In between swaths of clouds, where space meets sky and Earth fades from view, a clock lays—ticking.
Its gears stretch for miles in a sea of gleaming bolts, and rust flakes underfoot. There is the groan of metal in the air—the gasping breath of ancient machinery. It is a familiar tune to the Timekeeper. He shuffles across moving cogs with light, practiced feet.
As he walks, a distant shape emerges from the cloud cover. The second hand–lurching closer, pausing, struggling on again. The hour is just past eight, the minute stretching off to six; his shift is close to being over, the Timekeeper notes. Thank God. At times, he crouches near interlocking gears or examines the great width of a clock hand, but there is not much to be done at this hour. And he is only one person, barely a speck of dust against this grand design.
The second hand drags on, nearly upon him, and he ducks to avoid its path. Balanced on a spinning gear, the Timekeeper is mindless of the dizzying drop–the emptiness that reaches to envelope him. Time feels almost slower than before. The whine of metal vibrates something deep in his chest as he watches the start-stop-start of the clock, and with a scowl, he rubs at his knees.
Blasted thing. Piteously groaning, the noise of the clock is practically too much to bear. The second hand staggers back and forth like some massive, injured thing, and the Timekeeper blinks, shifting closer.
He does not stand–it is a few feet from him now. But the clock itself seems to fight it, gears pushing and pulling, with rust like fallen blood. He squints. The Timekeeper has worked his job for forty years, but never has he seen something quite like this. Broken cogs, yes–oiling and soothing little aches and pains, but this–
The second stretches. His knees ache from crouching. And with a striking sigh, the churn of time stops dead.
The Timekeeper stares. Cloud is thick in front of him, but the sight, the silence, speaks true. The clock has stopped. The gear he’s on is motionless while the world holds its breath, and a hum builds. The smell of iron builds with it–it is raining, crying, red as it turns 8:32.
The clock shudders, and then the second hand resumes its path. Only–
It is traveling backward, now.
The Timekeeper rubs his eyes, bewildered. His tools are small at his side, his hands calloused, but not skilled. This is above his pay grade. And he is not affected, so he only turns away as the world reverts–as the cries start from below.
Lynne Inouye, 17, is a queer fiction writer with an interest in all things unnatural or otherworldly. She runs her school newspaper and enjoys acting, spending time with her cat, and using far too much imagery.