He knew his time had come because the clock had stopped.
Of course, there were other signs too. You couldn’t miss them, really. The TV set had frozen on an image of some infomercial nightmare; the radio had cut the presenter off midsentence; the sound of lawnmowers, passing cars, and singing crickets had all stopped together.
But none of those things had quite the same effect as the clock.
It was altogether an ordinary looking clock, with three slender hands; one for the hours, one for the minutes, and one for the seconds. The gears clicked rather loudly. When the clock hit either midnight or noon, it would ding twice, and once when it hit six o’clock in the morning or evening. The numbers were plated with silver and looked even larger under the thick crystal that sheltered its simple face. When it came down to it, the clock did nothing but tell the time.
It had also managed to keep up the precise time for the past four hundred and seventy years that it had been in his family’s possession. Even the most accurate atomic clocks in the world will eventually lose or gain a second, but he knew that his clock would keep going for hundreds of thousands of years and never miss a tick.
After all, it wasn’t quite like all the others.
He still remembered when the strange man had appeared at their door. There was panic gleaming in his eyes and he kept looking back over his shoulder at his rickety cart, as though afraid someone might take it. The man had spoken very quickly. He had to repeat himself several times before his father had come to the door, causing the stranger to turn away in frustration, run to his cart and bring back the clock. At the time, it had been such an advanced piece of mechanical engineering. Something only the wealthy could afford to keep. The man handed it to his father, muttered something in a foreign tongue, and disappeared.
Now, for the first time in centuries, its gears had fallen silent.
He moved to the window and spread the curtains to look out at the milky twilight. Birds were frozen in mid-air. A jogger stood on the sidewalk, mid-step. Cars sat in the middle of the busy road as though parked for the night. He breathed a long, slow sigh of relief. There was so much time now. He could run off to any place on Earth without feeling guilty or being shackled by his duties.
It wasn’t his responsibility anymore.
Without time, he could be free.
He began rushing around the apartment, shoving clothes and tools into an old backpack. The clock sat on the mantle, watching him. He finished packing, zipped up the bag and stood before the clock.
He wouldn’t take it with him.
When time stands still, there’s suddenly more than a lifetime of opportunity waiting for you. There’s a whole new world of freedom. With a violent shove, he knocks the heavy clock onto the ground where it shatters into pieces, its gears rolling away unceremoniously across the floorboards. For the first time in four hundred and seventy years, he could truly live.
He would not be its slave any longer.