I could still feel the hot embers burning my nose. I thought if I opened my eyes, I'd see what I'd been so afraid of. But as my clammy hands went to my sides to steady myself, they met with the cool familiar leather of my couch and pulled me back into myself. Blinking, I looked around. The hum of the air conditioner kicked on and made me jump. I hadn't realized how heavy the silence had been.
In the corner, married to shadow, stood the grandfather clock. It towered over me as I approached it. It was cold, smooth against my fingertips, its face eyeless yet staring as seconds became minutes, and minutes hours. The sharp angles of its frame, the once white face now yellowed with age, thrust me back to that day. The funeral. The will. The clock was the only thing he'd left me, a tired reminder of how time marches on. And time runs out. It runs out for everybody.
My hands shook as I pulled back the glass, exposed the face. I wanted to go back. Again the feeling rose in me to run. To run back. I placed my finger down, a roadblock for the ever-moving second hand. It ticked, ticked, then met my finger, stubborn and unmoving. I felt it fight against me; such a small pressure, such a feeble resistance. And that's how it was the last time we spoke, he and I. His body was tired, his spirit broken, his will to fight and live was waning. That's how it was when he told me about the clock and how it only moves one way, always one way. I remembered the light in his eyes, I remembered how fast it faded and how empty he seemed once it was gone. A shell.
Only one way, he'd said.
I heard small wheels inside the clock ache and strain, but I wouldn't relent. Instead, I pushed back. Time, the unyielding beast, was forced back, the minute hand rewinding second by second, hour by hour. It weighed too much. Time bore such a heavy load.
Then, without warning, the minute hand snapped.
I thought I'd won, but the gears shifted and the jagged black claw of the second hand pushed forward. Time could not be defeated. Time could not be stopped.
Though I had pushed back the hands, though the hour the clock boasted was wrong, time itself was a bigger monster, bigger even than that massive grandfather clock with its unforgiving face and empty heart. It was the true adversary, never to be conquered.