The Clock Tower

Bernard was a cursed man. His father, Renault, was a cursed man, too. Even his grandfather, Olivier, carried a curse with him from cradle to the grave. In fact, from the moment the first human roamed the earth, the male-half of Bernard’s long, winding bloodline had known nothing but the misfortune of the soul. Such a truth would have come as a great surprise to the historians who might have searched through the hundreds or so newspaper articles, stories or letters that eulogised the endless amounts of wealth and power that had befallen each son of the Toussaint name.

Because, beneath the grand, sprawling castles; beneath the draped arms of lovesick women; beneath the gleaming war medals, the emptiest of holes continued to burrow deeper, and deeper into their souls, and nothing in life ever seemed capable of filling it. So, while the world was busy singing the men’s praises, Olivier, Renault and those who went before them, spent their lives spiralling into all types of madness and addictions that could neither satisfy nor control what was deepening inside. In this way, Bernard was almost no different. Almost. 

Whilst the proceeding heirs to the Toussaint name had run into the arms of Captain Morgan or Jack Daniels to escape their respective miseries, Bernard took to a life of solitude in a Clock Tower on the far edges of a ghost town. It was there, hidden behind moss coated stone and windows shrouded in dust, where Bernard was freed to submerge himself into a life-long, secretive obsession that had taken him right across the world and introduced him to countless inventors, shamans, archaeologists, priests, witch doctors, scientists and government agents from all walks of life.

After years of travelling and hoarding, his hidden chamber stood as a testament to all the unpredictable and enlightening encounters he had on his adventures. As far as the eyes could see, waves of gadgets, books, wands, amulets and anything else that danced and dazzled when the sun caught it right, lapped up against the room’s four large, imposing walls.  

The thing was, Bernard was not like his father or grandfather, or anyone else that held the Toussaint name before him. While his predecessors were content with self-destruction in the face of never-ending cold, dark emptiness, Bernard was alone in his willingness to end the curse once and for all. The idea came to him in the middle of the night. Nestled in front of a roaring fireplace, Bernard was in the midst of nursing his fifth bourbon of the night in his right hand and tilting up the barrel of a handgun until it rested comfortably underneath his chin with his left.

However, before he could repaint the room red, the gong of his grandfather clock ripped through the house and stopped his itchy finger dead. At that moment, like wearing the correct glasses for the first-ever time, everything suddenly became clear to Bernard. Crystal clear. He was to travel back in time. Even as he was thinking it up, Bernard knew his plan would have sounded absurd to anyone who heard him speak it aloud, but he reasoned something as absurd, or even more so, must have happened in the first place to result in an entire bloodline being cursed with the same affliction.    

With images of angered warlocks and vengeful aliens in his mind, Bernard waited three years in anticipation for his 40th birthday to begin wading into his trove of wonders, thinking that because it was in and around the age where most of his ancestors fell into their own emptiness, it must have held some mystical significance.

From dusk until dawn, Bernard pulled leavers, read incantations, rubbed lamps, shook crystal balls, and blew into conches in the hopes that the sands of his hourglass would start rising or the hands-on his grandfather clock would tock before ticking. However, it did not happen, and when he rushed to his bedroom window and untangled the cobwebs around it, the sky outside remained scared with aeroplane trails and electricity continued to snap and crackle from a distant, rusting pylon. As much as he tried otherwise, Bernard was stuck in the present and no closer to solving his family’s greatest of mysteries.  

Desperate to punish himself for wasting his life on rubbish and delusions, Bernard waited for the bitter cold of midnight to leave his house for the first time in three years. In time to the creak and crunch of frost beneath his feet, he spat and cursed himself under his breath until he was as blue as the moon that loomed over him. Even as the Clock Tower faded from view and its hourly booming chimes fell to a whisper, Bernard continued his blind marching right through the woodlands and into the ghost town.

So deep in his thoughts, it took tripping over a cracked cobblestone to pull him out of his own head and alert him to his unfamiliar surroundings. He was not a timid or fearful man, but as the wind slammed doors and rattled windows around him and the moonlight summoned grotesque shadows from overgrown trees, Bernard found himself frantically trying to retrace his steps. Something did not feel right. With the rustling of leaves echoing in his ears, he darted down one road and up the other in search of a glimmer of home. It never appeared. After the sixth dead-end, Bernard reasoned that it would be better to shelter and wait for daylight than continue to leave himself exposed to the elements and god knows what else…   

Once he had found the least intimidating house, Bernard eased the door open and peeped the inside. Barren except for a smattering of upturned furniture, the house was compact enough for all nooks and crannies to be accounted for but large enough to offer more than one escape route. Content, he locked the door behind himself and set about barricading it with chairs and other bits of broken tables. Next, it was the windows and curtains, which he closed tightly and laid wardrobes against them.

Certain that the house was secure, Bernard hankered down beneath a small slither of light he allowed to bleed into the room. Through that slight gap in the curtains, Bernard was able to slot his eye inside of it and make out the town square, where a water fountain sat, bone-dry and crumbling. Even though it had long ago seen better days, from where he was sitting, Bernard was still able to see the remains of excellent craftsmanship and the delicate engravements of frolicking fairies. Just as echoes of their chatter and laughter filled his ears, Bernard felt his eyes getting heavier, and heavier as sleep came within a hair’s breadth. Until that is, the sudden noise of trickling water pulled him from the brink of slumber.

Bernard drifted from one part of the house to the next in search of a leaking tap or burst pipe, or something. To his growing bewilderment, he found nothing of the sort. In the place of answers, all each room offered was haunting silence and a stale musk. As the sound of trickling water grew to an unmistakable gushing, Bernard was pulled back to his window perch against his will. As he cautiously parted the curtains to once more steal a glance of the outside, he stopped cold, his mouth fell agape, and his eyes boggled.

To his great disbelief, he watched as the water fountain healed itself: rubble crawled back to where it came from; cracks slithered shut; faded engravements came back into sharp focus; and the centrepiece, a mesmerising warrior princess cast in stone, reattached its decapitated limbs and made for her post above the rising water. Once she reached the zenith, her stone exterior began to moult, revealing glistening, ebony flesh underneath. Terrified, Bernard leapt backwards and scrambled to the room’s far wall. In between the thumps of his heart, he attempted to murmur some type of explanation. However, before anything of substance could navigate through his dizzied mind, the wind whipped up and a thunderous knocking threatened to blow the door apart.   

At first, Bernard did not move an inch. But as the knocking grew louder and more frantic, he found himself buried deeper, and deeper into the wall behind him, hoping, somehow, that it would swallow him up. When the knocking reached deafening levels, he squeezed his eyelids together and whimpered as he tried to plead to whichever god was in the heavens. Then, silence… The door stopped shuddering and settled back into its frame, and the wind died.

Reasoning that it was his mind playing tricks on him, with increasing confidence, he eked his eyes open. BOOM. At the sudden sight of the princess looming over him, Bernard’s heart exploded in his chest and he fainted. Minutes later, he regained consciousness to find himself slumped against the feet of the princess, who looked down at him with pity. Before Bernard could beg for his life, the princess spoke: “What one might see as a curse, the wise would see as the greatest of gifts.” As he stammered in response, the princess cut him short and pressed on, “Riddle me this, Bernard, in the pursuit of changing the past, where have your adventures taken thee?

Sensing it was best to cooperate, Bernard replied, “Zanzibar, Tibet, Egypt, Jerusalem, Stonehenge…”  

“Correct. You see, Bernard… The sons of the Toussaint name have always owed their great powers and riches to that same emptiness you have fought against your entire life. For if it were not for that deep, agonising wanting in each of your souls, that hole that cannot be filled, the fire to keep striving when other men had given up, would have long ago extinguished if the blaze did not burn so bright. Understand this Bernard, everything that you have seen, everything that you are was born out of hunger. But if that hunger were ever to disappear or be satisfied, mediocrity, the true curse, would soon take its place and lead to a life of insignificance.” Before her parting words finished seeping into Bernard’s mind and soul, the most mysterious of winds blew past and turned the princess into a pile of ash. As sunlight began pouring over the town, Bernard left the house and made his way home, guided by a knowing, gentle breeze.

As Bernard stood before his chamber, he began to see it and everything it held in a golden, new light. Mirroring a child in a sweet shop, Bernard waded through all his gadgets and trinkets with mounting excitement. Even though his feet stayed wedded to the spot, a single touch of each item was enough to send his memories lightening back to the sights, sounds, smells, and emotions that remained forever intertwined with it. One talisman took him back to ridding a Camel in the Gobi Desert and shouldering the full weight of a vengeful sun; another landed him in a marketplace in Timbuktu, where the air crackled with the sound of bartering and old friends reuniting; and a compass throw him into caves and the beginnings of a whirlwind romance with a Chilean guide. As that last recollection faded, something sparked in Bernard’s brain.

One year later, the ghost town was no more, and in its place was a wealth of life. People from right across the world flocked to its cobbled streets to admire its cooky houses and dazzling water fountain. However, the main attraction was without doubt Bernard’s grand museum, which professed to house the ‘The World Greatest Collection of all Things Time Travel.”  Even though his museum was a big hit, Bernard’s never stopped going on adventures and collecting. And when he did stumble on something that could send him back into the past, he slammed the crypt shut and booked his next plane ticket.       

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