The man in the grey jacket started to run. He couldn’t believe what was happening, and whatever was making him late was making him very angry. It was impossible for him to contain his anger and anxiety. If he weren’t 18.3 seconds behind schedule, he’d have taken the time to make that creature pay. Unfortunately, there was little he could do now. Revenge would have to wait.
He should’ve had his train ticket by now. Why wasn’t he there already? Why did that little brass imp love to torment him so? The line was almost clear, but the man in the grey jacket was sweating and hyperventilating. When the last person in front of him got out of the way, he slapped the price on the desk and shouted.
“One ticket to Verington, NOW!!!”
The man in the booth was flustered, shaking, moving slower than normal!!! The man in the grey jacket gnashed and ground his metal teeth to practically nothing before he smashed his hand through the glass and snatched a ticket. He couldn’t believe that exchange had taken more than 10 seconds, but he still had time. He’d have to skip his morning coffee, but he could make it.
Standing on the platform, the man in the grey jacket breathed a sigh of relief. At least he could relax now. The train would be coming soon. As soon as it came, he could step on, step off at the exact appointed time, and attend his meeting right on schedule. As long as he never saw the imp again, he might even have enough time for a coffee break. There it was, the familiar whistle of the train in the distance. With that as a reference, the man in the grey jacket could pinpoint its time of arrival down to the second.
Right on schedule.
The train was actually pulling in 3.3 seconds ahead of schedule. Good.
Still ahead of schedule.
The man smiled.
The world was right.
He would make it.
A man leapt onto the rails.
The train started screeching.
A screech, a crunch, a squish, a thud.
The train stopped.
The crowd screamed, and the man in the grey jacket frowned.
The train wasn’t in its proper place.
The man in the grey jacket was late. As his face twisted and wrinkled, sweat beading all over him and his teeth grinding wildly, he screamed. There was a stifled giggle behind him, a sound is shrill as it was metallic. Just before he turned around, he knew what it was. Sure enough, that little clockwork imp was standing behind him, grinning all the way around its brass, conical head. All eighteen of its eyes were focused on him, and all six of its arms were vainly attempting to cover its mouth. Its legs turned around and started to walk away, its head and body still facing the man in the grey jacket.
Furious, the man in the grey jacket dashed after the thing. He was late already, so he might as well take the time to wring that little cretin’s neck while he was at it! The creature dodged nimbly and wove through the crowds of the station, but the man in the grey jacket stayed close behind it. Eventually, in a dingy alleyway beyond the station, he saw it. He had the little thing cornered! Slowly, he began to creep towards it, savoring the thing’s reaction to each step. He saw the vanishing grin on its head, saw its eyes begin to twist about on their stalks, looking for an escape, and he saw the gears and cogs all about its body begin to tremble.
Then, suddenly, there was a voice. It was stern, deep, and composed.
“Spare me, I beg you.”
The man in the grey jacket stopped in his tracks. His voice became a little more composed too.
“What will you offer me?”
The creature stood up straight.
“I can offer you time.”
“Life is so short, isn’t it? You only get 24 hours in any given day, and you only get a small assortment of time to go about your real business in those 24 hours. It’s all such a pain, isn’t it.”
“It is. Your point?”
“Spare me, and you will always have enough time for whatever you want. No more will you need to micromanage every second of every day. No more will you ever have to rush or hurry or worry. No more will you be late. No more will you be early. Clocks, people, the earth, the sun, the moon, the universe itself, will move at your pace, by your schedule. Everything you do will be right on time, no matter how long or how short the time you took was.”
“I want a free taste of this experience.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“Let me experience this power for the rest of the day. If I am satisfied, I’ll make this offer permanent. Otherwise, I won’t show you mercy.”
“Very well. I’ll allow it. Now, why don’t you get yourself your morning coffee? It’s been long enough already.”
With a grunt, the man in the grey jacket turned around. Within a few minutes, he was at the cafe near the station. As he walked in, the owner, Rene, gave him a friendly smile.
“Good morning! The usual, I assume?”
“Oh, yes. Have you heard about what happened over at the station?”
“What are you talking about?”
“A man jumped in front of the 10:30 train this morning.”
Rene frowned and cocked his head quizzically.
“It’s only 10:00.” The man in the grey jacket’s coffee mug shattered on the floor. He stared ahead in shock for what seemed like hours. “Are you okay?” Rene inquired. The man in the grey jacket started laughing, grinning, crying tears of joy.
“I’m great.” the man said distantly, “In fact,” his voice rose to extraordinary heights “I’ve never been better!” Still laughing and weeping, he ran out of the cafe and dashed to the station. Sure enough, the clocks almost read 10:30. He could see it coming now. He dashed over towards the train, knowing the doors would open right on time. Suddenly, though, there was a noise.
It was a sort of whirring, screeching sound, like a cross between a stifled laugh and metal scraping against metal. The man in the grey jacket turned around to look at the source, and he could see the imp, grinning and giggling as mischievously as ever. It was when he looked back forward that he saw his foot leaving the platform, that he felt his body lurching downwards, and the train that was just one second too early for him.