Featured Story: The Time Thief by Abigail Ellison
Y'all. This story...it broke me. It is so tender and sweet and beautiful...and that ending. *sobs* It's just perfect. I love the concept. The characters. The themes. The love.
I think y'all will love it too!
Thank you so much, Abigail, for writing and submitting this gorgeous story! *heart swells*
What did rain feel like?
Curled up in a round window frame, I stared outside. Rain fell in sheets, thick and blocking out the view of anything else.
Reaching for the window, I imagined a breath of cold air tingling against my skin from the fogged glass. An instant before my fingers connected with the glass, they fuzzed and went straight through.
I sighed, gaze flicking to where my reflection should be. Nothing.
I shifted, but even though I should have felt the window frame supporting me, I didn’t. I was just floating there, inches away from touching anything.
I wish I knew what I looked like. I wish I knew what my name was.
But the only thing I knew about myself was that I could steal time.
I wasn’t born.
One day I just existed.
Someday I’ll just stop existing.
So, I waited in a different place. One where it is always raining, and nothing ever changed.
I slid from the window frame and looked at the small room that was all I had; lined with books I couldn’t touch, a bed I couldn’t sleep in, and a door I could never open.
Am I the only one who feels so lost?
“Just let me feel something.” The words were swallowed by loneliness.
I shoved myself through the window and out into the rain, hoping to feel its chilly wetness. The rain fell all around me, and yet I couldn’t touch it.
I was nothing. And yet I existed.
I skimmed over the ground, feet never quite settling onto the pavement. No proof that I was real, no touch that I could understand. The haunting feeling there should be more.
I closed my eyes, and as if from a distance, I heard the roar of time. It was the symphony of thousands of human voices caught in snatches. Laughter and shouting all too brief and fleeting to understand.
The sound of the rain faded, and every individual voice stretched until I could actually understand what they were saying.
“Work was awful today,” a woman complained.
I opened my eyes again, and I wasn’t in my place of rain and loneliness. I was in a city. Rain still drizzled down, but not as heavily. The city lights made the downpour even seem cheerful. More real. Reds, greens, and yellows reflecting off slick pavement and glistening umbrellas. People parted around me as if they could see me but never once glanced at me.
I hunched and started walking with the crowd, listening to the babble.
“Are you serious?” A disgruntled older man.
“Really?” A teenager shrieking at a friend.
“Oh, please, honey…” A mother struggling with a crying toddler.
None of them were happy, not really. They were just living a slightly more real life than my own.
I liked to listen to them.
I passed a cluster of teenage boys and examined them wistfully. Would I be like them if I was a normal boy? I forced my gaze away. It was no good to dwell on dreams.
I reached out a hand and swiped it through the older man’s arm. My fingers fuzzed, but I imagined a light flickering on inside me. A strange warmth flickered in the center of my chest, and for the smallest moment, I felt alive.
The man stomped away, and I stood there trying not to breathe, holding all that life inside of me. I wondered if the man would notice that he had one more white hair. Probably not. No one ever seemed to notice, no matter how long I watched them.
I kept walking, my hand passing through people, the heat in my chest growing more and more intense, every person changing ever so slightly at my touch. A freckle on the back of a hand. A wrinkle in the corner of an eye. A gray hair. The slightest tinge of yellow on a tooth.
I still didn’t breathe. I imagined what I would look like, a boy with all of the life inside, glowing like a beacon in the world.
The rain was stopping. I turned my face to the sky and imagined the light lifting me upwards. Since I had never felt the ground, there was nothing to keep me from claiming the sky. I rushed upwards among the skyscrapers and darted past window after window until I came to the one, I could never forget.
I wafted through the window and looked at the young woman lying on the hospital bed, IV taped to the back of a thin pale hand.
I leaned over, hovering above her bed. Finally, I blew out the breath that I had been holding for hours over her still form.
The light in my chest faded, but as always, I held back the life that was mine.
The slightest tinge of pink appeared in her cheeks as she inhaled and opened her eyes. And instead of meeting my gaze, she stared right through me.
“I’m here,” I whispered, even though I knew she wouldn’t hear me. She never did.
I’ve watched her for a long time.
Her small hands twitched, and she smiled, letting out a small, quiet sigh. She sat up slowly, whispering a tiny prayer of thanks.
She always did that, smiling the moment she woke. She had more joy in opening her eyes than anyone else I had ever seen.
“Today is a beautiful day,” she murmured, gray eyes drifting to the single window in her room, to where the sun now shone brightly as if to prove that the rain no longer mattered.
I closed my eyes, wishing I could reach out and touch her. But if I did, I’d steal the time I just gave her.
She started coughing and I winced, wanting nothing more than to make it stop, to brush her pasty blonde hair away from her pallid face, to get her something better to wear than a lifeless hospital gown.
She was dying.
But she was the only thing keeping me alive…
Her rasping cough finally stilled, and she forced a smile, shoulders relaxing slightly. Silently she reached for the book that lay on her nightstand, flipped it open and started to read.
I drifted behind her shoulder and peered over it. Seeing the world that Lizzy had opened to me.
She had changed everything.
So, every day I went through the crowds, taking a little time from every person I touched, and I gave it to her. Just so she could live a little longer.
So I could live a little longer.
I was the time thief. A person who never touched or could be touched. I was a person, a nothingness, who wanted so desperately for Lizzy to see him.
People always try to find meaning in the meaningless. And Lizzy gave me that meaning. I didn’t remember exactly when I had first found her. Time was as strange and unknowable as the roar of voices in the back of my head, and I was unable to pin down any exact date.
But I remembered that it had been an accident.
I had wandered into her hospital room, chilled by a hopelessness ingrained in my soul. The wish that everything would just stop, for I had no purpose. What good was collecting time when it did nothing? What was the point of living if no one even saw you?
The first thing I heard was her laugh. It was like sunshine, refracting through water droplets, snapping me from my own mind.
She’d had visitors then.
A woman and a small child.
Lizzy had been sitting upright in her bed, coaxing the little boy into her lap. “See?” She breathed, patting the blankets. “Nice and soft. It’s not so bad really.”
“Lizzy?” the little boy asked, looking up at her. “Are you going to die?”
The woman made a motion with her hand, like she wanted to snatch the words out of the air so that Lizzy couldn’t hear them.
Lizzy had looked at the boy seriously, and do you know what she said? She said…
“Not if I can help it. But if I do, you take care of Mom for me, ok?” A smile flickered across her face, and the woman looked like she was about to burst into tears.
“I will,” the boy said firmly.
And then, for a moment, Lizzy had looked up from the boy in her lap and seemed to look straight at me. No, through me, to the wall behind.
“Whatever happens, everything will be all right.” And still she smiled, even in the face of something so horrible. It was unimaginable.
And I think that was why I kept coming back at first.
No matter when I came, she smiled. While she talked to the nurses, she smiled. When she read the books in her bed, she smiled. When there was sun, when there was rain, she smiled, and even laughed.
The boy and the woman visited from time to time, but they never stayed.
And whenever they left were the only times I saw Lizzy look sad.
Over time, Lizzy didn’t sit up as much, and I watched as, drop by painful drop, her life drained away.
I could feel her light, begging me to reach out, to take her time. But I couldn’t do it.
I watched her grow gaunter and not wake up as often, while the nurses gathered in clusters, hissing quiet whispers whenever they left Lizzy’s room.
“Do you hear them? The birds…outside…” She lifted a trembling hand and pointed towards her window. She talked to herself when the nurses weren’t there. I liked to pretend she spoke to me.
Following her movements with my gaze I then heard them. The soft chirping of baby birds came into focus, as I wafted through the wall. Their nest was tucked onto the small ledge outside. Then I went back in, watching Lizzy with intense eyes.
Lizzy smiled. “Life is beautiful…isn’t it? So…beautiful…” Tears beaded in the corners of her eyes, even as she kept smiling.
That’s when I started stealing time for her, like I was a great storehouse, and breathing it over her.
Giving her more of the life she wanted so desperately.
A nurse bustled into the hospital room carrying a tray of hospital food, startling me away from Lizzy’s shoulder, like a naughty child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. She was wearing a pair of donut earrings, which added life to her plain scrubs.
She paused to see Lizzy upright, then lit up like a Christmas tree, a smile matching the whimsical earrings.
Lizzy looked up, beaming. “Mary,” she said warmly, putting a bookmark in between the pages, and then reaching out her arms for a hug.
Mary obliged, round cheeks glowing with happiness. “Oh, you look better,” she said easily, lifting Lizzy’s chin to examine the color that was in her cheeks.
“I feel better,” Lizzy said. “I’m even hungry!”
The edges of my mouth quirked up into a smile. She felt better because of me.
“You are?” Mary proclaimed, swooping in to set the tray on Lizzy’s lap, grinning in excitement.
Lizzy inhaled the steam from her bowl of oatmeal, eyes drifting closed. “That smells delicious.”
Mary ruffled Lizzy’s hair fondly with one hand. “You’re the only one I know who enjoys hospital food.” She shook her head wryly. “It’s amazing really.”
Lizzy laughed. “You just have to pretend that it tastes like anything else, see?” She nodded. “And then it’s always delicious!”
Mary chuckled softly. “Oh, I see now. I’ll have to sneak you something that feels like home tomorrow if you’re still feeling better.”
“Speaking of home…” Lizzy smiled coyly. “Have you talked to…you know who…yet?”
Mary blushed, round cheeks suddenly looking like twin red apples. “Well, I…no, not exactly.” She absently tucked a strand of her curly brown hair behind an ear.
Lizzy nudged the round nurse. “You should,” she said knowingly.
Mary sighed. “I…know I should, Lizzy– but…what if he doesn’t…”
“You’ll never know unless you tell him. And it’s better to tell him now before it’s too late.” Lizzy’s face fell for the slightest of moments after her words. But a moment later she was smiling again. “Besides, I swear, anyone who doesn’t love you hasn’t talked to you often enough.”
Mary chuckled, even as she stood and went about checking everything and scribbling things down on a clipboard. “That or they haven’t tasted my cooking.” A mischievous glint entered her eye.
Lizzy started eating and the conversation continued, as lively and fresh as if this was the first time they had talked to each other in years.
I watched and listened, unable to leave.
I was setting myself up for pain and I knew it. There was no hope for someone like me.
Lizzy couldn’t even see me. She didn’t know how much I cared. And the only way I could learn more about her was to watch her constantly.
“Anyone who doesn’t love you obviously hasn’t talked to you often enough.”
Lizzy would never talk to me. I clenched my fists, and still I watched. Waited.
Waited as the day went on, as the color slowly faded from Lizzy’s cheeks. Waited through her conversations with the doctors. Waited as the sun slowly lowered, leaving the room in darkness. Waited as she leaned back and fell asleep, her smile disappearing.
It was time to go.
I wafted through the wall in her room, into the next hospital room. Another part of my daily routine. There was a boy in here, lying silently on his hospital bed, breathing tubes and IV’s surrounding him like a knot. Unlike Lizzy, this boy never stirred, and the only sound that filled his room was the steady beeping of the heart monitors.
His name was Aaron White. His name was written on the bracelet around his wrist.
I watched his pale face for a while, unsure why he felt important.
Maybe because it made me wonder if someday, I would come to Lizzy’s room and she wouldn’t be there…or she wouldn’t wake up.
I felt…something about this boy. Something that made me pause at his side, watching, wondering if maybe he would wake up if I stayed. I had tried to give him light once, but it hadn’t worked. He wasn’t dying like Lizzy was. He just…wouldn’t wake up. Like I felt I couldn’t wake up. I felt the longing to just…be real.
But I knew that was only a ridiculous fantasy.
I closed my eyes, and slowly imagined the roar of time fading, distancing.
And when I opened them, the hospital and all of its patients were gone.
I was back to the place that wasn’t really home, but was all I had, for another painful night of being alone.
I exhaled over Lizzy, blowing out today’s collection of time into her. I tried to ignore the fact that it seemed…harder. That no matter how much time I got, it never seemed to last as long as it was supposed to.
She stirred, and as she did, my world woke up. She murmured her prayer of thanks, eyes scanning her sparse hospital room, and then, in a very soft voice, she started to sing.
“Good morning…good morning, I love you, good morning…There’s always another day…”
A slight smile quirked its way across my face, and the loneliness faded.
“Good morning,” I whispered.
I pretended that it didn’t hurt when she didn’t respond.
She didn’t sit up this time, but she kept singing and humming.
I sat in my customary chair and listened.
Mary brought breakfast again, this time wearing pineapple earrings. “Good morning, Lizzy!” she said brightly.
“Morning, Mary.” Lizzy smiled, music fading from her lips as she shifted to look at the nurse.
I resisted the sudden urge to swipe away some of Mary’s time. It didn’t matter that Lizzy actually responded to her. I had no right to be jealous.
“I’m going to do it,” Mary said firmly. “I’m going to ask Jason out.”
“Really?” Lizzy smiled wider.
“Yes,” Mary said breathlessly. “I’m going to do it,'' she said to herself.
I followed Mary from the room, watching as she walked purposefully around her rounds. I knew Lizzy would want to know if Mary actually told him. Not that I could tell her, but…
I quickly figured out who Jason was. It was fairly obvious from the way Mary kept glancing at him whenever they crossed paths, though she never said a word. He was tall, with coffee-colored skin, and a relaxed way about him that put those around him at ease.
Halfway through the morning, Mary walked straight into him. It was hard to tell if it was an accident, or if she had actually planned it. Either way, they slammed into each other, and their clipboards went flying.
“Oh…” Mary said, looking straight into his eyes and blushing even redder than she had in Lizzy’s room. “I…I…uh…” She looked around as if for help, and then snatched his clipboard from the floor. “You, uh…dropped this!”
“Sorry, my fault entirely,” Jason said smoothly, revealing a slight British accent. He moved his hand to take the clipboard, and Mary held on to it a second too long, before letting go.
“I…” Mary said as he got to his feet.
“Yes?” He glanced down, raising his eyebrows.
Mary flushed again. “Sorry,” she said faintly, before turning and fleeing.
I shook my head with a sigh.
Well, she had tried…But trying didn’t always make things work out.
I drifted back to Lizzy’s room.
She hadn’t moved, still looking up at the ceiling.
“She couldn’t do it,” I told her, surprised that I actually felt…sad, that she hadn’t been able to. “I wish…that things could work out.” But wishing never accomplished anything. I stared at her. “I don’t think…that I can do this anymore, Lizzy.”
Was I just making things worse? Maybe not for her, but for myself? Yes, I was making this worse for myself. I was just teasing myself with something I could never have. And losing her would hurt more then anything else.
“I think it’s time…time I left.” So that I wouldn’t have to see…
I reluctantly started backing away from her, about to drift into Aaron’s room to say a far more silent goodbye.
Lizzy’s eyes closed, and almost imperceptibly, she went pale, breath hitching.
The light inside her flickered, making me freeze in my tracks.
Something was wrong.
I didn’t leave after that, no matter what I told myself I should have been doing.
I didn’t leave, even though staying felt like it was ripping my heart in two.
She was fading fast. I could see it in her face. Her eyelids barely flickered when Mary came in to check on her, and her chest rose and fell in ragged bursts. She was fighting for every single breath she took.
Something had changed, and I didn’t know what.
The days felt like a blur, only distinguished by Mary’s ever-changing earrings.
Tacos. Palm trees. Sunbursts. Cinnamon rolls.
The other nurses tsked that Lizzy was alone, but none of them knew that I was there, waiting in the chair next to her bed, holding my breath.
I was the ghost of hospital room 110, barely leaving. I watched and watched as she drew closer to death.
But she couldn’t die, not while I was there, ferrying her the time she needed. I didn’t care that I had to do it more and more often. That it barely did anything. I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t make myself leave.
The morning of the end, I brought her the time just like I always did, the light burning inside of my chest like a brilliant glow. I hovered over her, looking into her still face, wishing she would wake up and smile again.
And I blew out my breath, the light misting over her. But instead of inhaling it, absorbing it, looking healthier…nothing happened.
The light diffused, and she did not improve.
“Lizzy?” I whispered, hands starting to shake.
She didn’t even stir. She still breathed.
There had to be some mistake. There had to be something that I had missed- a fluke!
Yes, that was it! I wafted out of the room, through the many floors of the hospital, swiping my hand through the people who came to visit, once again building up the light.
Then, running even though I couldn’t even touch the ground, I was back in her room, exhaling the time over her in a great mist, staring at her, waiting…waiting…
I let out a soft cry and then I was back in the hallway. I didn’t even try to find multiple people, just stuck my hand through the first person I saw, Mary, and pulled more time out of her than I had ever dared. She staggered, falling to the ground, a cry echoing through the hall, hair turning white—but I was already back in the room exhaling again—and again nothing happened, like she was surrounded by an invisible wall that kept her from accepting it.
The light drifted away from her, through the door and back to Mary in the hall.
“No…” I breathed, getting as close to her as I dared. “Lizzy…” my voice broke. “Lizzy…no…” And tears started to flood over my cheeks.
I wanted to touch her, cradle her in my arms. But I couldn’t or…or…or I would take it all away.
“You can’t die,” I whispered. “You just…can’t…you showed me what life really meant…that even if no one saw me, everything would be okay…you showed me that life could still be beautiful and…and…you can’t leave me…you can’t just take all that away…” I closed my eyes, shaking, hearing the roar, the inevitability and constancy of time. People would always die. Time did not stop and wait for those who were caught in its waves.
And then, knowing that I was going to lose her, that I could do nothing to make her stay, I could finally admit something.
“I…love you Lizzy…” I bent over her; eyes still closed. “I love you,” I said again, tears burning the inside of my throat. And the sad thing was, she would never know it. But I would always love her, wish I could spend the rest of my life with her, even as I spent the rest of my unexplained life all alone.
Sobs started to break through me. I inhaled, pulling deeper and deeper into myself, until I found the place where the light…the time, was kept. But I didn’t stop there. I went deeper and deeper until I found another light. Smaller, of a weaker color, almost blue.
My light. My time. Something I had never dared to let go of. Something that I had guarded, kept to myself, every day I gave her time. Would I die if I did this? If I didn’t try, then I might as well be dead without her.
“Lizzy,” I said again. Lizzy was worth it, and if I could give her no one else’s time, I would give her my own. Slowly, face near hers, I started to exhale.
It was slow, steady, unlike the times when I had been trying to exhale as quickly as possible. I didn’t open my eyes.
I loved her. And she had a life worth living.
What did I have but a small, lonely existence? No one would miss me if I was gone, but they would miss her. Lizzy reminded everyone she was around of just how beautiful life could be. She could make the world a better place with every moment she was around to observe it. She was precious and I…
If I could die saving her, then maybe my existence had purpose. There was a beauty to life…Its constant scrambling forward, the laughter and the tears. I had seen it all, walking among them, invisible. I could hear it, the sound of time, the sound of thousands of stories knit together in one cloth, weaving in and around each other to make one.
My body started to fight back against what I was doing. It was like choking, but I kept on pushing it out, giving her my life, unraveling it like a spool of thread.
And then, with a final choke, there was nothing left. I felt nauseous, and I sagged forward.
Lizzy stirred, awakening.
And I was vanishing.
For one precious moment my hand met the blankets on the bed. And I felt it. For the first time in my life I felt something.
But that moment ended, and with one last look in Lizzy’s healthy face, I was gone.
I blinked at the ceiling in confusion, the sound of a heart monitor beeping in my ears. My mouth felt dry, and the room was so bright. I tried to shift, and found I couldn’t move, tubes surrounding me, knotting me in place.
I inhaled, a raspy sound, and the heart rate monitor started beeping furiously, picking up speed.
I thrashed, struggling, and a moment later my door burst open.
A doctor, who looked strangely familiar, came in, white coat flapping, clutching a clipboard to his chest. He was staring at me like I was a ghost.
“Aaron,” he murmured.
I froze mid-thrash, chills running up my arms.
“You’re awake,” he said softly.
I nodded, trying to remember where I was, how he knew my name…but all I found in the back of my mind was emptiness. My gaze focused on his name tag. Jason. Why did that name seem so familiar?
“Mary?” he called, opening the door into the hallway. “I think you’ll want to see this.”
“I think you’ll want to see this!” Mary called back.
“It’s a miracle!” They shouted in unison.
The next hour passed in a blur and the many tubes that had kept me alive were removed. They asked me questions, examined me to find some reason I had awoken, but no one understood why.
The whole time I was aware of a similar bustle happening in the room next to mine.
Jason made another note on his clipboard and then looked me in the eyes. “You seem fine.”
I gave him a faltering smile. “I…feel…fine.” My fingers worked their way into the blanket on my hospital bed. It was so soft…I couldn’t stop feeling it. I was missing something. “A little hungry though.”
Jason chuckled. “Yes, of course, I completely forgot.” He stood. “Let’s see what I can do about that.” He left the room and I frowned after him.
A few minutes later, a woman wearing rainbow earrings opened the door, gaze still in the hall. “I’d love to, Jason.” Then she was inside the room and looked at me with a glowing smile on her face.
“In all my years at the hospital I’ve never had a day as good as this,” she told me conspiratorially. “Two patients healed on the same day! It’s a miracle, I tell you.”
“Two?” I asked, looking up at her.
“The girl next door…” she couldn’t finish and just smiled.
Something in my chest leapt, and I looked at the wall dividing our rooms. “The girl next door.” I whispered. “Do you think I could…meet her?”
Mary helped me to a wheelchair, and then wheeled me out into the hall. I was still too unsteady on my feet to walk. Jason and Mary had insisted that I wait a day so they could be sure I wasn’t going to suffer a relapse, but all that time I had been plagued with a strange impatience that I didn’t understand.
I didn’t know the girl next door and yet… I knew I had to meet her.
Mary opened the door and my breath caught.
She was standing by the hospital window, sun reflecting off of her skin like she was glowing. She turned, tucking a strand of blond hair behind one ear.
A smile spread across her face. “Hi.”
“Hi,” I said shyly, feeling a prickle as my cheeks reddened. “My name’s Aaron.”
I reached out a hand, and she walked across the room to grab it. She paused and looked at me searchingly, then abruptly wrapped me in a hug.
“My name’s Lizzy.” She murmured. “You seem familiar…somehow. Do I know you?”
Opening my mouth to explain, I found I didn’t have an answer for her. But I felt like I knew her.
Comfortable warmth rose in my chest.
There was something about her… life and vibrancy that just…seemed like home.
Lizzy pulled back and laughed shaking her head. “Just my imagination I guess,” Then wheeled me over to her bed. I grew dizzy for a moment, and I looked at the bed, brows furrowing. Why…did all this feel like it had happened before?
I looked back at Lizzy, who chattered excitedly about a nest of birds outside that she had seen for the first time this morning. She had only ever heard them before.
Listening to her talk was like hearing a familiar, much-loved song. Mary and Jason watched us from the doorway, leaning against each other, smiles on their lips. I paused looking at Mary’s brown hair, feeling…relieved for some reason.
Lizzy spun around; eyes bright as she walked around the hospital room. “Can you believe it though? I felt awful yesterday morning, and then…today I’m healed? And you too?” She shook her head even as she smiled wider.
“A miracle.” I grinned.
For a moment, I thought I could hear something like time, the sound of thousands of voices moving forward. Pain and joy, miracles and disasters, past and present, all stitched together, creating a tapestry of beauty.
Outside it started to rain, but the sun shone through the clouds, and everything felt perfect.
about the author
Abigail E. is a homeschool writer whose characters hijack whatever she writes. She seeks to depict hope through brokenness and the love of God through suffering. When she’s not writing or reading, you can find her drawing (her characters), painting (her characters), or listening to music (while dreaming about her characters). Her family has long since gotten used to her staring off into space, and being excited about stories with no obvious reason. She dreams to someday publish a Young Adult Fiction novel (and go to Narnia).