torsdag 23 december 2010

Trial with Time

It´s Three Word Wednesday. The words; educate, object, silence. Thanks to Thom, 3WW is great but I hope you take a Christmas break if you feel like it!

Much inspired me this week. I´m sure you can even find some literary references here if you want to ;)

Merry Christmas, friends and followers!

Trial with Time

They went into the depths of Africa, not to explore and bring back, but to educate themselves, to understand.

The man in charge of the expedition was known as The Cardinal, I´m sure he had a real name but I can´t seem to find it. He held morning meetings. In the middle of nowhere when things had started to go awry, he still held morning meetings at exactly 0800 hours. You were supposed to pay very close attention to what he said during those meetings, but more so you were to listen to his pauses. Things happened during those pauses, the silence was heavy with meaning and you had to be very concentrated.

In the beginning people were enthusiastic, had energy and visions. They came equipped, their boats travelling up the river filled with objects with which to observe, measure, analyse. They were going to sort out and comprehend this disorderly part of the world like their kind had with so many places before. They were sure of their abilities. They came to conquer.

When things changed it was subtle. At first there was only the understandable desire to submit to authority, people turned to their leader for guidance. And then came the obvious ordeals; the heat and the humidity, the ever-growing vegetation, rust on every metallic surface, condense on everything made of glass and parasites in all intestines.

When they lost contact with the outer world they succumbed to utter despair.

The Cardinal had a watch, a very precise instrument, an atomic clock in fact. It allowed him, and only him, to keep track of time -- a very significant power in their situation.

Many fell ill but they kept working according to The Cardinal´s schedule: collecting samples and analysing them. When the results became increasingly bizarre no one questioned them. The schedule, the structure, was superior and the fevers weakening.

During a morning meeting, during one of those pauses, it was suggested that some people were too weak and might hold the expedition and its glorious purpose back.

People started dying. ”The fever,” The Cardinal said, ”feeds on those feeble in mind and flesh.” Funerals seemed illogical, throwing bodies in the river or using them for nutrition also worked.

A woman, M, awoke a man, R, one night, suggesting in brief whispers that this might be wrong and that they would have to take matters into their own hands should they wish to survive. It was the first sign of mutiny.

”Survival of the fittest,” said The Cardinal and touched his clock. His speeches became more and more pompous, he was an emperor talking to his troops and he was frightening. ”Do you know,” M´s voice ghosted over R´s ear, ”that no one has ever been able to construct an exact watch. There´s no such thing as measuring time precisely.” She said it casually, but it sounded like a religion, like faith and salvation.

R started to invent results, no one paid attention and the fact that he could get away with lying was exhilarating. He learned then, there´s much time to be collected in between. The structure demanded absolute obedience and dedication to the purpose, but if you chose to ignore that and reclaimed your own mind, no one would really notice because that was an unthinkable scenario, so inside the structure there was a lot of time to be used by those who found it.

R stole medicine from The Cardinal´s private supplies and watched over the sick during the gray morning hours when so many seemed to die.

M watched The Cardinal, learned his routines, mapped his every move. She wrote reports, told the truth about the expedition, and R hid them.

”We need an anomaly,” she said. ”That´ll be our sign.” Sometimes R thought her just as insane as The Cardinal, she too was working after some master plan visible only to herself.

The turning point came in two parts. One: M fell ill and became delirious with fever which left R alone and out of time. Two: The Cardinal killed a man, openly in the middle of the day, and there were no objections.

R sat by M´s bed and she thrashed her head, sweaty and pale, mumbling something unintelligible, and then, suddenly, she clutched his hand and said ”You have to take his watch.” Only that, very clearly.

That night R sneaked into The Cardinal´s tent. R had been paying a lot of attention to time. He had grown up with the safe feeling of time as a linear motion, something that exists from point A to point B, something that is defined by and becomes visible through change. But recent events had shaken this picture. Time, he now knew, was extremely unstable, the experience of it very subjective, and it consisted of a variety of components. Time can accelerate and stop, and then there´s the concept of eternity. And it was this that came to R when he entered The Cardinal´s tent during the darkest night hour, with his senses enhanced, exceptionally aware of everything; the whisking sound of the canvas as he entered, the dusty smell, the rhythmical snoring in the darkness.

Eternity exists within time. When you live your life floating along with the linearness of it, there might, occasionally, randomly and if you pay very close attention, emerge a period of eternity. And inside it, fear ceases to exist.

R stood beside The Cardinal´s bed and watched him sleep. It is impossible to describe for how long he remained there, since it was a moment of eternity.

There was no fear and the possibilities were endless, but in the end R settled for taking the watch, thus sticking to M´s plan. It felt heavy in his hand and he wondered if this was due merely to its metallic structure, or if the responsibility, obligations and power that came with it also had mass, also had weight that could be measured.

Without his atomic clock The Cardinal was nothing. He raged and screamed and made everyone turn everything upside down but it couldn´t be found. When R came to talk to him, he was resigned.

”We are leaving,” R said politely. He stood in front of The Cardinal´s chair, a simple thing but it made him think of a throne, there was still such an air of sovereignty around the man.

”I don´t suppose you´d consider giving it back?” The Cardinal said. No pretenses.

”This expedition has not been properly conducted,” R said. ”There will be a scandal. What can be done to avoid it?”

”What do you want?” The Cardinal looked haggard and it came to R that he thought himself right. He really did believe he had done the right thing.

The survivals left. A diminished troop. The official report stated that the expedition had been unsuccessful due to insurmountably difficult working conditions. The Cardinal was listed among those lost.


I never saw M again. We had no right to each other, no common grounds in real life, and when we parted it was a bit like she ceased to exist. I handed her the watch, squeezed her hand shut around it -- the bigger responsibility was always hers.

I kept her reports, keep them still, in a secure place should anything arise.

Sometimes, during the gray morning hours when I can´t sleep, I imagine him still out there, speaking to our shadows. Maybe it´s true, in some time. But I don´t think about these things too much, I don´t own the truth or the time, I´m not entitled.

5 kommentarer:

  1. I die before your brilliance and am risen again and it was only an eternity, so brief.

    I must email you privately and tell you again.

  2. This reminds me of a story by Harlan Ellison called, "Repent Harlequin!" said the TickTock Man. Beautifully done.

  3. That was engaging. I'm not sure if its memoir or speculative fiction. Interesting use of time.


  4. The relationships between all the characters, named or not are really intriguing.

    The obsession with time plays itself out not only in your words about meetings and pauses, but also in the entire, somehow detached method of narration. Stunning.

  5. Thank you, everyone! I read your comments again and I treasure them. This piece is among those more important to me so it means a lot that you chose to read it. Again, thanks =)