On top of every person’s head sits a small bronze clock. Like an egg timer, but glowing in the person’s Chroma Psychis, their ‘soul color’. It ticked down and down and down, until on the last second, the person dies. It never rings. When the person dies, it disappears, laughing silently as it flits away, invisible. The Clocks are the Masters.
Every person has a clock. But only one person in the world could see them, as far as I knew.
And that was me. But I didn’t always see them.
At first, I could only see the Chroma Psychis mists. But one day it all changed. I still remember the feeling to this day.
I was sitting in my room, reading. I remember the book I was reading, I remember the chapter name and number, and I will hate that one page forever. Because while I was reading that page, I remember feeling oddly warm, seeing the dark smoke rising up to the ceiling, the alarms blaring, and I will never forget the sight of the flames licking up the chair, my scream as I crawled away, remembering how my dad would always say to stay below the cloud of smoke during a fire. The book bursting into flames and ashes falling to the floor, my hacking cough as I looked up briefly. When I had reached the window and crawled out, I remember the stoic “Nine-one-one, what’s your emergency?” off of my mom’s phone, the soot covering my dad’s face as he panted, and, finally, the thump as I hit the ground unconscious.
When I woke up in the hospital, the first thing I saw was the little bronze clock on the doctor’s head , then the relief on my parents’ faces, and I saw the last few hours of a patient’s life shown on their dark blue clock, and soon I figured out what it meant. I remember the sigh of relief I let out when I saw my parents had a long time left.
Still, ever since then, I wish that the fire had taken me with it.
It annoyed me to no end to hear the everlasting ticking noise, all in sync. It hurt my heart to see people’s clocks ticking near. I couldn’t stop it, I couldn’t warn them. It would happen somehow anyways.
Because of this, I rarely felt empathy for them, simply to preserve my own sanity.
Until the girl.
I was at the library, looking for a book, when I heard her voice.
“Miss? Can I help you with anything?”
I showed her the title I had written on a piece of paper. “Do you know where this book could be?” I asked. She beamed as if it delighted her that someone had given her something to do.
What a bright girl. So young, yet she obviously had great things ahead of her.
I couldn’t help but glance at her clock, expecting to see it wound all the way up, many happy years ahead. What I saw instead nearly made me cry. I shut my eyes, rubbed them, and glanced again.
Two days. Only around 9 years old. But only two days left.
I prayed it wouldn’t be painful. I prayed for a spot in heaven for this kind little girl, who I saw when she gave her whole ice-cream sandwich to that bratty crying boy even though it seemed the only food she had. This kind little girl whose parents were good hearted souls who never did a sin in their life. This kind little girl named Amanda.
Amanda means ‘one who deserves love’. And so she did, more than anyone.
She stood there near the grocery store, buying a single ice-cream sandwich every week with the money she worked her heart and soul off for, shoveling snow in the winter or raking leaves in the fall, helping out in the library by sorting books on other days when she had no more to do. She would never accept the ice-cream for free. She was honest, worked diligently even though she was so little. Only nine years old, and could read so beautifully. She read to the other little kids in the library on sundays. She wore a little necklace with a chain made of gold and a single pearl hanging off of it, probably the most expensive thing she owned.
The next day, I walked to the grocery store, found a couple of wildflowers growing along the grassy part of the sidewalk, and I gathered them into a bouquet. Then I took a puffed-up dandelion and blew it, my eyes closed. I knew what I wished for. But this would never work, the Clocks are the Masters. No thousand-paper-cranes or fallen eyelashes or four-leaf clovers would sway them.
I gave the bouquet to the little girl, stooping. I dropped a twenty-dollar bill near her feet. She sniffed in the flowers deeply, closed her eyes briefly, and said a soft, beautiful “Thank you!” that nearly broke my heart all over again.
I turned away then I heard her little voice again. “Miss! You dropped something, I think. Is this yours?” She held out the twenty-dollar bill.
“You can keep it.” I replied, hoping against hope that she would accept. But she didn’t.
“No, miss. It’s yours! You should have it.”
I turned back to her. Her eyes, warm brown, her small pink dress, her dirty blonde hair. “When’s your birthday?”
“Tomorrow! At eleven thirty two in the morning.” She announced proudly. “I’m turning ten years old! Mama says I’m growing taller, too. Papa says he might not be able to carry me anymore because I’ll be a big girl!”
I nearly fell to the ground. Would this little girl really die on her birthday?
“Well, take it! As an early birthday present!” I picked it up, and gave it to her with a flourish. “Happy Early Birthday!”
She smiled softly. “Thank you.” She said again. “How can I ever repay you?”
Tears welled up in my eyes. “Just use it as soon as you can, and treat yourself and your family. That’s all I ask.”
She smiled again. “Thank you so much.” She whispered. “Bye!”
“Bye…” I replied. I turned away before she could see the tears.
One more day.
The next day, I remember seeing the girl and her parents walking out to Olive Garden, new clothes on all of them that I could recognize from the thrift shop, a handful of bills in the little girl’s hands. They walked out, the free birthday dessert clutched in a carryout box in their hands, smiles on their faces. I remember seeing the girl’s clock tick ever closer.
I closed my eyes and went back home. I couldn’t sleep that night.
The next day, I walked to the grocery store with a heavy heart, avoiding all people, and not daring to look up lest I see another clock. I came with another bouquet of flowers, perhaps just to calm myself. Tears started streaming down my face. Why was I sad now? Hadn’t I expected this?
I wished again that the Clocks had never come to me.
“Miss? Why are you crying?” A voice said. I turned around. There stood the little girl. I brushed her hand, making sure she wasn’t a ghost or a hallucination or anything.
I looked above her head and saw nothing. No clock. Just a soft, rosy glow that surrounded her head like a halo.
I looked at other people’s heads. There were no more clocks. Only Chroma Psychis halos.
I had defeated the Clocks. Sorrow and empathy were truly strong weapons, for they had vanquished the most evil of masters.
I shake my head vigorously and look up at the girl. I push myself up and smile wide.
“I’m absolutely fine.” I say.
And I was.