Down a twisty, cobbled road in a sunny, piecemeal village, the smallest, oldest building is a quaint cottage that is both a workshop and a home. In the front room, an array of clocks and watches tick away, marking seconds and gathering time. Somehow, mysteriously so, these clocks - all of them, from the towering grandfather to the smallest wrist watch - keep time together. In unison. Not a single tick or tock is out of place, as if each clock is too embarrassed to fail the group.
A small door remains closed at the back of the room. One presumes in this one-storey house the door must lead to a bedroom and kitchen, though it would be hard to find someone could tell you for sure what’s on the other side.
Three men stand in the centre of the room, their eyes and voices focused on a man in a green armchair.
“Ridiculous,” says the man at the front, whose pretty hat and shiny shoes mark both his importance and affluence, “Absolutely, completely, preposterous.”
“I assure you, Lord Dietrich, that no amount of adverbs will persuade me to your cause. It cannot be fixed,” says the man in the armchair, his voice calm in contrast. He is a handsome man, neither young nor old, with light hair and a strong jaw, and pale skin that sets him apart from the rest of the village.
“Absurd,” Lord Dietrich spits. Then, into his voice creeps a hint of desperation, “You haven’t even looked at it yet, Horatius.”
“I can see it fine from here,” Horatius’ voice softens, “There’s nothing to be done.”
“What will it cost?” Lord Dietrich demands.
“There is no amount that you can offer me to fix your clock,” Horatius rises to his feet, and puts a hand of the shoulder of the shorter man. Lord Dietrich shrugs him off.
“Name your price, Horatius. I assure you, I can pay it,” he says, heatedly.
“It is not a matter of money,” Horatius says, quietly, “And the price was paid long ago, my lord.”
“What do you mean?” Lord Dietrich demands, “What are you playing at? You are a fixer of clocks, are you not?!”
“Yes, my lord.”
“Then fix it.”
“I can’t, Lord Dietrich. You are out of time,” Horatius’ voice is not unkind, “If you would please leave my shop, sirs.”
The two men who are standing behind Lord Dietrich are wearing his crest and livery. Between them they are holding a large, mahogany clock. It’s face is beautiful, built by a fine craftsman, with each quarter designed to reflect a season. As the day ticks by, so the hands pass from winter, to spring, and summer at noon. And, as the dusk falls, finally into winter. The clock is ticking still, but it’s time is running out.
Lord Dietrich is desperate, his brows furrow. He grabs Horatius’ arm as he walks by.
“Anything,” he whispers, “Just tell me what you want. Anything at all.” Horatius places a hand atop Lord Dietrich’s, and gently removes the man’s grip.
“There is nothing,” he says, kindly, “I am sorry.”
Now, the front door opens, and all four men turn to see a small boy standing in the doorway. The boy is immediately taken aback by the presence of four tall men, and the marked tension in the room. He shrinks back, ducking his head.
“If you will excuse me, Lord Dietrich, it seems that I have a customer,” Horatius’ tone is a final dismissal. Even Lord Dietrich, accustomed to hearing no orders save his own, recognizes this. He snaps at his servants, and they bluster out the door. The boy moves out of the way, quickly, to avoid being pushed or crushed.
“Come in, child,” Horatius’ smile is warm and inviting. His cat, ginger and fat, leaves its spot of sun by the window to wind itself around the boys’ feet, nudging him inside with its head. The boy reaches down to pet the cat, and steps inside. The door closes behind.
The boy stares in amazement at the walls and shelves of clocks and watches, and the incredibility of all ticking in the same time.
Horatius has settled back into his armchair.
“Have a seat,” he gestures a second armchair in front of him.
“Master Horatius,” the boy begins in a rush, taking three stammering steps towards Horatius.
“Please, sit, Evander,” Horatius insists. The boy is too young to question why this stranger would know his name, he simply accepts, as children often do, that all adults know his name in order to better scold or instruct him. Evander obeys, and sits in the second armchair. He stares at Horatius. He has never seen anyone like Horatius before, pale as if he swallowed the moon.
“What do you have there?” Horatius asks, kindly. Evander remembers, and looks down at his hands grasped around an old, tarnished pocket watch.
“It’s my grandda’s,” he says, holding it out, “Can you fix it, Master Horatius? It’s almost out of time.” Horatius gently takes the watch from the boy’s hands, and turns it over in his own.
“Tell me about your grandda, Evander,” he says, quietly. The ginger cat comes to lie beside the boy, purring.
“He smells like pipe smoke and hugs very tight,” Evander says, in a rush, “He is old and his bones are creaky and he falls asleep beside the fire most nights. He tells the most wonderful stories.”
As Evander speaks, Horatius sees the man his grandda is. Warm, strong, and loving. A simple man who lives each day to love, and does his best to help where he can.
“Can you fix it, Master Horatius?” Evander says, worry and sadness creeping into his voice.
“Yes,” Horatius says, and is silent for a moment, looking down at the watch. The sound of ticking seems to grow louder around them, filling the silence. After a minute, Horatius passes the watch back to Evander. It is shiny, now, almost as new. It ticks in time with the rest of the room. Evander’s face lights up.
“It will keep time for a while still. For more stories, and more hugs,” Horatius smiles, “But, Evander, you must know - someday the time will run out, and I won’t be able to fix it. Someday, this watch will pass to you, and so will the stories and strong hugs.”
Evander nods, solemnly.
“But not today,” Horatius says.
“Thank you, Master Horatius,” Evander replies, excitedly, “I’ll go and tell grandda!” He jumps to his feet, and rushes out the door.
As Evander exits the shop, the tick tocking from inside is silenced, and he can truly here the ticking of his grandfather’s pocket watch. He smiles. Behind him, an old sign blows in the gentle breeze: Horatius Portius, Timekeeper.