent, and before she could do anything more I launched myself at her, hitting her hard, taking her down.

We rolled a yard or two, when she tried to get to her feet I dragged her back down, throwing myself on top of her. She was strong, the thrashing of her wings made it difficult to maintain my hold. Helen grabbed at my arms, pleading for me to stop. She might have made a difference if Time hadn’t begun to laugh again. I saw her mocking face beneath me in the grass and one of my hands went to her throat. Helen yelled, “No!”, her shout seeming to come from a great distance. Time’s lips shaped words, biting, derisive taunts that enraged me more, and I saw reflected in her eyes a me so wretched and out of control that I had to blot it out. Before I realized what was happening, my free hand had clawed a large rock from the ground and begun battering Time’s sleek head. I heard screams from Helen as the face below tried to twist away from me, growing bloodied and misshapen from repeated blows. And then everything stopped.

I was on my knees astride the feathered body, its great wings flattened beneath it at odd angles, the head unmoving, its one undamaged eye vacant. Chest heaving, I looked around, found Helen frozen near me in mid-movement, face paralyzed in an expression of horrific emotion. She remained absolutely still, falling leaves hanging motionless in the air around her, the woods silent — no breeze, no birds calling, no noise of insects from the ragged September grass. I staggered up and away, collapsing a few feet along to heave up acid and bile, my stomach convulsing in long, miserable waves.

After a while, I wrenched myself to my feet and left. I passed motionless traffic, saw a newspaper delivery man frozen in mid-toss, the paper suspended in its flight, everything still as statuary.

Eventually, I found myself in my yard near the garden, standing by the hurricane fence, fingers gripping its thick, interwoven wires. Staring around shakily, gradually realizing where I was, I straightened up to draw air. That breath died when I noticed the blood. My hands, I finally saw, were sticky with it, nearly covered with clotted smears and tiny crusted feathers. Time is on my hands, I thought stupidly. My palms rubbed clumsily against each other in a futile effort to wipe the stains away. I couldn’t understand how Time’s freed blood had failed to register before then, especially its color — not the familiar human red, but gold, fading from its initial brilliance, becoming dark and muddy with exposure to air.

I don’t know how much time has passed — my watch is useless. I can’t bring myself to go into the house, don’t want to eat, so I’ve remained out here, sleeping on the grass when the fatigue becomes too much. The world around me remains motionless, arrested. When I fall asleep, it’s morning, as it is when I wake up. The hardest moments come, I think, when my eyes open from drowsing. My dreams teem with life and motion — falling out of them into this waking nonexistence is unbearable.

Sometimes my wife appears in my dreams, eyes shining softly with life. She puts her arm through mine, we walk together, and in those moments it’s almost as if all mistakes have been undone, all wrongs forgiven.

I find myself wondering if time has actually ceased or if it goes on for the rest of the world and I’ve been yanked out of it. Can that be if its custodian lies dead not far from here? I don’t know.

The traces on my hands are all I have left of the life I took for granted. Time has run out, Time flies no longer, and ahead of me stretches endless time, changeless time, barren, lifeless time.

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