Wilhelm leaned back from his desk and exhaled. He had done it.
It sat on the tabletop before him, ticking and clicking and humming merrily, and his chest swelled with pride as he watched the second hand make its first rotation around the face. For centuries, clocks and horologes had called the faithful to prayer, or to their work, but only in hour or minute increments. And now, he had done what others had tried and failed: he had divided the day into even smaller components—seconds.
He rubbed his thumb and forefinger callouses together and let the soothing sound of ticking fill his mind. The monotony, the repetition—they calmed his thoughts and brought order to his world. The efforts of the day, and the dark unease of the night, could now be broken up into precise, even segments.
Well, he thought, as long as everyone remembers to wind the mechanism.
Wilhelm gazed around his shop where punctual beauties of every shape and size marked the hours and minutes, and he wondered which one he should pick next to alter so that it too could mark the seconds, when the one on his table stopped.
No, this cannot be. I only just wound it. And it cannot be broken, I’ve just assembled it myself!
He hunched over his newest creation, though his back ached from the strain of working all night, and set about dismantling it. But as he removed the second and minute and hour hands, frozen at five forty-five and thirty-five seconds, all the other clocks – which had not been wound in a few days – stopped as well. All at the exact same time.
And thirty-five seconds, he thought, if only I had been able to add their second hands!
He rose in a panic, knocking into his table and jostling his now failed creation, when the door opened and his breath caught in his throat. The candle on the table guttered.
“Good morning to you,” the man said, gazing not at Wilhelm but at the pocket-watch in his hands. “I’m afraid my timepiece is no longer working, though I’ve been winding it faithfully.” He stopped at the sight of Wilhelm, whose mouth was agape. “Forgive me sir, my name is Albrecht. We have not met before, though I have seen you at the market on Sundays.”
Wilhelm nodded, suddenly unable to speak. He ran a hand through his shaggy hair and smoothed his rumpled shirt. The silence was deafening, leaving him completely vulnerable without the chorus of tick-tocking in the background. He cleared his throat and tried to regain some composure.
“W-wilhelm. Please continue. What is wrong with the watch?”
“Well, it slowed considerably yesterday, and I disassembled it to fix it. It resumed all on its own, but just now as I was passing by, it has stopped again. . .”
Now Albrecht’s jaw dropped as he spun on his boot heel and saw the walls covered in clocks, all showing the same time as his pocket-watch.
5:45. . .
“And thirty-five seconds,” Wilhelm whispered to himself. But Albrecht heard.
“Seconds?” He glanced down at the table, and his eyes widened in amazement. “A second hand? Why, sir, you have given us 86,400 new heartbeats.”
A blush crept up Wilhelm’s cheeks. “You flatter me. I have not given them to you, they have always been there. But now we can mark them with more awareness.”
The sun was rising behind Albrecht, and pale light crept through the dusty windows, revealing his starched white shirt and dark, neat hair.
“So, you know how to repair clocks?” Wilhelm asked.
“Yes,” Albrecht said, his brown eyes shining in the candlelight. “I taught myself.”
Wilhelm smiled, gesturing to the frozen clocks. “I could certainly use your help with these. We shall have to make them unstuck somehow, or I will be ruined.”
Albrecht took off his overcoat and rolled up his sleeves. “May I?” he asked, and Wilhelm nodded. He gently lifted up the new clock and re-attached its hands. He set them to show 5:45:35 again. “There,” he breathed.
He handed it back to Wilhelm, and their fingers brushed together.
Wilhelm held the clock up to the growing light of dawn. “I think I will keep this one as it is. So I may remember this very moment.”
Albrecht shared Wilhelm’s smile. “And this very second.”
(This is a slight departure from the exact prompt, but as a history-nerd, I couldn’t help but think: “What if this was set in a pre-digital-clock era? How would the soul mates know the time?” And that led to me researching early clock-makers, and the invention of the second hand, which most likely occurred in 15th-century Germany, although clocks with second hands appeared throughout Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. Anyway, hope you enjoy!)