I am part of a homeschool Honor Society, and for the induction ceremony I will be presenting a 2,072 word short story based on a picture selected by my fellow members.
Here is the picture they chose:
The Thirteenth Hour
So this was the secret place he’d heard whispers about. And it was full of….clocks. How fascinating. He’d hoped for something a little more…magical? Lucrative? Worthwhile? Not something that would remind him how late he was for everything.
Liam walked along the catwalk, absently counting the difference clocks as he passed. Why would anyone talk about this place at all? It was gigantic and that was kinda cool…but so what?
The constant ticking of the clocks, while rhythmic, were not in sync. It created a discombobulated atmosphere; chaotic, and alive. He changed his mind. The place wasn’t cool at all…it was eerie.
That’s when the chimes of the hour started. Not all at once. The chorus began with a few, and then grew louder as every clock joined in. The bongs pounded in his head, the volume proportionate to the size of the clocks. Liam covered his ears in a feeble attempt to block out the chimes, but he could still feel them slamming against his skull. Sneaking in at midnight was probably not the best idea, for the bells continued on, and on, and on. At last, every clock fell silent. All but one. As if determined to have a solo, this clock had only just begun to count to twelve. Liam uncovered his ears and turned to watch the delayed clock. It was the biggest one; its face milky white. Despite its size, the chimes were friendly, almost delicate.
A strange clicking sound reverberated as the big hand and little hand aligned.
Another sound came from within. This one a low bang, something like a hammer falling on wood.
Liam finished counting the number of tolls and waited for another sound. He didn’t have to wait long, but the sound was not what he expected.
The clock struck a thirteenth time and everything stilled.
He frowned and walked up to the railing to study the clock in front of him. Peering up at the roman numerals, he noticed not two numerals after the X in twelve, but three. There was no mistake. The clock really had chimed a thirteenth hour. There was some something strange about that last numeral. It looked like there was….a handle?
Liam jumped back at a sharp clicking sound. The third numeral after the X slowly swung inward. It was a door. A grin slowly spread across his face. Now THIS was something worth whispering about.
He climbed the railing and was about to jump onto the clock when he realized that he didn’t have to. Hidden just to the side of the clock face was a staircase that went all the way to the door.
Empowered with excitement, Liam flew up the stairs and reached the door, breathless. But his expectations were not rewarded. The door opened to nothing but a black void. No shiny treasure, no secret hideout. Nothing.
He pushed his arm through the opening to see if anything was there. He was only met with cold air.
“Hello?” His voice echoed deep. He glanced down. How far did it go? On a whim, Liam reached down and his hand touched something solid. Tentatively, he stepped through, the blackness accepting him. He shivered and hugged himself. An updraft blew in front of him and he came to a sudden stop. Just one step further and he would have fallen.
Lights blinked on and he lifted his hand to shield his eyes. Sure enough, there was an immediate drop directly ahead. Still behind him was a giant clock. With great confusion and disappointment, he realized that he was standing on the same catwalk in front of the same hundreds of clocks as before. The third numeral in the thirteen was still open; a doorway to nothing. Had he turned in a circle?
A voice made him freeze.
“There’s someone there!” The voice said, female.
“It worked?” Another voice, this one a boy, sounded surprised. More lights flickered on, revealing a mass of people gathered on a platform across from him. Liam stared. That hadn’t been there before.
“What dimension are you from?” The girl called. She had on a strange jumpsuit. In fact, they all wore strange clothes.
“I’m sorry?” Liam called back.
“Oh, you know…dimension…universe…planet…” The boy returned. He sounded disinterested, maybe even a little annoyed.
“Um…I’m from earth?” Liam relied.
Silence. The people started whispering to each other. Liam leaned forward as far as he dared in an attempt to catch parts of the conversation.
“…you miscalculated again.” One said.
“We should put him with the others.”
A little to the left was a bridge connecting the catwalk to the platform. Liam started down it, but no one seemed to notice him.
“Excuse me!” He called out, alerting them. They all stopped whispering and looked at him. Liam hesitated, suddenly feeling quite exposed with everyone’s attention on him all at once.
“Who are you?” Liam asked the people. They looked normal except for their clothes.
“I think,” began an old man. “The real question is: who are you?”
“Me?” Liam gestured to himself. “I don’t understand. Where did you people come from?” The old man chuckled.
“I think I see the problem. You don’t understand what’s going on.”
Liam just blinked at him. Of course not! He was still very confused.
The old man spread his arms out grandly. “Welcome to the future.”
Liam didn’t think he was serious. The man noticed the suspicious look on Liam’s face and explained.
“We’ve been trying to connect a portal to a new dimension, but so far we’ve only managed to reach the past. You went through the thirteenth numeral of a clock, am I correct?”
Liam nodded mutely. The man led the girl over.
“Why don’t you take this boy to the room, yes?” he asked of her. She nodded and took Liam’s hand. He quickly pulled away. These people made him uncomfortable.
“Why don’t I just go back?” He suggested. “I really don’t need to stay…” But Liam no longer had a choice. He was escorted to the room with a firm hand.
The room was decorated only with a couch, a few beanbag chairs, and a TV. The people inside interested him, though they hardly looked up when he was pushed inside. A lock clicked into place behind him. He was a prisoner.
Liam stood awkwardly near the door, not sure what to do or say.
“What year are you from?” One of the boys sitting on the beanbags asked. It took Liam a moment to register what exactly the boy meant.
“2015,” he replied. The boy looked pleasantly surprised.
“Me too.” He jumped up to his feet and walked over. “Hey, you wanna help me get out of here?”
Liam backed up a little, no longer feeling so underwhelmed. “How long have you been locked up here?”
The boy gave a lazy shrug. “There’s no way of knowing. Hundreds of years if you look at it chronologically, but obviously I’m not hundreds of years old. I’ve been here—what—two years, give or take? Traveling through time is weird like that.”
“Why won’t they let you leave?” Liam asked, dropping his voice to a whisper.
“Not sure. Probably so they can remember what times in history they’ve gone to. They’re still dead set on reaching other dimensions.” He sighed dramatically. “It’s not gunna happen people.”
“Why not just write it down?” Liam asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe they’re saving us for a documentary.” The boy then pulled Liam aside. “You came in through a clock, right?”
“Good. We’ll have until the hour’s up before the portal closes. That’s our only chance to get back to our time. Who knows when they’ll open back to 2015 again?”
Liam glanced at the others. They were happily distracted by the program on the TV. “What about them?” he asked.
“They’re all from difference decades, some centuries,” the boy explained. “Only you and I are from 2015. Come on, we don’t have much time.”
The boy’s plan to get out was simple. Knock, and then run out when the door opened. And the plan would have worked flawlessly—if someone had actually come when they knocked.
“Now what do we do?” Liam asked.
“Uh….” The boy looked around the room. “Air vent.” He pointed up near the ceiling.
“We won’t be able to fit in that,” Liam realized. The boy wrinkled his nose, shrugged, and started walking over to it.
That’s when the door opened.
“Switching back to plan A!” The boy announced as he slammed into the person at the door. “Go, go, go!”
Liam ran from the room and down the narrow hallway, pausing only to wait for the other boy to catch up. He ran past Liam, taking the lead. When they got to the platform, there was no one there. Liam turned his head back and forth, searching for the clocks. There was nothing. Only darkness.
“How much time do we have?” The boy asked. Liam glanced down at the watch on his wrist. Assuming the thirteenth hour was the same as midnight on his watch, they had about…three minutes until 1 am.
The boy found a switch and flipped it. The clocks became illuminated in a dim glow, the light also revealing the bridge from the platform to the catwalk.
“Hurry!” he cried, already running across it. Liam didn’t have to be told twice, but he didn’t have a chance to get far. The old man from before emerged onto the platform and caught hold of Liam’s arm.
“How did you get out?” he demanded. Liam wrenched his arm out of the man’s grip and stumbled onto the bridge.
Two minutes until 1 am.
Instead of chasing him, the old man turned and shut off the lights. Everywhere but the platform went dark.
“Over here!” It sounded like the boy had made it to the clock. Liam turned towards the voice and inched forward, using the railing as a guide. It seemed as though the bridge went on forever. Step after step, it didn’t feel like he was getting closer.
One minute until 1 am.
Gears started turning. The clock was preparing to strike the hour; the door beginning to close.
“You’re going to have to run!” The boy called out from somewhere up ahead. Liam did run. He bashed against the metalwork, even stumbled a few times, but he kept moving forward.
Seconds until 1 am.
Liam reached out with his hands, ran past the catwalk, and slammed into the stairs that would take him to the door in the third numeral.
He climbed the stairs, completely blind by the darkness. 1 am had arrived. The thirteenth hour up. He was halfway up the stairs when a chorus of bells chimed the hour.
Liam called out for the boy, never stopping. He couldn’t be too late, he couldn’t! There was no answer. Nothing but the constant ticking of the clocks around him. Mocking him. Liam was notoriously late for everything, why not this?
Not willing to accept defeat, he pressed on and reached the top of the stairs. He couldn’t see it, but he knew the thirteenth numeral was there in front of him.
He froze and held his breath. A draft blew in his face. He reached out blindly with his hand and found that the door was still open. No time to question it, Liam crawled through. He clung to the new set of stairs, stairs from 2015, and looked back in the brighter light at the clock face. There was the boy, straining with effort, holding the large hand back. Once he saw that Liam was through, he released the hand and it lurched forward, striking 1 am. A long, loud toll. A lonely bell, unaccompanied by others. The door swung tightly shut.
The boy jumped down to the catwalk where Liam was still sitting. He grinned and reached down to help him up. “And they say time waits for no one.”
Liam grinned back and shook his head.
They went their separate ways after that. The boy returned home after having been missing for two years, and Liam went back to his usual routine, although now he was careful to never be late for anything.And from then on, every night at midnight, he would hold his breath, listening to hear if his clock ever struck thirteen.