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The Button Collector: Part II

Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013

Updated: Sunday, August 25, 2013 15:08

Claude Swain was jumping out at Mrs. Gordon in reach of the shimmering button on her coat; only an inch or so more and he would just be able to grab it between his fingertips. He was so close to the button that the light breaking on its face was near blinding, and the voices inside it had become so loud that he could make out whole parts of their conversations, and they were whispering his name, and telling his story.

Mrs. Gordon turned away from the crowded street, which she had been trying to navigate with very little success, and you might imagine how startled she was to see a small boy, jumping down onto her from a low wall beside the street.

Naturally she couldn’t have known it was the button that he desired, for she saw only the greed in his fingers; and so from her side she raised a long, slim umbrella, with which she surely did not mean to protect herself from unpleasant weather. Probably she would have struck him senseless had it not been for the arrival of our dear friend Time.

Should you ever spend a while daydreaming at a clock, watching its hands go round for some hours, there might come a moment in which the gears suddenly freeze in place, and the ticking goes out unannounced, and the pendulum halts mid-swing.

These moments are really just Time stopping itself so that it can tend to chores of its own; look quickly and you might see a shimmering trail of gold flit about the room before taking off through the window; blink and you might miss it completely.

Such occasions do not come often and can be very difficult to catch, but they are handy moments indeed, and if you are quick you can grab onto one of Time’s golden ends and delay the clocks starting up again for as long as you’d like.

Before Mrs. Gordon could deliver the boy a painful blow with her umbrella, a trail of dusty gold suddenly caught Swain under the nose with an annoying sort of tickle, and you could tell by the way the dust lingered and swirled that it meant itself to be caught; so Swain seized Time by its tail, and like some master hourglass had been turned on its side so that the sands could run no more, everything around him went very, very still.

Below him was Mrs. Gordon. Her fleshy cheeks were spread back into a wide-lipped shriek that cracked her face round the middle; really she was a dreadful creature to look on, and you should be glad that you will never directly see her pasty skin or the frightening grip of her pudgy hands round the handle of her umbrella.

Curiouser than that (and the reason Swain was so glad for his new perspective) was an odd figure cowering behind Mrs. Gordon and using the woman’s sheer girth to hide itself from sight.

This figure was about the size of a child, and at first glance you might mistake it for a crowded coat rack, but such things have no business in the middle of the street, and after some observing Swain could see what the figure really was:

Truly it was a child, but whether it was a boy or a girl he could not decide, for not a single bit of its skin was visible. The child was wearing at least four bathrobes and two smoking jackets, and on top of those was a heavy winter coat. An uncountable amount of scarves were bound about its neck, with nylons stretched up its arms and legs, which were coated once more in tight winds of ribbon. A blanket wrapped its head like a turban, round and round and very thick, and into this had been thrust a small pair of binoculars so that the child could see through all the fabric.

So distracting was this sight that Swain rather forgot his own purposes entirely and began to loosen his grip on Time (he cannot be blamed for this mistake, for we have all been guilty of it ourselves).

In just a moment Time was free from his control and the clocks went on ticking again, and this is what happened next:

Swain went crashing down into Mrs. Gordon, and her umbrella; and Mrs. Gordon reached out to the strangely-clothed child for balance, but caught only its fabrics; and the scarves began to fall away, and the ribbons unwound, and piece by piece the disguise came apart.

And if you saw the child then, saw its skin, you would know why it had been covered.


Topher Daniel can be reached at 

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