The Anytime Clock
It had been a few months since the inundation of our house by interstellar pens.
Dolores and I had given up any hope of making ourselves rich by investing in the now withdrawn Shift Fields software. It had worked as a demo that quickly expired, and our use of it had led to hundreds of weird things being teleported into our house. But not even the private detective we'd hired had been able to find the Shift Fields authors. And then I'd received the email telling me that it had been withdrawn from the market.
So though it had made for a few exciting, then exasperating weeks of carting all the "pens"—we called them pens because we figured that like us, the other trial users had been sending off inexpensive doodads they wouldn't mind losing—to the dump, we had nothing tangible to show for the excitement. Well, almost nothing.
"You're promising me you won't try pushing any of the buttons," Dolores had said. This was a day or two after the innundation was over, and we were examining the jigger that looked kind of like a lava lamp, with the tiny moving pictures instead of goo floating around in it. She was talking about the buttons on its base.
"No, of course not," I had said. "I mean, of course I won't push any buttons on this wacked out thing, and yes I'm promising." The Shift Fields software had been dead easy to use, but looking back we knew we were lucky that it worked as well as it did. What if it had shifted one of us, instead of the pens and magazine we told it to? Or shifted our whole house with us in it or something? I guess that would have been an adventure.
I wasn't contemplating breaking my promise. Not technically. I hadn't showed Dolores the Anytime Clock, and hadn't promised not to fool around with it. That was just rationalizing. But the clock was so interesting, and it came with instructions. I thought, what harm could it do to just look over the instructions? Luckily, none; but only very luckily.
The Anytime Clock was the only teleported item that was at all recognisable. In fact, it was kind of an anomaly in the midst of all the utterly incomprehensible alien junk. It was a clock. Obviously a desk clock, with an hour and minute hand. It was a triangular prism six inches long, and four inches high, three inches deep. The hands were on one of the rectangular faces. Oh, sorry; a "triangular prism" means a solid shape that's a triangle on both ends with both of them connected by three rectangular faces. Like the glass prisms you had in school to demonstrate sprectrums and refraction and stuff. Only this one was plastic, and hollow, each side being about an eighth of an inch thick. Since the base was shorter than the sides were tall, the face stood up at a nice relaxed angle. The clock was a warm friendly orange-brown, and the hands were bright blue. All the plastic was transparent. But the clock face itself was odd.
The numbers weren't the usual twelve-one-two and so on. They were printed or painted in solid off white, and were all kinds of numbers and symbols: 415, 93000000, 98.6, and lots of others. I say lots, because there were three sets of numbers in concentric rings. They skipped every other normal clock space. And not every space was occupied by a number. Each number was in a different type face, too. It was a very pleasing mishmosh, though. Very stylish looking altogether. You could tell time on it, and the clock seemed to be keeping time, but it hadn't been set to our local time when I took it out of its box.
Yes, it had appeared as a cardboard box, pleasantly printed with an illustration of the clock and the name "Anytime Clock" and a manufacturer's name and so forth, just like a desk clock you'd buy at a department store. And, there were instructions included, printed in plain black text on cheap white paper. All very prosaic, and quite a contrast to the wire jumbles and gold metal whatsits we'd otherwise had shifted into our house.
So, as I said, it had been some months since it had arrived; we'd settled back into our routines. And now Dolores was going to New Orleans for a long weekend to attend a professional conference.
"You don't need any money for while I'm gone?" she asked as she looked over her itinerary and her trip perarations list. This was on Monday evening. She sat at the oak kitchen table, and I sat next to the stove, letting my cigarette smoke be drawn out the vent fan.
"No," I said. "I'm not planning on going anywhere I'll need any real cash moneys."
"Aren't you having a boy's night out Friday?"
"Oh, well," I said, "Yeah, Mark and Dave have both said they might be interested in going out, but you know that stuff. We'll be just as likely to be too lazy to go anywhere. Might end up just hanging out here. But even so, I won't spend any more than one money." Dolores always gets the week's cash from the ATM in twenty dollar bills, each of which we call a money.
Tuesday and Wednesday came and went in a flurry. Dolores was busy tying up loose ends at work getting ready for her time off, and I had to help get pilot bags out of the strange places such things live, and juggle supper plans that changed from moment to moment, and generally be helpful. I like to be helpful.
Thursday morning came, and Dolores was off to the airport.
"You call me at the hotel, it's less expensive. You remember I put the address and phone on the fridge, and my schedule for coming home. Don't forget the time difference. Kiss the cats for me and pet them a lot, and don't worry about laundry, I'll do some during the week…" We were putting her bags in her car as the sun rose over the far hill, its soft light broken by the bare trees lining the horizon.
"And I'll miss you," she said as I leaned through the car window for our last going away kiss.
"I'll miss you too," I said. "But I won't kiss any cats." Dolores was laughing as she drove down the lane. I watched her car dip into the woods, and caught a last glimpse as she drove up the lane's long outer slope and turned onto the road, headed for warm New Orleans. Leaving me alone with the Anytime Clock.
I headed back inside, over the low deck outside the back door and into the playroom whose corner opposite the back door is my home office. The Anytime Clock and its instructions were soon spread out on the playroom's round oak coffee table. And I was soon abused of any notions I'd had that the clock's instructions would be any use. The english in which they were written was so badly mangled it had me snorting and choking. "Welcoming to Anytimes Clock. Your Times to you very much soon will be to Open!" was the big headline on the front panel of the intricately folded sheet of cheesy paper, and it only got worse.
There were tiny little diagrams of the clock's face included in the instructions, but I couldn't at first even make out where the instructions even began, or the sequence to follow from panel to panel of the sheet. Figuring out how to set the time, let alone what the clock might do, other than tell time, was obviously not going to be easy.
There wasn't any motor or any kind of housing inside the clock. It was perfectly easy to see the inside, or back, I guess you'd say, of the face. It was smooth and unbroken. The hands stood out a tiny little bit from the front on a small post, so they weren't touching the face. But that was it. a triangular tube of plastic, with clock hands slowly moving over one face of it. That was tittilating. But it also afforded no knobs or wheels to turn to set the time. Of course I could have just pushed the hands around, and hoped for the best. Our experience with the Shift Fields software made me mighty leery of doing that, or indeed anything I couldn't figure out beforehand.
"Hmm. What do you think?" I said to Dreamsicle, our fluffytailed orange cat. He'd been sitting on one of my floor lounging pillows that lie in a pile in front of the sofa I occupied, facing the TV and stereo cabinet. When Dolores and I watch videos, I like to lie on the floor. I used to lie on my pillows, untilDreamsicle decided he likes them better than I do. His response was, for him, amazingly cogent. He promptly jumped up on the low table and sat on the instruction sheet.
"Off," I said, pointing to the floor. Dreamsicle started to purr. So I leaned over, grabbed him up and deposited him on the floor. He went back to my pillows.
"Well, I guess you're forgiven that small taking of liberty," I said, "For having done it in a good cause. Back to the old drawing board, eh?" I bent over the instructions, trying again to make heads out of tails.
A half hour later I was no less ignorant. What could "To setting of minutes, while construction lateral temposition progresses, it necessitates a decision of interplay seasonality mode" possibly mean? And there were hundreds of lines of this kind of gobbledygook in tiny cramped little type to puzzle out. I was beginning to get discouraged.
"Come on, old man," I said to Dreamsicle, "Let's get a little sun on our faces." We went out and sat on the deck. Well, I sat on the deck while he rolled around on the ground at my feet being scratched. We like to be outdoors. I think better when I can see the sky, and he likes to get dirty while he's being scratched. Dreamsicle achieved more than I did. His fur got full of little bits of grass and leaf, but I received no inspiration from the clouds or the pair of canada geese that flew noisily along the stream through our woods.
There just wasn't any way I was going to figure out whay the Anytime Clock might do by reading the directions.
To be continued...