The Thief and the Alarm Clock

Once upon a time, there was a town that was plagued by a thief. It wasn't the sort of thief who would sneak into a house through the windows wearing a striped jacket and carrying a bag helpfully labelled "LOOT", or even the far more sensible sort of thief who walked in the front door as if he had every right to do so and made off with everything up to and including the kitchen sink. No, this thief stole clocks and only clocks.

The townsfolk were baffled. For over twenty years every clock in the village had vanished without trace, from a cuckoo clock on a kitchen wall to the clock face on the church steeple. As you might imagine, this had unpleasant consequences. It was hard to tell when a shop should open or when something should be done when there were no clocks.

A new Mayor had just been voted in, and his first action was to call a meeting discussing the thief. Many meetings on the subject had been called before, and none of them had done anything, but he remained optimistic that this time would be different.

"We've questioned everyone umpteen times," the sergeant complained.

"It can't be any of the townspeople; all of them have had their clocks stolen at some point," said the Mayor.

"It can't be the same thief. Who in their right mind steals clocks for over twenty years?" the minister asked. "I think we're dealing with a group of pranksters."

The meeting went on. They bickered and they debated, they theorized and they complained, and no one came up with any solutions or said anything that hadn't been said a thousand times before.

Sitting in the meeting was a young girl. She listened to the adults as they talked on and on, and an idea began to form in her head. No one could catch the thief because no one ever knew when he would take the clocks. So suppose she made a special type of alarm clock, that only rang when someone took it a certain distance away from its place? She could lie in wait, and when the alarm went off she could spring out and catch the thief.

The girl went home and she drew up plans. She tried different types of clock, different types of wire, different types of alarm. She got her friends to pretend to steal her prototypes so she could see if they worked. She irritated her parents with her experiments, which had a tendency to start ringing in the middle of the night.

Finally, after many failed attempts, she succeeded. Now all that remained was to set her trap. She left the alarm clock on the kitchen windowsill, then went outside, climbed an apple tree, and hid among its leaves.

She waited, and she waited, and she waited. Nothing stirred. From her vantage point she could see over the garden and up and down the lane. No one approached.

All was quiet for an hour at least. The girl fell into a doze. She didn't spot a figure creeping through the gate and down the lane. She didn't see a pair of eyes fix on the alarm clock, or a pair of hands rub gleefully together. She saw and heard nothing until–


The girl was rudely jolted awake. She almost fell out of the tree before remembering where she was and realising what the noise was. Her trap had worked! Excited, she looked over at the windowsill. She looked, and could hardly believe her eyes.

Standing under the windowsill, the ringing clock in hand, was an extraordinary figure. It was small and short, with long pointed ears, a long pointed nose, perfectly circular brown eyes, and muddy brown skin. It wore a shapeless garment made of autumn leaves haphazardly stitched together.

It was some kind of fairy, the girl decided. And it was staring at the still-ringing alarm clock as if it had never seen anything so wonderful. It didn't seem to mind a terrible racket the clock was making.

The clock distracted it so much that she was able to climb out of the tree, sneak up behind it, and grab it. It let out a shrill screech that grated on her ears even more than the clanging of the alarm did.

"Let go!" it wailed. "Let me go!"

"I most certainly will not!" the girl exclaimed. She held the fairy at arm's length and turned off the alarm clock with her free hand. "Now," she said, when the alarm was no longer shrieking in her ears, "are you the one who has stolen all our clocks for so many years?"

"I am," the fairy admitted sullenly.

"Why? Why do you need so many clocks?"

"To sell, of course. They're all the rage in Fairyland. Why, some of us have whole rooms filled with nothing but clocks!"

This took the girl's breath away.

"But why so many?" she asked when she could speak again.

"They're pretty, and we like them." The fairy's tone implied it thought she was extremely stupid for not knowing this. "They make such lovely sounds, and they all look so different. This one is especially nice. Never in all my years of selling clocks have I seen one that makes a noise like this. This one will fetch a high price, you may be sure of that!"

But you can't sell them! They aren't yours! the girl wanted to say. She didn't. She knew the fairies cared nothing for right or wrong; only for what benefited them.

"I made this clock," she said instead. "Or rather, I made the alarm. If you bought clocks from the clock-maker and brought them to me, I could put alarms just like this one in them. Then you could make a great deal of money. But you must promise to buy the clocks, not steal them, and leave some for us. We don't keep them because they're pretty, we keep them because we need them."

"Hmm," said the fairy thoughtfully. "But I'd lose some of my profit if I bought the clocks."

"That depends on how much you charge for them. If you charged your customers more than the clock-maker charged you, you would still make a profit. And I would not need payment for making the alarms. All you have to do is stop stealing the clocks."

The fairy scrunched up its face and appeared to be deep in thought. At last it said, "Agreed."

So it was that the town was no longer plagued by the thief, the clock-maker gained a new customer, the girl made many different types of alarms, the fairy gained many new customers, and Fairyland gained a constant supply of new clocks to satisfy the fairies' craze for them.

And they all lived happily ever after.