Out of Time
Thomas discovered the pocket watch on the night of his tenth birthday.
It was a very old watch, its lid ornate with tiny golden cogwheels which sometimes gave the impression of a subtle swivelling motion…
This birthday was worse than any other. It was the middle of the summer and all his friends were away on holiday. The only people left in the neighbourhood apart from Thomas and his parents were Miss Rigby, a middle-aged widow who lived next door and Mr Quartz, an old balding man with the most piercing blue eyes Thomas had ever seen.
He lifted the cupcake slowly and, closing his eyes, blew out the candle. He wasn’t sure if his parents had forgotten or if they just had to work but this happened almost every day.
“Dad do you think we could go bowling on the weekend?” asked Thomas.
“Don’t think I’ll have any time this week Tommy.”
“Mum can we go watch a movie tonight?” he pleaded.
“Maybe... Have you done your homework?”
“Yes, we only had math exercises today!”
“Good, well…okay…we’ll see. Depends if I’ve got time. I’ve got to finish…”
Thomas stopped listening. He knew that meant that they weren’t going.
Thomas hadn’t noticed that it had started raining. He opened the front door and called out, ‘Rover! Come here boy!’. The black and white boxer terrier leaped out of the dense bushes from the far end of the garden. Something was gleaming from between its teeth which he dropped at Thomas’ feet, running past him into the warmth of the house. Thomas cringed in disgust but picked it up, wiped it on his shirt and went inside to get a better look at it.
It was a pocket watch. He tried to open it several times, but it was impossible. The lid was stuck. So instead, he sat up in bed - for what seemed like hours - staring at its engraved patterns. He slowly felt as if he was sinking into it, enchanted by its muted seconds pulsing in his hands. Soon he fell into a deep sleep.
“Good morning Mrs Rigby!” Thomas called over the fence to the old lady who was gazing emptily at her front lawn from her porch rocking chair. “Are you busy?” A redundant question, with an obvious answer, but he was always tried to be polite. Mrs Rigby didn’t move so Thomas went around to the front of her house and greeted her once again. Looking back at the driveway briefly, Thomas confirmed that his parents were still not home. It seemed strange, but then again, they might have left early for work again this morning.
“Tommy!” Mrs Rigby snapped out of her trance-like pose and welcomed him inside with cookies that smelt like damp towels and cloudy lemonade.
“How are you my boy?” Mrs Rigby started as they moved into the living room and sat among the chaotic knitwork that sprawled over every piece of furniture.
“I’m very good thank you Mrs Rigby, but I just wanted to ask you about something.”
“Well ask away then,” she replied intrigued as she resettled her narrow glasses at the top of her nose.
“So, you have a pocket watch that looks exactly like this, right?” Thomas pulled it gently out of his pocket. “Did you - ”
Mrs Rigby suddenly seemed pale “Where did you get that,” she whispered. Mumbling anxiously, she waddled across the room and rummaged through the several wooden jewellery boxes lined upon the mantlepiece.
“Here it is!” stopped Mrs Rigby with an added sigh of relief after a couple of minutes. But her abruptness had left Thomas terribly confused. As she turned around he could see that she had retrieved two other exact replicas of the watch. The only difference was that one of them was wide open.
“Oh, don’t look so worried Tommy,” she said sitting down again placing all three of the watches on her lap. “Look here. This is my husband Richard. This watch is the only thing he left behind when he abandoned me. I didn’t even know he had this thing, but I cherish it more than anything now… No, no, don’t look at me like that! I’m certainly not worthy of pity. I was such a bad wife to my poor Richard. Look at how he’s smiling. Oh, I hope he’s happy wherever he is.”
Thomas took the open watch in his hands. His eyes however, remained fixed with astonishment on the immaculate portrait of the bearded man with an egg-shaped head engraved into the backside of the golden lid.
“If you’re wondering about this second clock now,” Mrs Rigby stated as she started observing it closely, “it’s nothing special really. It’s just that that clock you’re holding now, the one Richard left behind, never worked to tell the time, so I took it to Mr Quartz across the street - he used to be a clockmaker you know. So, I took it to him, but he said that it was hopeless. ‘Looks like something sucked the life out of this one!’ is what he told me. Oh, he’s such a funny man. Instead he offered to make me a new one. Such a kind man. The problem was though that I could never open it, so one day I guess I stopped trying and forgot about it altogether. Ha!” Mrs Rigby smiled.
She was now looking intently at the closed watch. The longer she looked, the more the patterns swirled around each other, so majestically that she felt as if she was sinking into them… peacefully falling through them with every pulsing second, every faint tick… tock… tick… tock.
“Thanks Mrs Rigby! I think I’d better ask Mr Quartz then,” Thomas said getting up, excited to discover what was hidden behind the lid of his own pocket watch.
“Yes…yes that would be…better Tommy…” Mrs Rigby’s voice faded.
“Mrs Rigby are you feeling okay? Mrs Rigby?”
“I’m fine Tommy…I just think I’ll sit here for a while.”
Thomas decided to leave the old lady to rest. Setting her husband’s pocket watch beside a lilac ball of yarn on the coffee table, Thomas slowly walked towards the front door but as soon as his hand touched the handle he heard a peculiar sound from the other room. It sounded like a large coin spinning. The looping sound accelerated, faster and faster until it suddenly thudded to the ground…
By the time Thomas ran back into the living room, Mrs Rigby was gone and where her feet should have been, was her pocket watch, now open, with her face engraved there, smiling.
Thomas knocked once, and the creaking door swung open effortlessly.
“Hello…?” There was no answer.
“Hello? Mr Quartz?” The floorboards caved under his feet with every step he took. The room was dark, and a light breeze echoed in the walls of the draughty house. A single streak of light cut through the shadows and a slender figure appeared in the doorway at the far end of the room.
“How can I help you Tommy?” he said with a soft smile as he pulled shut the huge sliding door of what seemed like his study. But Thomas had already seen them – inside the room, through enormous glass cases, gleamed thousands of those same pocket watches.
He suddenly felt light headed. His limbs turned weak and the watch slipped out of his hand. He felt the thump of its fall reverberate under his feet. He looked down at the moth-eaten rug where it had fallen feeling nauseous with terror as he saw his parents staring up at him from under the ornate lid of the open pocket watch.