Tepic was panting as he reached his camp, he had run all the way from the Bucket of Blood, checking regularly to make sure he wasn’t followed. This was a serious business, without the Clockwinder, the city was beginning feel wrong, as the clocks slowed and stopped, someone had to find him, and it looked like it was down to him. He pulled his small backpack from the back of his box, and started to pack it for a journey – a worn blanket, a flint and steel, two old candle stubs, a length of thin rope, a slab of vole jerky, a round of hard cheese and a loaf of crusty bread that had been cooling on someone’s windowsill that morning. In his pouch he put his collection of small stones, including the one with the hole right through and the two that stuck together, and his sling, not one of those bits of forked wood with elastic, but a soft leather cup with long strings attached. He filled his water bottle from the pond, then arranged everything on his rope belt, so it was comfortable, before adding the small viral of Myrtil’s tears. Thus prepared, he put the pack in his box, placed his belt beside it, curled up on his bed and dropped the lid, settling into the darkness. He curled up around the old clock and dozed off……
It was early, very early in the morning when he awoke, refreshed and with new purpose. As he had slept, various images had come to mind and now he knew where to at least start looking. He tied his belt, slung his pack over his back, and stepped out, flute playing a jaunty tune, ready for the adventure to come. Up the slope to the Palisade Gate, turn right into the Steam Yard, down past the coal store, left then left again, straight on past the old tree and he was on his way, the sounds of the city drifting away on the wind. New Babbage was a wonderful place, but it was sometimes nice to get out in the green fields and wooded valleys, just for a change.
The boy walked on, over hill and down dale, stopping to admire a bug, sip from a clear stream, smell the sweet scent of the wild meadow flowers, or running with the hares, a race he would laughingly lose time and again. Every now and then he would stop, reach into his pack, and draw forth an old clock, turning it over in his hands before setting off again. As the sun reached it’s height, he settled down under a Rowan bush and ate a few bites of lunch, followed be a quick nap, then set off again seemingly at random. The afternoon passed in wonder and delight, until the waning light suggested he set camp for the night. He gathered some kindling from the small copse he had stopped in, and crouched over to light his fire, though the evening was warm. As he tried to catch the sparks, he heard the trees creaking around him – it was as if they were towering over him in disapproval….. His hand dropped to his side, brushing against the viral of tears. A pure light shone out, and warmth engulfed him, gentle and comforting, and the trees settled back. It was clear to the boy, as it would have been to any boy his age, that the trees were not keen on the idea of a fire, but were quite content with the light and warmth from his friend’s tears, so he pulled his worn blanket round his shoulders, and curled up with the viral nestled in his hands.
Night passed, and after a frugal but nourishing breakfast, the boy continued on his way, tail flicking joyfully in the breeze. Around mid morning, he came to a deep vale, thick with old trees, dry underfoot though dark and cool as he passed beyond the first few sentinels of the forest. It seemed right to go deeper into the vale, but every time he found and followed a path, it brought him back out to the edge again. It wasn’t until the third time of coming out into the sunlight again that he considered that something did not want him to go further in. He sat under the shade of the tree he found himself by, and took out the clock, turning it over and over in his hands. Standing, he turned slowly to face the forest, tucked the clock into his shirt, and felt in his pouch for his sling and the stone with a hole in it. He pressed the stone into the cup, and taking a deep breath wound up, spinning the sling faster and faster, then released the stone to plunge deep though the trees. A sound almost like an angry wasp zipped through the forest, and with a satisfied “hmmmppff”, the lad set off to follow his shot. This time his path ran true, deep into the darkness of the old vale, even after he stooped to triumphantly recover the strange stone, dropping it back into his pouch.
Even though it was dark, the forest didn’t feel oppressive or threatening, more a safe and secure fortress, though a place to tread softly and with reverence. Tepic once brought his flute to his lips but as his breath began to sound the first notes of a light walking song, the quiet of the forest seemed to draw in and stifle the music, as if the silence was the deepest music there could be.
Time passed, and he moved deeper and deeper, the trees towering over him like giants. Then, ahead, there is a glimpse of sunlight, not much, but a lightening of the air, and a faint smell of wood smoke. He steps forward, into what is not really a clearing, just a slight thinning of the trees, and there in front of him is a beautiful little cottage with a curl of smoke rising from the stone built chimney. In front of the cottage is an old gnarled tree stump, and sitting there as if he had not a care in the world was the familiar figure of the Clockwinder! The boy let out a happy cry “Mr Tenk!” and dashed forward. It was as if he had not been heard, or even noticed. The Clockwinder sat engrossed in his business, which appeared to be whittling – not to any discernable purpose, but the idle whittle that reduced a stick of wood to kindling.
Curious, Tepic circled the Clockwinder, waving a hand in front of his eyes and examining him from all angles. Seeing no change, he peered into the cottage windows, seeing a neatly laid out sitting room and kitchen, with a nice fire gently going in the hearth. Trying the door, he found it opened smoothly with no creak, and he entered in. The place was clean and tidy, a small bed made up in the alcove beside the fire, perfectly positioned, and the kitchen had a good supply of stores. This was an ideal place to come to rest from the world, but was that rest temporary, or was it destined to be forever…..
He was not sure if he heard the noise of someone approaching, or if it was a change in the atmosphere, but he was sure someone else was about to arrive! He nipped back outside to stand beside the Clockwinder, who continued his whittling oblivious to the boy. Through the trees came a small figure, no bigger than Tepic himself, though broader and in some undefined way, older, though his step was skipping and light. There was a look of Miss Maggie to him, even a shade of Mr Pip, though the relationship would be distant, and although he had seen him only a few times before, Tepic knew who was coming.
“Mr Pocket!” he called out, “what you doing here?”
The small man looked in astonishment at the boy and replied “More to the point, young man, what are you doing here and how did you get here, you have no business being here!”
“Mr Pocket, i’ve come to find the Clockwinder, we need him in New Babbage, all the clocks are stopping an everything feels wrong…… but he don’t seem ter see me or know me.. can you help?”
“No NO! You can’t have him, we almost have a deal, you shouldn’t be here! GO AWAY!!” the small man was obviously furious, and Tepic realised he was going to get no help from that quarter.
“I’m sorry Mr Pocket, i tried to find you the other year, but i didn’t know where you was, otherwise i would have come an got you, Miss Maggie were awful upset when yer went away, you know…”
Mr Tenk stirred, the arrival of the other man seeming to have roused him slightly from his occupation. Seeing this, Mr Pocket became even more angry, and stepped towards the boy, gesturing him away, yelling that he must go, or he would spoil everything. Tepic stepped back, but as he did so, his heel caught on the root of the old tree stump, and he fell backwards, landing heavily on his back. In desperation he reached into his pouch and drew out one of the iron stones, flicking it towards the furious man, catching him in the chest. To his amazement, the man staggered back, clutching at himself, wheezing and coughing as if he had been dealt a mortal blow. In an instant Tepic was up on his feet, the other iron stone in hand, feigning to throw it. Mr Pocket fell back, retreating before the threat of the second stone, cursing and yelling at the boy all the time. At the edge of the clearing, he turned and ran, still uttering curses as he fled the scene. Tepic yelled after him “i came ter help you last year, an i would have helped yer this time, if’n you weren’t so mean!”
After checking for some time that Mr Pocket really had gone, he returned to the Clockwinder, recovering the iron stone on the way. He slipped the two stones back into his pouch, hearing the solid click as they clung together. Mr Tenk had settled back to his whittling now that the other man had gone, and Tepic was at a bit of a lose as to what to do next. Then inspiration struck….
He reached into his shirt, pulling free the silent clock, gently replacing the knife and stick in the Clockwinder’s hands with the motionless device. “i got a clock needs fixing Sir, can you have a look at it please?”. The Clockwinder’s fingers began to stroke and feel the mechanism, sure movements, with more purpose than before, and a change, almost imperceptible, began to cross his features. Tepic, a tiredness more complete that he had felt before, sat down at the Clockwinder’s feet, settled his back against the stump, and drifted off to sleep.
He stirred, the stretched and sleep fell away, and he realised he was in his own bed, warm and comfortable. Pushing the lid up, morning light streamed in, and he yawned and stretched again, sitting up and looking around. His pack was beside him, and his belt with the flask, pouch and viral, all as he had placed it the night before – if it was the next morning, that was. He opened the pack, noting that some of the cheese and much of the vole meat had been eaten, then he remembered, and searched quickly through his bedding……. the clock was gone.