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The Alchemies of Time

Born in Princeton, Jack Pagliante writes novels, fairy tales and music. He attended Bard College, where he studied under Neil Gaiman, and is currently seeking representation for his children's book and adult novel. When not writing or working, he can be found talking with the rain.

When the new king was crowned, and the feast finished, his court gathered around him and asked him what he believed to be the largest threat the kingdom faced, and he told them: Time. Time, he said, will do more damage to us than any invader, than any war. Time will ruin us and strip me of my crown. Time will take us away from what we love, who we love, and Time will take us, finally, from ourselves. It is Time, he said, that we must stop.
In the morning, he brought together his court again, and they met inside his chambers. He ordered they hire men, mercenaries, anybody willing, to set to the city and destroy every clock, every clocktower and to break every ticking watch and watchmaker's shop. I am serious, he said, our enemy is Time.
A week later they went out. With swords and knives, they broke the clocks, storming through houses, climbing towers, smashing the watches, and soon the streets and squares were silent and quiet, and the hours faded from the air, the boom of the bells no more. Then they roved further, riding on horses, out to the next city, and the next, and the next, until, they reported, that every clock was quiet, and that Time did not move in the kingdom.
The King had thought ahead, though. He pointed to the sky. The moon, he said, for it was night. The sun, he said. God's clock is still in motion.
He consulted his royal astronomers, the alchemists, magicians. They proposed many methods. You could erase the moon, one said, using powders and other chemicals, or shrink it, and then feed it to the ducks. You could freeze the sun, so that it grows heavy and drops to the earth. All these things the King tried, and all these were failed. We shall build a Timeless sky, he said afterwards. Unchanging, and eternal.
The architects that built his castle were sent for, and they made drawings and graphs, and slowly, they constructed the sky anew. From wood and clay, they built it panel by panel, until it covered the kingdom, and at last, there was no change from day to night, and the moon and sun were no more, and there was no Time.
The King claimed victory. No more do I age, he said. His body remained the same and would forever; though sometimes, alone, he grew paranoid, anxious to know if what he had wrought had actually worked. He could no longer sleep, he found, and found that others could not as well. His entire city was a city of sleepwalkers, somnambulists. They walked when they should have slept, and the click-click of their feet reminded him of the tick-tick of the clocks.
In a rush he grabbed papers, and carefully noted the click of every heel, counting them as the seconds, and Time, to his horror, he discovered, was still present. It had been two years, he calculated, throwing the numbers back and hypothesizing.
At once, he called his courts to show them, and he ordered the people to stop moving: to freeze, to be still, and they stayed in their houses. We can make them stone, said his magicians, who went to every house and made each citizen into stone, and went out into the kingdom and stilled whole villages and towns, until the King now ruled a land of stone. Even the animals too, he turned to stone, and the trees, and the waves, birds, but the fires he kept, briefly, for they were his only light, under the dark wooden sky. But even these, he tried to silence, and when his magicians could not, he said, simply: then blow them all out. And they did.
And all was dark. And all was quiet.
Still, the King could hear one final thing. It was his heart.
Is it possible to turn it to stone, to live without it, to silence my heart, but to keep me living? he asked his alchemists. We will try, they said.
Many days, by heartbeat and by darkness, they worked over their figures, and consulted with mathematicians, and with doctors, and under order, under oath, they took one day, at last, the beating heart from out of their King.
And when they asked him afterwards if it had worked, and he could not respond, they reasoned, either it was because he was dead, or because to speak, the ticking of his tongue would give birth again to Time.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, July 20th, 2022
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