At the center of town is a clock tower. For most people, what fascinates them is the intricate carvings on its marble walls and the ancient-looking clock face with strange indecipherable symbols where the numbers should be. Historians claim it is Greek, Babylonian, Egyptian, Oriental and every other ancient civilization in between, but a definitive answer has never been found.
Amid the throngs of scientists, archeologists and tourists, I always make it a point to show them the inside of the clock. Creaky wooden steps lead you up into the sky as the metal gears and cogs whir and clank with each passing second. It is a comforting sound to my ears; it somehow assures me that as long as the gears work and turn as they should, the world will not end.
But I bring them not to show them these complicated mechanisms. Instead, I draw their attention to a small wooden trapdoor in the ceiling of the clock room. Then the usual flurry of questions: what’s up there, can’t you open the door, haven’t you tried breaking it down?
God knows I’ve tried doing that. More specifically speaking, the police, the fire brigade, the local blacksmith, me: we all tried at some point or another. But no matter what we hit the door with, be it axe or hammer, it refuses to budge or even crack open an inch.
One October afternoon later, I don’t know what compelled me to enter the tower as the first drops of rain came down. That’s another strange thing about the tower: the seasonal monsoons here are notorious for the damage it causes to the town buildings, yet the clock tower always emerges unscathed. It’s almost as if the monsoon would not assault it with its merciless winds and biting rain.
That thought barely registered in my mind however. I quickly dumped my raincoat aside as I clambered to the top of the tower. The gears welcomed me with their clunking as they went about their eternal rotation. I paused briefly there on the clock platform to catch my breath. It was then I looked up, breath coming in ragged gasps.
The trapdoor was slightly ajar. It was just open a little more than it usually is; a few hair breadths more. I half-ran, half-waddled to the ladder and set it against the inclinations in the adjacent wall. Taking one deep gulp of air, I climbed it slowly until my hand was in reach of the metal ring of the trapdoor. I reached out and gave it a mighty tug..
It swung open violently as if it was close to being ripped off its hinges. Perhaps that was my fault: in my hastiness, I had judged the trapdoor to be as stubborn as it always has been, and put much more force in my tug than normally necessary.
Nothing on Earth could have prepared me for what I saw next.
Where I had expected a room a little smaller than the pyramidal shape of the roof, I found a vast, cavernous hall more suited to a cathedral than the attic of a clock tower. It took me all my willpower to not to pass out from that realization.
There were clocks everywhere of all shapes and sizes, all showing different times on their faces. I looked at my own wristwatch, a gift from my long-gone grandfather: the hour and minute hands were spinning round wildly, even switching direction mid-spin for seemingly no reason at all.
My head felt as if it was spinning too. I looked up and saw a monk approaching me. He wore brown friar robes and an understanding smile upon his face. I rushed to him, eager for some human companionship in the brief seconds (minutes?) that my life had been turned completely on its head.
I went to him, but I found myself unable to speak. I felt intensely tired and weak; my knees were jelly. The monk simply stood where he was and continued smiling. My vision blurred. I rubbed my eyes and took off my glasses, and that was when I heard him call my name.
Struggling to make out the monk’s serene face, I managed a whisper, “How did you know my name?” A voice echoed all around me:
We thank you for submitting your application to us. We’ve only just had the opportunity to review your file, and your dedication towards the care of our clock tower has been noted. Rest assured, the dizziness will subside momentarily and you will feel fine soon enough.
I fell down. My eyelids felt heavy and my arms weak. With what little strength I could muster I tried to move my hands in the monk’s general direction. He seemed to pay me no heed, continuing on in his eerily musical tone of voice.
That said, welcome to the Temporal Intervention Mitigation and Enforcement division. Don’t worry, you will come to understand our purpose in due time. For now, I think you should just get some rest..
I heard the chimes of a thousand thousand clocks at once, and blacked out.