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Sean McNulty
Short Story // The Keepers of Magic Time

époque press
pronounced: /epƏk/
definition: /time/era/period

He would love the reeds hissing now in this late summer breeze and the sky blue and the fields wide awake.  The butterflies dancing with the light. But that's not my job. I must wait. Wait until the flame slows and the land cools in the ginger fall.  


I've made a bed of the warmest brown leaves my homestead these days of paid grace. Lying in the fields studying a canvas of quiet variation.  It may be the greatest job I have ever had. The farmhouse etched into the furthest edges of my shot has been the only sign of civilisation for what seems now like an age. It sits in silent opposition to my world, a thumbnail on nature.


'Mr. Malick wants magic hour. Your job is to capture it. Each day for three weeks. Wait for it. Catch it. Then you can go home. He'll pay you 5000 bucks for your images. Got it? Good, now go get it!'


When magic hour comes, I'm electrified by the spell it casts over our landscapes and the interaction it has with the living. All the world collapses in this seemingly somnambulant moment. Birds sing louder. My camera shoots faster. Winds blow wilder and freer. 

A grey sparrow appears at my side each day in the seconds before the red indigo shower. I've heard the renowned director has his spies. I become more industrious in the sparrow's company. I am being watched. The sparrow feigns nonchalance, holds tight the truth.


'Do you know who Terrence Malick is? He is only one of the most acclaimed filmmakers there has ever been. You are lucky to have been chosen. He’s been kind enough to aim some light in your direction, so you’d best give some light back to him. That’s all he requires. Light. The good kind. Mr. Malick always shoots at magic hour. That’s the goddamn rule. Every day, all around the world, there are a select group of cameramen in place, ready to seize the moment, to secure a place in Heaven. These people are his keepers of magic time. You are now one of them. You are now a keeper of magic time. So get your shit together.'


Here it comes. The silver beams of daylight's abstraction slice through my frame and the world above glows in a dark orange mask. Clouds are pink then yellow then green. The universe for a moment dissolves in a manic miasma of change. Creatures of nature long hidden become visible in the sparkling vision, revelations of shape and colour. A festival is suddenly born in the soil and the earth sings unintelligible songs of joy in a flickering instant.


And then it's gone.


And the sparrow too.


Sean McNulty is based in Dublin. His work has appeared in Richmond Review, Melic Review, Androgyny Magazine, and Brooklyn Voice. His novel, Cuchullain’s Castle, was recognised as a finalist in the Irish Novel Fair 2018.


Sean says…‘The Keepers of Magic Time’ was written as a response to cinema, which is illumination, and the film director Terrence Malick who uses light in very specific ways to create his images. Well-known for filming only at dusk, to capture the magic of natural light, I imagined one of his many troops of light photographers capturing his images, as the eye of this piece.’

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