Nature is the fate of the world, but the world is the fate of nature
Winter Time
CHAPTER
2
The End
I slipped out of my room in the back of the hotel at precisely 11:45. As I pulled off my pajamas, instead putting on my work clothes and slipping into my shoes, I kept checking my watch, with its knotted brown leather wristband, for the time.
11:40. 11:41. 11.42. 11.43. 11.44.
When I quietly pushed open the heavy oaken door and dashed into the hallway, running towards the front of the hotel, towards the lobby, I checked my watch, smiling as the minute hand ticked on 9 when I was halfway there.
I liked being punctual, with everything having not only a time and a place, but an exact time and exact place. I could control the time, but the place...
I only wished it wasn’t winter, but I couldn’t do much about it.
Years of running for the bread shop just before it closed to ask for the leftover bread if the baker was in a good mood paid off, for my running here was absolutely silent. Only little vibrations marked my passage.
I realized as I reached the door to the lobby from the employees’ quarters that I depended so much on the perfection of the conditions around me that I seriously wouldn’t be able to function without everything all there for me.
I shuddered slightly as I placed a careful hand on the lobby doorknob. I hoped that I would never see a situation that was important to me but wasn’t perfect, so I would stand there, frozen, unable to do anything.
Thankfully, today seemed like a perfect night, and I probably had some important tasks to do.
I did a final check, glancing at the tightly strapped watch one last time. 11:55. Perfect.
I eased open the door and looked around, quickly, for a hiding place. The lobby was quiet and dark. It was a shock to see the sparkly chandelier dark for the first time. Somehow, though, it seemed to give off a slight glow, and I quickly found a place behind a sofa that was to the right of the clock, giving me a wonderful view.
Scrunched up behind the soft furniture, I looked at my watch not out of necessity, but because I could do nothing else before the Professor came. 11:57.
I knew exactly how much I had to wait, and exactly how long that felt. I had made time my own, I had used it, depended on its accuracy and equal intervals to bring order to my life. I smiled at the dark, thinking how sometimes it was good to be so time-oriented.
No long wait for me. I started ticking off the 180 seconds in my head.
I heard the Professor before I saw him, coming in at precisely the last second I had counted with my watch, and even the sound reflected a change in him. As he was a guest, he would have entered from a door that was opposite and to the left of the clock. All the rooms lay there.
He was much stealthier, sneakier now. The slight noises he made were the exact opposite of respectable, the exact opposite of what suited persona he had used.
“The Professor” was exactly that: a persona. A facade. I shuddered slightly and waited for him to come into view.
When he did, I saw proof that my suspicions had been right. He was wearing dark clothing, all of the fancy suits gone. Clutching the toolbox I had seen in his room, he crept up, cat-like, to the clock.
The clock lay solitary, completely still, in the center of the lobby. It reigned as king, completely confident. It didn’t know what was coming for it.
The Professor snuck up towards the back of the clock and kicked open his toolbox, which he had dropped next to him. I wondered, Where were his graces?
He pulled out a screwdriver with the air of a thief and attacked the region where the clock was attached to the hotel wall. I heard quiet, muted grating sounds, and I felt that each blow was dealt on me.
Scrape. Scrape.
I moaned inside with the pain each scrape gave me.
The clock. What is he going to do? My voice wailed inside my head because I had stuffed a fist into my mouth to block my sobs. I wanted to put my head in my hands, but I knew I had to watch.
I stared bravely at the Professor as he finished disconnecting the clock from the hotel wall and pried it off. I felt something was being cut off of me, too.
The Professor dragged the clock over to his toolbox, which he had left open. He pulled out two books, both decorated beautifully, but none were the one I had seen and read.
This time, instead of awe and wonder, I felt a sickening CRUNCH in my stomach.
Who was he to do such a terrible thing?
I watched, horrified, as the Professor opened one book, the slimmer of the two. He found his page, and the papers seem to flip in slow motion.
I closed my eyes and winced as the Professor whispered, out loud, some words that seemed to be part of a magic verse.
Winter’s heralds, cold and white,
Come here and join, with this, bind tight,
Bring your strength to this, combine,
Together become so powerful, entwined.
I was numb with pain, but I comprehended a little bit. The Professor was bringing winter to the clock, combining their powers, to do something. His “job.” His “task.”
I desperately wondered what it was while I bit my fingernails. I was too nervous to realize how cramped I was getting.
I watched fearfully as some glimmering snowflakes came out of the book and floated over to the clock face. They landed there and attached themselves to the glass as if they had been there forever. The granules twinkled in the strange light that seemed to fill this room.
Granules. I had a sudden moment of revelation.
The snowflakes I had noticed on the clock face: I hadn’t noticed them before because they weren’t there before. The Professor must have done this, must have come out at night and added winter to the clock before today.
But this will be the final night. I thought to myself. All of his work before has accumulated and he’s going to get what he wants now.
I didn’t know what, but I knew that I would see it now, and it had something to do with the second book he was holding.
The Professor clutched the book protectively. It was obviously much more important than the first book that had the magic verse for the snowflakes, which was now tossed on the floor, forgotten.
The unused book was old, very old, its pages completely yellow, some ripped and torn, hastily stuffed back in. It’s binding was very old-fashioned and beautiful, but it was marred by all of the tape that was on it: it seemed that more of the book was tape than paper.
I watched, captivated, as the Professor flipped open the book. He found his page quickly this time, for he had a bookmark in this one.
Flip. Flip. However little time it took, it still felt like ages to me. I realized then that I had been unconsciously clenching my hands into tight fists.
I looked down to see the small, brilliant-red crescent-shaped marks on my palm before I quickly looked back up, at the Professor.
Then the second magical verse began, and it was obvious that the Professor was putting in much more effort this time. I saw his eyes, squeezed shut so tightly that it formed wrinkles. His mouth opened very deliberately, each word formed carefully. He spit some flecks of saliva. Everything about him was focused, but worn.
I thought for the first time how old he must be. For the first time since I squeezed myself in here, I realized how hard he must have tried to do this. He wanted something; it was obvious he had tried to get it for many years.
I shivered slightly. I almost felt sorry for him. I would pity him completely, and I would help him, if it didn’t concern this clock.
I peered at him through my fingers.
He was turning around in slow circles, his sho
I peered at him through my fingers.
He was turning around in slow circles, eyes still closed, his medium brown hair spinning around, whipping up into a frenzy. I noticed it was darkening, the sheen and vibrancy fading out of it. Some places were streaked with gray.
Winter and Time, the strongest of nature,
Inside this clock, woven forever,
Take me to any place,
Where cold reaches or seconds draw on apace.
He wanted to go somewhere. He was about to go there.
I could see from his now-opened eyes that this was what his life had been about, the thing he had worked up to since he was born. His life was culminating here; if this succeeded, he could call his life one that wasn’t wasted.
The Professor obviously needed this to work to even have the right to call himself “a professor.”
He was staring intently at the clock, which started to give off a faint blue glow.
I watched him carefully, ready now to jump out at any time to stop what was happening if necessary. I had a creeping sensation of dread, accompanied by the thought that I might already have missed the time to make it all stop because I had been so captivated by the process.
It might be too late.
I turned my attention back to the Professor with a sharp intake of breath. WHOOSH
It was too late, for sure, to take that back.
I quickly covered my mouth and froze. A useless gesture. I should have made a run for it...
“Who’s there?” The Professor whirled around, his expression of expectation and excitement replaced with one of fury and— was it fear?
I closed my eyes and begged the stars to make him think he was hearing things or that it was just a natural nighttime sound. I hoped he wouldn’t search for the culprit, he couldn’t...
He did search, though. At first, it was only looking around the room, simple, classic surveillance. After that, I didn’t see because I had sank deeper into the crevice between the back of the sofa and the wall, my eyes squeezed shut, but still dripping tears. I heard, however, furniture being moved, turned around...
Then I heard the worst sound I could ever hear at that moment. The sofa was large and heavy-set, but it wouldn’t hold it back forever. He dragged the four squat, pudgy legs away from the wall, persisting despite the fact that the dragging made the sofa legs wail so noisily that the racket was loud enough to wake all of the guests.
It revealed me.
I thought later that I would really liked to have been the Professor at that moment. It would have been interesting and amusing to see my face when suddenly the Professor thrust his face in front of mine.
It would have been horror-stricken, of course, but it would have been laughing slightly at how the Professor looked. I want to see that mix, see how it was made possible.
“YOU.” He jabbed one finger in my face and uttered that one word in what was meant to be a fear inducing voice. It was obvious that he hoped that just saying one word would be so dramatic that it would scare me out of my wits.
I had been terrified, but now, I laughed at the Professor’s failed attempt to scare me. That took away some of the fear.
The Professor exploded, completely unlike his usual self.
“What did you see? WHAT DID YOU SEE?” The Professor had grabbed me by the neck, scrunching up the fabric along my collar, and was now shaking me.
It took me a while to come to my senses and recover my ability to speak. At the exact moment I did and was about to open my mouth to answer, the Professor released me and began muttering to himself.
“Of course she saw everything... She couldn’t have come in later, I locked all of the doors...” He looked away.
He turned towards me once again and yelled, “LEAVE NOW! And you WILL pay for this!”
I stared at him blankly, numb. I had comprehended nothing.
He started mumbling to himself once again. “She should stay and watch it to the end... It doesn’t matter anyway, I’m leaving... If I let her go, she would come back with authority and then I’m dead... No one will believe her anyway... Ha ha, she might be unable even to speak to anybody...”
His eyes turned dark and wicked. “She can see the end of it. Suffer, while I go free.” He clapped his hands and grinned, having decided.
“Madam, of course you may watch this to the end. Please sit in a more comfortable seat, please.” The Professor lowered himself into a mocking bow and gestured toward the sofa behind which I had been hiding.
I found my voice. “Oh no, you don’t! I’m reporting you right now!” I made a run for the door and threw my arms around the handle. I tried to put my lifetime supply of energy into it; after all, if this didn’t work, I was dead...
It was locked, however, from the inside and the outside.
I turned.
The Professor looked at me, still by the sofa. He still grinned his too wide smile. “I’m sorry, miss, but it looks like you have no other choice.”
I stayed by the door and screamed for help, beating on the door and trying to wrench the door open. The doorknob, the doorknob, why won’t it open?
I realized that I had to give up and turned around, glaring at the Professor. I put my back to the door, both hands tightly pressed to it.
He had been waiting for me. “It looks like thanks to you, I was entertained during the time it takes for the spell to get ready by penetrating the clock. Look! It’s starting!” The Professor chuckled happily, like a toddler.
I swiveled my head toward the clock and watched as the clock, having grown brighter and brighter, started lifting off the ground with a low groan.
“No. No. No.” I whimpered. I stood there, helpless, as the clock shrank down to the size of a watch and floated over to the Professor, who snatched it out of the air with glee.
“Watch.” He smiled, and the light emanating from the watch illuminated his face, evil, cruel, but at the same time pitiful.
Shocked at my opinion of the Professor, I fell backwards against the door, making a deep, rumbling BOOM. My hands were now white, the tendons at my knuckles tense.
The Professor then ignored me, turning back the clock that was now a watch.
Suddenly, the light coming from it seemed to harden a bit, so although it was still a soft glow, it seemed to be more tangible, as if I could reach out and touch it and it would stay there beneath my fingers.
I wanted to do it, I wanted to get closer...
Instinct, however held me back. I watched as the light started to swirl in a whirlpool, as if some golden strings were spinning around, chasing each other.
As I closed my eyes, I immediately saw the image of a potter, spinning around a blob of clay until it suddenly formed a vortex-shape. The light looked like spinning glass, not clay, with inlaid glimmering threads.
I kept my eyes wide open: at this point, I was once again too captivated with the sheer beauty of it, tinged with darkness.
It happened too quickly.
“Finally!” The Professor shrieked.
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to describe what happened next accurately. It was as if the entire world was somehow rippling, because the air seemed to tilt and fold and twist and bend. I think that I saw through my severely impaired vision the Professor slipping into the light vortex, but somehow, he disappeared into it with the clock, the watch.
A soft wail escaped my frozen lips.
Then, I noticed that they were all gone and I was the only one left in the lobby.
That was when I felt it: the entire earth trembling on its axis, shaking, quivering, groaning, as this man’s one deed ruined all of nature by freezing time. Little did he know about how horrible this predicament really was. Little did I know what I would be facing.
A wave of stuff— science class told me it was matter, but this obviously wasn’t— rolled towards me and knocked me over.
I slid down the door, hit my head, and lost consciousness.
I collapsed.
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