Hickory, Dickory, Hickory, Dickory Dock!
The voice grew louder, and shriller.
Hickory, Dickory, Hickory, Dickory Dock!
A stinging, cold breeze brushed passed him as he ran at lightning speed – almost as if possessed. Panting and gasping for air, all he could see was darkness everywhere. A faint glimmer in the distance was where he wanted to reach - but the more he ran, the farther away it got. He was trapped in a tall, dark alley – melted clocks and diseased beings all around him, and a clock ticking loudly in the distance. The virus was on hot on his trail – rotting everything it touched to acid. With every step the walls were caving in – closer and closer. It felt as if the whole world was crashing down on him – and he somehow felt responsible for it all. His heartbeat felt as loud as his footsteps. The clock was suddenly ticking faster, and louder.
Tick. tock. Tick. tock. Tick. tock.
And a loud, eery voice, as if born out of the air, chanting, almost screaming:
Hickory, Dickory, Hickory, Dickory Dock!
With trepidation he ran, heart racing veins pulsating his vision blurring the chants almost deafening now as he tripped over a rock and then suddenly –
He felt ice-cold water splash across his face. Joe woke up with a start, breathing heavily. His heart was still pounding as beads of sweat trickled down his temple. This was his sixth nightmare in a row. It all started with the first of those cryptic, anonymous notes. All of them were signed with nothing but the three words – Hickory, Dickory, Dock. Was it an alias? A secret society? His growing uneasiness and train of thought was interrupted by his younger sister’s shouts-
“Wake up already! You’ve got to drop me to school.”
It was the 12th of January, year 2073. Tomorrow would mark the 50th anniversary of that historic day when humankind won its longest battle against a pandemic, the day when the whole world recorded zero Coronavirus cases. Processions, parades, air-shows were being held but for Joe – all he could think of was that he only had less than 48 hours left, before the world as they knew today would cease to exist.
Time-travel was now possible – but only the most qualified, elite and authorised professionals were permitted to time travel, that too as a last resort - for any evidence-based assistance in top secret missions, or in case of a global crisis, etc. It was an all-new profession people trained for – a position ranked amidst the MI6 of our times. All the same it was filled with risk, too – persons who time-travelled exposed themselves to high amounts of nuclear radiation and possessed higher health risks than others. The only catch – you could only travel to the past, travelling to the yet-to-occur future was not possible.
As they drove to school, tomorrow’s celebrations weren’t the only top headlines being announced on the holographic television-cum-radio. Last week, just a day before Joe started receiving those strange notes, an anomaly in one of the time-travelling gates was captured. Apparently, some criminals had escaped from one of the most common time-travel routes, breached the travel protocols and wreaked havoc across the city, across a timeline – at a gap of every 20 years. To prevent the spread of atrocities outside the country, a special task force of time-travellers was assigned to the case, headed by Joe’s dad. So far only small-scale robberies, homicides and explosions were recorded – but only Joe knew too well it was just a distraction for what lay ahead. A coup de’ tat orchestrated by some of the most dangerous criminal minds across generations – to strike all at once, but 20 years apart.
“Hickory, dickory dock;
the mouse ran up the clock,
The clock struck one,
The mouse ran down,
Hickory, dickory, dock – it’s all connected to time, isn’t it Joe?”, his sister gleefully exclaimed, reciting that rhyme for the hundredth time since she was taught it in school. Ironically enough, this was her new favorite nursery rhyme these days.
On the eve of 6th January, when the news of the series of crimes broke out, Joe was an ordinary 20-year-old boy attending college, having no more than college prep and football group messages on his phone. The following morning, he woke up to his phone almost about to crash, over-flooded with warnings and error messages – till one last alert beeped and displayed a small cryptic note, as if from the dark web. This would be the start of a hunt across the city that would go on for 6 days, all of which had led Joe to a series of alarming revelations. The first ever note had read:
Hickory dickory dock
Danger has struck, look out for the clock
If you want to come out alive
Search for a sign in the old archive
The second time mankind saw it’s end in sight
Is the first step towards setting things right
The post-script read:
Remember: we’re the good guys.
Look out for: (HI)ckory, (DI)ckory, (DO)ck.
The first time he received it, no matter for how long he ignored it, strangely his phone would just not turn back to normal - till he found the next note. “The second time mankind saw it’s end in sight…could it be World War II?”, he’d thought. When he overheard one of his dad’s phone-calls where he and a few other agents planned to travel back to Hitler’s era, his worst fears were confirmed- this wasn’t something he could ignore.
At once he bolted to the city’s oldest and biggest library, an obvious choice for the “old archive”. Rummaging through the articles and books under “WWII”, he found an odd, dusty old leatherbound book titled, “HItler’s DIctatorial DOctrine” – the first two letters highlighted in each word. The highlighting bore an uncanny resemblance to the note he’d received, “HIckory, DIckory, DOck” and he instantly knew this was the one. Between the pages, he found handwritten manuscripts, newspaper clippings, and one noticeably distinct clipping – an article about a scientist, with a picture of Hitler shaking his hand. Wilhelm Friedrich Ziegler – was a highly skilled and notorious scientist, one of Hitler’s most notable aides and right -hand men during the war. The article described how Hitler and Ziegler had been working on developing a biological weapon to be used during the war, but for some unknown reasons they never succeeded. The article also mentioned the mysterious disappearance of the scientist and how the cause of his death was unknown, much like the rumoured escape of Hitler to South America. There was another one titled “HIdden DIsease-causing microbes’ trials and research DOcuments recovered”. Beneath these articles he found the next note, which led him to the nursery rhymes section.
This time around, he only had to pick the thickest book titled – “The Compendium of Old English Rhymes” – but surprisingly enough he couldn’t find any note, or a clipping, or anything on the Hickory Dickory Dock page.
Instead, he noticed a pattern – across a few pages, some page numbers were scribbled upon and struck out. He noted down both the struck-out numbers and the ones next to them. He took this to the safe in the oldest known bank and tried out both the codes for a safe rented under the initials H.D.D. – and luckily it worked.
The safe contained an entire pile of old rusty documents, this time more handwritten manuscripts and letters from the Nazi era. Apart from the Gemlich Letter, apparently there were numerous other letters written by Hitler, especially during his decline and when in the bunker. The letters by themselves seemed as normal as it could get, having no secret message or anything out of the ordinary to offer. But when he placed them adjacent to one another, not just the dates, but even the text formed a pattern. All the first lines put together, followed by all the second lines and so on formed complete sentences – much to Joe’s horror. After reading the contents of Hitler’s secret letters, and following the trail of numerous other historical clues, he could finally piece it all together. And the mere thought of the whole discovery made him go pale, and sent chills down his spine.
The letters mentioned an elaborate planning of the coup- de’ tat, with the exact dates – including the one in present time. All the criminal masterminds, who shared similar ideologies of controlling the world and getting rid of the unwanted or excess population, had formed a secret society across time – and communicated through the various time channels opened by our present-day scientists. Apparently, Ziegler faked his death under the guise of a laboratory explosion, and managed to pass on the deadly biological weapon to various criminals spanning generations during the recent time-travel breach. It instantly became possible to connect through the underground tunnels, and the plan was to release the mutations – virus all at once, in every era, at sharp midnight on 13th January, when in the present day all the celebrations would have been over with.
The final note – contained no cryptic messages, but a strange address which he’d never heard of before, a location even Google maps couldn’t find.
It was already the morning of 13th January, as he made way across the bustling city full of innocuous and unknowing people. He deliriously gazed upon the anniversary Google doodle in his phone – showing a man throwing off his mask in the air as a sign of freedom. Little did they all know what was in store. Maybe even his dad and his team had so far only acquired half of the information. He drew a long, deep breath. Anyway, he thought, hopefully this address would finally lead him to his informant. He also hoped this informant had some answers – as to how they could stop it all.
He finally reached an old decrepit building, completely abandoned. It almost looked like an old laboratory, except that it seemed like it hadn’t been used in years, or even decades. The surroundings felt completely off the map – a place so isolated, it felt like he’d come to another planet. A fitting hideout for a secret informant, he thought. Just as he was about to venture inside, an old guard shouted from behind,
“Oi! Where do you think you’re going? We’ve shut off this place from the public for now before the re-construction project takes place, and it’s dangerous in there – I wouldn’t go if I were you.”
Joe was gutted for a moment. “Umm my uncle is in charge of the re-construction project, and I’d come along with him last time as well, maybe you couldn’t notice”, he blurted and dashed off inside.
“Huh? Strange kids these days”, the old guard murmured before getting back to dozing off.
From inside, the laboratory reeked of chemicals, as if trials had been going on just recently. There was also a strong burning smell. As he ventured ahead, he heard an eery creek from the opposite side of the room and a tall, burly man appeared. He had fierce, light brown eyes and a gashed cheek – a thick characteristic scar which run from the side of his left eye to the bottom of his chin. He looked at Joe momentarily before breaking into a warm smile.
“So you finally made it!”, he exclaimed, clapping his hands. He seemed like he was from around here, Joe thought. He was using all the technology with incredible ease as well.
“Why me?!”, was the first thing that came out of his mouth, almost shouting. “Also, why so late! If you knew it all along, you could’ve done something about it! What are you even trying to achieve?? How is it even possible to save everybody now?!”, Joe vented out all of his pent-up frustration and confusion from the last 6 days – which were filled with horrific revelation after revelation.
“Your father. He works in, in fact gives commands to the special task force. My only hope of making our formula reach trusted contacts across generations is your father – but you must act quickly. We are running out of time, and I won’t be able to retain this form for long. There’s no time for questions, or even revealing my identity – all I can promise is I’m a historian, researcher and am deeply interested in this case. I have worked on creating an anti-viral drug for several years now, dedicating my entire life to it. You just need to make sure it reaches the right hands – something I don’t have the power to. My apologies for the delay. I’ve overcome many challenges and near-death experiences to be able to pass this information to you, and I had to wait for the right time when you could get in touch with your father – go home today and you will find him, lying on the couch all exhausted, having returned home after work from another era at 4pm – exactly 7 hours from now. Go to him, pass down this information I’m giving to you as soon as you can – and we might just end up saving everybody. Do as I tell you, this is the final task. I must go now.”
With that, he gave him a file, a vial and some handwritten notes – all in different unidentifiable languages – or was it a cypher? He embraced Joe, and loudly pat his back – before the entire facility turned pitch dark. Joe heard receding footsteps, as he held onto the vial and papers tightly, as if holding onto dear life. Still in a puzzled state, he made his way out of the facility, stepping into broad daylight, his gaze meeting that of the old security guard. Even though still unable to digest everything the burly man had said, he at least felt more reassured than before. That uneasiness which made his stomach sick was gone now, at least temporarily.
He shouted toward the old guard, “Hey! You said nobody is allowed inside, how come this man has been conducting experiments all this while, right under your nose??”
Scratching his beard, the guard answered, “Eh? What man? You must be seeing things, boy.”
Now Joe was plain annoyed with the haggard old man. He ran toward him, and before he could plunge himself in a heated argument to try and prove his point, he noticed an old cracked photo-frame hanging in a small cabin besides the front gate, next to the security guard’s shed. It was a family photo, and the face of the man in the picture had an all-too familiar scar on the left cheek, and the same fierce, light-brown eyes.
“See! Right there – he is the man I’m talking about!”, Joe shouted indignantly.
“Oh, that man!”, the old security guard chuckled. “He’s rumoured to be the grandson of that notorious Ziegler guy from WW-II. Rumour has it that they never got along, and this poor fellow spent all his life trying to defy his grandfather’s findings. This is a very old photo - this man died many, many years ago –in a fire caused by an explosion in this very lab. Now all that’s heard of him, is haunted tales of his ghost's return.”