Templeton's Laughing Clock


The old man’s house had not always been filled with clocks. No, this obsession with timepieces had occurred at a relatively late date in Tempelton’s life, and no one was absolutely certain about its origins.

 Many theories had arisen within the family to explain the phenomenon, but none were conclusive. His sister and her children had settled on the ‘lost love’ angle. In this explanation, old man Tempelton, having lost his wife (and only real friend) a few years earlier, kept the clocks as a metaphor for the time they had shared together, or as a reminder of the time they’d been apart.

Tempelton’s brother had always maintained that his sibling just needed something to care for, something to keep him busy, now that the house was empty. Winding all of those clocks seemed to be a pleasant distraction from his abject loneliness, and the chiming of the bells were the reward of his labor. And didn’t the old man insist on Grande Sonnerie style clocks? These clocks are of the type which, at each quarter, the quarter number is struck on groups of two notes, followed by the last hour number of single notes.

The ticking, chimes and bells were now the only sounds to be heard in the house, and the brother had privately begun to suspect that the clocks had become surrogates for human contact. But what poor company the clocks were! Where was the joy in the soulless tones brought forth from the hundred or so faces that hung, stood or otherwise rested throughout the home? How could it be a good thing to exist in such an atmosphere? Which is precisely why the brother had done it.

A month or so previous, during a visit, the mischievous, good natured brother had, as Tempelton was preparing lunch, left a surprise in one of the rear bedrooms of the house. This room, for reasons unknown to the brother, had been allowed to escape the time keeping mania. The thing left there on the bureau was, of course, another clock, but not just any clock.

This clock had come into the other Tempelton’s possession at an estate sale, and he deemed it the most wonderful timekeeper he had ever heard, and thought immediately of his eccentric brother. What made this one so superior to the others was that it did not chime, it laughed. The ingenious creator of this delight had replaced the sound of bells with a laugh box, which revealed itself every quarter hour by erupting in a ten-second series of deep, friendly howls of rapture.

 Once this piece of electric kitsch was plugged into the wall socket, the brother set the time, and returned to the dining room, waiting patiently for the sound of merriment to emerge. But when the time came, what he heard instead were the gonging and chiming of the conventional timepieces, certainly more than drowning out the sound of his poor little laughing clock. Oh well, he thought, he’ll hear it soon enough on his own. He hoped that Tempelton kept it, and didn’t throw it out as unfit for his stodgy collection.

But Tempelton did not hear it, as he only rarely ventured into that bedroom and the faint intonation of the laughing clock continued to buried by the crescendo from the rest of the house.

Each day, the old man busied himself with the winding, cleaning and polishing of his clocks. He had a predetermined route that he would take, beginning just to the left of the front door, and traveling along the walls as he went. He would carry with him the winding key, a bucket of cleaning supplies and a step stool, and could be expected to expend about five minutes on each piece. Using this method, Tempelton was able to visit every clock over a two-day period (every clock that is, except the laughing clock, which he never visited). .

 Tempelton also spent an inordinate amount of time making sure that all of his charges were synchronized. He would move from face to face, checking one against the other, making corrections where necessary. Many clocks, especially those of inferior craftsmanship, suffered with cadence problems. After a time, the man knew who his “problem children” were, and could estimate exactly how many seconds each one would gain or lose per day. He never lost patience with them; he simply considered these variations to be part of their individual natures, and treated them as such.

There were a few clocks that he considered personal favorites, either because of their appearance or the pitch of their chimes, or both. He tended to favor older timepieces, ones that looked as if they had been pulled straight out of a Dickens novel, and he had quite a few that had been created in the nineteenth century. But he tried very hard not to allow this prejudice to color his work, for he considered it unfair to the others, who had not the good fortune to be so blessed. The old man knew from past experience that their performance suffered when they felt neglected, and he did not wish to offend.

On one particular autumn afternoon, while Tempelton was deeply involved in his cleaning, the thought occurred to him that the clocks would likely no longer be maintained after his death, and that no one would care about them the way he did. He even allowed himself to dwell on the realization that some of the less valuable ones would be orphaned, and eventually thrown away. The notion that a clock should be destroyed merely because of its appearance (which it had no part in choosing), was very disturbing to Tempelton, and he despaired over it.

Moreover, he now began to see, in the jerking movements on the faces of the clocks, the time for his own passing grow nearer. For every second that elapsed, Tempelton mused, his own demise was exactly one second closer. His cherished ones, were, for all intents and purposes, counting down the moments to his death, and he wondered if they cared.

Just as this last thought crossed his mind, the quarter hour struck, and in the split second before the house exploded with sound, Tempelton heard something, and what it sounded like was laughter. Unnerving though it was, the old man dismissed it, thinking himself so carried away with morbid sensations that his imagination must have gotten the better of him. At once, he was back to polishing and buffing, and only noticed at the last possible moment that the half hour had arrived, and as it did, he sharpened his hearing, so as to relieve himself of his previous delusion.

This time, however, there was no mistaking it, and there was no relief. There it was again, just before the cacophony of bells. Someone – or something – was laughing at him, mocking him. The old man could suddenly feel the cold blank faces of the clocks staring at him. He rushed around the house, trying desperately to identify the culprit, but it seemed as though the clocks were intentionally raising the volume of their tolling, as if to cover the impropriety of one of their own. Tempelton spent the next few hours dashing from one part of the house to the next, only to collapse in frustration as the sound of hilarity dissolved into the sound of bells.

It occurred to the old man that his beloved clocks were closing ranks against him, and he felt the rage building within his stomach. How dare they? They depend on me, Tempelton thought. The laughter would stop, he was sure. He would stop winding them.

Over the course of the next week, old man Tempelton could not eat, barely slept and most certainly did not wind the clocks. He refused them all care, and he could sense their outrage as the dust built up and their gears wound down. The man paced the floor every quarter hour, demanding that the guilty party give himself up to spare the rest, who, the old man assured them, would all suffer greatly for the one. And, as the week wore on, the clocks died, one by one, and their faces were left frozen in the agony of inaccurate time.

As they died, the man wept, promising them individually that when the mocking member of their community was exposed, he would revive them and bathe them and restore them to precision timekeeping. Yet still, the laughter continued, and only seemed to echo louder, resonating throughout the house as it met with less and less resistance from the Grande Sonneries.

On the sixth day, as the physically and emotionally withered old man raced around a corner, hoping to catch his tormentor by surprise, he felt the end come. He knew what it was, because his wife had described it to him as he held her, waiting for an ambulance that arrived too late.

A mighty pressure seized his chest, and an electric pain shot through his arms. He fell to the carpeted floor, trying to catch his breath, but breathing now seemed to be the hardest thing he had ever done in his life. Tempelton felt his heart exploding within him, and as he slid into the darkness, he found himself enveloped one last time by the ghastly sound of boisterous mirth, which continued on without him. 


[Collected Works of J.L. Harrison] [dark_somber] [EINE KLEINE HÖLLE MUSIK.] [The Sand-mine.] [The Boy Who Could Fly - Somewhat] [The Grass is Always Meaner] [Agnes Bowers] [The Sponge] [Keeping the Faith] [Words That Hurt] [Templeton's Laughing Clock] [A Mother's Karma] [Channeling Poe] [scenes_past] [scholarly] [My Blog]