If you asked Philberry Silvester how she broke her two fingers, she would tell you she tripped over a brick. You would most likely nod your head, express your condolences, then continue on with your own very important business, feeling simply marvelous about your pleasant, neighborly exchange for the day.
But I’m afraid, dear reader, you would have been tragically misinformed.
The thought of Philberry Silvester tripping over a brick is laughable.
This act of clumsiness is beyond her abilities. The 11-year-old was too sharp too trip over something as dull as a brick. Her mind, her eyes, her nose, her chin. Her father said that one could cut a slice of cheese with her. (Which just happens to be the third of her five and a half memories she had of her parents. The half memory being the day they left her little three year old self on the orphanage steps. They told her to sit on the steps while they went to buy her a raspberry tart. She still wonders sometimes what a raspberry tart tastes like.)
All her sharp eyes can see is reality. She couldn’t talk herself into staying at something as dull as a orphanage, so on her seventh birthday she convinced the clock tower keeper to take her as an apprentice. She slept in a musty room in the back of the tower and learned all there was to learn about clock towers and gears. And that was that.
But if a story is to start something has to change.
On January 19th, 6:23 P.M. Philberry was cleaning in between two iron gears (which takes great concentration as not to crush your fingers in between their brutal teeth) she had a thought.
A thought like one she had never had before.
A thought far from reality.
Philberry thought, “what if we could escape from under the thumb of time?”
Unfortunately because of this extraordinary thought, she was distracted from her work, and didn’t notice that the gear started to roll back. This is how she broke her two most useful fingers.
After a brilliant moment of shock, she ran to her room, where she wrapped her fingers in a strip of torn bedsheets and a twig from under her pillow to form a splint. She then allowed herself to fall in a writhing pile of pain.
This subsided, eventually. But before this ominous eventually came to pass Philberry realized that gears don’t turn back. They simply don’t. It is more improbable than the impossible.
She held her throbbing fingers as she flopped from her bed, and nearly fell down the tower stairs and into the village square to get a clear view of the clock tower’s face.
The second hand was not moving forward. It would tick once, then tick backwards, than forwards, then back again, as if time itself was stuttering.
She looked at her wrist watch.
It was doing the same thing.
The second hand on the railway station wall was as well.
Philberry Silvester didn’t know what to make of it. The clocks were a sputtering mess.
What could she do? What was there to do?
Her reality drenched mind then noticed something.
Hope you can read morse code Philberry
She read it aloud.
(Yes, she could read morse code. Why? Why not is the superior question.)
The unusual ticking stopped.
This was the first message Philberry Silvester received from Time.
* * *
It was 6:23 P.M. Again.
Every clock as usual started to tick back and forth.
I’m giving you a chance.
* * *
Next day. 6:23 P.M.
I do this sometimes.
* * *
You wanted to escape from me.
* * *
I’m giving you a chance. Do you accept?
* * *
She did. And that was exactly what she said in the wooden clock tower at 6:24 P.M. to no one in particular. Because even in a mind so full of nothing but logic, once the first spark of imagination appears the sparks can only grow from there.
Different from most whimsical stories of this sort, she wasn’t swept up in a random flurry, nor did her adventure begin with a teleportation to a heavenly clock tower, but instead,
a man appeared.
A peculiar man indeed. Whimsical, even. He reminded Philberry of a rolly-polly kitchen mouse. He was quite a bit shorter than her, no hair, peculiar goggles sitting on the top of his shiny head.
Sitting criss cross applesauce on the tip top of the ceiling shaft, Pillsbury strained her neck to get a better look at his extraordinary appearance.
“Who are you?” Philberry said. A logical question. A very logical question indeed, to ask a man who appears out of nowhere.
“Who! Yes! yes, who who who indeed!!” And atop his ceiling shaft he stood and danced a jig laughing tremendously. His laugh reminded Philberry of a howling frog. Eventually he grew tired and again sat. “I apologize. You must understand,It’s a strange thing being a ‘who’ for the first time in one’s life. See, time is not really an object. This was my grand experiment, to feel what it would be like to ‘be’. I’m sure that made sense to you, Philberry, I’ve heard you are extraordinarily sharp.”
“But who are you?” she asked again.
“Excuse me, I should have introduced myself.” In the blink of an eye Pillsbury found him sitting a mere few feet away from her. “I am Time. I’ve come to give you a chance to escape from me. I have two objects of motivation for such an endeavor. One, I’m bored, two, I like you.”
“Alright… how, well…”
“Oh you are so very correct!”
And right after he said those words, next to Philberry, appeared two other people.
The first, an old man with extraordinarily thick white hair, who, at the moment, was looking confusedly at his surroundings. (a logical feeling for such a situation.) The second, a boy who looked as if he had tripped and fallen into a taffy pull. A boy as thin as Philberry was sharp. He had on painting coveralls, his every inch of exposed skin smeared with paint. A living swirl of purple and white, with streaks of navy smudged with charcoal.
With flourishing hand motions, Time announced,“it must be a contest! So we must have contestants, am I right, or am I right?”
Philberry looked at the dumbfounded crowd.
She was very confused at this point. (Which is an odd sensation for the likes of Philberry.) So her strategy was to ignore the impossible ‘how’ and instead focus on the ‘what’ of the situation.
“Well then, what is the contest?” She asked.
“A riddle, the first to unlock its secret will be the first of humankind to escape from my grasp.”
“Get on with it, would you!” Philberry said, although she was sharp, she was quite rude. We cannot blame her too much, for she was never taught otherwise.
“Patience please, please...Stand in a line from shortest to tallest. I do like lines, that is why I chose to order earth’s time that way. The timeline, the most beauteous and glorious invention I know of.”
They obeyed. This left Philberry squished in between the fidgeting boy and the thick haired man.
“What is the only thing that the tired and the dead have in common?” Time said, then disappeared, which left Philberry, the thick haired man, and the boy staring blankly at the soot frosted floor. The boy’s eyes kept wandering from Philberry, to the floor, to the thick haired man, and again.
Philberry thrust her hand sharply in front of the boy, who was looking everywhere to avoid eye contact with her.
“My name is Philberry I work here as an apprentice. You are..?”
“Jasper. I live under the bridge and paint things.” She took his jerky hand and shook is as sharply as she could.
“You are?” She looked at the thick haired old man.
“Professor Florenzo. Physics.”
“Ah.” Philberry nodded. “I suppose you were all wondering if you could escape from time, then this happened to you.”
They both nodded.
“Well then what are you going to do?”
And that was the question of the moment.
* * *
It was night.
The three were clueless.
The three were confused.
The three didn’t know what to do, although they expresses their cluelessness in different ways.
Philberry was curled in a corner dozing off with Jaspar the artist sleeping soundly next to her. Professor Floranzo was scribbling madly at his equations and figures muttering, “This is my chance, this is my chance…” His eyes were bloodshot and looked as if they were trying to roll right out of his head.
Jasper the artist yawed, opened one eye at a time, then muttered something.
“What?” Philberry said.
“Oh, I was just saying...” He sat up and stretched, looking extraordinarily catlike for a mere human. “That the professor is nothing but tired. Tired of time, tired of knowing, tired of not knowing, tired of physics, tired of being tired, actually physically tired….”
“Why Jaspar, that’s it!” Pillsbury jumped to her feet and pulled Jaspar the artist with her. He staggered to his feet. She whispered in his ear,
“If the tired slept, they would no longer be tired, the dead can never wake, so they can never sleep...”
Jaspar cut her off, “the tired and the dead can never sleep!.”
And at that moment Time appeared in front of them.
“You both have won! Together you have!” He said, then laughed his enormous howling laugh. “Did you hear me you won, you both are free!”
They had in fact heard him. But all they could do is stand and try to comprehend what that would mean.
Philberry ran to the window and the world was still moving, but both their watches had ceased their eternal ticking.
She gawked in a fit of wonder.
“What shall we do first?”
The face of Jaspar the artist transformed into an incredible smile.“We’re going to Paris! Italy! India for all we care! We will never get old or run out of time, we can do anything!”
And the danced around the room, in twirls and glorious spins and they thought -yes- they thought they were happy.
The true kind.
The strong kind.
The kind you feel in the pit of your stomach
Then Philberry heard something unusual.
It was the ticking of her watch.
She watched it tick, back and forth, back and forth in undeniable morse code.
Another message from Time.
dot, dash, dash….dot, dot, dot….
You have cheated time, but time is the superior cheater. Welcome back.
They looked at each other.
Then Philberry realized they had both been lied to.
“The rat! The horrible lying…!” Philberry slipped her watch off her wrist pulled her hand back to shatter it.
“Wait!” Jaspar the artist dove and caught it just before it would have broken into a thousand pieces.“ This doesn't mean that we can’t go to India.” Jaspar said, standing up,offering Philberry’s watch back to her.
Then in a rather slow movement, she took it, and slid it onto her wrist. “As long as we can ride an elephant…”
And a nearly identical smile spread across the face of both.
And I could conclude this with a philosophical message about the management of time, and you would sigh and remind yourself to seize the day.
But this story was about something else.
That was how Philberry Silvester and Jaspar the artist met.