Chapter one.

Once upon a time. In a small town just north of Thunder Bay there was an old fairy tale that has been told for generations about the story of the town’s clocktower.

It stood at the base of the main street and was older than photography so nobody really knows. Experts have studied its architecture but it remains unique in this world.

Its most unusual feature is that instead of having the traditional 12 numbers on its face, it is just a large circle with one hand that rotates from top around the circle once per 24 hour period. One rotation a day.

My favourite part is the white wooden image of the moon that resides directly in the centre,  behind the gear that rotates the single hand. A second gear operates a black shade that passes over the moon coinciding with the shadow that hides the light of the moon. 

Over the years, it’s had a set of numbers added to the face in order to help people better understand it’s 24 hour nature. ItI   can be confusing when you see the hand pointing to the side we’d usually call 3 is actually the 6 on its face and noon is straight down.

I remember seeing a picture at city Hall the day a young Woody installed new illumination so the tourists who came to visit could see it in the evening. The chime it made at midnight was also very unique and part of its attraction. Instead of 12 bells ringing on and on, there were just two reasonably quiet gongs, about 20 seconds apart. One to signify the end of one day, and the start of the next.

The caretaker of the building is Mr.Wood. Most of the town know him as old Woody because he looks really old. Some say he’s over 100 but I don’t believe it. That’s just another part of its mystery.

I called him ”Just Woody ” once instead of Okd Woody. Old Woody never felt right. He laughed and invited me to lunch. I got all the neighbourhood kids to start using it and he liked it so much, we became friends. He even hired me to mow the lawn once a week and we’d have lunch and talk about all sorts of topics.

He talked very little about the clocktower itself despite my continued curiosity and questioning. Over time, I’d piece together some facts but it was often hard to tell truth from fable. 

Before Just Woody took over the duty, I learned both his father and grandfather were the previous caretakers. He swears he’s not the owner himself, but nobody really knows, and Mr. Wood seems to like teasing me. It’s sometimes hard to get a straight answer from him. He often gives a new answer to the same question, every time Id ask.

”I really have two jobs as caretaker,” he’d tell me. “I’m the keeper of the clocktower and the keeper of the mystery behind it.”

Woody was pretty well known around town. Any day, you’d always spot him out and about, all around the community, helping anybody he’d meet. Apparently, being the caretaker doesn’t take much of his time day to day. He told me one day that the clock is pretty much maintenance free, but needs a tiny bit of attention every day to keep it perfect.  so he does everything else. He tells a different story to anyone who asks, but the one he tells me is that the clock is from the time before time. It used to run perfectly, but at some point, when it was moved from where they found it and installed in the clocktower of the town, one of the workers dropped a tool inside the gears, and now it doesn’t advance correctly at midnight. He claims that unless he holds his finger in a special place on the precise stroke of midnight it goes off a day and throws the moon timer off.  I know this is another story because I’ve been out with Woody at midnight at once before. 

I remember it specifically because it was the night a fire burned down a farm just outside town. Woody was the volunteer fire department for the town and he let me help him, but I’ve only heard of one fire here in my whole 17 years. Townspeople refer to it as The Fire because it’s literally the only one anyone can remember.

Woody would say he’s living life to the fullest and sharing the overflow. Always share your overflow he’d tell me whenever I seemed happy.  It never made too much sense to me at the time, but later I understood it’s true meaning. Woody would often talk in phrases that only made sense later when a context appeared.

This story really starts the day that Woody died. The day my life changed. The day Woody couldn’t let the secret die with him.

The day I became New Woody.

Chapter one.

It was around 2am on June 21st. I have no idea how long he’d been outside my window throwing pebbles at it trying to wake me up, but when the rock broke the window of my bedroom I shot up pretty quickly.

I was surprised to see Woody outside on the lawn waving at me to come outside frantically.

The coincidence that led to my parents not hearing the crash wasn’t fully appreciated till later, but it seems they had the TV on playing one of the very loud Transformers movies and had been wearing headphones so as not to wake me.

I put on my socks and went downstairs to see what kind of 2am emergency could possibly justify coming to me for help. The first words out of my mouth were asking if this was about a fire? I started to tell him I didn’t sign up for 2am volunteer fire fighting but he cut me off.

There was no fire. 

“Walter my friend. It’s time.” he said. “Time to let you know the secrets”.

I replied with half anger and half confusion. I remember my words exactly and his reply. “It’s time to learn the secrets? Really? 2am is the time? Are you sure? I think it’s time to be asleep. 2am is sleeping time. Time to learn the secrets seems more like 9am time”

“I’m the keeper of the time Walter and this is it. Quickly, let’s go! We only have an hour for you to learn.”

I refused at first, but he took me by the shoulder and looked at me with that kind of, this is serious face, and said; I’m going to die in the next hour and I can’t let the secrets die with me. 

“You’re ready. I need you to be the new caretaker. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you all this yesterday but I’ll explain. I know this isn’t what you were planning Walter but maybe ifii tell you the first secret it will help. I’m trusting you with this secret and the rest, but there is good news.

The job takes less than a minute a day and it pays 4 million dollars a year and comes with ownership of the whole clocktower.”

“Lead the way Woody. Im in as long as it’s legal.”

I followed Woody back downtown and into the clocktower building for only the second time in my life. The first time was when I was 14 and just started mowing his lawn. It was December 21st and it was clocktower day. An annual town celebration and kind of open house where Just Woody would dress in an old st nicolas costume and give out a few oddly specific and we’ll thought out gifts to a select few of the townspeople who needed it most.

That was the year my father was hit by lightning and died. My mother was a recipient that year and was given a new job where she worked and a bunch of appliances replaced that were probably not going to last much longer without repair. 

He always claimed they were donated by the mystery owner but most of the town just assumed he was wealthy. Now that he’d revealed the first secret, it made sense and my mind wandered to all of the things he’s done for the town over the years, and for me since I’ve known him.

I remember joking with him that he could have afforded to pay me more than minimum wage for the chores, but he turned to me and explained.  I earned my fair wage and learned a good work ethic. You were never late, almost never complained, and never asked for a raise.

“I’ve been secretly grooming you. That’s secret number 2.”

We walked past the main table towards the staircase and I was excited to see what his home was like. From the outside of the building, you could see the dimensions but as far as I knew, nobody had ever been inside where he lived. “Ooooo” I let slip out. “Secret #3 — I get to see where you live?”

“No Walter. Secret three is the big one. Brace yourself.”

Instead of turning to go upstairs, he reaches down and opens up a trap door. He motions to me to follow as he descends. “Secret 3 is, I’ll show you the real clock.”

Chapter one. The real clock.

I can’t really call it a basement. The word basement implies a certain finite space where you can see walls and a floor. As I stepped down the steps, what I saw was more like an indoor outside. You would not use the word big to describe outside. We don’t usialluneed a word to describe where we live. It just is.

I was staring into a void that went on in all 5 directions farther than eye could see. There was no natural lighting but the whole thing was lit enough to see. How was not important in that moment. My eyes were focused on the machine. The gears. I call it a machine, but really, all I saw were gears, spanning from where the stairs met a platform on off into what I could almost call the horizon.

“Holy fuck JW. What is this?”

I almost never swear, still to this day, but sometimes Holy Crap just isn’t enough.

Over the next 20 minutes, woody explained a few more secrets to me. Some of the stories he’d been telling me were actually true. The most shocking of the secrets is that even he doesn’t really know the true story of this thing. When he was about my age, the previous caretaker came to him and bestowed what parts of the story he’d been told when he was younger.

“The job is simple” he started. “At 3am every day, you have to put your finger right here until you hear the second gong and then release. That’s all. Oh, and keep the mystery a secret. Beyond that, and you can live a normal life with a big salary.”

It was explained to me why it was 3am rather than midnight even before I could ask. Time as we know it is man-made. Midnight is just an approximate point between one day and the next but this clock doesn’t really tell time in the same way we do. It’s a mechanical gear that rotates within the earth and it just happens by chance to be calibrated to Greenwich mean time, meaning midnight at the centre of the earth, not here.

When I asked why the clock isn’t in England instead the answer was unexpected. “It is” he said calmly. This just happens to be where it’s broken. The clock is the size of the earth. It is maintaining the rotation. It literally is time.

“And you want me to be the time keeper?”

“No Walter. You are. It’s you now. I’ll be dead in 17 minutes. There are still a few more secrets to explain, so you’ll have to keep your questions to a minimum.”

As incomprehensible as this may seem, and all explained within a short amount of time, the basics were finally sinking in. Everything I knew about science and the earth wasn’t so much wrong, as it was incomplete. I alone was let in on the secret that my home planet was in fact, a machine. 

The part that took longer to grasp was that it was now my responsibility. An eccentric old man knocked on my window in the middle of the night and basically said; hey Walter. Sorry to wake you but the fate of all humanity was now in your hands. Here’s a wad if cash. Bye now .I’ll be dead in an hour. Good luck.

“And what if I’m late? What if my finger isn’t there at 3am?”

“Well” he spoke. “That’s the final secret. I’m really sorry, because I’ve timed this rather poorly. I’ve only got a few minutes left and this really is a pretty huge one. It’s going to be rather hard to cope with and I won’t be here to help you with that. Remember, you can’t tell anyone about the clock.”

I panicked a bit because I knew my head was swimming with a thousand question about everything up to this point, and I was just learning that everything so far wasn’t the biggest hardest part to believe. It scared me a bit. I assumed of course, as anyone would in this situation would, after having been prepped to accept a piece of news that needed its own emotional disclaimer, coupled with the extra information that somehow the only person in the world with the answers was about to die.

So many questions.

It’s not the end of the world. I want you to treat it as if it is. I’d rather not tell you what happens, and let you live in fear for as many years as you can without knowing until the day you miss it and learn for yourself, but that it too mean. It’s what the previous Old Woody did to me. I went 23 years without knowing… That bastard. I trust you Walter. You’re a good kid. I was heartbroken I wasn’t able to save your father but … Well I’m just sorry.

Two secrets left. I’ll start with the good one. Ithe journal. You’re not being left without answers to all those questions. There is a journal. It contains all the answers I have, written by each of the caretakers. You’ll probably want to keep writing in it for the day of your death when you pass on the secrets to the next caretaker.

It explains how to take ownership of the building and the deed and I even made a video will so the town will know it’s yours.

Itll help. Now. The final secret. 

He looked at his watch. It was almost 3am.

Let’s find out, shall we? I won’t put my finger in position tonight. Learn by doing I say.

Or in this case. By not doing.

I trust you Walter. This is going to change your life. It’s going to be ok. It’s going to be fun.

Oh, and it’s ok if you tell your friend Justin if you choose. Every caretaker can use a sidekick. Just one. I leave it up to you. I had a sidekick for a while in the 70s and 80s. 

here we go. The last words I heard from old Just Woody.

I heard a muffled gong. It sounded far away, as if perhaps it was actually very loud, but distant. It was 3am. Midnight GMT.  Without warning, Just Woody pulled out a large knife and stabbed himself in the heart. He slumped to the floor dead.

Chapter one. The second gong.

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