|Midnight Lasts An Hour
Author: Sasha Distan PM
When daylight savings time kicks in, one moment in the middle of the night lasts an hour. This October, something happens and those involved can't do a thing to stop it.Rated: Fiction T - English - Horror/Fantasy - Words: 5,117 - Reviews: 1 - Follows: 1 - Published: 08-09-06 - id: 2227145
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Midnight Lasts an Hour: 1 Stop Clocks
Lucius's dormitory floor woke him up abruptly, mostly by slamming itself into the side of his head. He teenager frowned and got unsteadily to his feet. He had only been at university for a few weeks and what with all the freshers parties he'd only spent a handful of nights in his new room. It looked like home, it had his computer and his posters, his old warm, comfortingly familiar duvet on the bed, but it didn't feel like home. Everything was too new, the little en-suite bathroom still smelt of citrus antiseptic. The actual classes themselves weren't too bad. Seminars were better than lectures and drinks in the student union bar with Jon and company was better than both. Lucius had been lucky to be housed with five other guys. They all got on fairly well and liked the same sort of drinks and music. In a place this size, it was a godsend.
His tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth and his ears were full of cotton wool. The gig last night in the student bar had been loud and hot and dangerously close to being alive. Lucius's ears were still ringing with the after effects of jumping up and down like a mad thing too close to the front of the stage, the four foot high speakers and the massive array of amps. He rubbed the side of his head and glanced at his clock. Midnight. He'd only fallen into his bed fully clothed an hour before, it felt longer. He rubbed at his sleep fussed spiky hair, sticky with stale sweat and thrown beer, and headed off, half dressed, for the little kitchen at the end of the corridor. Kettle, mug, and few moments of fumbling in the fridge for milk that was actually within the sell by date had had some hope of still being liquid when he opened it, and Lucius was the proud owner of a large mug of hot sweet tea. He shut the fridge door with the disgruntled sneer. Some of the things in there were growing, he was sure of it. Lucius put his mug down next to his clock and fell onto his bed.
When he opened his eyes the little red digits of his alarm clock were burning into his retinas. 12:00, midnight. Lucius reached out for his tea, and then tried to cough, swallow and swear all at the same time. The tea was stone cold. He'd definitely been asleep longer than, well a few seconds. The clock must have run out batteries, he thought quickly before the voice of terrified logic snapped at him that his clock was plugged into the mains, which must still be working otherwise those lights wouldn't be there. He got up, tugged himself out of his jeans, put on a clean pair of boxers and some new trousers and headed out into the corridor. It looked just as it had when he'd gone to the kitchen, empty and asleep. Cautiously he pressed against Jon's door. It wasn't even on the latch, Jon obviously not having closed the thing hard enough when they got in. Jon wasn't there. Every room was the same, quiet, dark, everything in place except for the occupant.
Lucius nearly tripped over his own feet hurrying downstairs, still half naked, to knock on every other door in the building. No replies, no annoyed groans. He pushed open the doors to other students rooms, girls and boys alike, no one was there. Empty rooms, with every clock telling him that it was still midnight. He went back upstairs and got on his computer, ignoring the little numbers in the bottom right hand corner of the screen that caused him to worry. He sent emails to everyone he knew, signed onto a chat forum, no one online. Every site he visited was empty of people. This was the internet, that was impossible. The phone was his next target, he called home and hung up after leaving his fifth message on the answering phone. No one was answering. The boy went to go and stand at the window. There was a breeze blowing the trees, ruffling the grass, in the moonlit dark a rabbit hopped across the quad between the buildings. The clouds hung in the sky, glowing faintly, immovable. Lucius felt the warmth of his tears rolling down his cheeks, swept the salt taste up with his tongue and rested his forehead against the cold glass.
Twenty seconds of constant screaming later Rufus calmed down just enough to realise that the corpse staring at him was his reflection. His skin was white, a grey green pallor already spreading across his face. Blood had dried around his left eye and matted his short hair, part of that side of his head was caved in. He blinked. He was naked, his body broken looking on the metal slab. There was a cut along his side, but he wasn't bleeding. The scalpel lay on the floor. Late night autopsies weren't something he had had in mind. His arm was broken, the white bone jutting through the skin near his shoulder, but he could move the arm a little and it didn't hurt too much.
Rufus sat and took stock of his situation. He was dead. This probably meant that he could no longer get into his house, and that he had lost his job. He felt unaccountably happy about the fact that he didn't have to go back to the bank on Monday morning. He was however, a walking corpse. Rufus, in life, had seen enough zombie films to make him slightly paranoid, but he still remembered who he was and had no desire to eat the flesh of humans. He scratched his head, stopped when his fingers met brain tissue and got down off the metal table.
The morgue was empty. No quite true as it contained the bodies of some twelve others. But they all lay, dormant, silent and very dead. Decomposition slowly fighting the chill of the body fridges. Rufus was confused. Where were the people? The guards, the cleaners, the security bloke listening to the radio? The radio was on, all dials and switches glowing in the semi dark, but the airwaves were silent as the grave. No stations were playing anything. Rufus found a cloakroom and some scrubs and got himself dressed. This was all very strange.
Alex picked up a slim black credit card from one of the checkouts with delicate pale fingers and sent it whisking across the supermarket like a Frisbee. It landed with a clatter three aisles over. Alex strolled down the aisles, backpack in hand, filching random items from the shelves. He opened a packet of ham and began eating as he shopped. His diet had changed radically since the people had vanished. There was no one fresh to hunt. Alex licked too-pale lips and sighed heavily. In the silence of the supermarket, his booted footsteps echoed solemnly.
He finished filling his rucksack, which also contained a blanket and a dog-eared paperback, and walked out into the endless night. Every clock in the city had stopped, the moon was obtuse and motionless in the night sky, most of the stars obscured by clouds. Alex wasn't sure how much time had passed since the people had vanished. He had been out when it had happened, down the back of an alley, hauling himself up out of a man hole cover. One moment there was noise, passing cars, the shapes and shadows of people walking home from gigs and clubs, the figures of men carving processed meat in the kebab shop opposite. The next second, nothing. No cars, no shadows, no moment, no sound. As though some candle had been snuffed out, the deadness of the world closed in around him and poured like viscous liquid down his throat. He had raided three supermarkets since then, though it was still the same night, and had worked out that it had been roughly two days since that moment. All the humans had vanished and Alex had been left alone in the darkness.
Fortunately for Alex he was used to both being alone and living in the dark. He hadn't been home since the time, the striking of midnight, when the humans had vanished. There didn't seem to be much point. When he got tired he broke into houses or hotels, slept in soft beds. There was no point going back to his haven in the sewers, the tiny niche carved into the roof-wall of the sewer tunnel, away from all the prying eyes and the rays of the sun. He'd taken everything from there and now he was living a life above ground. He'd changed his clothes as well, gone were the dirty rags and worn through boots. He'd raided a clothing store that seemed to specialize in all things black and got himself kitted out, jeans and big boots, shirt and denim coat. He looked the part now, even if, deep down, he was still terrified.
Human food was fine for now, but what would happen to him eventually, if the people could not be found? He would die, he knew it. Sooner or later his system would no longer be able to cope with the growing hunger. Alex wondered whether the stories were true, whether vampires gone mad would drain themselves of their own blood in a last attempt to feed. Alex shuddered in the dark and loped off down the road.
Wider than she thought, Ether spun in the air, latching onto the ledge of the next building with leather gloved hands. She gritted her teeth, pulling herself up, her booted feet trying to gain purchase on the pebble dashed concrete wall. She heaved herself onto the roof, rolling over onto her back. Above her she met the eyes of her quarry. His face was hidden in the blackness caused by his cowl and his hood but Ether saw his eyes, clear as moonlight. Shimmering silver they were, centred with a blackness that glittered and glowed like obsidian. She saw his thin lipped mouth turn upward in a smile and then, almost without a movement, he vanished from sight.
Ether got to her feet and clutched her shoulder. Her glove came away dark and wet. She was bleeding again. Somehow, yet again, her quarry had escaped, and before he had, he had somehow wounded her without her knowing. She stamped her foot like a petulant child. She was so sick of him escaping her grasp. She unwound a slim rope from around her waist, tied it to the railing and swooped down to the ground. A swift tug brought her rope with her. She secured it again and loped off quickly down the street.
She moved with a hunter's grace, a big cat on the prowl. Dressed all in un-dyed leather, clothes she has sewn herself from the skins of creatures she had killed. She moved quickly, flitting from street to street, avoiding the lamps and the open shop doors. Every year it was like this, every year the world shifted and changed and looked like this, the still hanging moon, the un moving clouds. Every year. And every year the time to hunt and play in this strange land lasted but one hour. Ether shook her head, trying to dispel the growing sense of unease that made her bones cold. It had been, at the very least, a whole night, a full moon cycle since the world had shifted. Why had it not gone back? Where were the familiar forests and creatures of Terra-by-Night?
She knew that the strange man she had been chasing had something to do with it. From him she felt the deepest sense of evil. Those strange eyes, and that smile. How he tormented her. Ether had been chasing that man for longer than she had ever tracked any quarry. In previous times she had never needed more than a few days to find, hunt and kill. This creature had been taunting her for over two months. All those moon rises ago when she had first seen him, a black shape against the horizon. He was her quarry and she intended to kill him.
He took the old stone steps down to street level and began to move through the abandoned streets. Lucius checked his mobile, full signal, no battery. In his hand it blinked and beeped and the screen went blank. The teenager sighed and then dropped the phone onto the floor. He bent down, picked it up and walked along to the nearest dustbin to drop it in. He didn't even know why he did it. It wasn't like anyone was around to complain.
It was so strange, the empty streets, the silence. Lucius had never seen the city so quiet. He walked along past bookshops and clothes shops, places he would go in the day with his friends. Everything was closed and shut up, every clock in the window of the watchmakers told him it was midnight. The second hands didn't move. Lucius didn't want to admit it, but as he hurried on through the main arcade of shops he was scared. Nothing like this should happen, it was impossible, and yet. Lucius shook his head, there was no way he was dreaming. Or if he was dreaming there was no way he could wake up.
He stopped outside the open door of a club. There were no bouncers, no clubbers. He wandered inside, the lights span and swirled, the floor was sticky with spilled beer and sweat, the residual heat of so many tightly packed dancing bodies. Lucius sniffed the stale air and wrinkled his nose, the lights swirled but the disc is the changer had long since finished. From behind the bar he took a bottle of Jack Daniels and a couple of packets of crisps. He clambered up into the DJ cubby hole and flipped through the CD's until he found something he liked, jumpy and loud. He threw the old disc out slipped the new one and fiddled with all the little dials and switches until the noise came out a nearly deafened him. Outside he sat on a bench near the club, far enough away to make the music bearable, thumbed open the bottle and began to slip out of consciousness.
Now Rufus ran. As far as he could tell he'd been wandering around the city a good few hours and he hadn't seen anyone. In a way it was a relief, at least there was no one too laugh at his 'new look', He'd swapped the scrubs for something a little warmer even though he didn't feel cold and his footsteps pounded along the cobble streets. The music had started out of silence, someone had to be out there. It couldn't have just started playing all by itself.
The dead man rounded the corner and the music hit him full in the face. It was coming from the propped open doorway of a club. He approached cautiously and peered inside. Empty, nothing. But there was music playing. Rufus looked around, and his filmy brown eyes latched onto the figure of some one on a bench along the road. There was a bag on the floor, and man, no a boy, maybe only twenty years old, lying on the bench. Rufus frowned. Maybe he really was dead, and this was another dead person, a ghost in this strange hell. If he was dead, he hadn't been allowed to start decomposing like Rufus had. Carefully the man reached out to shake the boy's shoulder.
The teenager opened his eyes with a start, his head hurt, mostly because by the time he fell asleep he had been a quarter of the way down the bottle. He looked up, and screamed. A zombie, his brain supplied the word before his consciousness had even managed to start up and tell him to slow down because he was being ridiculous and didn't he know that zombies were only stories. Lucius sprang back, falling off the bench with a crash, getting up and backing away quickly as the zombie shuffled towards him, mouth opening. Appalled at what his eyes were seeing, he rubbed them in the vain hope that perhaps the apparition would vanish. It didn't, but it was about then that Lucius realised that the creature, thing, man, was trying to talk to him.
"Hey, hey, calm down. I'm not trying to hurt you. I thought you were dead." Lucius stared at it, "You know you were just lying there, and I mean I know I don't look to great right now, some idiot thought it would be fun to hit me with his truck, but you kinda looked a bit peaky. Have you eaten anything? Say, do you know what's going on, are you dead too?"
Lucius opened his mouth, shut it again and rubbed the back of his head before his brain managed to form a reply.
"Who are you?"
"My name's Rufus, and I think I'm dead."
"Dead?" Lucius frowned, arching an eyebrow in disbelief.
"Uh-huh," Rufus nodded, "I'm fairly certain I'm dead, my arm's all broken and everything. Are you dead?"
"I don't think so."
"Oh," Rufus sounded disappointed, "So this isn't hell or anything?"
"No, it's Canterbury," Lucius glanced around, "You want hell, try Manchester, or maybe Glasgow."
"So what's your name?"
"Luc, Lucius," the boy shrugged, "You want a drink Rufus?" he held out the bottle, which Rufus took, looking a little uneasy. He had been about to ask if Lucius had anything catching, but then though better of it. Rufus took a swig and Lucius declared he was hungry, so, abandoning the club and the music, they walked off down the road to the local all night newsagents.
When she looked long and hard at him he seemed to be a man, a normal, handsome man about her father's age, but when she glanced at him, quick looks while see scanned the rest of the room, he seemed strange. A smoky looking animal, a creature she could not describe. And although she did not know him, Ghost was enjoying his company. He didn't speak much, but he was very happy to listen to her chatter. Ghost was six years old and most of all, she loved to talk.
"This night has gone on far longer than it should have done. Do you know what's going on Mister?" The man-creature shook his head, "I don't really matter, I like the dark best any way. I never really understood it. I couldn't work out why my parents couldn't see me, why they didn't care about me crying. But I suppose it's OK though. I thought that when they died they'd become like me. They didn't. They just left. I've been all on my own for ages no, must be years and years. You'll keep me company now, won't you Mister? It's kind of lonely being an only child. Funny though that lots of people have died since I did but none of them have become like me." She pressed her palms together and pushed herself off the counter top, when she hit the floor her shoes began to sink a little way through before she stopped herself, "Don't you think that it's strange? That I'm the only one?"
Ghost put her head on one side and blinked big eyes at her strange new friend.
"I think," said the other in careful measured tones, "That you are special."
The little girl stood before him and held her arms out and the man-creature picked her up and sat her on his lap.
"What are you Mister?"
"I am a wraith Ghost."
"What's your name."
"I suppose," the creature spoke, shifting between man and shady smoky thing that Ghost stroked like a pet, "That I don't really have a name. But you can call me Grey."
Ghost stroked the dog-like things ears and hugged him tightly.
"I love you Mister Grey."
He ran his hands over his slim form and shooed inky dark locks of hair out of his eyes. He looked at his chest, he wasn't breathing, of course he didn't need to, but it was the one thing that people seemed to notice if you stuck around for too long. Never getting out of breath, not to mention the lack of white mist curling out of his mouth in the cold. Alex had very little idea what he looked like, he'd never seen himself.
He got dressed, pulling on boots and jeans and his jacket, and before he left he raided the fridge and the cupboards of the house he was in. There was quite a lot of food, tinned fruit and beans and sausages. Alex looked at the cooker and raised an inquisitive eyebrow. Ten minutes later he had settled down to a breakfast of beans, bacon, fried eggs and sausages. Life without humans, was, in a way, brilliant. He didn't miss the skulking around in sewers, no the frantic fear of the sun. True he didn't actually know if it would hurt him, but Alex wasn't sure he was really willing to take the risk.
The boy left the house and started back toward the city centre. Hopefully, if he stayed near civilization he might finally meet people like himself, after all, he reasoned, he couldn't be the only one, there was no way he could be the only one. Perhaps another, thrown out of sync by this extended night would come looking in this city for others of their kind. They would find him, they had to find him. In his fourteen years on the planet, Alex had never seen another creature like himself. He could not be the only one with snow pale skin and a taste for the warm red life giving blood. There were things he knew, he knew what he was, what he needed to survive, but that was inherited knowledge. No one had told him, it hadn't been needed. Alex scaled the walls and leaped over the old stone into the city.
She settled onto her branch, this strange bird woman, face shrouded by feathers instead of hair. An ancient creature of the forest. Hedge Feather stroked the bark of the big copper beach tree with bony knuckled fingers with long split yellowing nails and pressed her wrinkled cheek to the bark. She could hear the heart beat of the tree, the infinitely slow pumping of the sap. Trees were just alive as everything else, but unlike the little sparrow in her pocket whose heart fluttered even in sleep, the tree simply lived it's life at a slower pace.
Hedge Feather did not like life to be fast, she loved the trees and their slow way of thinking. The birds, though she adored them, worried her with their constant chitter chatter. They wore themselves out so fast, it was so sad. They asked constant questions of her, and lately these had taken on a new focus. What had happened to the sun? The truth was that the old lady didn't know. Every day for the whole of her long life had been vastly the same, cities rose and fell but every morning the sun rose. Some days the sunrise was a thing of beauty, others it was a grey un-event. But this was different. This was an unending night.
The second figure watched the first disappear and let out a long sorrowful sigh. So this was what had been done. A little breeze whisked his long hair about and tugged at his robes, wanting him to come and play. The man beckoned to it and the wind came to him, curling up between his fingers. He whispered to it, telling it beautiful things, asking it to do his bidding. Then he let it go, blow away to deliver his message. The man with his watchful golden eyes frowned as he saw what went on below and was deeply saddened. But nothing could be done yet, not while those involved were so unknowing.