For those who are still searching, and for those who are waiting to be found.
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand,
And Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
and Eternity in an hour.”
— “Auguries of Innocence” by William Blake
Two o’clock was missing.
Danny wanted it to be a joke. Hours didn’t just disappear. But the clock tower before him and the silver timepiece in his hand read 3:06 in the afternoon, when not fifteen minutes before they had read 1:51.
Because the hour between no longer existed.
A single thought registered, stunned and succinct: Oh, hell.
Colton Tower was a pillar of limestone and cast iron with a brick base and pointed spire. The iron gleamed gold in the weak sunshine, illuminating the sentinel-like tower that rose above the shingled roofs of Enfield. It stood apart from the other buildings as if to showcase its power, easily visible at the heart of town. The clock face shone yellow, its numbers and hands black against the opal glass.
Danny approached the tower slowly, as if his presence would trigger something else catastrophic: the pendulum detaching, or the hands falling off. He kept his eyes on the blank space between one and three as he pressed his hands against the tower’s side.
His palms began to buzz with feverish warmth, and he felt the loss on another level entirely. Time pulled at his skin, whistled in his ear, blurred his vision. The tower was warning him, begging to be fixed.
This was no joke.
“Who did this to you?” he murmured. Of course, the tower couldn’t answer.
The hum of the crowd grew louder, breaking his concentration. Danny looked over his shoulder. The small homes and shops along the street were empty, their owners huddled near the village green. The townspeople had come not only to stare ineffectively at the clock, but for a glimpse at the young clock mechanic who sensed time in a way they couldn’t.
The back of Danny’s neck prickled. He looked up again, but saw nothing.
The mayor of Enfield wrung his hands nearby, glancing between Danny and the tower. The thin man cleared his throat with a sound like an engine stalling.
“Can it be fixed?” he asked. The mayor was sweating, but then again, so was Danny.
Danny wrenched his eyes away from the tower and lowered his hands. “Uh, yes,” he said, trying not to make it sound like a question. “Yes, it can be fixed.”
The set of the mayor’s shoulders relaxed, but not by much. “Then, please, by all means.” He gestured to the tower as if Danny had forgotten where it stood.
The mayor was on edge for good reason. Blue uniforms flashed in the corner of Danny’s eye as the London authorities combed the town, searching for the missing numeral. They rummaged through houses without a care for the citizens’ belongings, if the crashes were anything to go by. Danny watched as a woman in a rose-colored dress was pulled away by a constable. Her son tried to cling to her skirts.
“Where are you taking Mummy?” the boy demanded.
“I’ll be back shortly, love,” the woman said. She pried his hands off with a smile that barely concealed the worry in her eyes. “They just need to ask Mummy a few questions.”
The police would be asking everyone questions. This wasn’t a simple matter of a clock falling to bits; otherwise, the numeral would have been found by now. No, this was far more complicated. This was an act of burglary or vandalism.
Stolen. An entire hour taken like it was the last piece of cake on a neglected platter.
The clock ticked on despite the malfunction, but Danny felt the hour’s absence as he would a missing finger. Enfield’s web of time shivered around him in agitation. That wrongness bore down on his body, his lungs squeezed by the pressure, until it became difficult to draw his next breath.
The threat wasn’t as simple as missing an appointment or rushing through afternoon tea. If one hour was subtracted every day, Enfield would slide out of alignment with the rest of the world. There was no telling what would happen to the town then—no telling what would happen to the people who lived here.
Enter Danny, the clock mechanic. The healer of time. Enfield’s supposed savior.
He snapped his timepiece closed with a loud click. This was his first assignment since the accident, and they had given him the most difficult one they had.
I asked for it, he reminded himself. Now I just have to prove I can do it.