Another Task for the Watchmaker

The tinny bell that welcomed all the customer’s into Greg’s store with the same not altogether unpleasant chiming sang with an insistent and not altogether unobtrusive clang.

Greg’s eyes looked over the top of his bifocals (which he only ever wore to do his tinkering, or when he wanted to feel smart) and saw a small, bright-eyed boy walk into the shop wearing a kerchief wrapped around one wrist and a curious gaze on his pleasant-featured face. “Morning, young sir,” he called out to the boy, and went back to work on the little face stuffed with gears and springs and other sorts of widgets. Greg normally kept an eye on the “young sirs” that entered his shop, but he could tell this one didn’t have much proclivity for trouble-making. That’s why, when the young boy cleared his throat and was found to be standing directly in front of him, he jumped and nearly dropped the tiny piece of gemstone out of his forceps.

“Ah-aha,” Greg chuckled, “You sure know how to not make a peep or scurry! What can I do for you, young sir?”

The boy giggled in return, “Sorry! Um… Do you know if you happen to have something that moves when it’s tugged or poked?”

Greg raised an eyebrow, “That’s not particularly specific…”

“Well, I’m not exactly sure how I want it to work yet, but I know it will need to move when it’s disturbed.”

Greg didn’t want to be nosy, so he simply gave an uffish look around the room and scratched his stubbly chin. “I think I may have an idea.” He walked across the room to a bookshelf that held an eclectic display of oddly specific items including a rusting yo-yo without a string, an ornate brass box, and a small tube of toothpicks whose label claimed they were peppermint-flavored, though Greg doubted whether or not they’d have kept their flavor after all these years. He scanned the shelf, and in a gesture of combined excitement and surprise, Greg grabbed a small, wooden slab, brought it back over to the counter, and set it in front of the boy.

The boy picked it up and turned it over, recognizing it as a very old (mayhaps ancient) mousetrap. He pulled the metal hammer back and set the holding bar into the catch. Greg poked his forceps at the end that would normally cling to a piece of cheese, setting the trap off. However, it did not clap quite as hard as it may once have. Either that, or it was not a particularly successful mouse trap even in its hay day.

“It’s perfect!” the boy cheered. He looked around the room with his curious gaze again. “Now, I need something small that can be hit by the trap a bunch of times without breaking.”

Greg was amused and befuddled by what on earth the young sir might have in mind, but he knew just the thing. There was a shelf on the other end of the room that had jars of marbles and seashells and stones (which now seemed to be bowing under their weight… he’d have to fix that soon.) Next to one of the jars filled with seaglass was a small box lined on the inside with velvet that contained a curious looking rock. When the boy picked it up and rolled it in his fingers, he thought it to be a ball of rugged glass or a simple piece of quartz, but after setting off the trap several times and seeing the stone neither chip nor scratch, he figured it would do.

Again, the searching look came back to the boy’s eyes and brow. “Okay,” he said after a long pause, “I think this next part would be easy. Maybe just some strong fishing line. I don’t need a lot of it, only about five or six inches.” Easy indeed, Greg turned around to the many spools of yarns and strings and lines that hung behind the counter and was about to cut a small length, “Make it eight, just in case I mess up, please.” Greg tugged the reluctant strand another two inches and snipped.

Greg set the string next to the old mouse trap and tiny stone and couldn’t help but let out another graveled chuckle when he saw the boy was not yet completely satisfied. The boy sighed deeply. “I’m guessing you have one more odd request?” he asked.

“Yes… and I’d hate to be stumped now, but this last one is going to be tricky.”

“Let’s have it! I’ll do my best to accommodate,” Greg said excitedly.

With another sigh, the boy unwrapped the kerchief from around his wrist, revealing an open-faced watch. Greg gasped. “Is that what I think it is?” he said in a whisper that could have been heard over the sound of a vacuum cleaner. The inner workings of the watch all moved so smoothly they almost appeared to be made of liquid metals, swirling and sliding effortlessly and systematically around one another. However, the hands ticked in a very stiff and precise manner that gave the gadget a distinctive ticking sound of a classic watch, though it did this with such perfection that it seemed to have been included for tradition’s sake rather than because “that’s just how watches work.”

“My grandda George invented it. It doesn’t have a battery in it, but it never stops ticking. I don’t know how it works. For some reason, he said it may stop if he put a glass face on it, so he left it open. I’ve gotten it plenty dirty that it may have stopped at any time, but it just keeps going. I keep it covered by my kerchief, just in case.”

Greg’s eyes widened even more than they already had, “You’re a Rothfus? My young sir, it’s an honor to meet someone from your family. I loved your grandfather’s work. Please, tell me how this goes with the other items here and I’ll find the perfect finishing touch!”

The boy was amused and blushed a bit. He didn’t like too much attention, but was proud that his grandda had gotten so much recognition in his time. He went to work setting the trap and tying the fishing line around the stone, then placed the other end of the line next to the watch and looked up at Greg.

Without a word, Greg searched around his shop, muttering to himself and fighting through a few crackling coughs. He and the boy scanned every shelf and box and every corner of the shop. They each had a palm full of tiny wiry pieces, and finally reconvened at the counter. Before them lay pieces of broken guitar string, hair pins, tie tacks (though they were rather delicate and seemed to be more for display than function,) and other similarly thin bits of metal. The boy placed them delicately in the face of the watch. Occasionally he’d have a bit of a struggle keeping it upright, and once or twice, he wedged the piece brusquely into a gear or spring which made Greg cringe and look away.

The watch never stopped, it always clicked the contents away. The guitar string bent and became so wrapped up in the inner workings that both Greg and the boy were afraid they wouldn’t be able to get it out. With a bit of careful fussing, Greg eventually pried it out using his forceps. The tie tacks were simply too large to fit in between any of the pieces, and most other things seemed to be a hair too thick or thin as the boy would huff, “not precise enough,” and then toss the piece to the side.

Finally, from the pile of metal wiry object, the boy picked out a hair pin that looked like it would have been made for a little girl. It was particularly delicate, almost as thin as the guitar string, but it was so stiff that it kept its shape no matter how he tried to bend it. The head of the pin had what appeared to be a small half-bloomed rosebud that was vibrantly colored. The boy thought it may have been made of a precious gemstone. He stuck it between a gear and a spring, resting its tip atop a small gemstone and smiled expectantly. He and Greg watched as the minute hand swiveled and ticked closer and closer to the pin. When it finally struck 12:37, the minute hand made contact with the pin, and a fraction of a second later, ticked free of the watch and started flying off. Had Greg not anticipated this, it may have tossed itself back into the shop to hide behind whichever array of antiques it chose.

The boy yelled with excitement, “It’s perfect! I’ll take it! How much do I owe you?” He reached into his pocket for his wallet.

Greg held up his hand, “Please, young Rothfus sir, consider this a gift in exchange for the glorious wonder that your grandfather brought to this world with his inventions. Just promise that someday you’ll explain to me why you wanted to set off the mousetrap at such a precise time.”

The boy grinned from ear to ear, “I’ll do a few tests just to make sure it works perfectly, then I’ll come back and show you. I’m Kellan, by the way.” Kellan shook Greg’s hand firmly, then put all the contents into his messenger bag and skipped off home. Greg beamed after him, and went back to his tinkering. He hoped he had learned enough from studying the watch’s face that he could make his own watch work a bit better. Or at least, he’d hoped it would stop falling behind by 12 hours every other day.


Back at home, Kellan was in his kitchen, setting the mouse trap. He delicately stuck the pin as he had back at the shop. “And now, we wait.”

The next morning, Kellan swore that he heard the distinct snap of the mouse trap, and he smiled. A few moments later, he knew he was right as the smell of coffee wafted into his bedroom. He shuffled sleepily into the kitchen and saw the disarmed trap sitting next to the coffee maker, the mousetrap clamped down on the “on” button of his coffee maker.

Kellan just really loved to wake up to the smell of fresh coffee. His grandda would have been so proud.

Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash

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