The Boy Who Stole The Tock
In this world and the next matter is made up of tiny blocks that connect and align perfectly, mechanically. Like all facts of this world, nothing was unprecedented but expected, planned and above all regimented by the mentors. All pupils would sit in their allotted space. A symmetry of lines, mirrored by those they penned down. Each word that left the mentors lips fell heavily in the room devoid of any emotion or dare it be said imagination. Presently Mortar did not know the meaning of this word. He sat in row two, space 06 waiting for the next line to be stated. The clock tolled, class was over. All pupils rose and left in an orderly queue, filing out of the room at monotonous speed. Mortar was amongst them. Taller than most boys of sixteen with dark brown eyes and neatly trimmed hair, the same as every other. The city was white, each house the same height and width as the last. Square impassive windows into empty rooms. Wide deserted roads that if one so followed incuriously all led to the same thing. Sky. Infinite sky in all directions. The city sat motionless above the clouds like the cold blocks of stone it was made of. Few people came and went through the streets. Women wearing grey work clothes, shawls heavily drawn up against the wind. Being idle was against the rules but as Mortar walked quickly to the end of the road this was his exact intention. Flanked by houses on either side of the gap the sky opened up, no barriers blocked the way as Mortar stood on the edge. Looking back to check no one was watching he began shimmying sideways along the edge of the house. Facing the sky’s endless plummet did not scare him. In the middle of the houses outer wall was an alcove. Ducking into this Mortar sat down in a heap. The clouds rose and fell in cascades of smoke, their tips already glowing from the setting sun. Mortar withdrew his workbook and looked at the days notes, ritually tearing out the page he let it go in the wind; it flew away spiralling in the air. Next to him was a pile of old white cotton sheets. Mortar yawned and resumed his work. ‘It wont be long now’ he thought. He would leave this place or at least die trying. The label 06 was sewn onto his jacket, his fingers traced the outlines of the numbers before picking up a long needle and thread.
The toll of the clock tower sounded and Mortars eyelids dragged open into morning. He rolled over and sat up as other boys around the dormitory were doing. A grey robed mentor passed by the opening to the corridor, for there was no door. The boys gathered their uniforms in unison, donning the straight navy tops and trousers. Each face blank of expression. One by one they left to seek breakfast. Mortar stayed until last feigning trouble with his trouser buttons. As soon as the last left he turned and grabbed the bed sheet, tugging it free he rolled it in a ball quickly and stuffed it in his pillow. As he turned around he faced a mentor standing in the opening. “06, breakfast is given” Mortar bobbed his head “your sheet, where is it?” Mortars heart quickened “I… have a problem, mentor. I have already seen the doctor.” The mentor stared for a moment and left. This was not the first time Mortar had used that excuse, he would have to be more careful. Leaving the dormitory Mortar returned to row two, seat 06. Only he knew the secret pleasure of creating long bounding letters that joined into elegant patterns. At the end of the morning the clock struck midday. Its toll travelled through every wall, stopping every man and woman at work. The clock tower was a vast pillar of white stone with only one facing of time. This was because most people didn’t even look at the tower but waited for its toll. It regulated all time spent by every individual, from shifts, work, class and sleep. Its deep ring was as monotonous as the city, striking no stirring chord but a hard note that commanded. Mortar headed to the lunch room, his stomach tying itself into knots after missing breakfast. No noise came from the communal area where all the pupils took their meals. The same repetitive queue was formed as each boy and girl waited to be handed a plain white cardboard box that contained the same chunk of tasteless bread, meat jerky and hard oatcake. They sat in long tables eating quietly, waiting for the clock to sound. Mortar collected his box and sat in the nearest space, for there was no reason to seek a better one. At last the afternoon was over and Mortar filed out of the school towards the dormitory. Everyone would be eating dinner, leaving the dorm empty. Slipping through the deserted corridors towards his room, the white walls blank of expression. He took the sheet out of the pillow and left the way he came, through heavy set doors.
Checking the street for a moment he made his way down the road to the sky. Once settled in the alcove Mortar got to work threading the last piece of cloth needed to complete the flyer. Mortar didn’t know whether it was going to work or what was even beyond the clouds that covered everything. He only knew that he could no longer look at them from the white walls. But there was something missing still. Lost in thought Mortar’s heart all but stopped at the sound of a mentors voice “these rules are here for truth and purity and yet you scorn them by running off in idleness. Let your body be here Mortar to accept the punishment of the rules you have broken”. Mortars heart raced ‘how did they know!?’ he thought. The plunging realization that all his careful planning had amounted to this rendered him breathless. Slowly he stood up, the sudden edge of sky was enough to make him want to jump. Licking his lips he began shimming towards the road. Five mentors awaited him and without a word escorted him through the streets. They headed north towards the clock tower until they were right underneath it. There the rest of the city’s mentors waited in a semi- circle. Underneath the clock tower was a wooden pole, Mortar had never noticed it before. “you have committed crimes against purity and truth, do you say anything in your defense?”
“No” Mortar replied with no inflection.
“then the punishment is thus, ten lashings.”
Mortar did not know what a lashing was but instinct drove him to think it wasn’t good. Two mentors guided him to the pole, stripping him to the waist before binding his wrists together around it. There he waited. Under the solemn clock tower, in the setting sky as the first lash fell his cry rang out like times chords but with anguished sorrow stained within it.
Mortar felt a deep thrumming, as he awoke the thrum contorted into burning pain. He cried out as something large and wet was laid across his back. Face down he moaned into the pillow eyes still closed, tears at the corners before sinking back into the black depths. Unnumbered days passed this way while he drifted in and out of sleep. When he awoke there was always a mentor present. On this particular day he was made to sit up and eat, his back screamed silently at every movement. The same coarse meal seemed impossible to swallow.
“you will attend lessons again from tomorrow”
Mortar bobbed his head in compliance. The mentor left and Mortar was alone.
The next day he awoke jaggedly and dressed for lessons. No heads turned towards him, they moved like the clocks hands, every step toward order, every thought stimulated by the mentors commands. It was enough to make Mortar feel sick. His hand trembled for a moment, the parchment soaked up the ink eagerly “tonight” he thought and looked up. The mentor reading was looking at him, his eyes dark under his grey hood. As Mortar left the school that day he headed straight to the dorm, collected his food serving and sat in the nearest empty space. In the evening the mentors gave hot soup with the bread and oatcake. Nightfall came soon enough and it was time to return to bed. Mortar lay there breathing methodically as all the other boys did, listening to the pad of the mentors footsteps heading further into the dormitory. Slowly he slipped from his bed adjusting the pillows underneath the sheets. Crouching next to the open doorway he checked no one was awake before making a break for it down the corridor. Having left for his bed last he was able to avoid anyone seeing him sleep full clothed. Mortar had anticipated the heavy set doors blocking his way but tonight luck was on his side. One side stood ajar, he pulled it to and slipped out into the street. The road was empty. Moving quickly Mortar headed for his escape, pausing in the shadows he watched two mentors move toward their quarters. He carried on, a few more minutes and he rounded the corner to the clock tower. The same place he had been not a week earlier. Shuddering at the sight of the wooden pole Mortar moved around the tower to the metal rungs that laddered up the side. Looking around to check the coast was clear he began climbing. The time was between six and half past exactly. Mortar stopped every few rungs to look around, the buildings from up high up looked even more like empty blocks of white stone. The clock tower was high above any building and it took him longer than expected to reach the top. There was also no level there to climb up to. The only option was to lean around towards the clock face. The cold wind howled and blew through his clothes and as the first dim rays of sunshine loomed in the distance Mortar plucked the large hand from the face of the clock.
He ran as fast as the wind whistling through the streets, making for the familiar piece of sky. Mortar crept along the edge to alcove, the long metal clock piece still grasped firmly in his hand. He grabbed the sheets and got to work, a few precious minutes passed as his warm breath clouded the air, he had little time but still had to make sure everything was put together correctly. Checking the knots he turned and looked at the sky. The brilliant haze of sunrise couldn’t have been more appropriate. He lifted up the flyer and put his arms through the holds. The clock hand behind him, a barrier between his weight and the sheets. The first shouts from mentors could be heard in the distance. “this is it, now or never” he thought and smiled for the first time that he could remember. Backing into the alcove he sprang forth leaping as far he could into the sky, immediately accelerating downwards.