ow it was dark, very dark, and he wasn't sure whether he had turned down the third alley, or the fourth. Or maybe the fifth. The second?
But he could see dim light flickering at the end of the alley, past the shrouded grey cobblestones and the hulking black dumpsters, and with the light headed optimism of the young and intoxicated he was quite sure that he was heading in the right direction.
He moved towards the light, and when he was 20 paces away he saw it to be a single small window, glassless, spilling a dry and irregular orange glow out into the gloom.
His body had started to slow before his brain had time to think. A dull feeling of *wrongness* crept into the night air, mixed with the bitter tang that seeped out of the dumpsters into the warm air around him.
Without willing it, his breath became quieter, his footsteps lighter, his approach more cautious. But he kept moving forward.
He found himself drawn to the window, and such was the compulsion that it seemed to The Boy like he was standing still and the window was floating towards him. Like the distance was being closed whether The Boy wanted it to or not.
He watched, detached from his own movements, as he came silently in front of the opening. His eyes pinched for a second against the glare of the quietly thrumming lantern that illuminated the room, then the soft pain behind his eyes receded and he began to make sense of what he was seeing.
The window opened into a single small room that was cluttered with an incomprehensible multitude of instruments, many of them of bronze and leather, and all of them of a variety of shapes and sizes that seemed recognisably functional but otherwise alien.
The instruments were arranged in orderly rows along the walls, but were so great in number that they also accumulated in disorganised piles around the periphery of the space.
In the middle of the room was a square wooden table, and hunched over the table was a small figure.
The figure was facing diagonally away from The Boy, and The Boy could only make out a weathered grey overcoat and the flickering suggestion of the wizened profile of a wrinkled old man.
The figure was absolutely ensconced in whatever he was doing, and The Boy found himself irresistibly drawn to the windowsill as he squinted and craned, trying to see what the figure was doing.
The Boy barely breathed in the warm night air. Everything was quiet.
The Boy watched as the figure lifted a coiled silver spring from the table and held it up to the lantern light. The figure methodically pulled a pair of pliers from the wall and pinched it to one end of the spring. With a slow, fluid motion, he pulled on the end of the spring with the pliers and drew the spring out until it was almost an arm's length. The coils unfurled smoothly and silently.
The figure lifted a square white cloth from the table and began to run it along the length of the uncoiled spring. The figure's motions were slow, almost loving, as he drew the cloth back and forth across the shimmering wire.
After some time, the figure drew another tool, a simple metal shaft with an indecipherable inscription along its length, and began to coil the spring back around it. All of this was undertaken with an unhurried but incredibly focused fluidity that suggested true artisanal mastery.
When the spring had been returned to a tight coil, the figure lay it gently on the table, and picked up a second, smaller spring. He reached slowly for a different set of pliers and then paused. His back straightened imperceptibly and he stopped. The air stopped moving around him. The Boy's breathing stopped. Time stopped.
The figure began to turn towards the boy with what seemed like the speed of an hour hand on a watch face. The lantern light flickered across the figure's profile and The Boy saw on that leathered face the deeply etched lines of Time so heavy that it filled The Boy with empty fear.
The figure turned completely to The Boy and The Boy was consumed by two huge black pupils, enlarged into grotesque caricature by a thick pair of gold-rimmed spectacles.
The figure assessed The Boy silently, and after several eternal seconds The Boy found some remnants of his voice and managed to speak.
"What are you doing?" asked The Boy.
The figure's mouth creaked open, his tongue sliding across his top lip like an inquisitive worm testing out the outdoor air.
The figure spoke.
"Just some spring cleaning" Read More