Finders Keeprs (2)
He walked out of the shop, into the shopping centre, out of sight of the shopkeeper. He sat down on a nearby seat, took out the whistle and blew.
The whole shopping centre went still and silent.
Harry felt more excited than he had ever felt in his life. He could walk into any shop he liked and just take whatever he wanted. Anything at all. And nobody would see him. It was perfect.
But, for the time being, he would just take the jade. He walked back into the shop, took the dragon from its place on the shelf, put it into his pocket and walked out of the shop. He went back to his seat and blew the whistle once more. The shopping centre came back to life. Movement and sound returned. He had done it.
And who could blame Harry Chen for the disappearance of the jade? After all, the shopkeeper had seen him leave after he had returned the jade. So had the cameras in the shop. It had been easy.
As he walked home he felt like a god. The little jade dragon was the best thing in Harry's collection. He kept all his things in a rosewood box. He would soon need a bigger box.
And, as Harry slept that night, he dreamed that the whole world was still and he was the only moving thing in it. He and the shadows.
The next day Harry thought that he would see what the whistle could do. He decided to try it out at work. Perhaps on that old fool, Professor Teo. But, whatever he did, he must not draw attention to himself or the whistle. He was sure of that. It was his whistle and he did not want to lose it. Harry was used to asking questions about things. It was what archaeologists did. It was part of the job. He wanted to find out more about the whistle. The first thing he wanted to find out about was this: did the whistle simply stop things moving or did it, in some way, stop time itself?
It was important to know. He didn't want people to notice that they'd lost time. That would be a problem. But if time had stood still there would be no problem. They wouldn't even know about it.
Professor Teo came into Harry's office. This could be his chance to test the whistle.
'Harry,' said the professor. 'I've got some news about our grave.'
'News, professor?' asked Harry.
'Yes,' said the Professor. 'We've been in touch with a local Chinese priest who knows all about this kind of thing. But it wasn't easy. He had to look in the oldest books he could find before he could tell us who this man was. And I was right, it is all rather strange, to say the least.'
Harry felt a sudden coldness run down his back.
'So who was he, Professor?' asked Harry.
'His name,' said the professor, 'was Lou Foo, which means "the tiger". He was a priest who was thrown out by the other priests.'
'Why?' asked Harry.
'The priest who told us this wouldn't say why, exactly,' continued the professor, 'but I think this Lou Foo must have done some very bad things. The priest even warned us to be careful, even though this man has been dead for all these years!' Professor Teo laughed. 'Honesdy! You'd think he was going to rise from the dead the way that priest talked about him! Still, it all makes our job that bit more interesting, doesn't it, Harry?'
Normally Harry would have laughed at such things along with the Professor. But his throat felt tight and dry for some reason.
'Er... I suppose so, professor,' he answered nervously.
Professor Teo turned to look out of the window, a habit of his. Harry knew that this was his moment to try out the whistle. While the professor wasn't looking, he took out the whistle and blew it.
Then all became still. All became silent.
Harry clapped his hands in front of the professor, shouted at him and waved his hands in front of his face. Professor Teo did nothing. He was like a figure made of stone. Exactly as expected. Harry then waited for exactly five minutes - he counted the seconds himself - before blowing the whistle again. The world of sound and movement returned and the professor turned towards him.
'Is everything all right, professor?' asked Harry.
'Of course, Harry. You know I don't believe any of that kind of rubbish. I'm fine,' the professor told him.
'No,' said Harry. 'I mean, you didn't hear anything just then, did you?'
'Only the birds and the traffic, Harry,' said Professor Teo. 'Was I meant to?'
'No, of course not,' said Harry. 'It must have been my ears making funny sounds. I have a bit of a cold and it gets to my ears as well. Sorry.'
'Well, if you are unwell you must rest, Harry. Take care,' said the professor as he left the room.
Harry quickly went to the telephone to call the speaking clock. When he put the telephone down he knew. No time had passed while the professor had been still. No time -
anywhere. The five minutes he had counted had never happened to anybody but himself. When he blew the whistle he must have been outside time in some way. So the whistle didn't actually stop movement or sound.
It stopped Time itself.
The other priests must have known what this man Lou Foo had discovered. No wonder they threw him out. The way he'd been put in a grave that was more like a prison of stone... had he died naturally? Harry didn't care, for now Lou Foo's secret was his!
Harry felt something he had never felt before. He felt powerful. And his heart warmed when he thought of all the things that were now possible for him. He could now use the whistle to get himself money, knowledge - anything in the world that he wanted. For he, Harry Chen, had power over Time itself.
Harry did not use the whistle anymore that day. When he got home he rested well. He would need to plan things carefully. Nobody else must know his secret. Harry Chen had been given a great gift and so Harry Chen would use it. Nobody else. It was only fair.
Harry thought carefully about how best to use the whistle. After all, he couldn't use it to actually see in the future. That was unfortunate. If he knew the names of winning horses or could find out the lucky numbers in the lottery he need never worry about money again. Never mind.
Best to start with small things before trying out his discovery on anything big. That would be best. But what should he do first?
He decided he would look around his favourite shops for all the things he could never afford before but had always wanted. Just the small, beautiful things he had always loved. Things small enough to carry. Then he would steal them.
It was the evening of the next day. It was dark outside but the shopping centre was brightly lit, as usual. Harry had already had a good look around. He knew what he wanted and had his bag with him, ready to put his 'shopping' in. He had taken the day off work - hadn't Professor Teo himself told him to take some rest? He had earned a break and he was going to make sure he enjoyed it.
Harry decided to have a coffee at his usual cafe before making a start. After all, he thought, there was no hurry! As he relaxed over his coffee he smiled at the tourists who were at the next table putting more film into their camera. The man looked fat and rich - just the type of tourist he had always disliked. The woman smiled back like the silly, simple thing she was. The fools. What did they know? He could rob them of everything and they wouldn't know it. But that would be a waste of time. He had better things to do. And there was, after all, plenty of time!
Harry finished his coffee and stood up. It was time to begin. He put his hand into his pocket and took out the whistle. He felt like a child at Christmas who was just about to open his presents. Harry Chen's time had come, at last!
He put the whistle to his mouth and blew. But, as he blew, there was a brilliant, blinding light that shot through his eyes. He dropped the whistle in his confusion. The light did not go away.
It took him a few moments before he realised what had happened. He walked away from his table to see the stupid tourist taking a picture of his stupid wife using the flash from his camera - just as he had blown his whistle. The bright flash was frozen in time. That was all: It was just a camera. But he had dropped the whistle.
He had to find it. He began to look around the bright stillness which was all about him. Then he felt something break beneath the weight of his shoe. He looked down. The whistle lay in pieces.
His heart seemed to rise to his mouth as he realised what had happened. And the whistle lay in tiny pieces on the ground. Harry knew, as soon as he saw it, that it was too difficult even for him to repair. He was stuck there.
Harry tried shouting at the still-smiling tourist, at the waitress, at everybody he saw. But it was useless. They could not hear him. They could not see him. He might just as well not be there. He did not know whether time had stopped for the world or just for Harry Chen. And for how long? Would he live there always, with no future and no past? Would he die there?
These thoughts were passing through his mind as he considered the broken remains of the whistle. Only one part could be recognised. It was the part which had on it the words: BE STILL.
He felt afraid. He felt robbed. He felt a cold shadow pass over him. It just wasn't fai...
- THE END -