© James C. Clar
Brother Alphaeus sat at his desk in the cold scriptorium completely absorbed in his work. He was translating and copying the text of a treatise on time written by an Arab scholar a century ago. Preserving even the work of infidels was, after all, part of his sacred duty ad majorem Dei gloriam . Despite the numerous – and often pernicious – errors of such authors, there was still much that could be learned from heathen scientists, mathematicians and philosophers. If nothing else, the light of Truth shone even more brightly when compared to the shadow cast by such falsehood.
Not everyone in the monastery shared Alphaeus' opinion. Some argued that works such as the one which now occupied his time and attention should be suppressed, even destroyed. And, to be sure, the mad Arab's thesis was absurd. He argued that since God was eternal, time itself did not exist. Not only was our perception of time totally subjective, its very existence was little more than an illusion, an artifact of our corrupt nature and thus a symptom of our failure to submit totally to God's will. Alphaeus wasn't entirely sure what to make of the author's ideas but he was pleased that his abbot insisted that such books be preserved for those more learned to argue over and assess.
Although he admired both its expressive nature and the way the script flowed sinuously across the page, Arabic was not Brother Alphaeus' best language. Thus he was forced to work slowly, methodically and with utter concentration. Indeed, while Alphaeus worked – stopping only to stretch his cold and cramped fingers – much time passed. Emperors and popes vied for power. There were wars and rumors of war. Kings and potentates, learned men, heretical ideas and ingenuous inventions came and went in dizzying, complicated profusion. Through it all Alphaeus remained blissfully unaware as he filled page after page of splendid vellum making each ready for the illuminators who awaited the completion of his labors.
When, at last, he placed the last flourish on the last letter of the last page, Alphaeus laid down his quill and wiped his hands on the soft muslin cloth which he used to clean his instruments. Satisfied, he looked up from his work. Immediately he was confused and disoriented by what he saw. The old, familiar scriptorium had disappeared. Even his desk seemed to dissolve beneath him. The room in which he now, unaccountably, found himself had been altered radically. There was a desk, to be sure, as well as a large bed of curious design and even a few tables along with a number of very odd looking items which he assumed were chairs. But, in truth, he didn't even have a name for much else of what he now saw.
Most disturbing, however, was the fact that there were people in the room with him; though they didn't seem to notice him … either that or he was being studiously ignored. Before him were a young man and young woman in strange dress. The woman was sitting in front of a mirror – Alphaeus had once translated another Arabic text on the properties of mirrors – fixing her hair. In addition to being bewildered, the monk was now also embarrassed. Living as he did in a monastery, it was seldom indeed that he ever saw a woman let alone one engaged in such an intimate activity. He was certain that he was blushing.
All at once Alphaeus had an epiphany. He chuckled to himself as he realized that the author of the treatise on time was actually on to something after all. With that realization, the shade of the dutiful and meticulous monk faded into the mist of history. Not even his memory remained.
“Are you almost ready, honey?” Mark asked his wife as she sat putting the finishing touches on her hair. “We've got a twenty minute ride ahead of us and I'd like to get going before traffic on the M1 picks up.”
“All set,” Sarah responded as she rose from her dressing table. She grabbed her purse and joined her husband in the center of their bedroom. “Listen,” Sarah nearly ordered putting her index finger to her lips. “Do you hear that?”
“That's just it. That weird scratching noise … it's stopped.”
“Hey, you know, you're right” Mark responded with relief. He loved their new condo. An ancient complex of some sort had been purchased by a developer and turned into luxury town homes. Some of the old stone walls, feet thick in places, and even some of the original oaken doors remained adding character … not to mention jacking up the price. But ever since they moved in they'd been hearing a strange noise. At first they thought that it might be mice. An exterminator assured them that such was not the case. After a month or so, they simply gave up trying to pinpoint the origin of the sound and decided that it must be the labyrinthine network of pipes which fed the old steam radiators that adorned each room. Sarah and Mark both felt that even the eldritch noise added a certain charm, as well as an aura of mystery, to their home. They often joked that the scratching reminded them of the sound that's made when a pen or pencil moves across a thick creamy piece of expensive writing paper.
“You know, Sara. Someone in town told me recently that this used to be the site of an ancient monastery … holy men copying books, chanting psalms and all that. Well, maybe the old monks finally ran out of ink.”
Sarah laughed as the couple clicked off the lights and headed downstairs and out into the night. Mark wasn't really looking forward to the evening, but he knew how much it meant to Sarah. Even a couple of hours with her brother and his arrogant wife seemed like a lifetime to Mark. Time really was relative.
James C. Clar teaches and writes in the wilds of western New York. His work has been published in print as well as on the Internet. Recently he has placed short fiction in the Taj Mahal Review, Apollo's Lyre, Powder Burn Flash, 365 Tomorrows, Antipodean Sci-Fi, Noctober, Shine: The Journal of Flash, Static Movement, Everyday Weirdness and Flashshot. His story "Starbuck" was voted story of the year for 2008 by the editors of Long Story, Short.