The sun was not yet up, though the sky had turned the colorless hue that heralds sunrise. The tops of trees still budding could be seen as stark shadows against the sky, a testament to the light that would soon return to the world. From somewhere in the predawn fog, the forlorn sound of a train echoed into the dark station. Gradually, the rhythmic chugging of the engine's wheels became more audible, and the large iron beast came into view. The train came to rest in the station, steam blowing out of its smokestack.
"Pine Harbor!" the conductor shouted drearily, half-expecting no one to get off. Peter stepped alone off the passenger car and looked around. Home at last, he thought wryly. Not that there was anything in particular to look forward to. Swinging his father's battered top hat onto his head, he walked out of the station and into the road.
At this hour, Pine Harbor lay in the midst of the forest like a ghost town. Aside from a few overly ambitious mailmen, not a soul was to be seen on the cobblestone streets. The windows of the various buildings in the center of town stared out like dark, empty eyes. Not that it was much busier in the waking hours. Pine Harbor was the northernmost town in the country. If one were to travel any further north, they would officially find themselves in the wilderness.
At a run-down section of town, Peter paused for a moment and slowly pulled a silver watch out of his jacket pocket. The cover was intricately carved with dozens of different images; soldiers on the battlefield, saints, stars. But none of this held Peter's attention for long. By now, he had grown accustomed to the remarkable craftsmanship. What interested him was on the inside. Flipping open the cover, a single number written in gold shone out dully in the growing dawn light. The lid flipped close, and Peter continued on his walk home.
Before he could take two steps, a figure shambled haphazardly out of the open door of a bar and collided with Peter, knocking them both to the ground. "Watch where you're going," the man said in a voice slurred with effects of alcohol.
"You're new in town, aren't you?" Peter asked.
"I just came in. Why?" The drunk man tried to get up, but collapsed back into the dust. Judging by the look of his tattered clothes, he was telling the truth.
"I'm a Clocksmith. I don't know if that means anything to you in your current state of mind, but to most people around here, It's considered bad luck to cross my path."
"Yeah? I've had my share of bad luck. I just left the military."
Peter stood and straightened his top hat. "Why are you telling me this?"
"I'm drunk, as you said. Besides, if you're a Clocksmith, you won't report me."
"Not for leaving the military." Peter turned to leave the man lying in the road.
Reaching out a hand, the man called after him, "Hey, do you have a cigarette?"
"I don't smoke," Peter answered without turning.
By the time Peter reached the dirt road leading to his house, the sun had just begun to rise above the tree line. Soon people would be awake and outside. Peter quickened his pace, hoping to reach the relative safety of his home before he was stopped by someone. Everything was going well at first. There was only one other house on his road, after all, and he hoped that the house's resident would stay asleep. He turned a corner and found himself face-to-face with a young woman about his own age, her raven hair still hanging loosely about her shoulders.
"Tried to sneak past me again, Peter?" she asked.
Peter silently cursed his luck. How long had she been waiting there? "And I almost succeeded. If you don't mind, I want to go back home and catch up on my sleep."
"Not until you tell me why you left."
"Rebecca-" Peter began, but was cut off.
"Come on, you can tell me," Rebecca said. "I won't tell anyone else if it's a secret. Is it a secret?"
"I needed to find something my father made," Peter reluctantly said. "His notes said it was important, though never explained why."
"Sounds like a mystery. Can I see it?"
"No," Peter said, "I don't want anyone to see it until I figure out what it does."
"If you say so," Rebecca said with a shrug. "I'm heating water up for tea. You want some?"
"I'll get my own tea, thank you."
"Because you don't like me or because you don't want to see your old house again?"
Peter sighed. "Both. I'm leaving now."
Secretly, Peter did want to see his old house. He wanted to own his old house again, to be more precise. When his father had gone missing five years ago, so did the sizeable fortune he had accrued, leaving Peter with next to nothing. In order to make ends meet, he had sold the mansion to Rebecca. Now Peter lived in a small, three-room house a quarter-mile down the road. As Peter walked by his old house, he stared longingly at it, thinking that perhaps having tea there one more time wouldn't be too bad, even if he had to listen to Rebecca's ramblings.
Peter swung open his front door and cringed at the awful noise it made. It creaked terribly, and the hinges needed to be oiled. He hung his coat and hat on a wooden post and sat down on the worn-out chair by the small woodstove he used for cooking. There wouldn't be time for a decent breakfast, Peter thought glumly. He quickly heated a pot of water for tea and some toast and made his way into his workshop.
In the bronze light of Peter's work lamp, the watch's surface seemed to waver slightly, as though it was only a mirage. After a moment, Peter picked it back up and flipped open the lid. The clock's face was marked by simple gold lines in the place of numbers. No other markings gave away the watch's meaning, or even hinted that it had been finished. It didn't seem finished to Peter at all; the hands didn't move and there was no way to invoke it. There didn't even seem to be a Virtue assigned. Peter placed the watch back on the work table and regarded his problem in silence.
"Hey Peter! Are you home?" Peter furrowed his brow and walked over to the front door, deliberately taking his time.
"What do you want, Rebecca?" Peter asked as he cracked open the front door to peer out at his unwanted visitor.
"I came over to see that thing you found."
Peter sighed in resignation. "Fine. But don't go talking about it to anyone else." Peter led Rebecca through his house to the workshop and gestured roughly to the watch sitting on the table. "That's it. Just a watch."
"What's this one do?" Rebecca asked.
"That's the problem. I can't figure out how to invoke it. And see here?" Peter flipped open the lid and showed her the inside. "No number indicating it's Virtue. There's no way to open it on the back, either."
"Couldn't you just cut it open?"
Peter shook his head. "If I did that, I'd damage the gears. I have to get it to work some other way."
"And you're sure your father made this?"
"Positive. His notes describe it exactly. But like I said earlier, they don't mention what it does or how to work it. It's almost as if a portion of his notes are missing."
"Maybe someone took them?" Rebecca suggested.
Peter stared thoughtfully at the watch in his hands. "Maybe. But why would anyone want them is the question. This watch was my father's greatest achievement, supposedly. Perhaps a rival wanted the formula to create other watches like this."
Rebecca sat down and looked at the tools hanging on Peter's wall. "You certainly have a lot of tools. Doesn't one of them tell you how to make the clock work?"
"They're for building clocks, not reverse-engineering them. And I don't know why you're sitting. I didn't invite you in."
Rebecca stood and rolled her eyes. "Are you sure you want me to leave?"
"Yes. Now would be nice."
"Fine." Without another word, she left and Peter sat in the chair she had been occupying. It was times like these that made him regret ever selling his old house to that woman.