After the passage of centuries, the land that was once widely known as northern Indiana had festered into a fetid and toxic swamp called The Wubbish. It was a lively place, full of bustling odors and festive biting insects, but people did continue to live there. Much like any other place in the world of the time, dozens of little villages dotted the land, labor camps that the world rulers didn’t even bother to name. These particular camps in The Wubbish cultivated mushrooms, worms, and beetles to supply food and medicine to the great town to the northwest, a town whose name the people had somehow mutilated into “Shitcano”.
In Shitcano resided the provincial government of the Clock Setters. In theory the Clock Setters ruled the entire world from across the ocean in the Great Capital of Bristles, though the Clock Setters had in practice broken into several bickering factions. Nevertheless, a single Chief Clock Setter by the name of Swirly technically ruled them all. And as Chief Clock Setter, Swirly controlled all of the world’s clocks, and through the clocks, all of the world’s people. (We’ll meet Swirly later.)
Back in swamps of The Wubbish, in a particularly foul-smelling labor camp—as a matter of fact very close to the forgotten city of Plymouth, Indiana—there lived a boy of roughly nine years named Spinach. Spinach had earned this name through hard work and dedication, for he so-adored the limp and rancid, putridly sorry variant of spinach that the locals could grow in their little gardens, that he would beg and plead for it, and would steal it, and his mother would beat him because of it but he didn’t care. Spinach would toss and turn in his leaf-bed all night long in anticipation of the summer’s spinach harvest, and after the spinach was finally brought in he would beg and plead for another serving while his older sister Wilma begged and pleaded to be excused from eating her first serving. Sometimes their father Harvey relented to this begging to the delight of the children and the outspoken scorn of their mother Filomena. But anyway that’s why they called him Spinach. If he ever had a real name, nobody would say.
That spring Harvey had given Spinach his very own garden plot behind the family corrugated iron and tar-paper shack. Spinach could grow his very own spinach crop! After he’d finished his day’s labor for the Clock Setters, Spinach spent hours working the moist soil of his 3-square-meter (the Clock Setters had forced everyone to adopt the oppressive Metric system centuries before) plot, fending off insects and other vermin, fertilizing it with waste from the alley’s sewage ditch, and pulling weeds as they appeared. Often he slept on the ground next to his spinach plot only to awaken with hundreds of mosquito bites, for the only clothes the boy owned were a single pair of ripped-up brown pants. Spinach even whispered words of encouragement to the green spinach leaves as they curled out of the ground.
Besides his obsession with spinach, Spinach was known throughout the camp for his talent with mechanical devices. Since his toddler years he’d enjoyed dismantling mechanical objects of any sort, especially dangerous ones, much to the exasperation of his parents and against the growled warnings of the Overseers. But with time Spinach learned how to put these devices back together, and when he managed to start an old water pump that had set neglected outside for years, the people of the labor camp brought Spinach all sorts of tools and gadgets for him to rebuild. Even the Overseers set him to work on their strange devices, such a the wondrous coffee maker!, even their liquor-cycles, the Overseers’ ancient little scooters that ran on alcohol.
The Time Change
One day young Spinach was lugging a brick across the camp to help build the new Overseer barracks. Men and women bustled around the camp carrying mud for mortar, logs to cut into beams, sheets of corrugated iron for the roof, or lugging bricks like Spinach did. Every year the Overseers required the men of the labor camp to spend part of their time in the construction of the new barracks, then they must help the Overseers move in, and afterward the men dismantled the old barracks. Almost immediately the new barracks started to sink into the swampy ground, so for untold years the Overseers organized the annual construction and dismantling of the barracks. Nobody seemed to mind.
As the frail boy waddled across the camp, swerving to avoid the grown-ups’ paths, with the great brick dangling in his calloused hands, a screeching cacophony blared across the camp. Every villager stopped, dropped their burdens and covered their ears. Slowly, as if in a trance, they turned to gaze at the village clock.
Near the center of each labor camp stood a carved wooden pole about 20 meters (60 feet) tall, somewhat like a totem pole. At the top of the pole stared four clock faces, one facing each direction. Each face had twenty four hours and would glow at night, the camp’s only source of light in those hours. This was the village clock.
As the people stared, the hands of the clock moved backward from 14:38. The villagers didn’t know it, but every clock across the whole world moved backward at the same time. The Clock Setters had issued their decree, and the clocks obeyed the Clock Setters. And the people then obeyed the clocks.
The power of the Clock Setters depended on their ability to change the clocks. The Chief issued his decree without warning and at any time, and lesser Clock Setters carried out his orders. The clocks would move to whatever time the Chief commanded, sometimes forward an hour, sometimes backwards 85 minutes, or whatever time the Chief arbitrarily decided. The time change wasn’t set in stone. On rare occasions the Chief Clock Setter had even switched the night with the day, but this hadn’t happened for many years. The Clock Setters changed the clocks, the clocks obeyed, and the people obeyed the clocks. This was all important.
The whistle continued to shriek while the village clock crept slowly backwards and stopped at 13:16. The caterwaul cut off, its echoes quickly fading through the village.
Then the real pandemonium began. Panicked villagers blindly ran, sometimes crashing into each other or tripping over fallen bundles. Some of them threw their bodies to the ground and rolled up in a ball, chanting in terror. Spinach’s sister Wilma skittered to the top of a stack of crates and then tumbled back to the ground.
Not for the first time, young Spinach watched them in bewilderment.
From the barracks poured Overseers in their gray uniforms, clubs or prods in hand, their razor-sharp blades sheathed at their sides. Indiscriminately the Overseers beat the horrified villagers, screaming “Back to work!” and “Order! Order!” Some of the Overseers chased terrified villagers into the swamp, others raced from the barracks in their battered liquor-cycles to outrun the escapees. A group of fleeing villagers caught Spinach off-guard and sent him tumbling into a mud puddle, the group closely followed by three Overseers flailing their clubs.
After several minutes, a shaken, bruised, and bleeding people started to return to their tasks to build the barracks. Only a few at first, but these seemed to calm the others, and very soon the entire village limped to their duties. Spinach himself found his discarded brick and resumed his lugging journey towards the build site. That day the whole town worked for an extra hour and twenty-two minutes, even the whole world worked so long.
That night before supper, at the cook fire, Spinach asked a question to his haggard mother Filomena as she stirred a watery stew of beetles, rice, and frogs: “Why do the clocks change?”
Filomena froze, her eyes wide with terror and then rage. “The clocks do not change! The clocks are always the same!” She whipped herself around in blind fury and splashed the boiling stew in Spinach’s face. The boy fled out of sight and Filomena crumpled to her knees, shocked at her own anger but believing her actions to be necessary. That impetuous boy was burned, but Filomena was certain that she’d burned into him life’s most important lesson.
The boy’s face was badly burned. Half of Spinach’s face had blistered red and purple, but fortunately he wasn’t blinded. Had he lost sight in even one eye, the Overseers would have taken Spinach away to feed the mean Chow Chow dogs. The dogs were bred for the Clock Setters to eat, and the Overseers often fed them with the old, the weak, and the disobedient.
Weeks passed and Spinach’s face healed while his little spinach plot flourished. He ignored the teasing from the villagers, who now called him “Boiled Spinach”. Spinach chose to devote himself entirely to his plants, pampering the spinach with meticulous care. Spinach’s father Harvey often commented that the little spinach patch would produce as much spinach as the rest of the family garden, and Spinach would swell with pride. Very soon he would taste his very own spinach, and life would be grand.
But fate had more in store for Spinach than he realized.
He was wading through the swamp to gather wood for the Overseer ovens when he stumbled across a large cloth bundle hidden in a hollow Sycamore tree. Spinach poked the bag with a stick to see if it would move, which it didn’t. Somewhat reluctantly but with overwhelming boyish curiosity, Spinach pulled the bag out of the tree and opened it. The bundle was full of rusted metal junk, but near the bottom he saw the muddy face of a clock. Unlike the village clock faces, however, this clock displayed only twelve hours.
Spinach touched the still tender flesh of his face and was afraid. But he could not resist the temptations of such a strange device. He carried the old bundle towards the village, hiding it in a patch of thorny wild rose bushes outside of the camp.
Later that night, hours after the curfew whistle, Spinach snuck out of the family shack. The roar of frogs filled the moist, cool—but raunchy—air. An Overseer might flog or even kill Spinach if he caught the boy outside the camp, but Spinach was certain he could find the bundle and sneak it home without alerting anyone. And he succeeded.
For the next week, Spinach stole away a few hours during his day’s labor to work on the marvelous little clock, even though it would mean a severe public whipping if he was caught. He awoke in the night and worked outside by the light of the moon. The device was full of delicate gears that fit so beautifully together. The work filled him with satisfaction and fascination. And on the eighth day the little clock started to run.
Spinach beamed with pride! He could hardly wait to show his father! But only when his mother could not see. While Filomena stirred the bug stew outside, Spinach led his worn-out father into the shack to show him the little clock. Harvey watched in amazement and no little fear as the boy wound up the clock with a little key, and the machine began to tick. Spinach turned another knob and the hands moved on their own, a sight that brought terror into Harvey’s stomach. Villagers must obey the clock, not the other way around!
“Where did you find this, boy?” Harvey asked, fearful that someone, especially Filomena, might see.
But Spinach didn’t get a chance to answer, for the little clock started to ring. All across the village, people stopped over their cook fires and evening chores, and they instinctively looked up to the village clock in blinking confusion, for it was definitely not The Whistle.
And Overseers across the village cocked their heads at the little ringing sound. “Go!” they were told, and they hurried off.
As Spinach struggled to silence the little clock, Spinach’s mother and sister rushed into the shack, and then villagers crowded outside the door and windows, staring in amazement. But at the sound of the approaching liquor-cycles, the villagers fled to their homes.
Spinach had managed to silence the clock, and was hiding it in his drawer of mechanical parts when the first Overseers burst into their shack. “Freeze!” the Overseers screamed, and they roughly bound the wrists of Spinach and his entire family with an Overseer at each arm. The little shack had filled with gray uniforms. “Where is it?” the Overseers kept asking, but the entire family was too terrified and confused to speak.
Then Spinach watched a very strange man squeeze into the room. The Overseers stood to attention and saluted, calling, “Spring Forward!” The strange man returned the salute and barked, “Fall back!” Impatiently he added, “Give me some space!” and several Overseers slid out of the shack, leaving just eight of them to tower over the little family.
For the first time in his life, Spinach knew he’d seen a Clock Setter. Clock Setters visited the camps sometimes on a wide circuit, but most common villagers could only expect to glimpse a few of them in their lifetimes. From his elders, Spinach had been told of the blue and gold uniform that a Clock Setter wore, but the elders had never told him that a man could be so fat! The Clock Setter must have weighed 60 kilograms (130 pounds)! Spinach couldn’t even see the man’s teeth through his cheeks, and the skin of his face seemed so smooth and puffy, his eyes so un-sunken-in! And not a speck of dirt appeared on the man’s skin or his fancy uniform. Could such a man even be real?
The Clock Setter addressed the family in a firm but smooth voice: “All right, where is the clock?”
Worried for his family, Spinach spoke up: “The clock is mine, sir.”
The Clock Setter pointed at Spinach’s Overseer. “Release the boy.” To Spinach: “Show me!”
With trembling hands, Spinach managed to produce the little clock from its hiding place, holding it out towards the Clock Setter. With reverence and, it seemed to Spinach, even a trace of fear, the Clock Setter took the clock from Spinach’s hands. “Who gave it to you?” he whispered.
“I just found it, sir. Out in the swamp.”
“Who gave it to you?” the Clock Setter insisted. “Clocks don’t just grow in the swamp! Who made this? Who gave it to you?”
Spinach only shook his head. “I fixed it!”
“Liar!” The Clock Setter nodded to the Overseer who held Spinach’s father, and the gray-uniformed man unsheathed his blade and cut poor Harvey in half from his head to his groin. Filomena screamed in horror while Spinach and his sister gaped in shock, unable to breathe. The two halves of Spinach’s father thumped to the bloodstained dirt.
Filomena broke the silence: “It was my spouse that gave the clock to the boy! He was one of the Bandits!”
The Clock Setter nodded and stomped from the shack, the clock in his hands. “See to it that there is nothing else in this place that should not be.”
The Overseers then used their clubs and their boots to destroy the family’s furniture and meager possessions. While Filomena screamed and wept the Overseers smashed apart crates and cabinets, tables and chairs, rummaging through the rubble. They even kicked apart the family leaf-beds. After the Overseers had finished their destruction of the family possessions, they dragged the mother and her children from the tar-paper shack and proceeded to smash the little building to the ground, hunting for hidden compartments and finding none. And out of just plain meanness, the Overseers kicked Spinach in his guts several times and smacked his mother and sister across their cheeks. The Overseers then trampled the family garden, and then they stomped and kicked the boy’s little spinach plot, sending the ripped and battered leaves tumbling every which way. Then the overseers slapped the two ladies one more time each before they unbound the family and marched away. Mission accomplished.
Filomena pointed at Spinach as she clutched his sister Wilma, the tears still wet on the woman’s cheeks. “This is all your fault, Spinach! You brought this curse upon us! Who will rebuild? Who will replant? Who will work to pay the Time Tax? Who will bury the two halves of your wretched and worthless father? What can you do but destroy us all?”
So Spinach worked, and when he was done with his work he worked some more. He rose before the morning whistle to replant the family garden. And after he toiled at his day’s labor he worked to rebuild the fallen shack. He tried to forget about his little spinach plot just like he refused to remember his father, and Spinach hardly spoke a word to anyone. The happy little boy had grown stern and grave. Even when he’d rebuilt the shack larger and stronger than ever before, his mother continued to blame Spinach for every inconvenience. Spinach continued to hide behind work just to avoid his bitter mother and whining sister, and even his own guilt-infested thoughts.
As autumn turned into winter, Spinach wandered the swamps and forests in search of firewood. By law the villagers could only take wood from fallen limbs and trees, so they often slogged for miles in search of wood. While most men worked in groups to gather the largest branches, the little boy preferred to work alone. He fashioned a raft to carry large branches through the swamps and streams, which he pulled with a rope.
Spinach might have spent the remainder of his life trapped in this grim drudgery, but once again fate would not allow it.
As he pulled his wood-laden raft one snowy day, two little men approached Spinach from the direction of town. At first Spinach believed that he knew the men, but as they walked closer he saw that they were strangers. He dropped his rope and bolted.
“Spinach, wait!” they called, and he stopped in curiosity, that dreadful curse. How did they know his name?
So Spinach waited. Four other men joined the two from their hiding spots, and each of them stood remarkably short for grown men, none taller than Spinach himself. They claimed to be “Free-Timers”, a term that Spinach didn’t understand. Free-Timers, the little men explained, lived in the wilderness, outside the control of the Clock Setters and otherwise known by Overseers as “Time Bandits”. But they had a message from another group of men called the Clockmakers.
The Clockmakers had heard of Spinach’s remarkable repair of the little clock, and they requested his services on another, much greater clock. “But if you help them, you can never return home.”
Well, that wasn’t such a difficult decision for poor young Spinach, so he agreed to follow the Free-Timers across the swamps to the edge of the Oil-Slick Sea, a great lake once known as Michigan. On a little peninsula that jutted into the lake stood a dark and mighty fortress, apparently abandoned, that the men called Calumet. But hidden behind the mighty stone walls the Clockmakers toiled away.
Spinach said goodbye to the little men, who announced that they were leaving on a quest to become international criminals. He never saw these Free-Timers, these “Time Bandits”, again.
In a room high above the earth, or so it seemed to the boy, Spinach met the leader of the Clockmakers. A tall, willowy man with a poof of unruly white hair. The man was known as General Richtigkeit.
The General thanked Spinach for coming. “Time is running short,” the General said. “We need gifted people like you to repair the Clock of Truth.” Locked away in their secret fortress was an enormous ancient clock of great power. Once repaired, it would reset all of the world’s clocks to their real time, thereby breaking the power of the Clock Setters and setting free every person in the world.
The General assigned Spinach to his team of “clocksmiths”, twelve men who had worked for years to assemble the pieces of the great electrical clock. Led by their crotchety team leader Eggers, the men had made many breakthroughs over the years but the clock still failed to function.
Eggers scowled as he studied the boy up and down. “Confound it, he’s just a little scar-faced brat! What good will he do for us?”
The General smiled. “I suggest you put him to work and find out!”
For security purposes, Eggers controlled all of the clock’s keys and he kept all of the clock’s combinations. While this certainly kept the clock secure, it also gave Eggers a great deal of power over the clock that he considered to be his very own possession.
Eggers did not take kindly to some backwards child bumpkin being thrust among his elite clock team, so he worked Spinach like a beast of burden and instructed the others to do the same, and he banned the men from helping the boy if he asked any questions. He must only learn from Eggers or from the library.
But the boy quickly earned the respect of his fellow workers with his quick thinking, his cheerful demeanor, his remarkable memory, and his inquisitive mind.
Spinach would spend as much time in the library as he spent in the clock chamber. He was amazed that so much knowledge could fit within such a small place, and he studied subjects such as mathematics and physics, chemistry and electronics, and figured out ways to apply their principles to their problems with the clock.
In the evenings Spinach often climbed the great tower of the fortress and gazed across the landscape. To the north stretched the great brown lake all the way to the horizon, and the green swamp stretched just as far across the south. Eastward, sandy dunes created a bright border between the lake and swamp, but to the West he could watch the nearby village of Withers. The village was larger than the camp that he knew, but the people toiled just the same. From this distance they looked like ants. And Spinach could see the local village clock on its pole in the center of the town’s shabby buildings. And beyond Withers, Spinach could even make out the great town of Shitcano itself.
When spring came, Spinach cultivated a new little spinach patch in a soil-filled wooden box on the roof of the fortress. Along with the tower, this section of roof served as a place of solace from the persecution of mean old Eggers.
The Wrath of Eggers
After working with the clocksmiths for three years and three happy spinach harvests, progress on the clock had made great strides, though several mysteries continued to perplex the team of men. Spinach’s knowledge had by this time begun to surpass that of his fellows, and frequently the other clocksmiths asked for his advice and assistance on difficult problems. Spinach approached problems from unusual angles, and he had an instinct for repair. Spinach continued to love his work, and deep down he wouldn’t have minded if the team never repaired the clock so long as he could work on it forever.
One day General Richtigkeit visited his team of clocksmiths, as he often did. He warned that the Clock Setters had grown aware of the existence of the Clock of Truth, though not yet its location. The time had come for the two groups to work around the clock in shifts. Eggers would continue to lead the day shift but he wanted Spinach to lead the night crew. And Eggers had to give up his keys to Spinach during the night.
At first Eggers tried to keep the keys from Spinach, but the boy insisted on taking them. Arrogant and disrespectful, Eggers considered the boy. Then the old man tried to interfere as much as possible on Spinach’s shift, even so far as to nap during his own day shift to make way for meddling. But Spinach ordered him away with the General’s support.
So finally Eggers managed to sabotage the clock. After Spinach had taken over for the night shift, several clock circuits popped and sizzled with smoke and flashes of blue light, causing so much damage to the clock that weeks of progress were lost. The disappointed General relieved Spinach of his leadership and abandoned the night shift altogether. Two shifts had stressed the men too greatly, the General reasoned.
It didn’t take long for Spinach to deduce that Eggers had sabotaged the work on the clock and posed a threat to the very cause of the Clockmakers. Knowing that he had no way to prove Eggers’ wrongdoing, Spinach came up with an idea of his own.
Towards the end of a shift, Spinach poured a sedative drug from the medical lab into Egger’s canteen, and shortly afterward Eggers fell asleep in his office, a practice so common that it raised no concerns. When the men ended their day and broke for supper, Spinach entered Egger’s office.
Spinach remembered that years before, Eggers had slipped on the floor and cut his head open on the edge of a pipe valve. While Spinach tried to assist the old man, he observed that Egger’s shirt had pulled loose and exposed writing on his skin. Eggers had tattooed all of the clock’s combinations in the flesh of his old man belly! Crotchety old Eggers never suspected Spinach’s knowledge; he slapped the boy away in contempt while the blood trickled down his scowling face, and Spinach never told a soul.
Now Spinach hiked up Egger’s shirt and once again exposed the old man’s belly to the light, something that only happened once every decade or so, Spinach determined, judging by the paleness of the skin. The boy scribbled down each of the backwards-written combinations. Then he stole Egger’s keys.
That night, Spinach opened the inner panels of the great clock and used the combinations to study their settings. When Spinach stumbled across the clock schematics deep inside the clock, drawings that showed how the clock was constructed and configured, he realized that Eggers had hidden his knowledge for years, deliberately keeping the project from completion.
As he studied the schematics, a blunt force struck Spinach in the back and he crumpled to the concrete floor. Eggers howled and kicked Spinach in his guts while the boy tried to scramble out of the clock.
“You’ve ruined everything!” Eggers snarled as he flung a chair at Spinach and missed. “I could have worked on the clock forever. But now look what you’ve gone and done!” Spinach rushed towards the door, but Eggers crashed into the heavy parts shelf next to it. The tall, steel shelf bounced against the wall and toppled over. Eggers collapsed to the floor as the shelf thundered against the concrete floor and the crushed old man’s arm. Eggers lay pinned and screaming, his eyes wild with pain and rage.
Spinach fled from the room to seek out General Richtigkeit. But when he returned with the General and several guards, Eggers had gone.
The guards discovered a missing liquor-cycle. They tried to chase down the old man, but they couldn’t find him. They had to assume the worst, that he’d defected to the Clock Setters in Shitcago, and that the enemy could arrive at any time.
Armed with the ancient schematics, the clocksmiths would have to rebuild the clock as quickly as they could. Meanwhile, the Clockmakers would buy as much time for the team as possible. General Richtigkeit’s secret army would assemble men from all over the countryside at the Calumet fortress, strengthen the defenses, and prepare for war against the Clock Setters and their Overseer minions. With luck, the General’s army could buy the clocksmiths an entire week.
As the clocksmiths rushed along in the clock chamber, hundreds of Overseer liquor-cycles, armored and weaponized like little two-wheeled tanks, assembled at the bottom of the little fortified peninsula. Hundreds more gray-clad Overseers lined up on foot behind them, with thousands more arriving from all over the region.
After three days of assembling men and supplies, the Clock Setters feared to wait any longer and they ordered the storming of the peninsula. Thousands of armored Overseers pushed against the trenches on foot, their blades swinging like scythes. The Overseers took huge losses from the hundreds of Free-Timer bowmen who attacked from trees and rubble in the front and rear. Gradually the Overseers drew these bowmen deeper into the swamps through sheer numbers. This allowed the hundreds of liquor-cycles to burst into the Clockmaker trenches and break the “Time Bandit” lines. The Clockmakers began their slow retreat up the peninsula.
Meanwhile Spinach and his clocksmiths had run into some snags. They had to make or bypass some of the parts required by the clock to continue with the reconstruction process. They could just hear the muffled battles waging day and night outside, whining little liquor-cycle engines and the clank of metal blades colliding.
On the fifth day of the attack, the winds shifted from the north to the west, and Overseers sprayed a poison into the air from boats offshore of the peninsula. Other boats dumped more Overseers at various points along the peninsula, and the Clockmakers had to beat a quick retreat to protect the great fortress of Calumet.
As the sounds of the battle grew sharper and louder, Spinach was confident that he and his team were making quick progress. Now the clocksmiths only had to race, if carefully and meticulously, to follow the directives of the clock schematics to repair the clock.
On the sixth day, the Overseers fought up the stairs of the fortress, conquering room by room and floor by floor. Advised by Eggers, the Overseers knew which room they needed, and they expected to take it before sunset.
Spinach’s heart pounded as the finishing touches took effect on the clock. In mere minutes he could initiate the Clock of Truth and align the clocks of the world to true time. But the echoes of Overseers and falling Clockmakers filled the hallway outside the locked metal door. He and his men cringed as loud banging and clanging rattled against the door. The Overseers had arrived.
Sweat poured from Spinach’s brow as he pressed the initiate button. As he pulled his finger away, the door burst open and the Overseers poured in. “Nobody move!” Bloodied gray uniforms filled the clock chamber, and with them the stench of death. Spinach froze, knowing that in just a few minutes the clock would start to actually run, if it would run at all.
Then the great Chief Clock Setter Swirly himself, the ruler of the world, rushed into the room wearing his shiny purple and green cape, accompanied by several other Clock Setters, a team of bespectacled boffins in white labcoats, and old Eggers with his arm in a cast. “Spring forward!” shouted the Overseers as they saluted, but no one returned their salutes. The Overseers stood with their arms in the air, and nobody moved.
One of the bespectacled boffins studied the clock. “It’s already started,” he gasped.
And that’s when the whistles shrieked outside.
Spinach could see the town of Withers from the windows of the clocksmith’s room. He saw the little ants freeze as they stared at their village clock. The villagers watched as the hands of the four clock faces rolled backward, first one hour and then another. As Spinach smiled with pride and relief, he saw a frown of dismay creep across the face of Swirly, the now deposed ruler of the world. The clock would fall back three hours and twenty-one minutes in all, to 19:55. The true time. For the first time in hundreds of years, time was now restored to the people!
The whistle stopped, and Spinach watched in bewilderment as the people fled in blind panic and tumbled over one another, while others rolled themselves into balls on the ground. Overseers chased the terrified villagers and smacked them with clubs or prodded them in their backs. Within ten minutes the villagers returned to their homes just as before, with the Overseers unchallenged and standing guard. Nothing had changed!
Swirly broke the stunned silence with a cackling explosion of hysterical laughter. “Don’t you see?”, he asked Spinach almost cordially. “It’s not the time itself that is the source of our power, it’s the change! You managed to set the true time but the people only saw one more change!” Spinach’s heart sank in shock and confusion while Swirly chortled on.
Swirly barked to his Overseers: “Smash this clock and slaughter all of these fools.” Swirly pointed at Eggers. “Kill him, too. But spare the boy alive and imprisoned.”
The ruler of the world, the Chief Clock Setter Swirly, stole everything but Spinach’s life from him. Swirly ordered the boy lobotomized and his legs amputated. And then he had the mindless wreck of Spinach dressed up as a duck with a bow tie and put on display in his zoo of freaks in Bristles, where the boy managed to live until the age of seventeen before he died of neglect.
But Spinach’s soil box of spinach lived on. Two young children from the town of Withers, a boy and a girl, dared to explore the old fortress after the battle was almost forgotten and all of Calumet’s people removed to feed the Chow Chow dogs. On the roof, the two children found the soil box with its patch of spinach dried and withered, but having gone to seed. Both of them loved spinach and they gathered the seeds to take home.
In the spring the boy and the girl planted their very own spinach patch, which they cultivated with great care and attention. They replanted some of the seeds every spring, and Spinach’s plants spread slowly across the region, bred and refined by spinach lovers for generations to come.