Here is the promised short story for January. This month we were asked to write a story that takes place within an hour. Well, being the unconventional kid that I am, I literally wrote ABOUT an hour. Enjoy!
I watch 23:00 trot through the trees toward me. As usual, there’s a skip in her step and she’s humming something light-hearted. Vivaldi? Last night it was Sinatra. A swaying love song. Tonight it’s a chipper tune. Bouncy. Just like 23:00.
“Good evening,” she says to me.
“How was it?”
23:00 sighs. “Lovely. As usual.” She’s back to humming. Bobbing her head along with the melody. The silver specks in her black hair sparkle when they catch the moonlight. She wears it long, and lets the curls cascade over her face and down her back. Never bothering to tie it back. The perfect teeth of her smile match the scattered swirls of silver in her black skin. “It’s a perfect night.”
“Alright then,” I say. “I’ll be off.” I don’t like to delay The New Day. It’s dangerous to keep time waiting.
“Don’t you ever enjoy the fact that you can stop time?” 23:00 asks. “I can hold off an hour, but you… You can keep an entire day in suspense.” She sighs again.
23:00 has always been a dreamer. A child of “what if”. But, being in her position, that makes sense. She ends the day. People of the world are often left feeling hopeful of what The New Day may bring. 23:00 conveniently ignores those who wished the day had never happened.
“It’s irresponsible,” I tell her.
She giggles. “So? I mean, don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t want your job. Too many people are afraid of you. I prefer to be adored. By those happy to see the day end, or those reveling in its glory. But, you seem uninterested in your eminence. Don’t you ever find yourself amused by the power?”
“You can keep them waiting.” She gazes into the black starry sky. “All of them. Those who wish for tomorrow. Those who dread it. The New Day is in your hands.” Another sigh. “Midnight. The most powerful of us all, but she doesn’t care.”
She’s wrong, of course. I care very much. The weight of The New Day rests on me. I fully understand my position. My power. “I respect the power. It’s not my place to abuse it. The world depends on you to end the day, and me to begin the next. Who are we to deny them?”
“Fine,” she tosses her hands up in surrender.
“Now, if there’s nothing to report, I’ll be off.” Turning away, I step out from under the trees.
“Oh,” 23:00 calls after me, “There is one thing… I guess.”
I stop. Waiting. Refusing to turn back unless it’s important. For with her it rarely is.
“I’d watch your back,” 23:00 says. “I may not want your job, but someone does.”
Looking over my shoulder, I see her shining smile. The subtle swirls of silver playing on her face. “That’s not news,” I say. “But, thanks anyway. Good night, 23:00.”
“Good morning, Midnight.”
After a few steps, I take to the air. Swooping into the night. Twelve customary chimes echo on the wind. Bellowing of Midnight and the approach of The New Day. The rush from flight tousles some of my hair from its wound up braids. The purple buried deep within the black twinkles, if one were to look closely. My glossy black skin tingles with the shifting time. That’s always been my favorite part. The feel of the change. With the birth of The New Day comes hope, fear, wonder. So many different things from the world, and I get to feel it all.
As I glide over the dreamers, partiers, love-makers, and non-sleepers, I guide The New Day into being. Seeing it wash over the world. Almost every New Day is the same. But, a few stand out. Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, a Coronation Day, or momentous history making days. Their shifts are bigger. Like a tidal wave instead of a steady river.
As usual, Between Beings scatter as I fly by. Springing into action as their hour finally arrives. As long as they don’t linger, I leave them to their mischief. They’re more of a gleeful annoyance to the world than a real problem. Faeries, Sprites, Ghosts… They have their jobs too, and it’s not my place to interfere. Only if they exceed our hour do I involve myself. The wrath of Midnight isn’t pretty. And they know it. So, approaching Between Beings is a rarity.
In my presence there is mystery or opportunity. In my wake I leave hope or uncertainty. Depends on the person. Depends on the circumstances. Depends on the day. I don’t command The New Day. I only introduce it. Holding its hand as it meets the world for the first time. I like that about my job. The day will do what it will do. Same as the people of the world. I get to usher it all in, and see it begin. Whether it’s exciting, scary, or completely routine, I get to see it all.
But, reflecting on the beauty that is seeing a New Day often shines a light on its lack of permanence. Not only is The New Day fleeting, but my station may be as well. I’ve always been The Hour of Midnight. I was born with Time. Just like the others. Some of them have moved around, however. Who was once 4:00 overtook 7:00 so they could have The Dawn. To the former 4:00 it seemed more prestigious. And some time ago Noon became lazy, thus bargaining with 3:00 to trade positions. The new 3:00 enjoys the idea of nothing but sleepers and insomniacs. And the new Noon finds lunchtime activities refreshing. I’ve never been one to crave something different. I love my hour. I love The New Day. But, as 23:00 said, others do too. I’ve been challenged a few times. None have come close to claiming Midnight for themselves. I’ve proudly held my post. But still… there could be a time when I’m defeated. Jealousy among The Hours has always been and always will be.
I try my best to push away the idea of losing The New Day. I’m here now. Bringing a new beginning as I always have. As I hopefully always will. Seeing the forest approaching, the tingling of my skin starts to fade. I dive for the trees, and find 1:00 ahead.
He’s leaning against a tree, waiting. Staring at his feet with a look of irritation and boredom. His matte black hair flops lazily. Lifeless eyes peek through. The dull, dark skin of his face has no delicate purple sparkle like my own, nor a playful silver swirl like 23:00. Sometimes, he really seems a shadow.
More than once I’ve heard him grumble about his neglected hour. It’s not romantic enough, he thinks. There’s never anything fresh or hopeful about it. He sees the hour after Midnight as an after thought. Of all The Hours, he feels the most ignored.
With careful precision, my feet gently touch down. From the trees, Fae, Sprites, Ghosts, and other Between Beings emerge. They creep toward me. I open my mouth to condemn them. Their time has expired! They know that! But, I stop. Why so many perpetrators of our ancient law? Looking to 1:00 I see a gray-toothed smile.
“You know…” 1:00 says without lifting his eyes, “When children count, they start with the number one.”
The Between Beings swarm. A deafness hangs in the air where the ring of a single chime is missing.