"The Wristwatch" - Cole Meyer
The sound of the clock echoed through Clark’s brain. He checked his watch. Five past twelve. The wind blew through his hair as he stood facing the street from the alleyway. He had forgotten the way the breeze sent a tiny tingle down his back, like a thousand harmless insects crawling under his skin. He took a hesitant step towards the intersection. Immediately regretting this, he stepped back. He clenched his hands into fists quickly, three times, and released. He composed himself and tried again.
Clark checked his watch. Less than a minute had passed. Time moved at an awfully slow pace outside of the Rolling Meadows Mental Institute. He was used to the structured days. Consistent, methodical, independent of thought. Every second of every day planned. Eight a.m., wake up. Eight-fifteen, breakfast and medication. Eight-sixteen and a half, converse with Tim. Eight-thirty, group session begins. Break at ten. Twelve, group session ends. Twelve-fifteen, medication and lunch. His entire day dictated by the clock in the hall. But not today. Clark checked his watch.
Just before group session, he saw it: the exit door slightly ajar, a woodchip stuck at the bottom of the frame, keeping the bolt from locking. Performing a quick surveillance, Clark realized he alone noticed this potential exodus. Without a single thought, he leapt for the opportunity. The sunlight grazed his face like the hand of an old dear friend. Welcome home, it whispered to him with a familiar voice. Three hours and forty-two minutes later, Clark found himself in an alleyway facing the industrial cityscape. He battled the urge to turn back and fought against the fear to move forward. Frozen, he stood alone.
You worthless piece of shit. No one cares. You could disappear forever, and no one would notice. You’re just a fucking waste of space.
Tim’s voice crawled back into his brain. It was a quiet, infectious shouting that reverberated its way down his spine and into the soles of his tattered grey sneakers. It inhabited every fiber of his clothing; it soaked into every inch of his skin. Clark’s hands instinctively shot up to his ears as he shouted, “Shut up! Shut up! Shut the fuck up!” His heart raced. He staggered around the alley. His feet clumsily brushed over themselves as they dragged his body towards the fire-escape on the wall, to which his hands grasped firmly. Slowly, they pulled him up. Hand over hand, Clark climbed autonomously to the roof. The open space soothed him. In an instant, the scenery changed. The grey alleyway morphed into a snow-speckled mountain. The passing traffic became grazing sheep. Panting, Clark stood alone. Far from the sounds of the busy street; far from the corruption, and poverty, and social diseases; far from the silence of Rolling Meadows. Far from Tim. Far from anyone who had ever glanced into Clark’s eyes, into Clark’s file, into Clark’s mind. Clark checked his watch.
We’re never really alone, are we?
He whimpered and forced his eyes shut. Twelve-eighteen. His hand reached out as he tilted forward, groping for something solid. He brushed the rough bark of the evergreen to his left. The crutch teemed with life. He could feel its infinite pulsating force beneath the armor-like exterior. The breeze rustled his hair once again. He felt a sharp pinch on his hand; he opened his eyes to determine the source. A small brownish spider crawled between his fingers and back onto the tree. Its venom coursed through Clark’s veins. His skin began to swell beneath the bite. Clark’s thoughts wandered back to the comic books beneath his mattress at Rolling Meadows. The heroes were lost, without purpose; without purpose, at least, until something extraordinary happened.
This is it.
The scenery transformed again. The sky filled with hazy grey rainclouds; the mountain became a landmark. Clark’s clothes changed into spandex, and a brightly colored balloon emblazoned itself on his chest. With a gasp of impossibility, Clark’s universe became a frame in a comic book.
You have found purpose in your life, Clark. Finally, you have found your place.
Tim’s voice no longer scratched menacingly in Clark’s brain; in fact, it almost seemed calming, reassuring. A very personal sidekick. Each breath seemed easier; he took each step with confidence. The watercolor walls beamed brightly as he stared across his vast city. He was its protector. Desperately, it had cried for a hero, and he was finally there to answer the call.
Below him, a woman was being attacked. A masked man took a violent swing and knocked her against the wall. He cocked back for another blow.
This is your chance, Clark. Do not let this slip away.
Suddenly, he was not so sure.
Sweat began to drip down his face. He looked at his hands.
You have been given to the power to protect. Do not let it go to waste.
He watched the woman take the second hit. Oxygen suddenly seemed sparse. He gasped for air.
Jump. Inflate. Save her. Use the powers that you’ve been given. Your time is running out.
His chest tightened. He inched towards the edge.
The woman crumbled.
His palms clammy, he glanced down. Twelve stories and twenty-nine windows.
Clark leaped. His body inflated to three times its size as he aimed to land between the attacker and his victim. Laughter echoed through Clark’s brain as the wind rushed past his face and the sunlight whispered with a familiar voice for the final time. A smile stretched across his face for a blissfully ignorant moment of pure serenity. In a single instant, Clark’s realities collapsed. The buildings fell into the mountainside; the watercolor walls were destroyed by the iron city. The grazing sheep became the aggressive traffic that they always had been. The victim and her abuser melded into a young business woman smoking a cigarette. Clark’s peace lasted no longer than a single tick of his watch. Tim perished with Clark the instant he crushed the woman he was trying to save. Three deaths in one act of self-torture left only two bodies to be buried. Clark’s watch beeped. Twelve-thirty.
Cole is a sophomore at UW-Madison. He is majoring in English with a Creative Writing Focus, Computer Science, as well as getting a certificate in Classical Humanities. He is currently serving as the UW Flash Fiction Online Editor for the 2013-2014 school year. This is his first time being published with UW Flash Fiction.