A boy is snatched away and taken to the tower.
The Clock Tower
The horse drawn cart clattered to a halt on the cobblestone street. Sanger with a slight crouch in a thin coat and weathered hat wrapped the reins around the brake and lit onto the stones with a stagger. Limping to the back of the cart, he lifted a hemp bag onto his back. The weight lowered his bent frame even lower as he proceeded to the church across the way.
Sanger pushed the heavy door open and trod up the solid oak stairs of the clock tower. The smell of machine oil and the whirl and clank of shifting gears overwhelmed his senses so that he was hardly aware of the twilight gloom surrounding him. As he climbed higher the weight on his back grew as if the task he had been ordered to do were maliciously being made more onerous. He took it as a challenge to his faith and his pace did not slacken. Each time the heavy shoe of his club foot landed on an oaken plank, it were as if he were adding to the beat of the mechanism- the pinions, worms, snails, arbors; pawls and ratchets, cams and cam followers; cables, levers, and pivots, and finally, if one listened keenly, there was the swish and swash of receding and advancing air as the massive pendulum swung.
Moments before, he had gone through the door of the inner wall of the cathedral. Statuary of biblical scenes surrounded the globes and dials that tracked time. In particular, the furious, yet wretched, face of Satan as he was cast from the clouds of heaven ever sent a shiver down Sanger’s spine.
Sanger’s task, appointed by the keepers of the cathedral, was simply to keep the timepiece clean. Deep appreciation fueled his devotion, and no inspection faulted his work. Now, he had another task, one that he felt was far more important. A voice had spoken in a dream. Utterly compelling, he offered not even token resistance nor wonder why it had chosen him.
Now, he whispered, "I have the boy you have chosen as my offering to you."
Sanger shrugged the bag off his shoulder and swung it gently onto the platform near the top of the tower. He untied the rope binding the sack and pulled out the boy. Nine years old, small for his age, hungry, without friends; he had been so easy to entice into his home.
Seeking escape, the boy raised his head. Into the gloom he searched. Dark forms turning, grinding metal, and the mix of oak and oil raised the hair on his neck and made his blood run cold.
Sanger smiled, “We’re in the clock. If you promise to be quiet, I’ll take the gag off.” There was a nod. “That’s a good boy” Sanger pulled the gag down, then untied the rope binding the hands.
The boy rubbed his wrists. “Can you take the rope off my leg, too?”
“If I did that you’d run away, wouldn’t you?”
The boy pleaded loudly, “No, I wouldn’t, Mr. Sanger. I promise!”
“Speak in low tones. This is a holy place.”
The boy cringed, yet despite his fear, he stared in wonder at the movement of gears. “Why did you bring me here?”
“It’s marvelous, isn’t it? I want you to be a part of this. It’s a place of integers and ratios, and the first law states the speed of a gear is inversely proportional to the number of its teeth.”
The boy hardly understood, but caught one word that he felt was of utmost importance. “Where are the teeth?”
Sanger loved this place, to touch the power within it. He stretched out a hand and caressed a cog. “These are the teeth and they crunch seconds, minutes, hours, all the units of time and fractions of them. Time flows here from one cog to another.”
“Mr. Sanger, will you help me go home? My mother is...”
“Don’t you like this place? Look, don’t you see? It’s more than machinery, more than a timepiece. It’s a vessel to another time and place! Any boy would love to be here to explore and learn its secrets.”
“My father can help you better than me. He helps the mayor. That’s his job.”
“I know about your father. How he drinks and hits you, your mother, and sister. I haven’t hit you. I befriended you. Gave you a meal.”
The boy nodded. He knew better than to argue with a grown-up; though how this man knew so much about his family he couldn’t understand. He didn’t believe the man brought him here just to show off. Scenes from tales told around the fireplace at night filled his mind; witches with boiling cauldrons, ogres feasting on children... His heart raced. In desperation, he screamed, “Look out, Mr. Sanger, behind you!”
Sanger turned. The boy crashed into him, spilling both of them onto the floor.
Rising, the boy grabbed the rope around his leg, and yanked it out of Sanger’s hand so fast that he staggered backwards and nearly fell. By the time he recovered, Sanger was on his knees, blocking the way down. The boy, clutching the rope to his chest, ran to the stairs going further up and climbed.
There was a scornful laugh. “There’s no way out up there. You’ll have to get past me.”
The boy kept climbing.
Sanger chuckled and shuffled in pursuit, knowing he need not rush.
The boy was two flights higher when he attacked the rope around his ankle. Freeing it, he waited till Sanger was half way up the flight. Raising the heavy bundle above his head, he hurled it at the limping man.
Sanger was ready, had one hand firmly on the handrail, the other raised to ward off the blow. The rope fell, tumbling down into the black.
Sobbing, the boy clambered up the stairs.
Sanger leered, mimicked the father’s voice. “Give up. I won’t hurt you, son.”
The boy reached the top floor, only a small square platform made for maintenance of the highest parts of the clock. Clutching the rail, he looked down for a place to jump down on, but there were only turning gears and darkness. He curled into a corner. The clump clump of a heavy shoe beat upon his pounding heart. He clamped his hands over his ears and squeezed his eyes shut till tears ran down his cheeks. Louder and louder, stronger and stronger the pounding became till a hand grabbed his hair and raised his head.
“Open your eyes and look into my face.”
Eyes trembled open and tears overflowed to stream down.
“You have your mother’s eyes--the deepest blue I’ve ever seen.” Sanger pulled the boy up, took a rag out of his pocket to forced it into the boy’s mouth.
The boy fought, but was no match for Sanger’s strength. He was heaved up, dropped unto the man’s shoulders, and fainted.
The boy awoke. Dizzy. Frozen. Leaden. His mind strained to understand. Dark forms moved in a blur. Cogs everywhere. He was deep within the mechanism. A sudden lurch sent pain from his back to his neck. The boy saw that he was roped to a wheel attached to the side of a bigger one. An even larger one was looming over him. He would be crushed between the teeth. Twisting his head, he saw Sanger smiling.
Sanger caressed the boy’s face. He took the rag out of the boy’s mouth.
“Please, Mr. Sanger, let me go. I’m sorry I threw the rope at you.”
“I’m not angry at you. Neither have I a grudge against your family.”
“Let me go, please.”
“I was told you would be evil, that you would kill millions.”
Sobbing, the boy screamed, “You’re crazy. Mommy, help!”
Sanger shoved the rag back into the boy’s mouth. He watched as time turned and crushed the boy. Then, he went down the stairs to fetch the bucket and mop to clean the mess. He was good at that, he knew.