Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
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2:54

by James A. Andrew


It was 2:54 A.M. when Frederick Drake suddenly awoke. He glanced at the alarm clock on his night stand, sighed, and then noticed the empty glass next to it. It reminded him that he hadn't taken his pills before going to bed. Drake turned to his wife, Moira, and smiled. They had been married for forty years, and every day of those long years he had been as happy and in love as when he first met her.

Drake carefully slid out of bed so as not to wake his wife. He grabbed his glass and made for the kitchen. He wanted to get a bottle of sparkling water, one of the few joys his dietary physician allowed him, to help force down the array of pills he was supposed to take each night.

Slowly walking through the long hallway leading to the living room, he passed all the photographs that told a pictorial history of his life; his wedding day, his first day at work, his son, his grandson, and many others. Drake's eyes fell upon a photo of his own parents and suddenly felt a tinge of sadness. Although it was many years since their deaths, he thought of them often, and moments like this made him feel old, weak, and feeble. He shook his head slightly, willing the feeling away, and continued on.

Frederick entered the living room. This was his favorite room in the house; the neutral tones of the bare brick along the far wall gave it a warm and intimate feeling. He crossed the room to the brick wall and leaned against it. Heat emanated from the ducts behind, radiating through the brick and invigorating him. He closed his eyes, feeling at peace.

A scuffling noise from above awoke him from his reverie. Drake opened his eyes and looked up. He had to squint because an unexpected brightness dazzled him. When his eyes focused, he saw that where the wall should have met the ceiling there was open sky, the sun directly above him. There were people moving about atop the wall. A familiar voice called down to him, 'Don't just stand there, get up here!'

Drake looked around. His home was nowhere to be seen, having been replaced by a small lawn. Still in his bed clothes, he was standing inside a low walled fort. Drake saw a ladder nearby and climbed up atop the brick wall.

All along the wall he saw men and boys. As his eyes adjusted to the light, he saw that they were him; little Freddy in his t-ball uniform was loading a musket for Fred in his Prom tuxedo, F-Red, still wearing his massive DJ head phones, making sure his flint was seated properly in its dog head, Frederick in his work suit affixing a bayonet to his weapon. It was as if a Frederick Drake had stepped out from each of the memories he had, ready to do battle against an unknown opponent.

Drake looked about in astonishment. Everything looked so real to him, but he knew he must be dreaming. This scene was so beyond the scope of possibility that Drake could not but feel that he was in one of his own fevered nightmares.

A collective gasp came from the younger versions of him. Drake followed their eyes to the field beyond the fort. What he saw could only be described as an absence of light. Something was coming towards them, a black blot on an otherwise beautiful landscape. It came slowly at first, virtually floating across the verdant fields; quickly gathering speed, it covered miles in seconds, then in instants.

'Fire!' F-Red screamed. Hundreds of muskets belched smoke and flame at the being. Drake looked down at his hand, and where once was an empty glass was now a fine handled saber. Drake hefted it determinedly as the creature reached the foot of the glacis, unaffected by the bullets that were swallowed in its utter blackness.

In brazen defiance of gravity, the being floated away from the low incline of the glacis and up to the top of the wall. Drake quickly glanced aside, hoping to take comfort in numbers in the face of this nameless malice, but he was alone now. The Fredericks of days past were gone, replaced by this pulsating pit of shadow. In the oppressive silence, fear gripped Drake's heart as the thing edged closer. Drake dropped his saber, wincing as it shattered into thousands of shards of glass. His back against a parapet, Drake took a quick breath and jumped off the wall into the fort, just as a thin tendril of black groped for him.

He landed hard on his sofa. Once again he was back in his house. He chuckled softly to himself as he looked at the brick wall in his living room. He must have been sleepwalking. He stood up and brushed some dirt off the cuff of his pajama top, breathing heavily. He began to go towards the kitchen and the needed bottle of water when something caught his eye.

In each picture that recorded the history of his life, Drake saw that he had been replaced by pitch blackness, as if someone had spilled a bottle of ink over his image. As he stared at his pictures, dumbfounded, a slight hiss from the wall behind made him turn. As he watched the brick face, a sudden sinking feeling swept over his stomach. All along the wall, tendrils of darkness crept out of the mortar, like wisps of smoke instantly obscuring all behind them. The darkness spread throughout the living room like wisps of fog in a cold morning, instantly blotting out most of the room. Drake's only avenue of escape was up; he ran as quickly as his tired legs could take him up the stairs to the second floor. He glanced back and saw the formless horror right behind him. He ran past his son's old room and reached the end of the hall. Still forced upwards, he clambered up the ladder to the attic, fumbling at the lock. In an instant he was through, and he quickly slammed the trap door down.

Drake let out a breath he didn't realize he was holding. He looked around, desperately searching for an avenue of escape, but found none. Instead of seeing the boxes of clutter he'd accumulated throughout the years, he saw nothing. Frederick realized with a shock that he was floating in the vacuum of space. Breathtaking vistas presented themselves in all directions as Drake looked out to the limits of infinity with a mixture of wonder and fear. He knew this was impossible, of course, but the inherent beauty before his eyes allayed his disbelief. Clouds of gases and ice threw themselves at each other, in one moment creating the heavenly bodies and in another destroying them, heedless of time and space. Stars, galaxies, universes expanded from nothing and contracted to nothing in instants; aeons and nanoseconds lasted for mere moments.

Drake allowed himself to be swept along by the cosmic winds of space and time. Slowly, the varied colors of the heavens melded into a dazzling white. As Frederick watched, a darkness began to eat away at the edges of the infinite universe. In an instant that felt like ages, the colors ceased to exist, replaced by an impenetrable black Drake had begun to know too well. He frantically searched for a way to escape. As the amorphous darkness began to feel it's way unseeingly towards him, Drake noticed a small asteroid. He willed it to him, and the asteroid complied. Hoping to hide from the darkness, Drake threw himself into one of the asteroid's many craters.

He fell, landing in a crumpled heap at the base of the ladder to his attic. His head was swimming, and he took a moment to gather his wits. Drake stood up and stretched. He began to walk back to the stairs, hoping that if he laid back down in bed he'd wake up from this horrid nightmare. He took the steps two at a time, telling himself that when he awoke Moira would have breakfast and the paper waiting for him.

He entered the bedroom and closed the door. Moira was still asleep, looking as serenely beautiful as Frederick had ever seen her. He smiled to himself and stretched, noting that for the first time in many years his hip didn't hurt when he did so. A bright light was beginning to peek in through the large window in the eastern wall, adding a slight warmth to the abnormally cold room. He began to walk over to his bed, when a creak from behind made him pause.

The door to the bedroom began to buckle, and was suddenly ripped off its hinges, disappearing into utter darkness. Frederick stood there, mouth agape, as the formless evil poured through the doorway into the room. Thick cords of non-being reached out to Frederick, and he took a shuddering step back, feeling the warmth of the light on his back. As the tendrils groped and strained towards him, they contacted the light and instantly shattered. The darkness writhed and coiled about the room, then heaved itself up. Seeing it rear, Drake ran to the window. He threw his arm up to shield his eyes from the blinding light emanating from just outside. Frederick glanced behind and, just as the Darkness sprung at him, jumped through the window.

It was 2:54 A.M. when Moira Drake suddenly awoke. She quickly turned on the lamp on her nightstand and looked around the room. Her eyes were drawn to the large window in the eastern wall, its drapes fluttering slightly in a small breeze. She saw that it was clearly broken but was puzzled by the fact that there was no glass on the floor beneath it. Moira turned to wake her husband and screamed.

Frederick Drake was dead, his face twisted in an odd mixture of fear and defiance.

And then it was 2:55.

THE END


© 2010 James A. Andrew

Bio: James A. Andrew was born in Chicago, Illinois, and lives with his wife and son in nearby Naperville. He is an avid fan of Arsenal Football Club, and hopes to one day be able to afford to go to a match. He works in the insurance field, and in his free time enjoys war games and reading fantasy, sci fi, and history books.This is his third appearance in Aphelion; most recently, his story The Last Concerto was featured in the March 2010 edition.

E-mail: James A. Andrew

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