It was the most unusual of shops. I had passed it literally thousands of times, because it was right on my way as I walked to work. Each day, as I made my usual turn from 49th Street, “Time Enough” was there on my right, windows full of old clocks and unique timepieces. I could never seem to work shopping into my schedule, so I typically just gave it a glance and moved on. Until that Monday.
That was the morning when I misread my bedside clock and found myself with an extra ninety minutes, so I decided to stop in and indulge my curiosity. The little bell over the door jingled as I went in, but there was no one yet behind the counter. The red velvet-lined shelves were mirrors of the display windows, with clocks of every kind, from all parts of Europe, but mostly from Germany and Switzerland. Large clocks, small clocks, miniature pocket timepieces, they were all there.
I heard a man’s soft voice, from the direction of the rear counter, “May I help you? Is there something special you require?”. It was a cultured voice, deep and resonant, with something of a Germanic accent. I turned and walked to his counter.
He was older, perhaps seventy, with a face weathered by a life of sun exposure. His silver hair was perfectly combed, and his full beard was well-groomed. His twinkling eyes completed the Santa Claus look, and his face was creased with a warm smile. I couldn’t help but like this man.
I replied, “No, I had nothing in mind. I just wanted to browse your shop since I had some extra time this morning. Would you mind showing me some of your more interesting pieces? But, if you’re busy….”
His smile got even bigger, as he rose, saying, “Tut tut, my boy, come with me and be amazed. You’ll soon have to buy something, I bet.” I smiled in return, with my secret knowledge that my tight budget would hardly allow me to buy an antique clock.
The old man huffed and puffed a little, perhaps evidence of too much love of the pipe he carried. I followed him over to the wall aisle, which apparently was his ‘aisle of treasures’, because he fairly beamed as I paused to examine the marvels before me. Many of these timepieces were crafted to look like alpine chateaus, and some reminded me of pictures I had seen of old city clocks, high above the square, mechanical figures tolling out the hours. If I spent more than a minute or two on a particular mechanical device, he’d reach across and activate the spring-driven works, and little people, dressed in lederhosen or other classic costumes would emerge from the tiny doors and dance while the clock chimed the hours and beguiled the observer. I was so glad I had stopped in this morning, but my visit had consumed all my time, so it was time to make my apologies and be on my way.
I turned to him and said, “My name is Peter Jacobsen, and you are…..Mr…?” I had already formed something of a bond with this kindly man, so I wanted to part on good terms.
His voice, somewhat louder than when I first heard him behind me, was full of good cheer as he shook my hand vigorously, saying, “And I am Otto Weidl, son of a Cherman clockmaker!” His pride in his heritage and craft came through strongly, and I smiled broadly as I pumped his hand.
I left the store, still smiling with my memories of an interesting experience, and a good friend gained. I decided to change the setting of my alarm clock to allow for future visits.
Thus it was that I came to be in this mess, and I really have only myself to blame. “Curiosity killed the early worm”, or whatever that saying was.
I became a regular at the “Time Enough” shop, and I did find room in my tight budget for the occasional small purchase. Otto and I became good friends, and I looked forward to each visit, the discovery of each new timekeeping gem.
I finally remembered to ask him about the large ormolu clock located high on the wall aisle. I couldn’t see much of it, and he had never offered to bring it down for my perusal. So, I was again curious – was it broken, or was it being kept back for sentimental reasons?
I pointed to it, and asked to examine it. As my words were spoken, his usual smile dropped away, and a sadness came into his eyes.
For a long time he was silent, with his eyes downcast, but then he looked at me, a tear in his eye, and finally spoke, “My new friend, you don’t want to see that one, trust me.”
Of course, he was speaking directly to my ‘curiosity center’, and I couldn’t help blurting out, “But of course I do. Why do you say it’s not for me to look at?” He was shaking his head as I spoke.
I was almost pleading now, “What is wrong with it? Will you tell me that, at least?”
He didn’t reply, but locked the door, flipped the sign to ‘Closed’, poured each of us another demitasse of espresso and indicated that I should follow him to the little room behind the counter. We sat at the tiny table and sipped the strong brew, each with our own thoughts. Several times he cleared his throat as if to speak, but each time he stopped and sat back. I waited for him to decide.
Otto cleared his throat once more, then spoke, with a huskiness to his voice, his struggle apparent, “I will tell you the story of the clock, but I am greatly reluctant to do this thing. I think you will understand, after. It is not a long tale, but please take it as a warning.”
Nothing could keep me from hearing about this clock of mystery, now. He gestured toward a small shelf behind me, and I swiveled to see what was there. Somehow, the ormolu clock, in its somewhat dusty glory, was now upon the small shelf. The clock was, as so many others, a model of a chateau, but it had a darkness to it, almost a sinister look. If there was such a thing as a sad window, then there were sad windows repeated across the top of the tiny chateau, and it had an oddly twisted front door. There were hints of strange beasts in the shrubbery that surrounded, and the shrubbery was close against the door, as if guarding it. There was no happiness in that gold-clad repository of time.
I turned back to Otto, and was surprised to see his eyes, shining with tears. I waited, not wanting to force him, but still hungering to hear the story. I waited, the clock waited, and its ticking filled the little room, the small sounds canceling out the intruding noises of the street outside. The sounds continued, but time seemed to stop, holding its breath, waiting.
At long last he spoke, and his voice pushed aside the veil of the past, revealing the dark past of the now-sinister object.
Even now, I can clearly recall his words, as they etched a space in the near silence, his words hanging in the air. The story had a presence, and it came to life and pushed at the limits of the room. I was immobilized, frozen, almost fearing to breathe, as if that would break the spell, the enchantment, of this chronicle of the manmade thing that had assumed a life of its own.
He finally began, “This cursed thing was built in the Black Forest, deep among the giant trees, far from the eyes of other men, imbued with powers few of us can comprehend. The master clockmaker of Karlsruhe created this at the behest of some strange bidding, some calling from another world, and he could not help himself. His hands, his mind, every bit of him danced to the tug of a strange puppeteer, helpless, hurting, wanting nothing but escape. Each night he collapsed into his small bed as if he had been switched off. His few hours of sleep were restless, and not satisfying. There were hints of dreams, almost nightmares, but nothing lingered into the day, other than a dark mood memory.
“Slowly the thing took shape as he carved and shaped the wood. Faces peered at him from the grains of the ancient wood, and he heard growls and whispers from the hidden beasts. His soul suffered with the work, but he was unable to stop. Months passed, almost a year, and at last, it was done. The master clockmaker of Karlsruhe pushed back from his table and stood, drained, and made his way to the bed of no rest and collapsed, again.”
I couldn’t hold my tongue, and I risked an interruption, “What happened then? Was he released from this strange power, from this work of evil?”
Otto was slumped in his chair, eyes closed, his shoulders sagging, weighed down with an unseen burden. I might have rushed to his side, but his breathing was regular, and his color seemed normal. I waited.
He opened his eyes and gazed at me through bloodshot eyes. This story was draining him, and I began to regret asking to hear it. I almost made him stop, but something inside me could not rest until the story was complete.
Otto resumed, “Everything will be told, Peter. Everything. Give me time to get it organized, and I shall slake your thirst. I hope you don’t regret this decision, because the story cannot be un-heard, I hope you know. It has a power, and it may exert this power over you. Please forgive me, for I am weak.”
This was somewhat unsettling, but in my eagerness to hear, I quelled my misgivings, and begged him to continue. This would soon be a source of regret.
Otto picked up the thread of the story, and continued. A sadness was building in his voice, but he was able to go on, saying, “In the old house in the Black Forest, the finished clock rested in the center of his rough table. It somehow seemed to radiate force, and there was a low thrumming that sometimes emanated from within its secret works. He stayed in the corner of the room, sitting on the edge of his bed, eyeing it warily. Then he rose, intending to make his way to the door, assuming hopefully that he would no longer be in thrall to this unseen master, but it was not to be. He tried several times to go past the table, desirous of leaving the clock and getting away, but he could not make it. Something in the back of his mind was compelling him to gather up the clock and he would be released, but leaving without it was not an option. Resignedly, the master clockmaker took it up, then left the old house, forever.” Otto sagged back in the chair, again. His eyes were closed, as before.
I sat, transfixed. What was the strange power of this mechanism? Should I leave the shop, forgo any further visits with Otto, stay clear of this malevolent thing? Oddly, I felt as if I no longer had this option. It was as if I had put out roots, and was anchored in the chair. Just my imagination, I know, but I felt a strange tingling, all up my spine.
Otto rose from his chair, displaying new strength. He strode purposefully to the shelf, then picked up the golden clock. He turned back to me and placed it on the center of our small table. I gazed at it, unable to tear my eyes away, unable to move. There was a low thrumming in the room, and my body resonated to it, holding me there with new power.
I heard Ottos’s voice, as if from a distance, “I am sorry, my friend, but I must do as I am bid, as it was when I was in Karlsruhe. Please go through the door on your left.”
How odd. The door which led to the shop was on my right, but he had clearly said ‘left’. I slowly turned my head, saw that a new door was now open, to the left of me. I rose, stiffly, then walked slowly to the door. There were dark clouds roiling in there, and I was afraid, but I kept walking, into the darkness.
As I passed Otto, he said, in an apologetic voice, “Meet your new master, my unfortunate friend.”