A young man appears to a legendary watchmaker in the Swiss Alps to make him a watch that will show him the day and hour of his death.
There was once an old man who lived in a small village nestled high in the mountains of the Swiss alps, and ever since he was a young man he had been fascinated by clocks. He remembered watching the old grandfather clock in his house as a child swing relentlessly back and forth, and listen to the minute, clicking machinations of the clockwork inside, each and every time captivated by the intricate workings of the clock. As he grew older, his fascination turned into something productive- he became a watchmaker, and eventually, due to his skill and consideration in the construction of his clocks, he became renowned for the devices that he made.
It was a night much like any other, with him spending the evening tinkering with the small cogs and gears which made up his clocks, when a heavy, resounding knock came from his front door.
“Who is it?” He called out in his frail voice.
Instead, there was silence.
“Hello?” he cried, searching for an answer, “is there anyone there?”
Another moment of silence.
Then, the knock resounded on the door once again, the noise reverberating throughout the entire house. Knowing he wasn’t going to get an answer, the old man pulled himself out of his chair and left the warmth of the cosy fireside, headed towards the door. He grabbed the iron handle, and, upon opening it, a face as pale as the whitest snow glared back at him, barely visible in the flickering candlelight coming from inside.
“Are you the watchmaker?” The man asked, his tone rather gruff and husky.
“Why, yes,” the watchmaker answered. “May I help you?”
The man stepped into the house, and, without even being invited, took off his long cloak and hung it on a nearby hook. It dripped slightly, thanks to the light drizzle outside. “I am in need of a clock. A very special, clock, in fact.”
The old man smiled. “Then you have come to the right place then! Please, sit down, sit down!” He said, directing his guest to a chair nearby the fire. “Would you like anything?”
“No. Thank you.” Came the reply, as he sat down.
The old man took a moment before sitting back down in his favourite chair, and taking a look at the man facing him; he was rather tall, and with dark brown eyes and nearly dark brown hair, his pale complexion had a rather stark contrast to the rest of his appearance. Even his clothes were black, and sometimes it appeared he was simply a pale white face staring out of some dark, ghastly puff of gas, like the moon peaking out from behind a darkened cloud.
“Now, what is it that I can help you with?” The old man asked politely, breaking the somewhat awkward silence.
The man seemed to think for a moment. It was a minute or two before he answered. “I am in need of a clock, but as I have said already, it must be a very special kind of clock. I doubt you will have made a clock such as the one which I seek before.” he replied, finally.
The old man pushed his glasses up onto the bridge of his nose, and smiled wistfully “You’ll be surprised what I’ve made in my life-time, sonny!” he said, nearly laughing. With this, the stranger seemed to grow even more silent, until eventually he revealed what it was he was looking for.
“I am looking for a watch that is in tune with the beatings of one’s own heart. One which shows the day and hour that one dies, with not a minute either fast or slow. You reputation is near-on astronomical; such that I believe you can do this. Tell me that my journey has not been in vain.”
The man took a while to answer. In the meantime the only sound that could be heard was the quiet crackle of the embers in the fire and the light rain falling outside. “It will take me three weeks. I must ask you, however; why do you wish to obtain such an object? To know the day and hour of one’s death, why…” the old man gave a shudder.
“I want it because of reasons beyond your right to know. I will pay you handsomely for your efforts- do you accept?”
The old man once again sat in silence, until, with a quietly solemn nod of the head, he walked his employer back to the front door and directed him to a nearby inn. The stranger grabbed his cloak, still dripping slightly, and throwing it on him emerged into the tempest outside. “I will be back on the first week to check your progress.”
And with that he was gone.
The old man set to his task immediately, and shutting himself up in his workshop, hammered away relentlessly at the task that has been placed in front of him. Soon people had noticed his absence from the nearby village, and rumours had began to spread; many people believed he’d be possessed by some demon who forced him to work until he would collapse, but many also began talking of what was quickly becoming known as the Heartstring Watch- of it’s ability to predict the owners time of death, and how it was eerily syncronized to each beat of their heart.
It was the last day of the first week and the man was sitting down by the fireside when a knock came once again on the heavy wooden door.
“You may come in!” he called out, knowing immediately who his visitor was to be.
Immediately the stranger stepped into the house and hung his count on the hook, much in the same way as it was before. The rain was a bit heavier tonight, and thus he was soaked.
“I’ve come to check on it’s progress” he said, simply, as he sat down by the fire to dry himself off.
The old man took a glance at the stranger sitting opposite him, and immediately he knew something was different. Where before he seemed as still and solid as a marble statue, the old man sensed a strange sort of un-centredness about him. He could not sit still and his eyes moved quickly from place to place.
“It is coming along nicely now, another two more weeks and you shall have exactly as you asked.”
“Have you heard the rumours?” he asked, quite suddenly.
“...What rumours?” the old man asked incredulously, “I have little time for rumours when I have work to do!”
The young man sat forward. “There are people are speaking of what they call to be the Heartstring Watch, and many say it is quite similar to what I had asked you to make. I trust you have spoken to no one about your current project, yes?”
“That is quite correct,” he replied, looking down as he thought, “I have not spoken to many people since my project began, and if I have I am quite sure it has not come up in conversation.”
The stranger sat back once more, seeming a little less on-edge. “I see… well, I thank you. I shall speak to you next week.”
This time, the young man needed no assistance out the door, and he had gone as quickly as he come. For some while after he left, the old man looked at the door rather pensively, as if he was imagining the young man walking back in the door. But soon he left for bed, putting the fire out as he went.
Once again the watchmaker confined himself to the workshop, this time working, with the most minute of detail, on the miniature cogs and gears which were to make the watch work. It was coming along now, and slowly but surely the old man watched his creation take shape.
It was during this week that a harsh blizzard had struck the small village in which the man had lived, confining everyone to their homes and making travel beyond the front door all but impossible. This was beneficial for the old man as it ensured peace and quiet for the task that lay ahead, and left to his devices he made good progress.
The snow, fortunately, had melted, and thanks to the heavy rain that was pouring down as the sun set on last day of the second week, the young man once was able to grace the old man’s home with a visit. This time there was a visible disturbance in him- he was almost trembling, and his face was covered in a slick sheen of sweat that cascaded down his face at odd intervals. The old man, however, simply sat there. He said: “The watch is coming along very nicely now. You will have it by next week at the latest.”
“I have not been able to think about much else but the clock, in all honesty…in fact, I’ve even been dreaming about it.” the young man replied, nervously
“Is that so?” the old man enquired, an interested sparkle in his eyes, “what kind of dreams?”
He sat forward, bags under his eyes from lack of sleep and visibly stressed. “That watch has been lulling me to sleep each night, back and forth like some kind of hypnotic pendulum, and each night it inhabits my dreams...but I must have it, I must! It is vital!”
The man sat back in his chair, and took a good long look at his employer. “You still have time to change your mind, you know. I do not mind if you have a change of heart.”
The young man looked at him in a sort of pleading way, but still he drew back. “No, I must have this watch. I cannot allow death to sneak up on me.”
With a deep sigh, the old man sat up. “I see. Well, allow me to direct you back home.”
“Y-yes, I must get home, thank you.”
He grabbed his cloak, and once more set off down the path towards the village and into the inn. If he had looked behind him, he’d have seen the old standing just beyond his front door, watching him walk towards the inn in the hopes he would turn around.
On the next day, the watchmaker set to his task with a heavy heart, placing the finishing touches on his piece and making it presentable. On the afternoon of the final day, he had completed his task. The finished project lay in his palm; a reasonably small pocket-watch, which was set to have midnight as the minute and hour on which the owner died. Placing it in his palm, he saw, with each pulse, the hands tick minutely- and with a shudder, closed the cover, not looking at the time.
He was there to open the door when the stranger arrived. This time a clear, panicked look was on his face- his eyes were wide with a sort of panic and he was shaking like a leaf. The sky came down in buckets around him, and the thunderclouds above coiled and twisted around themselves like a black snake, crackling with electricity.
He stepped in quickly. “Where is it?! Where is the WATCH!?”
“You do not have to do this. Death has a funny way of catching up on people; you must let it take it’s natural course.”
“NO! I must have it! Even if…even if I have to tear this house apart to get it!”
The old man reached into his pocket, and carefully extracting the product of his three weeks work, presented the gold pocket-watch to the young man. “You cannot say I tried. Here you are; a watch which does just as you wanted to; tell you the minute which the holder dies.”
Immediately the young man’s eyes lit up. He reached out with tentative, trembling fingers and delicately grasped the golder chain. He lifted it out the man’s hand and swung it back and forth, much like a hypnotist does to his subject. “It…it is just as I imagined…” he said, with quivering lips. “This clock…this watch, has haunted my dreams since the day and hour it has been conceived. And now, I have it, right here in my hands; now death shall NEVER sneak up on me!”
“I would not be so sure.” The old man replied sadly. “For you see, you’re already dead.”
“What?!” he grabbed the chain from midair and flipped open the cover. And indeed, just as the man had said, the clock had foretold his death, as simply moments away the hands would align and the clock would strike twelve. “What is the meaning of this, old man?! What sorcery is this!?”
“There is no sorcery here, I’m afraid, “he replied, “Some things are simply better left unknown.”
In a wave of uncontrollable anger, the man hurled the watch and with all his strength threw the watch against the nearby grandfather clock, and just as it hit, the clock struck twelve. The glass of the clock had shattered, and the pendulum had stopped swinging, frozen dead-centre in the middle of the clock. In the instant the clock shattered, the young man clutched his chest; his heart was giving out.
“There are some things better left unknown- the time of one’s death is such a thing. For such things can lead to one thing and one thing only- our own destruction. I am sorry, but there is nothing I can do.”
The old man simply walked over to his chair by the fire, and sat there. The stranger writhed on the floor until, when the clocks around the house had finally stopped chiming, he became still. He was dead.
The next day, the stranger’s body was removed from the house and placed in the nearby church, where he was buried three day’s later. The rumours had been an attempt on the old watchmaker's part to attempt to have the young man confront what it was he was about to create, but alas, it did not work. As for the old man himself, he continued making watches. But he always kept the broken clock, one that had frozen at the strike of midnight, to remind of him and his customers of one thing; some things are simply better left unknown.