The Girl was always alone.
She always sat on the same park bench, reading a book, day after day, month after month, year after year. She was always there, but no one was ever there with her.
The Girl was always by herself wherever she went. She kept to herself at school, kept to herself in the orphanage, and kept her heart locked away from the world around her. Few had ever spoken to her, and even less cared to try.
The Girl was always there, but was never there.
The few times The Girl had ever spoken to anyone was when she asked for the time of day. It was peculiar. Even if a clock was in the vicinity, it was if The Girl made a point not to look at it.
The Girl had a certain aversion to clocks, you see. For The Girl, clocks did indeed show her the time, but it wasn’t the time most people see, it was The Girl’s Time.
It was the Time of her own Life.
It didn’t matter what kind of clock she gazed upon, be it digital, ancient, small, or large, they all showed the same thing. When she was a young child, the clocks showed the early morning. As time moved, so did the hands of the clocks, their ticks signaling the slow crawl towards Midnight.
The Girl knew that when the hands fell upon the number twelve of the Midnight hour, it would be The End.
The Girl always tried her best not to look at the clocks around her, lest they remind her of her shortening life. But try as she might, time ruled over the modern world with an iron fist, and she could never escape it.
She didn’t want to be consumed by the knowledge of her own inevitable march towards Death. She didn’t want to turn out like her Mother, withering away on the hospital bed, her eyes never leaving the clock hanging on that white, empty wall.
The Girl wanted to live, but she couldn’t. Not with the burden of her life echoing in the beating of the clocks.
And so The Girl was always alone, too afraid to live, but also too afraid to not. Just drifting through until she was fated to no longer exist.
Until one day-
“Can I sit here?”
It was a Stranger, another girl, and from the looks of it, the same age as well. She was gesturing to the other side of the park bench, her own book in hand.
The Girl, not wanting to be rude, replied with a quiet “Sure,” and went back to reading her own book.
They sat like that, until the sun started to set.
As the Stranger was getting up to leave, she turned to The Girl.
“That’s a good book.” She said.
“Yes,” The Girl replied, giving a small smile. “It is.”
From that day on, the Stranger would come often to The Girl’s bench. Their exchanges evolved from small talk, to real conversations.
Soon, The Girl realized the Stranger wasn’t a stranger. She was a real person, a… friend.
The Girl had never had a real friend before.
But Time is cruel and waits for no man, and took no mercy on The Girl’s first friendship.
The End was near. The Girl did not need to look at a clock to know that the Midnight of her Life was looming.
But The Girl continued on as always. She would meet her Friend in the park until she could no longer, desperate for the comfort of a Friend by her side.
And on the last day of her life, The Girl did exactly that, and went to go see her Friend one last time.
They sat next to each other in comfortable silence until, the Friend spoke.
“Hey,” she said, grabbing The Girl’s hand, “Let’s go somewhere.”
“Let’s go somewhere,” she repeated. “We’re always just sitting here. Let’s go somewhere.” The Friend was standing now, and tugging The Girl’s hand towards the entrance of the park.
The Girl hesitated.
“I… I don’t think I should.”
“Let’s go see the world! We need to live a little!”
“I-,” The Girl could feel the heavy ticking of her dying heart. “Is it okay for someone-”
She was crying now.
“-for someone like me to live?”
The Friend laughed and squeezed The Girl’s hand. “What are you saying? Of course it is!”
They were running now, past the gates of the park, and into the world.
The Friend kept tugging The Girl along, out of the dark and into the light, smiling and laughing the whole time.
The Girl felt herself laughing along.
How many years has it been since the last time she had laughed like this?
For the first time in years, The Girl’s heart felt light.
This is what it was like to live, The Girl realized. This is what had been missing from her Life.
“Over here!” the Friend called playfully from the other side of the street. She must have crossed while The Girl was deep in thought.
The Girl stepped out into the street, a smile blooming on her face. She had lived her whole Life conscious of the looming shadows of Time and Death, and had forgotten that she was still Alive.
The ticking of her heart was booming now, the hands of fate were stroking the edges of twelve, but The Girl’s heart was soaring above it all.
The Girl lifted her face to the sky as she crossed the street. The stars were so beautiful. How had she never noticed how beautiful they were?
The ticking of the world was screaming, Time and Love and Life and Death all mixing together in a steady symphony, but The Girl didn’t care.
The stars twinkled in her heart, and in them she saw the kind eyes of her Mother, and the steady warmth of her Friend, and the Past, the Present, and the Future, all flying free from the shackles of Time.
The ticking of the world was deafening and blinding now, but it didn’t matter.
The Girl was finally free.
And the ticking stopped.