WHEN IT'S TIME, IT'S TIME, A story by Sammy Buck
It had been exactly 186 days, five hours, three minutes and two – now three – seconds since Draz had last cast a spell. The rumor in Fixian County among those predilected toward such pettiness was that Draz lost her spark. Literally. The indigo flame that once sourced her beneficent, magnificent and will-cost-you-more-than-a-cent power was snuffed out by the overwhelming storm that had lain waste to most of Fixian a long six months ago.
And now it was spring. The more resilient residents decided to rebuild. Their elbow grease worked its own magic without Draz’s mystical assistance, and today, the town finally re-emerged with stronger buildings and the bustle of shoppers along Pourdandt Road.
Draz, once spry but now wry, hesitated to rehang her shingle, for in doing so, she risked the label of charlatan bestowed by that sliver of Fixian populace prone to skepticism, often relatives of the aforementioned rumormongers. Sterbol, Draz’s apprentice – who for those 186 days never left Draz’s side – recently took it upon herself to paint a plank of wood, and beautifully emblazoned a M, A, G, and I. While finishing a serif on the C, the doorbell chimed.
“I remember that sound!” Sterbol, thrilled by the long-lost tone of the bing-bang-bing, instinctively darted to the door, attempting to conceal the wince often caused by her left knee.
“Wait!” Draz reached out her hand like a protective parent, but it was too late.
A weary woman, not familiar to Sterbol and Draz – though admittedly they had grown a skosh anti-social – stood at the door, a heavy box in hand. “I need a miracle,” begged Tomericus, the out-of-breath customer.
“I’m sorry, we’re not open yet –” Draz’s quiet but firm tone was then drowned out by Sterbol’s squee of “What can we do for you?” and a delayed “DEAR GOD, my knee.”
Tomericus, ignoring any mutter of protest Draz could muster, hoisted the box to a table and pulled out a wooden clock. Shaped from a log, it hinged open like a book. A silver pendulum tarnished from years of mere subsistence lay dormant on one side in an impractical, improbable companion to the face on the other side. There were the standard twelve numbers, in a typeface some may call Helvetica, and the standard arms whose mirrored downward directions resembled a frown.
“I’m not a clockmaker,” Draz shrugged. Sterbol poked her. “You’re oblivious to the obvious, D. It’s a magic clock.” Draz rolled her eyes.
Tomericus, her face as distressed as her clock’s, confirmed then added, “Today is the first day I could go to a clock maker in six months, and they couldn’t help me.” Sterbol inquired, “Did it stop when the storm hit?” Tomericus sighed, “The next day, when my father grew ill. If you can get the clock moving again, I believe my father will as well – he would love more than anything to see the town come alive.”
Draz saw the plea in Tomericus’s eyes and the hope in Sterbol’s.
CHOICE A – Oh cool. You believe in Draz! Here’s where we left off:
Draz gave in. “I’ll try. I can’t promise the result, but I will try.” Sterbol beamed with pride, for she had never lost faith in her mentor. Ever the optimist, she said, “And you don’t need the indigo flame anyway. Your magic is your inner fire.”
“It doesn’t matter the cost. I will pay anything.” Tomericus had always been thrifty, knowing to save for moments like this.
“Only if you get what you need. Down that hall is a door. Please walk toward it,” Draz instructed.
“Really???” Sterbol blurted. Tomericus took a breath and marched toward the opening of a dusty, vast hallway. Sterbol pulled Draz to her level. “Not cool, D. The only thing down the hall is the back door.”
Tomericus heard that. She whipped her head around with dagger eyes fired at Draz. “How dare you toy with me?!” As Tomericus reached to retrieve her previous cargo, she muttered. “I guess all the rumors about you were right.”
“Those Fixians will make up anything, won’t they? You need to move to the door so there’s room for the flame. I keep the flame in the top drawer of my cupboard.”
Sterbol perked up. “Wait, I thought the storm washed away your flame – ”
“Catch.” Draz tossed Sterbol a silver key.
“Care to explain?” Sterbol asked. “No,” Draz tossed off as easily as the key, “we have a clock to fix.”
Tomericus, desperate. placed the box back on the table. “Thank y –”
“Door,” Draz she indicated to Tomericus with a snap of her head. “Take a step back before you open the cupboard, Sterbol.”
Sterbol turned the key.
“Ke Arb Tre Ah,” whispered Draz.
Sterbol reached for the wooden drawer handle. It reminded her of her grandmother’s cupboard. Except her grandmother never kept a magic indigo flame in there, only hot cocoa. Sterbol wanted cocoa. Maybe some marshma -
“STERBOL!” Draz and Tomericus pierced the apprentice’s haze. Sterbol shook out of her reverie and struggled with the drawer.
Draz repeated her incantation: “Ke Arb Tre Ah.”
Nothing. Sterbol, putting weight on both feet despite her injury, pushed and pulled at the drawer.
Draz repeated her mantra: “Ke Arb Tre Ah.” But the drawer would not budge
CHOICE B: So you think Draz will say no? You’re right.
“No. I’m sorry. I can’t.”
“Well, that’s a load of – ” Sterbol was about to add a salient expletive, but shifted gears towards Tomericus. “I’ll do it. And free of charge.”
Sterbol leapt to her feet, then crumpled under the pressure. “Nope, I’m standing tall.” Tomericus and Draz connected in a duet of dubious glances.
Sterbol’s avuncular expression narrowed into a serious eye lock with Tomericus. You need help, I am here to help. I’m your last hope. At least that’s what Sterbol meant for her eyes to say, but to Tomericus, it was like staring at a caged hyena.
Luckily, Draz was fluent in Sterbol. “Let her,” Draz advised Sterbol. “I may’ve lost my spark, but she’s eager to find hers. Sterbol, you’ll need the spell book.”
Sterbol leapt up to high five both her mentor and her new client (Sterbol preferred that moniker to the all too customary “customer.”). The book was up a tall shelf.
“Let me get that for you,” Draz offered.
But Sterbol had already grabbed a step school, climbed, balanced on her bad leg, reached for the book, grabbed it, held it and made her way down to the ground with the agility of an athlete.
And then it hit her. Not any knee pain, mind you. It hit her that in her zeal to get the job done, she had stopped faking the injury that had healed three months and six days prior. Draz raised an eyebrow. “What about your knee?”
Sterbol’s shoulders, millimeter by millimeter, rose in the air in the longest shrug shrugged in Fixian County. “We’ll talk about it later. We have a clock to repair and a world to restart.”Draz stewed in confusion with a side order of betrayal, but Sterbol tore through pages.
Many, many pages.
Tomericus paced. “Look, maybe this was a bad idea.”
“Ke… Arb… Tre… Ah,” Sterbol muttered slowly while poring over the page numbered DCCLIX. Draz took a momentary diversion from her irritation with Sterbol to nod. Whether or not her intention was for Sterbol to take this as a sign of encouragement,
Suddenly, the top drawer of Drax’s cupboard began to shake, as if beckoning Sterbol. Sterbol knew of this drawer. It was the only one Draz kept locked.
“I need the key.”
Draz relented and pointed to the wall.
Tomericus had to ask: “What’s happening?”
Draz said: “She’s awakening the flame in the drawer.” “I have the key,” Sterbol avowed.
Ever the apt pupil, Sterbol asked her mentor before reaching the key into the hole, “Do I have what it takes?”
Choice C: Your curiosity is inspiring! What lies in store behind that door?
Before Draz could answer, a knock at the door startled all three of them. It was a deafening pound, followed by another, then all too soon again after another then soon again and sooner again and again and again. It sounded as if an ogre was beating down the door.
But Fixians didn’t have ogres. They had natural disasters.
“No!” Tomericus knew that sound.
“It can’t be! Not again!” Draz wailed.
“The clock!” Sterbol warned
The impact of the storm shook the room till it felt the floor was capsizing. And the clock was perilously headed down the sloped table toward the floor. Sterbol, injury be damned, leapt to catch it. Tomericus, with tears of gratitude, helped Sterbol find a safe place.
Yet nowhere felt safe. They tried another table, but it collapsed before they could arrive. They maneuvered to a corner, but the latest impact from the storm sent a beam crashing down to block their path. If Sterbol, Tomericus and clock had woven one centimeter to the left, they would all have perished.
Draz’s heart pounded as loud as the storm. Her flame, if only she could use her flame. “Ke Arb Tre Ah,” Draz mustered.
The crashed beam flew back up and reattached itself.
“Ke Arb Tre Ah,” Draz said more clearly.
The floor began to level out.
“Ke Arb Tre Ah,” Draz affirmed with a period.
The storm ended. Tomericus and Sterbol placed the clock on a table and sighed. Sterbol double checked the table’s sturdiness, kicking the legs with her bad leg. This detail was not lost on Draz.
The mentor instructed her apprentice. “Sterbol, can you hand me that silver key?” Sterbol glided to the wall and grabbed the key. She sauntered over to Draz. Handing over the key but not quite releasing it, she asked her. “Did you just stop that storm?” Draz took the key and headed to the cupboard on the side of the room. Sterbol, still confused, continued: “Draz, what’s in there?”
“My fire.” Draz turned the key. But nothing clicked.
Choice 1: Come on, drawer – Open!
The key clicked. A gentle breeze emanated from the cabinet. An indigo flame crested like a wave emanating from the drawer – perhaps it was stretching after a good night’s sleep (or a good twelve fortnights.)
“Ke Arb Tre Ah.” Draz and Sterbol both chanted now. Their eyes connected for a brief moment. Tomericus joined “Ke Arb Tre –” The flame combusted into a gust of wind that hurtled Tomericus’s body down the hall through the back door.
But she wasn’t outside on the street. She was covered in autumn leaves. “Hello? Anyone? Anyone there? Draz? Sterbol?” She tried to shake as many leaves off of her as possible so she could determine her location.
“Tomie?” A figure loomed into focus.
For months she hadn’t been able to shake the image of her catatonic father, but here he was, standing tall. And dashing in a three-piece suit. “Tomie?”
“Last I checked.” They both laughed. They ran to each other with open arms, but in the moment of embrace, they passed right by each other. Confused, they both looked at each other. Like a game of mirror, they each reached a hand for the other – but neither could touch or feel the other’s fingers.
“Guess I lost some weight,” Dad joked.
Tomericus moved her hand and offered him a spot on the ground “Sit with me, then?”
They sat in the leaves.
Dad asked what somehow felt like the obvious: “Soooooo, am I dead?”
“Last thing I remember is a big wind at Draz’s store. I haven’t felt a wind like that since… last autumn.”
“I like autumn. Always loved maple leaves,” Dad opined as he looked at his suit. He recalled how new it felt 186 days ago when he straightened his lapel that morning. He reached to straighten his lapel once again, but his hand went through his coat – and himself. He was transparent.
“Is it autumn?” Tomericus managed through her quivering lips. “Dad, for everyone it’s spring.”
“It can be for you too.”
“What about you, Dad?”
“Always liked maple leaves.” Dad stood up.
A red leaf blew past Tomericus’s face. The momentary flash of color passed by, leaving in its wake the view of the remainder of the leaves and only the land in front of her.
Then, all of a sudden, she was back in Draz’s store.
CHOICE 2: No dice, but the game ain’t over till it’s over
The drawer refused to open. The cupboard was now just another static fixture in the room.
“Maybe I put my fire somewhere else,” Draz lamented.
The clock’s pendulum swung to one side.
“Hey, did you see that!?” Sterbol’s eyes widened. We don’t need the fire for magic – we did this!” Thrilled, she darted to the clock.
Her eyes dropped when she saw it was the angle of the table that had caused merely a momentary shift of weight.
Tomericus, resigned, placed the clock upright on the table and lowered it into the box. The clock hit the bottom of the box with a thud. In a moment of curiosity, Tomericus banged the box to hear the thud again. There was something comforting about the impact. So she hit harder this time. And that comfort turned into a burning need to hear that ponderous noise again and again. With every thwack, she grunted. “Move! Move! Move, why won’t you move!?” With every slam, she felt every pelt of the storm in her heart.
The thumps were beginning to reverberate throughout the room. “You’re going to break it!” Sterbol warned.
“No more than it already is!” Tomericus continued to bang. The impact jostled Draz and Sterbol. And the drawer.
Draz and Sterbol were too consumed with Tomericus’s grief to notice the drawer was inching open. Tomericus was the first to see its contents.
The indigo flame. The one the Fixians thought the storm had snuffed. It emanated like a warm blanket unfolding itself and with a healing kindness enveloped Tomericus.
Wrapped inside, for a fleeting moment, she saw the face of her father. He wasn’t the sick man she had seen in her mind. He was healthy, vital, smiling. She stepped into the fire.
The two of them were surrounded by the light’s warmth. She reached her hand for his, but he had already raised it to wave goodbye.
“Wait,” Tomericus implored.
His visage disappeared. The flame softened like a pillow back into its drawer.
Tomericus, dazed, looked at the other two women. How much time had just passed? The spell must have caused, well, a spell.
Draz and Sterbol, whose palpable tension spread over the room, silently cleaned the detritus strewn about from the events of the day – thrown in with some cobwebs of the 185 days that had preceded it.
“You had a responsibility to the town,” Sterbol broke the ice.
“How many days have you been able to walk?”
“I wouldn’t exactly say days,” Sterbol sheepishly replied as she dusted the shelves.
“Hours?” Drax asked, sensing the answer would number well past 2000 hours.
“You were so sad when the storm hit, but you found some purpose in nursing me back. I didn’t want to take that away from you. I thought the storm snuffed your purpose when it flooded your fire.”
Draz formed her face into a rueful grin. “The storm flooded… me. The world shut down, I did too. I couldn’t bear to access my power, so I locked it away.”
Tomericus peered over to the table where the clock sat. It was intact, still its dormant self. She said, “But that changed when I walked in the door.”
“Yes,” Draz replied, “I had heard of an older man who fell ill and passed away the day after the storm.” “My father,” Tomericus admitted with a firm nod. Draz continued, “There’s no greater pain than loss. My paralysis didn’t matter anymore. If I could ease your suffering, you could rejoin the living.” Draz put her broom in the corner.
Sterbol threw her dusting rag at Draz. “You could have rejoined the living when the town reopened.” The plank of wood, with paint now dry, seemed to beckon from the table where it had lain all day.
“Not everyone in Fixian was ready to rebuild,” Tomericus offered while she proffered her payment to Draz. “That should cover it.”
Draz put her hands on Tomericus’s, gently patting her hand. “Keep it,” the sorceress told her, “the clock’s still broken.”
Draz pulled her hands away. Tomericus reassured her, “You made a repair.”
The plank of wood, proudly wearing the word “MAGIC” was now in Sterbol’s unsure hands. A second set of hands lay themselves on the sign. “I’ll help you hang it,” the mentor reassured her apprentice.
The three women headed toward the door. Something stopped Tomericus: she forgot her clock. She turned back. Draz turned her head, then Sterbol.
Did the second hand just move forward?