Without the Clocks (short story)

I wrote a short story that I was going to enter in a contest, but I ended up missing the deadline, so I decided to post it on here to keep it from going to waste. If anyone who reads this has any suggestions on how to improve it, please do not hesitate to say so! I would love to hear your feedback 🙂 anyways, it’s called Without the Clocks, and I hope you enjoy!
Also, I put a link to a song that I think goes with this story nicely.

Ryan looked at me. “Absolutely not.”
I smiled. “It’s not that bad.”
“’Among the Stars’?” he asked incredulously.
“What’s wrong with it?”
“It makes us sound like lady astronauts.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
Ryan rolled his eyes, handing me one of the two Starbucks cups he had just received. “Come on, we’re going to be late.”
The two of us walked out of the café together, trying to down our coffee and eat our bagels as fast as possible. We weren’t allowed to have any outside nourishment when entering Work.
“I’d like to see you come up with a better idea,” I remarked.
“What, for a band name?”
“Yeah. You are the one in it.”
Ryan grinned. “I have plenty of suggestions.”
I was suspicious. “Oh yeah? Let’s hear one.”
“Us Four Guys.”
I rolled my eyes. “Lame.”
“Day and Night.”
“You thought my idea was bad?”
“Shakespeare’s Descendants?”
“No.” I laughed. “We’ll have to work more on that later.”
We didn’t even pause before walking through the doors of the Work building. When I first began the job, I was confused at the address. Surely something so important wouldn’t take place in such a small building. I had almost left, worried this middle-of-nowhere location was a trap, that Red, the man who told me of this job, would be waiting to grab and chain me, so that I would never see daylight again. This was in no way the case, as I later discovered.
Work, in fact, was filled with many floors; you just couldn’t see them from outside. The exterior size was chose on purpose, so that no one ever cared to enter if they were to pass it. We had to be very careful when being a part of this. The reason it was called Work was so no one would raise questions. If it had an actual name, and one of the employees was overheard talking about it in society, someone might be curious and ask what it was. Any questions raised put us in the line of danger. In solution, if it was necessary, we simply used “Work” for when we talked about it. “What’s going on at Work?” “Did something go wrong at Work?” “Do we have to go to Work tomorrow?” To everyone else, it sounded completely normal. No unusual names, yet we still got the point across.
“Good morning Ryan, Alice,” Red nodded at each of us in greeting. “You’re here early.”
“Decided to walk over right after school got out,” Ryan said. “We would’ve been late if we went home first.”
“I’ll take a look at your schedules and change your clock-ins to an appropriate time.” He passed us a sheet of paper across his desk. “Since you’ve got time, do you feel like taking on two assignments today?”
Logan shrugged. “It’s up to Alice. I don’t mind.”
I took our assignments. “Sure. Why not?”
“See you when you get back.” Red grinned and watched us go. Our interactions with our boss were always hasty. He was a business man; he liked to get the job done as soon as possible.
“What floor are we on today?” Ryan asked, hand positioned over the numbered buttons.
I scanned through the text on the paper. “Fourteenth.”
“Got it.” He pushed the last button available, and it lit up with a warm yellow glow as we began to move. “Where are we going?”
“1983. We’ve got to push someone out of the way of a car.”
“I thought we did that yesterday.”
The elevator chimed, and the doors opened.
“Different year,” I said. “That was 1989.”
“Last Monday we pushed a guy away from a train in 1985,” Ryan said, walking into the blank, white room and approaching the large grandfather clock. “Must’ve been quite the clumsy time. It seems like nobody paid attention to their surroundings.”
“Nine a.m.,” I told him as he set the necessary information slots on the blue digital face of the clock. “June 15. Wisconsin.”
Together, we stepped in front of the contraption, setting our hands on the base of it. Beneath my palms, I could feel the ticking of the pendulum, swaying back and forth, gradually picking up its pace.
“This has always been quite the awkward stand,” Ryan said. “What happened to driving a car like in Back to the Future?”
I smiled at the joke. “That’s too old school.”
“Holding on to a grandfather clock isn’t?”
“It’s a modernized one.” I nodded at the handless face, which had a teal blue color with white roman numerals around the date, year and location setters. “I’d hardly call that old school.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Ryan said, the walls around us starting to disintegrate. I shut my eyes tight; I never could stand this part. The whirring and spinning always got to be too much for me. Unlike Ryan, who loved to watch the world rewinding or fast forwarding, if I paid attention to it there was a great chance I would end up hurling when we reached our destination.
I sensed it before he said it, felt the stuffy, stillness of the Work room turn into a breezy, fresh air.
“Alice,” Ryan said. “We’re here.”
I opened my eyes, feeling successful. The clock had done its job. “Do you see a calendar anywhere?”
We walked around, careful to stay in the shadows, until I spotted a ticket station to a local fair, on which a yellow calendar was hung, the days that had passed conveniently marked off.
I pointed. “June 15,” I confirmed.
“Good. What city should we be in?”
Once again, I pulled out our assignment paper. “Madison.”
“The capital. Easy enough.”
We caught a bus, and luckily it only took us a rough fifteen minutes before we arrived. Following the instructions further, my partner and I walked to a local fair, where the event was supposed to take place.
“Now we wait?” Ryan asked.
I sighed, sitting down on a dusty old milk crate I found stranded in the dirt. “Now we wait.” I was praying that it wouldn’t be too much waiting, however, because there was only so long one could stand being in the dark during one hundred degree weather.
“Well then,” the brown-haired boy said. “Care for a ride on the Ferris wheel to pass the time?”
A small piece of paper the color of mustard flashed in front of my eyes. A ride ticket.
I gave him a dirty look. “You know we’re not supposed to be seen.”
Ryan simply rolled his eyes. “Our clothes look relatively the same as what others are wearing. I hardly doubt we’ll destroy the events of time if we ride around in a circle.” He offered me a hand. “Come on, Alice. Lighten up.”
I was still reluctant, but I could never say no to Ryan. The annoying thing was that he knew it. I grabbed his hand and he pulled me up. We handed our tickets to the ride operator and climbed in.
“Not afraid of heights, are you?” Ryan asked.
I laughed. “No. I love Ferris Wheels. They’ve always been the only theme park ride I could tolerate. All the others make me sick.”
“So stomach sensitive.”
“You know it.”
I causally turned my neck to study Ryan without him noticing. I had always admired how he kept his hair cut at just the right length, never letting it get too shaggy, or too short. His dark eyelashes, which outlined his soft blue eyes, were nearly the same color. I had often felt plain next to him.
I bit my lip and directed my gaze through the bars of the carriage instead. The people below were growing smaller and smaller as we rose slowly into the air. So many people, so short of lives, yet there was so much time.
Ryan was staring at me curiously. “What are you thinking about?”
“How I wish I could be sleeping right now,” I lied.
“Well, you know, my shoulder is perfect for pillow service,” he said, leaning his head over to better expose his arm. “Free of charge, today only.”
I hesitated, not sure if he was joking or not. Ryan was usually careful not to cross the friend/co-worker boundary, whether I liked it or not. After a moment, though, I smiled and complied, closing my eyes. I had often daydreamed about doing just this, and I can’t say I was disappointed. Too soon, though, the bliss ended, for Ryan straightened up, and I felt it appropriate to do the same.
“Well, you were right,” he told me, a tiny hint of worry covering his voice. “It probably wasn’t a good idea to leave our hiding spot.”
“Why? What’s wrong?”
He extended an arm forward, towards the entrance of the fair. There, a speeding car was approaching from afar, and a laughing fool was stumbling towards the direction of it.
I cursed under my breath and rattled the locked door of our booth in slight panic.
“Excuse me!” I called to the operator, who seemed to have no problem taking his time in sauntering over to us. “Could you hurry, please?”
“What’s the rush, sweetheart?” he replied with an arrogant smirk.
“I need out.”
“Calm down. I’m unlocking you now.”
Ryan and I spent no time dawdling. As soon as the gate swung open, we darted out with a determined purpose. We sprinted toward the park entrance as fast as our legs would take us, not stopping for breath, even when we reached it.
“Where did he go?” I asked frantically.
“There, look.”
The man, called Alexander Surfeit according to our assignment, stepped one foot forward. Bull’s eye.
“No!” I cried, but to no avail. It was too late. The car whizzed by, hitting Alexander in the process. Chaos ensued, starting from the on looking witnesses. I couldn’t move.
We had failed.
I felt fingers wrap around my wrist. “Alice. We need to go,” Ryan said.
I unfroze my stiff bones and nodded, following him to the bus, where I numbly climbed aboard.
“Maybe we could redo it,” I suggested. “We can have a second chance, right? Time travelers can do that.”
“You know we can’t.” Ryan rubbed a hand over his eyes. “Not at our level. That’s a task only allowed to upperclassmen.”
I hit my head against the window. “Red’s going to be mad.”
“Red’s going to be furious.”
Solemnly, we trudged back to the grandfather clock, which we had left hidden in a row of trees. The two of us places our hands on the base, and I closed my eyes.
***
Back at Work, I chickened out.
“Let’s not tell him,” I begged Ryan. “Not yet, anyway. Be rebellious for once. Let’s finish our second task, and then we can confess.”
Ryan, however, ignored me and kept walking down the hall. Eventually, Red saw us approaching, and it was too late to turn around anyway, so I glumly tagged along.
“Young ones,” Red greeted us with a beaming face. I usually laughed at our nickname, but the fear of losing the job I so loved overrode any humor I heard. “Done with both jobs already? That was awfully quick.”
“Red, we have something to tell you.” Ryan looked down. “We failed.”
“What?”
“We failed our assignment. We got distracted and didn’t notice the subject in time.”
Instead of Red’s face growing cloudy and dark with silent anger, as I had imagined it would, his expression didn’t change. He didn’t even look surprised.
“Have you seen the news today?” he asked brightly, motioning towards a magazine near him on his desk.
“No…” Ryan said, confusion lacing his tone. “Red, did you hear what I just told you?”
“Oh, I heard.” He smiled. Smiled. “That musician Jonathan Surfeit died today. Quite a shame. He had a good voice. I enjoyed his music.”
Suddenly, something in my mind switched. Jonathan Surfeit. That was a shame. I had listened to songs by him on many occasions.
“Really?” I asked, a little sad. “How did he die?”
“Heart attack.”
“Wait a minute,” Ryan interrupted us. Reaching over, he plucked the crumpled assignment paper from my pocket. “Surfeit was the last name of the guy we were supposed to save.”
“I know.” Red chuckled and walked out from behind his desk. “Have you happened to take a look at your second job yet?”
“Red, you aren’t making much sense right now.”
“Just read it.”
Ryan looked down, and I scooted over a little to join him.
1936. New York, New York. September 16. 7:30 p.m. Kyle Chorren.
“Kyle Chorren?” I blinked, gazing back up at Red’s weathered face. “But that’s… isn’t that…”
“The man who created the time machine? Yes.” Red held his arms out. “All of this, everything we do here at Work, is all done because of his little invention.”
“What do you want us to do, then? Go back and watch?”
“No, young Alice.” Red leaned forward, looking into my brown eyes. “I want you to stop him.”
“What?” Ryan and I cried simultaneously.
“You aren’t the first ones to have failed, you know,” our boss continued. “There have been a couple others.”
I couldn’t help it. “Did you fire them?”
“Yes,” he grinned, “but I’m not firing you two.”
I heaved a sigh of great relief.
“I was given this position at Work for a reason,” he continued. “It’s not an easy point to get to. One of the main reasons I did was because I notice things that most people don’t.”
“Where are you going with this?” Ryan demanded.
“Let him finish,” I told him gently, and his face softened at my tone.
“I knew something was wrong. I could feel it,” Red said.
“When?”
“About two weeks after I started the job.”
I scrunched my eyebrows together. “I’m afraid I don’t understand what you’re referring to.”
Red remained patient. “Partners were coming back from their assignments, successful, but something felt off, although I couldn’t pinpoint what it was. I decided to start documenting information about their assignments before they left, and rereading it all when they returned.”
“Wouldn’t it just erase itself if something changed, like everything else does?”
“I thought of that.” He lifted an object. “If you place the paper in a glass bottle and seal it shut, the print will not change, even after the events have been altered.”
“You’re joking.”
“I’m not.”
“So?” I pressed. “What did you find?”
“Alice, have you ever heard of the phrase ‘let it be’?”
I nodded.
“They say that because you’re supposed to. If someone is meant to die, then they need to die, as heartless as that may sound. Everything happens for a reason, and we’re screwing that up.” Once again, he gestured to the magazine article, which displayed the bright face of the music star. “Do you know that Jonathan Surfeit was Alexander’s younger brother? Jonathan got his first guitar that day at the fair. The reason Alexander died was because Jonathan dropped the instrument and went to dive for it just as the car was coming. Alexander pushed him out of the way, sacrificing his life in order to save his brother’s. That’s why he was hit.” Red looked us in the eyes. “If you two had saved Alexander, you would’ve killed Jonathan. No Jonathan, no music legend. Most likely, Alexander would’ve died, probably not long after the incident, in that tiny house in Wisconsin, and the Surfeit name would’ve died with him.”
“So what you’re saying is,” Ryan said, obviously trying to absorb this information, “Alexander dying was a good thing?”
“Nobody dying is a good thing. Not exactly,” Red replied. “It’s just what’s supposed to happen. This isn’t the most drastic case of what the assignments stopped from happening. We’ve stopped major events from ever happening.”
“Our interfering is a bad thing,” I confirmed. “And you want us to stop Kyle from creating what would one day be Work so that we can fix everything that it changed.”
“Thank God you catch on faster than your partner,” Red laughed. “Yes, that is what I am asking.”
I thought about this. I would lose my job, and actually have to go out and get a real career. I could be reduced to work at a fast food joint. From time travel to cash registers. Thinking about it now, it seemed like an unbearable switch. Plus, all of the people Work had saved would die. Everything we had done here would’ve been for nothing.
I could see where Red was coming from with this idea, though. I also, surprisingly, agreed with him, too. It was wrong.
Time travel never existing. Erased from history. It was kind of ironic, since we usually used time travel to erase events from history.
That’s when something hit me.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “If we complete this assignment, time travel would never have existed. Doesn’t that mean we couldn’t get back? We’ll rewrite history, and by doing so get rid of every time machine throughout history.” I glanced at Ryan. “Including the ones here.”
Red’s face turned cloudy and upset, the way I had earlier imagined it would when we delivered the news of our failure.
“I was sort of hoping you wouldn’t ask that,” he sighed, rubbing the back of his neck sadly. “I’m going to be honest with you: you would be stuck there. All of the clocks would cease to exist. Therefore, you wouldn’t be able to take the one you brought with you back. You would be forced to live your lives in that time.”
Ryan scoffed. “You expect us to just agree to that? How can you ask that of us?”
“Because I know that you would be the two to agree.” He placed one hand on each of our shoulders. “You believe in fighting for what’s right. You’ve told me so before.”
I closed my eyes. “We’ll never see anyone again. Not our family or friends. Our educations would’ve been for nothing. Plus, it will be a totally different environment! No cell phones, computers, colored movies. We’ll have to completely start over.”
“I’ll do it,” Ryan said.
I whipped my head and looked at him incredulously. “What?”
“I’m in,” he said confidently, turning to face me, too. “Don’t feel obliged to just because of me, but I’ll do it. Even if I go alone.”
Such a big decision, so little time. How was I supposed to choose the rest of my life at this very moment, when I couldn’t even decide what I wanted to be when I grew up until I was sixteen? In the end, though, I think I always knew what my answer would be.
I gulped, nodding slowly. “I’ll go.”
“Are you sure?” Ryan asked me. “Don’t feel pressured just because I agreed.”
I shrugged casually, as if I wasn’t just about to say goodbye to everything I knew. “Why not? I’ve always been one for change.”
Red smiled at the two of us sadly. “Kyle was already wanted by the police when he created the machine. He was poor, so he stole the parts he needed to work on the invention. His location is on the paper. All you have to do it report him.”
I looked around the room wistfully. “There’s absolutely no chance of us getting back?”
“I’m afraid not.” Red turns, grabs a package off of his desk, and passes it over to Ryan. “Take this. There should be enough money in there to buy you an apartment to live in and other necessities such as clothing and food, at least for a week or two. You’ll have to get jobs, but I’ve written down some suggestions so you know what to look for.” He turned to me. “It wasn’t as common as it is now for women to work.”
“Great,” I complained. “Looks like I’ll take to reading and writing.”
“Don’t forget sewing,” Ryan laughed.
I glared at him.
Suddenly, I was brought towards Red in a hug.
“I’m so proud of you two,” he said quietly.
Normally, the action would be extremely weird and awkward, but today I found it comforting. I would never see him again.
“Well,” I said when we broke apart. “I suppose we might as well get going.”
Red nodded, silent.
Ryan put his arm around my shoulders and started to lead me away. As we entered the elevator for the last time, however, I turned back and waved at Red. I pretended not to notice, but I could see that his eyes were wet.
We were back in level fourteen’s room all too soon. As we approached the grandfather clock, I got nervous. Scared, even. My entire body tensed up, and I did all I could to keep from thinking about my loved ones, focusing intently on the wall’s texture pattern.
Ryan must’ve noticed, because he reached over and laced his fingers through mine.
“At least we have each other,” he told me.
I looked up at him and gave him small smile. “I wouldn’t choose anyone else.”
It was true. Ryan knew me better than anyone, and would do absolutely anything for me. I felt safe with him. Who better to start living in a new world with than you best friend, the boy you loved most?
I set the time, date, and location, and then we both slowly placed our free hands on the familiar base.
“Ready to destroy a time machine?” Ryan asked in an attempt to lighten the mood.
I grinned. “Let’s do it.”
Unlike all of our other trips, this time, when the clock began to work, I kept my eyes open.
***
We soon arrived at a small house, which couldn’t have been more than four rooms. The police had arrived before us; their cars were parked out front.
“Hurry,” Ryan whispered. “We’ll run in when they drag Kyle away. The windows are open.”
As two officers carried a protesting Kyle to their cars, I quickly looked over to get a glimpse of him, but I only caught sight of the back of his head before he disappeared from my view.
Ryan pulled me through the window, bringing me into the house with him.
“Red says everything is in the living room,” Ryan said.
That much was obvious. Papers were spread across a desk, all filled with scribbles and sketches, and at least a dozen grandfather clocks were strewn about the room, all torn apart and splattered with gears.
“Burn the evidence?” Ryan suggested, lifting up a burning candle.
“Good idea.” I backed up towards the window again, when something on the sill caught my eye. “Wait, what’s this?”
In my hand I held a tiny pocket watch, the face of it resembling the design of the grandfather clocks at Work.
“I think I’ve read about that,” my partner said, stepping closer. “Along with the general machines, Corren made a personal traveler for his use only. It was a pocket watch that could only carry a single person. No one ever found it after he died.” He smiled. “I suppose that’s it.”
“It’s not finished,” I observed.
He took it from my hands and picked up a few gears. About ten minutes of working later, the tiny object came to life, light and color filling its face.
“Ryan,” I breathed. “I think you just created time travel.”
“I always have been amazing,” he joked. “You know what this means, right?”
I stared at him blankly.
“No one but the travelers remember,” he continued excitedly. “I can send you home.”
I stepped back, shaking my head vigorously. “Absolutely not. I’m not leaving you.”
“Alice, you have to. For me.”
“Would you leave me?”
“Well, no, but-”
“Then it’s settled. We both stay.”
Ryan exhaled sadly. “Very well. Be ready to climb out of the window.” He again held up the candle. “On the count of three. One, two…”
The stick dropped and rolled, the flame catching on a bit of paper and beginning its job.
I lifted myself back out into the night, Ryan in tow. We stood back by the trees and watched as our way home burned to dust.
Hours passed, but Ryan and I stayed where we were, hands intertwined and heads resting against each other.
“Remember how freaked out we were when we first traveled?” he said after quite some time.
I smiled at the memory. “We probably looked like we were on drugs.”
“Or insane,” he chuckled. “While we were laughing, there was one moment that I knew for certain that I would never want my partner at Work to be anyone but you.”
When I looked up in shock at his words, he leaned forward and kissed me, lifting a hand to my face. I was so distracted by my new favorite moment in history, I didn’t even feel Ryan push something into my palm, didn’t notice him press a button.
Reluctantly, I pulled back when I started feeling queasy. Opening my eyes, I saw the world around me spinning.
“Ryan? What’s going on?” I cried. “Is this happening to you?”
“I’m sorry, Alice,” he replied softly. “Remember me.”
I looked down. The pocket watch was glowing in my hand.
“What have you done?” I screamed. I tried reaching out, but it was no use. I was already sucked in enough that I was no longer visible to him. “No!”
For two tiny seconds, I hovered in the air, before crashing onto the ground.
Warily, I raised my head. On a nearby bench, a woman was talking into her smart phone. I was back.
Ryan wasn’t.
Frantically, I tried to reset the watch, but refused to glow again. It looked dead. Ryan was no great inventor. It must’ve only had one trip in it.
Angry, I smashed the contraption under my foot until it was dust, then threw the remains in the water.
“Ryan!” I yelled. “You stupid boy!”
I couldn’t help it. That’s when I placed my head in my hands and sobbed until no tears were left in my eyes.
***
A week or so passed.
I was forced by my parents to go back to school. It was a few days before Christmas break when I ran to my car, cranking on the heat quickly. I had continued my daily routine of going to Starbucks at three. It was the first time I was in a good enough mood to sing along with the songs playing on the radio.
The café smelled delicious, as always, and the line was blissfully short. I gave the cashier my order and took a seat near the window, staring out at the falling snow.
To my surprise, someone delivered my drink to me.
“Here you go, love,” a male voice said.
“Thanks,” I replied without looking up.
I heard a sigh. “You know, I have to admit I’m rather hurt. I would’ve ordered you a drink.”
I froze completely, turning colder than the icy wind outside. I knew that voice.
Scared, I turned my neck up to see those lovely blue eyes, that perfect dark hair, and that smirk that turned into an amazing grin.
Ryan Hearth.
My jaw dropped, but no words came out.
“What?” he asked. “Shocked into silence by my beauty?”
Something like that.
“Ry- Ryan?” I muttered in disbelief. He quickly pulled me by the arm into the parking lot, where we were alone.
“Hey, Alice,” he said. “Did you miss me?”
I reached out and poked him. Real. I blinked my eyes shut hard. He was still there when I opened them.
“Ryan?” I asked again, praying it wasn’t a dream.
His voice softened. “It’s really me, Alice.”
I pulled him into a hug so tight I could hear him struggling to breathe. I didn’t care. I wasn’t letting go. My partner, my Ryan, was back. That’s all that mattered.
Eventually, though, curiosity got the best of me, and I pulled away. “How?”
“Turns out Kyle left a nearby grandfather clock out in the trees. I found it a few days after you left. I figured I might as well give it a try, since I was able to send you back. After a lot of work, I got it, but there was still a glitch. It sent me a year earlier than I wanted. I wasn’t complaining, though. I could wait a year. I destroyed the clock, and bought an apartment to wait around in with the money Red gave us. I couldn’t exactly show up at your door when there was already another Ryan running around, and that could’ve been big trouble.”
“You waited a year?”
He nodded. “Better than seventy-seven.”
“True.” I sighed. “Kind of a bummer you have to live without traveling, though. I know how much you loved it.”
“Yeah, it does suck.” He reached up and rested a hand on my cheek. “But I’ve got you back now, so I would say the sacrifice was worth it.”
This time when he leaned over to kiss me, I kept my hands behind my back. No more traveling for me.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you,” he said when he pulled away. “I finally thought of a band name.”
I rolled my eyes. “What is it?”
“Among the Stars.”
I gave him a look. “You’re joking.”
“Yeah, I am,” he laughed, grabbing my hand. “Really, I came up with Without the Clocks.”
I thought about it, then smiled. “Actually, that’s not too bad.”
We never saw Red again. He wouldn’t have recognized us anyway, but it would’ve been nice to see how he was doing without Work.
Ryan was taken off the missing children list, and gradually, things went back to normal. Sometimes, though, I still think about the Ferris Wheel, or saving someone from getting hit by a train. Whenever I saw a grandfather clock, I still placed my hands on the base out of habit.
Because the travelers never forget.

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4 thoughts on “Without the Clocks (short story)

    • Thank you so very much, you have no idea how much that made my day. I do have a Wattpad, but I wouldn’t recommend really going to it because all of the stuff I post on there is kind of crap.

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