There was a man who was never quite still. He always seemed to be moving. His mind was moving too – at least as far as his body would let it move, but no further. He was always in a rush. There were so many things to do and so many things worry about doing, especially once he’d finished doing what he’d set out to do. But this man wasn’t insane, you see, because he always made sure he had things to do. In fact, he’d planned out his whole life with various tasks – meticulous tasks; tasks that could keep him occupied for hours on end with hours to spare once he’d had enough.
Sometimes he would get a strange feeling that made him want to stop, but he’d immediately put it out of his mind by starting a new task. “A fresh start!” That was his motto. He could always start again; reset the clock. Come to think of it, there was always a large clock in the hall that he passed on the way to his office where he worked. It was an old grandfather clock, regular and comforting to look at. It had a way of keeping his universe in check. As long as the clock kept running, all was well in the world.
One day this man was in the middle of a particularly complicated task which kept him busy for longer than usual. So long, in fact, that he started to get tired. He slumped in his chair, rubbed his eyes, and stretched out his arms, yawning widely. He knew he wasn’t the man he used to be – the man who could rush through complicated tasks like one ties their shoes. When he was young, people had admired him for his ability. Some even suggested he had a kind of genius for completing tasks.
But now that he was older, he was slowing down. This must have been the thought that kept coming back. He shrugged it off and went back to work. He told himself that he needed to be productive so he could be remembered – remembered like the pictures of famous faces that lined the hall by his office. He wanted to make a name for himself; create a legacy that others would remember for all time. And speaking of time, he realized that it was half past five – time for him to head home to complete more tasks in anticipation of all the important tasks he’d have to do the next day.
But on the way out of the office where he had predictably walked with a regular, hurried pace, something completely unpredictable happened: he stopped. The clock at the end of the hall had gone silent. It wasn’t moving. He couldn’t believe it. He opened his eyes in shock, staring at its frozen hands. It was like an old friend passing. What had once been so familiar and regular was now changed, and he felt changed by it. Suddenly the man became more aware of his surroundings: the beating of his heart; the racing of his thoughts; all the tasks that had come and gone.
He looked at the wall with its orderly pictures all in a row. These, too, seemed different now. Where he once saw the calm, serene faces of accomplishment, he now saw them for what they were: trapped faces. They stared out at him. He didn’t like the look of them. In fact, the closer he looked, the more uncomfortable these faces made him. Some of them seemed tired and worn; others seemed empty and unloved. He closed his eyes and tried to rid himself of their presence. He reminded himself of the important tasks he had to do, but somehow he couldn’t shake them. Their expressions had invaded his sense of order and comfort. They had broken his rhythm, just like the clock. He began to feel anxious and exposed.
A growing fear began to well up from somewhere within him. He suddenly felt the urge to run. He needed air. Only, his legs wouldn’t move. All he could do was stare as his growing fear turned to dread, for the pictures grew more distorted before his eyes. Their faces seemed more tortured, their eyes wild. He tried to move his feet again. Nothing. The pictures seemed to move closer somehow, their faces growing more vivid and frightening. They then began to laugh at him. It was a terrifying sort of laugh, empty and hollow. The man yelled at them to stop, but they only grew louder. The noise was deafening. He needed to escape.
Suddenly he found his legs. He could move again. He ran towards the door, but the door wouldn’t budge. Desperate, he looked around the room. The noise from the pictures was growing. His head was spinning. They were screaming at him now. “Shut up!” he shouted. Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw an open window. He wondered why he hadn’t seen it before but that didn’t matter. His ears now throbbed with pain. He knew this was his only chance. He made a mad dash across the hall and jumped straight through the opening.
The noise grew quiet. His mind grew quiet. His heartbeat slowed. Everything was dark. But when he tried to turn his head to see where he was, he noticed that he couldn’t. He could only look out on the hall he had so desperately fled, his eyes permanently fixed on the dull, faded wallpaper opposite the space he had jumped. He tried to yell for help but no sound came. Only now did he realize that this wasn’t a window at all. He was trapped. His frozen frozen face could only observe others as they predictably walked down the hall to what was once his office. They walked with a regular, hurried pace, passing by the picture of the man who was always quite still.