Precious Time (Short Story Excerpt)


“You won’t get me,” Jonathan Walker Fields said, snapping his pocket watch shut. “That’s all there is to it. I…I refuse to be…erased…”

In his favorite red silk robe and favorite gray flannel pajamas, Jonathan looked more like a man about to slip into bed than a man about to fight for his very existence. Faded, fur-lined slippers, white with blue polka dots, covered his feet. His left hand rested on his hip. His right fist held the watch. He stood arrow-straight, almost at attention. Proud. Indignant. Stubborn. Even in the face of Death—

And all around him lay the stuff of nightmares.

“Disease or no disease, I’m just not ready to leave. Can’t you understand that?”

Silence. Utter, disdainful, silence. Demeaning in implication.

“Besides, as long as I have my watch, I’ve still got time…”

A flimsy argument. Jonathan knew that. Grasping at straws, perhaps, but grasping just the same. The desperate man faced an impossible situation. Standing on a dark riverbank with an even darker river beyond. The water—if indeed it could be called water—didn’t move. Calm as the calmest lake on the calmest day. And black. Primordial black. Thick as used motor oil, shiny as burnished obsidian. Blacker than Satan’s heart. It didn’t even reflect the bright yellow sliver of moon which hung in the dark sky above.

And Jonathan didn’t like that. Not at all.

“This watch,” he said, clearing his throat, “is over a century old, you see. It still runs. The cogs and springs and what-all inside are still vital, like me. So as long as I’ve got my watch, time is on my side. And you, sir or ma’am—whichever you may be—certainly do not hold any sway over Father Time!”

Still no answer.

Atop the dead river sat a baleful gondola. Dull black, with rivets on each flank. Iron spikes jutted from its prow and stern like a warship. Like a Viking harbinger of death.

And if I didn’t know better, Jonathan had thought upon first seeing it, I’d swear that the dastardly thing’s made of steel. But that’s…absurd…

Near the starboard side of this ebony vessel sat an ornate black vase. Tall and curved. Burnished as the leaden water beneath. Within this vase sat a bundle of black, long-stemmed roses. Thirteen instead of a dozen, Jonathan guessed. And next to the vase stood a plump blackbird, its eyes and beak as shiny as polished glass. Erect and dignified as Jonathan, but silent. Reverent. Awaiting the inevitable.

“Do you hear the ticking of my great-granddaddy’s watch, you cur?”

The person—or thing—to whom Jonathan spoke stood motionless in the iron gondola. Clad in a long black cloak, holding a grim scythe. The cloak’s hood obscured the figure’s face. Its left arm cradled a large hourglass; black, with fine red sand resting on the bottom. None dripped from the top, indicating that time had run out for some poor soul. Its other dull-white, skeletal hand gripped the scythe’s gnarled handle. The blade looked sharp enough to slice concrete. It gleamed with a silvery light all its own; a light which didn’t reflect off of anything around it.

A wicked thing to face all alone. Damned wicked, in Jonathan’s opinion.

“The tick, I said! Do you hear the tick? Well, I can, and it tells me that I have more time! Who gives a damn what your dead hourglass says?”

The thing on the boat didn’t move. Nor did the bird. Or the water. Stillness pervaded the atmosphere. No wind. No odors, pleasant or otherwise. No heat. No cold. Everything felt…lifeless.

“Fine, don’t answer. Won’t change a thing.”

Still nothing.

Though fifty-six years old and clad in his nightclothes, Jonathan looked as strong and stout as he’d ever been. Neat gray hair and a thick gray moustache gave him a distinguished, almost noble, air. He had intense, watchful eyes; very much attuned to detail. The rugged countenance of a frontiersman, tempered by the speech and mannerisms of a scholar. In his day, he’d been an athlete, a soldier, a carpenter. A husband, a father, a provider. A lover, a fighter, a moderator. A true man of the world. Enamored of experience, hungry for knowledge. A disciple of Marcus Aurelius who lived his life by the edict: Be not a slave nor a tyrant to any man. An old soul with a young heart who resented the tyrannical intrusion of disease; of putrid, rotting, death. Not just upon his body, but upon his very life. A life which, up to now, he’d enjoyed very much…and now refused to give up without a tussle.

“Precious Time” was published by The Abyss E-zine @

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