The Alpha and Omega Device
by James Finn
part 1 of 2
“The clock itself was discovered and rebuilt back in eighteen fifty-six in Stratford-upon-Avon by my great-grandfather William Harris,” Peter explained, from across his leather topped desk to the potential buyer. “He wasn’t a horologist or even a carpenter by trade, more of a local handyman. Called upon quite frequently for his labour from what I have gathered. You know, putting up fences, cutting lawns, and the odd carpentry jobs when needed. A self- skilled man, and what he learned he had taught himself. A jack of all trades.”
Leonard Foster shifted in his seat and gave the clock a quick cursory glance, which sat on top of a mantel, before focusing his attention back on the antiques dealer. He sat in an office which looked more like a study: warm and cosy, a place to think. The perfect setting for history to be recited. Walls shelved and stacked with countless first editions and other oddities; antiquated furniture stylishly positioned throughout the room to offer a more welcoming and relaxed mood.
“And it was when my great-grandfather William was working his odd jobs that he came across the clock’s mechanical workings that now sit in its beautiful frame.
“He had been called upon by a local parson to repair a pair of outside cellar doors. Apparently there had been terrible gale winds the night before, and part of a close-by tree collapsed onto them.
“Anyway, he was down in the cellar cleaning up pieces of wood and shavings when he saw its dirty face peering from beneath an old dust sheet. Now don’t get me wrong, William wasn’t a thief or a moocher, he was an honest man, a trusted man which is why he was always called upon; but that day, for the short space of time he was down in the cellar, William became...” he flicked the air with his hand, “how can I put it? Unnaturally curious about the clock’s face. He said its dirty appearance possessed a certain character, a hidden beauty.
“Lifting the sheet, he saw that it was just the clock face and its workings, nothing more. No casing or body, just some dusty cogs and rusty gears. Well, anyway, my great grand-father went up to see the owner of the house and asked him if he would be willing to let him have the clock in lieu of payment. The owner had not been aware that the clock was down in the cellar and assumed that it must have been there before he had moved in. But he readily agreed, after first seeing the clock was worth little or of no value, and he was even more willing when he noticed it did not work.
“That night, William took the clock home, and began its restoration: cleaning up the gears, polishing the metal parts and face. Apparently, whether this is true or not, I don’t know. It was early the following morning by the time it was ready to have its key wound. He had spent the entire night working on it.
“The clock came to life with a gentle ticking. Cogs and gears moving fluidly. Now all William had to do was make it a body. He went out to his work shed sifting through various pieces of wood that he thought would be suitable for such a job. Took him little less than two hours to build the body and mount the clock securely inside. Just a square box with a round hole cut for the clock face and a small hole in its back for the insertion of the key. He said the clock didn’t need dressing up, saying that one didn’t search for a woman’s beauty in her clothes or make-up.
“Now, this is where the part of the story gets its twist. Two months after he had restored it to working order and had gave it a body, my great-grandfather died.”
Leonard smiled cynically, leaned forward slightly and said, “The clock, right?”
“No. Not the clock. In fact the clock could have saved him if he had listened to it.”
“Listened to it?” Leonard’s expression now became curious. “How?”
“The ticking, Mr Foster. By its ticking. William’s wife, my great-grandmother Juliet, said that the clock started to sound peculiar about a week before her husband’s death. She said it sounded as though the ticking was coming from a distance. And each day that passed, the ticking was gradually moving closer and closer. But here’s the strange thing. She said it wasn’t getting louder, only coming closer. She said that William hadn’t been ill leading up to his death, everything was okay. Happy within himself, home life was fine, children well behaved — or as well as expected — everything running as smoothly as family life allows. Until one morning that was.
“William set off for work like always. It was whilst William was going about his labours that a slate tile came away from the roof of the property he was working at. He was kneeling down doing something or other and the tile came down and...” Peter motioned a slashing movement across his neck, “whack! Off came his head.
“On the morning of his death William had actually gone to wind the clock up. But found he couldn’t; the key wouldn’t turn. Jammed up tight. He had said that he was going to take a look at it later, but later never came. Juliet said, that morning the ticking was too close; she said it was in the room with them. Then it stopped. At precisely eleven ten. The time —”
“The time he died.” Leonard interrupted, matter-of-factly, not losing any of his cynicism.
“Yes,” said Peter drinking his coffee then leaning back in his seat. Leonard hadn’t touched his since Jodie had brought the drink in.
“So you’re telling me that the clock can predict death?” Leonard asked, incredulously.
“That’s what great-grandmother Juliet said.”
“And what do you think? Do you think it can predict a person’s death?” He was leaning forward with a speculating look on his face.
“Honestly? I’m not sure. But if what my great-grandmother is said to be true, then it can only predict for those who wind it; as her and her children went on to live very long lives. Meaning also, that the clock does not bring death unexpectedly, only duly.”
“Has anyone owned it since your great-grandfather?”
Peter leaned forward. “No. Not all. Two.”
“And the third?”
“He’s you, right?”
Smiling Peter shook his head dismissively. “No. Not me.”
“A gentleman by the name of Albert Schrader.”
“Did he own it last?”
“Yes, he did.”
“Then if he’s still alive, why do you have it in your possession?”
“He found no use for it anymore. So he asked if I would like to have it. He knew it was my great-grandfather’s, and that also dealt in antiquities. So I paid him kindly for it, and, here it is,” he said gesturing with his hand towards the fire place.
“What do you mean he found no use for it anymore?”
“It had served its purpose for him.”
“In what way?”
“He beat death.”
“So he says.”
Peter leaned back in his seat, hands clasped beneath his chin, then sighed. “Albert Schrader was something of an historian, and had heard of the clock’s existence through various tales, though most exaggerated. So he did some research which was surprisingly hard, as the past owners were no longer among the living and very few records were ever made. But he was determined. A determination which paid. He found that the clock itself has a very long and deep — but no means dull — history. In which I myself have some knowledge, through Albert of course. What I do know is that the actual mechanics of the clock were built by an alchemist centuries before my grandfather stumbled across it. And that he had called it the Alpha and Omega device.”
“Had time pieces —”
“— been invented back then?” continued Peter. “No, not of this sort: sun and moon dials were the Rolexes back then,” he said with a dry laugh. “But what I said was the mechanics, not the clock itself. The face and arms were added much later. It is said that the alchemist built the device to monitor death’s activities. That death itself was a physical entity; said it had to be in order to end one’s life; and that such a force carried a presence. A presence which could ultimately be controlled.
“And as death was nearing its victim, the device forewarned them, so they can prevent it. Though one thing the clock can not do is prevent the person from taking his or her own life. I suppose the hand that can stop death can also induce it.”
“Prevent how?” Leonard asked, shifting in his seat and sparing the clock another quick glance.
“Like I said earlier, my great-grandfather found the mechanics: gears, cogs, and the clock face. But that was all; it didn’t have a case, a body. And what I also found out about the alchemist was that he at first had trouble with the device. He built it without a body. It worked, don’t get me wrong; the device itself ticked along and could be wound, but, he found it to be inaccurate. The ticking was all wrong, out of sync.”
“All wrong how?”
“As I said, great-grandmother Juliet said that the days leading up towards William’s death the clock’s ticking sounded different, as though it were far off. But as the days passed, the ticking gradually crept closer. Well, the alchemist had such problems as in the device ticked back and forth. From a distance, then as though it was in the room. This it did sporadically, with no obvious pattern or rhythm. And after weeks and endless sleepless nights of trying to solve the problem, he, purely by chance, came across it. Or should I say, it came across him?”
Copyright © 2005 by James Finn