I started running away, back down the concourse. At first I meant to hide back at Mr. Humnor's, but when I got there it still wasn't far enough. Leaping down the escalators, the concourse rose up around me, and below were the great snakelike conveyor belts that slowly ferried luggage to waiting crowds. I kept on running, out past the big orange car rental sign and through the revolving glass doors. I ran down the sidewalk past the taxicabs and the luggage collectors in their red caps. I didn't know where I was going or where I wanted to go. I wanted to go wherever my mother was, or wherever Mr. Bjorn had gone. I wanted to go where all the seconds went.
I stopped when I saw a sign pointing inside again. TERMINAL A it said. Timidly, I went inside and up some more escalators to the concourse level. Finally, I would see it. Terminal A. And maybe I would find Mr. Bjorn, winding all the timepieces backward, with the same serious smile. The little round tables were the same. The linoleum floor was the same. The skylights high above me were the same. But there was no Emerson Books. There was no Phil's Coffee. There was no W. W. Gould's, and there was no Ten-Minute Timepiece Repair. There was no Mr. Bjorn.
Finally, I sat down on the ground under a long row of clocks. There were ten of themeach exactly the same except for a little sign that said the name of a place. Some of these places I'd read about, like Paris, where Xavier and Yvette had come from. And some I'd heard of, like Mexico City, where Mrs. De Santos was born. These were places that were very far away, I knew. And they all had different times than the time on my watch. In Mexico City, it was still an hour earlier. If I were there, I figured, and it was an hour earlier, then Mr. Bjorn would still be around.
I sat there listening to the clocks' little ticking noises. Inside each were little gears like the ones inside my watch, struggling and turning. I listened to the seconds escaping. And I knew then that each second was just escaping to a different clock, somewhere even farther away, and that they just went on and on escaping like that, forever.
So. That is the story of how I lost my very first book. I've lost three others sincea novel, a novella, and a biography. The first is disintegrating steadily at the bottom of a black lake. The second is in the hands of a woman whom I love and will never see again. The third is in a dusty African landfill, wrapped in the bloody tatters of my tweed coat, my gold watch still in the pocket.
Only fragments remain, which I've carried with me around the world and back again. Sitting here in Terminal B, setting them beside one another, I've been trying to get them to add up to something true. I'm staring at the margins between themjust an inch on each sidebut the distance may as well be the Grand Canyon. Yet I feel certain that somewhere in this empty space, between my lies and fictions, is the truth.
It occurs to me now, as I finish writing this, that perhaps these surviving pieces aren't so different from those clocks in Terminal A. In each of them you can see what the time would be, but only somewhere else. Between them all, you can, if you wish, determine what time it is here.
These stories are all true, but only somewhere else.
Excerpted from The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma. Copyright © 2013 by Kristopher Jansma. Excerpted by permission of Viking. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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