December 32nd

They had all celebrated in their own subdued ways the night before. Granted, many chose to disavow the “guidelines” (a word that never works against something more severe, like “laws”). Sure, there was the faction of people who had made their declarations about staying home and going to bed early and what was the point of it all (the “it” to them not being life, but trying to pretend to have anything other than a sad celebration)? Their sole consolation was that tomorrow it would be a new year. Though Benedict could not, try as he might, figure out why anyone was excited about another year of more of the same, he didn’t bother trying to voice his opinion to anyone. It would just be more noise in the endless squall of squawking. Everyone desperate to get their precious two cents in. To “feel heard.” All it amounted to was one cacophonous din that no one could decipher. 

Benedict wanted quiet. To retire into his room and talk to no one in his “compound.” He lived in a creepy rather than charming Tudor Revival house in Nova Scotia. The others all went to Dalhousie University, while Benedict was studying the trades of metalsmithing and blacksmithing at a different school. He was the proverbial “odd man out.” He didn’t mind. It just gave him another reason to excuse himself from the room sooner. He had come from Bennington. Vermont. With absolutely no intention of going to the eponymously named school there, famed for, among other things, Bret Easton Ellis being an alumnus. Benedict did not want to remain. More importantly, there was a girl he needed to escape from. Not because he didn’t love her, but because he did. And she no longer felt the same, having decided to break up with him before herself going to Bennington.

She told him simply that she wanted to “have options,” and that staying together would mitigate those options. “College is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” she reminded, as though that should somehow affect what he thought was true love. So, without saying goodbye, he left for Halifax. That was in 2019. He had made it a whole year before “the change” came. Metalsmithing was a solo art anyway, what the hell did he actually need to go to the classes for? He preferred to work alone. 

Those who tried to befriend him, especially in the house, were met with his steely demeanor. He wasn’t “mean,” per se, just clipped. Never offering more. Never saying anything that didn’t need to be said. After a while, his roommates had taken the hint and backed off. It came at the perfect time as the pandemic gave license to all introverts to truly be themselves. To just fucking retreat into the blackness of their “area” without having to fucking explain it. Benedict was making some of his best pieces–from kitchenware to jewelry–on a daily basis with the expensive machine the school had let him borrow as recompense for the fact that he was, like every other student, forced to become an auto-didact anyway. Spring and summer came and went, with the occasional break in monotony thanks to a swim in Chocolate Lake (which was not as Willy Wonka-esque as it sounded). Christmas came and went as well, and now, here they all were, ready and “excited” to enter a new year. Or so they had thought. 

When Benedict awoke the morning of December 32nd, he, like everyone else, imagined that it was January 1st, just as it had always been before. But something in the calendar defied all human logic and reason, with everyone’s Apple device reading Dec. 32. It didn’t take long for frantic reports to start flooding in about either the end of the world (as usual) or some elaborate and cruel hoax on the part of Tim Cook. CEOs had an odd sense of “humor,” after all. But no, lo and behold, no one had tried to make this sick prank happen, it simply did. They were trapped in the year 2020. And no one wanted to find out if the following day would be December 33rd, to boot. What if “God” (or whatever invisible being is pulling all the strings) had finally had it up to here with humanity and decided to fuck them over real good this time in order to teach them all a lesson? Not that this wasn’t something It hadn’t done many times before, what with the Great Depression, the birth of Hitler, America’s two-party system and Kim Kardashian.

But maybe this was something so utterly insane and inexplicable for its Groundhog Day propensities that everyone really would have to shut the fuck up and look within themselves to figure out some arcane truth that their own self-involvement and petty concerns had prevented them from doing thus far. Yet the manipulation of time didn’t feel “celestial,” so much as devilish. And, if Benedict didn’t know any better, he might have believed he was the subject of a real live Charmed episode (yeah, he fuckin’ binge watched it on Netflix, what of it?), specifically the one where the Devil’s sorcerer, Tempus, comes to destroy the sisters by reversing time at the end of each day so that it resets to the beginning and the demon Rodriguez is allowed a new chance to kill them again. 

If this were the case, and some demonic force (which wouldn’t be out of the question because 2020) was behind the time loop that everyone was experiencing, that meant Benedict was probably the only one “crazy” enough to understand that the demon needed to be pinpointed and removed from this time in order for the loop to be undone. Thing was, Benedict didn’t mind staying in 2020. It was only going to get worse afterward, and he liked the enforced setup of everyone being told to stay at home and keep to them damn selves. Why would he want to help rid the world of that structure? And as he worked on crafting an engraved ring that would read, “Tempus rerum imperator,” he laughed to himself.

A chill ran up his spine, raising the hairs on his body as he suddenly got the sensation of unbridled power that had been dormant within him all this time. It was him. He was the demon. For isn’t it said that, “He who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god.” Beast being evocative of “mark of the beast,” in this case. And all at once, Benedict felt the sorcery he contained coursing through him, apprehending that he would never let any of them leave 2020. They would all be stuck in it until mass suicide ensued, and the Earth belonged to him, and him alone. Free of the pock-marked plague that was humanity.

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