Panic swelled in my chest and my throat, and then the world pulled down on me. Now, this was something to fear. What did this mean?
Probably nothing. The library meant nothing. The fish caused scombroid poisoning. These emails meant nothing.
“Don’t be so paranoid, Yemi,” I said out loud to myself.
My phone buzzed, and I jumped, and slowly picked it up as it might explode on contact. I sighed in relief when I saw it was Oliver. I felt like I hadn’t seen him all day. He and his bowels were still recovering from that recalled fish.
The stars are so beautiful tonight. Look at them with me.
I narrowed my eyes in confusion, but before I could think, a barrage of texts came through. The first came from Dad, then Mom, then Effie, and pretty much everyone in my contacts.
Don’t the stars look alive?
They shine so brightly.
Look outside, Yemi.
“What?” I spoke to myself in confusion.
What was going on? Why was everyone telling me to look at the stars? What did this all mean?
My mind tore back to the email and the note.
You are like a paper clip, my safe place, holding everything I have together. I don’t need to look at the stars when you are here with me. Tell me you love me, and I will let you in. Wear the gifts I have gotten for you. -T
The end is near. Don’t look up.
“I don’t need to look at the stars,” I repeated, mid-read. “Don’t look up.”
Oh, my gosh.
Oh, my gosh.
My phone buzzed sporadically with people telling me to look at the stars, telling me how pretty they were, and how the constellations were bright. The stars had entranced everyone. This wasn’t a regular day.
My eyes swung to my window which was still covered in those heavy blinds I mentally thanked Carmen for investing in. Something was very wrong. The blinds were still closed, but there was an unmistakable light blaring through them.
It looked so dangerous, so deadly, so serene. I stood up, creeping towards the curtains so I could see the celestial bodies that illuminated this golden glow. The sky was alive right now.
“No!” I yelled as I jerked back with force back onto the ground, falling.
That felt dangerous. So foreign.
Something was wrong.
I scanned my desk, and my eyes caught those expensive Ray Bans. Sunglasses! I could use them to cover my eyes.
I grabbed them and pushed them onto my face. They were dark, but I could still see everything. Hopefully, this would protect me. The note told the girl to wear the gifts.
The email told me to go to the library. All I did was find the pencil case.
All I did was find the note, sunglasses, and necklace.
And it said that I didn’t need to look up at the stars because they were enough.
I almost chuckled, but then a deep-rooted fear filled me. What was happening? What were the stars doing? Was I safe? Where would I even go? Where was a safe place?
Then an explosion reverberated through the air.
The sheer force of it all sent me off my desk and onto the hard carpet floors, with my face smashed onto it. A cloud of dusty and horrid air filled my senses like it was trying to suffocate me. Another blast shook the air, and a force pinned me to the ground.
I lay there.
A smaller force shook the ground, and my peering up barely, I found the door to our dorm room on the floor, revealing a hole in the wall, with dust raining out from it.
I’ve never been a runner. I’ve never been a runner. I’ve never been a runner. If I went to the Olympics, I’d probably be a towel bearer or fill up water bottles. Just anything but running.
But I ran for my life. I don’t remember standing up, but I must have, and my mind reconnected once I sprinted through the shaking hallways. My breath tied a knot in my lungs and adrenaline twisted through my veins painfully, but I ran, and I viewed the world in a hot, blurry, mess. I ran down the stairs of our level, past the main floor, already shaken up and bathed by golden light, before I made it onto the streets. I froze in my tracks almost like there’s a barrier in front of me.
What remained of Calgary were the crumbling and smoky buildings of the downtown skyline. The campus buildings were already burning with an otherworldly white fire. Nothing was hot. It felt cold and desolate.
I didn’t look up, but bright lights painted the sky so much that I couldn’t even see blue anymore. It was all just white light. The stars packed everyone in front of me like sardines, eyes all trained on the sky that poured a warm light on everything.
“Oliver!” I screamed, looking for my friend. “Ollie!”
Another blast shook the earth and hot white light seared everything in the way. Nobody scrambled or moved, except for myself. They all stayed stagnant, and I ran again. I turned back briefly to see a beam of white light blasting down on them.
A scream tore from my throat as I turned away, not wanting to see the aftermath.
But my eyes moved. There was no pile of bodies. Glowing yellow dust rose through the air in the place of bodies. It was like nobody had existed and simply just went.
What was happening?
I suddenly fell when I collided with something. Not something stagnant, but dynamic, like a body. When I blinked away my fear, the colour purple materialized in front of me, and then a girl in thick sunglasses.
It was Purple-Hair.
She grabbed me, and I grabbed her.
“You need to come with me,” she said with a panicky breath.
“What’s going on?” I screamed.
“I’ll explain later!” she shouted. “We need to find a safe place.”
The one described in the note.
I grabbed onto her hand and ducked and dived through the crowds who would be blasted with light. All turned into human dust. The world around me turned into a numb blur. I was dreaming. So vividly. Too vividly.
My mind went to Mom and Dad and Effie. Oh gosh, they were looking at the stars. Would it strike them down? Turn them into dust? Bile rose in my throat and spilled out while I ran. I grabbed my throat when I almost choked.
Purple-Hair gave me a grimace, but only for a second before she grabbed me anyway, and we ran through the bodies packed together on campus.
Those stars were bombs. They exploded.
Where was the safe place?
What was happening?
Suddenly, we stopped, and I doubled over again on the pavement before spilling everything out again. My nails bled and cracked with how hard I tried to grip the ground.
“Get up,” Purple-Hair, growing louder, before grabbing me. “Get up!”
I looked up again before finding myself in front of a tall sculpture. It was red and wiry and abstract. They called it the “paper clip” on campus. I didn’t know the actual name.
I almost chucked.
This meant something.
“Tell me you love me,” she said.
“But I don’t know you,” I defended.
“Tell me you love me,” she said through gritted teeth. “Or you’ll be dead in the next minute.”
“I love you!” I screamed.
The ground shook with a force that wasn’t an explosion, but a release of energy of some sort. It knocked me off my feet, and I collided with the pavement, looking through my sunglasses with dazed eyes.
I moved my fingers first, then my arms, neck, and legs. All working. The tangy taste of blood in my mouth was strong.
I slowly rose, feeling a violent ache move through my body, and then I saw it. A door formed in front of the sculpture. A simple wooden door like in a house. Only there was no house. It was just a door.
It was otherworldly, and it opened.
An old, wiry, east Asian man with thick glasses stood behind it.
“Can I come in?” I breathed in a hoarse voice, my throat feeling cracked.
“Are you one of us?” he asked.
I sighed. “What do you mean?”
“You will know,” he said. “You will show something to me.”
Purple-Hair pulled at something from her chest and showed it to the old man. It was the same necklace I had. The one in the shape of a clock. She went through and the door, and it closed. Then it opened again, and the old man looked at me.
He glanced back at me. “Show something to me.”
I dug through my pocket, looking for a large wad of money that may have made its place there. My hands instead grasped something copper and metallic. I took it out. It was the clock necklace. He smiled at me as his eyes widened.
“Come inside,” he said, moving his body away from the door. I barely rose to my knees before stumbling up onto my two feet and stepping into a room. It was dark, but then I took my glasses off, and it was only partially dark. Purple-Hair stood in the corner, looking unbothered like we hadn’t just run away from exploding stars.
There was a door behind a wooden table in the middle of the room with a coffee cup on it. The old man took a seat and then a sip. He smiled at me proudly even though I felt anything but pride. Fear heightened in me when the adrenaline wore off. The stench of vomit still reeked in the air, and I stepped back.
“Yemi,” the man said to me. I stepped back tentatively. Something still dazed my head from all that had happened. It almost didn’t feel real. My head wouldn’t acknowledge the fact that the stars had fallen from the sky. I couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened.
“Who are you?” I asked. “And how do you know my name?”
“You’ve met my granddaughter, Thea,” he began, nodding his chin at Purple-Hair. “My name is Sungjin. There has been an apocalypse. A meshing of timelines has caused the stars to explode and fall from the sky. This is partially my fault.”
I quirked an eyebrow up. “What do you mean?”
“My hareboji is a time traveller,” Thea spoke up for the first time. Her voice was calm, unlike the heightened and anxious voice I had heard earlier. “And so am I. We don’t come from this timeline.”
“I’m sorry,” I scoffed. “Did you just say time traveller? As in ‘travels through time?’”
“I’m surprised an English major would have trouble putting those words together,” Thea deadpanned before converting it into a smirk. “Just joking.”
“Yeah,” I hesitated.
My knees buckled, and I fell to the ground on all fours, heaving and trying to untie the knot of breath choking me. The adrenaline had worn off, and I was weak.
Thea knelt before me, holding a bottle of water that spawned out of nowhere. I wasn’t concerned about that. I practically snatched it out of her hands before removing the cap and dumping the water into my throat. I crushed the bottle into my hands to get more water, swallowing frantically, feeling the moisture coat my throat.
I finished the bottle within seconds, and although I was still tired, I felt slightly better. Sungjin just looked at me.
“I don’t blame you for being thirsty,” he said taking a sip of his coffee. “I understand your journey wasn’t easy.”
My eyes widened before I spluttered out a chuckle. “You think?”
“I’m not God, but I jump through time,” he sipped. “I see everything.”
I sighed. “How so?”
“My grandfather is the head of the Timekeeper Society,” Thea explained. “Some very intelligent individuals discovered the secret of time travel years ago and dedicated themselves to keeping the balance of all space and time.”
The explanation sounded like some commercial. A strange one.
“I come from the past. In every single timeline on the earth, there has been an apocalypse. Triggered by what, we don’t know. But the stars explode and take people with them. We have tried everything to fix it, but whatever it is, it’s destroying humanity every time,” Sungjin explained.
Sungjin let out a weak smile, but he lost it in the weathering mood of his face. All I could see now was a man who may have travelled throughout the very boundaries of time to save the earth just to fail every time. He held the weight of several worlds on his shoulders.
“What do I have to do with this?” I wondered.
“You’re the missing piece,” Sungjin announced. “We’ve been going through this exact sequence again and again, and it finally worked. We have someone. A survivor. An ally. Someone from this timeline to survive so that it’s not fully destroyed. I thought we would never have one.”
I thought back to the library and the books that had fallen, the numerous emails, the pencil case. All for this moment?
“Who’s been sending me the emails?” I asked.
“Guilty,” Thea smirked, raising a hand. “I’ve been sending the emails to you, but I sent them to as many people as I could. You were the only person who went through with the tasks. We’ve been trying to collect survivors before it even started, but we couldn’t be upfront. The apocalypse is still an unknown cause.”
“Did you write the note?” I asked. “T is for Thea?”
I felt special for a moment, but it also put me on edge. It felt unnerving to live in a world where the apocalypse was nearby.
Or was it?
“How do I know you’re not lying?” I asked.
“Walk outside and tell me what you see,” she deadpanned. “Everything that we’ve told you has worked, has it not? I’d say we’re your only option.”
“So now that I’m here, what should I do?” I asked.
“Do you want to join us?” Sungjin asked. “We can’t force you, but having you as a link to this timeline would help.”
I thought of Mom, Dad, Effie, Oliver, and Carmen, people I cared about who were all watching the stars. The thought of them being turned into dust sickened me, but I didn’t know how to help them.
I gulped. “I choose you.”
Thea and Sungjin both smiled.
“Thanks for reading the email,” Thea said. “Welcome to the Timekeeper Society.”
About the Author
Esosa Zuwa is an aspiring author hailing from Canada who writes fiction and poetry. Her work has been published in Grain of Salt Magazine and The Violet Hour Magazine. She is currently a contributor to the fanworks blog Fanficable and an editor for Sea Glass Literary. When not writing, you can find her gushing over fictional men written by women, fangirling over 20+ k-pop groups, having world tours in her living room, and attempting to navigate the turbulent but fascinating waters of teenage life. Like Issa Rae, she is rooting for everybody Black. You can visit her website: https://esosazuwa.carrd.co/# Twitter/TikTok: @esoszuwawrites