A Moment Lost in Time
by Matt Athanasiou
There. Where the glow is dimmer—the ceiling swells. A ticker must have climbed inside. Walk slow. Our movements ripple through these caverns of sand, every passage connected like a timeline.
Walk slow but move. Don’t complain. Move and think, legs and brains—prove you got them. New Year’s Eve, no one wants to spend the night in this place. All of us here have too often woken on this day and asked, “Where did the time go?” hardly able to remember the year passed. We let so many precious moments slip by—but now’s our chance to retake that lost time, to rip it from the tickers that snatched it from us.
Hold now. Watch for grains dropping from the ceiling or wall. We’ll find tickers there. Look. Pay attention. At your feet!
Get up! After it.
How many steps was that? Two. No—I’m not asking. Two steps and you were down. Couldn’t remember how to pick up your feet before running? That was a question. Is that why you’re here? Forgetting? An email from a colleague lit up your phone and you forgot how to give a kiss goodbye, maybe to hold the door for someone?
It’s not because I forgot how to be nice. Just keep going. Right foot then left. I’m being helpful.
That steady click-clicking, tick-ticking is them, like an hour glass emptying the past into the future. All the tickers here, you should be able to catch one. If you quit tripping yourself.
Excuse us. Don’t follow. Find them yourself.
You can’t help everyone. Have to know your limits, know who to bring along in life. Been in this place on NYE before, tore a chunk of time out of a ticker and returned to the world with another opportunity to right things. You’ll learn something being with me.
Fair. Means that I know how to mess up and clean up. You’re still brushing sand off yourself.
That’s one. Looks like a person. Just—
—don’t talk so loud.
Wonderful. Sank back into the floor. Maybe I shouldn’t have agreed to bring you along.
They’re sandy shape shifters. Usually take on human forms, especially in our world. Some’ll yell nonsense at you on the street or television. Some’ll do the opposite of everything you ask them. If you listened closely, you’d hear the crick of grit in their limbs.
Universe sends them to test us, I think. If we get distracted, maybe riled up from their nonsense, the tickers collect the time we’re losing and the universe redistributes it. Even the universe has a deadline and tries to give people who’ll benefit it most more memorable experiences. You don’t catch a ticker tonight, one moment you’ll remember working another hour too late, having another drink too many, and the next you’ll awake on your deathbed, wondering how.
People write about this. And some educated guesses. My words aren’t meaningless.
How late? You are slowing me down.
Cripes! Get it off! Grab it. Hold it.
Let me. Let me. Spit.
Couldn’t breathe. A moment. Quick moment.
Huff. Probably trying to wear us down. Confident monster. How didn’t you grab it? Don’t worry about me. That what got you here? Spent too much time working for others, the wrong others? Ignored who really mattered?
I’ll get up. I got it. Wouldn’t want you bending over and miraculously suffocating yourself in the sand.
Because I didn’t let anyone help? If that is, it’s more about not letting the right others. But I’m learning too. Let’s find a ticker.
Go through it. Cascading sand means one just came out of there.
That lump. Again now, slow approach. Hands ready. Reach into the wall, grab, and pull. Ready?
You get it? Feel something?
No. Hanging my head shows approval. This really is going to be the last night you remember.
Don’t push. Don’t confuse me with them.
You were closer. Why would I? No sense us both missing it.
Wait. Got it. You wasted your breath blaming others. Meanwhile, they moved on. All that sand on you, you even look like you were left behind in the dust.
You’ll need to open those fists to grab a ticker.
More than once, I said. Lost lots of time, but also like I said, I’m learning.
Hey. I got this. Right below. I drop, reach into the floor, and lift. Help pin it. On your count.
Can’t hold it. Grab a foot! Let it kick. Stop.
Yes that hurt.
You still didn’t get any.
You got a hand! Those look like fingers, little digits. Know how to handle it? Don’t trip yourself and drop it. Don’t lose it before I can take it.
Sorry. Sand in your eyes burns, I know. Stay down.
Hate being cocky, but you reacted immediately when we met. Words seem to trap you. Figured I could waste your time to help me get some back.
I’ve hurt a lot of people by losing time. Always thought I was doing right by friends and family, but I had actually lost track of everything important. Going to fix it, though, get a full life. I wanted this more than you. Find comfort in that. Universe probably does.
Not quite midnight. Still a little while before the universe closes the gaps it stretched between the seconds for us to find ourselves here. I imagine it works that way—a chance to take back from the tickers and return to what matters. Should see this as an opportunity.
Probably because you ripped a hand off. They gang up on you, they’ll tear out all your time. You should run. Remember to pick up your feet and, if you can, why you ended up here in the first place.