TICK. TOCK. TICK. TOCK. Tock. Tick.
The hands of the invisible clock rolled over and over.
This was nowhere. But time did indeed subsist in this place. The sound of the clock reminded nowhere’s company of the inescapability of nothingness. A form of torture to know that time continued to move forward for everything else—and everyone else—in a place where they still existed, while those who had gone lay lost, wrapped in the fabric of the unknown.
Thoughts, only thoughts, here at the center of a room. Only there were no walls, no floor, and no ceiling. No longer possessing a physical form, all that was here were my erratic, barely conceived thoughts.
Thoughts that wondered if this was nature. If this was what happened when everything you were just stopped and no other worldly force intervened.
But then, someone had put that clock in here.
All thoughts were fragmented and stifled, but they struggled on regardless—anything to block out the sound of the maddening tick tock by concentrating on the faintest smudge of an imprinted memory.
A strange image of an object—small and thick with a jagged edge around its top—flashed into thought.
Focusing on it, and yet no comprehension as to what it was.
The object started to fuzz and blur, but this mind wasn’t going to release it so easily. Think and remember.
King. A word. Recognition. King. It had a name.
Now it existed.
The tick tock filtered back in and made it harder to concentrate. And, somehow, the sound of those malevolent hands was getting louder.
King. King. King. Its name now resounded in time with the strikes—balancing it, holding the image steady.
Check. A new word forming. Check. My king was in check. My king.
Me. I. I wasn’t me. I wasn’t anything. I didn’t exist. And then the idea started to dissolve.…
The word almost whispered into life, and repeated: Lailah …
A name. Things that didn’t exist didn’t have names. But I had a name. One I swore I would never forget again.
Strange … at the end of the room, a circle appeared.
The tick tock quickened.
A window. A glass window with an image locked inside—someone beautiful sat at the foot of a bed. I knew him. On a table before him sat a chess set.
I concentrated on the king, and a spark of light flowed through my mind. Though I began to feel something, whatever it was quickly receded as the face before me dulled with a shadow of sadness.
“No.” My voice bounced off the sides of the room that were now forming. “No!” I shouted again. As I did, the king moved for me; it moved itself out of check.
Command the choice to decide.
Command the choice to decide.
As the familiar words looped themselves in my mind, a chill crept up from below.
The room had a floor, and I had feet.
Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock … The clock sped up, booming with every strike, almost deafening my mind into silence once again. And with every turn of the big hand, it was as if my head were being pounded and smacked against the newly formed wooden walls.
I was locked inside a grandfather clock. I was a nonexistent prisoner of time. But I was beginning to exist once more, so time would have to halt long enough to release me.
I could see my hands now, and as the floor started to fall away and the ceiling began to cave in, I placed my palms against the window in desperation, watching him.
The glass shattered as the space bounced and rocked from side to side, and his image left along with the shards, shortly to be replaced with a new window, a way back to the world.
Heavy chunks of wood came crashing down around me. I squeezed myself through, staring down into oblivion. I stood straight and teetered on the ledge of its gold pane.
Three perfect spheres lined up in a row. One was a luminous white. The second was an amalgam of sapphire blue and emerald green. The third was a black ball with gray clouds that swirled as though a storm was trapped inside.
I cast my gaze to my right, and as the prison broke apart, I saw a number: 9. Debris rained down from above, and I struggled to retain my balance. I snapped my attention to the left. Another number—3—cracked and fell away.
My head thumped and throbbed. I kept my balance, but the clock’s hands twirled at an incredible speed, so fast everything was spinning.
I had commanded the choice; now I had to decide.
“I want to go home! I want to live!” I shouted at nothing and no one.
The heavy brass pendulum swung as the hands finally slowed and hovered at 12. The casing that had enclosed me broke away as the clock chimed for its last time, sounding the beginning of a new day.
I remembered his face as I closed my eyes. His name formed at the fringes of my consciousness, and I fell from the ledge of my prison.
The clock stopped ticking.
Every clock in every world stopped.