Time Keeps on Slippin’

By Shamus Posted Friday Jan 15, 2021

Filed under: Personal 68 comments

The year is 1982 and I’m stuck in the middle of a long, long school day. I’m 11 years old. I’m in a Special Ed classroom, waiting to go back to my regular classroom. I have ten minutes to go.

I start staring at the large clock over the door, pretending I can make it move faster. I focus on it, staring at the center of the clock until the edges of my vision go blurry. Move. Move faster! Get me out of here!

It’s a pointless gesture, of course. Aside from the fact that I can’t control time, it’s not like there’s anything better waiting for me in the other classroom. I’m going to watch the clock here, then watch the clock there, then watch the clock in the lunchroom, then back in this room again, and so on. The end of the day is too far off to get excited about, so I just have to look forward to the next interval of structured tedium. 

I keep staring. Move. Move faster!

Suddenly the minute hand begins visibly moving. I blink, thinking that all of my staring has created a weird optical illusion. Clocks can play funny tricks on your eyes – particularly when you’re staring at them – and I figure I’ve stumbled into some sort of perceptual weirdness. I rub my eyes, look back, and the minute hand is still gliding along like a second hand. It passes the top of the hour. According to the clock, it’s past time to leave. I look around nervously. Nobody else is leaving. The rest of the world seems to be moving normally. 

My heart starts pounding. I’m worried I’m going crazy somehow. Maybe… maybe it is past the hour and I’m still sitting here when I should leave? My skin is crawling. I keep looking down at my desk, then back up to the clock. Each time I’m hoping the minute hand will be back where it belongs. Barring that, it would be great if it stopped moving so fast. 

I stop looking at the clock. I’m just going to sit here and pretend this isn’t happening. I figure someone else will tell me if I miss my cue to leave. I sit motionless for an unknowable number of minutes, waiting for the world to start making sense again.

“Hey, look at the clock!” says one of the other kids.

I breathe a sigh of relief. It’s okay. I’m not crazy. Other people see it too.

Some people laugh. Others make jokes about time “flying”. Hey, it must be time for lunch now! Almost time to go home. Ha ha.

The teacher has a watch and he lets me know when it’s time to change classrooms. I wobble out, grateful I’m not losing my mind but also still freaked out over the whole ordeal. I don’t tell anyone that the clock broke while I was pretending to speed it up, because even if they believed me, it would just make me look like a fool.

I come back to the same classroom in the afternoon, and the clock is still misbehaving. It’s not like the minute hand became a second hand and the hour hand became a minute hand. Its movement seems to be completely divorced from normal clock behaviors. It’s apparently gone all the way around the 12 hour cycle several times in the last 2 hours. 

The clock is very large, mounted over the door, and built into the wall, so there’s nothing anyone can fix. There aren’t any external controls to manipulate and no visible cable to unplug. Once the jokes are over, everyone just ignores it. I try to avoid looking at it, because it still gives me the willies.

The next morning we discover the clock finally died, with both arms facing roughly downward towards the 6 O’clock position. It actually takes almost a week to get someone in to repair the dang thing.

Thirty-Nine Years Later

Not quite the same as my clock, but close enough.
Not quite the same as my clock, but close enough.

It’s the early hours of Wednesday, January 13, 2021. I realize I’ve stayed up longer than I intended to, watching dumb compilations of glitches in Cyberpunk 2077. I shuffle into the bedroom as quietly as I can, trying not to wake up my wife. I glance at the clock. It’s a few minutes after 2AM.

I stare into the black void of the ceiling for a few minutes, then roll over onto my left side. I usually fall asleep in this position. My digital clock is on the nightstand in front of me. I stare at it listlessly, waiting for my eyes to close.

Suddenly I get a weird feeling. I blink. My brain is telling me there’s something wrong with what I’m seeing, but it takes me several seconds to realize the clock is counting forward. The numbers tick by – 2:31, 2:32, 2:33, 2:34, 2:35. I know I haven’t been in bed for half an hour.

Is this a really dumb dream? Did I fall asleep already? 

“What’s wrong?” my wife asks. Apparently I woke her up when I came to bed, and she’s noticed that I’ve been sitting up for several seconds. 

I tell her to look at the clock.

“Oh, that’s not right!” she says.

I am once again relieved to discover I’m not losing my mind.

I lay down and watch the clock malfunction for a while. I find it creepy but also fascinating. It doesn’t seem to be counting seconds. If a drummer was in step with these numbers, then I’d say he was playing at about 90bpm. That’s roughly the bpm of your typical downtempo study music. A functioning clock runs at – and I hope you knew this already – 60bpm.

The clock seems to be in some alien mode. This thing uses a 12 hour display, which means it normally rolls over from 12:59 to 1:00. But after a few minutes of malfunction it’s displaying zero as the first number, which is normally impossible. This feels creepy so I unplug the clock and go to sleep.

The next morning I plug the clock back in and find it will no longer function. You can set the display to whatever time your want, but the clock will never count forward. 

Fly Like an Eagle


Link (YouTube)

From experience, it seems like clocks typically break by either stopping or slowing down. But twice in my life I’ve encountered clocks that malfunctioned by accelerating, and both times I was staring at it when it happened. One clock was an ancient mechanical clock, and the other was a digital clock that’s probably less than a decade old.

I’m not suggesting that anything paranormal has happened. I’m sure this is just a really strange and uncanny coincidence. But now I think I’ve developed a goofy phobia of clocks moving at the wrong speed.

 


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68 thoughts on “Time Keeps on Slippin’

  1. Thomas says:

    In terms of superpowers ‘Making clocks go faster’ is a weak hand.

    1. beleester says:

      Bomb-making supervillain where, unlike every other supervillain, the timers on their bombs run faster than reality.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        Ah, you mean Premature-Explodo, the would-be supervillain who died in his workshop before he could commit any crimes?

      2. Thomas says:

        Perhaps you could hold a town clock tower hostage.

        Paying someone to reset the clock all the time has got to cost the council something.

        My advice if Shamus ever gets into a fight, is to try and have that fight on Big Ben.

        1. Lino says:

          Paying someone to reset the clock all the time has got to cost the council something.

          It’s going to cost them… *puts pinky to mouth* one MILLION dollars!

        2. Paul Spooner says:

          Does it work on CPU clocks? Could wreak some real havoc on network infrastructure, not to mention hassle-free overclocking.

    2. Lars says:

      To test his super powers he should watch Back To The Future again an keep a close eye on that townhall clock.

  2. Michael G says:

    Maybe it’s not the clocks getting faster, it’s you getting slower.
    Time…is marching on. And time…is still marching on
    This day will soon be at an end
    And now it’s even sooner
    And now it’s even sooner

    (Older by They Might be Giants ends up being worryingly relevant to several of your personal posts)

    1. Greg Johnson says:

      Actually, reading this made me go and watch Push Back The Hands, which goes in the other direction, and has a really neat video as well. They Might Be Giants have written a few songs about time(Prepare, and Tick Tick Tick also spring to mind).

    2. ateague says:

      Older by They Might be Giants ends up being worryingly relevant

      Of course if you want to go ‘time related music’, better pull out the big guns:

      Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
      Fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way
      Kicking around on a piece of ground in your hometown
      Waiting for someone or something to show you the way

      Tired of lying in the sunshine, staying home to watch the rain
      You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today
      And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
      No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun

      (Pink Floyd – Time)

      1. Geebs says:

        “The sun is the same, in a relative way, but you’re older” is probably the most efficient slice of existential horror I’ve ever encountered.

    3. Chris Robertson says:

      Perhaps you are not aware of Shamus’ familiarity with this song.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQrC_C6SexI

      1. Michael G says:

        I’m totally aware. That’s the only reason I know about the song

    4. Decius says:

      If he had been a little earlier the second time, it might have happened at Four Minutes of Two.

  3. Asdasd says:

    Well, if your goal was to give your readers the heebie jeebies with this post, then bravo! Creeped me out good and proper.

  4. Tektotherriggen says:

    This is what happens when you buy the “time saver” DLCs from Ubisoft.

    1. Asdasd says:

      Your comment reminded me of something.

      If anyone’s read the short stories of Paul Jennings, or watched the Australian-made kids show Round the Twist, you may remember a story about a boy who makes a bargain with a supernatural entity in which he has to give up his ‘spare’ time.

      It’s highly possible I’m the only person in the intersection of that particular Venn diagram though..

      1. Henry Chadban says:

        You’re not quite the only person in that part of the Venn diagram Asdasd. I have a vague recollection of stories matching that description, and I definitely watched Round the twist back in the day

  5. Ermel says:

    I’d just assume they were radio controlled clocks whose radio signal decoders got confused into thinking it was time to switch to daylight savings time. (Well, today. Not when we were kids, even though radio controlled clocks were already in existence back then, at least in Europe.)

    Yours, Ermel.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Yeah, that was my thought too. But no… the clock was changing FROM INSIDE THE BUILDING!

      1. Ermel says:

        So? My radio controlled clocks work inside buildings just fine.

        (Or am I missing a joke here? If so, my apologies — I’m not a native speaker.)

  6. jurgenaut says:

    “This is your life, and it’s ending one second at a time. ”
    “On a long enough time line, the survival rate for everyone drops to 0. ”

    Fight Club has some memorable quotes.

  7. MerryWeathers says:

    Is this some kind of reference to WandaVision? First two episodes came out today and it was pretty good.

  8. RFS-81 says:

    I have a radio-controlled clock where the hour hand is correct, but the minute hand just does whatever it wants at the moment.

  9. Lame Duck says:

    Maybe just try not to stare at any sundials.

    1. Ermel says:

      You have won the Internet today.

    2. Tom says:

      Have you, by any chance, ever played the classic Infocom text adventure “Trinity?” ;-)

      1. Ermel says:

        No, I haven’t. Why?

  10. GargamelLeNoir says:

    Hello Shamus, I’m here to talk to you about the Very Low Stakes Avengers Initiative.

    1. Sebastian says:

      Your mentor is Uri Geller, whose super power is to bend spoons. I’m excited to see what synergies you can get out of that.

      1. Vernal_ancient says:

        Well, you put spoons on the clock hands, then Uri bends them to alter the rotational inertia, providing finer control over the speed of the clock hands than Shamus could manage on his own.

        Now to find a problem to use that solution on…

  11. RamblePak64 says:

    Nothing to add, just a comment to say I enjoyed this post.

  12. Smosh says:

    > it normally rolls over from 12:59 to 1:00

    American lunacy of the normal kind to remind us that America might be crazy, but usually not quite as crazy as the last two weeks might lead us to believe.

    1. Mephane says:

      Yeah, the AM/PM 12-hour-system is the real WTF in Shamus’ story. XD

  13. zackoid says:

    This should be an SCP entry.

  14. Cubic says:

    If you get an urge to buy a sniper rifle, sit down until it passes.

  15. Cubic says:

    Note that your clock can, at least in principle, validly show something like “23:59:60” or “18:59:60”. This most recently happened on Dec 31, 2016. (Enforced by the former International Earth Rotation Service.)

    1. Decius says:

      Is that how leap seconds are implemented?

  16. Lino says:

    Shamus you’ve posted this to the wrong category – it should be under “SCP Reality Hazards”, and it should have a unique SCP Identification Number. Honestly, you should really get your categorization in order. It is absolutely unacceptable for an agent of your stature!

    1. Nimrandir says:

      On top of that, SCP entries these days are expected to have a narrative arc. ‘Guy sees a couple of clocks break anomalously’ probably wouldn’t be able to stay on the wiki.

  17. Syal says:

    It’s the early hours of Wednesday, January 12, 2021.

    I’m trying to figure out if this is a mistake, or if it’s just because we’re staring at a broken clock in the middle of the night so who knows which day it is*.

    *(Deep in the middle of the WishyWashing Hour.)

    1. Shamus says:

      Whoops. Fixed.

      I was of course thinking of the event as “Tuesday night” when it was properly “Wednesday morning”, which is probably how I made that mistake?

      1. Blue Painted says:

        There are some people, I was one before children, for whom night ends at going to bed and day begins at getting up, regardless of the time any clock says. Which means “its Tuesday night” would still apply at 02:00 on what other people would call Wednesday.

  18. Hal says:

    Ordinarily, a broken clock is right twice a day. You seem to revel in exceptions.

    1. Grimwear says:

      A broken Shamus is day twice a clock.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        A Shamus broke the clock twice.

  19. Frank says:

    The digital clock probably had a quartz crystal or maybe a capacitor that was dying, or some problem with an internal clock divider in the digital logic. A mechanical clock failing in this way is very odd. They normally work by rotating a small motor a fixed number of rotations per minute based on the 60hz power line frequency. Their accuracy is dependent on the electric grid AC cycle rate, which is very accurate over the long term for exactly this sort of reason. If the hands were turning faster, it must have been some type of mechanical failure in the gearing that caused the second hand gear to turn the minute hand, or something like that. How strange!

    Personally, I’ve never seen either of these cases. I guess you’re just “lucky”. If I lived nearby I would want to take that clock apart to see what went wrong and try to fix it. But I moved out of the Pittsburgh area 20 years ago.

    1. Richard says:

      In places like schools, TV studios, railways and hospitals where they need everyone to agree what time it is, it’s been reasonably common for all the clocks to be controlled by a system-wide timesignal for a very long time.

      This used to be distributed over some analogue clock control wiring, and the clocks would drive their mechanism to match the desired time.
      A clock of that type could easily go wrong as described.

      Swiss railway clocks are famous for their analogue time sync method, invented in 1944:
      All the clocks run deliberately slightly fast, but can’t complete a minute on their own – the second hand “pauses” just before reaching the minute.
      There’s a railway-wide sync pulse sent at exactly the minute, which advances the minute and hour hands and releases the second hand to make another revolution.

      (Many modern systems do this via (S)NTP or PTP, depending on how precise they want to be as they’ve got Ethernet wiring everywhere anyway.)

  20. ContribuTor says:

    This is why you need to be very careful and specific in what you wish for.

    Shamus was clearly granted a “slow time” power. Unfortunately, instead of slowing everyone else’s time, it slows his personal time.

  21. The Despot says:

    Sounds like Shamus would be a great candidate for the Superhero League of Hoboken.

    1. Nimrandir says:

      Now that I know this game exists, I had to go see where I could get it. Thanks, I think?

  22. FluffySquirrel says:

    So, you’re a mutant with the power of breaking clocks?

    I hereby dub thee, ClockBlocker

    Go forth, and become a very D-list Spiderman villain or something

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Excellent. A good in-your-end-o is always appreciated.

      And there already is a character called Clockblocker, in Worm, the web serial…

  23. Skyy High says:

    I genuinely thought this was Shamus’s first go at horror until the last paragraph.

  24. Nimrandir says:

    Perhaps, one day, in his darkest hour, Shamus will be able to use his gift to crush Lois Lane under a pile of rubble slightly faster.

  25. Adrian Lopez says:

    This is an amazing story! Thank you for this Shamus

  26. Mark says:

    Sometimes I read or share your personal posts with my wife, because we both enjoy your writing. Today, she said “Oh! He woke his wife up? Of course he did!” Anyway, you’re not the only one to do that.

  27. Philadelphus says:

    Interestingly, I’ve seen a few news articles in the last week or so about how the Earth has been spinning faster lately than at any point in the last fifty or so years. Shamus, you wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?

    But seriously, remember those leap-seconds we keep adding every so often to keep atomic-clock-based time in sync with the planet slowing down? There’s now talk of subtracting a second instead to keep up with the planet speeding up. Though that leads into a much broader conversation of whether we want to continue to keep changing clocks based on the Earth’s variable rotation speed or not; apparently affection for the whole leap-second thing has cooled a bit in the last few years since we added one.

    (The variable rotation is all perfectly natural, by the way, it’s just due to things like variable torques from other bodies in the solar system and the movement of material in the Earth’s core, mantle, ocean, and even atmosphere.)

    1. Ermel says:

      So Shamus has been … looking down at the Earth?

  28. Mr. Wolf says:

    I also had my digital alarm clock running at approximately 150% speed, but since I’d recently dismantled it to fix some of the buttons I’m pretty sure my superpower is “destroys consumer electronics”.

  29. Dreadjaws says:

    Your mutant power of accelerating clocks to death is at least marginally more useful than my mutant power of always picking the slowest lane at the supermarket.

  30. Chris says:

    The title set me up for some good ol’ existential dread, the first part set me up for some horror nightmare story, and the ending left me wondering how strange and random the world is

  31. At the beginning I was expecting some kind of deeply philosophical post about time seeming to move faster as you aged, and how when you once wanted time to speed up praying for the end of the school day, and now you only wish that the clock would slow down to let you enjoy a moment before moving onto the next.

    Nope, just a random post about malfunctioning clocks haha

  32. Galad says:

    Thanks for the story. As much as we, or at least I, believe only in what science has proven, occasionally life seems to hint at .. other things. Or at least our imagination lets us think so.

    Also, a thank you for reminding me Time by Pink Floyd is a song I have not heard in a while

  33. Alberek says:

    It’s the first time I hear the original song, the only one I know is the one from Space Jam…
    I think you shouldn’t worry to much about the clocks Shamus… unless you start seeing a red or blue cloud above them…

  34. Cilba Greenbraid says:

    A very similar thing happened to the old (think wood case) digital clock in my bedroom when I was six or seven years old–around the time the Berlin Wall came down. I woke up in the wee hours. Glanced at the clock: 3:12. Looked away. Glanced again. 3:14. Stared at it. 3:15. 3:16. What in the world–?

    It was very similar to what you described, though not quite as rapid–it was incrementing the minute once every five seconds or so. I was convinced I must be dreaming, but I couldn’t get back to sleep and eventually woke my mother, who was none too pleased to be awakened at one in the morning (so the clock had begun malfunctioning only 10-15 minutes before I noticed it, unless it had wound all the way around and was displaying PM). But the yelling-at was worth it, because she at least confirmed I wasn’t crazy or dreaming. She unplugged it and took it out of the room and I eventually got back to sleep. I assume.

    In the morning she plugged the clock back in, but it was, and remained, dead.

    Even at that young age I understood, rationally, that it was just a gizmo that had gone haywire. But it freaked me out, and I occasionally had nightmares involving rapidly-incrementing clocks for a couple years after that.

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