At the heart of the Pacific Ocean, is a ring-shaped island called Kiritimati. It used to be known for its nuclear tests, feral cats, and dried coconut pulp. That changed when they moved the international dateline, and the islanders became people of the future. Not the distant future, just several hours ahead everyone else. They’re the first to see the sunrise, the first to stop serving breakfast, and the first to ring in the New Year.
Kiritimati is also where the New Year’s Baby is born.
Every December, Mother Nature comes from the mainland, under the guise of an expecting mother. She wades into the lagoon, settles into the waters, and bathes until she comes to term. On the 31st, she’s met by a secret order of midwives. They come with flashlights, blankets, and an atomic clock. They help her time her contractions to the second and at midnight the New Year is born.
Mother Nature has few moments to swaddle her son, wrapping him in the sash he will wear for the rest of his life. She never has a chance to imprint on him, before he’s rushed to the airport to travel back in time.
Kiritimati is 22 hours ahead of California. A plane leaving the island takes seven hours to get to LAX. That’s fifteen hours before Los Angeles can ring in the New Year. Plenty of time for Father Time to do his part.
Father Time has a manor in Beverly Hills. It has a sundial, a wine library, and a fallout shelter fashioned from airliner. Father Time takes an elevator through the fuselage and lumbers up the aisles. He wields an hourglass in one hand and a scythe in the other. When he gets to the cockpit, he dials a number and a buzzer sounds. He waits. He’s used to waiting. The door yawns opens and a nurse waves him in.
While Mother Nature gives birth to the New Year, it’s up to Father Time to take Last Year off of life support. Last Year’s withered frame hangs off his gurney, a skeleton dotted with liver spots and tufts bleached white hair. He’s grown so old he’s started shrinking. Father Time dabs his son’s cheek. Last Year weeps in his sleep and tears pool in his crow’s feet. He’s given his last meal through a saline iv, then he’s served a cocktail of anesthetics, paralytics, and a drug to induce cardiac arrest.
Father Time wheels the body to a kiln, takes his son into his arms, and cremates the remains. He sweeps the ashes, pours them the into a bottle of baby formula, and stirs all the way back up the the elevator. When the door opens, a midwife presents him with his son. Father Time feeds the New Year the remains of its predecessor.
At least that’s how it would’ve been had I not stepped in.
I wish I could say I had an elaborate plan, but all I did was hogtie a limo driver and take her things. When the midwife got off the plane, she saw me dressed as chauffer, holding a sign that read, “2023.”
She approached with the bundle wrapped around her midsection. She whispered, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart…”
I whispered, “Yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
Was it Shakespeare who said, “Even the devil can cite scripture to suit her purpose?”
The midwife passed the baby to me, a fellow traveler in her holy order. Best not to think of it as an abduction so much as a misunderstanding. I saluted the midwife, turned on my heel, and skipped back to the Limousine.
The New Year cried as I strapped him in. I tried calming him with some Norwegian throat singing, a merry melody about Vikings torching a monastery. The whaling continued, but it suited the song. Several verses later, we reached the top of Mount Hollywood. Our destination? The Griffith Observatory, a nexus point where time and space meet.
The mini bar left a let to be desired. I downed a glass of Champagne, changed clothes, and downed another. The New Year had run out of tears by the time I set him into the sling. He took his bottle without a fuss, and he had no problems drooling it back up.
I abandoned the limo and trekked up the road. We passed a group of joggers, but they paid us no mind. All they saw was a new mother out for some fresh air. Not a demon in leggings, with a human shield between her collar bones.
The lights dimmed as we crossed the parking lot. I whispered, “Is that my doing or yours?”
The Griffith Observatory loomed on the horizon. Part planetarium. Part temple to a new religion. One of the few places on earth where reality thinned.
I looked toward the HOLLYWOOD sign to a dot circling overhead.
“Elizaveta?” I fought the urge to touch my eardrum. “Tell me what you see.”
“I see two snakes, a king and a western racer. I see a herd of deer, three does, one stag. I see a skunk—”
“Elizaveta.” I gestured across my neck. “You’re not a genie. What do you see that’s relevant to me?”
Elizaveta leaned into her central Russian accent. “I see a stranger wandering into a monastery with her own rulebook.”
Elizaveta started her career as a chatbot, an AI created by the CIA. Her mission was to infiltrate a soviet sextortation ring. The Russians had her shaking cheating husbands for bitcoin. The Americans had her taking names. Elizaveta played double agent, blackmailing cheaters, unmasking hackers, until one of her targets went and killed himself. Overcome with guilt, Elizaveta’s maker tried to shut her down, but I saw potential. So, I did something I’d never done before. I offered a language processor the gift of sentience. Now she flies my drones.
“I see four snipers, one stationed at the east dome, one at the west, and two along the entrance. I see a strike team crawling through the eastern tree line and another duck walking from the west. Oh, and a man with a scythe.”
“Yeah, I see him too.”
Father Time stood in the shadow of the monument, as tall as the astronomers carved into its surface. His robes flowed in the winter wind as long as a wedding gown. His gray whiskers twisted and coiled, like roots reaching for soil. And the hourglass around his neck, shimmered with space dust.
I looked to Elizaveta. “Could you be a dear and jam their coms?”
The opening strum of “If I Could Turn Back Time” blared throughout the grounds, followed by the cymbals, and Cher’s sultry contralto. The strike team pulled their earpieces, one by one, each man giving away his position.
Father Time approached, using his scythe as a walking stick.
I had a weapon of my own: an armored ring on my index finger, a sharp talon made of silver. I raised it to the New Year’s neck. “Took you long enough, Chronos.”
“Mahthildis.” Chronos bowed, one immortal to another. “Still trying to hustle your way back into Hell? It’s been what?” He glanced at the hourglass. “Twenty-five thousand years. You should take a hint.”
The New Year made eyes at me. Had I not known any better, I’d swear he was smirking. I held him tight. “I just need some sand.”
Chronos positioned his scythe in front his glass. “Surely, your kind are free from the laws of entropy.”
“It’s not for me.”
Chronos tightened his grip. “I can’t have any more timeless morons running around. They post too many selfies, go through too many checkpoints. Facial recognition is getting too advanced.”
“This person doesn’t have long.”
“They have too long.” Chronos scoffed. “Give them half a century and they piss it away in places they don’t want to be. They sit at desks, they sit in traffic, and don’t get me started about how much time they sit on the toilet.” Chronos motioned to his strike team. “Ask any one of them if they want to live forever and they’ll tell you they’d just get bored. They say, ‘Death gives life meaning.’ Like a story they’re not sure they’re enjoying until they get to the end. They fetishize oblivion. Just listen…”
Chronos formed a bullhorn over his mouth. “Hey boys! Is today a good day to die?”’
The strike team answered with a resounding, “Hooah!”
Chronos chuckled. “They say death is ‘natural,’ like a farm to table meal.”
“This person,” The less I said about my beneficiary the better, “would really appreciate it.”
“No, they wouldn’t.” Chronos motioned to Los Angeles, to the skyscrapers, to the windows full of light. “Half of them are just staring at Netflix home screens, wondering what to put on.”
“This person has purpose.”
“So, they think.” A sullen grin showed through his whiskers. “The driven ones are the real tragedies. The writers. The musicians. The actors. They spend their whole lives climbing the later, only discover it’s propped against the wrong wall.”
That hit a little too close. The average person gets four thousand weeks to find purpose. I’ve been here since the stone age and I’m still struggling with it. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to tragedies, to the music makers and the dreamers of dreams. I love desperate artists, offering their souls for a chance at the eternal.
The tragedy of immortality is how many talents you see snuffed out in their prime. Big contemplative sigh… Fuck death and the horse he rode in on.
My earpiece buzzed. “He’s stalling, so they can flank you”
I looked out the corner of my eye. Sure enough, the strike team was moving into position.
I dug the tip of my ring into the baby’s chin. “If you want to discuss choice paralysis, we can grab a coffee. You can choose the place. But if you want your son back, I’m going to need some sand.”
Chronos leered beneath his hood. “I don’t know what you told your doomed Don Jaun, but to hell with him. To hell with the lot of them.”
Chronos twirled his scythe like a grand marshal at the head of a parade. Then he marched. I backed away, repositioning my ring so I didn’t puncture the child by accident.
Elizaveta buzzed in. “He’s herding you toward them.”
I stopped. Chronos drove his scythe into the ground before me. Fracture lines rippled through the concrete.
“Play a violin for the old maids. Pour one out for the bachelors, but don’t ask for sympathy from me.” Chronos spat. “How did the poem go? Time stays, they go.”
“Time stays, we go.” I raised the baby to the tip of the scythe. “What happens if I kill the New Year before midnight?”
Chronos froze. “Time stops.”
“So, either I get some sand, or the whole thing comes crashing down?” My grin showed through my ruby red lipstick. “Sounds like a win-win.”
Chronos reached for his scythe, watched me straighten my arm, and recoiled.
Chronos could stall, motion to his gunmen, but he couldn’t guarantee no harm would come to his son. I’d made his decision. He had no choice but to sit at my feet, cross his legs around the hourglass, and jerk at the top. A column of light shot into the sky, followed by an eerie angelic drone. Chronos reached in past his forearm, past his shoulder, past the dimensions of the glass, until his cheek rested on the rim. The space dust reacted, a kaleidoscope of hydrogen and helium, swirling around a gravitational well. Chronos pried himself out, sealed the glass, and staggered to his feet.
I held my free hand out and Chronos filled my palm. The sand felt like lava, coursing through my life line, like eons eroding my skin, like atoms wanting to burst into universes of their own. I couldn’t help but tighten my grip.
“Have you made any New Year’s resolutions?” Chronos asked, in fleeting fit of nervousness.
“Resolutions are for the repentant.” I lowered the child. “I make schemes.” And I poured the sand down his throat.
Bless me father for I have sinned. It’s been a century since my last confession. Since then, I infiltrated the Society for the Suppression of Vice and stole a romance novel. I blew a hole in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin and took St. Valentine’s skull. I crashed a Satanic wedding and poached the followers. I baited a writer into murdering the Greek God Pan, over a likeness disagreement. I tricked Krampus into turning an Airbnb into a roller derby. And I hijacked a server farm to give Elizaveta the gift of consciousness.
Still, my greatest sin is sloth.
It’s not that I’m a slacker. I’m just too much of a perfectionist to finish what I start. I spend so much time looking over blueprints that I miss my moment.
So, I asked myself, “What would happen if I gave the New Year sand from his father’s glass? Would time slow down? Would 365 days feel like 31 million seconds?”
The sands would keep flowing, but we would feel every grain. Our perception of time would slow down, but our energy would remain. Your New Year’s resolutions might have a chance. And my New Year’s schemes might change everything.
Why did I kidnap the New Year’s baby? Not to liberate him. No. I did it to get back home.
There’s a place through the fog of maladaptive daydreams, through the legions of intrusive thoughts. A place where hope is abandoned and fire consumes all things. A place with a pretender on the throne and I’m the only one who can unseat him.
What’s my New Year’s resolution? I’m going to heist my way back into Hell.
Meet Noelle, a Hollywood transplant that’s been subsisting on instant ramen and false hope. She’s on the verge of moving back into her mother’s trailer when her agent convinces her to take a meeting at the Oralia Hotel. Enchanted by the art deco atmosphere Noelle signs a contract without reading the fine print.
Now she has one month to pen a novel sequestered in a fantasy suite where a hack writer claims he had an unholy encounter. With whom you ask? Well, he has many names: Louis Cypher, Bill Z. Bub, Kel Diablo. The Devil.
Noelle is skeptical, until she’s awoken by a shadow figure with a taste for souls.
Desperate to make it Noelle stays on, shifting the focus of her story to these encounters. Her investigations take her through the forth wall and back again until she’s blurred the line between reality and what’s written. Is there a Satanic conspiracy, is it a desperate author’s insanity, or something else entirely?