Time's Up

May 24, 2010
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The clock flinched. Its hand flicked up to relieve the itch in its mechanisms.

Harold stared at the face from across the room. A knotting in his nerves crawled along his papery skin. It was torture. Not even a finger was at his disposal. He wanted to writhe in the trivial agony building just beyond reach of the long-dormant fibers of his muscles, but he could do nothing more than lie between his bed sheets. He might as well be wrapped in satin, the cotton thrown out.

The tingles ravaged Harold's flesh and rooted into his pores. The sunken cheek of his face had become grounds for the weed of sensation, one that struck violently and spread like a ripple. It consumed his focus and threatened to choke him off. He felt the weeds. Parasites.

The clock's hand flicked, a tick and a taunting suggestion. Harold's resentment burned. He longed for the simple pleasure of scratching; that instant gratification.

The itch began to fade away after a teasing duration, content with its work. Harold lay on his bed, his body still as ever, but his mind quivered. These bouts always sent a shock through him. An ache remained. He was convinced that the prickling was eating away at his skin, thinning it into the translucent shroud that draped his bones. He could see the veins in his hands, the blood running through. It was his feeble body's wasted effort, circulation. It was just water gushing over a fall. Soon enough it would be going nowhere and doing nothing. Pooling.

From days to years, Harold had envied the freedom that the little contraption before him possessed, despite its fixed state upon the starch white wall. Its freedom to move and to convey messages, however limited, was like the intangible world to a dying fly, caught between two panes of glass. He was trapped within his skull. Harold thought it wrong to feel inhuman; yet, how else should a man feel when he covets the abilities of a shell of gears?

Harold himself was a shell of organs. Like the visage on the wall, he was lifeless without the batteries that powered him. But he knew better than the specialists that made their rounds to his bedside. He was not a member of the living dead. The machines had given him hidden life. He could think, but he couldn't speak. He could see, but no one ever noticed that he noticed. He mapped out paths for his limbs to follow, but they held rigid. Harold was conscious, his body just retaliated against his efforts at functioning. Unfortunately, there was no window into his mind. Efforts at communication were in vain. His pleads and cries could not fall even on deaf ears. No beacon ever appeared on the scans. Harold could find no satisfaction in his knowledge.

The clock ticked. Harold listened. He took the rhythm as mockery. When his ticking stopped, he knew the clock would go on. The futile beating of his heart sounded on the monitor beside him. The clock mimicked this beating, counting down until the final pump. Harold wondered when that day would be, when his suspended animation would be over.

Shoes were heard walking up the hall as the clock struck four. Harold's face, gaunt, blank, and drooping, betrayed his surprise as a procession entered the room. He was not expecting any visitors. They were led in by the doctor, who took up a position next to the monitors, and gathered at the side of Harold's bed. He recognized a few among the party as newcomers to his bedside. He could see the sickness on their faces. After passing through six floors of depressing infirmity, their faces had taken on a waxy pallor. They were not used to the sickening stench of the hospital, of sterilization and urine. The sagging man before them, tied down to a cot with rubber tubing, was probably not helping to put them at ease.

Harold had a guess at what called for such an audience.

The doctor stood judgment over the screens, taking readings, and turned back to Harold's family with a solemn face, "Nothing's changed, I'm afraid. I'll give you a few moments to talk everything over amongst yourselves."

Faces fell. Harold's remained sagged, tucked down into rolls. The ticking of the clock filled the thoughtful silence. He was not scared, but he was not relieved; his indifference did not startle him in the least. A crackled callous had hardened and flaked away at Harold's value for life. Melting into yourself was not living. Perhaps he had become an inhuman thing after all. He was a fleshy clock used to tell time: ten years, seven months, fifteen days.

After a moment, nods permeated through the group without any movement of lips. They had talked this over before. Their silent agreement had been reached.

One by one the guests took Harold's hand and whispered tearstained prayers. Some spoke to him, wanting to believe that he could hear them; his few confidants. They leaned in to kiss his withered face, careful not to disturb his tubes.

The doctor stood by the machines at Harold's side, finger poised above a switch. The family watched with hushed qualms at the foot of the bed, eyes closed and lips pressed.

Harold listened to the clock's ticking. He listened to final words.

The swift press of the doctor's finger flicked the switch and the monitors ceased. The heart rate flattened into a fine line with a fine, piercing tone.

"Time of death?"

The doctor paused with a glance over his shoulder.

The clock stood still, its batteries dead.

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