A man sits alone in a cave.
His hair is long. His beard reaches his knees. He holds his chin in the cup of his hands.
He closes his eyes.
He is listening to something. Voices. Endless voices. They rise from a pool in the corner of the cave.
They are the voices of people on Earth.
They want one thing only.
Sarah Lemon is one of those voices.
A teenager in our day, she sprawls on a bed and studies a photo on her cell phone: a good-looking boy with coffee-colored hair.
Tonight she will see him. Tonight at eight-thirty. She recites it excitedly--Eight-thirty, eight-thirty!--and she wonders what to wear. The black jeans? The sleeveless top? No. She hates her arms. Not the sleeveless.
"I need more time," she says.
Victor Delamonte is one of those voices.
A wealthy man in his mid-eighties, he sits in a doctor's office. His wife sits beside him. White paper covers an exam table.
The doctor speaks softly. "There's not much we can do," he says. Months of treatment have not worked. The tumors. The kidneys.
Victor's wife tries to speak, but the words catch. As if sharing the same larynx, Victor clears his throat.
"What Grace wants to ask is ... how much time do I have left?"
His words--and Sarah's words--drift up to the faraway cave, and the lonesome, bearded man sitting inside it. This man is Father Time.
You might think him a myth, a cartoon from a New Year's card--ancient, haggard, clutching an hourglass, older than anyone on the planet.
But Father Time is real. And, in truth, he cannot age. Beneath the unruly beard and cascading hair--signs of life, not death--his body is lean, his skin unwrinkled, immune to the very thing he lords over.
Once, before he angered God, he was just another man, fated to die when his days were done.
Now he has a different fate: Banished to this cave, he must listen to the world's every plea--for more minutes, more hours, more years, more time.
He has been here an eternity. He has given up hope. But a clock ticks for all of us, silently, somewhere. And one is ticking even for him.
Soon Father Time will be free.
To return to Earth.
And finish what he started
This is a story about the meaning of time
and it begins long ago, at the dawn of man's history, with a barefoot boy running up a hillside. Ahead of him is a barefoot girl. He is trying to catch her. This is often the way it is between girls and boys.
For these two, it is the way it will always be.
The boy's name is Dor. The girl is Alli.
At this age, they are nearly the same size, with high-pitched voices and thick, dark hair, their faces splashed with mud.
As Alli runs, she looks back at Dor and grins. What she feels are the first stirrings of love. She scoops a small rock and tosses it high in his direction.
"Dor!" she yells.
Dor, as he runs, is counting his breaths.
He is the first person on Earth to attempt this--counting, making numbers. He began by matching one finger to another, giving each pairing a sound and a value. Soon he was counting anything he could.
Dor is gentle, an obedient child, but his mind goes deeper than those around him. He is different.
And on this early page of man's story, one different child can change the world.
Which is why God is watching him.
"Dor!" Alli yells.
He looks up and smiles--he always smiles at Alli--and the stone falls at his feet. He cocks his head and forms a thought.
Alli throws it high. Dor counts his fingers, a sound for one, a sound for two--
He is tackled from behind by a third child, Nim, a boy much larger and stronger. Nim crows as he puts a knee in Dor's back.
"I am king!"
All three children laugh.
They resume their running.
Try to imagine a life without timekeeping.
You probably can't. You know the month, the year, the day of the week. There is a clock on your wall or the dashboard of your car. You have a schedule, a calendar, a time for dinner or a movie.
Yet all around you, timekeeping is ignored. Birds are not late. A dog does not check its watch. Deer do not fret over passing birthdays.
Man alone measures time.
Man alone chimes the hour.
And, because of this, man alone suffers a paralyzing fear that no other creature endures.
A fear of time running out.
Sarah Lemon fears time is running out.
She steps from the shower and calculates. Twenty minutes to blow-dry her hair, half hour for makeup, half hour to dress, fifteen minutes to get there. Eight-thirty, eight-thirty!
The bedroom door opens. Her mother, Lorraine.
Lorraine eyes the bed. She sees options laid out: two pairs of jeans, three T-shirts, a white sweater.
"Where are you going?"
"Are you meeting someone?"
"You look good in the white--"
Lorraine sighs. She lifts a wet towel from the floor and leaves.
Sarah returns to the mirror. She thinks about the boy. She pinches the fat around her waist. Ugh.
She is definitely not wearing the white.
Victor Delamonte fears time is running out.
He and Grace step from the elevator into their penthouse. "Give me your coat," Grace says. She hangs it in the closet.
It is quiet. Victor uses a cane to move down the hallway, past the large oil painting by a French master. His abdomen is throbbing. He should take a pill. He enters his study, filled with books and plaques and a huge mahogany desk.
Victor thinks about the doctor. There's not much we can do.What does that mean? Months? Weeks? Is this the end of him? This can't be the end of him.
He hears Grace's heels pacing on the tile floor. He hears her dial the phone. "Ruth, it's me," she says. Ruth, her sister.
Grace lowers her voice. "We just came from the doctor ..."
Alone in his chair, Victor does the math of his dwindling life. He feels a breath shoot from his chest, as if someone choked it out. His face contorts. His eyes moisten.
About the book:
The inventor of the world's first clock is punished for trying to measure God's greatest gift. He is banished to a cave for centuries and forced to listen to the voices of all who come after him seeking more days, more years. Eventually, with his soul nearly broken, Father Time is granted his freedom, along with a magical hourglass and a mission: a chance to redeem himself by teaching two earthly people the true meaning of time.
Excerpt from The Sandman
- E. T. A. Hoffmann
Excerpt from The Master and Margarita
- Mikhail Bulgakov