Henry was waiting.

The old man was wheeled into the living room, hairless head tilted, blurred eyes unblinking, small, shriveled body dying. It made Henry hungrier. He’d never seen the old man so sick, aside from the day he left, when paramedics took him away after a neighbor drew suspicion of unanswered phone calls and door knocks. The old man had lied on that ground for so long, the hands of Henry rotating full circle at least four times. He’d thought for sure the old man was his to take, he was even so patient of it, but now he was here, heart still beating, eyes still seeing, ears still hearing. He was conscious. He was alive. And Henry didn’t like that.

A woman, middle-aged, who Henry assumed a caregiver, brought the dying old man to a stop, leaving him to the center of the room. “Is it everything you remember, Mr. Owen?” she asked, manicured hands lying on his shoulders.

The old man took a second, slowly swaying his head to recollect his own home: glancing over curtains, over windows, over armchairs, over cherished knickknacks, over beloved portraits of beloved family. None of it clicked, and it frustrated him. Saddened him. He’d been away for months in the hospital, staring at the same channel on the same television, the same white walls, the same gray window, slowly, slowly losing himself. Who knew entirely where his mind had gone? The pieces of his brain those surgeons had removed? The dumpster, maybe? But as his head followed forgotten memories, he fought to notice when his eyes caught onto Henry. Onto his tall, old grandfather clock. There it was. Thought. Recognition. Horrible recognition.

The old man shrugged to the caregiver and said, “I wouldn’t know.” Not remembering how to cry.

She fought just the same as he, pretending not to notice, covering his words with a tight-lipped smile and a quiet pat on the back. “How about I get your things from the car? I bet you’d like that.” The old man offered her his eyes, but only that. “Alright. I’ll be back.” And, chewing her lip, arms crossed, she left the room, stubby heels, click, clicking away against the floor the old man couldn’t remember building.

The old man watched her leave.

Henry watched the old man.

The old man begged himself not to move.

Henry tick-tocked, tick-tocked, tick-tocked.

The old man breathed through his tubes.

“So,” Henry started, mechanical mouth unhinging between the Roman numerals of seven and five, “doc says you ain’t got much left?”

The old man breathed deeper, which only drove his lungs sore. He pretended it didn’t hurt, pretended he was okay, that he still had time, and glanced to the window for his caregiver. Disappointment was quick when he found she was in some kind of laughing conversation with a neighbor. “Actually, he says the medicine is working quite well,” the old man lied, avoiding contact with Henry’s now opened eyes, ones which took ten and two. “He says soon I’ll be able to walk on my own two feet again. Says I’ll be fine. Good as new.” He tried to fold his arms just then, but the IVs in his arms dug deeper and he stopped.

He feared Henry would see right through that pathetic confidence.

And Henry did just that.

With a grin, metal gears bared like teeth, he said to the old man, “Oh, you poor old boy. You need not lie to me. You need not fear me.” Henry leaned the body of him forward, the short stands of his feet scraping towards the old man, across that forgotten floor. “I am your friend.”

The old man swallowed and held himself away, leaning as far back as his wheelchair would take him. “Friend?” Cautiously, he looked Henry’s way, but couldn’t focus, his eyes floating over him. Back and forth they went, but never on his old clock. “That’s a strange name to call it.”

Wooden arms protruded from Henry’s sides, and he clutched the middle of him, the pendulum of him, the heart of him, and gasped. “Old man, how dare you say that?” Décor above his numbered, ticking dish rose like offended eyebrows, and he tilted the body of him. “Don’t you know I only want to help you?” He reached his hands, his new hands, out.

Help me,” the old man mimicked through a trembling chuckle. “Ridiculous. I know just what you want.”

Henry’s arms retreated slowly, and he gritted his screws. “You don’t know what I want.”

“Don’t I?” The old man’s brows came together, and he shook his swollen head. “You want me gone, to eat my time away. I saw it.” His spotted, wrinkled hand came to his drooping cheek, and he stared away at the memory of lying on this floor while Henry watched. While Henry breathed. While Henry drooled. While Henry waited. “I know who you are. What you are.” The old man smiled a sad smile. “For so long I had it wrong, though. I never saw it. Never realized. I had imagined you to be a skeleton, one who wore a great black cloak, a rotting face staring through the windows of his phantom carriage.” He shook his head slowly, dazing. “Oh, how I had it wrong.”

Henry’s mechanic mouth twisted into a frown, and in a whisper, said, “Oh, and how you still do. I’m not the bad guy. I’m your friend, your child. Don’t you remember? Father? Don’t you remember, in that torn up mind of yours, building me? Constructing me?” Henry pointed to an engraving in the cheek of his wooden face. A scar. One which spelt the old man’s name. “Creating me?”

The old man sucked his gray teeth as he scavenged through his head, searching for the memories of where Henry came. Piece by piece, he took his shattered life and attempted to build them back together.

Build. The old man loved to build.

Slowly, the old man’s eyes returned to his old clock, and Henry pretended to cry, his body hunched and quivering. “Creator, why don’t you trust me?” His wooden hands were held out in a plea. “I swear to you, I swear, I am no reaper. You have the wrong clock. I swear.” And, before the old man could speak, Henry came forward once again. “I’m a good clock, don’t you see?”

The old man studied his shaking hands, the hands which assembled Henry. “Your brain, the doctors messed with it,” the old clock said, his slivers of fingers tapping against the old man’s scarred head. “Took it apart. Rearranged it. And now,” Henry clicked his tongue of metal against his own tick tocking, and latched onto the wires which traced the old man’s spotted arms, “they’re injecting you with something sick, something which has taken your memory, your ability to stand, and soon your ability to live. Don’t you see, Old Man? Don’t you see? They want to hurt you, not help you,” Henry cooed, tilting his head, eating up the old man’s doubt. “They’ve fooled you, Old Man, and they’ve done it well.”

The old man fiddled with his hands, trying to hold down the shivers of them, fighting to understand. Failing to understand. Had the surgeons taken that away? Had the nurses? Had all of them? “They want me sick?” he asked with a swallow. “They want me dead?”

Henry and his pendulum nodded. “I’m afraid so.”

The old man dropped his hands in defeat and stared down at his lap. Henry draped his long, splintered fingers over his shoulder, the other still grabbing onto the wires. “Why don’t I save you?” he asked, bending the plank of him down to the folded man. “Let me bring back your life.”

The old man’s head rose, and met Henry’s eyes, gears clicking within them. Tick-tock, tick-tock they went. “But how?”

Henry tried to hide his giddiness, a sly smirk slipping its way onto his numbered face. “By taking away the poison.” And with that, he yanked back his hand, and he yanked it hard, pulling the IVs from the old man’s veins. The old man flinched, but hardly. “No more of that,” Henry said, and then reached for the tiny tubes driven in the old man’s nose, and yanked once more. “No more of that, either. Can’t breathe right with poison, can you? And,” Henry aimed for the man’s chest, hand reached, “what of that pacemaker?” But as Henry drew closer, wooden hands so close, the old man clutched his own against his heart.

Henry flinched back. “Old Man, what’s wrong? Don’t you know I only want to help you?”

The old man’s grip left his chest and took his ears, shielding them from Henry’s words. “I don’t believe you, you reaper. I can’t. Your ticking face lies.”

Henry sighed, and leaned towards the old man, grabbing onto the armrests of his wheelchair, making the old man shrink down, his ears still covered. “My face lies? The face you created? Mr. Owen, why did you create me a lying face?” Henry raised a wooden hand and placed it under the old man’s chin, tilting it up, forcing his eyes into his. “Tell me how I am a deception?”

The gears in Henry’s eyes were beginning to smoke, and the hands which tick-tocked around and around on his face sped up. The old man stared at his pendulum that was swinging uncontrollably, and squeezed his eyes closed. In his skin, the old man felt a strange sensation of new wrinkles forming. In his heart, he felt a tiring tug of his heart growing fainter. In his mind, he thought a ringing word of death. Ring, ring, like an unanswered telephone. Ring, ring, Henry was calling.

“Old Man, answer me.”

His heart was beating like Henry’s, without control. One wrong move and the old clock would have him devoured. Destroyed. Through his feeble mind, he recalled his fear. The fear of death. The old man didn’t want to die. Didn’t want for the sand in his hourglass to empty. Didn’t want for time to take him.

Old Man,” Henry sang. “How can you call me a lie?”

The old man opened his eyes and looked into tick-tocking Henry. “Because I foolishly took your numbers, your ticking for granted. So innocent, you seemed. Made of nothing but gears which moved hands, which told time. Never was I to expect you to move fast, to move slow. For months, so many days, so many hours, I wasn’t here. Yet, it’s as if it all happened within the matter of seconds.” He took a moment to breathe, to sigh, but Henry didn’t interrupt. “I don’t remember at all those months,” he continued. “I don’t remember past all those months. All I see when I close my eyes, all I can remember, is you. My fear of time. The horrible, sick thing you are.”        The old man took Henry’s hand from his chin and instead held it. The old clock furrowed his wooden eyebrows, and stared at the old man, confused by the touch. “I can build you, I can wind you, but I will never control you. I am not your creator, your father. You are mine.”

Without thought, Henry’s pendulum slowed, and so did his ticking hands. “Old Man,” he whispered so quietly, not wanting to hear himself. “Why must I hurt you?”

“Because, like most thing, in order to work like you do, you have to eat. You have to destroy,” the old man said, and studied the rotating gears of Henry’s eyes. “It’s just your nature.”

Henry took his free hand and held it tightly over the glass case of his pendulum. “I am so hungry, Old Man. My heart, it begs to be fed. It begs me. The lives of spiders, of flies, of tiny creatures which dwell into your home, they are not enough. But you, you might just be, only I can’t. I can’t. Because you won’t let me. Because you make me hurt somewhere else.” Henry’s hand left his pendulum and grabbed onto his numbered face. “You hurt what makes me tick.”

“One day, I won’t. One day, you’ll break me, my skin, my bones, my heart, my brain,” the old man said, and Henry slowly lowered his hand, revealing his clicking eyes once again. “But I’m afraid you will always be hungry. That you will never be satisfied. I will not be the cure to your growling heart.”

“Hungry? Forever?” Henry trembled at the agonizing thought, and took his hand from the old man’s so he could reach up and hold his reeling gears steady. “I don’t want to live forever if I am to suffer.” Then Henry swallowed, and said something neither would understand, “I don’t want to live if I am to make you suffer.”

The old man watched Henry’s face contort with sadness, lips twisting in a cry, eyes squinting in a wave of invisible tears. “Don’t cry,” the old man told the blubbering clock. “Don’t hurt because of me.”

“How am I to not?” Henry turned away, and looked to a portrait on the wall, one of the old man young, in black and white, beautiful bride beside him. Beautiful wife the old man couldn’t remember. Beautiful woman Henry’s hunger took away. “I am heartless with a heart.” Henry’s hand fell to his glass cage, and stared down at himself, at his swing, swinging pendulum. “Maybe if it were gone.” Henry began to wonder as he studied another picture, one of the old man’s child. The child Henry gave disease to. The child Henry’s greed took. The child the old man would never remember.

The clock wiped away the shadow of a tear.

“Old man,” he said. “Kill me before I kill you.”

“I don’t have that power,” the old man told him.

Henry turned away from the horrible regret on the wall to the horrible regret in the wheelchair. “Then I will do it for you.” And, with no second for Henry to lose, he pulled open his glass door by its knob, and reached in. He grabbed for his swinging pendulum, what made him sick and hungry.

Taken aback, the old man’s blurry eyes grew wide, and he held out his hand. “Don’t,” he begged, and tried to stand up, but failed. “You can’t die.”

“Old Man, I made you fall that day,” Henry cried, clinging to his pendulum with both wooden hands. “I made you forget your life. I made you hurt. I make you hurt. I make you die. And yet, you are so kind. Why is it? Why must you be so forgiving?” Wearing the same sadness, Henry glanced over to the old man. “Why are you no longer afraid?”

The old man continued to reach for Henry, fought to stand on his aching legs. “Time. I will always fear time. I will always fear you. I will always hate you,” he said through frustrated grunts. “But I feel for you. Your pain, I understand it.” The old man collapsed back into his wheelchair from his struggle to stand, and gasped for air, wishing he had those strange tubes in his nose. “I don’t want to see you die because I make you suffer.”

The old man’s words circled in Henry’s head, and he slowly released his pendulum with a swallow. “Old man, why must you make it so hard?”

Before the old man could reply, the front door opened, and the caregiver entered with big cheeks and giggling lips. Both Henry and the old man turned to see her. “I’ve got your things, Mr. Owen. I hope you’re excited,” she said, shutting the door behind her.

The old man didn’t respond, and instead turned back to Henry. But Henry was no longer with him. He was instead pressed against the green wall he couldn’t recall painting, tick-tocking away, pendulum swinging. Eyes gone. Mouth vanished. Arms disappeared. Swing, swing, swinging away.

He crossed his arms in confusion, and winced. When he looked down, the IVs were back in his arms, and when he held his hands to his nose, he found the breathing tubes were still attached.

He felt Henry’s presence, though: he still felt him. Felt his pain, his hunger. His waiting, his wanting.

Henry felt the old man, too, still felt his hands which had held his, the wrinkled skin and dying pulse of them. He watched the caregiver speak to him, watched her bring a small smile to his face as she showed him a family picture she found in the car, as she explained who they were. Henry slowed his pendulum even slower, holding back every tick-tock he could. Tick. Tock. Tick.


One day, but not today.

Henry would wait.

The old man deserved time.

Henry had time.