The Time Speaker

Katie had always known the time, down to the second.

A quirk, her mother theorized, from when Katie had toddled around in the yard and gauged how much time she had left to play outside. At 20, her friends guessed she’d trained in punctuality for her acting auditions and made a big deal out of it. Katie liked the attention at first, until Tasha called her up drunk with a timer set up and asked her to “show us the superpower.” Katie had laughed it off and said she’d just glanced at her phone, though she hadn’t.

She’d always known it was something more.

She’d felt it, in the watches, in the phones, in clocks on the wall. When she visited London for an acting gig and ambled by Big Ben, she shivered all the way to the tips of her fingers. Something whispered to her in a strange language, in ticks and slips of passing moments, and it had amplified as she’d grown, as time became more valuable, as age spots bloomed on her father’s hands.

A superpower, her friends had said for years. A superpower, to be hyper aware of the passing of time? Or a curse?

She tried to ignore it. Sometimes it distracted her. And then, while preparing for Shakespeare on the Green one spring, her phone’s display of 3:37pm, second 49 unspooled into a word, translating to ‘warning,’ the same as ‘la manzana’ meant apple in Spanish.

Katie almost dropped her script. What, she thought, was that?


She puzzled over it on the set for Midsummer Night’s Dream. Had her brain dialed into some alien radio frequency? Had the Russians figured out how to project thoughts?

Her director scrunched his eyebrows a few times. “Lines,” he’d say. “Get your lines down.” And she had. But something else had wormed into her mind, stopping her midsentence. Had something whispered a word at 7:44am, 12 seconds? Yes. ‘Father.’ It had said ‘Father.’

“Can you please keep up?” Her director pressed his pencil against his lips. “We’re running out of time.”

“Of course, of course. Sorry.”


She’d ignored her ability most of her life—not really because of irritation with her friends’ shenanigans, or because it distracted her, but because it loomed, like someone waited for her in a dark alley.

Foreboding had always shadowed her sense of time, a sense of impending . . .

Just that, impending. Like a sentence that wouldn’t finish. She watched the time, like a driver watched the road, even on a straight highway with no traffic. Alert. Vigilant. Ready to swerve.

She called her mother on her break. “Is Dad okay? Is anything wrong?”

“He left for the factory the same as always, honey. Why?”

“Just a bad feeling.”

Her ‘intuition’ as her mother called it ended up revealing the tremors in his hands. “Alzheimer’s, early stage,” the doctors said. Treatments would help, but they could do nothing against the slow march of time.

She cursed at the thing, at the being, at whatever talked to her. “It’s your fault. It’s your fault. You caused this.”

It responded with more translations. At 4:59: ‘Leader.’ At 9:18: ‘Heart.’

A superpower. A superpower, to diagnose the inevitable. Or had she caused it? Was her comprehension the catalyst for these emergencies? Was fate so cruel? Maybe if she didn’t speak them out loud, nothing would happen.

On the other hand, what if she could prevent a tragedy? The words might not be inevitable. She had to try.

“It’s been kind of stressful, lately,” she said to her director. “How are you doing health-wise?”

He scrunched his eyebrows as he always did. “Probably should do a checkup. Been a bit out of breath.”


Just knowing words didn’t equal understanding. Time was an older language; it didn’t have conjunctions like ‘and,’ it didn’t use modern terms like ‘director.’

It helped that she’d listened to it her whole life, however, and soon she learned a new word almost every day. She didn’t comprehend Time as a whole on a specific day but awakened to it like the transition from night to sunrise, where the black sky stretched into purples and blues. She translated the words at their corresponding seconds and the entity, or whoever spoke to her, would string together a sentence for her throughout the day.

Her ‘superpower’ warned when someone’s time could be cut short. Her director found a small hole in his heart. They fixed it. They did Midsummer Night’s Dream without incidence.

A quirk. A curse. A power.

Each second spoke. Each moment held meaning. She helped Tasha find a tumor before it turned malignant. Her father died five years later, but she received no other warnings for him. It was his time, his true time.

It named her the ‘Time Speaker.’ And to complete the handshake over the cosmos, she asked: “What do you look like?” She wanted to know what spoke to her in the quiet ticks and tocks.

It said once in answer, at 3:49, 11 seconds: “Mother.” And then, at 8:12, 45 seconds: ‘Sentinel.’

A sentience of seconds transmitting a code out into the universe. Maybe she had spoken for centuries, or millennia. Waiting, just around the corner, in the alley of peoples’ minds. Waiting for someone to listen and care, as she, the Sentinel Mother did. A time speaker.