You crumple onto your bed, still in your clothes from the day.
It's stifling trying to breathe with your face pressed into the mattress but you don't want to move. ‘Who needs to breathe?’ you think, but you roll onto your back anyway.
The soft light of your room eases some of your tension but you still feel awful.
Today was terribly stressful; you've held it together for longer than you thought you could but now that you're home, you can feel yourself coming apart at the seams.
You swallow the lump growing in your throat, holding off the creeping anxiety and the worries clawing at the corners of your mind. 'Maybe reading will help,' you think, 'or sleeping.' At least it’ll put it off for awhile.
You reach for a book and open to the beginning, where a bookmark is placed, and you realize you instinctively picked one of your favorites. It’s a short book with not that many pictures but it’s an endearing read, and a reminder of the better parts of your childhood. You trace your fingers over the black lettering, skimming over the preface to the first chapter.
Your mind is partly occupied on the book in front of you as anxiety crawls into your thoughts. You try to focus on the book but your mind is scattered now, residual stress washing over you, and tears start to fall from your face. You wipe your eyes, swallowing a sob and you continue reading.
By the time your tears stop, it’s late into the evening.
Your eyes begin to slow their descent on the page and you pause, marking the page and letting your head rest on your pillow. Your eyes begin to close, tiredness pulling you into a soft warm slumber.
You open your eyes to a mottled field of colors. You wonder where you are for a second, sitting up even though the ground here is soft and welcoming and you kind of want to just curl up and go back to sleep. You look around at the field of grass and flowers you seem to be in as a few bees lazily pass by you.
It gives you a warm feeling in your chest and now that you think about it, this place is kind of familiar.
There’s a thought at the back of your mind that you can’t quite hear so you let it slip away from you, keeping your thoughts to the present to figure out where you are.
You get up slowly, unsure if your legs can carry you after such a long time sleeping but you have no trouble standing. There’s a path among the grass that turns into a winding path so you walk along, watching the moving scenery of large, shady trees and vibrant greens and wildflowers. There are colorful insects and large unfamiliar birds around you and you’re not quite sure if you’re awake anymore.
You reach a yard with clusters of pink petaled trees and there’s a castle that looks ancient with moss growing on its structure. As you walk closer to it, a shiver of something passes over you and you get the impression that this was once a regal castle.
You make your way to the archway, careful not to let your clothes catch on the cracks of its foundation as you follow the path.
The sun filters through the trees and through the partly open walls of the castle, creating a breathtaking display around you and you continue forward in awe, moving that much closer to the instinctive pull. It isn’t long before you reach the source of your curiosity, which turns out to be a large white room, glittering with spiderwebs.
Something magical tugs at you and you hesitantly step inside. The room is empty but in the center is a grandfather clock. It easily towers over you but it isn’t at all frightening.
You’re not sure why but you suddenly reach for the glass and the pendulum's case opens like a door, and you step inside.
You blink a few times and you are standing in a different place; a complex garden surrounded by dew dappled flowers and vine covered trellises. The sky is a deep shade of blue and the stars high above you remind you of projections in a planetarium. This looks like a different sky than the one back home.
You step carefully, trying your best to not crush any plants as you leave the garden. You come to a peculiarly short white fence.
"Whose garden is this, I wonder?"
You push the little door open easily, taking care in closing it before continuing. The pebbled path you’re on leads to the side of a large, dark castle. It would look threatening, you think, if it weren’t for the soft lighting and backdrop of stars. It should have been a stark contrast but it just looked all the more intriguing.
You take one last look at the garden behind you before stepping into the castle.
You blink. You’re standing in a dark castle. Besides the constant purr of machinery, it’s mostly quiet. It feels as if there’s a heartbeat through the foundation of the castle and it's surprisingly comforting. You’re lost in your thoughts when a little mechanical fellow appears from around a corner, a trail of smaller creatures following behind the first. Then he sees you and you both freeze, the little creature squawking in surprise.
"Hi- hello!" You smile. "Do you know where I am? I think I’m... a bit turned around."
Well it wasn’t completely untrue.
Some of the little machines squeak and bounce around, and the first one pipes up in a comical Germanic accent.
"Ah," he looks around almost frantically, "how did you get in here? Never mind, there’s no time! You must hide!"
All the little creatures run toward you, bumping into one another to crowd you against the nearest wall.
"What’s going on?" you whisper frantically and the first creature, the tallest one, shushes you. "He’ll hear you!" "Who will h-"
You all jump and squish further into the already small space. You’re suddenly aware of the ridiculous amount of hallways in this castle. This person could come from anywhere! You look down with wide eyes. "What if they catch us?" you ask but there is no answer because someone suddenly walks into view.
"Ah, there you are!" The person announces and then they pause, tilting their head at you. The person looks down at all of the shaking creatures around your legs and then the tallest one.
"Wilkins, what are you doing?"
The creatures loosen around your legs. "We were just, um..." The first creature begins, but he’s cut off before he can finish.
"And who is this?"
You swallow, smiling nervously. "Hi, um, I’m lost..."
"You’re lost? How did you...?" He rubs his forehead. "Ugh, never mind, just come with me." He gestures for you to follow. "And Wilkins, you’re needed in the Clock room."
You watch the little creatures file away down one of the adjacent halls as you follow the mysterious person.
He’s a couple feet ahead of you, and it’s a good thing too because his shoulder pads could probably take off your head. You realize just how dauntingly tall he is right then and you swallow, looking away when your face feels hot.
"You look like you’re not from here," he says and you’re not sure if he’s talking to himself so you stay quiet. He glances back at you a moment later.
"Oh, ah," you fumble to gather your words, "I’m not. At least I don’t think."
He nods. "Do you know where you are?"
"Not really," you admit, "although it does seem a bit familiar. There was a pull of magic of some sort, then I ended up here."
He hums in thought, turning a corner suddenly and you struggle to keep up to his pace.
You end up in a ginormous clockwork room and you stifle a loud gasp. A huge clock a story or two high takes up a portion of the room and it glows with sparks of blues and yellows. It’s very majestic You realize you must look silly so you compose yourself again, embarrassment tingeing your cheeks.
"Wilkins, how is the Clock?"
You see the familiar mechanical creature near the clock with a little clipboard. Aww. "Everything is as it should be, master."
"Good," he replies.
The other mechanical creatures are bustling around the clock and you see one oiling some of the gears.
He looks to you, gesturing with a hand. "Come follow me."
You should have known how big of a castle it was judging from its exterior but it didn’t sink in until you realized you’ve been walking for a solid amount of time.
"Forgive me for not asking before, but what is your name, little one?"
Your cheeks get a little red after a moment of thought. Little one? Was that an insult or... something else? "Um, it’s..." You hesitate to answer so he leans in, brow raising.
You say your name and he smiles kindly. "It is nice to meet you." Something about that makes you warm inside and you can’t help but smile.
"So, how did you manage to come here? It isn't exactly easy to enter my castle."
"Well, there was an abandoned castle and it had a grandfather clock inside one of the rooms. It drew me in... I think that's how I got here. It just opened."
"I need to talk to Mirana about that," he says, sighing. "Do you remember anything else before this?"
"I see. Ah!"
Ahead of you, you see a doorway. It has a wide door with hinges on both sides. He pulls on the handles and it opens - they were double doors, you realize - and your view overlook a beautiful landscape: a garden of roses and flowers with a short white picket fence. You smile to yourself.
He turns to you and holds out a hand.
You take his hand and he leads you down the steps, letting go once you’re on the pebbled path.
He bends over to push the little fence door open and the image strikes you as comical. You expected him to just step over the fence what with his large outfit and towering figure.
The garden is huge, just as all things in the castle are. There must be dozens, if not hundreds of variations of flowers here, all having their own intersecting walls or trellises dedicated to displaying their beauty. You make your way over to where he is, caught up admiring the walls of roses and vines on the backdrop of kaleidoscopic night sky.
Your eyes eventually lead to a hanging garden swing in a section with white roses, where he’s already waiting for you.
You both sit. The swing doesn’t leave much room, his knee almost touching yours.
"You say you don't remember anything before coming here. Do you have an idea of why you might have come?"
Your brow furrows. "I don't know." You look up and he watches you intently. "I can't recall where I was before this, but I think I was... crying..."
"Maybe you didn’t come here on accident," he says.
You glance up.
"Most things happen for a reason, so maybe...” His face becomes solemn. Suddenly he stands up. “This swing is ridiculous, it’s so small!”
You stand up too, trying not to laugh as you follow behind his brisk walk.
"We can talk as we walk," he says. He gestures for you to join his side and you do, with some difficulty (those shoulder pads are gonna kill someone someday).
"I believe you were distressed before you arrived," he begins. "Is it possible you came here as a subconscious call for help?"
"Maybe. But why here?"
Part of you wonders if you’re dreaming but this is all so real. It couldn’t be a dream, could it?
It would be one of the most peaceful dreams you had in such an unfamiliar place. It’s soothing and almost familiar in a distant, dreamy kind of way. Almost like you’ve read it in a book somewhere.
He glances at you then and you see his eyes are calm and so very blue.
"We will find out where you’re from. Relax for now. I can tell you’re stressed." He says and it surprises you. You smile politely and nod, wringing your hands together.
Something is still missing.
"Oh, I don’t know your name," you say suddenly. He looks at you pointedly.
"You haven’t guessed it yet? What with the big clock and everything? The gears?" He gestures to his head and you notice his tall regal hat is gone, exposing machinery hidden just behind his ears. He turns his head so you can see it better and you’re surprised you didn’t notice sooner.
"Oh," you say. "I don't know. Uh... Are you the Sandman?" He rolls his eyes. "Chronos? Big Ben? Father Time?" He raises a brow and smiles slowly at the last one.
Oh. "You’re Father Time, aren’t you?"
"That is one of my many names," he says, his smile proud. Your breath stops in your throat.
"Wait, you’re the time? Like all of space and time time?"
"Yes, I am," he says, glowing with confidence.
You look down, covering your mouth. "Oh my gosh..." You steady your hand on one of the walls, trying not to hyperventilate. How is this possible?
Didn’t Lewis Carroll mention Time in one of his books? As if Time was a person?
You blink, your vision starting to go fuzzy as if light is shining through your eyelids. A hand steadies you around your back and you look up at him.
"Are you okay?" he asks and you nod, swallowing.
"I think I’m..."
You open your eyes to sunlight spilling through the curtains. You lie awake, staring at the ceiling until your alarm clock goes off.