“Why so down, Alex?” I had slumped onto the ledge of a fountain spewing what looked like Blue Gatorade but smelled like dog poop.
“Oh, I don’t know, Cat. Family troubles, a serotonin imbalance. Or maybe it’s ‘cause I’m in fucking Hell.” I pulled at my hair, still hoping I would wake up from this nightmare.
“Well, if you didn’t kill yourself then—”
“That’s what I’ve been saying! I tripped off the cliff. I didn’t jump. I couldn’t jump. Look at me. I have too much anxiety to jump.” I picked at the thin skin around my nails, ripping what had already gone raw.
“Isn’t there someone else I can explain this to? Like, your boss? The Devil? Anyone?”
“Like I said before, you humans got it all wrong with your idea of Hell. You think aggravating you is my job? I do this because I want to. But, if you really want to make your case, I might have someone in mind.”
“Please, take me to them. I beg you.”
Cat shrugged, grabbed the nape of my neck, and forced me under water. I felt her claws digging into my skin as I thrashed desperately to break the surface. She was too strong. Despite looking like a 10-year-old, her grip was relentless. I tried to hold my breath but as the outer edges of my vision darkened, I surrendered to my fate. My lungs forced a sharp intake. I expected the water to burn, surge into my airways and kill me all over again. Instead, breathing felt almost natural. The water pulled and pushed against my lungs like a fresh mountain breeze. I had forgotten my struggle so much that I didn’t even realise I was fully submerged. Cat had disappeared. From what I remembered, the fountain was no more than two-feet deep and held no comparison to the vast, blue nothingness that surrounded me. Rather than the ocean, I felt like I was launched into deep space.
“Cat!” I tried to call but what came out were muted sounds and hundreds of bubbles sinking below me. I couldn’t tell up from down but apparently, the bubbles knew more than I did. I swam in their direction until light pierced the dark blues.
When I resurfaced, I found myself in a tall underground cavern lit by a candle that produced more light than it should have.
“Took you long enough,” Cat said stretched out on a large boulder. “I want you to meet my father, Time.”
I stared at a man sitting on a briefcase and looking no older than thirty. His short black hair was slicked away from this face. The man wore formal pumps and a dull grey suit. His tie was an endless void and if I listened hard enough, I could hear the low, hollow ticking of an eternity passing by until its slow but inevitable collapse. Oh, and he was roughly fifteen-feet-tall.
“You’re Time?” I asked in disbelief. He looked more like a depressed businessman than the fourth dimension.
“Father Time,” he insisted.
“Oh, so ‘Father is just a title. You’re not actually Cat’s dad?”
“Why do you think that?” Cat asked, sounding offended. “Is it because we don’t look alike? Sure, I don’t have his warm amber eyes, or his perfectly ironed suit, but he is very much my father.” She began to hiss. Fur pushed through her skin as her pupils flattened into slits.
“Hush, Cat,” Father Time said, grabbing her the way a mama cat would grab her kitten – with his mouth. He set her off to the side and began to scratch her head. “Yes, I am Father Time, as well as Cat’s father, Time,” He explained. “Why is it that you’re here. I’m a very busy person, you see.” I looked around the cave. It was empty save for the normal cave-like things – rocks and ABBA posters.
“If you could spare some, um, time,” I started. “I need your help.” I explained my case while Father Time nodded vaguely, ooo-ing when I told him I wasn’t supposed to be here, laughing when I said I fell off a cliff.
“So now you’re off to prove that you don’t belong here. I could help, sure. But first, you must help me with something.”
“Is it to get you out of this dog-shit smelling fountain?” I asked.
Obviously, Time didn’t pick up on the sarcasm because he looked me straight in the eye and stated, “Yes.” He had bent down quite a distance, his back curving like a snake. I stared back at the man. He didn’t move, unblinking, unbreathing. I started to sweat.
With a slight shift away from Ol’ Father Time, I prompted, “Go on…”
Without relaxing his gaze, Time began, “I have been around since the beginning of, well, you know, Time. I’ve seen the construction of the Great Pyramids of Alaska. I was there when Moses parted the Yangtze River. There’s an eternity that only I can tell you. I’m the wisest, most generous being. But people always seem to need more of me. I give and give – but lately, I’ve been hearing ominous whispers.”
“Oh, do tell, Father,” Cat yawned.
“They’re going to murder me,” he boomed. His shout reverberated against the cave walls. He repeated it over and over, edging closer and closer until I could feel the anxious humidity rising from his skin.
“Who?” I asked, trying to slip away.
“They! Them!” He gestured wildly around us. “It started at the turn of the century. More and more people wanting to kill me!”
“Hold up,” I interrupted. “You’re saying people are wanting to ‘kill time’?” I gestured exaggerated air quotes.
“Yes,” Time nodded vehemently. “They want to kill me. Which is why I must stow away in this putrid cavern. How dare they plot against me.”
“Can you even die?” I asked.
Time stopped to think. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “But I refuse to let them try.”
I turned to Cat, who was back on her boulder, for even the slightest hint of what to say to an immortal who takes word-play too seriously, but she just turned into a grey Scottish fold and started grooming herself.
“This is why I’m a dog person,” I mumbled to myself before facing Father Time. “It’s not what you think. People just say that when they’re bored.”
“Is that really a cause for murder?” he spluttered.
“Well, I hardly consider boredom a reasonable justification. You people must all be sociopaths nowadays!”
“You’re kidding right now, aren’t you?”
“Oh, is it psychopath? I always get the two mixed up.” I decided that if eternal life meant losing all my marbles then I rather die… Oh wait.
“Cat!” I shouted, startling the other two, for lack of a better word, “beings” in the cavern. My voice had magnified, kicking off the walls and causing some rocks on the ceiling, or whatever the cave-counterpart was called, to fall. Cat had stumbled off the boulder and into her human form, dodging the fallen debris. Father Time, on the other hand, wasn’t so lucky.
“Oh shit, you killed Time!” Cat said, running to her father’s side. She lifted his enormous wrist and pushed back the sleeve, revealing a forearm covered in watches. Some were high quality and others were those crappy ones kids get in cereal boxes. At first, I thought she was checking his pulse, but then I realised what she was actually doing.
“Are you stealing a watch?”
“It’s a Rolex,” she said as if that were grounds for robbing her unconscious father. She strapped it on as a belt and marveled at herself in the water’s reflection.
“You- You’re a cat thief!”
“When have I ever stolen a cat?”
“That’s not what I meant. Wait, never mind that. What about your dad? Is he okay?”
“Hm?” She was too busy admiring her new Cellini Moonphase. My dad had the same one, except it fit around his wrist, not his waist. “Oh, him?” she stuck her thumb at the giant. “He’s fine. Immortal, remember? We should be going.”
“Isn’t he supposed to help me?” I asked.
“Him? He can’t help you. No one listens to him around here.”
“Then why did you take me here?”
“No reason. Killing time, I suppose,” she shrugged while walking up to me – her claws extracting.