Authors: B Button
|Penelope Publishing, LLC (2010)|
In 2184, fixing clocks for black market money is illegal, but sixteen-year-old Kally Bright does it anyway -- in her secret workshop under her kitchen. When she finds an unexpected surprise in the bottom of one of the clocks, she is propelled back in time to 18th century Scotland. While there, she lives and loves in ways that aren't allowed in her time. If only she could find a way to stay . . .
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Copyright © 2010 by Penelope Publishing
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Sneaks is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
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I had forgotten that it was my birthday. Or maybe I’d purposefully ignored the date. Turning sixteen wasn’t as important as it had been to my grandmother or even my mother. Turning sixteen was all about The Big Decision and nothing about sweet anything, or driving cars, or dating or anything else - just The Big Decision.
I’d received the letter yesterday; someone other than our regular mail guy had knocked on the door with two loud pounds. A man, dressed in black, his thick hair short and bushy, his eyes hidden by dark sunglasses, handed me the sealed envelope on a small silver platter, like it was something special; a gift instead of a silver-plated curse. He worked for the Marriage Division of The Govment, and his manicured and shiny fingernails told me that he was paid well. But everyone who worked for The Govment was paid well.
I took the letter from the platter, closed the door on the silent man, gave it to my anxious mom and then made myself forget all about it; forget that I was turning sixteen and should open the letter and see which group I’d choose from. They called it a choice, but even curses delivered on silver platters aren't real choices. Never let 'em fool ya, Granny would say. She would have said it that day too if she was still alive.
I opened the hidden door in the kitchen floor and disappeared into the basement, into my secret room, where I could do the one and only thing I liked to do: work on my clocks. Mom let me go. She sighed loudly, but she does that a lot lately.
The olden days of turning sixteen that Granny told me about were gone, but in my secret room I was in charge of the time. The rhythm of ticks and tocks filled my ears and filled my head and helped me forget things like birthdays and other awful things. The Music Division of the Govment chose the music we could listen to and when we could listen to it, but in my room, I controlled the sound, the noise, the tick of the old mechanisms that I had the ability to raise from the dead. The noise was better than thinking.
It’s what I did, it's all I did; I fixed clocks. My secret business was booming. In their attics or basements, citizens all over Chigo found dead clocks, their insides long frozen and immobile. Clocks had gone digital a long time ago, their hours and minutes well controlled by the Time Division of the Govment. There were days that an hour was really an hour, but other days and for reasons no one understood, the Time Division, with a big satellite that controlled the digital timepieces, changed the time. Some said it was because they wanted people to have more sunlight, some said it was because they wanted less. I thought it was just another way to screw with our minds.
Citizens could control the time with an antique clock, if it worked, that was. They could know what the real time was. They could know, and sometimes just knowing was powerful even if you couldn't do anything to change it. When citizens figured this out, they wanted their old clocks to work. And when they wanted them to work, they called me. Or rather, they sent a letter by private post. Citizens were afraid to use phones or computers anymore. The Govment controlled those even more than they controlled the time. But there were private post people, mostly young boys willing to risk getting caught because they, like me, might be able to make a little more money for their families than the Govment allowed them to make.
I knew how to take them apart, fix them and put them together again, back in working order. I was good and I was quick, and the money I made was well-hidden. It was illegal to earn an income from a job that hadn’t been approved by the Jobs Division of the Govment. The Jobs Division would never approve someone my age to have such a job. Instead, I was supposed to be focusing on my schooling and The Decision that arrived via a silver platter on the day before my idiotic sixteenth birthday.
I had to conduct my business in secret. My mom was at first worried about us breaking such a serious law, but she was only given a low-paying job from the Jobs Divison – after my father left us and she refused to marry again. Once she realized how much easier it would be to eat and pay the bills with the extra money, she didn’t try to stop me. Of course, we worked only in cash and had to save more than we spent to avoid suspicion, but we made it work. The black market was growing every day. Cash was used in the black market, but that was about the only place anymore. We predicted that The Govment would soon stop creating all cash and then we’d be in trouble, but for now, we were okay.
I hadn't left my shop since escaping to it after the delivery. I'd worked and slept among the peaceful and brain numbing beats and rhythms that surrounded me. By the next morning, I'd forgotten all about it all.
“Kally, you awake?” Mom said from the opening above my. “Hey, birthday girl.”
“Yeah. I just got up.”
“I’m coming down.”
I watched her legs descend the ladder. She was ready for work in her waitress dress and apron, and I could see a package in one hand and the letter in the other hand.
“’K.” I turned back to the time piece I’d been working on. It was Saturday and I’d hoped to stay hidden in my shop all day; hidden away from the birthday wishes and the question: Which group?
The clock before me belonged to Mr. Bellini, an old man a couple streets over. It was about a foot tall and seven inches wide. I’d hidden it in a wagon underneath some groceries to get it home. I’d gotten one suspicious look from a law officer, but no one questioned me, and besides, law officers always looked suspicious.
The mechanism that told the time was in the top part of the clock and a gold pendulum hung lifelessly from the hook. The top face of the clock was hand-decorated in a small tile mosaic. The bottom was a clear glass door, the glass still intact. The Art Division of the Govment created the art we were allowed to look at, and I’d never seen anything as detailed and beautiful as the countryside scene. Maybe it was because I’d never seen any sort of countryside, though. I’d never been out of Chigo and didn’t see it ever happening. In the tiles, I saw cows, horses, pigs and chickens. It was old-fashioned and dreamy, and I was going to bring it back to glorious, ticking life before the day was over.
Mom stopped behind me. “Oh, that’s lovely, honey. What a beautiful one.”
Mom sighed and then put her hand on my shoulder. “Kally?”
“Turn around, baby.”
I didn’t want to, but I finally turned on the stool.
Mom sighed, smiled and said, “Happy birthday, baby girl.”
I tried not to roll my eyes. “Thanks,” I said without moving my lips.
“I got you something.” She handed me the package.
“What is it?”
“The normal procedure is to open the package to find out what’s inside,” she said.
I ripped the brown paper from the package.
“It’s a shoebox,” I said. “An old one.”
“I know. I did some black market shopping.”
I pulled up the lid and peered inside.
“Shoes. Real shoes, like Granny had,” I said, not wanting to be excited but now unable to hide my enthusiasm. They were sneakers; white with pink stripes. They were in mint condition.
“Yeah. Of course, you can’t wear them outside, but down here in the shop I thought they might be fun.”
I flipped off my Govment approved flats and stuck my feet in the sneakers. They were cushiony and comfortable around my feet. I tied them, too tight at first, but then a little looser.
“I love them,” I said without realizing I’d said something.
“I’m so glad. I thought you might.”
We looked at each other a moment. We both knew what was next. The letter. I had to open the letter, was required to do so on my sixteenth birthday. If a Govment official talked to me today, I’d need to know the answer. That was part of the reason that I’d decided to stay in the shop all day, but that wasn’t good enough. A Govment official might pound on the door and I had to be prepared.
Mom looked at me with a tight mouth. We looked so much alike that I knew she was mimicking my look. Her long brown hair was pulled back in a neat ponytail, though, while mine hung over my shoulders.
She handed me the letter. “Let’s get it over with, Kally.”
“You know, it doesn’t matter what it says. There’s no good choice.”
Mom sighed. “But you need to know.”
“I’m not marrying anyone. Ever.”
“You don't have to do anything for a couple years. Once we know which group you have to choose from, we’ll deal with it from there. We'll know if you want to defy or not. If so, we'll figure it out, but for now open it.”
I took the letter and ran my chewed grimy finger under the wax seal. The flap popped up and I reached in for the folded paper. I looked at Mom, she nodded, and I opened the letter. It said:
Kally Bright: It is our pleasure to inform you that you may choose your husband when you turn eighteen from the pool of previously married. Thank you, and Happy birthday. Sincerely, the Marriage Division of the Govment.
I read the words aloud.
For a long moment the only sound was the music of the clocks all around. They suddenly sounded disappointed. The letter would have either said I’d be able to choose a husband from someone never married or someone previously married, perhaps a divorcee or a widower. The women got to choose – but as my Granny would say: It’s the Govment’s, those SOB's, way of making you think you have a choice, but bad choices are as awful as no choice at all, maybe even worse.
In two years I’d marry someone who’d already been married.
Or, I could be like my mom and refuse to marry. She’d done as much after my father left. But the Govment punishes people who don’t do what they want, so Mom was given a job that paid barely enough for us to get by; waitressing. Mom was a brilliant scientist, but her brilliance wasn’t used again after she refused the Govment’s marriage plan.
I’d be okay with being given a low-paying job, just as long as cash and the black market existed, but if those ever went away, I would need something better paying or be married to someone who was approved for a good job. I hated it all.
“You have two years, Kally. A lot can happen in two years.”
I handed her the letter and turned back to my worktable. I wanted to yell and I wanted to cry. Sometimes yelling and crying made me feel better, but not always.
“I always wonder how good it was that Granny showed you how to fix these things,” Mom said from behind me. “Your skills have helped us pay the bills, but they’ve also made you more independent than the Govment wants young girls to be. It’s not good to go against the Govment, Kally, you know that. I’m just worried. And I’m sorry.”
“Sorry?” I said as I turned again. “Why?”
“If I hadn’t refused to get married, you might not be considering it either. I’m sorry, but I just . . . couldn’t. That doesn’t mean the man you marry won’t be better than your father turned out to be. Give it time and consideration. Okay, baby?”
I felt my eyes well with heavy tears. “No, Mom, don’t be sorry. I can’t imagine what our lives would be like if you’d married again. It's better this way, no matter what else.”