New Year’s Eve

“Time to check the traps,” the old man said.

The boy lit the lamps and followed him through the door, toward the darkness of the liminal lands.

The old man turned back as they neared the edge. “Watch your step,” he said.

“You always say that,” the boy replied.

The old man chuckled.

They came to the moments first, small and struggling in the gossamer bonds. The old man held the lamps steady as the boy bend to unwind them. He first released a word unspoken, then a backwards glance. A sharp cry – whether in anger or pleasure was unclear – came last. Once freed, they trembled in the lamplight.

“Off you go, then,” the old man said, and one by one the moments slipped over the edge, to the hungry darkness beyond.

They found the hours next. The last hour of school in June, thick and syrupy in the lamplight. The witching hour between dusk and dark flowed over the edge like oil. The boy burned his fingers on the final hour of childbirth; the old man tsked but bandaged him with white linen.

They found the entire month of August caught there in the ropes, straining as it stretched toward oblivion.

“Gentle, now,” said the old man, pulling a silver knife from his belt. He sliced the ropes and August was off, leaping over the edge.

They heard the year before they saw it, a strained wheezing heave in the darkness. Then its tattered bulk loomed before them, panting and bleeding in the straps, smelling of rusted metal.

The old man hissed through his teeth. “This was a mean one.”

He looked to the boy and nodded in the lamplight. Together they cut the thick straps of the trap, touching the year as little as possible, minding where their feet fell. When their work was done, they stepped back.

“There you go, now,” the man said.

The year shifted, turned dark, hungry eyes on the old man.

“You’re done,” said the man. The silver of his blade gleamed in the lamplight. “Off you go.”

The year hissed and wheezed, shifting its grey mottled bulk toward the edge. It moved very slowly on its many legs, so slowly the boy felt it was hardly moving at all, and that he may spend the rest of his time standing there, on the edge of the darkness, the lamp trembling in his hand.

When the last of the year slumped over the edge the old man sighed and clapped the boy on his shoulder.

“Well, that’s that,” he said.

Together they turned toward home, where the pale light of the coming dawn had just begun to paint the horizon.

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