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The night before this night it had rained. You could see shimmering rain drops glinting on the cobblestone road. Somewhere off a random side street, a family was being reunited.
“Grandpa! We missed you!” cried Emily Greyrose as she burst through the door of her grandfather’s tiny cottage.
“I know, dear. I missed you too. How is my little—?” replied Mr. Greyrose, beginning the annual phrase.
“11-year-old!” cried Emily, peeling off her red wool coat and happily sniffing the scent of hot tomato basil soup.
“That’s right, 11-year-old,” said Mr. Greyrose, his fondness for his little granddaughter shimmering in his quiet eyes.
“I’m wonderful, thank you,” said Emily, smiling up into his eyes.
“And how are you?” asked Mr. Greyrose, shifting his smile to Emily’s parents.
“We’ve been splendid. Thanks, Dad,” replied Aiden Greyrose, smiling tiredly at his father.
“Happy to hear it. Should we all sit down for dinner now?”
“It’s been so long since you’ve come to visit me,” said Mr. Greyrose, leading the small family into the kitchen. A large plank of unvarnished pearwood was supported by intricately carved piano-legs, and on it sat a delicious dinner. A silver tureen of steaming tomato basil soup bubbled with bright orange savory sweetness. Beside it, a beautifully carved wooden bowl was overflowing with crisp green salad that five minutes ago had been sleeping in the garden.
After they finished dinner and their bellies were bumping the table, Grandpa said the magic words.
“So, does anyone want to get some ice cream?” asked Mr. Greyrose, eyes twinkling at little Emily.
“Yes!” cried Emily.
“I don’t know, Emily—it’s past your bedtime. Maybe you should get ice cream tomorrow,” yawned Aiden.
“Oh, come on. She’s a big girl! She can handle it,” said Mr. Greyrose cajolingly.
Emily grinned up at her grandfather conspiratorially, then gave her father her most charming puppy dog look.
“Oh, alright,” said Aiden, throwing up his hands in defeat. “But hurry back!”
Mr. Greyrose gave his son a knowing smile as he hurried Emily out the door.
“Come on. Get in the truck, sweetheart!” he said, glad to have his granddaughter all to himself.
The engine chocked and rumbled. After two or three tries, the car grumbled to life. Mr. Greyrose looked at his little granddaughter sitting in the passenger’s seat. Her long brown hair twisted into braids made her look just like her late mother, while her emerald eyes reminded him of leaves plucked off an old fir tree, and her large, curious black pupils were filled with endless questions.
“What is your favorite flavor of ice cream, Grandpa?” asked Emily.
“Butter pecan. What’s yours?”
“Chocolate,” said Emily.
“Chocolate!” cried Mr. Greyrose. “I thought you liked spinach cream pie!”
“NO! No! No!” cried Emily in horror.
“Oh. Then it’s celery cake for you,” Mr. Greyrose grinned wickedly.
Emily stuck her tongue out at him, then grinned at him and laughed.
The next few moments in Mr. Greyrose’s life cannot be described in words, but a turning point; a street corner that can never be turned again. As he looked over at Emily, he saw something else through the window, something that he could not do anything about, something that was coming closer and closer until…
“Dad?” asked Aiden worriedly. “Dad? Are you okay?”
Mr. Greyrose opened his eyes. He was staring into his son’s face. Concern was painted across the dark shadows under his eyes.
“What? Where am I?” Mr. Greyrose asked.
“At Sherman Hospital. Do you remember the crash?”
Suddenly, memories flooded into Mr. Greyrose’s head like a cold and sorrowful sea. The red car…the scream…Mr. Greyrose’s throat constricted as he suddenly remembered.
“Is Emily okay? Where is she?” asked Mr. Greyrose, weakly pushing himself out of his bed in a panic.
Aiden felt Death’s claw grip his heart.
“She…she…didn’t make it,” Aiden said brokenly.
Mr. Greyrose stared at his son. Shock erupted in his mind like a silent explosion.
If you have ever lost someone, you will know that it is like walking down the stairs in the dark, thinking there is one more step than there is. You feel a dreadful pain in your stomach as you’re falling straight down for a moment before you hit the solid realization that you will never see that person again.
In the case of Mr. Greyrose, things were quite different. His mind frantically searched for a loophole in the situation, a possible way that Emily could not be dead. His mind was subconsciously screaming, but all that came out of his mouth were simple words.
“I’m sorry. It was all my fault.”
“Don’t say that!” said Aiden. “We cannot undo what has been done.”
Mr. Greyrose’s cottage was small and cozy. It almost looked like a fairy tale abandoned cottage, the way the flowers recklessly grew with no orderly rows over the red Dutch doors. Three years ago, when Emily had been alive, Mr. Greyrose had tended his garden with loving care, and every flower had blossomed under his hands. But now, the small brick pathway that led up to the off-white cottage framed with dark brown trim was overgrown with weeds.
Before Emily’s death, Mr. Greyrose had been a world renown master craftsman, and one year, he had been invited to Japan to craft a throne for the Emperor.
“Carve me the most beautiful throne in the entire world, and I will reward you,” the Emperor had decreed, waving his jeweled hand majestically.
Mr. Greyrose carved an intricate throne shaped like a tiger in the moments before its spring. There were black diamond eyes and ruby gems scattered across the tiger’s arched spine and black pearls sharpened into claws at the arms and feet of the throne. In return, the Emperor gave Mr. Greyrose a bag of seeds.
“These seed will grow into flowers that will bring you the best of luck, my friend,” the Emperor said. “Plant them and you will see.”
At first, Mr. Greyrose had been a little upset with his poor payment, but soon, the seeds blossomed into exotic blooms he had never seen before, as large as delicate ladies’ slippers. Each flower was made of two petals that had been sliced with the jagged edge of a broken heart; two angel’s wings with golden veins that drooped delicately around an explosion of yellow and black. There was a sort of melancholy beauty about them—the way their tattered edges fell, a sort of poetry that spoke of tears and rain in the human heart.
Now, Mr. Greyrose was a master craftsman no more, but a gardener. Ever since his beloved Emily had died, he never made anything again. Instead, he took a job at the Dolton Estate as a gardener, and there he puttered around muttering, “My fault…dead…my fault…” to any rose who would listen.
The Dolton mansion was guarded by massive iron-wrought fences with the family crest worked in fanciful scrollwork on the gate. The house itself was six stories high and gorgeously accented with French windows, and the rose gardens burst with life and color.
“Hello there, Mr. Greyrose. Here’s your punch card,” said the butler, cordially pulling a card out of the inside pocket of his black suit.
Mr. Greyrose took the small card and punched it with the Dolton’s silver puncher. This was his 26th punch of the month.
“Thank you. I’ll get to work now,” Mr. Greyrose whispered, shivering as he made his way to the rose bushes.
But once he arrived in the garden, he noticed that the flowers had tiny crystal icicles dangling off of their petals. It was getting cold. Mr. Greyrose carefully pruned the bushes and watered the flowers. When he was finished, the rose bushes glowed.
“Maybe I’ll just ask for a coffee or something,” said Mr. Greyrose to himself as he watched the snowflakes begin to fall from the dreary white sky.
The butler was a curt but good man, and when Mr. Greyrose asked for a cup of something warm to drink, the butler responded kindly.
“Do come in. You may wait in the lounge while I see to it that you have something. It is getting rather cold out there now that the worst of the winter is approaching.”
“Thank you. I really appreciate it,” said Mr. Greyrose, a ghost of a smile cracking his dry lips.
The butler nodded and disappeared into the kitchen. Moments later, the gardener was sipping a deliciously warm hot chocolate that poured down his scratchy throat and into his damp soul. Some say that this very cup of hot chocolate is what sent dear old Mr. Greyrose into insanity. It warmed his heart so much that old memories began to spring to life in his mind of when he and Emily used to walk to Mr. Hick’s Coffee Shop and drink three cups of hot chocolate each. One again, his mind started searching inexorably for some way to undo the terrible thing he had done.
“I must change the course of time itself!” he exclaimed, his eyes bright with emotion.
“What was that, Mr. Greyrose?” called the butler from the kitchen.
“Oh, nothing. Thank you for the hot chocolate!” said Mr. Greyrose.
Mr. Greyrose stared into the face of the grandfather clock in front of him. It was a large beautifully crafted clock with a pendulum of solid gold. The rest of the clock was the heartwood of a rare and precious Aquilaria tree, and it stood tall and airy, the radiant heart of the room.
“Can Time be undone?” Aiden asked the clock quietly.
The butler walked into the room.
“Is everything okay, Mr. Greyrose? I heard you speaking—I was wondering if perhaps you would like to go home? It’s almost too cold for work and you might be catching a fever.”
“No, I’ll stay. Those rose bushes in front are finished, so I’ll start working in the back garden,” said Mr. Greyrose, gazing off into space.
“Okay. Then I’ll show you to the door,” said the butler kindly.
Now outside, Mr. Greyrose pushed the dirt away with his fingers and tossed a few seeds into the ground.
“I have to wind back the dials of that clock to the time when the accident was,” he kept saying to himself. “That way, instead of taking Emily out to ice cream, I can just suggest that we all go to bed, and then we go get ice cream the following day, yes.”
The next day, after he drank his hot chocolate in the Dolton house, Mr. Greyrose just stared at the clock until finally the butler entered the room and asked him to get back to work. This behavior continued for a number of days until finally the butler began to notice that like Mr. Greyrose’s behavior, the roses no longer were orderly and neat. Now the colors did not coordinate—they grew in odd patterns and seemed to shrivel in the air. The butler decided to mention to Mr. Greyrose that his job was in danger.
“Now,” said the butler kindly. “I don’t know what’s going on in your personal life, but—”
“I know. I haven’t been doing a very good job,” said Mr. Greyrose humbly.
“Yes,” said the butler. “I just wanted to warn you that if the Doltons don’t see some changes soon, you will leave them no choice. The Doltons will fire you. Also, I can’t let you into the house anymore. I think it’s distracting you. I will leave your hot chocolate on the doorstep, and you can enjoy it there.”
There was a moment of silence before Mr. Greyrose nodded his head. He picked up his coat and left, only pausing to briefly say goodbye to Mr. and Mrs. Dolton. As he was driving on the road, his head began to spin in a mad whirlpool of reasons why he thought the butler might be tricking him out of the house. There must be a reason…maybe he doesn’t want me near that clock…he knows what I’m up to. There must be a way to get inside the house. I have to do it…for Emily.
Poor old Mr. Greyrose was so overwrought that he tumbled more and more into an insanity of mind. He fervently believed that he needed to leave that very night to steal the clock and turn back the dials in order to bring back his beloved Emily. If he waited any longer, he thought, there was a chance that the clock’s magic would no longer work. When evening fell, he dressed himself in the dark blue herringbone jacket that Emily had loved most. He wanted to look good when he saw her.
The engine shuddered and then was silent. He had parked a little ways from the actual house so that the butler would not hear him coming. Mr. Greyrose closed the car door quietly and begun his walk toward the house. The home looked like a dark shadow in the distance, a monster he had to conquer. Once he was inside, he would use his screwdriver to unscrew the glass protecting the clock, and then he would steal it. After he had taken it back to his house he would unwind the dials. Just enough…just to the time when Emily and he were talking about getting ice cream. The house was getting closer. Mr. Greyrose already had the key to the large iron gate. It was the door he needed to worry about. But he would figure that part out when he got there. For now, all he needed to worry about was opening the gate without anyone hearing. Once he had finally approached the gate, he wasted no time. He thrust the key into the large keyhole and pushed the gate open. After he had closed the gate, he waited a moment to make sure no one was coming.
So far, so good.
Finally, Mr. Greyrose approached the massive double doors. They looked haunting. It was yet another barrier pushing him back with invisible hands, away from where he wanted to be. He tried the doorknob, and to his surprise, the door swung open. He took a few quiet steps into the mansion, silently shutting the door behind him. Still no one awoke. The old man puttered quietly over to the clock. It stood tall and handsome, the gold accents on its face gleaming in the darkness. After staring at the beautiful instrument for a moment, Mr. Greyrose lifted his screwdriver.
The glass fell to the ground, shattering like the sound of high-pitched piano keys, and a few seconds later, the butler and the Doltons burst into the room. When they arrived, the old man was frantically spinning the dials back with his fingers.
“What is he doing?” cried Mrs. Dolton.
The butler seized the clock from Mr. Greyrose’s hands as Mr. Dolton called the police. But the screams coming from Mrs. Dolton and the sound of Mr. Dolton yelling into the phone were silent in Mr. Greyrose’s ears. Even after the butler had taken the clock from him, the master craftsman continued moving his finger in a circular motion in front of his eyes, as if he still thought he was turning back time—back, back to his beloved Emily.