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Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Contest Entry · #2248474
Bernard buys a strange clock.
Winding Up Clocks

“And what are those clocks in the corner over there? They seem quite old and yet different from the usual run of antiques.”

The proprietor glanced where his customer was pointing and shook his head. “You don’t want to be looking at them, sir. A very specialised niche for just a few collectors interested in the more arcane of clockmaker’s skills. Most people don’t like ‘em.”

Bernard refused to let go. “But what are they? Never seen anything like them. For one thing, they all seem to be broken. Every one of them has only one hand.”

“Not broken, sir,” responded the old man behind the counter. “They’re supposed to be like that, you see. Designed for a special purpose and only that. Only need one hand to tell you all you need to know.”

“And what would that be?” asked Bernard.

“Difficult to say.” The proprietor seemed reluctant to explain further but, after a brief pause, he added, “They’re called winding up clocks.”

Bernard looked at him in surprise. “Winding up clocks? Damned funny name, isn’t it? All these old clocks have to be wound up, after all.”

“That’s true, sir. But if you’d care to have a look at these in the other corner, I think you’d find them much more interesting. Victorian they are, sir, and Swiss. Highly desirable amongst cuckoo clock collectors.”

Bernard refused to be deflected from the strange winding up clocks. He took a few steps closer to them and examined each one carefully. “They seem in pretty good condition to me, apart from the single hand. How old are they, anyway?”

The proprietor was looking very uncomfortable now. He rubbed his hands together nervously as he replied. “Oh, very old, sir. They were here when I inherited the shop from my grandfather and he reckoned they were much older than him. Should be around 17th Century, I think.”

“Do they still work? None of them appear to be running.”

A worried look passed across the proprietor’s face. “No, sir, not running. But they do work, as far as I know. We’re not supposed to wind them up until they’re sold. Only the owner can do that, you see. Or so my grandfather told me.”

Bernard snorted. “Bloody silly to call them winding up clocks then,” he said. He grabbed one of them and turned it around so that a large key could be seen in the rear of the clock. Before the old man could object, he tried to turn the key.

It refused to move.

“There you are,” said Bernard. “The damn thing’s broken after all. Can’t turn the key.”

The proprietor shrugged. “That’s just it, sir. You don’t own the clock so you can’t wind it. Just as my grandfather told me.”

Bernard glared at him angrily. “That’s ridiculous.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but that’s how it is. It won’t work until you buy it and I’d rather not sell it to you.”

“You won’t sell it? Then why the hell is it on display here? Doesn’t make sense.”

The old man began to rub his hands together again. “I didn’t say I won’t sell it, sir. But I’d far rather you bought one of my other clocks. Much easier to use and you can test them before buying, you see.”

Suddenly a huge smile beamed from Bernard’s face. “Oh, I see. This is to make me determined to buy this weird thing, isn’t it? Strange marketing but I like it. You’re a wise old feller, aren’t you?”

“No, no sir, that’s not it at all. I…”

But Bernard was not to be gainsaid now. He had seen through the clever ploy to get him interested in the clocks and he was not going to be put off finding out the real secret behind them.

“I’ll take it,” he announced. Without listening to the old man’s attempt to renew his warnings, Bernard took the few paces to the till and waited for the proprietor to serve him. Now that it was clear that Bernard was determined, the old man gave up and accepted the proffered money without further complaint. Bernard left the shop, bearing his trophy in triumph.

At home, he placed the clock on his dining room table and sat down to examine it in detail. It was ornately decorated with wooden carvings of foliage, birds and small beasts. Now that Bernard could scrutinise it properly, it was clear that the spindle was designed to carry only one hand. It seemed that the old man was right; this clock was intended for a purpose that could be fulfilled with just one indicator.

Turning it around, he tried again to wind it. The key still refused to turn. Bernard sat for a moment in thought. The old man must have hoodwinked him, he thought. The damn clock was broken after all. He opened the back to see if there was a way to fix the problem.

A piece of paper fell out of the innards on to the table.

Bernard put down the clock and regarded the paper with suspicion. It was yellowed with age and folded in two. There was an inscription on the visible side. In an old fashioned script, clearly hand written, were the words, Winding Up Clock. Bernard picked up the paper and saw that there was more written in the same hand on the other side. Instructions, it read.

Maybe the old man had been telling the truth after all, thought Bernard. He unfolded it and, as advised, read the instructions inside.

Be sure that you want to know what this clock can tell you. It is a winding up clock. As such, it can tell you how long you have to live. In other words, it is a clock to measure how many days you have until you are wound up. It will count down until the day of your death. Now that you know this, you will find that the key will turn and the clock will run. But be sure, be sure.

Bernard read the instructions three times before making a move. Then he read them again. He turned the clock around to examine its face again. Like any clock, the numbers went up to twelve. Did that mean he had only twelve days or more to live? There must be some way to go beyond that figure. Perhaps a hidden door to reveal how many revolutions the clock had yet to make.

He searched for any sign that this might be so. But nothing was revealed. He must either start the clock to find out or forever wonder just what it would have told him. He stared at it as the possible consequences ran through his mind. What would it be like, knowing how long he had to live? Would it drive him mad knowing that time was ever getting shorter and that, ultimately, only a few seconds remained? Or was it a complete hoax and this indecision was some mad clockmaker’s joke?

He sat at the table for hours before making up his mind. This must surely be a load of nonsense and there was nothing to be feared after all. Although it was true that everything the old man had said had come true so far.

He pushed the nagging doubt away and turned the clock around so that he could see the key. His hand moved to grasp it and he slowly exerted pressure. It began to turn.

Word count: 1,253
For SCREAMS!!! April 15 2021
Prompt: Winding up clocks.

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