As he hit the snooze button again, Sampson was sure he heard voices coming out of the clock.
“Yeah, you were right.”
Even though all he really wanted was to go back to sleep, Sampson sat up and looked over at the clock. He thought about giving it a shake just to see what might be rattling around in there. But he didn’t want to rattle those voices. He didn’t know where they’d come from, but it just didn’t seem right to shake them up. He didn’t know why exactly, but he didn’t want to bother them any more than he had to.
“Hello?” he said. But he was met by total silence. He began to wonder if he’d actually heard anything at all. He couldn’t remember what the official term was, but maybe he was just hearing things.
“Hello?” he said again, but there was still no response. He picked up the clock and held it carefully in front of his face. It was about ten inches long, and four inches wide. He could see that there were just a few long bolts that held it together. It wouldn’t be terribly difficult to get the thing apart.
So, instead of calling out again, he went into the kitchen to get a screwdriver out of the tool drawer. The drawer had a mess of batteries, as well as plyers, screwdrivers and a wrench. When he’d gotten the right screwdriver, he came back to the bedroom and started delicately taking the clock apart.
It wasn’t long before he had gotten the bolts out and then he was able to lift the housing away from the bottom.
Inside, there were two tiny men in coveralls. They both looked up at him guiltily, knowing that they’d been caught at something that they never should have been doing.
Sampson was tempted to just pick them up and put them down on the bed beside him. But, despite their size, they looked kind of tough, and he didn’t think they’d take kindly to being handled that way.
So, instead, he just said “hello” again. He couldn’t think of anything more appropriate. They said “hello” back. And then there was kind of an awkward silence.
“So, I’m John, and this is Eric,” said the one with brown hair. Eric was blond and had a baseball cap on. He smiled, but he let John do the talking.
“Hey. I’m Sampson. I’m not really sure what to do here.”
“No worries,” said John. “We’re not supposed to get heard by anyone. So, we’re the ones that actually fucked things up.”
After they got more comfortable with each other, Sampson explained that he didn’t really feel right about them having to run the clock. It seemed kind of cruel and silly for them to have to do it. But John pointed out that running the clock was their job. They didn’t feel bad about it, so Sampson didn’t need to either. There was no place for batteries, and though the thing plugged in, that was just for appearances. The cord didn’t actually deliver any power to the clock.
In the end, Sampson couldn’t see any real solution for his discomfort, other than getting a new clock. And that wasn’t a solution at all. In fact, now that he knew the guys were in there, it seemed imperative that he keep the thing. They didn’t talk about it, but Sampson didn’t figure that John or Eric would do well if he just got rid of the clock.
So, as a compromise, they agreed that the men would have better working conditions. They were already taking shifts to keep the clock running, but now, in their time off, they would be able to come out and watch TV or read or something. And Sampson set them up with a couple of little doll beds, so that they didn’t have to just curl up on some old clothes in between shifts.
He also got some electrical textbooks. John read them diligently and soon figured out how they could start using batteries. Once they got the battery system up and running, John wondered if they should just report back and see if they could get reassigned. There really wasn’t much for them to do anymore.
But Sampson pointed out that they’d never gotten the alarm hooked up to the battery. So, if he wanted to get up on time, he needed the two men to stay on the job.
They’d taken to having both the alarm and having one of the men give him a shake in the morning. They’d alternated, but Eric was better about it. He was more of a morning person. After a while, they’d just decided that Eric would always have morning shift. John was visibly relieved to hear it.
Something that was obvious, but not brought up, was the simple fact that if John and Eric left, there was no reason why Sampson couldn’t just buy a new clock with a new alarm. But, though he didn’t admit it to either himself or them, Sampson had gotten used to having John and Eric for company, so he didn’t want them to go.