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Mitchell Zucker has contributed several stories to Think in the Morning. Here are the links.
The Magic Clock
Long before there were electric clocks made by machines and computers, there lived an old clockmaker who made wonderful clocks from pieces of wood and metal and springs and gears and bells and chimes. He made clocks with dolls that sang and danced each hour, clocks so large they could be seen for miles, clocks so small you could wear them on your wrist. He even made clocks that tocked instead of ticked.
Now the people in the kingdom believed the old man was a magician because nobody else could make such wonderful clocks. But he knew he wasn’t a magician. All the parts in his clocks were carefully made by his own hands using very fine tools, then precisely assembled, using no magic but much love and care. As far as he was concerned the entire universe was one giant wonderful clock with countless millions of tiny parts that ran together without problems, other than silly human problems, for hundreds of millions of years. There was no room for magic in his busy life.
Until one day the king sent for the old man and ordered that he build a special clock, one that ran backwards such that every yesterday became today and every tomorrow became today and anyone looking at the clock to tell the time would never grow a day older or younger. The king wanted to remain as young as he was at that moment and to live forever, without growing another day older.
“But your majesty,” protested the old man, “I am not a magician. I can build you a clock with hands that go backwards or hands that go slower, but I cannot build you a clock where time stops altogether. It is impossible to build such a clock. You must accept the fact that all living creatures, including Your Highness, must grow old and someday die.”
“How dare you lecture me!” screamed the king. “You are the magician! I am the king! You shall either build me the clock, or you shall have your head chopped off! You have thirty days to finish the clock! That is all! Dismissed!” And the king ordered the clockmaker removed from the hall.
The old man returned home and tried to think of something to do. But the days all ran together. Time passed faster than any clock he ever built and he could not think of a way to slow it, let alone make it go backwards.
Finally, towards the end of the thirty days, he decided to set his affairs in order so as not to burden anyone after he died. This was not a difficult task since he had no relatives, no debts, and few possessions aside from his clock making tools. But he did have a very old tabby cat who had lived with him for more than twenty years.
“Don’t worry, kitty,” the old man assured the cat, while trying to hold back his tears. “The neighbor woman will feed you and pet you every day; and before long we shall be together again.” Finally, after making arrangements to give his tools to a young clockmaker who was just learning the trade, the day arrived for the old man to return to the king. He was about to walk out the door when the cat rubbed against his leg wanting to be picked up and petted. With tears in his eyes he picked up the old cat and began scratching her neck.
“Meow!” called the cat, and then “Below! Below!” The old man thought his imagination was playing tricks on him, but he decided there was nothing to lose by following the cat’s suggestion and he went into the basement with her. He set her on the floor and she led him to an old clock that lay in a corner.
He brushed the cobwebs and dust from it and took it upstairs. It was the very first clock he had built when he was just learning the trade. There were no hands on this clock, just gears and wheels, pendulums and springs.
“Now this is the kind of clock the king needs,” the old man sighed to the cat. “Everything works, except there are no hands to remind him of time passing. Now if you could only show me where I can get the magic to make time go backwards.”
The cat purred and cried, “Meow!” and then “Mirror! Mirror!”
The old man went to the mirror in the hallway. It was just the size to fit on the clock. Suddenly, his face lit up. “That’s it! That’s it!” he cried. “You’ve saved my life kitty! When I return I shall bring you a special treat. He then carefully fastened the mirror to the clock’s face and hurried off with it to the king. “Your majesty,” said the old clockmaker, “all of my magic has gone into this clock. Every clock I ever built owes its life to this one. It cannot fail to make you stay as young as you are now, provided you follow these simple instructions. Every day when you awaken, you must look into the clock’s mirror and give it a single bad memory. In that way all of the events in your life that have caused you to age will be absorbed into the clock and you will remain as young as you are now.” The old man then set the clock ticking. He was ordered to remain in the castle until the king was satisfied that it indeed was a magical clock.
Early the next morning, the king arose and stood in front of the clock and began searching his mind for bad memories. The first one to appear was simple. Just a few days before he had met the ambassador from a neighboring kingdom and had forgotten the ambassador’s name and even the kingdom he represented. It was just the kind of event that made him feel foolish and old. He stood in front of the mirror and thought about the entire episode, until he soon realized it was unimportant since he had a very nice meeting with the ambassador. Then he began to feel good, as though the mirror had in fact absorbed all the bad feelings. As he looked into the mirror he looked younger and happier and this mood lasted all day. By evening he was delighted with his magic clock and decided to have the clockmaker knighted.
The following morning, the king stood in front of the mirror and again let his mind wander to a bad memory for the mirror absorb. This time it settled upon the memory of a princess he had once loved who had not returned his love. No matter how many gifts he gave her, or how tender he was, or how stern and forceful, she never returned his love, until one day she ran away and was never seen again. This bad memory so bothered him that he spent the entire day in front of the mirror remembering his lost love, until at last, late at night, feeling worn out and exhausted, all of the memory had finally drained into the clock and it was as though the day never happened.
The third morning in front of the mirror he remembered how, as a young man, he had once stolen some gold coins from the royal treasury because he had nothing better to do. When the coins were later discovered in his chambers, he lied to the counselors and told them that a servant had stolen the money. The innocent servant was put into the dungeon for three years, while the young king quickly forgot the entire event, until now. Now the king saw the face of the young king in the mirror and was ashamed of it. He again spent the entire day in front of the mirror trying to have it absorb the memory; until at last he passed out in a stupor.
The fourth morning, when he arose, the king tried not to look into the mirror, but the more he tried not to look, the more it called to him. Finally, while on his way to the royal bathroom and passing in front of the mirror with his eyes closed, they suddenly opened and he found himself staring at himself when he was a child and never paid attention
to his teachers. He hid from them, played tricks on them and never studied his lessons. As the king looked in horror, he faced a sly, sneaky, spiteful child, unable to learn a thing, always pretending to know more than he really knew and afraid to admit his mistakes. When he imagined an entire lifetime wearing that same face, he realized he no longer wanted to remain forever young. He was now content to be exactly who he was: a king growing older day by day and learning as much as he could about being a good king.
He took the clock and called for the clockmaker. The king bowed before the old man. “Thank you for teaching me such an important lesson about accepting who I am. Please take back your clock and may it bring you as much magic as it brought me.”
The old clock maker ran home as fast as he could and prepared a delicious fish dinner for his kitty; then he placed the clock in the living room and set it ticking. But as he straightened the mirror, he saw his own reflection. He was looking at a very tired drooping sagging face with hundreds of worry wrinkles and gray whiskers and wisps of bone-dry silvery hair. In back of the mirror was the clock he built when he was young and believed he could do anything he wanted. He had once believed in magic. But not long after building this clock, all of the magic in his life was replaced by gears and wheels, dials and springs, pendulums and balances.
But as he continued to look into the mirror, the frowns and wrinkles in his face began to soften and change to smile lines, his eyes grew larger and began to sparkle, his hair began to glisten and little dimples appeared in his cheeks. He stood tall and straight.
“Of course there’s room in my life for magic,” he announced to kitty. “From now on, there will always be room for magic in my life.”
But no matter how hard he tried, from then on he could never get kitty to say anything but “Meow.”