William stood outside of the shop, the persistent autumn wind tugging at the scarf around his neck. The brown Kyrii’s eyes grazed over the shop’s brick façade, worn from rain and faded from sun, and eyed the window display, all of clocks. There were a variety of types, from small wristwatches to larger mantel pieces. Mostly analogues, but there were also a few of the nifty new digital ones cranked out by Virtupets. Nothing new had been displayed since the last day he had stopped by. Still, the young boy loved to go inside the old shop every so often and walk along the aisles.
William pulled on the front door and stepped inside, the brass bell overhead tinkling heavily, clunking and deep but beautiful. An old yellow Shoyru looked up at him from the front counter, his bushy white mustache accenting the old fashioned clothing he wore: a long sleeved shirt rolled up to his elbows, an old brown vest, and straight-legged trousers.
He looked almost disappointed to see the brown Kyrii, but the shopkeeper put on a smile all the same. “Hello, William,” he greeted him.
“Hello, Mr. Howard,” Will said quickly, turning away from the shopkeeper so he could scurry down the aisles. It wasn’t that he didn’t like the old man; he just liked browsing the shop more than getting into a long conversation with him. In fact, he didn’t like talking to any sort of neopet. There was something too unpredictable about people, something that he didn’t like. Like how some days his mom was all smiles and on others she’d eat dinner with him in silence. Or like how his friend Brian had gotten mad at him the other day when he had borrowed his pencil in school without asking.
But clocks were different. They were dependable and steady, only faltering when they forgot to be wound. As the Kyrii withdrew deeper into the shop, he could feel his heart beating, could almost hear its thrum in his ears. The beats didn’t line up exactly with the clocks in the shop, but in his mind it sounded like music. Heartbeats and ticks made up a steady beat while his shuffling feet on the dusty wooden floors acted as a syncopated melody.
His favorite spot in the shop was in the far back, a place where most customers never bothered to go, where tiny spyders lived in the corners and spun silken designs in their webs. This was where all of the really old and expensive antiques were, things that most neopets in his little town could never afford. Stacked on tables were expensive heirloom clocks and old watches embedded with rare stones, made out of precious metals like gold and silver. Watching the area like a guard was a tall grandfather clock that chimed every hour. Will liked to listen to its song, the chimes adding into the music in his mind.
There was a small wooden stool with a green cushion on top right next to the grandfather clock. It hadn’t been there when he had first started going to the store, but had magically appeared after a few weeks. He had never wondered how it had gotten there; instead he just sat on it while he listened to the clocks.
He rested there for a little bit, leaning against the wood of the grandfather clock, the swinging pendulum sending little vibrations through his fur. He became a part of the rhythm, closing his eyes, swinging his legs, and listening.
After a few minutes, he heard a new sound. A limping slow gait, a person walking towards the back of the shop. Will’s brown eyes snapped open and he watched as Mr. Howard shuffled into view, the Scorchio’s back slightly hunched, his hands using each of the table displays as support as he drew nearer and nearer.
Will stared at him curiously. Mr. Howard had never ventured to the back of the shop while he had been there. He usually stayed up at the front counter, waiting for customers to walk in, straining his old ears as he listened for the front door bell to ring.
“Hello, Will,” he said, leaning against a table.
“Hi,” Will mumbled.
Mr. Howard sighed, his breath escaping his lips like the hiss of a fireplace bellow. “Listen, Will, I’m sorry to say this, but you can’t be hanging out in the back of my shop anymore.”
The words sounded strange in Will’s ears. He hadn’t expected them and felt a sudden rush of emotion. “What?” he said dumbly. “Why? I don’t do anything back here, just sit.”
“But soon there will be nowhere to sit,” the Scorchio said sadly.
Will didn’t understand. “What do you mean?”
He sighed. “The shop is going out of business.”
Will blinked. “How?”
“No one comes here,” Mr. Howard explained. “No one wants to buy clocks.”
“I come here. I like clocks.”
“But you’re not a customer, William. Plus, I’m too old to be running this shop, especially a shop that hasn’t made a decent amount of profit in over three months.”
“I’m sorry, William,” Mr. Howard said. The Shoyru’s eyes were full of depth and apology, like an ocean that had just swallowed up a mighty ship. “But the shop closes Friday.”
* * *
William spent the walk home in silence. The day was cool but sunny, sprinkled with hints of wind that stirred up the leaves on the ground. Neopets strolled past him, their movements making a myriad of sounds: rustles and taps and snippets of conversation. But it didn’t sound like music in the Kyrii’s ears. It didn’t have a rhythm, didn’t have the steady beat or persistent thrum of clocks. It was too scattered, too chaotic.
He rushed home, thankful to see the blue door of his house. He walked through the unlocked door, hoping to hear silence. Anything but the rush of noise from outside. But he was disappointed. He could already hear the sporadic banging of pots and pans from the kitchen.
His mother poked her head into the hall, watching him as he took off the light corduroy jacket he was wearing. “Hello, Will,” the green Kyrii said. Her long hair was pulled into a messy ponytail and she smiled at her son. “I’m making some spaghetti tonight. Your favorite.”
Carnapepper Soup is my favorite, he thought, but didn’t remind her. “Where’s Dad?” he asked.
Her face changed, turned into a slight frown. “He’s in his study. Working.”
It was this exact reason Will didn’t like people. Happy one second, sad the next. They were too fickle. Why couldn’t everyone pick one emotion and stick to it?
“I’m going to my room,” Will said, and then headed upstairs without another word.
His room wasn’t much. White walls. A blue comforter over a neatly made bed. A desk with papers on it in a neat stack, weighed down by a glass paperweight. A shelf lined partially with books and a bare wooden dresser. He liked it this way, everything neat, orderly, in its place. But what he really wanted in it was a nice clock. He had one on the wall, a standard analogue clock ticking gently away, but he wanted something more substantial. He had always imagined one day buying the grandfather clock from Mr. Howard’s clock shop and putting it in his room so he could listen to it tick throughout the day and then ring its beautiful chimes every hour.
Someone knocked on his door and he turned his head. He expected to see his mom, or maybe even his dad emerging from the home office, but an orange Kougra poked his head into his room. “Hey, Will,” he greeted cautiously, unsure whether to step inside or not.
“Hey, Brian,” Will said curiously. He stared at his friend in confusion. What is he doing here? he thought. “I thought you were mad I borrowed your pencil?”
“You think I still care about that?” Brian laughed, stepping into the room fully. He shook his head. “I was mad for like two seconds. It’s all good. I’m sorry I overreacted, though.”
Clocks didn’t overreact; each second, each hour was perfect day after day. But at the same time, clocks didn’t apologize.
“It’s okay,” Will said slowly. “So is that why you stopped by?”
“No, not at all,” Brian said. “I mean, we’re friends in school so I wondered if you wanted to hang out outside of class. I knocked on the door and your mom let me in. Though you look a little out of it right now.” The orange Kougra frowned. “Is everything all right?”
“Well, this clock shop is closing,” Will admitted—and then he paused in surprise. He never told people what he was thinking. But somehow Brian had found a way into in his head.
“Oh, Mr. Howard’s shop? That’s sad. My dad bought me a watch from there for my birthday last year.”
“Yeah, I liked to go sit inside,” the Kyrii said. “But he’s closing it on Friday, so there’s nothing I can do.”
“I’m sorry, Will.” Brian looked thoughtful. “It reminds me of when that ice cream shop closed last summer. They had the best double chocolate brownie ice cream ever. It was my favorite. And then one day I went there and it was all closed. Just without warning.”
“Like a clock that suddenly died without slowing down first,” Will said, though he immediately wished he hadn’t. He knew it sounded weird out loud, and he didn’t want Brian to think he was strange.
But Brian surprised him by nodding. “Yeah, just like that.” He turned his head and looked outside the window thoughtfully. Will followed his gaze. He normally didn’t look out at the window; everything outside was busy, wild.
“Want to go outside and play some Yooyuball?” Brian asked suddenly.
Will was startled. “I’ve never played before.”
Brian’s eyes widened. “Really? It’s so much fun. Kind of technical with all of the different Yooyus, but it’s still incredible.”
Will wasn’t so sure. “I don’t know.”
“It’ll help you keep your mind off the clock shop,” Brian pointed out. “My dad took me to watch a game after the ice cream shop had closed. It helped me feel a little better.”
Will didn’t know what to do. It seemed such an odd concept. But he saw the way Brian looked at him and nodded his head, deciding that it’d be alright to step into chaos, if just for a little while. “Okay. Let’s play.”
* * *
Brian ran home and returned a few minutes later with his portable Yooyuball set. It included two miniature goals, two arm slings, and a collection of different colored balls.
“They each represent a different Yooyu,” he explained, setting up one of the goals in Will’s front yard, “since real Yooyus are too expensive and need to be trained to play. But they’ll fly on their own and everything. It’s either faerie magic or some weird Virtupets technology; I’m not sure which.”
Will was worried he wouldn’t be able to follow the instructions, but there was something about Brian’s voice that made him listen. Usually he couldn’t focus on what people said; their tones fluctuated too much, seeming with emotion. But he could almost hear a rhythm in Brian’s voice, a rollercoaster of highs and lows that wasn’t like a clock at all, but was just as interesting to listen to.
The first ball that popped up was brown: a Normal Yooyu, Brian explained. Will normally didn’t play sports, but he felt a burst of energy when he saw it fly into the air. He and Brian both made a mad dash for it in the center of the lawn but Will beat him to it and scooped it into his sling. He threw it towards the net and it went right into Brian’s goal.
“Yes!” Will exclaimed, throwing a triumphant fist in the air.
“Don’t get too cocky.” The Kougra grinned, getting back into the starting position. The next ball, green, launched itself into the air. “This one’s a Mutant.”
But Will was ready. He beat Brian to this one too, grabbing it in his sling. He dodged the orange Kougra and threw it straight at his goal—but instead of going in, it suddenly swerved midair and landed in his own goal.
His jaw dropped. “What happened?”
“The green one is a mutant.” Brian grinned. “It’s random.”
Will stared at the ball in his goal. “Like people,” he said thoughtfully. “And the normal one is like a clock.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Brian said with a nod. “Though there is something called a Clockwork Yooyu. It’s the silver ball.”
“What does that one do?”
“It explodes randomly.”
Will didn’t know why he found it funny, but he did. So much that he started laughing and almost couldn’t stop. And a moment later Brian had joined in, and they were just laughing together, their voices swirling up in the wind and sounding like music. Not steady or consistent music, but music all the same.
Maybe clocks are a little more unpredictable than I thought, he thought to himself.
And for some reason, he didn’t mind.