The rules of this world are simple, but they must not be thought of as strange.
The sands of your hourglass must never stop. The moment the last grain falls and settles, it is the end. You must always keep turning, and the sands must always be kept running.
Many people have tried to cheat this fate and find ways around the endless task of staying alive. Some have tried to have others turn it for them. It never works.
Everyone has an hourglass. It appears there at birth. It ceases at death – a faint popping sound and not even the dust remains.
Parents are stressed, as one can imagine.
As long as your hourglass is turned before it runs out, you will stay alive. Some people live all the way until eighty, ninety, or older – but it is rare someone will want to keep going after that. It’s a hard business, and soon the only preoccupation you have is staying alive. Accidents happen, of course, and hourglasses break. They can be intentionally broken too. People die young and at any age. It’s not an easy world to stay alive in. When an hourglass is lost, but then found again, people sometimes never recover from the panic. Other people find it liberating.
Most people set a timer and forget that their life is so precariously run.
Inexplicably – to the world’s current understanding – the hourglasses can shrink. That means more work, more turning. Once it gets smaller, there is no recorded case of it getting bigger again. Although many miracles are claimed.
There are always new guarantees to keep your hourglass from shrinking: new books, new programs, new faiths. Much morality is talked about. People maintain it is about doing the right thing and there is a lot of belief in that. People disagree about the details.
The following is a true account of an hourglass maker. Regular hourglasses still exist in this world and are built, crafted and cared for in the ordinary way.
This hourglass maker worked at his bench, over the years shaping infinity balloons in glass and experimenting with sands of varying material. He also had a peculiar belief. He believed he could make a replica hourglass so perfectly identical to the ones that dictated life, that a person would believe the replica was an original. It was a strange belief, for each hourglass varied in degree and size and shape and the imperceptible textures that only someone carrying it their entire life would know. It was also unknown what the material itself was made from, for when they came into existence or exited from it, they left no explanation like ordinary things. Undeterred, this hourglass maker tinkered at his bench, year after year, never doubting his task.
One day, to his triumph, he believed he had succeeded. He had all the pieces to make the perfect replica. And so he hired a shop assistant. This shop assistant was a young man passionate about hourglasses. He often talked about his dreams and aspirations. The old hourglass maker listened wisely and also talked of his younger self’s dreams and aspirations. Together, they worked day after day, syncing their time as the old man taught the young man everything he knew. But as they worked, the old man studied the hourglass that belonged to the young man. After the shop closed its doors for the evening and the young assistant went home, the old maker began to shape his replica. Night after night he worked, making the smallest perceptible adjustments, and day after day, he studied anew the object of his work, ever refining his replica.
Then the day came when he was ready. He paced nervously and his eyes looked feverish. When the young man arrived, he thought the old man was unwell and asked if there was anything he could do. The old hourglass maker shook his head, insisting he was well, and so they set to their day’s work.
The old man had his replica carefully hidden, and when the young man turned his hourglass, the old man turned the replica, syncing their sands.
He waited until the young man was engrossed in his work, and he walked over. He stood proudly, seeing all the knowledge he had given, and which was now adapted and done with even greater skill. He put his hand on the young man’s shoulder, and as he turned away, he left the replica, and held the young man’s hourglass hidden in his hand.
When the time came, the young man turned his replica hourglass. The sands kept running, and he continued working. Ecstatic, the old man rushed to him, holding up the original hourglass – unturned – in triumph. The young man was confused, then he laughed. He did not know how the old man had made such a replica, and it was certainly a fine piece of workmanship, but clearly the young man still possessed his own original. The alternative was impossible. The old man grew insistent and swore that he had switched the hourglasses when the young man was not looking.
The young man grew impatient, then angry that the old man would even suggest a willingness to do such a trick, switching an original hourglass with such a poor imitation (it was no longer a fine piece of workmanship, but a vile piece of contrivance).
The old man continued to insist that he had switched them, and although the young man was angry now, once he accepted the truth, his anger would be insignificant. The young man grew angrier that the old man would continue the charade and called him a fool, declaring him insane.
The old man sat down, his head in his hands. He knew the truth, and he could not prove it. Seeing that the old man was distraught, the young man recanted. He apologized, and said he spoke in anger. He admitted it had been a fine joke and that the old man had played it well. They would laugh about it later.
The old man reached for his own hourglass. He looked at the young man, and told him he knew the truth. He would show him: an hourglass was a deceit so riddled into the mind that it would take a great discovery to remove it.
The young man grew nervous. The old man’s hourglass was nearly out. The young man said there was no need to prove anything. The old man shook his head and said the young man would soon see the truth. The young man insisted the old man needed to stop.
When the old man’s hourglass ran out, he held it unmoved, and his eyes locked with the young man’s worried face. The old man smiled for a single moment of blissful vindication.
Then there was a faint popping sound.