Challenge: No Clocks or Hourglasses

I went into this piece under the impression I was making a snowflake but somehow ended up with a spiderweb. It gives me a little sympathy for Jack Skellington. Good thing I learned long ago that creativity tends to grow a bit like a forest. You can try to control every plant in the thicket, but you'll only succeed in giving yourself an impressive headache.

In other news, if anyone likes music I've got a neat link for you to click. A good friend of mine makes rhythmic music and he just uploaded a bunch of pretty cool stuff. I definitely recommend checking it out here https://soundcloud.com/cromafor

All that aside I present...

No Clocks or Hourglasses


‘Herein lies the corridor of memory. Beware all who travel here, for memories have wills of their own.’ This is the message tacked onto the polished stone box that was left at her door sometime in the night. Her name, Luna Gomez, had been printed in small, neat letters at the top-left hand corner of the note. She brought it inside with the mail and put it on the kitchen island.

The box is exquisitely beautiful – green as spring grass and the pattern is segmented into several odd shapes by delicate black lines. The lines have the appearance of cracked mirror glass and give the impression of frames, but only one segment is filled in. It’s the first patch under the gold latch. There, a shadowed figure in an old-fashioned top hat places the box on a doorstep where the porch light illuminates them both.

 It stays on the counter with the electric bill, the hospital bill, and the divorce papers as she makes the coffee, starts breakfast, and gets the kids ready for school. It’s all but forgotten until the house settles into its loneliness. It always gets lonely when the kids are gone. The walls are used to their laughter, and their arguments, and their TV specials. Luna sits at the island, her hands around a new mug of coffee, and tries to imagine the house empty like this. Empty of furniture. Empty of the popcorn smell on movie nights. Empty of their lives but still filled with their memories. It’s too depressing to think about for long.  

She might have forgotten the box completely if there hadn’t been a very distinctive clicking sound coming from it. Open me, it seemed to say. There’s something I want you to see. But, she places it aside. It’s silly anyway. A box is a box, after all, and by the feel of this one, it was empty.

She goes about the day packing the kitchen into boxes. First the good china – she’ll have no need for it for a while. Then, all but one of the wine glasses and most of her coffee mugs, starting with the souvenir ones; Aloha from Hawaii and, Bonjour from France where they spent their honeymoon. 

How typical.

She forgets about the strange box completely until she breaks for a light lunch. She sits at the island eating a cheese sandwich when she hears the clicking sound again. It reminds her of clock gears winding. Her grandfather had an old pocket watch that he wound every day. She’d watch him do it when she was a little girl and the sound from the box reminded her of that.

Luna opens the lid. There is, in fact, no clock but the ticking is louder. The inside of the box is black. Not that it’s painted black. Rather, it looks bottomless. She wrinkles her brow and listens. She puts her ear closer and hears it, the sound only big, open places make in the dark or the way the ocean sounds inside a seashell. And, the tick-tock of a far-off clock.

It takes a few moments to notice the gravitational pull of the box. It is a slight tugging sensation. Like when she fell asleep at her desk in school and jerked awake before hitting the desk. Only, she can’t seem to wake up. The darkness at the bottom of the box expands around her, and then she’s falling… falling… falling. And the ticking – the ticking gets louder.

She doesn’t land, but the floor is there under her feet. It’s carpeted, and a deep burgundy color – like wine. The walls peeking out of the dark are solid wood. The kind that absorbs most sound. In the center of the room are round tables accompanied by two armchairs – white. Above each one is a hanging lamp that gives off dull, orange light.

There are people sitting at a few of the tables. All of them have their heads bowed, eyes closed, and hands folded on the tabletop. Her eyes adjust and she can see more. A service desk – no one behind it. A central staircase and halls branching off – all of them darkened. It looks like a hotel lobby, though the kind that she’d only seen in old time movies and investigative shows. There are no other light fixtures but the hanging lamps over the tables.

Luna runs to the desk and frantically rings the bell. No one shows up. The people at the tables don’t react.

“Hello?” She leans far over but it’s clear no one is there.

The hallways are blocked by low velvet ropes.  When she tried to jump it, a weary voice from behind said, “You’ll get lost if you go.” She turns, and there is a man standing in front of her – no – a three-dimensional shadow wearing a very expensive gray suit and leaning on a cane with a raven head.

“What is this place?”

The man has no face, but she feels something is puzzled in the slight inclination of his head “The corridor of memories,” he said.

“But I was... Is this… Am I… inside the box?”

The shadow man doesn’t answer. He gestures toward the line of tables under the lights.

They take a table far from the others. He sits like the others – back straight, hands folded.
After a moment of professional silence, one she fills up by gazing around the strange room, the figure says, “Welcome to the—”

“—the corridor of memories, I know. Look, the last thing I remember is opening a box.”

He reached under the table and brings the very same box onto the table. “This one?”

She laughs. “A box within a box. Are you kidding me?”

She senses that same puzzled look on his faceless face.

“How do I get out?”

He slides the box toward her with his index fingers. “You have to remember something first but, be warned, memories have a life of their own. You might not like where they take you.”

“What am I supposed to remember?”

He inclines his head toward the box. “It will tell you.” He rises and, cane in hand, walks back toward the reception desk behind her.

How a box could tell her something, she has no clue. It’s identical except that the green isn’t segmented by gold lines. She doesn’t know how it can tell her anything until she begins to hear it again, the click of winding clock gears and she remembers her grandfather. No, it’s more than a memory. She can count the white hairs on the back of his gnarled, brown workman hands and is amazed, yet again, by how ably they wind the little clock. The acrid stench of his tobacco fills the space around the table and she can taste the dirt in her mouth from playing all day in the hot sun.

This time, when she opens the box, she opens a door too.

It’s dusk and mid-summer. She’d spent the day playing soccer in the play yard with the neighborhood kids and ran home when her mother called her. But this is not a memory from a dream. She’s herself, feeling limber little legs run fast as they can and tasting the dirt kicked up by her sneakers. The porch light is on and her mother is holding open the screen door.  The kitchen smells like chicken and
spices and the TV is on loud in the other room where her grandfather sits in his favorite armchair. She runs away from her mom’s scolding and into the cloud of smoke around him. He’s winding the spring but he stops and gives her a warm, toothless smile. Creek, creek goes the spring. Louder and louder over the TV, the frying oil in the kitchen, the running water in the bathroom, and the springs on the front door before it slams shut.

Someone shakes her shoulder.

“Mom? Mom, wake up.”

She lifts her head and turns. She’s back in her kitchen, the boxes stacked, the front door shuts, and the school bus growls out front before rolling down the street. Her oldest, Michael is standing over her – more concern in his brown eyes then there should be in a fifteen-year-olds.

“Where’s Rosa? Where’s your sister?”

For a moment he looks struck, then confused.  “Don’t you remember?”

“Remember what?”

 He looks like he wants to say more, but after pressing his lips in a way that reminds her of his father, he changes the subject. They talked about school, and he goes upstairs while she cooks dinner.

It takes her a long while to get to sleep. There is still so much to pack and the court date is coming up and she has to find a new job. After a while, her thoughts go back to the box, and the surreal sharpness of the memory. She used the creek, creek of the winding spring to get herself to sleep.

 The next few weeks fly by. During the day she packs boxes and looks for jobs. On weekends she and her son, Michael, watch movies or go out to eat. And, at night, when the day is particularly stressful, she sits up in bed and opens the box. It tells her where she’s going but always in different ways. Sometimes, it’s a smell, like the special smell Rosa had when he was a newborn baby. Other times it’s a sound. Like twenty-something wind chimes her mother kept hanging from the front porch.  The hints are distinct and bring the memories to life again in equal parts pain, wonder, and joy.    

Every visit makes the memories sharper. Every time she opens the box, she can stay there longer. Sometimes, she spends entire nights opening it again and again until the sun is up and Michael is knocking on the bedroom door because it’s time for school and she hadn’t made breakfast yet.

It doesn’t take her long to realize that the memories are moving through a timeline, or that, every so often, a new picture appears on the box. The picture is always from one of the memories, and the memories were always sad ones. Like her mother’s wind chimes. They jingled all night long in the hours before she passed away in her sleep. Lune held her hand the whole night.  She could have gone her whole life without experiencing that moment again. The box showed it to her anyway. The next morning, she takes great care packing up each and every one of her mother’s wind chimes.

Their new place would be too small to hang them all up.

There’s a new dead whenever she opens the box now. She feels like it’s leading her somewhere she doesn’t want to be. But, once her head hits the pillow at night, she finds that she can’t resist opening it again.

It’s the weekend before the move. Everything is packed and the boxes tower around her and her son where they sit on the sofa. The TV is on, but she isn’t listening to it and she can tell Michael isn’t either. Rosa is already asleep upstairs. It’s been so long since they spent any time together. When was the last time she saw her?

“What times does the moving truck get here tomorrow?” Michael asks and it interrupts her thoughts.  

“I don’t know. I think eight.”

“Have you talked to dad lately?”

She sighs. “There’s nothing to talk about.”

“He’s worried…” there’s a significant pause. “Mom, are you really okay?”

She looks at him right then. It’s the first time in a long time she notices how tall he’s gotten – taller than her. He’d always been a well-mannered kid – polite, a little shy, and quietly strong, but in the days since the family fractured he’d gone more deeply into himself. For the first time, she couldn’t guess what thoughts were forming behind his eyes – eyes gradually losing that special light belonging to children.

She leans over for the remote on top of the boxes and turns off the TV. The lights in the house had always been dim and she’d packed up all the lamps. The warm orange glow around them reminded her of the corridor of memories inside the box.

After a few moments in the dim quiet, she leans back and smiles at him. She holds out a hand and waits for him to take it. He’s too old to be coddled by his mother without risking his reputation, but she doesn’t care. Guided by some need deep in her heart she holds him tight – holds him like she might break apart if she doesn’t.  

It’s late. Michael already went to his room, but she can see the light under his door. She stops by Rosa’s room on her way to bed. The door is open and, by the light in the hall, she can make out the empty computer desk and the stack of boxes in the middle of the room. It’s strange but she doesn’t want to step inside. It feels like a foreign place without the basketball trophies or the posters or the music globes lined up on top of the dresser. When she looks up, the glow-in-the-dark stars are pale green against the white ceiling.

She wonders how many months it’s been since she stepped foot into that room. Right then, standing on the threshold, she has a terrible urge to open the box again. But, that dread is stronger than ever when she reaches her room.

Again, she stands in the lobby room without end. The same people are at the same tables, the same blissful looks on their faces. The box is where she left it on one of the far tables. Lune sits down and waits for it to tell her where to go.  At first, there’s nothing, but then she hears it, the whir of sirens getting closer.

Something sharp rises in her and it’s tearing at her chest the louder the sirens get. She shakes her head. “No.” She screams. “No. Not there – not –there.”

The shadow man is behind her. His cold, phantom hand squeezes her shoulder. It isn’t menacing but reassuring. The sirens won’t stop, they get louder.

“It’s time,” he says.

She shakes her head.

He leans over her shoulder and opens the box.

And, the sirens?  

They are all she hears.

First, it’s the heat of the sun radiating off the grocery store parking lot that she feels. Then, it’s how her arms ache from carrying the bags. It’s noisy, too. Cars are rumbling in and out of the plaza and the air is choked with their gasoline stench. Some teenagers have the doors open and the music blasted.

She doesn’t want to remember, but the memory is so sharp she can feel the heat in her nose when she takes a breath.

“Rosie, can you get the car door for me?”

She’s not listening. She’s on her phone, earbuds in, dark hair tied up off her neck. It’s been so long since she’s seen her. Luna wants to call out to her so she will turn around and she can see her face again but the box won’t let her change. All it can do is recreate a moment in time.

Her grandfather’s clock springs.

The smell of a new baby in her arms.

Her mother’s wind chimes on hot summer nights.

The car comes out of nowhere. The windshield catches the sun and blinds her for a moment. A moment is all that’s needed. The tires screech on the asphalt. Rosie, her Rosie never looks up.

The sirens…

The sirens….

And the stench of burned rubber in her mouth.

She never wanted to remember it.

Remembering meant re-living and she didn’t know how to live past that memory.

She wakes up crying, Michael sitting on her bed, hand on her shoulder, shaking her awake.

“Wake up.” There’s a broken edge on his voice. It’s not from puberty.

A kid shouldn’t have to comfort the parent. She is crying too much to say anything, but over and over in her head – I couldn’t stop it. I couldn’t stop it.

The moving truck arrived at eight sharp and little by little the home emptied. She didn’t go back into Rosie’s room.

All that morning memories lurked around every turn. Memories with all the sharp clarity of the ones in the box and she wanted nothing to do with them anymore.

It’s noon when they finish. She takes a final walk around a house without pictures or potted plants and bare electric sockets and stray wires she never knew were there.

For the last time, she shuts the front door and lays her hand on the green wood. She takes one last look at the porch and the front yard, and her son watching her from the car.

Then drops the key in the mailbox, and takes the first step forward.


 _______________
There you have it. To be honest, I can't help but feel I could have made this better but I either lack the skill, patience, enthusiasm, or all of the above.

If you enjoyed the read please comment and if you didn't also comment to tell me why. 

Thanks for reading.

Happy writing.

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