THE CLOCK REWOUND

Wind was howling incessant on the break and filtering eddies of snow into Dr. Starlin’s eyelashes as he crouched down to reach eye-level with the latest find. The current stratum was down as low as the Carboniferous period, bits of compressed coal gleaming up brilliant black out of all that white snow. The Kamchatka Peninsula was the sort of place that you’d be perfectly happy with only having seen on a postcard. Once you got here and could feel the icicles clinging to your nostrils and the bitter sting of your eyes trying to freeze themselves shut, you couldn’t help but feel duped by all the beautiful sights.

He was here to study anthracite, its origins and formation. It was a strange type of coal, looking far more crystal-like than what you’d expect to have burning up in your furnace. Light from the dim, cloud-blocked sun would just barely break through from up above, send shimmering reflections of itself dancing off the coal’s surface and into Dr. Starlin’s eyes. This was his home. He was more comfortable being around rocks than other people, where the data was consistent and the variables were few. Things just made sense here, and there were very few surprises, even for a scientific venture.

He wasn’t one to rock the boat. The more consistent the finds the better as far as he was concerned. He didn’t want money, or fame, or the possibility of upheaval of accepted theories on the way the world works. If he could just sit there alone with his rocks and somehow get paid for doing so, then all would be right with the world.

One of the bits of anthracite stood out from the rest, even as it rested clumped among that lumpy pile of coal. It glimmered as if to beckon the doctor over, like it had a secret to tell and he was the only one authorized to hear it. Dr. Starlin approached cautiously, as if expecting a trap to be sprung at any moment. But there was no trap and the coal was just coal. He fetched his tools, picked the heavy piece of anthracite up and began to break it apart. He didn’t know what it was about this particular specimen that told him to pick it apart himself, not just toss it aside with the rest for an aide to analyze later, but he pressed on even so. And when he got to the center of the piece, he had his answer.

There, gleaming brighter than even the sides of the anthracite itself was a solid hunk of metal, dirty from the coal that still clung to it but shining all the while. Dr. Starlin worked tirelessly, picking apart the coal that rested around the hunk of metal, dusting off debris, and polishing it up so he could get a better look at what it was. And when it was all done, and the coal was nothing but powdered and chipped remains left at his feet, he held a glimmering pocket watch in his hands. It had foreign symbols in place of each of the twelve numbers, glyphs that Dr. Starlin had never before seen in his life, but it was a pocket watch all the same.

But how could this be? This piece of anthracite had been buried in the earth since the Carboniferous period, 300 million years at least. It was packed hard as stone, buried in the same stratum that fossilized, ancient insects had just recently been found at. Either this pocket watch belonged to a very fashionable arthropod or something very strange was going on. And even worse was the button on top of the watch itself, which button had just started to glow as if wanting to be pressed. There was too much going on for Dr. Starlin to handle. Too many variables, too many unanswered questions… This wasn’t a comfortable situation at all.

Despite his better judgments, Dr. Starlin wanted to press the button. Maybe it was one last holdout of curiosity from his childhood days, that indomitable sense of adventure that the doctor had been trying all these years to crush. He looked at the button, how it glowed a golden hue against all that white of the snow. Before he could stop himself, he pressed it.

Dr. Starlin had the immediate sensation of being shot out of a cannon and into a tunnel of unending light. He lost all feeling in every limb, his body being lost in some vapor that was as all-encompassing as the Kamchatka snow, but warm all the while.

When he came back to, he was standing on a plateau in the summer heat, rain falling in drops the size of dimes. There was flora all around, luscious green as calls from strange-sounding animals echoed all around him. He looked at the ground. Insects the size of his feet wriggled around, exoskeletons like plates of armor as strange birdlike creatures dropped out of the sky in hot pursuit. He looked at his hand. The pocket watch was still there, clutched tightly from the stress of the journey he just made. But the hand was not his. The fingers were long, spindly gray monstrosities, only four of them total. His body, too, felt much too long. Looking down at his torso, it seemed to stretch like some disturbing taffy. He noticed a puddle a few feet ahead. Running over, he looked desperately at his reflection. A long, gray face greeted him, massive black almond-shaped eyes peering back at him. He looked up. Several figures with the same appearance were there before him, crouched over ancient creatures as they studied them and took samples.

Dr. Starlin slammed on the watch’s button and was whipped quickly through that tunnel he had just come through. He was back in the snow and cold, never more thankful to be in that climate in his life. He stuffed the watch into his pocket and rushed off into camp.

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THE PROPOSAL

Martin wiped his hands across his pants’ top, leaving the kind of sweaty residue you might expect from your average slug. His breathing was shallow, his heart was palpitating, and his dilated eyes probably made him look high. He was going to ask her.

There was no way she’d say no, but that didn’t make the whole thing any easier. He’d be down on his knee, like some sad parody of a squire waiting to be knighted. And there she’d be with her big green eyes, watering no doubt as she came to an all-encompassing silence.

And the ring. The thing she’d be wearing for all to see. He’d gotten it from the strangest of jewelers. He was a bug-eyed little man who kept looking to the sky and muttering to himself. But who cared? He got it and it was beautiful. She’d love it.

There was his Ashley. She stood radiant in the dull pink glow of the polluted sky, shining through even despite it. She was dressed for the occasion, with that black-and-white polka dot dress that made Martin’s brain turn to mush every time he looked her way. This wouldn’t be easy at all.

She smiled in the way a person does when they’re in on a harmless secret, her knowing eyes scanning Martin’s hand as it awkwardly left the ring box’s pocket. She knew. She always knew. It was one of her many talents. But he’d make a show of it anyway.

Martin took his lady down by the water, and they skipped stones in the exact spot they did on their first date so many late-night summers ago. They were practically babies then, their eagerness matched only by their all-encompassing naïveté. Even so, they were in love. Even then, on that first stone-skipping night. And they both knew it.

Martin snapped back from his reverie, he made a point to be as casual as possible while looking for opportunities to ask. Every time it got quiet and he thought he’d do it, something would happen. Ashley would tell a joke, or a nearby frog would make its sloppy entrance into the water. After a few minutes of this, Martin said fuck it.

“Fuck it.”

He got down on his knee, right then, and looked his lady in the eye.

“I don’t care if you saw this one coming, try to act surprised.”

She started to tear up, even though she told herself that under no circumstances would she do so. But when he pulled out that ring, she just couldn’t help it. Ashley said fuck it.

“Fuck it.”

“Ashley, will you marry me?”

She nodded immediately, falling into a happiness-induced silence the likes of which even Martin didn’t see coming. She proffered her finger to him. He slid the ring onto it.

SSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHHEEEEEEEEEEWWWWWWWWW

Colors Martin didn’t even know existed flew by at breakneck speed. The sounds of what people from the ‘70s thought space sounded like were all around. Synthesizers ascending in pitch, coupled with Pink Floyd-esque guitar work. And here were Martin and Ashley, locking hands in a desperate attempt to not be flung into the multi-colored, space-rock abyss.

A parallax gave way to a gilded nebula, stars whizzed by them and planets fell in and out of sight. They were travelling too damned fast.

The stars turned black, the inky darkness of space turned to a milky white. There was an ocean at their feet, which were in the sky. Nothing made sense and everything was kind of sort of completely weird.

An orb was fast approaching in the distance. Or rather, Martin and Ashley were fast approaching it. Within seconds it was upon them, a massive planet of purple and orange and green and landmasses that jutted out millions of miles into the atmosphere.

The newly-fianced couple entered the atmosphere at incomprehensible speed, their insides feeling as though they were a few miles back and trying to catch up. They landed in the milky sweetness of an alien ocean, warm as it basked in its fourteen suns.

A beam shot them out of the water and onto land, where they faced a creature who sat upon a throne, surrounded by his subjects. They all had the general appearance of a dog mixed with a chimpanzee if said combination had eight eyes. It was compellingly disturbing.

“I AM NIMROD, RULER OF THE SEEN AND UNSEEN DIMENSIONS OF THE ALL-CONTENTS. YOU WILL RETURN THE RING OF POWER YOU PILFERRED FROM ME AT ONCE.”

“…”

Ashley looked at Martin, judging whether he’d be ready to make a break for it or not.

“Hehehe… his name’s Nimrod.”

Nimrod ignored this dig, instead raising what appeared to be a wand, but which looked more like a cute squeaky toy that a puppy might play with. With a flick of the wand, Ashley’s ring came loose on her finger. It started to float away.

Martin was on it in a second, he snatched it out of the air before Nimrod could steal it away. As Martin clutched it in his hand, the ring gave off a jolt of electricity that knocked everyone in the vicinity on their asses.

The kingdom’s subjects raised their own wands, shot off spells at the young couple. It was all Martin could do to keep from getting killed, but he kept them all at bay with the magic of the ring.

He grabbed his lady tight and handed the ring back to her. In a flash she slipped it on her finger and pointed to the sky.

SSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHHEEEEEEEEEEWWWWWWWWW

It all flew past faster this time, the colors and Floydian sounds all one big, great blur.

And then they were there. Back by the water’s edge, hands unbelievably clammy as they remained tightly locked together. Martin turned to Ashley, still out of breath.

“I should’ve just gone to Zales or something, huh?”

“Meh. Wouldn’t have been as fun.”

Martin nodded his agreement. The couple walked off and went about the rest of their day.

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