The brown leather jacket landed atop the mini bar in a smooth, draped toss. The plasticky clatter of a hospital ID on its lanyard followed.
Toeing off his shoes, Dr. Oskar Andersson reached behind the marble countertop and snatched a clean glass along with the bottle of 12-year old Glenfiddich. He poured himself a double. The ER had been a zoo tonight. Full moons did it every time.
His eyes drifted closed as the first swallow of the whiskey’s oaked butterscotch notes spread its warmth.
Oskar rubbed the back of his sore neck, and grimaced at the whiff of his forearm.
You’d think he’d have gotten used to the chemical smells after all this time.
But the showers he took after changing out of his scrubs at the end of his shifts only ever succeeded in suffusing the smell of surgery antiseptic with that of the disinfectant they used in the staff showers. It was why the good doctor always took another shower when he got back to his condo. Not that he need fear any contagion or infection. No human disease could touch him. It was just that the astringent bouquet he ended up carrying home was an arrangement he could do without. Cloying as it was on his hair and skin, it unfortunately transferred to his regular clothes.
Which reminded him…
He pulled his phone from his back jean pocket and swiped to the bright yellow washing machine icon of the laundry service app. First Rinse™ was a name that had appealed to the temporal guardian of the First Hour when he’d been looking for a service. That, and the fact they operated 24/7. Just like he did.
According to the app, his clean and folded laundry was on its way and should be dropped off at his condo door in a few minutes. His favourite pair of lounging pants was in that load. Fine. He’d wait for it to arrive before taking his second shower.
The time read 00H35 on his phone. Oskar smiled.
At the wave of his hand, a gilt bronze hourglass materialized over the bar. His Clock.
The bulk of its crystal grains had returned to the top bulb with the changing of the day. It was exactly thirty-five minutes, seventeen…eighteen…nineteen…seconds and counting past midnight according to the falling granules. He still had time before his watch started in this Here and Now.
Oskar settled himself on the living room couch, propping his socked feet on the coffee table.
It was rare for him to be home at this time. More often than not, he was on duty at the hospital and his watch as the First Hour came and went without any conscious thought on his part.
Since time zones spanned the entire world, technically it was always his watch somewhere. But as a temporal guardian, as long as he held true to the zone he happened to be in —the Here and Now of his current moments— the passage of his watch and the days across the globe held true as well. It was the same for all the twenty-four Hours.
He took another swig of his whiskey, briefly lamenting the loss of that initial trail of heated oak. Why was the second swallow never as perfect as the first?
I’m becoming too set in my ways again. Maybe a change of careers would do me good in my next Here and Now. He gently rocked the bottom of his glass in his palm and stared at the swirling amber liquid catching the light.
Who was he kidding?
As an emergency room doctor, there was such a range of firsts for him to experience directly; first to examine, first to provide care, first to heal. Then there was that most powerful of firsts… first to call time of death, though this latter was sometimes offset by being the first to witness the birth of a new life in some rushed circumstances.
I wonder how Twenty-thi—
He frowned at the sudden tapping at his door. Odd. The laundry delivery service always left the bag outside. Was there a problem with his order?
Oskar eased his feet off the table then he paused, his frown deepening as he lifted his gaze to the door. What the…?
He sensed no human presence in the corridor beyond.
What was now a rapping grew sharper.
Setting down his drink, he padded over to the door and opened it.
The tinted reflection of his startled eyes gawked back at him as he stood there dumbfounded.
“M-my Lord? What are you doing here? Is something wron—”
A heavy thud to the floor was punctuated by the rattled clinking of bottles behind the mini bar.
Midnight stepped over the crumpled form of the First Hour, closing the condo door behind him. With his gloved hand, he gave a quick polish to the smudged raven head of his walking stick.
“No need to worry, First,” he said with a casual air as he tucked the cane back under his arm. “I’ve come to take over your watch.”
Midnight peered over the rim of his shaded lenses at the hourglass floating above the bar. Walking over to clasp it, Midnight smiled, sand and glass shards exploding in all directions when he smashed the hourglass hard upon the marble.
The bronze gilded frame twisted into a misshapen steaming blob which clattered to the tiled floor when Midnight let go of it. Pursing his lips, he casually wiped away some clinging grains of sand from his lapels.
“Let’s see. How shall I spend this time for myself? Any suggestions, First?”
There was no answer from the Hour who remained motionless on the floor.
“Mmm.” Midnight tapped the edge of the hospital ID he picked out from the sand on the counter, thumbing the leather jacket at the same time. He glanced thoughtfully back at the First Hour whose form now dissolved into mist and vanished.
Midnight strolled into the living room area where he spotted then reached for the unfinished glass of whiskey on the table.
“Cheers,” he exclaimed before downing it in one shot.
⇛ Next part: II – At the last minute
⇚ Previous part: Prologue – Once upon a midnight dreary…