This is – as states above – a flash fiction challenge set up by Chuck Wendig over at Terribleminds
- Subgenere – Dieselpunk
- Setting – The Golden Gate Bridge
- Must Feature – One or more time-travelers
The Forth Hand of Time
‘This used to be a nice place’
‘were you born before the war Mr?’ the boy looked in wonder at the man dressed in strange clothes; a hat with ears that covered his own, a chequered cloth round his neck and a long heavy coat, that was doused with grease. He looked down at him; his smile was broad and warm, like the sun rays beating down on them both.
‘No, I wasn’t’ he said, and turned back to gaze across the ocean. The boy looked out with him, squinting through the bright sunlight which promised hope, though the landscape was a desolate contradiction.
‘How do you know this place was nice?’ the man looked down at him again, his lips raised slowly, a crescent of mirth on a stubble ridden face, he touched the boys head, ruffling his matted blonde curls and looking into his turquoise eyes ‘Because I’ve seen it’ his smile defied the constraints of his face and broadened further
‘Where we stand, is the Golden Gate Bridge, and out there’ he gestured to the water, which seemed to stretch without end ‘is the Pacific ocean’ the child looked up at him; face crumpled with of suspicion ‘Your strange Mr’ he said ‘real strange’
The man reached into his inner pocket, pulling out something that glinted in the sunlight, the boy gazed on intrigued, as the man studied it, while he attempted to put it back the boy asked ‘What’s that?’ the man smiled at him again, tapping the side of his nose as he continued to put it away. The boy shrugged, and silence fell between them, only the slow rhythm of the water below, ebbing and flowing, as though the world had never changed. After a short while the boy, as all children do, broke the silence with a question
‘Was it made with gold?’
The man looked down at him, he didn’t smile this time but looked rather puzzled
‘What, my watch?’
With a roll of his eyes the boy shook his head and said ‘the bridge’
Looking round, the man saw; fissures running through the asphalt like spider webs and the suspension wires were pitted by sea air. ‘No, it wasn’t’ he replied ‘It was made with something worth much more’
‘Fuel!’ yelped the boy, as pleased as a puppy that had finally caught his own tail. The man shook his head and smiled again, though it was weaker than those the boy had become accustomed to
‘No, it was made with the imagination and ingenuity of mankind’
‘Oh’ said the boy underwhelmed, and disheartened that he hadn’t been right. The man gazed back out at the ocean, his eyes seemed transfixed on the horizon, the boy was sure he could see a tear in his eye, though the man smiled. Some time passed again with nothing but the water maintaining its rhythm.
‘Hey, Mr’ said the boy.
The man glanced down at him
‘What’s a watch?’
The man smiled, took a look back to the ocean, and then stooped down, squatting before him. The boy followed his movements, watching his right hand, the finger tips protruding from the black woollen gloves, dirt clung under his nails. Slipping his hand inside his coat, he withdrew something and opened his hand. The boy gawped at the shiny metal circle that lay atop the woollen gloved hand of the man. Looking up, though still in awe, he said
‘What does it do?’
‘Well they used to tell the time, nearly all watches tell the time, it was a very useful thing to have before the war’ he looked around at nothing in particular, just studying the landscape ‘people revolved their whole lives round time back then’
the boy stretched a finger toward it slowly, the man closed his hand around it. The boy looked up; his eyes a shimmering blue, filled with wonder.
‘What do the other ones do?’ he asked.
Puzzled, the man replied ‘other what?’
‘Watches’ said the boy, rolling his eyes
‘Ah’ the man’s face was awash with clarity ‘well, broken ones do very little, and then there’s special ones, like this’
He opened his palm again, revealing the shiny silver circle that had mesmerised the boy before.
‘What’s so special about that one?’ the boy enquired.
The man flicked it open with his thumb, revealing its face; the boy’s eyes widened, the face was a creamy off white, symbols scattered the outer perimeter, each spaced by several little lines, linking it to a different symbol, and several long pieces stretched from the centre. ‘These’ he said pointing to the watch, indicating the long pieces ‘are called hands, they help you tell the time’
The boy looked at him and then to the watch
‘the short one tells you hours, the longer one, minutes and the red one, seconds’
The boy stared at the hands; the short black one remained still, the longer black one sat opposite it, and the thin red one swept continuously round.
‘What does that one do’ he asked pointing to a luminous blue hand.
Smiling at him the man said ‘that, lets you see anything’
Bulging on the cusp of explosion, the boys eyes gazed at the man, trying to comprehend the idea of anything, until he could no longer fathom it and said
‘What do you mean?’
‘Remember I told you I had seen the Golden Gate Bridge in its glory’
The boy nodded with enthusiasm, still feeding off the idea of seeing anything.
‘Well with this watch, time no longer controls me, but rather, I control it’
The boy stared blankly at him, not completely aware of what had been said
The man rolled his eyes, much to the dismay of the boy who felt the eye rolling was his to do given that this man was far stranger than any normal stranger who was only a stranger because you did not have his acquaintance
‘Hold on to my hand kid, I’ll show you’
The boy grabbed the sleeve of his grease caked coat. Smiling, the man said ‘ready?’ as the boy nodded he felt as though his stomach was attached to a bungee cord, and the world had turned upside down, his stomach seemed to implode as cold shivers ran throughout his body, but before he had time to feel all the emotions, there was a flash of blue light, and they were gone.
The Golden Gate Bridge stood alone, with nothing but desolation for company.