“I saw the town clock ticking again,” she said, walking towards me.
My heart felt hollow.
“What do you think it’ll be next?”
“It’s been a while,” I said, “Anything goes.”
We’d been living in peace for quite some time now. Everyone got along well, and a real community had formed. I had genuinely been feeling happy. I thought we had been forgotten about, but now I saw I had simply become complacent. Only the strong survived this place. And those that survived were granted eternal life.
Standing still, I scanned the street we were on. The shops were still there. Our apartment was still standing down the road.
Every time the clock moved, something changed. Sometimes it would be something as simple as a plane flying overhead and a new guy parachuting in. Sometimes buildings would be detonated. Sometimes even the unthinkable would happen.
Heads down, we walked to the end of the road and into our building. The doorman wasn’t there, but that wasn’t unusual. His job was to help people in the building, but he was always wandering off for a coffee or to go fishing.
I pressed the up button for the elevator. Nothing. I’d only ever seen it work for the doorman. We looked at each other and shrugged.
We glanced outside to check for any new developments. No change. Yet. We raced up four flights of stairs to our floor and straight into our apartment.
Looking down from the window, we could see a few people standing around talking to each other. Some were looking around. The doorman was running along the street and back into our building.
We jolted back as a crack of thunder shook the walls. The sky went from a pure azure to the darkest of dark greys. We continued to look out the window, searching for more clues.
I took a sharp breath in as the cafe over the road crumbled to the ground. A new building materialised in its dust. It looked like a bookshop with a small cafe inside. Not a huge change. My breaths were shallow, and I clenched my fists to try to stop my hands shaking.
As the dust settled, the door of the bookshop opened, and out stepped a portly man with a beard and a top hat. There were a few others still on the street who watched in silence with wide eyes.
The man walked with purpose down the street, past the butcher, past the grocer, past the florist, and past the town hall with its looming clock tower.
“Should we follow him?” she asked.
“It’s been so long since anything changed, this could be big. We might be safer here,” I said.
“Nowhere is safe.”
I nodded, and finally took the full breath that my lungs were craving. “Let’s go.”
We raced down the stairs to the ground floor and saw the doorman peering outside from his post.
“Do you know what’s going on?” I asked.
“No, but I just came from the hills. They turned into desert dunes, so I dropped my fishing gear and ran straight back to see what was happening on the street.” he said, his eyes unblinking.
“We’re following that man, want to come?”
He shook his head. His breathing was fast.
“We’ll let you know when we know what’s going on,” I said I opened the door.
We turned left and ran down the street. The bookshop man was nearing the very end of the road where the castle sat. We caught up to him just as he was raising his hand to knock on the door.
“Oh, hello,” he said cheerfully. Perhaps he did not know what the deal was here.
“Hi,” I paused. “Do you know what you are doing here? What your roll is?”
“Yes, of course! I am here to see the Queen of the City.”
I grimaced. The last few times that the clock started ticking again, someone new would see the Queen. Everyone who had seen the Queen had been eliminated so far.
“It’s not what you think,” he said. “I am a messenger.”
So he had a different purpose to the others.
“What is your message?”
“I can’t tell you. It’s for the Queen of the City. Go away now, before you are eliminated.”
My jaw dropped. He was right. If I poked my nose in too much – if I strayed away from my purpose – the clock would tick and my time would be up.
“Come on,” I said to my lady.
We hurried back down the street, past the ticking clock in the clock tower, past the shops, and into our building.
The doorman was not at his post anymore. I hoped he was OK, but I knew what was happening. This had happened before.
“This feels like a complete rewrite,” she said.
From our apartment we looked down over the street. A few moments later we saw the messenger walk back down the street towards the new bookshop. He opened the door, and paused. He looked up at us and waved.
We looked at each other with a sharp breath in, and ran back down stairs and outside to see the messenger.
“What happened?” I called as we ran across the road to him.
“The Queen has been eliminated.”
I felt every muscle in my body stiffen. She had played a major role in the city.
“I brought news from the Queen of the Desert. If the Queen of the City surrendered, it would be a peaceful takeover.”
I didn’t even know there was a Queen of the Desert.
“The immediate surrender indicated she was of weak character, so she had to be eliminated.”
“Are there any more eliminations?” I asked.
“Yes. This is a rewrite,” he smiled, before turning on his heel, stepping into the bookshop, and closing the door.
I looked into her eyes and held her hand.
She faded, before crumbling into dust. I looked at my empty hand. I never even knew her name.