The Winds, The Watch, and The Wasteland

This place has no name. It is no longer worthy of one. Most residents simply call it “the waste.” Those who are lucky enough to live elsewhere call it “the depleted zone” or “the gap.” Once, a bustling metropolis existed here, now there is nothing but sand and rock. Sand, rock, and wanderers.

This is how people live now. They wander desolately, raking their fingers through the ancient, grainy waste. Some folks are fortunate enough to gather merchandisable debris, while others are not. The holes and crevices in giant, orange, rocky spires, and timeworn canyon walls serve as makeshift homes. Inside these cavernous walls, little families of scavengers tell tales by candlelight. Stories of wanderers unearthing wonderful treasures of value beyond reckoning in the endless ocean of sand. These legends all end the same way; the lucky wanderer packs up their plunder and walks into the horizon, never to be seen in the decrepit wasteland again.

Ore and metals are of high value and are sold to the smelters to be melted, purified, and delivered to the only political body that still influences the desert wanderers: The Overhaulers. The Overhaulers promise that all metals and ore collected by the people and provided to the smelters will be used in the efforts to reassemble the foundations of the shining civilization of glass and metal spires that were lost long ago. Running water, housing, and enriched agricultural land were promised to the people of the desert by 2074. Although there has been no evidence of the construction of such amenities, the desert people remain latched onto the hope that The Overhaulers are working tirelessly to create a new home for humanity, somewhere vibrant and lush, perhaps hundreds of kilometers away.

Marcel, a wonderer, clambers between the cracked walls of his canyon home each dawn in search of bits and pieces of rubble. Whether he is successful or not, each evening he slips back into the confines of his dark, warm abode—much like a hermit crab retracts into its shell—hiding from the desolate unknowns of a sweltering, wind-whipped beach.

In all his years of combing through the rusty, desecrated wasteland, Marcel had never happened upon a find like this one.

In the past, he had been lucky to find bits of coal, even jagged green deposits of copper in the archaic, sun-soaked waste. His weekly pickings had usually been enough to sell to the smelters, enough to feed him well. Though many days, Marcel would trudge back to his grotto penniless. For many weeks, his stomach and wallet had remained empty. For many months, he had proved fortuneless.

Today must be different. Marcel thought to himself.

He felt an unfamiliar smoothness as he dragged his hands through the knee-deep dunes of the wasteland. Upon picking it up, he was blinded by its lustrousness under the heft of the evening sun; a perfectly round, glossy, and golden stone. Flipping it over in his hand, he found the face of an ancient clock. The piece’s condition was greater than pristine. It appeared to be completely untouched by time, and better yet, it continued to tick!

“Seven fifty-five.” He muttered.

Soon the sun would disappear behind the tallest dunes and spires in the distance and the heft of the stagnant, torrid air would give way to the frigid nightly winds that ruthlessly flog the dunes, sending walls of sand several stories high barreling across the desert at unbelievable speeds. The odds of surviving a night outside are exceedingly low, and even if one is lucky enough to live through to the morning, they are almost certain to be lost, desolate, and utterly alone in the endless, arid ocean.

It couldn’t possibly be that late already, thought Marcel, squinting his eyes to look at the horizon. Still, heartily tucking his prize into his pocket, he traveled home.

That night, as he lay in his cot, listening to the mighty desert winds rattling outside his cavern walls, Marcel dreamt of riches—he turned into an enormous vat that glowed with the golden grandeur of a thousand suns—enough coin to buy anything he wished. He wanted to dive in, to swim among the riches, to laugh merrily.

Marcel awoke, suddenly feeling restless. It would still be a few hours until dawn broke, but he was too excited about the prospect of selling his golden pocket watch to the smelters. He had never seen, let alone possessed, something of such beauty as this. He didn’t completely understand what the purpose of this device could be. Fishing around in his pocket, he pulled out his treasure for a brief glimpse. Marcel imagined all the tiny gears and pullies that must be inside this watch, making the hands move. He pictured a magical factory, somehow small enough to fit into the palm of his hand. This technology was beyond anything he had ever seen in his lifetime. Marcel had never even encountered a dwelling with running water before. Perhaps his parents or grandparents would remember the old days, when silver, shining cities covered the Earth.

As he ran his fingers along the watch’s smooth casing, he wondered why people would invest such technology and such riches into a timepiece. One could learn the time of day by simply looking up toward the sun. Marcel didn’t know much about the before-times, but he deduced that everyone was either extraordinarily wealthy or extraordinarily frivolous. Still, he couldn’t deny the simple pleasure of owning an item of such value. Even in the dark of the night, the watch shone with such astounding vigor that Marcel, distracted by its simple beauty, hadn’t even noticed that it had stopped ticking. Gingerly tucking the item into his pocket, Marcel gathered his satchel, a water skin, some cured meats, and dried fruits, and set off northerly, toward the smelter. What use The Overhaulers had for gold, he did not know, and as long as his stomach growled, Marcel did not care.

He trudged over dunes, climbed between rusty boulders, and clambered over short walls of dusty, red rock all morning, taking only a few short minutes to rest and eat as he passed through the shadows of a deep, long canyon, before carrying onwards. His feet, engulfed by the shifting sand, would typically feel unbelievably heavy as he pushed along on his journey. But today, Marcel seemed to float atop the surface of the sand, moving forward at an impressive pace. He felt empowered, nearly unstoppable, until the night approached. As he noticed the air shifting the sand below his feet, Marcel ducked into a nearby crack in a rock wall, and not a moment too soon, the winds had already sent the sand whipping every which way, shrouding his world in darkness. 

A cold gloom filled his small cavern, and Marcel reached for the golden watch tucked away in his pocket. Upon pulling it out, his desolate cave was filled with a warm, rich, golden light. Despite the howling winds and the tsunamis of sand beating the walls just outside of his camp, the golden light filled Marcel with self-assuredness and comfort. These feelings quickly dwindled as he realized that his perfect, timeless treasure had stopped ticking.

He frowned at the timepiece and gave it a gentle shake. The hands remained static. Marcel knew that the gold’s value would be all the same, though he could not shake a deep sense of disappointment.

By the glow of the watch, Marcel slept more soundly than he had in a very long time. He awoke refreshed, packed up his things, and set off once again, due north, toward the smelters. 

By mid-morning, the desert sands were peppered by the shifting shadows of tall, knobbly stocks of stone that shot up hundreds of feet into the sky. By the sun and the shadows, Marcel could navigate the vast expanses of land around him. He walked for hours, the whole time, thinking about his watch. He didn’t stop to eat or drink all day, despite the unyielding rays of sun beating down on the back of his neck. He felt no need to rest, it would be a waste of time. During a moment of clarity, Marcel recognized that the shadows of the spires had become longer, more ghostly. Night is approaching!

For the first time all day, Marcel turned away from his northward path to face the west, to catch a glimpse of the setting sun. The sun was mostly obscured behind the western horizon. Marcel only had a few minutes left to find shelter, but he stood still, frozen in place.

Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.

Marcel jammed his hand into his pocket to retrieve the watch. It’s ticking again, but how? He thought as he looked at the golden disk, grinning to himself. He imagined an abandoned factory, filled with cobwebs and rust, suddenly springing back to life in the palm of his hand. This thing, broken one moment and fixes itself the next? Is it… magic? A small part of him wanted to crack the clock open on a rock to get a glimpse of the mysteries that lay within. Every other part of him cringed at the idea of breaking something so perfect, so beautiful as this.He shuddered at the very thought. Just as suddenly as the ticking began, it stopped. Marcel’s heart fell as he looked at the hour hand stuck pointing at two o’clock.

After a few moments, Marcel tore his eyes away from the watch, his trance interrupted by the winds that began swirling around him. To the south, about 50 feet away, sat two boulders pressed against each other, with a tiny space in between. Grasping the watch in the palm of his hand, Marcel turned and ran toward this tiny oasis, his vision already partially obscured by the sand that filled the air.

As he ran, the wind began to howl fiercely, but one sound rang as clear as a bell through the cacophony: Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.

Marcel wedged himself into the safe space between the boulders and immediately turned his attention to the watch. Once again, it had abruptly stopped ticking. This time, the hour hand was stuck at five o’clock. Confused, curious, and utterly exhausted, he quickly fell asleep amidst the sounds of the winds crashing across the dunes.

When he awoke, dawn was already well behind him. Marcel reached for his pocket to look at the watch, only to realize that he had slept through the night with the watch clutched within his white-knuckled fist. He crawled out of his shelter, turning to look at the sun, and when he did the familiar Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.emanated from the watch. It stopped shortly after it started. Secretly hoping to catch the watch off guard, Marcel abruptly spun around to face the rocks behind him. Once again, the watch began ticking before abruptly stopping. This time, Marcel had recognized something: The hour hand always points in the same direction, whenever I move the watch, the hand points toward the same place, somewhere far off in the distance, to the northwest. This watch doesn’t tell the time at all, it just points at… something.

And with that epiphany, Marcel began walking off toward the horizon, in the direction of the hour hand. He no longer thought about the smelters, or his old home nuzzled between the cracks of a canyon, now dozens of kilometers away. He thought only of the watch, convinced completely that wherever it led him, that was where he was meant to be. The Overhaulers could provide him with nothing so valuable as his watch. The smelters would melt it away into nothingness. He scoffed at the idea of delivering the watch to them.

For two weeks, he walked, rarely drinking, eating, or resting. The body under his ragged clothes and burned skin became gaunt and emaciated. Any skin that had not been burnt and peeled by the vicious sun was sallow and pallid. Though Marcel’s eyes were still filled with vitality. He did not need for food or water, for he had the watch, the greatest treasure of all. After he began following the hour hand weeks ago, he had never for a moment considered the possibility that nothing lay at the end of his journey. A piece of technology as fabulous and opulent as this must point towards riches beyond reckoning. I was meant to find this watch, it is meant to guide me, it chose me.

As Marcel’s third week of walking began, he stopped sleeping. Instead, he preferred to spend his nights tucked away from the winds, basking in the glow of the watch, running his fingers back and forth along the watch’s every ridge and line. He had no interest in sleeping; besides, if he let his guard down, someone would certainly come in and steal his watch away.

On the third day of the third week, the watch’s hour-hand shifted, ever so slightly, towards the West. Tick.Marcel rubbed the watch, thanking it for its guidance, and followed its new direction deeper and deeper into a great canyon of red rock and orange sand. This canyon was larger than any he had seen in the desert, its grandeur almost inconceivable. The rift was at least five kilometres across, bordered by two vast canyon walls several times higher. Marcel could only imagine the vast length of the canyon floor.

After two hours of walking, Tick.Marcel heard. Again, the watch’s hour hand veered to the West. Again, Marcel followed its direction, gratefully. After three more hours of walking, the sun had just begun to dip below the horizon, once more, a singular Tick.Emanated from the watch. Again, the hour-hand drove Marcel slowly toward the western wall of the canyon, though this time, he noticed the watch pointed to a strange rock formation that appeared in the distance, seemingly a great cave gouged into the canyon wall. Although he began to feel sand and wind whip all around him as he walked, Marcel felt no need to run for cover. By the glow of the golden watch, he had all the guidance he needed. At first, the sandstorm only blocked his vision, but as he continued to trudge forward, the sand began to fill his mouth and nostrils, causing Marcel to choke and cough—still, he followed the hour-hand of the watch.

Soon, Marcel’s eyes, filled with sand and debris, became completely useless. He crouched down, clutching the watch to his chest, considering what he might do next. Just as he had decided to lie down on the ground and wait for the horrible winds to either kill him or subside, the wind tore his watch from his hands and hurled it somewhere into the darkness before him.

The wind was terribly loud, but Marcel’s wail, so desolate, hurt, and empty, rang louder than anything else on the canyon floor. His cries hung heavily in the air. Like a demented, dying animal, Marcel clawed at his clothes, pulled his hair, and screamed. With tears covering his face, turning the sand in his eyes and nostrils into a muddy paste, Marcel, with his final drops of vitality, stretched his arm half a metre in front of him. What he touched was the cool stone of the western canyon wall. Scrambling to his feet, his shaky hands pawed at the wall in front of him. At the first sign of an opening in the wall, he slipped inside, and as he did, he collapsed, unconscious.

The next day, Marcel awoke, beaten nearly to death by the night winds. He blew sand from his stinging nose, and slowly, gently, cleared away the muck from his eyes. As his vision came back into focus, Marcel, though delirious, was grateful for the sunlight he now basked in. However, upon looking about him, he realized he was still inside of a cavern, or more of an underground tunnel. He was not beneath the sun at all. The warm light came from elsewhere. It came from the watch, which waited patiently on the stone floor in front of him. This thing… it isn’t magic… it must be… divine. Filled with a holy devotion, Marcel lifted the watch, looked at the hour hand, and followed it once more. This time, the watch pointed him down deeper into the cavernous tunnel in front of him.

Whether Marcel walked for hours, days, or weeks, he did not know. He did not care. He trusted the watch’s ambitions entirely and walked deeper into the darkness. The tunnel twisted and turned, went up and down, and sometimes seemingly just drove him in circles. The whole time, Marcel persisted.

At long last, Marcel saw a speck of light at the end of the tunnel. He walked toward it, just as the watch instructed. As he drew closer and closer, the watch seemed to glow with more vigor. As he came closer still, the watch began to shudder, vibrating faster and faster as he approached the light in front of him. As Marcel reached the light at the end of the tunnel, he was not greeted by the desert’s blazing sun, but rather an enormous, cavernous space filled with an overwhelming, golden glow.

Marcel stopped briefly, letting his eyes adjust to the light before walking into the room, and he was glad that he did. The room had no floor. Rather, the dark tunnel had opened into an enormous pit that ended somewhere hundreds of metres below him. Looking down, he found the source of the glowing light. Straining his eyes, he was astonished to find the bottom of the pit filled with perfectly round, glossy golden stones.

Abruptly, the stones began to tick, all together, in perfect unison. TICK. TICK. TICK. TICK.With every tick of the stones, the watch in Marcel’s hand seemed to become heavier and heavier. Soon, his watch began pulling away from his grasp, toward the pit. Home. As he began to understand what was happening, Marcel’s eyes filled with tears. He could not lose his treasure; it was the only beauty his life had ever seen. The watch was terribly heavy now, vibrating angrily at the hands that bound it. “Please!” Marcel yelped. “Please! I cannot lose you again!” He cried.

I know. The watch replied, just before tearing itself from Marcel’s grip and landing somewhere among the thousands of golden stones, hundreds of feet beneath him. Suddenly, it was quiet. The ticking had finally subsided, once and for all. Marcel rose to his feet and turned his back to the pit of golden stones. For the first time in weeks, maybe months, he let out a laugh. A chuckle at first, a chuckle that became a great belly-laugh that brought tears to his eyes and left him gasping for breath. Marcel then steadied his breaths, closed his eyes, stretched his arms out toward either side of the cavern’s walls, and fell backward, hundreds of metres into the pit, never to be seen in the decrepit wasteland again.

Editor-in-Chief (Volume 50); Managing Editor (August-November, Volume 50); Copy Editor (Volume 49) — River recently completed his HBA in Political Science. He is deeply passionate about social justice and law and is always learning more by connecting with members of the UTM community. In his spare time, he can be found playing video games and jamming out on the guitar.


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