A Remarkably Accurate Machine

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by K. Kylyra Ameringer

It hadn't been until his retirement party that he'd realized how little time was left on his clock. He left the company right after his sixty-second birthday, to live off a small pension and the money he and Sandra had managed to squirrel away over the years. He had cleaned out his office that day of all the mementos that had accumulated over the years, and finally the life clock had made it home with him. His party had been a small informal gathering of family and a few friends. The party progressed well that night; some good food, a little wine, and a lot of laughter. It was his son, John, who'd found the clock and pulled it out from the box.

"Hey, dad, is this your life clock?" John asked.

"Yeah, that's it, alright," Reggie replied.

His best friend Al Martin clapped him on the shoulder. "I was wondering where you were keeping yours. I've still got the one you sold me, you know."

"Oh, you still have it, eh?" Reggie asked.

"Yeah, I keep it out in my workroom now," Al said. "It keeps reminding me how little time I have left to fix all those things Mary keeps hounding me about."

"Oh, Al," Mary Martin said good-naturedly, wagging a finger under her husband's nose.

"Speaking of little time," John said, after the laughter had died down, "dad, you realize this thing only has about five years left on it?"

"Eh?" Reggie said, looking up.

"Yeah, a little over forty-four thousand hours...that works out to just over five years. Hey! Good thing you retired early!" More laughter erupted from the party.

"Not to worry, my friend, not to worry," Al said. "Mine's got less time on it than that, so I guess I'll go before you!"

"Ah," Reggie said with mock consternation, "you always did have to be first at everything."

The party had continued long into the night, and the life clock had been forgotten. Reggie and Sandra spent their new free-time going on holidays with the Martins and puttering around their garden. Everything had seemed fine, even idyllic, until Al died.

They'd called it an accident. One of those things that sometimes happens when you work with power tools. Al had been in his workroom, building a display for Mary's fine china. For some reason his concentration had lapsed for a moment, and he'd sawed his own arm off at the elbow. Reggie had taken Mary and Sandra to the mall that day to do some shopping and when they'd returned they found Al on the workroom floor, lying in a pool of his own blood. He'd been dead for some time.

It was after the funeral that Mary Martin had asked him to go through Al's tools and dispose of them. "I can't stand to go in there myself, Reggie," she said. "Just clear everything out. I don't want anything left in there."

Reggie had never been much of a handyman himself, but he knew some people who'd be happy to have the tools. It was while he was packing things away that he'd noticed the life clock. The display read zero point zero zero seconds. He stood, staring at the display and replaying in his head the conversation a few years earlier at his retirement party. That's when he began to wonder.

He went home and dug through his boxes to find his own life clock. He'd been appalled then at how few hours were left on his display. As the weeks and months flew by he watched the numbers grow smaller and smaller.

He gave up driving because it was too dangerous when his clock registered eleven thousand hours remaining. Somewhere around five thousand hours he didn't want to eat out anymore in case he contracted food poisoning. At two thousand hours he gave up gardening, in case he hit a hidden electrical line while digging a hole for a shrub. By the time the clock display was less than five hundred hours he wouldn't leave the house. Now that it was less than twenty-four hours he didn't want to leave his chair. If only he'd done things differently. If only...

Reggie awoke with a snort and a start and looked sharply at the life clock. His heart skipped a beat and the thick fog of panic settled over him. The LED screen read three minutes eight seconds. Three minutes eight seconds! He quickly stood up and took two steps before realizing he was in complete darkness. He groped blindly to the light switch on the wall, cursing loudly as he smacked his shin against something. He found the switch and soft light flooded the room. He quickly made his way back to the clock. One minute three seconds left!

He stood hesitantly, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.

A Remarkably Accurate Machine by K. Kylyra Ameringer


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