's 2019 Horror Write-off:

I Know This Is Not Correct, but I Do Not Know Why

Submitted by Samsinater (email)

I check the time. 34:17, the display reads.

I know this is not correct, but I do not know why.

I stare at it unblinking for some time. I try to think of a word for how long I stare, waiting, but I cannot think of any. I can only think of words that I know are not the correct words.

After a minnow, I check the time again. 34:13. I know this is not correct, but I do not know why. The word backwards enters my mind, but I cannot place it anywhere useful. I start to get frustrated.

Perhaps an update has messed up my computer, I reason. A simple glitch in the system. I will check the time elsewhere.

I walk out into the hall, past the bathroom, and check the thermostat. It reads 2:19:70. I know this is not correct, but I do not know why. I think this might even be almost correct, in some way. To reassure me, the display adds a new line: 2:19:70:F. I am not reassured.

I head down the stairs, past the pantry and into the kitchen. A window hangs perfectly behind the sink. I part the curtains and check the sky beyond.

I know I am looking for something in the sky to tell me the time, but I do not know what. I know there are several things that could be in the sky that would tell me the time, but I do not remember them. I only know that among the things I do find -- clouds, mostly, and two fast birds -- none of them are what I am looking for.

The sky is a deep and hurtful red, and I am unsure whether this is correct. It almost gives me an idea of the time, but as if to spite this, the sky cycles to a sickly green. This one is definitely not correct. I wish I knew why.

I turn to check the oven, a mostly ancient thing, but still bearing a digital display. It reads -12. I know this is not correct, but I do not know why. I do know this could be the temperature, but I know it is not. However, I also know that if it was, it would still be not correct. This does not help me learn the time.

I check the microwave. A simple smiling face, rotated ninety degrees to the left, greets me instead of the time. It winks. I know this is not correct for several reasons, but for the life of me I cannot grasp any of them. I try to gain even a sliver of a sense of time by pressing some of the buttons with numbers on them, but the smiling face just winks again, and sticks out its tongue at me.

Out of desperation, I check my phone. It unhelpfully tells me not only the time, but also the date: Waterday, 15/35/6, 444:1. None of this is correct, but I still do not know why. I know a day is time, but I cannot remember how much time. I try to remember, and land unsteadily on an answer: several horses. At least twenty. How long is a horse? Forty minnows? Eighty?

I shake my head. This is not the time.

While I have my phone open, I do what anyone as desperate as I am does, and call my brother. "What time is it?" I ask him the moment he picks up.

"Bluish-grey," comes the easy southern response.

I shake my head. "No, it is not. It cannot be. It never has been before. I know it has not."

"Hunh. You sure?" He takes a moment, and audibly fumbles around with something. I hear the sound of something thud to the ground, but he does not acknowledge it. "Aw, alright wise guy, it's purple. I been watching the big game a little long, okay? Get off my back." He hangs up before I can respond.

Just to be sure, I check the sky again. Plaid. Definitely not purple. All very not correct in more ways than I can remember. I wish I could remember even one of the ways it is not correct, but I cannot.

I begin to feel hopeless. I may never know the time again. I can barely remember why I needed to know the time to begin with. Perhaps it is time to accept reality for what it is, and what it is not.

Then, inspiration strikes me. The clock. The clock, the clock! The clock always knows what time it is, even when time is not. I barely register the microwave's frown as I rush to the basement.

I nearly trip down the stairs in my excitement, but catch myself on the railing, swinging around on it until I face backwards, forced to grapple with the fact that my feet are planted on a stair higher than my head. I slowly come out of it until I am suitably vertical again. I take the rest of the stairs at an easier pace.

In the basement, dust coats everything. Breathing is hard down here, but I do not breathe much to start with. I get to my destination fine enough.

A tall, mysterious stranger stands shrouded against the north wall of the basement, but the cloth covering it betrays the form of a familiar, friendly face. I make short work of it, and reveal the grandfather's clock underneath.

Yes. Yes! I carefully check the hands; there are two of them, one pointing up, the other due east. This is a very common time. It is...

A third hand darts out from behind the longer hand, catching me off guard. For a moment, I am lost. Then I remember: this, too, is normal. This is the... secular hand? No. The... secretary's hand? Still no. I cannot remember what hand it is, but a third hand is normal. This is correct, and I know it.

The fourth and fifth hands that spring from behind it however, each thinner than the last, are not correct. I do not know why. The longer I look, the more hands pop out, each obscuring a tinier and tinier amount of the clock face, like a terrible fractal. I turn away, not wanting to see my father's father's clock's face defaced in this manner.

I try to focus on what I originally saw. The two hands. Time is always changing, but I know that it changes slowly. I cannot for the life of me remember what slow is, but I know it means I have time. Time enough to figure this out, maybe. Up, and east.

I think. Up, east. This means something. Up-east. This is a time. The east part confuses me, so I ask myself what time it would be if the clock were against the east wall. Then it would be... up, and south. This means something. This has to be a time.

Slowly, straining my thoughts, I remember. East, south, these are not important. It is the numbers. There are numbers on the clock. I chance another glance, having already forgotten them.

The clock's face is a mess of hands, like a spiderweb that only connects to itself at the center. Some of them reach off the face, reach for my face, limply. This is fine however, because the numbers are on the face's edges, mostly unobscured by the wispy lines stretching sluggishly across them. The numbers are thick, easy to make out even amid interference.

I remember numbers.

There are twelve numbers on the clock -- and the numbers are conveniently from one to twelve. The two numbers the two hands pointed at are 12, and 3. It is that order, too, because... because of the size of the hands. The longer one touched the three. That means it goes sec... seco... last.

12, 3. 12-3. 12/3. 12:3. This is not correct, though that last one is the least not correct so far. 12... The twelve is correct. 3... That is not quite correct. It is what the hand pointed to, but it is not the time. The time it means is another number, like a coded message. I wish I could remember the key to decipher it.

12... 6? No, that is not correct either, but I think that must be closer. It feels closer. 12:9? No. Counting in threes seems correct. 12:12. No. 12:15. No. 12... Wait!

For once, I am certain that 12:15 is not NOT correct. Which means... it is the correct time instead.

At once, the extraneous hands disappear from the clock, defeated. Just in time, too, for some of them had nearly grown enough to reach my face. I try not to think about what may have happened if my face grew arms, unaccustomed to being a clock.

I head upstairs, and confirm the time on the microwave. 12:15. I check the oven. 12:16.

For a moment, panic grips me again, but I recheck the microwave. 12:16. Time is moving. Good. Time is supposed to move. I know this is correct.

I look outside. The sky is blue, but not the slightest bit grey. A beautiful shining sun is high in the sky, difficult to see without poking my head out the window. I know this is correct.

Slowly, peacefully, taking my time on the way there, I return to my computer.

I check the time. 12:16 PM, the display reads.

I do not remember what PM stands for, but I know what it means. I know this is correct.

I remember why I needed to know the time. It is time for lunch. I feel a bit foolish, having already passed through the kitchen twice without grabbing anything to eat. But when I get up again to open the door, a refrigerator blocks my way.

I check the fridge. A fully-stocked miniature pig pen sits inside.

I know this is not correct, but I do not know why.