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An Empty Heart – A Short Story by Evan Walsh

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Evan Walsh

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The grandfather clock always stood in the corner of the old house, eternally watching from the base of the stairs. The house had lived for what seemed like aeons, housing the souls of a long lineage, a rich bloodline of children to elders growing with the ballad of the clock. It ticked through the silence, always five minutes behind, its hourly chime echoing through its hollow chest. It was carved from an aged mahogany, polished to a glimmering red sheen. The once lavishly-decorated clockface was now littered with splintering paint, a pile of golden leaves sprinkled at its feet. The ornate hands of the clock were finer than whiskers and wandered in circles tirelessly, caught impossibly in both the past and present. Like a beating heart it never slept, seemingly watching the passing of generations by itself, though that could never be true.

The wooden grandfather cradled its children close to its heart, locked behind the smallest keyhole, the delicate key always there. A series of cogs spun within its chest, turning time hand-in-hand. They each served a purpose, devoting their lives to the service of their ancestor. If one child left home, rolled under the carpet in search for new opportunities, the grandfather would faint, and time would stop. This often happened, the clock would lose its grip, and one little offspring would fall between the cracks to its most certain doom. The guardian of the house, old and hobbled, would rescue the cog, and return it to its rightful place. The guardian served many purposes, all of equal importance. Every morning he polished the aged mahogany, and every night he spun the hands to match the present as they magically returning to their late selves under the pale moonlight. The three all worked together in harmony, ticking away time in unity.

The guardian of the house died a few years ago, and slowly the clock has fallen into disrepair. Its five minute delay turned to ten, then twenty, until it was only right twice a day. The chime trilled horribly, a deranged plea for salvation, though no one ever answered. It faltered under independence, the time it once controlled now taking its toll.

I always thought I could work alone. I used to think I stood perched at the summit of the clock grazing the stars, immune from time’s clutches, but I wasn’t. I sit below, under the bellowing pendulum, quite far from the constellations I dream of. It’s a nice plain, comfortable, and riddled with opportunity. A cornucopia of promises. It’s not perfect, however. If you look carefully you can see the greying mahogany and the infestations of dust littering the ground, but you can still comfortably survive. Many try to ascend, and many can reach the summit, though only some can reach the stars. I tried once, and failed, badly. I was a single cog spinning alone in the heart of the clock, without reach, thinking I was rising like a phoenix from the ashes, though the only gold I saw were the falling flecks of paint…

I thought I would roll under the carpet and rot, but I didn’t. I befriended other cogs, kind of soul and similarly lost. A guardian guided us, utilising our strengths with their angelic wisdom, and only together did we flourish, reaching the summit, the stars, and soon, reaching galaxies unknown. Our dreams were realised, and an unfathomable paradise lay ahead, handcrafted from our combined efforts. The guardian smiled on. It was an inherited smile from the generations prior, keeping the clock of life ticking five minutes behind forever more…”

(c) Evan Walsh June 2020

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