April's theme is "Time".
"My Companion" by Sara Day
I am lying in bed
Time is sitting on my chest, crushing my ribs into my heart
Time used to be counted by the countless ticks of a clock heard in the night; now it is only marked by the flipping of electric green numbers and sharp buzzes
Time to get up
I am in the shower
Time is sitting outside the curtain, waiting for me
Time used to let me soak in the heat for an hour; now time hardly allows me to spend 5 minutes in the suds and steam
Time to get changed
I am eating breakfast
Time is sitting next to me, reading the newspaper
Time used to let me eat 3 donuts, 2 cinnamon rolls, a banana, and a whole glass of chocolate milk; now time only gives me the chance to scarf down a granola bar
Time to go to work
I am sitting in my office
Time is breathing down my neck, telling me I have 3 projects due
Time used to let me procrastinate, having fun and playing pranks instead of working; now my most familiar surrounding is a cubicle
Time to work harder
I am leaving my office
Time is dragging me along, leading me to my car
Time used to let me lollygag and take in the view of the downtown city and parks; now I don’t remember what the hundreds of flowers smell like anymore
Time to go home
I am eating dinner with my family
Time is squished in on the bench between my 2 daughters and my husband
Time used to let me talk to my family; now I don’t even remember my daughter’s favorite color
Time to clean the house
I am washing the dishes
Time is dirtying the plates, making the pile grow
Time used to let me relax, face light up with television light; now I am arms deep in soapy scalding water
Time to go to bed
I am trying to fall asleep
Time is lying next to me, whispering in my ear and reminding me of the millions of tasks I still have to do
Time used to let me sleep; now my nights are spent with tired eyes and an aching body
Time for tomorrow
"Shaded Time" by Ethan Case
Death squats in between my fingers,
Preparing to lie about cast shadows
Under the same Sun by silent skies,
Clouds imagined to be more than blobs of paint
Held to no purpose other than to disguise what is blank and swallow,
Her sky may run to the sea
As she tracks with no other than a button suspended from her wisdom,
Wrapped with twine from a scattered rock raved yard,
Sunk with cuts from scuffed shoes,
How she skips through puddles of organized light
Seems to disrupt the oil presenting a false face,
Maybe rivers consume the bank
But they let the rapids hide,
Boats will rip through its spine like a branch wanting to deroot from the weeded field,
But that only ripples their skin when all that moved was the ripe breezed fan that stood through the windows you held behind,
Let you fan pause not,
The clouds have shaded time.
"Time" by Charlotte Graham
I have always been counting the time.
5 minutes until class is over.
3 hours until I have to leave.
Only 2 more months of school.
And 4 days until the weekend.
I rush to get out the door,
And I rush to get in.
But I never really take the time,
To just enjoy the moment.
"Cotton Candy" by Abbey Stayden
Spinning in sugar, I watched the fluff structure into a funnel. The vibrant colours spiked my senses. I played with the sticky cotton until my mouth salivated. The first touch onto my tongue, it disappeared into my taste buds, directly sending a flash to my veins and loading them with glucose. My brain waited but as time went on nothing absorbed. The cotton candy dissolved into my blood, but never made it to my brain.
"Lifespan" by Megan Packard
Dakota took a shuddering breath before dragging his chalk down the cool cement wall of his cell. There were ten perfectly even tally marks standing side by side like regiments. He retreated to his bed and sat down at the foot of it, marveling at the number. Ten, when compared to infinity was a small number, but a decade was a long time to be a prisoner.
Sometimes Dakota missed his home or his parents, but usually he didn’t think about them anymore. Time had distorted his memory of those things, if not entirely wiped them away. It wasn’t like he could remember anything in detail, it was all just concepts. He knew he had a home, thus he wanted to go there, and he knew he had parents, so he wanted to see them. His captors had taken his pictures away from him so long ago that he had no way of recognizing anything outside of his four little walls.
He listened to people shuffling around and chatting on the other side of the door. They sounded like they were having a good time, joking and making small talk. He hugged his knees to his chest and tried to imagine how other people perceived the men and women who’d kept him confined for ten of his fifteen years. He supposed they had families and friends like any normal person was. Unfortunately, he’d never had the privilege of being normal.
This was how Dakota spent most of his days. Sometimes if he was exceptionally lucky, they would bring him paper and pencils to write and draw with, but that only happened about once a month to keep him from going crazy. They kept him so closely monitored that he’d given up on the concept of privacy. They’d installed a chip in his mind years ago, and although it was there for one specific reason, they used it in many ways. They knew when he was hungry, tired, sick, agitated, or bored. And they catered to him when it was necessary, of course they never spoke to him, but armed guards would bring him medications or tissues or paper if he needed it.
Ten years. He was baffled. He wondered what he would’ve done with the time if he hadn’t been here. Who would his friends be? What was a birthday party like? He’d had them before, but he couldn’t remember. The idea of cake made his stomach rumble, he would’ve given anything to have a slice. As if on cue, the heavy metal door opened and two armed guards entered, and Dakota expected to see them carrying the usual tray of tan slop.
“Get up,” one of the guards demanded. This was the most conversation Dakota had had in weeks. He followed the command with no resistance, because if he opposed he knew they would just take manual control over his body with the chip. It wasn’t a pleasant experience to lose control of his own body, so Dakota didn’t make a habit of insubordination.
He walked up to the men and they slapped handcuffs on his wrists as though he would try to get away. He’d never once lashed out against his captors and they’d taken away his only means of escape when they’d installed their little chip. He walked through the maze of fluorescent lit hallways and tried to figure out where they were taking him. His heart fluttered nervously in his chest. He knew better than to ask questions, but he was filled to the brim with them. Had the scientists finally figured out how to fix him? Was he going to get home?
Ten years would be worth the pain if he got to go free. He thought of walking out the doors of this place and into his mother’s arms. Tears brimmed his eyes. He usually didn’t allow himself this kind of hope because it hurt far too much.
The guards led him to a room with a couple of squashy chairs, a mirror, and a coffee table. They shoved Dakota inside and then backed away.
“Doctor Dolum will be be joining you shortly,” said one of them in a gruff voice. Then the door slammed shut. He wasted no time taking in the new setting. These walls were the color of old oatmeal instead of the dark gray of his cell. He was infatuated with how soft the chairs were. His sheets were coarse and his wooden chair was far from comfortable. Dakota turned tentatively towards the mirror. Ten years was a long time to go without seeing your reflection.
His nut brown eyes dilated in the light and his wavy black hair fell loosely around his shoulders. He had been five the last time he’d had a proper look at himself, and now that boy was gone. He barely recognized himself. He had pouty lips, thick eyebrows, and slightly crooked teeth. He remembered losing all of his baby teeth, but his captors had merely thrown them away, and of course they didn’t bother to give him braces. His nose was long and narrow, and his face was heart shaped.
He jumped when the door behind him clicked shut. He spun around to see a short, pudgy man gazing back at him. He gave a wide smile from beneath his moustache.
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” the man said, sitting down in the chair across from Dakota. “I’m Doctor Dolum, it’s nice to finally meet you.” He held out a hand, but Dakota didn’t take it. After a couple of awkward moments he let the hand fall back to his side and licked his lips nervously. “I see you’re a bit of the quiet type, huh?”
Dakota wasn’t sure if he should reply or not. He felt like it would be a mistake. If he’d learned anything in his decade at the base it was that he wasn’t to speak to the others. The fact that somebody was speaking to him all was enough to get him excited. This had to be a step in the right direction, right?
“Well, that’s fine. You don’t have to speak if you don’t want to.” He sat back in his chair and took a deep breath. “You really are an extraordinary young man, you know that, right? Truly astonishing.”
Dakota shifted uncomfortably. He didn’t like being talked about like he was the unexpected result of a lab experiment, still, he assumed it was best to stay silent.
“We’ve run a number of tests concerning your…ability, and we have yet to come up with any sort of explanation. I find you truly fascinating.” The man’s muddy brown eyes looked the boy up and down with a cruel twinkle in his eye. “Of course, we can only do so much to investigate the whole matter, before crossing into ‘unethical’ territory, and we wouldn’t want that.”
Dakota found himself shrinking away. Something told him that this doctor wasn’t here to give him good news. Dolum sighed again and ran a hand over his partially bald head.
“We will continue to work our hardest to get to the bottom of your case, but in the meantime, my superiors think they’ve found a better use for you.” The doctor shot him a charming smile. “We were hoping you’d consider hearing us out.”
“No.” The words slipped from Dakota’s mouth like loose sand. His voice trembled and he stared at the floor. “Not after what happened last time.”
“Ah, Dakota, you couldn’t have known such a thing would happen. I’m sure there won’t be a repeat of that experience.” He tried to put a consoling hand on Dakota’s shoulder, but the boy shied away.
“You can’t promise that,” he murmured.
He tried not to think of the day that he’d decided to show his power to Jane. She’d thought he was kidding; that it was all some silly pretend game they were going to play. Of course, since they had only been five, such games were normal to play, and she went along without a hitch. She laced her fingers with his and he clamped his eyes shut, concentrating all of his energy on the world around him. When the two opened their eyes, everything was frozen in place.
They ran around, knowing that nobody would miss them, and did all of the silly things you would expect kids to do with no time restraints. They went and got popsicles from the freezer even though they knew they wouldn’t be allowed to, then they went and changed where somethings were positioned, because it seemed like a funny joke at the time. Kids have relatively short attention spans though, and it didn’t take long for them to decide that they wanted time back again. The linked hands and Dakota focused. The world snapped into motion.
As it did, he felt Jane crumple to the ground beside him. No gift comes without its price, and he learned his the hard way.
He could freeze time whenever he wanted, for however long. Each time he did though, a year fell of the end of his life. How was he supposed to know that Jane only had one year left to live?
Chills ran up his spine each time he thought of it. He remembered confessing to his parents, and showing them what he could do. They sent him away. He hadn’t used his power since then, and he had no desire to.
He was too distracted to retreat this time when the doctor grabbed his shoulder.
“You’re right, I can’t promise. I’m sorry. This time though, people are willing to take the chance. Just, hear the whole thing out.”
“No,” he insisted, brushing Doctor Dolum’s hand aside. “I came here to be cured. I don’t want to hurt anybody else.”
“Dakota, I promise you this would be worth it. The risk would be worth the reward, trust me.” The man smiled. “You know how the saying goes. ‘Sometimes you have to spend money to make money.’”
“These are human lives we’re talking about, not money,” he snapped. “Nothing is worth that.”
“We’ve selected men who are young, healthy, and come from families of longevity. We’ve take all necessary precautions. I mean, good Lord, would you just listen to what we have to offer?”
“Does it involve me using my power?” Dakota asked.
“Then the answer’s no,” Dakota said. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”
“Look, don’t make this more difficult that it has to be.” The doctor pointed to his head, and Dakota suddenly remembered the chip. He scowled. This whole thing was merely a formality. He should’ve known better than to think the best. “Honestly, what have we done in all this time to lose your trust?”
“You locked me in a room for ten years and made me into your little toy,” Dakota said, suddenly fiery with anger. “Now you’re asking me to put your men’s, not to mention my own life, at stake.”
“I suppose you have a fair point, in all of that. Just keep in mind, everything we’ve done has been for the greater good. Up until now we had to make sure that you stayed safe long enough for us to gather data on you. You ought to take this as a compliment, we think you have enough control over yourself to be made of some use. If you can pull this off, you’ll be one of the greatest heroes in American history.”
“And if I don’t, then I might fall over dead with a couple of others at my side. I don’t care about being a her, I just want to go home!”
His voice had risen to a shout, and his last word rang through the room. They spent a fair amount of time sizing each other up before a wicked grin spread across the man’s face.
“Perhaps a visit home could be arranged, if you are willing to cooperate, of course.”
Dakota felt his heart skip a beat. Dolum had to be lying to him. They didn’t need his cooperation, he’d made that perfectly clear, so why was he going out of his way to get it? Couldn’t he have saved himself a lot of trouble without it? NOw he was bartering with him.
“Why would I let you go home? Like I said, you would be hero, and heroes deserve rewards.” His smile broadened. “Or are you asking why I’m bothering with this at all?”
“Believe it or not, we don’t want to be the monsters. We’ll do what’s necessary, but we don’t want to be remembered as the men who sent an unsuspecting kid to his death.”
“So you want me to agree so you’ll be able to sleep better at night if I die?”
“Precisely!” Doctor Dolum said. “Honestly, I think you’ll be fine anyhow. You’re in perfect health, and since you’re living in this setting--”
“Containment,” the doctor corrected. “Since you’re living in containment I find it highly unlikely that some freak accident will occur. Even if you get to visit your family we’ll keep a careful eye on you to make sure that nothing goes wrong. I promise you, if you don’t survive this mission I will quit my job.”
“Well, that’s reassuring, “ Dakota said sarcastically. “Since it doesn't matter what I think though, you might as well tell me what it is you need me for.”
“Not just me, Dakota. The entire United States military. We’re all counting on you for this. It’s the safest way to pull this entire mission,” the doctor cooed. “It’s pretty easy actually. You get on a plane with our specially selected team, and fly over to the target location. YOu freeze time, and the guys go eliminate a target. When they've all safely returned to the plane, you unfreeze everything, and fly back here. From there we’ll make arrangements for your visit.”
“Who exactly is it that I’m helping to kill?” he asked.
“Don’t say it that way. He’s a bad guy. He’s the leader of an exceptionally dangerous terrorist organization. Who he is is of little concern to you. Even if I gave you the name you wouldn’t recognize it, since he’s only been a matter of concern for five years. Besides, you wouldn’t be going anywhere near him, you would stay safely behind with the pilot.” The doctor waited patiently for Dakota’s response.
“Yeah? We’ll all be nice and safe until a year snaps off the end of our life. What if the pilot only has a year to live? Do you plan on having a backup pilot?” The doctor nodded and Dakota put his face in his hands.
“Dakota, we know it’s a lot to ask, but it’s just one favor.”
“Yeah, just one. That’s how it starts that. If this goes off without a hitch like you’re saying it will, then it’ll only be a matter of time before it always seems like a good idea? Eventually my life will catch up with me. What then? I’m not a tool to be used!”
The doctor considered this for a moment.
“It’s a risk we’re willing to take. It’s our duty to fight for our freedom. You should be honored to get an opportunity to help.”
Dakota looked at his reflection in the mirror. He wondered if somebody were watching him from the other side. He didn’t feel honored. Why should he want to fight for freedom he himself didn’t have? His stomach was twisting knots at the thought of carrying out the deed, yet it was inevitable. His hand traveled up to the scar on his head from where they’d put the chip in.
“I want your word that I’ll get to go home,” he said. “And after this, I don’t ever want to be asked for another ‘favor’. It isn’t your life on the line.”
“I knew you would come around.” The doctor rose to his feet. “YOu have no idea how important this mission is.” Doctor Dolum saluted him before exiting.
The guards led Dakota back to his bleak little room.
Ten tallies standing side by side. Ten years lost inside this very room. Dakota picked up his piece of chalk and rolled it between his fingers. Then he pressed it gently against the wall, and dragged it across the concrete.
Three months later the janitor opened the door to the empty room. His bucket of soapy water slipped from his fingers. All along the back wall were little tallies. He called in some of the others and they all stared in astonishment. It took them several hours to count, but they concluded that there were three thousand seven hundred twelve little dashes.
“Come look at this!” one of them called. Squished in the bottom corner was a note. They crouched down and squinted to make out the tiny writing.
What’s another year?