Where Has the Time Gone?

Rows of lights flickered on as a distant carriage slowed and stopped in a metro station.

A clock hanging on the station walls ticked from minute to minute, its clicking echoing over the trodding of the people on the tiles below.

The returning citizens strolled along the right-hand lane of a metallic, underground tunnel, separated from the departures on the other end by an array of black planters across the centre. The soil within these sat beneath harsh, white lights, with no plants to be seen anywhere.

Past a sharp curve to the right was a series of turnstiles, several suited men standing between them. The citizens lined up as they filed through one by one, among the crowd a long-haired woman, one who sported a long cloak, but held nothing with her. She shoved through the checkpoint, her face red, as a young boy followed behind her, and though she reached her arm out to him, he would not grab her hand.

To their side passed an older man, his quivering hands clutching onto a water bottle. He presented no identifications, no passes, but strolled through the gates and halted on the other side. He coughed as he twisted the bottle cap open, staring at the water inside but not taking a sip.

The suited men idled as citizen after citizen filed by, not a single person speaking to each other or turning around.

On their belts was a tubular device with a handle, one which they would take every now and then and point at the shoulders of those passing by. This device returned either a ding or a buzz, chimes whose echoes bounced off the tunnel walls; a jingle of something fresh amidst the endless turning of the metal gates.

The line of citizens slowed as those in the front struggled with the turnstiles, the station clock tolling again.

Here at the far end of the line was a man in an indigo suit, his attire tidied and groomed but his hair unkempt. His stained hands clung onto stapled sheets of paper, some of which housed small, printed text, while others were merely illegible scribblings.

A hand raised to his chest, the stenographer held onto his papers as he ambled past the turnstiles, behind which was a spacious hall.

On either side of the hall were rows upon rows of compartments, each and every one labelled with two letters and a surname. Though the tunnel ran through the centre of this area, there were but a few bars of lights shining upon the space, and where there could have been wall lights were instead large clocks, all of which told different times.

Around the far end of the hall was a compartment by the dark, tiled floors, one with a silver nameplate beneath.

J. T. Arkwright.

The stenographer knelt just by the compartment and eyed it, its metallic surface reflecting a blur of the image behind.

Even as a figure approached him from behind, he kept his gaze fixed upon the locker door.

“Have you any time to spare?”

The woman who stood over him donned a black jacket over her blue dress shirt. In her pockets were sticks and rods, while beneath it was a name tag that read simply “MacBride”.

“I’m afraid, no, that I do not know where to find that,” replied the stenographer, still facing away from the lady.

“All rations are delivered with a set, yes? Did you open your locker?”


“But this is your locker, is it not?”

“…I do not know how to answer that.”

“But do you know how to open it?”

To the left of the locker door was a small pad, one with four, spherical balls built into it. Each ball could be rolled around to reveal a different texture on each portion of the shape.

The stenographer fiddled with each sphere until their surfaces were all black, then turned one of them again, its colour transitioning into brown. He waited for several seconds, then pulled the compartment door open.

Instead of a storage space, there was only a wall behind the locker door.

“…Oh? That’s odd… I do recall there being some invitations here…”

“So you did know how to open it?”

“The sides of the spheres told me how to.”

“…’Sides’? Of spheres?”

“You are unable to see them?”

“See what?”

“Just here. If I turn this, its colour can morph into this pallid hue here, or perhaps this sallowish shade too.”

“Sir, can you hear me?”

“Hear what?”

“Do you have the time or do you not?”

“I do not know how to answer that.”

“…Thank you.”

Crossing her arms, MacBride strolled away from the stenographer as he stood, stretching his arms to his left, then to his right. He paused to yawn, but a melodic chime jolted him, one which echoed through the tunnels.

“Schedule update,” said a robotic voice. “The train to Stuart will depart at 11:59. If you are in possession of an invitation to a luncheon at the Stuart Home for the Departed, then your train shall wait at platform C-1.”

The stenographer grinned, fixing his suit as he strolled off further along the tunnels.

His lips hummed a tune as he marched from tunnel to tunnel, one that was neither consonant nor dissonant; a melody without the notes. 

There was little need to ponder about that lady for now.

If one had time to spare, then one was not living a life filled, but a life emptied: one devoted to nothing but pleasantries not even meant for oneself.

What time did she yearn for?

What time could she have possibly wanted from someone lacking it?

It seemed that “time” would be an appropriate name for this station, actually, if only the clock over there and the clock over here could come to a mutual agreement. Or perhaps concreteness was but a construct of the human mind, as much as time was a construct of human inadequacies. 

The universe survived long before humans decided to bypass justness and elect themselves the dictators of the plane, forcing names upon such nonexistent ideas such as time.

It was not “time” MacBride wanted, but perhaps falsehoods; to lose herself when she already lost everything else.

In place of conflict was order upon Platform C-1, and even something as meaningless as time appeared smooth here. The clock to the right showed it quite clearly: 11:60 PM.

So did that one laying far to the left, and the one hanging on chains high above the arched ceilings. It appeared precarious, of course, but what reason was there to doubt its stability? The swaying was normal. The creaking was normal. That clock will not fall.

It was on the left-hand side that the railway sat, although devoid of any vehicles at the moment. The benches across the centre were, too, devoid of life, although sitting solitary was the sole exception: another man in glasses. He sported a violet suit and carried a lantern that gleamed off the metallic benches, and as the stenographer drew near, he rose and reached out.

“Ah, I thought I just saw you back there mate? What are you doing here? You told me Stuart was nothing but a posse o’ chavs, aye?”

“Who am I to say no to an invitation?”

“Aye, I can see where that comes from. The train ain’t here though, and I’ve no idea when it departed.”

“Hmm? You of all people should know the schedule since you’ve been here all day!”

“Oh bollocks, how could I know what you don’t?”

The stenographer grinned and marched to the edge of the platform, gazing out at the void ahead.

“So tell me then Sheridan, you’re the only one on this platform tonight?”

“Just me, of course. Who else would head to Stuart at this hour? Nothing but lowlifes and hooligans.”

“But what’s out that way? Are the flatlands as I remembered?”

“How would I know that?”

“Well… I thought the train was supposed to depart by 11:59?”

“I thought so too. I suppose patience won’t harm a lad though, aye?”

“Maybe we could give it until o’five then?”

“Hmph. That’s when I was expecting it to come back too.”

Alas, the blare of a horn marked the arrival of the very train they had waited for: a modest carriage by modern standards, yet it too sat empty.

The stenographer entered first, then Sheridan, both settling down on the red seats that lined the walls of this vehicle. Even as the doors shut, they lounged back and luxuriated beneath the warm lights, the train itself soon reversing through the void it came from. 

On the far end of the void was greenery: flatlands shrouded beneath the midnight sky. There was nothing here but the train and its path: no animals, no stars, no scenery far beyond the fields. It was a vibrant emptiness, but perhaps perfect for a reality so defined by the meaningless.

It wouldn’t be long before the train cruised past a sign that marked the town of Stuart ahead, although this was merely a plaque etched into eroded stone.

In fact, there was no town ahead, unless one considered the vast nothingness as populated.

There was but a single cottage: rustic and modest, but trimmed and carved to unseen levels. Without the glimmer of the moon or the stars to highlight the building, candles laid strewn around the yard and the home itself, all the way up to the porch, where a hanging sign named the structure in question:

Stuart Home for the Departed.

As the locomotive came to a halt, the stenographer exited with Sheridan, strolling to the porch and idling for a moment.

A bell tolled from somewhere within, its chimes trickling through the wooden planks that held this cabin together. It was a chime that tingled those who stood by, as if a ward to scare away malevolent spirits in a world where such abstractions meant more than reason.

Then the old, wooden door creaked open.

Beyond the entryway was a man in a deep-black suit, who loomed over both the stenographer and Sheridan.

“Greetings, my child. Have you come for the feast?”

“Aye aye. Not too late, I presume?”

He bowed as his long, black hair swayed forward. He held his hands together and leaned back.

“I am the Preserver, the gatekeeper between fantasies, and the custodian of everything imaginable and unimaginable. I’d like to advise you that the Home for the Departed is not a resting place, but rather-“

“So when may we attend the feast?”

“…In that case.”

Taking a candle off the wall, the Preserver led the stenographer and Sheridan into the cottage, yet there was only one room beyond the doorway: a spacious, warmly-lit dining hall.

Rows of pillars on either wall led to an arched doorway at the far end, and though nearly two dozen chairs surrounded the central table, only three figures took their seats: the same three who had just spoken at the entryway.

Atop everything, however, were several large clocks dangling from the ceiling, all suspended on swaying chains. Each and every one told a different time from the others, their combined ticking frantic and without rhythm.

“As I was saying, the Home for the Departed is not a resting place, but rather a fork. I wish to make it clear that you can still leave the feast.”

At the centre of the table was an enormous platter, almost the length of a human laying down. None of the three laid eyes on it, however.

“Whenever you would wish to begin, kindly inform me, though it seems you have already… made up your mind.”

The stenographer glanced at the chair next to him, but Sheridan was nowhere to be seen.

Not there, not across the table, nowhere at all in the house.

He smirked, biting his lip as he waved at the Preserver.

“I have made my amends.”

”…Somehow I doubt that.”

The Preserver crossed his arms.

“What good comes of one who shuns the common ideals of many in the name of pride? There ought to be little need for me to repeat myself, but you can hear-“

“No no no, I-I can’t, but as I’ve just said, I’ve made my peace. I’ve found my reasons.”

“…Do you have the time or do you not?”

“Like I said… I don’t know how to answer that.”

“…So your peace is but an imagination, then. In the end, when reality crumbles, you will return to me, will you not? You will merely return to me… Because I am the only-“

“How sure are you the world will just fall apart? Even I know that’s beyond absurd.”

It won’t, but it will. Where is your invitation in the first place? This is not-“

The stenographer pulled out a crumpled sheet of paper and tossed it to the Preserver.

“T-This… I beg you, there is yet a chance to turn back while the time lays in your hands.”

The walls all around the hall darkened, and within moments, eyes appeared where bricks once laid, all gazing around and around without a moment to focus.

The clocks above spun and ticked ever faster, the chains swaying even further as the Preserver glared at the stenographer.

“There is a chance. You claim you do not have the time… but what you really lack are the reasons. There is still a chance.”

“You’re right… I won’t have another chance to enjoy the festivities. Why in heavens would I turn back now? I have the reasons; you need not lecture me on that.”

“Then where are they? In place of a man I see an entanglement of falsehoods; lies only believed by you… So tell me, what did I do to you? What have I-“

“Isn’t it about time we move along?”

The Preserver pulled off the cover from the central platter, tossing it away as he slammed the table.

On the platter was a mangled body, chunks of flesh and bone strung around the table as flies swarmed it.

Emptied, bloodstained plates and cutlery surrounded it, with spoiled food scattered around the table itself.

“Look at it,” said the Preserver. “The luxuries I’ve always offered… the living I’ve always proposed. Look at it all; every last set strewn about here. Is it not your dream? Is it not your dream to-“

“W-Why would I… What have you done to her? W-What have you done!? I never asked for such treatment… such… I-I…”

“…Who are you talking about? I still remember everything you’ve told me from the moment you could. You and I were not so different… we never were… but now…”

“Well… What do you want from me!? What am I supposed to make of this… A-All of this…? And those eyes… I-I… Stop! Stop!”

“I’m telling you, you may still turn around and head back. You never had an invitation. You’re not supposed to be here… because there is a time for this. That time… it lays in your hands… If it is not me you will listen to, then must it be yourself?”

“…W-What more can I choose!?”

The stenographer stood and sprinted to the door behind the Preserver, but the latter tugged at him and pulled him back.

His hands were cold, almost a miniature iceberg piercing through the stenographer’s suit, yet his gaze was more so.

“There is still a chance! Please, return to your seat… return and look at what I’ve given you once-“

The stenographer, still facing and eyeing the door, shoved the Preserver back and pulled it open.

Beyond was a long corridor cloaked in darkness, no end and no beginning in sight. A chilly breeze flew out the moment he nudged the doors open, and yet he kept his gaze locked ahead into the void.

“It’s final. I’m leaving the feast. I can return to the station this way… I have nothing else to say to you.”

The stenographer stepped past the door and strode forward into the void, and as he faded from view, they closed themselves once more.

The eyes penetrating the walls vanished, and so did the taunting clocks that once hung high above.

A single tear rolled down the Preserver’s eye as he took his seat once more: alone once again in the warm dining hall.

He pulled the platter closer: an array of fresh vegetables and seafood all prepared on it, but he took not a single bite.

“I’m sorry… It didn’t have to come to this…”

His suit wrinkled and disheveled, the Preserver staggered over to a tall window to his side, staring out at the stars that laid far, far above him and the cottages that lined the town of Stuart.

“Farewell, my child.”

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