I can hear the clocks all around me filling the shop with the tick-tock of gears, the swish of pendulums, the chimes on the hour or the half or the quarter. One of them lies half-assembled in front of me, a collection of parts taken from the boxes that old Mistress Venables kept so meticulously labelled, laid out as she taught me.
My face flushes at the thought of her. Her hand clipping me around the back of the head. The rebukes scattered among the lessons like numbers across a clock face. The sound of her screaming at me that she would find a new apprentice, that the shop would never be mine.
The feel of my hands around her throat, squeezing tighter and tighter and-
Damn it, the cam wheel won’t turn. I pull it out, glare at it, try to work out what’s gone wrong. But all I can think of is the ticking.
It must be a faulty wheel. I curse Venables for leaving me such rubbish, fling it away into a corner and take another from the box. I peer through my magnifying glasses, place the cam wheel with needle-sharp tweezers, lining up its two sets of teeth with the others around it. I smile at my handiwork, wind the spring and release it. Gears grind instead of flowing then fly from their places, flung about the room by the flailing spring. I curse and hurl the lot away from me, its case shattering against the wall, pieces tinkling into the darkness beyond the lamplight.
I breath deeply, trying to calm myself despite the ticking of the clocks growing ever closer around me. How did Venables find this racket soothing? How did I? How does anyone?
I reach for the boxes again. There’s her tiny, meticulous penmanship on the labels. ‘Locking wheel’. ‘Third wheel’. ‘Rack hook’.
That’s the problem, isn’t it? These are her parts, her clocks. They’re out for revenge, trying to stop me working. Even dead she can’t leave me in peace. Every clock in this room, every clock in the shop, they’re full of her parts.
I’ll throw the old parts out in the morning. They’ll be costly to replace, but what price sanity?
Still, this clock is due tomorrow, and I want to be paid. I curse myself for wasting the first frame, turn to fetch another from the shelf.
The clocks are closer. They loom over me out of the shadows, louder and louder. Never quiet. Never still. Their endless tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock.
Her parts. Her clocks. I see what they’re doing, stopping me working, ruining my reputation, ruining me.
I won’t have it.
I reach down into my toolbox, never taking my eyes off the clocks. I don’t dare. My hand closes around a hammer.
Then fast as a second hand I’m up, sweeping the clocks from the shelves, smashing in their stupid faces just like I did hers. I grab and throw and swing and hit, the workshop a whirl of flying gears and crumpled cogs. I realise that I’m laughing, drowning out the sound of the ticking, and I go with the noise, relish it along with the shattering sounds.
The clocks are all smashed, scattered across the floor. I stop, bent double to catch my breath, my broken laughter turning into a hoarse wheeze.
I look over my shoulder but there are no clocks left.
This time from the other direction.
Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock.
It won’t stop.
I back up against the workbench, pull my legs up beneath me as I curl up on top, as far from the ticking shadows as I can get.
But the sound won’t stop. It’s coming at me from every direction. Louder and louder, like an itch in my brain that won’t ever end. Not as long as I can hear.
With trembling fingers I reach for the one tool left out on the workbench. The noise is overwhelming, a cacophony of ticking filling my workshop, my ears, my mind. Only one way to stop this.
I jam the needle point of the tweezers down into my ear.
Soon the ticking will stop.
For more Friday flash fiction check out Lisa Walker England’s blog or the #FlashFriday tag. For more mechanical stories from me check out Riding the Mainspring, available for the Kindle through Amazon and on other formats via Smashwords.
Picture by William Warby via Flickr creative commons