In light of a lot of good news this week, which helps make up for the bad news of the last few, I’m posting my oldie-but-goodie, “The Clock Tower,” here for your free entertainment. Be sure to let me know what you think in the comments, share if you like it (or even if you don’t), and above all, keep writing.
Some have speculated that the manner in which one dies correlates to the treatment one is given in the afterlife. If this is the case, then my death will have me revered as a king. I have been allowed to pass this one message back to the human world so that they may be granted a glimpse of what I learned before I passed.
The earliest thing I can remember was falling. It’s strange, but at this point I feel as though whatever I have done before, whoever I was and any memories I might have had are irrelevant. I do not know how I arrived in this place, but I found myself falling through a massive tower.
When I began my descent, I fell in a slow, soft manner, as if I were sinking into slumber. I was falling down the center of a massive tower. I remember the top was adorned with all manner of stained glass. Despite the beauty of the windows themselves, their images were monstrous. They depicted one of a distinct variety of creature that was wholly focused on controlling or consuming human life. I felt that my fall was slowed for the purpose of showing me such images, though I do not know what the purpose of doing so could be.
Once I had passed these depictions, I found myself speeding downward, faster and faster. The further down I fell, the more the smooth granite and stained glass was replaced by machinery and crumbling brickwork. I fell down, past winding gears and humming bits of metal until, at a speed that should have killed me, my body slammed into the groove between two cogs.
The cogs snagged, attempting to crush me in their teeth. They were not successful. I felt an agony in my chest and was sure my ribs had broken, but I couldn’t be sure. All I knew is that I was trapped. The machinery was not strong enough to kill me, but too strong to let me go.
I attempted to pry myself free, but I was unsuccessful. I pushed and pulled at the giant gears, I kicked, I writhed, I prayed- nothing worked. I tried for what must have been hours, if not days, to pry myself free. I gave up and waited, no salvation, not even the grim specter himself, came to free me.
Looking around, I had been whisked away into what appeared to be some massive clock tower. At no point did I see a top or bottom to the structure. I had no idea how large it was, but it was bigger than anything I’ve heard of.
Above me, I could some of the mechanisms I’d fallen past. They had all stopped as well; a pendulum hung frozen at a thirty degree angle, gears of all shapes and sizes had come to a standstill and, from what I could tell, the entire tower had come to a standstill.
Craning my neck, I looked below me, only to see more of the same.
I saw the same thing while looking in opposite directions. I saw brick walls dripping with befouled oil. I saw a plethora of machine parts, intertwining pipes and clockwork. I suspected something within this structure controlled more than a simple clock face. I saw an infinite blackness beyond the parts that caused my heart to race.
Once, when I was a boy, I went hiking with a neighborhood friend in a local forest area. I slipped and fell into a hole that I had not seen while walking behind my friend. He had not heard me fall and thus assumed I’d abandoned him. I woke alone, in the dark, with no way out. I screamed for hours, sure that I was going to die, before someone found me.
That isolation, that helplessness, was nothing compared to this. At least, when I was young, I believed the God would watch over me in death.
I had since lost my faith. If any god was watching over me, I suspect it would not be acting in my best interests.
I trembled with the near-certainty that I would never escape and took to counting the seconds in order to maintain my sanity, since there was little else I could do. After glancing at my watch- a new-looking piece with a gothic-styled analogue face- I shut my eyes, ticking the seconds off one by one.
It was an utterly mind-numbing process, but that was precisely what I needed. I clung to each number that I counted off, keeping my attention strictly devoted to this singular process. It was a desperate, miserable action that I could not avoid. Eventually, as I neared the one thousandth second, I looked at my watch again to be sure I was counting accurately.
It had not moved. I shook my head, sure that I’d misread it, but it had stopped.
I had looked at my watch, very briefly, while falling. Though I looked for only a second, I was sure it had been moving before.
Logically, one could assume that my watch had stopped, but I was something of an expert on such timepieces. I did not recall working with watches, but upon looking at my watch, I felt as though I were intimately familiar with the small device. The face was not cracked and the metal didn’t show the slightest hint of gouging of scuffing, as one would expect from a collision. Despite my closest scrutiny, there did not appear to be anything wrong with my watch.
A thought crossed my mind. I shook my head, attempting to dismiss it, but it grew stronger and more persistent until I could not deny it: By some impossible means, my collision with the cogs of this tower- and my having stopped their movements- had halted the flow of time itself.
I laughed silently at myself, sure that I must have been trapped for far longer than I thought if I’d been able to imagine such nonsense!
Despite my attempts to deny it, my extended stay only confirmed what my addled mind had come up with. Though I could not know the length of time for which I was trapped, it must have been days, if not weeks. I didn’t feel hunger or pain or the need to sleep. All sensation, all emotion aside from my desperate wish for freedom, had been reduced to nothing.
Then I heard something above me. It was the cry of someone who was experiencing absolute terror and absolute elation at the same time. Looking up, I saw a shape hurtling through the darkness. It was another man!
He plummeted past and crashed onto a horizontal gear beneath me. I bent my body and looked, sure that I’d find his head splattered against the metal, but he survived, as I had! I was sure now that time had stopped because this man had not died- if time did not flow, then I could not imagine the cycle of life and death had continued either.
The man looked up at me and smiled, saying, “So it was you!”
“Me?” I inquired, keeping my voice. My instincts told me that remaining quiet was an imperative task, so I uttered, as soft as I could manage, “Me who did what?”
“You’re the reason time stopped!” He said it so plainly and with such certainty that I did not doubt him for a moment.
“So I was right,” I said quietly. He heard me nonetheless.
“You were right? You sure were!” His voice echoed across the walls. “All signs of aging have stopped! The Earth still spins, but the old and sick don’t die, babies don’t age and the babes stay perky and beautiful,” he chuckled. I heard something scuffling. I didn’t know what it was. “And the best part is that there are no consequences! I always wanted to try heroine, you know? Stupid, sure, but a bunch of my friends did it when I was in college. I shot up, did two, three, four doses, I was higher than God, buddy, and I didn’t even feel sick later! Can you believe it? And to think, people want me to help you get free!”
I wondered at this last sentence. Though I could not be certain whether or not I had friends and family beyond these walls, something told me that a rescuer had been sent for very impersonal reasons. I tried to grasp at why I felt this way, but could not, as though the truth was hidden in the banks of a dense mental fog.
He had started to laugh, but his face suddenly drooped. He had heard the sound too. Before he could respond, a creature came fumbling from the darkness.
I saw it below me and gaped in abject terror. It was the size of a small car with the shape of something utterly obscene. It was a bloated, rotund thing with ten arms. Each arm ended with a hand that ended in talons. These appendages grabbed on to the machinery, using the gears as handholds to propel itself through the tower.
When the man below saw it, he screamed. He screamed so loud that I was sure no creature, living or dead, could have failed to hear it.
The beast wrapped a hand around the man’s torso, like an angry child grabs a toy, and then released its grips on the clockwork. It plunged back into darkness as the man continued to scream.
A moment later, the screaming changed. It was no longer the cries of a grown man afraid for his life, but the shrill wails of one who knows his life is being taken. A terrible ripping sound echoed from below. His screaming stopped. I did not know how, but my very soul knew, beyond any doubt, that this beast could kill regardless of the passage of time.
I clamped a hand over my mouth, terrified at the thought of the thing returning. I remained silent for a long time as tears rolled down my face.
As time passed, more people joined me in my damnation. I heard some land far above me, some far below, but they all met the same end. The clock tower beast would clamber up through the mesh of pipes and pendulums only to ensnare a victim and fall to the bottom. I assumed, somewhere far beyond the blackness, the creature had some sort of lair. As this continued to happen, I began to smell the awful fumes of raw, shredded human flesh.
Because time had stopped, I was doomed to smell the remains of my fallen brothers and sisters for all eternity. Their corpses would never rot and never fade; my only hope was that the beast would grow hungry and feast on what was left.
With each life taken, I drew closer to a terrible realization. Though I tried to ignore it, the thought possessed my being, bit by bit, until I could no longer ignore it.
These people were coming here to rescue me. They needed time because they needed death. Without death, they couldn’t think of a reason to continue existing. They were suffering in the stagnation of a life without limits.
And yet, there I was, suffering the most of all for granting mankind immortality!
I do not know why, but I began to laugh. It was a tickle that started in my chest and worked its way to my throat. At first, I only chuckled. I tried to suppress it for fear that the beast would find and kill me.
The more I thought about the beast, about my temporarily immortal race, about the agony of freedom, the harder I began to laugh. It was the most singularly terrifying moment of my life; it was a glimpse into my mind, as though my body was warning me of the impending loss of my sanity. The sound reverberated through the tower, deafening me, yet I still heard the beast’s approach from below.
The harder I was forced to laugh, the more my mind disobeyed me and began to succumb. My terror was slowly changed into a beguiled sense of liberation. It was the full understanding of what my situation truly meant. Freedom brought people misery, so what must my entrapment bring me?
This is the thought that came to rule me. In the last seconds of my life, the singular notion that I was happier and freer than any other living being was the only thing I knew.
Death no longer scared me; my destiny had always been to make others appreciate what they have. My end would return the blessing of death to mankind; with death, happiness would return to them.
This was my duty. It was my duty to make my kind happy and free. It was the only thing I had been created for. This is why I had been allowed to see the windows near the top of the tower!
To know death and limitation is to know the effort and skill required to accomplish something- and the act of defying death is what gives people the drive to do mostly everything! To think of all the people who exercised to prolong their life- but you cannot prolong a life that will not end! Writing a novel was once considered an impressive feat, yet if a person has one thousand years in which to do it, it isn’t nearly so! Religion would crumble- who fears a creator that they will never have to face? Who would fear a decade in jail when one has a millennia to serve the sentence?
I knew with the most absolute certainty that death wasn’t a limitation, it was freedom. Knowing that oblivion was coming for me, I welcomed it with open arms.