Each second that passed echoed in the empty church building. Striking in the tower it would rumble down to the sanctuary and in the stillness of the night it could be heard like the beating of a heart thumping loudly.
Another two seconds passed and the quiet of the church was interrupted by the groan of the heavy doors opening. The ticking of the clock seemed to disappear, as if time stood still when the woman entered the dark hall. Clutched tightly to her chest was a bundle of swaddling cloth, a baby. “Hello?” She stepped further into the church and the heavy door she had struggled to open swung shut with ease. The thud resonated in the rafters and she jumped clutching her child closer to her chest. “Hello? Please, is anyone here?”
A candle lit beside her and she whirled around trying to see who might be in the shadows – she saw nothing but the row of candelabra’s fastened to the pillars of the church beginning to light, one by one. An eerie glow was cast over the gothic architecture of the sanctuary. Alexandra clutched the bundle to her chest even tighter. It wasn’t her choice to be here, the village insisted though. If she didn’t go through with this, it would be her fault. Untold horrors, the end of the world, death, destruction, she had been given so many warnings from the villagers. All of them looking upon her with pity. Alexandra didn’t know whether or not she pitied herself as well, or whether she would stubbornly cling to what she told everyone – she didn’t regret what she had done.
Unwed, a girl of only sixteen she should probably regret her actions. A stranger’s baby in her womb for nine months. It would be easy to regret it, to hate the babe and be happy to go through with what she was about to do. But on warm autumn nights, when her belly protruded gently and she could feel the soft flutters of her child shuffling inside her she would think back to the stranger’s touch. It had been a warm day, the first of Spring. The grass was damp from the showers that came the night before but that didn’t deter the people who were setting up their booths and getting ready for the Spring fair.
“Alexandra! Pick up some of Mr. Mullins cherry brandy one your way back! Alexandra! Did you hear me?” Her mother looked over her shoulder to see Alexandra had already left the house and was halfway down the little lane that led to the road.
Skipping down the lane with a basket in hand and a grocery list in the other Alexandra inhaled deeply. The fresh scent of the morning after rainfall was one of her favorites. She exhaled a content sigh as she smiled to herself. Today would be a good day, she was sure of it. It was her sixteenth birthday, and it was the village’s Spring fair. The market would be bustling and in the evening there would be dances. Everyone would wear their brightest colors and the music would be gay and jovial. She could hardly keep her excitement to herself.
Alexandra’s family lived just outside the town. The walk was a peaceful – usually. On this particular day her walk was interrupted. Stumbling down another lane that connected to the road was a young man. Alexandra saw him right away. There was something about him that she couldn’t put her finger on. It was a small town – she didn’t recognize him and he came from the church. The church was an old abandoned building, it was haunted and the town often warned young people and children away from there. Some rumors said time stood still when you entered the church, others the opposite said time sped up and your heart would give out as if it had aged a hundred years in a moment. Alexandra had never been. She listened to the rumors. To see a young man then stumbling down the road that led to the church she was curious. After a moment he picked up his feet and he walked fine. Her walk stopped as she watched him approaching her, “Can I help you?”
Her voice was sweet and Horace tilted his head. Could it be his luck that the first woman he met would be her? “I was just coming to the fair.”
“Oh,” Alexandra smiled, “that’s where I was headed, would you like to walk together?”
The day had been wonderful. They looked at the stalls together, he helped her with her groceries and carried them home with her. Alexandra had enjoyed Horace’s company and that night he accompanied her to the dance. Horace held her close as they danced and he watched the light in her smile. He could sense it. She was the one. She was the one who would be strong enough for the task he held for her. Slipping his hand to the small of the back he whispered in her ear, “Walk with me Alexandra.” Taking her hand in his he led her away from the light of the lanterns, and away from the music and dancing.
Glancing up at him as they walked together Alexandra smiled softly, she had enjoyed her day spent with this mysterious boy. “Where are you from?” He had avoided the question all day and yet she still continued to pepper into their conversations. All she knew was he came from the direction of the old church.
Instead of an answer, Horace pressed his lips against hers. “You will know in time where I am from, but I cannot answer that now.” He felt her inhale, her back stiffening at the surprise of his kiss and he kissed her again. “Alexandra, this is something I must do. This is something you must do.”
There was still no answer in the church and Alexandra wondered if she had been wrong, but after that night – she knew. There was something deep within her that understood what purpose she was serving. The stories from the townsfolk. Every year at the Spring festival – it happened to some young naïve girl. Taken by the hands of time, their body a vessel. That was her. She carried his child now. When he took her that night he took her to the church, she had been frightened at first but his touch was maddening and she would follow him anywhere that night. The tower of the church bore a large clock, the only thing that remained working and yet know one knew how or why. Was it Horace who wound the gears and kept the hands moving? Keeping steady time and ringing the bells every hour? It was there under that clock, she swore time stood still as she conceived with him a child. The church bells tolled and she jumped, not expecting it to have already reached the hour. “Horace?”
“Leave the babe and go.”
Alexandra frowned as an old voice came from the shadows, it was as the same tune as Horace’s but age riddled it.
“Leave the babe and go.”
Clutching the bundle tighter to her chest she hesitated, “Please let me see you – this is my child…” There was silence following her request and Alexandra wet her lips as she waited. Perhaps the speaker would step into the light? Hearing shuffling in the shadows she turned a little, trying to catch a glimpse of whoever it was that moved. Perhaps it was not Horace, perhaps another? “Please…” her voice wavered.
The aged body of a man came into the flickering light of the candles. He was hunched over supported by a scythe he held. Hanging from his neck was an hourglass hung by a golden chain. A long white beard tucked behind it. Time had aged him, as it would anyone but for Horace he had started the new year as a babe, danced with Alexandra in the spring of his youth, spent his summer at the height of his life, and then as harvest came he slowed to wind down, now in the dead of winter – the cold chilly months, he would meet his end.
Behind those wrinkles she saw the familiar twinkle in his eyes, and could in her mind hear his youthful laughter and she recalled his touch. To her it was months ago – to him a lifetime. Alexandra stood with her jaw hung slightly open. She didn’t want to believe it to be true, though in her heart she at known. Some tiny part of her had hoped that the stories weren’t true, that the man who loved her those months ago wasn’t Father Time himself, that her babe would not be taken to fill his place in the coming days as the new year approached. Yet, here he was. Unmistakably he was Time. Tears stung her eyes and she clutched her child closer to her chest and shook her head.
“The babe…” His shriveled hand reached out to her, “please…”
All the warnings echoed in her mind, if she did not give up this babe it would be on her shoulders that the world did not pass into the new year. The town did not shun her like they might any other unwed mother, they only had pitied her. Now she understood why. For a moment she only clutched the child tighter, debating if she should or should not. Her eyes met Horace’s and slowly she stepped forward to pass the bundle she held to him. Gently taking it in his arm he looked down at the baby boy. No other words were exchanged and he disappeared back into the shadows. The candles flickered, threatening to die and Alexandra’s eyes widened when she noticed he had disappeared entirely. “Horace!”
The church was quiet once more, and she could again hear the ticking of the clock matched with the heartbeat thumping in her chest. As the candles died, she was left alone in the dark.
(So Tara and I are doing monthly short stories! This is mine from the month of January. Not really edited, just tossed up here! Hope you enjoy)