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Welcome to Clockburn

A Killer Strikes in the only City Where Time Still Moves

By Bradley RamseyPublished 4 months ago Updated 4 months ago 16 min read
Image: Anton Melekh via Unsplash

As far as we knew, Clockburn was the only place on Earth where time still moved, thanks to the Fates. Those three women kept the cosmic gears turning, and together, their influence kept everything moving within the city’s borders.

It was a city where time was always on your mind, like an itch you could never scratch. In Clockburn, the Fates decide how long you live, chalking it up to something about population control. It's all based on what you bring to the table.

The grunts get to live long lives because they’re useful. The rich barely get forty years. I'm a detective for CPD, so I've got another twenty-eight years on my clock. It’s all backward from what you’d expect, but time makes fools of us all.

I took a long drag from my cigarette as I stood on the edge of Clockburn's border. Beyond the six-foot fence, the world was perfectly still, trapped in a solid color that looked like the air had rusted. The people who weren't lucky enough to cross the path of the Fates were still out there, frozen in that moment for all eternity.

My wife, Darla, and my daughter, Maxine, were mere feet from me. Paralyzed like insects in amber, fossilized for all to see. My wife wore a white dress, welcoming our daughter back from school. Maxine was running toward her when time stopped, her arms outstretched and her face painted with a wide grin.

I was working late that day. I should be in there, trapped in time with them. At least then, we'd be together. The phone in my coat pocket buzzed like an unwelcome guest. I plucked it out and answered as I stamped my cigarette on the ground below.

"This is Pierce."

"Detective Pierce, we need you to come to the corner of Baxter and Franklin. We're in the alley."

"What've we got, rookie?" I asked.

"A murder, sir."

My blood ran cold. Murders weren't common in Clockburn.

"Give me twenty minutes," I said.

"See you soon, sir."

I hung up the phone and slid it back into my coat. Billions of people around the world are trapped in a single moment, and some asshole decided to take what time someone had left.

"I love you both," I said, staring into that amber prison.

I arrived at the crime scene and saw the rookie I had spoken to standing outside the alley. He was stopping onlookers from trying to catch a peek. I shut the car off and looked down at my arm before stepping into the alley.

Buried just beneath the skin was my Clock. I had twenty-eight years, six months, twelve days, and six hours left, assuming no one tried to cut it short.

The victim lay face down on the wet ground of the alleyway. Her gray hair was strewn across her back, thin and wiry. The first thing I did was check her clock, and to my surprise, it still had a good twenty years left on it. She looked old, older than most in Clockburn. The details weren't adding up.

"Do we have a name?" I asked.

The rookie nodded. "Savannah Baxter, according to the records, she's supposed to be in her mid-fifties."

I flipped the woman over carefully. Her face was worn and wrinkled like it had seen far more years beyond what her Clock implied.

I looked up at the rookie. "Does she look like she was in her mid-fifties to you?"

The rookie shook his head. "No, sir."

I looked her over from head to toe. She wore a silk blouse, a knee-length black skirt, and high heels. She was someone with money, which made her relative age all the stranger. Rich folks don't live this long.

Besides her clothes being dirty from the dingy street below, there was nothing to indicate a cause of death.

"Let's get the body to the coroner. Need to figure out the cause of death. I'm not seeing anything obvious here," I said, standing up.

"Of course, I will keep you updated, sir."

"Anything else at the scene?" I asked.

"Nothing, sir. We did manage to get some footage from one of the local cameras, though."

The rookie pulled out his phone and showed me some grainy footage from outside the alley. A guy in a suit with a white mask carried the victim's body over his shoulder. He turned down the alley and emerged moments later without her. The footage stopped there.

"So he dumps the body and walks away like nothing happened?"

"Based on his uniform, he works at the Palace," the rookie added.

He was right; the only people in the city who wore suits and white masks worked for the Fates. Seeing them carrying a body was nothing new; they were responsible for disposing of people when their time was up—nothing but garbage men in suits.

"Looks like I'm heading to the Palace then."

The rookie nodded. I took one last look at Ms. Baxter before returning to my car.

The Palace was the most extravagant and highly guarded building in the city. It had a domed roof and gold trimming, with an iron fence around the perimeter, and was manned by armed guards all day and night.

The guards approached slowly. I put down the window as one of them leaned down to glance inside. I flashed my badge.

"Detective Pierce, need to speak with the Fates."

"Nobody speaks with the Fates," the guard replied.

"Got a murder on our hands. Saw one of your own at the crime scene."

"So? We pick up bodies every day."

I shook my head. "This one wasn't picking up. They dropped it and ran."

The guard stood up and exchanged glances with the other two masked men listening. He pointed to the gate and waved me through. Parking my car and walking to the front entrance, you'd think I had died and gone to heaven. This place was pristine compared to the rotting corpse of a city beyond its walls.

I stepped through the ornate front doors and into the main lobby. Men and women, all dressed in suits and adorning white masks, flowed past me without a word. The silence was eerie, nothing but footsteps echoing across concrete walls. As I walked to the front desk, one of the masked figures stepped out and stopped me.

"Detective Pierce? Right this way, please."

I had no reason not to trust him, so I followed as he led me through the crowd toward a set of double doors in the back of the main lobby. He swiped a card, and the lock clicked open. We stepped into a long hallway lit by sterile lights.

The man moved briskly, taking tight turns like he had somewhere to be.

"Is this the way to the Fates?" I asked.

The man stopped next to a metal door with a keypad. He inputted a long string of numbers and pulled the door open.

"Go inside," he said.

"What the fuck is going on here?" I asked.

He brandished a pistol, waving the barrel towards the open doorway.

"Inside. Now."

I walked into the dark room. He pushed the barrel of the gun into my back and nudged me forward, shutting the door behind him. He flipped a switch, and the lights above us flickered before illuminating the expansive room.

Lining either side of the room were metal gurneys. There must have been at least a hundred, all sporting black body bags that had been carefully zipped shut.

"This is where people go when their Clocks run out," the man said.

"Yeah, no shit, asshole. I know how Clockburn works."

"Do you?" he asked.

He walked in front of me and approached one of the gurneys. He plucked the clipboard mounted to the front of it and handed it to me. It had a name, age, and other basic information about the person.

Brian Macwood was given forty-two years, six months, two weeks, and nine days for his lifetime. According to the paperwork, it looked like his clock had run out just a few days ago. He was a manager at one of the local food banks.

"Okay, looks normal to me," I said.

The man gripped the zipper on the body bag and pulled it open with a low metallic growl. The man inside was far from forty-two. His golden skin was wrinkled and saggy. His eyelids were heavy like he'd seen too much.

"Does this man look forty-two to you?" the man asked.

"Alright, you've got my attention. What's the connection?"

The man took off his mask. He was young underneath, with dirty blonde hair and bright green eyes.

"I'm the one who dumped the body in the alley."

The door behind us burst open with a clash and a reverberating echo. Footsteps approached from behind. I spun around as three more masked men approached, all brandishing their weapons.

"Listen, you need to arrest this guy; he's a murderer!” I shouted.

One of the masked men struck me with the butt of his pistol. I barely had the time to feel pain before everything went black.


When I came to, the first thing I felt was the throbbing in the side of my head where the guard's pistol had struck me.

"Turn on the lights," a voice commanded.

A blinding white light came from flickering neon bulbs above, casting aside any remaining mystery. To my right was the murderer, unmasked for all to see. Both of us were on our knees with our hands tied behind our backs.

In front of us were three unassuming chairs flanked by two heavily armed guards in white masks. One of the men plucked a two-way radio from his waist and pressed the button.

"Bring them in," he said.

My eyes shot to the left as a door swung open, and three individuals entered the room. They were dressed identically in immaculate, white hooded robes.

"You sit in the presence of the Fates. Conduct yourselves accordingly," the guard said.

"Listen, you have to hear me out; this is all a big misunderstanding," I said.

One of the Fates raised her hand to stop me. I knew better than to keep talking.

"We are aware of the situation, Detective Pierce. We wish to first hear from the pretender. The snake in our midst.”

"False gods, the lot of you!" the man beside me shouted.

The guards both readied their rifles. Another of the Fates motioned for them to lower their weapons.

"You gained access to one of the most secure spaces within the Palace. How?" she asked.

"I'm here to expose you! I know what you're doing here, and I’m here to stop it."

The Fates looked nervous for the first time since they entered the room. The one in the middle spoke for the first time since she'd entered the room. her voice was low and raspy compared to the others.

"You will show us respect, or you will be silenced!”

"You promise salvation, the gift of time, but I know the truth! You’re nothing but parasites, and this city is your host. You, in the middle, show me your face!"

I looked to the Fate in the middle. She tried to hide her face, but the light curled beneath her hood briefly, and I saw wrinkled, ashen skin beneath.

"My meddling interrupted your last meal, didn't it? Go on, tell him, or I will!”

The Fate in the center stood at her feet.

"Kill him now!" she screamed.

The guards both approached with their weapons raised. The man threw off his restraints with a single burst of strength, raising his hands to face both guards. The two men froze, their jaws agape as their eyes rolled back in their heads. Their bodies started convulsing violently as wisps of white smoke started to pour from their nostrils and open mouths.

The smoke flowed through the air, curling around the man's arms and soaking into his skin. I watched in horror as the two guards' faces started to shrivel, their eyes sunk into their skulls, and their hair faded to a pale gray. They aged rapidly until their skin clung to their bones like plastic wrap.

The guards collapsed, and the Fates fled from the room. The man stood to his feet and ripped the restraints from my wrists with ease. He extended his hand and helped me to my feet. My mind was still reeling from what I'd just witnessed.

"What the hell was that?" I asked.

“Any time we take beyond our normal lifespan is converted into raw power,”

"I don't understand."

"Those people you call the Fates? They're not as unique as they would have you believe. I'm one of them; the name's Rory."

I shook his hand, still in a daze.

"So, you stole what time she had left?" I asked.

Rory raised an eyebrow before shaking his head.

"Oh, you mean the girl in the alley? She was already on death's door when I found her. That Fate of yours had started draining here before I caused a distraction so I could take her body. I took what time she had left to put her out of her misery."

"You took what time she had left? What do you mean by that?" I asked.

"The Fates need to feed, or they’ll start aging rapidly. The more they use their power, the more they need to feed. It’s a toxic cycle, and their Loyalists are happy to cover things up, but I knew you'd follow the trail back to me."

Rory picked up one of the rifles and handed it to me. He took the other one and walked to the door.

"Just cover me; I promise I'll explain everything once we're out of here."

I nodded, tucking the butt of the rifle against my shoulder as Rory stepped out of the room and into a long hallway. I immediately spotted one of the Fates lying face down on the floor. Rory ran over to her and placed his hand against her back.

"She's almost out of time," he said. Light flashed beneath his palm like a lightning bolt, and a vibrant auburn color returned to the Fate's hair as she took a sharp breath.

"Help me get her up," he said.

Together we picked up the woman who had returned to her youth in seconds. Guards came barreling around the corner, but Rory was ready, placing the barrel of his rifle into the Fate's ribs.

"Try anything stupid, and she dies! My friend and I are leaving Clockburn. If you play by the rules, I'll leave her at the edge of town, and you can go back to living your sick lie. Put down your guns so I know we're on the same page."

The guards all lowered their weapons and placed them on the ground. Rory looked at me as he started retreating down the hall with the Fate in tow. I had no choice but to follow along. We exited the Palace with an entourage of guards in tow, keeping their distance like predators waiting for the chance to strike.

"We can take my car on one condition," I said.

"You're not in a position to negotiate, but go ahead," Rory replied.

"My wife and my daughter are trapped at the edge of town. If you're one of them, you can free them, right?”

Rory lowered his head. "I suppose it's the least I can do.”

We climbed into my car with Rory and Fate sitting in the back, still barely conscious and trapped in a haze. I looked in the rearview mirror and saw the black cars of the guards following behind.

"Start talking, Rory; just because you're helping me doesn't mean I trust you."

"I come from a city of people who possess the same power as your so-called Fates. When time broke, we discovered that we could restart it within our proximity and take or give it freely. We chose not to use the power and live as naturally as possible. Your Fates walk a much darker path."

My eyes wandered down to my Clock.

"They slapped clocks on us and made us think the time they gave us was a gift,” I said.

I saw Rory nod through the rear view mirror.

"You’re all just cattle being bred for slaughter. Those clocks don't end your life when your time is up. They sedate you so the Fates can devour what time you have left and sustain their existence. In return, time keeps flowing in the great city of Clockburn. It's nothing if not efficient."

We reached the edge of the city. I stopped the car and locked eyes with Rory.

"So, what's the plan then? Why me?"

"My people would never believe me if I told them about this place. I need proof.”

"Say I back up your story? Then what?"

"My people believe that anyone freed from their eternal prison should live out their lives without meddling from our power. They wish to preserve the sanctity of life. They will come here to free these people when they hear of this place and these Fates."

"And what if they don't want to be freed? Shouldn't they be allowed to choose?" I asked.

"I don't understand. This city, these Clocks in your skin. It's not free will; it's all an illusion," Rory replied.

"Maybe, but sometimes ignorance is bliss."

Rory nodded. "Alright, you have a deal."

We reached our destination. I climbed out of the car and watched Rory pull the Fate towards the city's edge. As the two approached the solid amber-colored air, it dissolved within their presence.

Rory raised his rifle and pointed it at the Fate's head. She swayed in place, her eyes blinking rapidly. The guards all poured out from their vehicles.

"The detective and I will be leaving now. Until we're safely away from the city, I'll have this rifle trained on her head. Try anything, and she dies. Don't test me; I'm a good shot."

The guards stood still and watched as Rory backed toward the fence on the edge of the Clockburn boundary. He reached behind him and tore a hole in the fence like it was paper.

“Go on, it's safe to pass through."

I stepped through the gate, watching as once still blades of grass started to sway as a crisp breeze escaped from the folds of time and crashed upon my skin. Rory backpedaled with his rifle trained on the Fate outside the fence.

My heart thundered as I watched his influence burrow through the air, bringing me closer to my wife and daughter. As time resumed around them, the first thing I heard was my daughter’s laughter, followed by the soothing tones of my wife's voice.

The sound came slow, like a vinyl record picking up speed. Her perfume wafted as the wind took hold of her hair. Darla picked up our daughter and turned to face me. Tears poured from my eyes as I saw their smiling faces.

"Look, Daddy's home!" Darla said.

Maxine waved. "Daddy! What happened to your hair? It's all white now.”

I saw concern growing in my wife's eyes.

"What's going on?" she asked.

I embraced them both, holding back sobs as I felt their arms curl around my shoulders.

"I love you both so much."

"This is a touching reunion, but we need to go!" Rory shouted.

I pulled back and looked my family in the eye.

"I need you to come with us. I promise I'll explain everything.."

Darla nodded. “Okay, let’s go.”

As we wandered further and further from Clockburn at Rory’s side, part of me wondered if there would ever be enough time to explain everything. I looked down at the clock illuminated in the skin beneath my arm, and somehow I knew it would be okay.

After all, I had all the time in the world.


About the Creator

Bradley Ramsey

Lover of dogs, gaming, and long walks on the beach. Content Marketing Manager by day, aspiring writer by night. Long time ghostwriter, finally stepping into the light. Alone, we cannot change this world, but we can create better ones.

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