THE TIME SELLER • by Alan Watkins

Monday 4:54pm

The door to the establishment named “It’s About Time” chimed its opening bell as Ray entered. He wasn’t really sure what he was doing there; he didn’t need a watch repaired, and he wasn’t looking for a grandfather clock. He was trying to win the struggle in his mind about his grandmother lying in a hospital bed dying on the same day that his wife had given birth to their son.

“It’s about time you came in,” said the proprietor behind the counter. Ray forced a chuckle at the remark as he took in the surroundings. The walls, as expected, were lined with clocks of different types. The strange part was that other than the clocks on the wall, the only other items in the place were a glass counter with a bunch of cheap watches inside and a stool for the shopkeeper. There was no ‘back room’, watch repairing equipment, or even a cash register. The shopkeeper didn’t have one of those contraptions on his head that made his eyes look huge either; in fact, he wore a lab coat like a doctor might wear.

“To tell the truth,” Ray said, “I’m not really sure why I’m here. I saw the store on the way back from the hospital and figured I’d stop in to get my mind off things. I really don’t need a watch or anything like that.”

“Well, that’s good,” the shopkeeper said, “because I don’t have any watches for sale anyway!”

Ray raised one eyebrow in disbelief. “But you’ve got a bunch of them in the case in front of you.”

“Oh yes, but those aren’t for sale,” the shopkeeper retorted. “You get one as a receipt with any purchase.”

“Purchase?” Ray asked. “If you don’t sell watches, what are you selling?”

“Like the sign says… it’s about time… I sell time,” the shopkeeper said.

“Time for what? What would I do with time?” Ray wondered.

The shopkeeper gave a smile that let Ray know he had been through this a thousand times. “Actually, most of the business I do is time bought as a gift for someone who is almost out,” he said.

“Like my grandmother?” Ray asked.

“Possibly… is she out of time?” the shopkeeper asked.

“You might say that. She’s being taken off life support tomorrow morning, and I’d love for her to be able to hold my son one time before passing on,” Ray said.

“Ah, there you have it!” the storekeeper said, sounding like a used car salesman, “Time would be the perfect gift for her!”

Ray’s logical nature kicked in. “So you’re saying I can buy more time for my grandmother? That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard! People actually pay you because they think you can prolong someone’s life?” Ray asked in disbelief.

“Well, generally the price is too high, but we also take payment in time as well… it takes two minutes of your time to give someone else one extra minute,” the shopkeeper said.

“This is all just so ridiculously unbelievable!” Ray exclaimed.

The shopkeeper took one of the watches from the glass case and started working its dials. “I tell you what,” he said, “Since you’re a new customer, I’ll give you a free sample… one free day. Put this watch on your grandmother’s wrist. If she lives to hold your son, and you ever want to talk about buying more time, come see me.”

Ray took the watch and looked at it. It read ‘24:00’. “This is crazy!” Ray laughed.

“Just think about the last image you have of your grandmother being her holding your son in her arms instead of whatever state she is in now. What do you have to lose?”

As the bell rang when Ray left, the storekeeper whispered to himself, “See you later…”


Wednesday 4:31pm

“Welcome back!” the shopkeeper said as Ray walked into the store with a distraught look.

“How did you know I’d be back?” Ray asked.

“You sell a good product, and people return!” the shopkeeper exclaimed.

Ray said, “All I know is that I put that watch you gave me on my grandmother’s wrist, and I got my wish of seeing her hold my newborn son before she died. I’m still not sure I believe any of this, but now my son has taken a turn for the worse, and they’re not sure he’s going to make it through the night.”

The shopkeeper had a look of sorrow on his face. “Oh, I’m sorry! But don’t worry; you can buy more time for him.” He handed a watch to Ray. “24 hours of time for 72 hours of yours.”

“72?” Ray asked. “What happened to 2 for 1?”

“Supply and demand… today it’s 3 for 1,” the shopkeeper explained.

“Whatever…” Ray sighed. “How exactly do I pay you?”

“Your account has already been deducted,” the shopkeeper said.

Ray looked puzzled, but accepted it, saying, “My account… okay.”

“See you tomorrow!” said the shopkeeper. Ray shot him a glance, trying to discern whether the shopkeeper’s tone was condescending or not.


2 weeks later

“Did you bring it?” the shopkeeper asked.

“Yeah, I got it!” Ray said, wincing in pain from the arthritis in his hands.

“5 years – that will get your son another month.”

Ray’s hand trembled as he handed his birth certificate to the shopkeeper. The shopkeeper tugged on it, but found Ray’s grip too tight. “Ray, we made a deal. It’s too late to back out now!”

Ray grunted and refused to let go.

“How about I give you 6 years instead of 5?” the shopkeeper offered.

Ray finally let go with an exasperated exhalation. “I wish I’d never set foot in this place!” he grumbled.

“Go enjoy the time you have left,” the shopkeeper said as he flipped the birth certificate over to reveal that it was now a death certificate. “I’ve got all the time in the world, but yours is running out! Tell your wife to stop by sometime!”

Alan Watkins is a software developer from Raleigh, NC. He enjoys telling stories. Most of his stories are told through film – he has made several short films that have been shown at various film festivals, but also enjoys telling his stories thorugh the written word. Most of his stories seem to have a horror element, but he swears that’s unintentional!

If you want to keep EDF around, Patreon is the answer.

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