Time: An Introduction
Edmund Hailey was old and it was his own fault. It didn't have to be this way. As he lay in his bed, twisting to find a comfortable position for his emaciated body, he thought about the world as it once had been. He thought about how his once massive frame could move about with the relative ease of an athlete. "Please God, let it not be my fault."
Edmund closed his eyes to block out the world, but he couldn't escape the dull ache that seemed to permeate his entire being, or the memories of what had brought him to this. He did everything he could to distract himself, but as always, his mind returned to the beginning.
It was a day like any other. They were all that way. Edmund awoke suddenly and then lay there thinking. Eventually he sat up then stood, lifting his heavy frame from the bed. Some mornings this task was harder than others. Today it was near impossible.
Edmund was tired. He'd been awake thinking for a good portion of the night. He avoided those thoughts now. That way lay insanity and he had work to do.
Edmund bathed, dressed and entered the street. He was in no hurry. No one ever was.
He strolled passed people going about their various businesses, unable to keep the thought out of his mind, but it wasn't until he reached work that he embraced the strange idea for a second time.
The shop in which he worked was closed. The door was locked and a sign saying so was prominently displayed in the window. He turned and walked away. He would return later and hopefully catch it open, so he could get to work. He cursed under his breath and kicked at the wall near the door. It was all such a waste.
As he strolled down the street several shops were closed, but many were open. Of course, there was no way to tell before you made the trip, which would be which. You simply had to come and check.
Edmund shook his head. So inefficient. Wouldn't it be better if everyone opened and closed their stores at once? Or even had some universal way of letting people know when they were opened and when they weren't.
This idea wasn't a new one. Some merchants had once tried to hire criers to go around town telling the populace that they were now available to do business at the top of their lungs. The system was eventually abandoned for two reasons. People who were sleeping were annoyed by the unnecessary noise (certainly they weren't going to shop in their sleep) and the merchants discovered that their profits did not substantially increase. At least not enough to make it worth paying for criers.
What the world needed was some way for everyone to keep track of when things were happening. A new idea. A revolutionary idea. He would call it time.
It would take a lot of work, of course. He would have to be most careful in setting it up. He would have to invent a device that was inexpensive enough for everyone to afford that would allow them to keep track of their time.
When he was done, all the shops could let people know the times they were available to do business. He would charge the shop owners a percentage, though. Why should they get the time for free, when they were using it to make money?
The more he thought about it the more excited he got. Finally, he rushed home (which was an odd sight, because it was seldom that anyone in the world ever moved so quickly) and began to plan his new invention. Soon, there would be time enough for everyone.
Edmund worked tirelessly. His first time keeper was large and complicated looking. It ran on water and used a siphon to re-circulate the liquid so that it could be used continually. The concept behind it was simple. Water was released at a certain rate, which took a specific amount of time. A miniature bucket caught the water, grew heavier and pushed an arm down. When it was full the bucket tipped, releasing its contents into the half-filled basin below. Each time water was released, the arm holding the bucket would rise again and hit a lever, thus advancing the counter. In this way, one could see how many time the bucket had been emptied. Edmund had invented time.
He wiped the water off his hands onto his workman's apron and smiled triumphantly. It wasn't finished yet, but it was a start. He spent half the day just watching it go through its motions. The only problems he could foresee was that water would have to be added as it evaporated and it couldn't be used outside, because weather conditions would throw it off.
Edmund worked on it, revised it and simplified it as much as he could. When he was finally satisfied, he loaded it onto a wagon and brought it to the marketplace. On the way, many people stopped to stare at the odd device, not realizing how much it would soon change their lives.
A few people even stopped him to question the purpose of the creation, but Edmund wasn't ready to hand his secrets away to the public just yet. When he reached the market, he entered the first open store, which happened to be a book seller. The proprietor was a woman he had known for so long, he couldn't remember ever having not known her.
"Hello, Edmund. I haven't seen you in a long while."
"How long?" asked Edmund.
The woman stared at him. "What do you mean?"
"How long has it been since you've last seen me? How much time has passed?"
Edmund smiled. "Yes, Mrs. Denderol, time. My new invention. Observe."
Edmund started up the siphon and waited until it began to work. Then he stood back proudly and grinned.
"It's very beautiful, but what is it?"
"It's a time keeper. It measures the passage of time. With a device like this, a business could keep regular hours and everyone would know when they were open and for how long."
"I see." Mrs. Denderol squinted at the device, mistrustfully. "But suppose I don't want to work when it's time to open the store."
"Hmmm. I suppose you could hire someone to work those hours for you. Just imagine never having to waste a trip to the market again."
"And who will have these...what did you call it?"
"Who will have these time keepers?"
"Everyone. As soon as I show them around, the world won't be able to get enough of them."
She looked at the device and then turned to regard its inventor. "I don't know."
"You will. Think about it, okay?"
Frustrated, but even more determined, he left with his device while she was still nodding.
Edmund went from shop to shop. His creation was met with mixed reactions. However after a few of the merchants made the purchase others followed suit. Edmund produced the time keepers as fast as possible, but it was never fast enough. Soon everyone wanted one and Edmund had to hire help of his own.
Within a few months, the world had become a different place. It seemed to Edmund that since he had invented time, he had less and less of it. Still he did grow very rich and that was something he could live with. Edmund's business grew and as it did, more time keeper models were introduced in different styles and colors.
To be sure, there were a few disadvantages to time. People were now sometimes late for things, which had never happened before. Employers insisted that their people arrive to work at a certain time and penalized them when they didn't. Many people felt that Edmund was to blame for this and it was true. Still, a few irate people were of no consequence. Edmund was rich and happy. Nothing else mattered.
A couple of years later, when Edmund's fortune had grown so large that he no longer had to work at all, he awoke one day, feeling odd. He rose slowly and made his way to the mirror, where he found the face that greeted him seemed a bit different than usual. Edmund continued to study himself, until he realized what was wrong. Tiny wrinkles had began to appear on his face and some of his hair had turned gray.
Slowly he ran his hand over his now unfamiliar face, fear beginning to build in him. What was happening? Was he ill? He turned away from the mirror, rubbed his eyes and looked again, but the image that greeted him remained unchanged. Edmund had never heard of such symptoms.
He dressed as fast as he could and made his way to his personal physician, stopping only to check the time, to make certain the doctor would be in.
All during the trip there, Edmund kept checking his reflection in store windows, hoping it was just an allergic reaction to something that might soon fade. By the time he reached his destination, he was in a terrible state. He could never recall feeling like this.
The physician took him into his office immediately, of course. One of the benefits of being wealthy. "It's a goddamned epidemic," said the doctor shaking his head. "Last year or two, people have started to get gray hair and grow wrinkles. Doesn't affect them much. As far as I can tell, there's nothing wrong with them. They just display these symptoms and no one knows why. A couple of religious leaders are even saying it has something to do with this whole time business."
"Time? How so?"
"They claim that if God had wanted us to have time, he'd have given it to us, you know the same old thing. You know how holy people hate progress."
"So they're saying that this anomaly is some kind of punishment?"
"That's about the gist of it."
"Idiots," said Edmund. He dressed, paid his bill and entered the street. Now that he was aware of it, he realized that everywhere he looked, he could see someone with wrinkles or gray hair. Odd how he'd never noticed it before. At least he knew it wasn't dangerous. He breathed a sigh of relief and tried to force himself to relax.
As he walked, he saw a man handing out flyers on the street corner. Edmund took one and looked down at it.
_Time is the enemy! Ever since time has been invented, strange things have been happening. Our bodies are changing, our machinery require repairs, when it never needed them before and our attitude toward the world and each other has changed drastically. Help us help you by boycotting time. Before it's too late for all of us._
Edmund finished reading the page and laughed, tossing it into the first waste basket he passed. "Some people are idiots," he thought. He returned home and counted his money.
"Edmund, are you awake?" It was the voice of his doctor. The same doctor, only much older.
Edmund forced himself to sit up. His eyes were full of tears. How he hated being old. "They were right, Doc. It's all my fault."
"Nonsense. They've been trying to prove it for years. All they have is circumstantial evidence. Most educated people don't believe that claptrap."
"Doesn't matter what people think," replied Edmund, bringing his emotions back under control. "Only matters what's true. I invented time and paved the road for the reaper. That's all that matters, Doc. Whether everyone knows it or no one. I alone am responsible."
The doctor shook his head. "You're talking crazy now. How can a device that pours water into a little bucket affect so much in so many different ways?"
"I don't know. I only know that somehow it does and all the money in the world can't save me. That's the irony, Doc, can't you taste it? That bitter tang in the air. The reaper's coming for me and he's blind. He can't see how rich I am." Edmund broke into a fit of coughing. When it was over, he continued in a weaker voice. "It's an evil thing, time. It should be destroyed, I tell you, destroyed. Before it's too late."
The doctor clucked his tongue and nodded, but said nothing else. He fixed the covers before making his way toward the door. Edmund Hailey, eyes again full of tears, watched the physician leave for the last time.
Steve Lazarowitz is the chairman of Eguild. His work has appeared in numerous webzines including Twlight Times, Jackhammer, AnotherRealm, The Wandering Troll, Exodus and many, many more.
He has two anthologies coming out early in 2000. A Creative Edge: Tales of Speculation and Dream Sequence (and other Tales from Beyond) available from Crossroads Publishing.
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Stories by Steve:
An epic poem
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