The Clockmaker

The Clockmaker


Kenneth Burchfiel

If it were not for my various inhibitions, I might be better known around the area. It does not bother me. My work alone is enough to sustain me from one night until the next.

The town does know me, mind you. They swing open my wooden door to find dozens of wooden faces, hundreds of metal hands and thousands of iron screws. Rare is the customer who exits without a timepiece in their arms. Word of mouth has spread my business far beyond my storefront, but it is the townspeople whom I am most familiar with.

And such townspeople! This is a village that wakes up at 6:03 and returns to bed at 9:07, plus or minus a few ticks of the second hand. My dials govern the community; the mayor is but a figurehead.

This is not a tale of how, through the years, I have come to master the art of clockwork. Let the other manufacturers rehash such stories. No; I bring you here to whisper a secret that my customers have not yet come to realize.

About a decade ago, I realized something that hit me rather hard: I had a monopoly on time. We are a small village, you see; there is little contact with outside timepieces, especially the government models and other accurate brands. And so the people of this town had to trust that my craftwork points in the right position; that the arms will be allies at midnight and against one another at six.

I do not mean to say that my clocks were inaccurate. Every night, I would check the pendulums and springs against the sunset. (My father was in the army; he provided me with the charts.) But what I came to realize was that, no matter where the hands pointed, the townspeople assumed they were in the right place. What reference did they have? Two days on the Trans-Siberian could not take them to a craftsman better than I.

Over the years, as I watched those faces shift in harmony, the feeling came to me that my clocks carried a power untapped. The dials and faces were timekeeping instruments as they stood, but could they not become far more?

What you must realize is that clocks here do not just regulate time; they regulate life. The townspeople here eat by the hour hand, talk by the minute hand and breathe—yes, they are this punctual—by the second hand. That is why my store retains its business.

This is not to say that I had jurisdiction over them, at that point. Time had jurisdiction over them. But with a few tweaks, a few adjustments, I could warp time to the point where it was my own creation. My own choosing.

The plan began one wintry night. I do not know the date. The “Closed” sign had not yet finished swinging on the doorknob when I sidestepped behind a shelf, threaded my fingers along the woodworking and came to a stop at a bronze-plated model. Nobody saw me push the minute hand forward with my finger. The sound unnerved me. To think I was ripping into the very seams of this village.

The eventual buyers of that device were a family of three who live in a one-chimney house. Did they have any idea that time now moved faster for them? That they would start the morning fires earlier than everyone else? I had pushed them into the foreground, but they merely smiled and complimented me on the design.

Some townspeople came by that afternoon to get their pendulums rewound. I consented, but added a few grams of weight to the elderly couple’s. The days would now move faster for them—nothing drastic, but enough to hasten the deathbed’s approach. As for the other family that came in? I shaved some brass off of their weights. They would now be last, perhaps least.

You figure that I would have been satisfied by then. No; these were but the early steps.

My next target was the mayor. A good man, but quick to remind me that the power rested with him. Did it? When he came in for a replacement watch spring, I wound the metal a bit too loose. The next week, he was shouted at by the regional board for being eight minutes late to a meeting. If we had not been friends in the past, I might have made it ten.

Difficult work, making sure that every household’s clocks were maladjusted just the same. I kept copious records—disguised, of course, as business earnings. Such efforts were fruitful. Nobody dared believe that the clockmaker would send them home with an errant timepiece.

My biggest prize came just hours ago. There is a town to our south that holds time in the same light. They had recently erected a clock tower, four-faced, and asked me to make the final calibrations.

What a pleasure it was to twist the hand back a full minute and warp the gears! The villagers there will set their own clocks to my standard, then slow down their timepieces further and further until the pendulums come to a stop. A hundred hands synchronized to my authority.

Nobody is equipped to challenge my work. For I alone have the government timepieces; I alone possess the sunrise and sunset tables. They would not dare to reset their clocks, mind you. It is a sin here to infringe against time—and now, a sin to infringe against me.

The next time around, I will consider launching that clock-tower town into the future. They are mine to push and pull, after all. The best marionette artists make their strings difficult to see; well mine, mine are invisible!


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