Once, when the world was smaller than it is now, but much more unknown, a peacock sat sunning himself on a rock in a grassy field. The sun slanted down across his lovely feathers in a pleasant, drowsy way, and the peacock had nothing to do, and nowhere to be.
He was almost asleep when he heard a rustling in the grass. The peacock stood up. He ruffled his feathers carefully, tucking them into position, ready to face whatever it was.
In a moment it came into view. The peacock jumped in surprise. He had only seen these things from a distance and not many, though he was a well-educated bird. It was a boy. He was several times smaller than the peacock, bent over looking at something in his hands as he stumbled along.
The peacock backed away, rustling his feathers. The boy looked up and the peacock hissed and fanned his tail out in a sweeping wave. Every feather raised intact, five hundred fierce eyes blazed down from green and blue plumes, a wall of color blocking the path. The boy stared at the peacock, his face covered in tear tracks. His eyelashes glittered and his nose was pink. He didn’t look frightened, only miserable.
The peacock let his glorious plumage deflate a bit. The boy opened his small hands and held up a battered silver disk.
“My watch is broken,” he said in the saddest voice the peacock had ever heard.
“Oh,” said the peacock, and his magnificent feathers drooped flat. “Well, let me see.” He held out a clawed foot, and the boy placed the watch in it. It was warm and sticky and heavy for its size. The peacock knew about watches, having been to a good school, yet they were rare, and he had never held one. He clicked it open and looked down at its still, white face. The silver hands and numbers glittered like icicles. It was, with the exception of himself of course, the most beautiful thing the peacock had ever seen. He held the watch to the side of his head. It was silent.
“How did it break?” He asked.
“I dropped it in the river,” the boy whispered. “It was supposed to be my luck, but I broke it.” He sat down beside the peacock and cried.
The peacock looked from the silver watch to the boy and back. “Well,” he said at last, “maybe it can be fixed.”
The boy looked up, hope shooting across his face. “You can fix it?”
“There’s only one man in the world who can mend a broken clock, and he lives on an island in the Smashing Sea. Or so I’ve heard.”
The boy stood up. He brushed his dirty little hands on his dirty little pants and held them out. The peacock handed him the watch.
“Where is the Smashing Sea?” He asked, turning in a circle, waiting for the peacock to point out a direction.
“The Smashing Sea?” said the peacock, “its miles from here.”
“Which way?” asked the boy.
“Listen, boy,” the peacock said, “you’d never make it on your own, and your beautiful watch would never be fixed.”
“I have to fix it,” he said. “It’s my luck.”
The peacock pointed an eye up at the sun. He looked at the waving grasses and his warm rock. He rustled the train of his glorious tail and sighed.
“It’s this way,” he said.
Three days later they stood on the shores of the Smashing Sea. Waves crashed against the sand like great hands slapping down, and the earth beneath them trembled.
“I expect we’ll need a boat,” the peacock said.
“Where can we find one?” The boy asked.
“Well,” the peacock said, trying to remember locations of docks and wondering how he could convince a captain to take them to the island where the clockmaker lived.
Suddenly the ground began vibrating in a rhythm at odds with the waves. Faint at first, but growing louder, came heavy thuds from around a curve in the beach.
The peacock and the boy looked at each other. There was nowhere to hide. The peacock put his feathers into standby formation, though he doubted they’d be much good against the approaching monster. The boy gripped his watch in one hand and held tightly to the edge of the peacock’s wing with the other.
The thumping grew louder and heavier. Then around the bend IT lunged into view. The peacock’s beak dropped open in astonishment. The boy tugged on his wing, eyes wide. “What is it?” He whispered.
“It’s… that is, it appears to be a… whale!” The peacock said, his tail hanging forgotten in the sand.
And sure enough, it was a whale, a small one as far as whales go, but still enormous. He thumped down the beach on his stomach, flippers held high in the air, each balancing a flat pink and white box.
The whale saw them as soon as he’d fully come around the bend, and stopped short, with a last mighty thud.
“Hello,” he said, “A boy and a bird standing on a beach. Well now, what’s it all about?”
“I am a peacock,” the peacock said, fanning up his feathers. “This boy and I are on a journey. What, if I may ask, are you doing here?”
The whale looked down and dug his tail in the sand sheepishly. “I don’t do it often,” he said, “I know whales who’ve gotten stuck. But it so happens that up the beach a bit is the best donut shop in the world. The owner is a friend of mine; he once fell off a ship and I brought him back to land. He built the shop and called it Mo’s Donuts, (my name is Mo, he named it after me), and told me to drop by any time. They really are the most marvelous donuts. Here, try them.” The whale extended one of the pink and white boxes. The peacock lifted the lid, and they looked inside at a perfect rainbow of iced donuts. Pink, blue, purple, green, yellow, some with holes and some filled.
“Try the strawberry cream,” Mo said.
The peacock and the boy each took a fat pink donut. The dough was light and soft and sweet, and still a little warm. The inside was half gooey strawberry, half thick cream. Neither the peacock nor the boy had ever had any other donuts, but they agreed immediately that these were the best. Mo ate the rest of the donuts and the boxes.
“Well,” he said, “I’d better get back in the water. I have to be halfway across the ocean by morning for a big whale meeting.”
“Wait,” said the peacock, “didn’t you say you brought the donut man to land?”
“Do you suppose you could take us somewhere?” the peacock asked. “We’re trying to reach the island where the clockmaker lives.”
“We need to fix my watch,” the boy said, holding it up toward one of Mo’s eyes.
“Shipwreck Island you mean? It’s a little out of my way, but not much. Sure I’ll take you.”
The boy climbed up on the peacock while Mo lunged deep into the ocean, then they flew out and landed on his back.
The whale seemed to move slowly in the water, yet each thrust of his flippers sent them hurtling forward. Mo’s back was slippery, and sometimes he forgot to keep it above the water. The boy enjoyed the ride, dunks and all, and bounced up and down, holding onto the peacock and yelling, but the peacock was miserable. His feathers were too wet to lift, and he knew he must look like a soggy pillow turned inside out.
The shore disappeared behind them, and by the time the moon rose there was only ocean forever. Stars strung themselves across the sky and reflected off the water so the peacock was dazzled and couldn’t tell where one began and the other ended. The sea and the sky were one, and he felt very small.
The boy slept, his head buried in the peacock’s damp feathers. The peacock was beginning to shut his own eyes when the whale began to sing. It was wild and beautiful and endless. Echoes of answering song filled the water around them, and the night was full of strange music. The boy heard it in his sleep and never forgot it, while the peacock was filled with intense joy and sadness, because he knew he would be haunted by this song forever.
They awoke in the pale cold morning to the whale sticking his head up and saying, “Wake up, my friends, the island is straight ahead.”
From a distance it looked like any other island, but as they came closer the boy clutched at the peacock, who was already staring. The island was made of wrecked ships.
The whale brought them as close as he could, and they flew to the nearest shattered deck.
“Thank you,” they said, wondering if they ought to thank him for bringing them to this place.
“Certainly,” said the whale. “Since I don’t suppose you want to live here, I’ll be back in a couple of days.”
“Thank you,” they said again.
Mo swam away, and the peacock and the boy stood alone on the shipwrecked island.
Broken hulls and tangled masts stretched out in front of them. The peacock didn’t know where the clockmaker lived, “But probably in one of the sounder ships,” he said. So after setting up a stack of splintered wood to mark their landing place, they started out, clambering over ships on their sides, ships upright, and upside down, some new, some old, all hopelessly damaged and piled on top of each other, as if tossed by a sea monster.
“What do you think happened to the people?” The boy asked, peering through a hole ripped in one of the decks at a mattress below.
“Some ship came by and picked them up, I expect,” the peacock said carelessly, hoping he wouldn’t ask more.
Just as the peacock was about to suggest pausing, they saw movement on the deck of the ship next to them.
“Monkeys!” cried the boy in delight. The peacock hesitated. Their bodies were slender and graceful and golden, with long tails they used as a fifth limb as they climbed the ship’s mast. They were shaped like monkeys, but something was wrong. What was that ticking? One of the creatures turned around suddenly, and the peacock saw his face. The face of a clock.
“Ah,” he said, “they’re clockwork monkeys.”
“They’re clocks?” The boy said, staring from the golden animals to the little watch in his hand.
The clock monkeys had all stopped now and were turned to them, the hands in their faces ticking.
“Can they see us?” the boy asked.
“I don’t know,” the peacock admitted.
All of a sudden the clock monkeys rushed at them. They had no time to run or fly or think before they were caught fast in hard metal hands. The peacock squawked, involuntarily, of course, but the boy was too frightened to make a sound. The peacock tried to look at him, but they were being dragged through jungles of masts, and he couldn’t see.
Finally, the monkeys took them to a small room on the second deck of an old galleon and dumped them on the floor. In the moment before the door shut, the peacock saw a glimpse of wheels and telescopes and rope. Then the door closed.
The peacock stared as hard as he could, but there was no difference between having his eyes open or shut. He heard the boy moving in the dark and rolled over. Several of his tail feathers were certainly bent.
“I’d say this is the worst bit yet,” he said.
“Those monkeys were certainly annoying,” the boy answered. The peacock laughed.
“Yes, they were. Now let’s see about escaping.” He stood up and began trying to feel his way about, searching for a hole in the floor or a smashed window, but he kept tripping over things and banging his beak. He was sitting on the floor again, quite by mistake, when the door opened. He stood up, blinded.
“I opened the door,” the boy said, grinning.
“I see,” the peacock said. “Now suppose we go out and you shut it.”
The deck was clean, the holes patched. The boy started for the stairwell going up, but the peacock held out a claw and pointed to the stairs leading below.
Together they slowly walked down the dark steps to a door nailed over the opening at the bottom.
“Knock,” the peacock whispered. The boy raised a little fist and hit the door three times.
A clatter came from within, hurried footsteps, a brief silence, and the door swung open. A man stood there, gaping at them. He was very thin. His rusty black suit hung like there used to be more of him. He had a halo of gray hair and glasses on his nose.
“Hello,” the peacock said, and the boy echoed him, “hello.”
“Hello,” the man said.
“We’ve come to see about mending a watch,” the peacock explained.
“Bless me!” the man said, “it’s a peacock and a boy come to see about mending a watch. My reputation has grown. Come in,” he said, walking back into the room.
It was like being inside a clock. Gears were piled on the floor, turning odd contraptions, and hung on the walls. On the tables lay springs and wires and pins and plates and blank clock faces. Other things crowded in as well, mannequins, miniature windmills, spinning without wind, arms and legs of the golden clock monkeys. A chandelier hung from the ceiling at a slant, with a tub on the floor to catch the dripping wax.
“Your monkeys bring things to you, don’t they?” The peacock asked. The boy was staring at a row of telescopes fused together from one end of the room to the other.
“Oh, did they find you? Yes, they bring me anything that might be useful. Most of it isn’t, so I have them leave it upstairs for me to sort. Now.” He sat down on a stool before a bench littered with delicate silver tools. “I have always brought my business to my customers. A customer has never brought business to me. Let me see this clock.”
The boy handed it to him. It looked plain in the clockmaker’s long fingers. He turned it over and over, clicking it open, touching it in every crevice.
“I made this one years ago,” he said.
“Can you fix it?” The boy asked.
“I can fix any clock, given enough time. It will take perhaps two hours and parts don’t come cheap; especially not here. I will need proof of payment.”
The boy looked up at the peacock, despair rushing onto his face. The peacock turned him away so the clockmaker wouldn’t see.
They had nothing. Nothing of value but the watch and besides that only the scraps of clothes the boy wore.
Clothes… value… A terrible idea shot through the peacock. For a moment he couldn’t think about it, and then he decided not to try, because if he thought about it he would never do it. Quickly, he spread his tail feathers. There was barely room. The eyes gleamed in the candlelight, blues and greens sparkling, hidden colors dancing in their hues. The clockmaker stared.
“These are our payment,” said the peacock.
The boy cried out, but the peacock had a wing over his mouth in an instant. “Will you fix it?”
They sat in the clockmaker’s kitchen behind the shop, eating jars of stew and pickled carrots. The boy wouldn’t look at the peacock. After they finished, the peacock left him and went into the clockmaker’s bedroom, shutting the door behind him. He would do it himself or no one would. They were hard for him to reach, and it was painful, but not as bad as he’d expected. When it was done, he left them there on the floor, a carpet of green and blue eyes.
“There you are,” the clockmaker said, handing the watch to the boy. “Better than new.”
“Thank you,” he said, without looking up.
“Thank you,” the clockmaker said, looking at the peacock.
As they waited at the place where Mo was to meet them, the boy sat on the deck of a battered clipper and listened to the watch ticking in his hand. He hadn’t spoken.
“It’s alright, you know,” the peacock said. “They grow back.”
“They do?” His nose was pink, like when they met.
The boy turned the watch over in his hands. “My father gave it to me before he left. He said for luck.”
“Well it’s fixed now,” the peacock said, wishing an educated bird like himself could think of more to say.
“Yes,” the boy said, clicking it open again and staring at its white face. He was quiet for a long time, then he said quickly, “I’m not sure I need luck anymore, now I’m with you. Here.” And the boy handed his watch to the peacock.
The peacock took it slowly and held it in his clawed foot. “Well,” he said, “well.” He touched it all over, the way the boy had and listened to it tick. “Thank you. Thank you very much. But you know,” he said, looking down at the small boy beside him, then out to sea where Mo was swimming toward them, “I’m not so much in need of luck myself these days. But I’ll hang onto it for someone who is. Alright?”
The boy waved to the whale then climbed up on the peacock’s back and gripped the edges of his wings.
“Alright,” he said.
They took off.