The Neopian streets were ordinarily busy the week before Christmas. Shoppers dressed in heavy wool coats, with their bags of holiday gifts dangling from both arms, scurried from place to place like Miamice. They were almost robotic as they disappeared into one store, caught their breath as they spent their Neopoints, and then headed out into the frigid air once again.
Although the sky was a blustery gray, the Neopets who threw snowballs and chased each other in the park were impervious to it. Their laughter could be heard from the other side of the street. Snow fell lightly from above, tiny flakes drifting to the earth and disappearing into the thick white blanket that had already formed. It had been snowing for the past couple of weeks, but today was the first day of winter, and Christmas was right around the corner.
Reese, a blue Kyrii, hastily made his way along Market Street. The long row of stores had their windows open, taunting him with warm atmospheres and the pleasing smell of cinnamon. Pine wreaths were hung on most of the doors, the aroma wafting out into the icy streets every time a Neopian walked by. Just as Reese came to the corner, a young Aisha with shopping bags piled up to her shoulders nearly ran right into him. The Kyrii veered around her.
“Watch it!” he yelled out of instinct rather than anger.
“Sorry!” she replied, smiling meekly. “Happy holidays.”
This is crazy, Reese mused as he skirted a group of tourists who had decided to just stop in the middle of the sidewalk. Why do people have to wait last minute to do all of their holiday shopping?
He was grateful when he reached the end of the street and the small building he was looking for had come into sight. Reese thought he’d never be happier to see a place with dusty windows and a rusty door handle. THE W TCHMA ER was printed at the top. With the ‘A’ and ‘K’ being too faded to read, it was unlikely that anyone would take two seconds to figure it out.
Reese pushed down on the rusty handle, thanking Fyora he had gloves on.
A faint set of ticking noises filled his ears, only they weren’t simultaneous. It was easy to tell where they were coming from, as dozens of clocks sat on shelves to his left and right. A long table sprayed with gears, coils, faceplates, and hands of all sizes was in the center of the room.
Reese didn’t like how dingy it was. A lamp swung gently over the table, and it reminded him of some deranged scientist who would perform crazy operations. It made the Kyrii shudder.
Careful to keep as much distance between himself and the table full of watch pieces, Reese began to examine the clocks on the shelves. Some of the faces were old-fashioned, with hands shaped like the handles of fancy silverware he had seen in the windows of home goods stores. Others had square faces with knife-like hands, more modern than the rounded ones with curvy numbers.
The various ticking of these clocks became so loud in his ears that Reese could no longer hear the wind outside or the hum of the feeble heater. He closed his eyes, letting the noise grow to a roar, before feeling a tap on the shoulder. He spun around.
A green Techo wearing a jacket rough with wear smiled up at him. “Can I help you?” By his tone, Reese could tell that he must have asked two or three times before.
“Uh,” said the Kyrii, almost blanking. “I’m here to pick up a watch. It’s a Kollier X78. Should be under the name ‘Reese’.”
“I was just working on it,” said the old fellow. “It should only take about twenty more minutes.”
Darn it, Reese thought. Why is it when they give you a specific time to pick up something it’s never ready when you arrive? He jammed his paws into the pockets of his coat.
“Sorry about that,” the watchmaker said. He gestured to a chair in the corner. “You’re welcome to stay.”
Reese thought about it. His face was numb from the cold and he wasn’t thrilled about the idea of going back out to wait amongst the happy crowd of people clogging up the sidewalks and bumping into him with their bags. Shopkeepers didn’t like you sitting around in their stores if you weren’t buying something, either.
Reese shrugged. “Guess I’m staying.”
The Techo merely smiled and fetched the Kollier X78 from the back room. Even though Reese was in the corner, he could see that the faceplate of the watch was off, exposing the gears and screws.
How much work did he actually do before I arrived? Reese wondered. Good Fyora, I bet I’ll be here all day.
“This is a very nice watch,” said the watchmaker, examining it under the microscope. “Have you had it long?”
“I dunno,” said Reese offhandedly. “It belongs to my brother.”
“And you’re getting it fixed for him.”
Reese didn’t know what the old guy was getting at. “It’s Christmas, isn’t it? ‘Tis the season and all that mumbo-jumbo?”
“I bet your brother is lucky to have someone like you.”
The Kyrii laughed. “Yeah, I’m a real saint.”
Reese and Dalton had never really been close. Aside from growing up in the same family, neither of them had much in common. When Dalton was old enough to leave, he moved to Shenkuu and didn’t really keep in contact with anyone.
Reese didn’t mind, or at least that’s what he convinced himself. They were living their own lives now. The Kyrii leaned back in the wooden chair and exhaled slowly. The warm shop was making him drowsy. When he opened his eyes again, Reese saw that the watchmaker was still working on the same piece, the ratchet wheel.
“Hey, um, do you think you could speed up the process a little bit? I got places to be.”
The Techo chuckled lightly. “Yes, I’ll just use the magical beams in my eyes to fix your brother’s Kollier so you can be on your way.”
“You’re a real wiseguy,” said Reese. He crossed his arms.
“Say, did your brother know that his second hand was ticking .09 seconds slower than a normal watch?”
The Kyrii smirked. “Probably not. He just said the ratchet wheel was cracked or something. So?”
“So if this problem started at a specific time, in twelve hours his watch would be approximately one hour slow.”
“Geez,” said Reese.
“Which leads me to believe,” the Techo continued, “that your brother doesn’t use the watch very often. You’re getting it fixed without him knowing. You don’t see him very often, but you are going to give it to him on Christmas day.”
Reese was stunned. “How’d you know all of that? Are you a psychic or something?”
“No,” said the watchmaker, his head still turned downward, concentrating. “I just notice things.”
“We had a huge fight,” Reese blurted out. “I think that’s why he left. But then I found the watch he said was broken and thought it would be a nice Christmas gift this year.” And then he added, “Because I’m such a nice guy and all.”
“Does he ever send anything to you?” asked the Techo.
“You know what? Let’s talk about your family instead,” said Reese, desperately not wanting to continue their previous conversation.
The watchmaker gave a little chuckle again as he carefully put another screw into place. “I grew up in Meridell with my parents and sisters. We lived a happy life until a war caused my parents to flee without us, saying that my sisters and I needed to stay together. Not the war against Darigan Citadel, mind you, many years before that. Unfortunately, my sisters and I were also split in the chaos; people ran screaming from their homes as monsters fought the Knights of Meridell in the streets where we once played.
“There were lots of ways to escape. I ended up on a boat that only held a dozen of us and wound up on Mystery Island, where I spent most of my adult life. I never saw my family again. That’s not to say I stopped looking,” he added, with a wink. “They have to be out there somewhere.”
There was a pause. “Oh,” said Reese, feeling stupid for asking. “Sorry man, that blows.”
The Techo merely shrugged, obviously not in complete agreement with Reese’s choice of words.
Reese was silent for a moment, deep in thought. He could picture families being torn apart by war and havoc. It was definitely not something he wanted to go through. The watchmaker looked like he was finishing up the job and Reese thought about what he was going to do once he arrived home. Then a thought struck him.
“Hey, you should fix up that sign sometime, the one outside. Some of the letters are fading.”
“Yes,” said the watchmaker, and he slid the Kollier X78 out from under the microscope and began putting the big pieces back together. He then wiped the faceplate with a rag that smelled like a strong cleaner. “That’s probably a good idea.”
Reese leaned back in his chair, dazed by the constant ticking of the clocks and the buzzing of the heater. “So,” said the watchmaker. “Shall I gift wrap this?”
“Definitely not,” said Reese quickly, and he even laughed. “A cutesy package and bow would be totally over the top.”
The watchmaker handed Reese the Kollier and the Kyrii glanced down at it before slipping it into his pocket. The watch looked pretty nice, he had to admit.
“I hope everything works out between you and Dalton.”
“Yeah, thanks,” Reese said awkwardly. If felt weird to have even talked about his brother with a total stranger. “Merry Christmas, Watchmaker.”
“Call me Nolan,” he said, with a smile. “Merry Christmas to you, as well.” And the old Techo patted Reese on the shoulder before starting into the back room.
Reese headed towards the door, but he stopped just as his paw touched the handle. “Hey, how about I stop by the day after Christmas and we can fix that sign?” He pointed upwards, indicating the fading letters of the store’s title. “You should get more customers that way.”
“I would like that,” said Nolan, a contented smile spread across his wide face. “Thank you.” He turned to go again.
“Oh, and Nolan?” Reese called, hovering at the entrance for a moment longer. “I hope you find your family some day.”
Nolan nodded from the doorway of the back room. “As do I.”
With one final look at the watchmaker, Reese swung open the door and prepared to brave the cold once again.
Author's Note: Thanks for reading and happy holidays! Edited by beewitched2.