This is a short story about a young South-American boy who struggles with self-ownership in relationship to thought and time.
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an original short story by Joshua Brown
Hey, thanks for reading this short story, please remember that I am not a perfect person, nor do I expect you to be one. This short story explores identity, racism and existential crises. There are triggers within!
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The grandfather clock on the wall served as a constant reminder to enjoy each moment because time was unending. But it was, in some ways, debilitating. There was such a discrepancy between the imperative to get things done and access to anything that was actually mildly productive that it almost seemed like a cool shadow stood over you cast by a behemoth that you wanted to run away from but the moment you started running it would notice you and tear you limb from limb.
His short black hair was no match for the wind as his gangly legs lurched him from this desperate place of sadness into a world of uncertainty. He was fast enough, but God, it felt like the clock was right behind him.
He kept running out of the neighborhood and, as if he lived in some dystopian nightmare country of authoritarian repression, the moment he stepped foot into the shade of the yellowish, brownish molting trees, shots were fired.
Although it was autumn, there were no pedestrians in this corner of the city, and though there were many soldiers in the broader state, this was such a non-violent community that Jesus had no context for who or where the shots were coming from other than mildly in the direction he was headed.
Within a split second he dove down the embankment and hid among the gathered leaves, dusty and spidery as they were. Better to get bit by a spider than confront a gunman unarmed.
He lay perfectly still and a group of four teenagers walked past without noticing him, themselves seemingly oblivious to the gunshot that had just rang out. Their voices held no quiver, just nonsense and frivolity, a gaiety that now he envied.
The clock seemed to reach out beyond the mile he had distanced himself from it, the ticking hand seemingly sniffing out the leaf pile that he had melted into. But the fear was too much, he wasn’t going to take a chance without some reasonable certainty that that gunshot was not meant for him. The walls he had just exited surrounding the neighborhood seemed tempting enough to protect from any despots determined to keep him from escaping. Maybe the clock was in on it.
Hours must have passed, it was past sunset and though the sun’s rays still curved around and gave light to the clear blue sky, the dusk was quickly turning to dark. He had to take a chance.
He ran again.
There was a trail to the house with no clocks and there was a trail to the dragon’s lair. They were both the same trail, he was just in the middle at the crossroads between them. His instinct told him to go to the dragon’s lair, full of wealth and danger, but just as he was about to turn that direction, he heard a voice call out from the woods.
“Stranger! Come along with me! We have all manner of dragon stories and fanciful weapons! Come with us, our merry band could use a wetback like you! HAR!”
The man was, both genuine, and rude. But maybe, just maybe, Jesus rehearsed some old fable he had heard as a child in his head again: “safety in numbers”
And just like that, he disregarded the path and followed this merry band into the now dark woods.
Now, he had assumed from the old man’s summons, that the band believed in dragons, maybe even had experienced dragons before and had some stories to tell about untold wealth and riveting danger. But despite the introduction, just moments into the woods, the worshipful host had made a comment that made Jesus suspect that the old man didn’t actually believe in dragons.
And though they were in the woods, he did notice that they were walking parallel to the path, but away from the dragon’s lair.
“Ah ya! We are on a mission to sell some dragonwear! We need more wood coins or else that old landlord’ll take the very panties off our wives! Say, do ya got some wood coins to help out, chap?”
At this point, Jesus was too offended to take it anymore. With a prompt curse, he left the old man and his merry band to return to the trail, which to be fair, was only a stone’s throw away from where they had been anyways.
He walked back to the intersection of decision and because of the hour of the night, he made the decision hastily, to the dragon’s lair it was. Now the path was quiet, the night was dark, and the stars overhead made these peculiar shapes that he wondered what they meant. He began to think. And as he thought, clouds rolled in, and the lights cast by the trail’s sentinels sent shadows up his spine.
Shadows? Now his thought were muddled. Shivers. No, he was getting distracted. What did those stars mean, what were they telling him? Wait, there’s a table of food here. Why? The light is getting too bright for the hour of the night?
There was so much disassociation. And even he knew it.
There was indeed a table set at the side of the trail, and it indeed had much steaming, delicious, fragrant food on it. And indeed the sentinels guarding the trail were overpowered by a bright stadium lighting that had slowly faded on as the clouds had drifted in overhead.
Jesus once again, led by his memory, recited “God helps those who help themselves” and sat down to eat with the lovely lady that had prepared this meal for passersby. But no sooner had he sat down than he noticed the clouds had vanished and the stars were clearly visible once again. Hmm, well that’s peculiar.
The lovely lady was indeed lovely. She had ornate earrings dangling from the corners of her face, her eyes were a weepy sort of wide and there was certainly an enchanting element to her pure ebony smile. Jesus couldn’t put his finger on it but there was something about her that reminded him of a river, not just some creek or stream, but it almost seemed like a deep inevitability or a sure thing.
He felt a bit offended at her skin color, maybe it was just that old man that had called him a wetback earlier. Was rudeness transmissible?
He looked up at the stars with his mouth full of a tamale that, if he was really honest, was just kind of okay. But in contrast to the shadows cast by the sentinels and the deep confusion caused by the clouds, the tamales seemed great.
One moment and he remembered who he was and what his intent was, he set down the half eaten pork steak and bid a hasty adieu to the lovely nigger who had been so kind as to feed the travelers.
He felt a bit ashamed to have left her so quickly “love seeketh not her own” came to mind, but “be yourself” overpowered the table and drew him back to the trail to once again obtain the great wealth and overcome the great danger.
No sooner had he set sail once again, but the clouds rolled overhead. He stopped. The clouds disappeared. He started again. They came back.
His eyes darted to the side, suspicious of the pattern he had just started to notice.
The last sentinel was about a mile back, you could still see his light flickering through the leaves that were rustled by the soft autumnal winds. When he was standing still, he could see almost everything. The moon was not visible because he was in the woods, but clearly it was nearly a full moon, there was so much light. And as he gazed up, the stars almost seemed to point at eachother.
It occurred to him that, somewhere, there was a clock ticking.
And just as he began to think, a cadre of foxes all emerged from the treeline, most of them were silent, but a few on the edges were barking, almost, talking.
Jesus knelt down, these foxes seemed overtly friendly, and it only seemed natural to treat them as pets. Maybe he still smelled like pork steak. He smiled a toothy smile and tried to pet all of them at once, in total there were exactly 17. All adult foxes. And though he entertained them for a few moments, he at once stood up and began to quickly walk down the trail.
The foxes were piqued by this. They followed.
He continued on this path, there was no rubble or debris along the way, but annoyingly, just were the light of the sentinels stopped reaching, and among the shadows, roots had elbowed their way through the path causing disturbances that every once in a while tripped him. Nothing violent, but a stumble or two was annoying enough.
He continued as fast as he dared.
Then dawn began to break. You could tell at first because the birds started their awful cacophony. Sure in some absurdist way it was beautiful and natural but there was no meter, no resonance, no chordal structure. And as the sun broke the horizon, the sentinels blew out their lamps and turned back to stone for the day.
In the distance, mountains rose up, they were westerly, the way Jesus was heading. And the colors! Oh the colors of the fall! Wildfire colors fingered up the mountainside, although the sunrise did add to the dramatic nature of this wild landscape, the trees were what really pulled it off. Reds, oranges and dark purples gave reaching tendrils up into the underbrush of green which died off into the gray of the rock and the black of the shadows.
Five more miles before the alleged dragon’s lair!
Five more miles before adventure and love!
Five more miles before time mattered!
Jesus looked back at the trail he had traversed for over 30 miles over the night, somewhere in the deep brush, beneath the canopy, was a clock, ticking away. The foxes were not impressed by this turn of events and began to be distracted by a small creek that butted up against the trail just a few paces away.
One of the foxes brought a small whitish, speckled stone and dropped it at his feet.
He reached down and picked it up. Instinctually, Jesus reached inside his pocket to see if he had anything at all to give the fox in return for this token of affection. He pulled out, in surprise and horror, a black watch.
How had he forgotten?
Almost frozen in fear, he stared. And the ticking started again. This time, not audibly, but there, in his hand, vibrating, almost imperceptibly. And before he had time to think about this, the message he spoke to himself was “do it before your fear grows” and he pressed the button.
“The time is eight-oh-seven”
The fox turned his head slightly and if to shrug at the lack of reciprocity, wandered off to play with the other foxes. Jesus started, but then stopped immediately. He threw the watch back down the trail the way he came from and just stared at it for nearly two minutes. His brain ached from all of the wild gesticulations of thought that tried to cover up this process.
He took a few steps towards the watch, stopped, turned to look at the mountains and pages and pages of books and ideas came hurtling at once, unable to be stopped by this young man’s hands. He turned back towards the watch and the sun glinted off its face.
“The time is eight-oh-eight”
He shook his head. “waste not want not” he jogged over to the watch, picked it up and once again headed towards the mountains, this time with an extra determined mind to escape the clockers and the no-clockers. The watch would be his weapon and defense.
The foxes scurried to catch up once they noticed him headed off into the inclining landscape.
Through the trees ahead, you could see a building start to shimmer in the rising sun. It was oddly beautiful and well kept for such an out of the way location. There were no signs and as he drew closer, he noticed that the trail ended at the building.
That’s strange. I thought the path leads to the dragon’s lair.
There was glass doors at the end of the trail, beautiful ornate glass doors accented in white. And inside the glass you could see some people.
Guess I’ll go in.
He opened the door and there was laughter and gaiety of all sorts, it wasn’t crowded, but it wasn’t empty. There were small groups scattered here and there throughout what kind of resembled a multipurpose building. But this somehow was decorated to the hilt with all sorts of scales and feathers, big and small.
No one noticed Jesus.
Excuse me. Hello.
He butted his way into a conversation with a group of young women standing near the door.
Yes. Can you tell me what this place is?
The girls glared at him till he apologized for interrupting and backed away.
He went back outside the building and started looking around for a trail that went further up into the mountains. Surely this was just an interruption to the trail. This couldn’t be the end of the trail.
The foxes had busied themselves with some playground equipment adjacent to the building, Jesus felt very conflicted about what all this meant.
He looked up at the mountains. He pulled the watch out of his pocket.
“The time is ten-twenty-three.”
The foxes barked.
📅 Written August 27, 2023
📍 Written in Aurora, Colorado at my home.
Thanks for reading this short story. I hope you got as much reading it as I got writing it. God that's a boring phrase. Religion is a funny thing, it claims to know base reality and then denies the experiences of those it leads. Belief claims to be an noun but somehow morphs into verb.
If I were to tell you that there was some meaning to this story, I would be lying to you and myself. There is no meaning, there is only a word salad of ideas and philosophies congealed into something coherent enough to present to unwitting regurgitators as a "worldview."
Which, in my view, is the whole struggle Jesus has in the story. Every time he goes to think, he allows himself to be distracted and chooses to be a regurgitator of tropes, quips and previous generations of thinking. (allegedly)
I hope you check out some of my other writings.
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