A year is not 365 days long.
I woke up with a jolt. Held my breath and listened.
Tick. Tick. The new year’s fresh green seconds, pounding in time with my aching head. I breathed a sigh of relief.
As the memories flooded my brain, I wondered how many more times I could do this.
The night had started innocently enough. I had gone out around eleven. When they were drunk and jubilant, and did not look too closely at me, I could pass.
My heart started racing when the countdown began.
People think that New Year’s Eve is cause for celebration, a clean slate. One year ticking neatly into another. They are wrong.
It takes 27 extra seconds for the Earth to finish its dance around the sun. 27 seconds, unmeasured by any clock, between the old year and the new.
“…three, two, one…”
The very moment that everyone erupted around me, the crowd, the rooftop, all sounds fell away. And I could see it. The cage. It seemed tantalisingly close, door closed still. But I knew what that tick had meant.
With a roar and a violent clang, Time thrust open the unlocked door.
I ran towards him. And they came.
At first, they were slow and unsteady, unfamiliar with the feel of grass on their skin after a year in the void. But, far too quickly, they found their feet.
There was Julian, his eyes bulging with the righteous anger that had sustained him for the last 400 years. Since that fateful night when he had, for one never-ending second, let his guard down. I sidestepped him and punched him in the gut. This was not the night to take prisoners, except one.
Next came Panchanga, with his many limbs that seemed to be everywhere at once. It was only centuries of experience that allowed me to weave, duck, and hit at the right moment.
I got past Mayan and Bahá’í before I spotted Julian’s son. His technique was flawless, but he had no real-life experience. While he was executing a textbook karate manoeuvre, I kneed him in the groin.
And then, out of nowhere, there she was. Lunar.
I had agonized over the key. Last year, I had hung it around my neck, and had been nearly strangled in the chase. This time, I put it in my fist, hoping to hide it in plain sight.
Lunar was not fooled. I saw her eyes flicker to my fingers before her face split into that beautiful, heart-stopping smile. Her skin shone bronze in the dim light. She put her hand on mine, whispered in my ear…
I needed all my strength to leave her behind.
Time untamed was terrible to behold. His only weakness was that after a year in the cage, he had forgotten how to fight. I hurtled towards him, drew back my fist, and he remembered. The split second before the impact stretched into minutes, hours…
I groaned and turned over in my bed. There was something else, tugging at the back of my mind.
Eyes still closed, I took stock of my injuries. Bruises on my back where they had beaten me. Scratches and what felt like a broken rib where Time had mounted his last defence. But I felt worse than sore, shrunken somehow.
Another memory broke through. A hand softly closing over mine, prying my fingers apart. I had no strength left…
My eyes snapped open. There was Time back in the cage with his drums, but the room was all wrong. I had never been here before. There was someone next to me, and as I stared, she turned around. She smiled, and there, between Lunar’s perfect teeth, was the key.
The letterbox clattered, a soft thump. The last thing I saw before everything disappeared was the headline: “Government Adopts Lunar Calendar in Surprise Move.”
Image: https://unsplash.com/photos/YeVnuDHrUq0 (Photographer: Samule Sun)