I once lived in the far country, near the ocean and the hills. It was a rural place, the deep green of grass and pastures were ever visible. I guess you could say that my village was depressing; the fog and mist was always dense and only ever cleared slightly, and even in the summer the sky was almost always grey with clouds. But to me it was, and always will be, the dearest place in my heart. The smell of the ocean, the crabs scuttling in the sand, the deep carpets of moss in the soil and trees, the sound of children playing brought me peace. Yes, it was my home.
We all knew each other. First and foremost, there was the chief, “Old Man Stiller” as we liked to call him. He was the oldest, wisest, and kindest man in the village, so we always came to him to fix problems we couldn’t resolve ourselves. There were the Oldins, the village’s big mouths. No secret was safe with them. Then, there were the Slothes. They weren’t the brightest sort, but they were most dependable…
Living in his shop at the very, very edge of the village, or perhaps even outside the village, was the Watch Man. His house was on a hill so far away that if you went there and looked back, the village would be smaller than your thumb. We didn’t go to see him and he didn’t come to see us. No one remembers what he looks like or knows where he’s from. People say he isn’t as old as the chief. Yet, he’s been there for as long as anyone could remember.
Apparently, he used to come to the village often trying to sell his wares. He carried strange, previously unseen instruments: “clocks and watches” he had called them. He said they were for keeping track of minutes, hours, and seconds in a day. With a watch, he said, you would never be late. The watches weren’t expensive, but no one bought one. Like the color of the sky, our daily activities hardly changed. We drifted in a continuous current, not caring about the future and living only for the pleasure of the moment. We hated the idea of sectioning our lives into pieces, it was too restricting. Gradually, the Watch Man stopped coming.
It was that day our comfortable, steady, village beat went out of whack. Old Man Stiller died peacefully of old age, but his death caused an uproar in the village. After his burial, we had to decide on a new chief, but no one seemed right for the job. We squabbled and argued about it for hours on end. In the end, we decided to follow the village tradition. The chief would be the oldest citizen, presently the Watch Man. We left a letter of notification on his door step. Now, the Watch Man was chief, but he too shrouded in mystery and lived much too far away. Besides, people didn’t trust him. He was creepy. So no one went to him with their problems and foolishly tried to handle them themselves. All the unresolved disputes caused tension to build between even best friends. Hostilities grew and emotions boiled over.
In response to our heating tempers, the weather seemed to react by becoming hotter. Much hotter. That summer, we saw the sun. The horrible, searing, sun. And not just for a day, but for months and months on end. For the longest time, there wasn’t even a wisp of familiar grey in the sky.
The sun dried out our crops and plants; they needed the moisture of the mist and fog, but the sun drove it all away. That year, there was a famine. We struggled to maintain our way of life and to keep things the way they’ve always been. But there simply wasn’t enough to go around. Good neighbors squabbled and long-time friends clawed each other for food. We had problems and yet, no one went to the village elder. The Watch Man was too different, what would he understand?
It only got worse from there. Without food, people became weak. At some point, someone started acting weird: coughing, sneezing, feeling chilly even when it was hot outside. And the weirdness spread from person to person. Soon, the whole village was contaminated. A new word, “plague”, started to circulate. There was actually one plant that could keep the plague at bay, but it was rare and drying up rapidly. Trying to obtain it made people violent and vicious and those who didn’t have it were always angry and desperate. The few who did manage to get the herb became unapproachable and distant, constantly paranoid that someone would steal what they had. Still, no one went to the Watch Man.
Finally one night, everything came crashing down.
It was a warm, sticky night. I was in bed, dreaming about how it used to be. The beautiful grey clouds, the abundance of good food and water, our nightly village bonfires, where everyone sang songs, danced, told stories, or just relaxed and enjoyed the heat that penetrated the mist. The comforting heat of fire and company. The heat.
My eyes fluttered open, and then shut abruptly in response to the intense yellow and orange light. Then, I smelled the burning firewood. And I heard laughter.
Was I at a village bonfire? Had the past few months simply have been a nightmare? I bolted up in excitement, eyes wide with joy, then with shock, then with pure horror.
Wicked yellow and orange flames. The tongues of fire were demons gobbling up my house, the house my family lived in for generations.
And the laughter. It got louder and louder, less muffled and more piercing, less light and more desperate. Then I realized it wasn’t laughter.
It was screaming.
My mouth stretched open. Another shriek was released into the hot night air, joining all the numerous laments of from all around.
I bolted out the door. I found a large bucket and went to the sea. After filling it I emptied it onto the flame. The water stopped the conflagration for a few seconds, but the flame continued to consume the wood. As I looked up again to get water, I saw everyone everywhere. They were running, screaming, and shouting because their houses were burning, too. The fire wouldn’t stop spreading. Amidst the chaos, some running into the razing houses destroying belongings, looking for money, medicine, and food. Sometimes, someone would catch a looter and beat them and beat them, leaving the unconscious body on the ground. The bodies, like the houses, caught flame. The madness was everywhere. Everything in the village was being destroyed, disappearing.
Except the Watch Man.
Gripping my bucket, I pushed past the chaos and dashed maniacally up the overgrown village path. “The Watch Man,” I thought as I ran, “He is our elder, strange as he is. He is the only one who hasn’t changed. The only one left. He must be the answer.” I ran on and on. My legs moved too slowly for my racing mind. Would I ever get there?
Finally, I reached the rickety old shop. Or perhaps it was new, for the boards were clean and undamaged? I couldn’t tell. I yanked the door open and a wave a noise, ticking, hit me. I looked inside the unlit, musky room. I squinted. Inside, were clocks and watches of every shape and size. Swinging pendulums, the ticking, the incremental movement of clock hands, the ticking, wheels of numbers, the ticking… And in the midst of the room, looking as if he were one with it all, was the Watch Man. He was sitting in a wooden chair, his back facing me, smoking a pipe. He looked like he belonged, so at peace, so relaxed. And this was not the time to relax.
His calm and cool instantly angered me. How could he, when the village was in flame? “Watch Man!” I cried. I realized I did not know his name. The Watch Man turned around slowly and I saw him up close for the first time. His skin was smooth and flawless and at the same time wrinkled and freckled and his hair was lush yet thin. I could not tell if he was young or old. The only thing that stayed constant was his eyes. His bright gold, unblinking eyes. I was slightly unnerved, but I could not be distracted, “Watch Man! You’ve got to help me! The village is burning!”
“Ah, yes, it’s burning.”
The ticking of the many clocks urged me on, I felt rushed, under pressure, agitated, “This isn’t a joke! We need to save everyone! Come on!” I shouted.
He spoke again, ever so slowly, “Hm… I’m afraid I can’t do that…”
“The village needs you!” I pleaded. But he still wouldn’t budge. The Watch Man simply held my gaze with his bright gold eyes. The ticking, the panic, the anguish got to me. Too many minutes, seconds, maybe even hours were passing me by as I tried to convince this man. But the destruction was happening now, and I couldn’t wait. My head throbbed, I rigid from head to toe with desperation, “You’re wasting time!” I shrieked. I threw the bucket at him with all my might. I saw something white rush out-
The sound of glass shattering rang out inside the tiny shop. The many clocks and watches were smashed to bits. Glass flew. I ducked low, screaming and covering my head.
Then everything stopped. I was covered in little cuts. Tentatively, frightfully, I looked up. I saw the white thing. Two white things. Enormous wings growing from the Watch Man’s back. My bucket, crumpled and distorted, was embedded in the face of a decimated grandfather clock. In horror and panic, I again raised my eyes and looked into the Watch Man’s gold ones.
At first he was still sitting in his broken chair. Then he was standing. I did not see him move; his motions were instantaneous. He loomed over me, a powerful being, and chuckled a bit, “Wasting, you say?” I could not see his face in the dark, just a pair of yellow irises, “And so I have been since the beginning of the universe. But unlike you, mortal, I do not age. I pass and shift and bring change, but I can’t change fate. Not yours, not theirs.” He motioned towards the direction of the village.
I stared up, mouth gaping with utter confusion. He continued with his musings, “Your people. Ha. They believed in an eternity. Other than myself, and perhaps my higher ups, nothing is forever. They couldn’t embrace the changing ages, so they die with the old one. I can’t do anything except remember them, pass them by and look towards what’s to come.” He moved again. Suddenly, he was at the opposite end of the room. He spread his wings.
Bewildered, every cell in me panicked, I cried, “Wait! Where are you going?! Help me before it’s too late!” I looked at him desperately. Then, he turned to me. During that instant, he looked old. Very old. He was a very old man with enormous wings.
“Late? Since when did you or your people care about me? And besides,” He turned away again, his face now glowing, young, “I don’t wait for anyone.” He shook out his wings, straightening every feather, then flapped them, working up vigorous gusts of wind. Glass hurtled back into the air, grinding together, becoming dust. I ducked again, shielding myself from the debris, from the cacophony…
Silence. Time had passed and he had flown away. I looked up once again. All was still, except for a tiny tick, tick, tick. In a stupefied trance, I followed the ticking, walking through the remains of what was in the shop: powdered glass and fine splinters of wood. The only things not reduced to dust was anything metal, like the remains of my bucket. Yes, the ticking was coming from inside the bucket. There was a fine layer of dust on it. I flipped it over. Inside, a small black watch ticked away. It was the perfect size for my wrist.
What a sick joke.
I took it, and threw it on the ground as hard as I could. Stupid Time. If he had the power to erode things, decimate them to powder, why couldn’t he save my village? No matter how hard or how many times I threw the watch, though, it wouldn’t break. At the end, I pocketed it and slogged my way out of the devastated, but somehow intact, shack.
From the doorway, I saw the village, if it could still be called that. It had stopped burning, for the fire had long burned itself out. A thick layer of dark grey smog hung over it all, blocking the sun, making the village look dark and sinister. There was nothing left. I couldn’t look at it anymore. I turned away from the sight of my devastated home and gripped the watch. As resentful as it made me, it was the only memento of the life I had lost to the changing times. I walked past the shack and down the hill, I needed to get away. To where, though, I had no clue.
After walking for about five hours, as my watch told me, I found something. It looked like a row of wooden planks linked up next to each other, but when I pushed the plank, it wouldn’t budge. It was attached to a strip of metal underneath. Curiously, I followed it.
The strange construct lead me up to a platform. There were a few other there. They said the platform was called a “train station”. The station had some signs with lots of grids and writing, but I didn’t understand what was written there. Were these names of places? If so, I had never heard of any of them. When the “train” came, I snuck aboard. I was told that I needed money to get on, but I had none. I made myself comfortable on of the benches and rode the box. Pain resided in me, but it dulled as I watched the scenery changed from green, to orange, to brown.
The train stopped periodically, but it was only at a stop called “Newsworth” where most of the passengers got off. I followed suit.
I had come to a huge village. There were so many people and things I haven’t seen before. I wish I had eight other pairs of eyes. I asked a man on the street about these new and mysterious things. He chuckled a bit at my questions, “Ha ha, have you been stuck in the past, young lad? Time flies, son, and you’re late to the new age. You should learn to tell the time. Do you need to see the watch man to a get new watch?”
There was no need.