It’s almost daybreak and a busy man with a troubled mind is seated at home, finishing his office work and cursing time. A suburban lifestyle, a two bedroom flat with bland furnishings, office papers strewn all across the room and a mountaintop of files awaiting procession from the only inhabitant currently present. Mark Morgan, the family patriarch who is neck deep in work, just so he can go back to bed, wake up and repeat the whole process for another upcoming Sunday. Daylight savings is really going to mess up his routine.
If there’s one thing that’s eating up his mind is a less then pleasant call from his boss. The previous week was a complete train wreck and he knew he had to keep a better pace and performance to win their attention. Otherwise a termination letter would be on it’s way for his miserable life.
The walls are adorned with pictures of family members- some distant, some close, and some known and some never even met. Not that he ever had a passion for such decorations, but his better half is quite the communicative and loving type.
Back to the present, the phone has already rung a few times but the man in the adjacent room is almost unresponsive. Almost as if he were deaf, but put bluntly it’s probably because he thinks it’s just another family member calling to pester him for another hour or so. He has a laptop affixed to his eyes with his hands thumbing down an accounts book like some sort of a multitasking robot. The call ends it’s incessant ringing. Peace at last.
Mark looks at the time and out of the ordinary, the clock falls down to the ground with a thud. He breaks from his computer reflexes and gets up to put the clock back. Just then, again out of the ordinary, one of the poorly placed boxes on the wooden dusty shelf falls and lands to deliver a suppurating sore on Mark’s head. He falls and then takes a few moments to recollect himself. He gets up and takes the pack of cigarettes kept on his desk to smoke one.
His eyes catch the distant glare of picnic paraphernalia. The kids had been eager to spend some time with their Father but his promises just never yielded any truth or execution. The baskets and sporting material had a film of dust on them and made Mark feel slightly flushed, knowing that at some point he couldn’t stall or avert his time for them.
He heads to the kitchen half awake-half asleep from his menial routine to find a lighter. He kept timing himself throughout the entire walk just to know whether he was wasting his time or not.
Unable to find a lighter, he proceeds to the kitchen to find one, confused where he had kept his actual one. As he walks out of his room and passes by the living room with his hand on his head, there’s a knock on the door exactly five times. A frown spreads up on his face. Another person to deal with. He goes towards the door and opens it with contempt on his face.
“Alright, alright. I’m coming”. The door opens to a man standing outside. He is heavily built, dark, in the attire of a delivery man and a cap that makes his face almost non visible.
“Package for Mr. Morgan”, he says in a strange angelic voice.
“Who sent it?”, he asks. The man at the door doesn’t respond and points towards the parcel cover to reveal strip of paper with the words- “Well living and proper time use”, written on it.
“What’s this for?”, he asks again, curiosity mixed in with anger .
“It’s something from a past forgotten. Mr. Morgan”. the man replies.
“Do I owe you any tip or money?”, Mark asks the man, lowering his eyes to see what he looked like.
“Tip for me. No. But I’ve got one for you. Use your time wisely.”, the delivery man at the door replies.
Mark slams the door with a bang, estranged with the words he had just heard. He keeps the parcel on the table to find a lighter in the kitchen.
At first he decides to return to his work and get a good sleep but just then for some strange fascination, he unwraps the parcel and uncovers a rumpled book inside along with a lighter.
He takes out the lighter with a confused face wondering why someone would send him that. But he felt happy to find one at last.
He felt some strange attraction to the contents inside even though he knew nothing about what he was going to find.
The same title on the book had been printed as he had seen on the parcel. He took a look at it for a second, and kept it back on the table. But in a second’s flash he picks it up because something had caught his eye. At the bottom of the cover, he saw his name with surprise.
He began thumbing through the pages . It was all there, from his birth, to his first steps, all his actions and experiences past, present and future written in exact detail. There were exact dates and time listed for every such experience and action. It sent a shiver down his spine to even consider looking at the final page of the book.
Mark’s hands went quickly over the pages and realizes that the final few pages were blank with just straight black lines. He could make no sense of it.
He ran to the door to call back the delivery man but he was gone. As he closed the door a second time and turned back a voice whispers, “Use your time wisely, Mr. Morgan”
He looks back and sees a strange faceless angelic apparition with tattered clothes, before his eyes. He goes blank for a few minutes and falls to the floor with fear and surprise.
“I hope you could make sense of the details inside”, the apparition says.
“What, what is the meaning of all this? And who are you?”, Mark asks feverishly.
“ Me. You humans have a word for me, Sandman I believe. And yes that book is just an idea of how limited your time is. You were my hope of regaining my faith in humanity. You were a good man once, but something changed you. Circumstances, perhaps. But as I have said, your time is up.”, the apparition replied with a gusty tone of pain and anger.
“But but why. Have I not still a lot more to live for. I have a family to support and look after. Oh please, please I can change. I can be a better person.”
“If so you do truly love them as you say you do, then why do you choose to waste your time by distancing from what truly is life. The smoking, the neglect for your family, the general apathy for all around you. Bring it to an end. Otherwise you’ll be stuck in this perpetual loop forever”, the apparition said mockingly.
“What loop?”, Mark asks.
Has it never occurred to you that the calendar always shows the same date? It was a test, you see, to see how you would cherish your moments, but you squander them. I’ve placed you into this never ending gauntlet to see when you would come to your senses and quit. But instead you choose to spend your time slogging away and never even meeting your loved ones.”
It suddenly hit him that he was living the same day over and over again. Mark had been stuck in an invariant loop. His family never arrives back home. He just went to bed every night without as so much as even asking his family how their day was. And every morning he would wake up to do the same.
“But how long is this going to go on. This has to end at some point right?”, Mark asks.
“Don’t you see. This was a test of your time and how you were supposed to live life as you wished to, human. But now since you seem so interested to know, let me show you”. The apparition moved it’s hands magically and the book expanded in volume right before his eyes. “Read it”, it said ,“And see all that the tragedies that befall on your family because of your bitter nature.”
Page by page, Mark reads all the chapters and quivered at the horrifying things that are to happen to him and his family. He begins to weep madly.
The apparition then flails his hands around and revealed figments of Mark’s dreams and desires.
“You too once dreamed of becoming a writer, or even a singer. Took lessons in the keyboard and guitar. Now you leave them to rot in the storeroom. And all those promises you made about being their for your children’s stage plays and football games. And the hollow promises you made to your parents after you admitted them to a retirement home. Did you not convince them that you would meet them everyday or week? Why, human, why”?
“I, I guess I never had the time “, Mark replies bluntly with his head held low and tears in his eyes.
“TIME TIME, you speak of. Have I not given you enough already? And yet you wasted away all that with your indulgence in procrastination and office work. What about that, human? I guess I should just take time away then. You seem to have the capacity to find excuses for your crimes but you argue that you shouldn’t pay for them”, the apparition shouted.
“No. No. Please. I understand that I’ve been a foolish man who is fit to be called a wastrel, but please don’t let any wrong befall on my family because of my absence. I beg of you”, Mark fell to the ground crying even harder.
The apparition spoke up, “I see there still is some humanity left in you. Stand now and take a look at the book. You have ruined the words because of what you’ve done. The final pages are yet blank. Pray that you do not ruin them as well.”
The apparition makes Mark read the book nevertheless, giving him a grizzly picture of what was going to happen to his family after he was gone.
Mark reads for over months and months, but the date on the calendar still remained the same. When the book ends he falls to the angel’s feet and pleads for mercy. The angel looks at him with a cold set of deprecating eyes and then kneels to whisper into his ears the following words:-
“Yesterday is dead. Tomorrow is yet to be born. Today is alive. Do not let it die in vain.”
The room suddenly starts to fill up with sand that submerges Mark completely and he loses consciousness. When he wakes up, he finds himself back on his bed sweating profusely from what he had been through. Must have been a nightmare he thinks to himself. He looks around.
“The date has changed”, he rejoices. He wakes his sleeping family up and hugs all of them tightly.
“Why Mark”, his wife was surprised to see his new found love, “What has gotten into you all of a sudden?”
“Life”, he replies.
The kids too rejoice, “Daddy seems so happy now, are you going to take us to that vacation like you promised?”
“Yes, and call up Grandma and Grandpa, they’ll be coming along too.”
His wife was amazed at his newfound love . And as she saw him discarding the cigarette pack he had so solemnly loved, she went to the door to get the newspaper only to find a package.
“Honey, there’s a package here with your name on it”
“What’s inside?”, he asks frightened.
“An hourglass”, she replies.