The Hour Before Midnight...


The Hour Before Midnight...

Charlie watched quietly as other drivers tried to squeeze their cars through the slow moving traffic ahead of him. He didn't even bother to hit the gas pedal anymore. His thoughts were far away.

In a few more minutes the year would come to an end. And what a year it had been. It had begun with so much promise; a dream job, the perfect wife.. All had seemed so rosy.

Then suddenly it had all went downhill. He couldn't say why, or just exactly how, but it had. All Charlie knew was that he had no wish to re-live any of it. He wasn't the type who believed in resolutions, but right now he couldn't wait for the hour to hit twelve and for a different year to begin. Maybe something would change...

"You're an idiot, a fool!"

"Are you learning to drive mister? Take this pile of junk off the road!"

Charlie heard all the yelling, he heard all the hands that pounded on the bonnet of the car. He didn't budge. Instead he took his hands off the wheel and fiddled with the pocket watch that lay on his laps. It was the only gift he got this holiday that he valued, and it had come from a total stranger.

He stared distantly at the portable ticking device, as he recalled the smile of the old lady back at the train station. She had radiated a sort of warmth he couldn't resist, and she had hit a note with the words she spoke.

"The world we know may end.." she had said, placing the watch in his open hand. "..but we can always shape the one which begins.."

The sudden sound of bells and fireworks snapped him out of his reverie. It was 12.00 AM, the new year. But it didn't matter. Charlie's eyes were fixed on what was happening ahead of him. A dark thick mist was fast approaching, swallowing everything in its wake.

He watched as large swathes of the road - with all the vehicles and people - disappeared into the limbo of this strange monstrosity. And it was coming towards him, and coming fast. His mind raced; should he offer a silent prayer? Should he scream? Should he attempt to run?

But in his panic he did nothing. Instead, as the dark mist touched upon the bumper of his car, Charlie squeezed the pocket watch he held in his hand. And blacked out...


All of a sudden the weather felt warm again. Charlie smiled sheepishly back at the old lady without knowing why. It was odd, he was literally close to being at rock bottom, yet he couldn't help himself.

"Holidays are for love.." she said.

He nodded, he didn't know what to say in response.

"We may lose everything, but we never lose our ability to love."

She paused, and Charlie felt obliged to give her something, anything. He searched his pockets and found a few notes. He placed them in the small bowl she held. Then he turned to go. A fragile hand on his arm stopped him, and he turned to find her handing a small object to him.

"The world we know may end.." she said, placing the object in his open hand. "..but we can always shape the one which begins.."

He smiled at her again, and walked away. Ten minutes later in the comfort of his car, he looked at the object. It was a small pocket watch. The time read 11:15 PM. It would soon be midnight, and the new year.

The thought of a new year reminded him again of the events of the current one. He focused on the road ahead of him, he didn't want to think about it anymore. A new year was coming, a different year. The cars ahead slowed down, and Charlie slowly applied the brakes.

He sighed. He didn't want to think, and this traffic ahead of him would certainly make him think. He settled back into the seat, and made a mental note to fight off any depressing thoughts. But somehow, he felt he wouldn't succeed.

Somehow he knew, because he seemed to have lived through each of these moments before.

Time slowly passed... And Charlie did fall back into those depressing thoughts...

"You're an idiot, a fool!"

"Are you learning to drive mister? Take this pile of junk off the road!"

More than half an hour later, and filled with panic, Charlie watched as the dark mist approached swallowing all in its wake. At the very last moment, just before he was enveloped by the mysterious limbo, Charlie realized what all of this was about. And he squeezed the pocket watch in his hand...


He smiled at her, but this time she didn't smile back. Still, he walked directly towards her, determined to find the answers he sought. She was fast for an old lady, but Charlie was not to be denied. He ran and soon caught up with her.

She turned, and he noticed she had more wrinkles on her face than before. He ignored them.

"You spoke about the end of the world we know, how can I stop it?"

She stared long at him. She didn't utter a word.

"Please, everyone would die. You have to help me stop it."

The old lady didn't budge. She simply stared at him. Charlie searched through his pockets for something, then he remembered.

"The watch, the pocket watch. You gave it to me, it brings me back."

Then she smiled, a cold smile that shook the very core of Charlie's bones. And her next words stunned him.

"You can't stop the Apocalypse, no one can. But you can live this hour over and over and over. Until I'm too weak to bring you back."

Charlie bowed his head as all of a sudden he realized. She was the gift, the old lady was the gift. The more he used her the more she got wrinkled and weaker. The Apocalypse could not be stopped, but he had a number of one hour lives left to live. And those hours he could shape.

He opened his palm. The pocket watch stared back at him. It read 11:15 PM. He lifted his head, the old lady was gone...



Written for @mctiller's Twenty Four Hour Short Story Contest and @calluna's Tell A Story To Me Contest

I hope the new year brings you happiness, love, and peace profound.


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