Ash on the Clockface


Ash and Flame; that’s all we are. The ash to give us shape, and the fire to hold us together.

Bim Peacock, Literature Editor

“This darkness is beautiful, in an odd way.  Is it not?” came a voice.

“Father, it is not darkness; it is the very fabric of absence.  Not even darkness lies out there,” came another.

Hrmph.  Beauty exists beyond the bounds of any matter.  How much longer now?”

They cast their eyes into the void.  All seemed still at a glance, but slowly, something… shifted.  One could feel the darkness itself draw in a breath, a single focus in the unknown pulling the walls inwards.

A nonexistent smile split across an absent face.  “Now.”

Then came light, not peaceful and warm, but true light, of the rawest fashion, blazing outward in a burst of life.  The figures in the dark flinched away as cosmic fury tore past them.  In a matter of moments, all nothingness burned.  Reality leapt to existence.  All about flew blazing golden streams of dust and matter, reaching out into the retreating void, clashing together, mixing and clinging, forming pebbles, stones, asteroids, worlds.

Beyond the fury of birth grew a light like none other, brighter than the fiercest fire lashing across the born universe.  There it glowed as the source of all life, brilliant and glowing, all seeing and all knowing.  All powerful…

“All right, all right.  I’ve seen enough,” spoke the first once more.

Everything stopped without another beat.  Fire froze.  Light ground to a halt.  The universe of movement found itself consumed by stillness.

One figure turned to the other, gesturing widely towards the light of creation.  It spoke gracefully, “So you see, dear Father Time, we are not simply an idea, but a cosmic energy existing since the dawn of the universe itself.”

Hrmph,” replied the ancient listener.

“Bah, ye know nothin’,” came a gruff voice.  The two turned to see another figure, a ratty drunkard, resting solemnly at a bench suspended in space.  A filthy bottle rose and fell from his hand to his lips.  “Ye act as if we have some bloody power over this universe, but what do we do, eh?  Watch as all history passes us by?  Tear up a wee bit as the bravest souls rot away in both body and spirit.  Bah!”  Another swig he took, then stared miserably at his feet.

Another thought manifested itself.  “As pleasant as such an idea of a futile universe is, we can’t necessarily argue with this ‘Big Bang Theory’.”  The Father turned to his thought, a frame of mind whose face was cut with reason and precision, eyes intelligent as a raven’s.  “Did we not just witness for ourselves the birth of us all, as all reason and science has defined it?”

He moved to the side of the original proposition, who eyed the father assuredly.  “It is fact,”  came their voices in unison.

“But a fact by whose opinion?”

They turned to the new thought among them.  A woman knelt apart, her hair faintly floating on a breeze none felt.  Her bewildered eyes were cast deep into the void of her mind.  “What is fact but an excuse by those who seek closure?  What is reality but a fabric all too fragile to the touch?  Fact has no strength, in a universe bound by something… more.”

Father Time watched her curiously.  With a flick of his wrist, the other manifested ideas faded, until he and the woman resided alone within the still universe.  “And how would you explain the birth of time, dear?”

Slowly she stood, turned, looked past him with those searching eyes.  Nothing left her mouth for the longest moment.  Suddenly, her eyes locked, widened.  Her dark clothes flooded with white and she fell once more to her knees, hands clasped together.

“My Lord!  I have been so blind!”

The universe twisted with the fiercest gale, then vanished in an eternal flash of light.  The old man blinked, but the light did not disappear.  Instead, it solidified, formed white marble pathways and ledges.  A courtyard, perhaps.  The old man looked away and found the mightiest citadel rise before him, spires high in the blank sky.

Voices drew his attention.  He found the woman kneeling before him, whose entirety remained consumed in hushed prayer, with eyes cast to the sight before her.  A crowd circled a well set within the marble ground.  The distance may have been considerable, but their anxiousness reached beyond the expanse.

“So dark…” echoed their voices, “Where lies the life… the love… none to love us… or him…”

            One figure reached out and felt the black waters.  Even the lightest touch sent frost splintering up his arm.  A howl leapt from his throat, sending the others fluttering their wings in panic.  Stillness eventually returned, but as it did, a haunting melody filled the air: the sound of Angels weeping.

“My lord! My lord… my lord…” they cried to the fortress, its spires clinging to every word.  “Love finds its death in this darkness!”

Then let there be light.

            The waters ignited, a flash even brighter than the world around them.  The crowd cheered with joy as the well sprung to life, love centering a world in the center, wrapped with dark blue oceans and green rolling hills, where already tiny creatures roamed newborn wilds—

A wave of Time’s hand ceased the scene.  The woman blinked with shock.  Her countenance of wonder turned to fury as her penitent form rose laced with violence.  “How dare you silence this moment!  The most beautiful moment in all of creation!  The point of your own creation, Time!

“And what makes you so sure this reality is any more real than another?” he asked bemused.

“The fact it is truth, written among the most sacred of texts!  The fact that it represents all that is good in the universe, when our time was born and darkness was chased from the forsaken world!”

“Then tell me,” came another thought manifested, who sauntered over with an arrogant air, “If only the strongest may chase away the darkness, then why do the shadows flee before the torch of man?”

She opened and closed her mouth with confusion at the question.  The new thought scoffed and sauntered away once more.  Father Time eyed the woman momentarily, and then waved her away as well.

Even yet, she clung to him like a plague.  “One evil question cannot silence the truth!  You are making a mistake!”

“Apparently a simple question is enough to birth evil by your book of rules.”  With a fiercer wave, he finally banished her manifestation.

You’ll all burn in hell…!” echoed her futile voice.

The old man sighed and shook his head.  Before he could even rest, another thought reached out.

Father over here!”

            Suddenly, he found himself in Greenwich, in a farmhouse filled with the screams of childbirth.  He watched as a physician lifted a crying child from its exhausted mother.  The family smiled broadly to each other over the miracle.

Greenwich, Father Time!  They say it’s where time starts!”

            “Oh for the love of… Child, that is simply an old saying, not even the echo of a legend, let alone fact!”

Oh, oh, over here Father!” came another thought.  Suddenly, he found himself in the deepest depths of the ocean, gazing upon a rusted ticking mechanism.  “Don’t you remember?  The first people of the universe created this as a better way of making their worlds work!  A calendar of sorts that confines the universe into segments of time!”

“Now that is just ridiculous!”

Oh, I got it Father”!  Now, it was an old shed that he stood in, filled with the sound of hammer on metal.  At a blazing forge stood a smith intently pounding away, shaping a long plate beneath his swings.  Even as the old man watched, the work came to a finish, and the smith swung the plate over to a nearly finished face; it was the hand of a clock.

“That is it!  I have had enough of these ridiculous theories!” he roared at his swirling mind.  “It was bad enough claiming that some great being declared us all to exist!  It was bad enough to claim we were born like a sniveling human!  But now, you even bother to consider that a bloody piece of metal could possibly serve our creation?  Be gone, you useless thoughts!”

Every idea fighting for a say in his mind fled before his wrath.  The most intense beliefs were cast aside like dust before that fury, leaving him little more than a fuming figure in a quiet cabin.

Time sighed with defeat.  So many answers faced him, yet they all stood so far apart and so contrasting in credibility that nothing could sway any one of them into fact.  He wanted to understand, yearned for it, for any answer as to why he existed at all.  Some answers, however, simply cannot be found.

“So why could it not?”

The old man stopped.  He turned, but the smith still carried on his work.  “What?” Time asked tentatively.

The smith did not even slow his hammering.  “Well, you said that the creation of this here contraption could not possibly stand as the start of you.  I’m curious as to why that is.”

Father Time stared with bewilderment.  “Good sir, I do not even exist in any manner of matter or mind.  I am an abstract concept manifested by itself.  No human could be aware of me in their presence.”

The blacksmith chuckled.  “I have stood by the forge so long I might as well be a part of it, yet another coal in the flame.”  He lifted the clock hand from the forge once more, watching it glow like a honeycomb, and then quenched it in a bucket of water nearby.  “You still didn’t answer my question, though, sir.  Why is such an idea false?”

Time eyed him wearily.  “Because it is ridiculous.  You make that contraption in order to keep track of me; therefore, you already know of me; therefore, I must have been born before now.”

The smith threw back his head with a hearty laugh.  “Ah, sir, you above all else should know that things do not work so simply.  Who says you could not be born now and set off in the directions of both the past and the future?  Who says you could not have been made by a mortal man and then set off to govern the world?  Who says I am not simply beating away at an idea that is already cold?”  He shook his head with a smile.  “I doubt there are many who could tell you for certain.”

The old man watched him as the smith set upon making the second hand, heating and hammering and heating again.  Slowly, he edged over beside the forge.  “Do you mean to say that this is the truth, then, smith?  This one idea presented to me among so many others?”

“I forge metal, not truth.  How would I know?”

“Well, even though I can consider every possibility between the seconds themselves, you seem to allude to something I have not yet considered.”

The smith at last stopped his work.  Laying his tools across his anvil, he turned and stared at the old man, a gaze that blazed like a torch, chasing away the darkness surrounding the past and the future.

“Look into the fire, old man, and be silent.”

Father quickly obeyed, if only to break that stare.  He found his eyes filled with the sight of fire licking away at blackened coals, impurities glowing and dripping, black smoke flooding the air.

“How many other fires do burn at this moment?  A few?  Would you really think only a few hearths lie attended?  Nay, the world burns as we speak.  Its belly lies full of flame that spews out any mouth that may open.”

Time felt the man shift closer to the forge as well, heard him press on the bellows, saw the flames lash higher in the air.  “Does that flame burn only here, in this forge?  Perhaps every fire burns different, but it all still is fire.  Perhaps every possibly blaze lies beyond those hills as we speak: flames roasting flesh, warming bodies, drying clay, consuming forests.  All are fire.  All could possibly exist and find themselves accepted by reality.  Do you think your thoughts are any different?”

For a long moment, Time stared silently into the coals.  “I don’t understand,” he finally said.  “This is the course of events we are talking about, not fire, not matter.  How could you compare the two?”

“My word, man!  Do you truly not understand?”  The smith began reaching for anything within reach.  A rag he grabbed first, tossing it into the forge to burn, then a block of wood, then a pair of iron rods.  The former two immediately burst into flames, sizzling and disintegrating within seconds.  “Do you not realize that everything follows the same patterns?  It does so because it is all the same thing.”  He scooped the ashes from the articles as they still burned and held them high.  “Ash and flame; that’s all we are.  The ash to give us shape…” he hauled the now bright yellow rods from the fire and slammed a hammer down upon them, welding them together, “…and the fire to hold us together.”

The smith tossed everything away and faced the old man.  “Why should every possibility not burn true, somewhere yet nowhere?  Why can there not be a God, a mechanical world, or even nothing at all, all at the same time?  They are all but ideas, kindled into a reality separate yet together with one another.  Perhaps… perhaps all explanations for the same thing, for the same fire in the belly of the world.”

At last the man fell silent, staring at the flame.  After a time, he lifted his hammer and began working once more.  “You, yourself, are naught but an idea; you said it yourself.  Now, leave me to my duties.  The fire I feed requires my attention.”

Time watched him with astonishment, but slowly left without another word.  The cabin melted away behind him, the Earth fell away to memory, and he was alone between realities once more.

The universe was different now, however.  The edges of each reality shown not with fog, but with fire.  There were entire worlds to explore, possibilities that did not quite so plague him but… amused him.  Curiosity reached out with warm and cold hands to pull him near.

“Every possibility is truth, eh?  Then perhaps I was born at every moment that ever existed.  Perhaps I exist only to provide the torch and the universe the light.  Perhaps… it is more exciting never to know for certain.”  A smile split his face as he moved ever onward, out into every possibility, back out into a night lit anew by flame.