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Wiseclock Revolution by Josh Pearce







He suffered his wife to dress him for the evening, and when she finished, Vanity Florentin checked his tie in the mirror. She brought a flower for the lapel but he brushed it away and she complained, "Vanity, the way you go on staring at yourself, you'd think you were the last human."

He decided his tie was crooked after all and started it over. He told her, "Nietzsche said something about vanity once."

"Come off it. Nietzsche's for juveniles." She found her own mirror. Florentin was halfway through the new knot when he caught sight of her, caught his hand in the entanglement of tie. She was putting flowers in her hair and he watched her hungrily.

vanity is the

fear of appear

ing original. it

is thus a lack of

pride, but not

necessarily a

lack of orig



"My wife, Ven," he said at the party, a little while later, an introduction to several of the female guests.

Who said, "Pleased," but never took their eyes from his face. An amazing, shining face that stemmed from more than just the anthemon, especially when he smiled, as he did then.

"I'm getting another drink," Ven said, miffed, walking to the table where Chinese paper flowers floated in wineglasses.

Everywhere they turned they were drowned in sprays of bouquets and wads of wildflowers. Vanity bent to sniff at one of them, unable to identify the flower. He pointed it out to one of the ladies and she said, "Yes, that's one of Mr. d'Art's hybrids. He unveiled it last week, I hear, to get FDA approving just for this party."

"What's so hot about it?"

"He says it has twice the rejuvenating powers as all the others. So much anthemon within it." She said "rejuvenate" with a Y, like a Spaniard. He asked her name.

One of the butlers came by and told them to help themselves.

"I am Antia." She picked one of the hybrids, but hesitated to put it in her mouth.

Florentin, leery of strange foods himself, picked the head instead off of a snapdragon and ate it. Then he remembered his manners. "Sorry, I'm Vanity Floren--"

"Oh Mr. Florentin," she said, "everyone knows who you are. The Florentin greenhouse is said to be absolutely beautiful." She ate the hybrid, and that inevitable change settled over her. "To die for."

"Would you like to see it sometime?"

     She couldn't answer before a servant appeared at the doorway and announced dinner. Excusing himself from Antia, Florentin followed, snatching more popcorn flowers on the way.

there is

no better


for a man

than the


from a wo



Of course Ven was seated next to him, but it was Antia who sat directly across the table, with her cleavage and escort, and said, "I would love to see it," smiling.

"What?" Ven and Van both said.

"Your greenhouse."

"Oh, of course." They exchanged cards over wineglasses and candles, a mutual brushing of skin.



Lotus blossom.

Lady's Slipper.

Vanity leaned closer to Antia, said something to make her laugh and blush and, under the table, under his boot, he crushed a plastic vial of aphids. These cost a lot of money and came from the same secret government storehouses as anthrax and smallpox.

you think

the war of

the roses

was sym



This was not the worst thing he'd ever done-– nd not a rare thing for him, either. Everywhere Vanity Florentin went, people always seemed to lose their flowers and were left with only the vague sense that he'd had something to do with it. He had some like-minded friends. "I'm going out for a few hours," he said to Ven, in their home. "Where's my cedar box?" He couldn't find it anywhere.

"I put it on top of the wardrobe," she answered, turning the page of her magazine. Florentin found it, opened it. Took out, loaded, and primed the dueling pistols it contained, put them in his belt underneath his cloak. "Good-bye, dear!" he called, sailing out the door. Into a night warmed by a full moon under which he met Cohorts. They carried burlap sacks and each wore one over their faces. They hid among stone statues in one of the public parks, laid down beside topiaries that were surrounded by electrified razor-wire.

They waited for gentlemen and ladies to wander along and jumped out in surprise. Florentin said to one couple, "Five minutes of your time, please," which made them pale. Five minutes was a fortune, a week's wages to a workingman. The man fumbled with the carnation at his chest, then dropped his hand defiantly. Florentin aimed his pistol at the center of the red flower, cocked it; too much for the lady-–she screamed and ran, but one of Florentin's Cohorts tripped her. They found a cluster of baby's breath in her purse and the carnation went into Florentin's bag.

So it went, up gutters and down spouts they clattered through rock gardens and tracked across sand gardens, chasing desperate flowers clasped to chests, or stuffed in mouths, or tucked behind ears. Some of the Cohorts were rich and addicted, others were simply poor and hungry, but all caught the scent of blossoms on the wind and could not be consoled until daylight sent them scattering. Sometimes Florentin would break away from them to bound across silhouette roofs like a spring-heel, eliciting purrs from tired pigeons–-the sack of flowers in his hand would let escape a faint pleasure that drifted into open windows, would make the sleepers smile and, beneath his canvas, Florentin's rictus would smile back at them, and then he'd be gone. If a light sleeper heard his clack clack through a garden and rose to shine a light out a window, it would fall upon a forest of still figures, statues. He wouldn't notice Florentin the Scareman among them, wouldn't notice that its pale cloth face looked up at him, smelling for the boutonniere on the coat thrown over a chair back.

When Florentin and his Cohorts returned to their homes, they carried sacks of riches and youth, and it pillowed their dreams.

Ven wasn't awake when Florentin came in the door, so he opened his loot in the kitchen downstairs, a cascade of rubies and emeralds that fell in a shush. He cupped the red carnation in his hands, inhaled it, chewed its outer edges. This was the part he watched the mirrors for-–in the setting moonlight his already youthful features tautened, his hair darkened and shone, the skin smoothed. Ever so slightly. He had just unaged five minutes.

Florentin gorged himself in the kitchen until Ven, awakened by the smell, came downstairs and flicked on the light. She saw the Scareman face hanging from the coat-tree but said nothing. Florentin said, "Somebody's growing old tonight."

fallen petals

rise back to

the branch. i




Antia came over while Ven was at a ladies' luncheon and Florentin led her to the back, through the outer garden, to the greenhouse. "Just think," he said into her happy silence, "that in the deepest jungles are miles of land that look like this very room."

She absorbed the richness of it and said, "Ooh, I wish I could go back in time and see the whole world covered in flowers."

Florentin smiled and said, "We share the same dream." He was behind her, looking at some petals--trying to figure out if they were edible--when they moved, and the butterfly took off. Turning back to his guest, he put himself to the task of guessing her age–-he could never ask, would have to deduce it from her remarks.

Antia seated herself on a branch and said, "Though if time travel is possible, somebody from the future would have visited us by now."

He said, "Maybe they have, but they're not believed," or he said,

"What's so great about this place? I wouldn't want to visit it," or he said,

"Maybe time travelers aren't human. There are a lot more things alive than you'd think." And then he added, "Why do you look younger when you put aloe on your skin?"

Antia just laughed and said, "What a silly idea!"

They sat under a small fountain and talked, and clearly she was a child. A flower landed on her lap and Florentin put his face to it, nuzzled through lace and petticoats, outer and inner petals until he could nip the center of the bud. Antia gasped, clenched her hands in his hair.

They took it from there.

The heat of the glass house was sufferable when they undressed, he'd suffered in this room before, he'd suffered a lot. It was pistil and stamen, a sprout shooting upwards, the two of them rooting deep into the ground until they entwined and formed some strange hybrid of scream and moan. There was the wilting and unfolding, and finally only the silence of growth.

wouldn't we

all like to be

made of glass

, hiding in the

shadows, wish

ing we were



Vanity Florentin found himself, one night, in a chapel, an old one, with a bell and everything. Lying down between the pews, he could see the shadows of the night-guard fall on the stained-glass windows, the shape of a shotgun clearly visible in outline. There was another one on the other side of the building. Santo Nino de Atocha looked back at him, older than the child's face pretended–-Florentin was surrounded by these stained-glass people, but could not bring himself to worship them.

What was there to worship? The wealthy, drowning in anthemon, thought themselves gods, immortal, the ones to be praised. They'd gather their flowers, grow younger and compliment each other, while vying for the best looks, the lowest age. Keeping down with the Joneses. But Vanity was slowly learning. The anthemon was there for everyone.

Levitating, shining, bleeding, the stained-glass people watched the shadows with him, until his Cohorts pushed a dumpster downhill into the churchyard gate. The watchmen pursued. In their absence, Florentin stalked from grave to grave, cutting the flowers growing from corpse and rotten coffin, or collecting the tokens that wealthy mourners had left behind–-these were the valuables protected by ten rounds of 12-gauge shot in the hands of two men in three eight-hour shifts. He took them all, and went home.

consider the

lilies of the

god damned



In a three-piece suit and hat, Florentin did not attract attention on the morning street, even with flowers at his cuffs and in lieu of a tie. He didn't even carry a pistol beneath his cloak, because the only people acting like highwaymen in the city were his Cohorts, and the Cohorts were led by the Scareman. And the Scareman only came out at night. Outside of the city, the common man envied, but through this crystal city Vanity and sunlight walked, reflecting off of the floor-to-ceiling windows. A city street felt like a four mile interrogation room. The following shadows, the echoing footsteps. The furtive eyes that were his own peered from every window like his conversation with Ven last night. She'd said:

"Something on the news this evening. I think it was about you." She was finishing her nightly dahlia.

From the bathroom, he asked, "Yeah?"

"Something about masked men attacking people on the streets." She dipped the dahlia into her drink and said, "The police have been put onto it now."

There was silence from the other room and she called out, "Are you listening to me?"

Then he laughed and said, "When I am no longer the reflection or the reflected, they won't see me." Florentin trotted down the stairs and was out for the fifth night in a row, leaving Ven with a mouthful of petals and questions. Before going to bed, she set a pot of petunias on the front steps, below the doorbell.

Now, but if only then, he feared her words. Police! Heat! Fuzz! Pigs that could sniff out buried fungus! Amongst transparent walls, neighbors are family and informers may be neighbors. Vanity Florentin slumped against the doorway of one such building and saw in. Glass people living in glass houses, like china dolls in display hutches. He saw through to the heart of their home, a central atrium rising up like a pillar of sun through the five stories of the townhouse, open to rain and air, letting both upon the private orchard at the bottom of the well.

They had their party in that atrium, four adults and their kids. With the consumption of so much post-adolescent anthemon, the children were almost caught up to their parents, but Vanity could tell the younger ones by the way they moved–-they danced under the trees like druids, they shook the trunks until sheaves of apple blossoms scattered off the boughs. Whenever this happened, the whole company would stand still with their tongues stuck out as if catching snowflakes.

The Flower, four days older than The Man, knew exponentially more, and only under the extreme duress of molars did it give up its secrets–-a great tide of cellular-regenerative, herbal medicinal, time restorative awash upon the mortal. One girl ate more than the others, in fact seemed encouraged to. As the apple trees slowly emptied, she forgot her ability to walk, first toddling, then falling to hands and knees after she succumbed to the childish habit of putting everything in her mouth. The others, now twice her size, played games centered on her, because it was her birthday.

Florentin watched them, unseen. The people inside were too busy worshiping each other.

we hide



by bury

ing our




Out away from the buildings, away from the little wind-up people living their clockwise lives, to the cogs and springs that drove them, the methodical swinging of sickles as harvesters waded through fields of violets. Florentin hung on the fence and admired the way the city kept the Reaper at bay by putting flowers to the scythe. So efficient! Like Victorian techwork! Every bud beheaded was another Zeno's step away from the grave. Humans still died, but at least they were sporting about it.

Back into the sinister sugarglass and lovely hummingbird skull city limits, Florentin slipped a hand into an inside coat pocket to count his money while he walked. The ripple of rose petals on his fingertips felt like the burr of bookleaves he was about to purchase from a small shop on Beefeater Lane. Above the door, a little bell jingled, causing the bookseller to look up.

"I'm Vanity Florentin," he said, then felt naiveté a little like his first drink. "I called earlier about a book."

"Mm, yes, come in." The bookseller said, "Follow me, sir."

They took angels' trumpets on the verandah, each hearing the host of celeste in the rushing of blood in his ears. Florentin had barely finished his when a servant arrived with a parcel. The bookseller saw Florentin reach into his coat and said, "I'm afraid this can't be a business transaction, sir. It would put me at a liability." He shrugged his hands. "But I would be grateful if you compensated for the trumpets, times being what they are."

Florentin said good-bye and left the rose petals on the empty serving tray.




no one


to work


It was in Florentin's character to read banned books, and it would have pleased him to bump into a friend downtown and have the opportunity to quickly shift the book underarm, but not too quickly for the friend to glimpse the bold title Cookbook across the spine.

He didn't see anybody he knew.

     But he did nearly walk straight into a matching set of police. They were standing on his front stoop, about to ring the bell. He covered his face with one hand and passed, turning to watch them from a safe distance. Both had monarch butterfly badges, which were convulsing at the scent of stolen anthemon. Like hounds, the insects played hot-and-cold with the inspectors, following the nectar trail from a flower (Florentin guessed it was one of the graveyard heists) to his front door.

Instead of pressing the bell, they each took a petunia and left. Ven opened the door an inch to watch them leave the street, spotted Vanity, held it wide for him. "That's the third patrol today," she said.

"Don't worry. I'll take care of that."

She followed him upstairs saying, "How? Those are police." Ven craned her neck. "Is that something illegal?" But he put the book on a high shelf where she couldn't reach and wouldn't say anything more about it.

Instead, as dusk spread across the high room, he said, "I'd like to see you in full sunlight again, one of these days. I never get to do that anymore."

Tears clustered up in both of her eyes and she answered, "You never will, you bastard, if the police get you." From their home, the Florentins could see fires burning in the violet fields, linking together to surround the crystal city. It was the nightly harvesters' celebration of a good day's work. A heavy feast of cabbage or turnip, dancing, sex. The night-lights for a city of children. Their scythes were stacked, once so easily used to throw down totalitarian governments, now used to sustain and supply others.

"I'm going to shatter this illusion," he said, hoping it would stop her from crying.

"What illusion? Why do you have to be so cryptic? I can never understand you anymore."

"The illusion that this world is right, is fine. That all of human progress and evolution is supposed to stop here, that it's natural for us to live forever if we have enough money. That money grows on trees. That trees and plants are commodities to be put in cages and guarded with guns instead of covering the earth. We are slaves to the things we cage."

"Vanity, love, what's the world supposed to be like?"

He grabbed her shoulders and spun her to a mirror. "See that piece of glass on the wall? It's not reflecting you. You're reflecting it! When the world raises an arm," he lifted hers, "then you do in imitation. You're not in or through the looking glass, you are the looking glass. That's not a mirror, it's the world bouncing off of you."

She stood a moment, then (of course!) asked a practical question. "What if I'm not in a room with a mirror?"

"Well then what do you look like?

"And how do you know?"

one hand


for a tree

falling in

a forest


Feral chickens, the main ingredient, proved to be harder than he'd calculated. Having never heard of a hen-coop, the Scareman hopped over picket fences and skimmed fish ponds until he found some roosting, found them by kicking one over in the dark. Florentin stuffed it headfirst into the burlap sack and tied the mouth closed around its ankles.

It suffocated by the time he got back home, which saved him the trouble of wringing its neck, at least. He prepared it in the dark, afraid that a late light would arouse neighbors, boiling off feathers, decapitating and amputating, then spent nearly an hour by candlelight figuring out how to butcher it from the cookbook. He couldn't handle the first try, dry-heaved over the sink with the chicken in hand like a paper bag. He finally managed to flower and bake it.

Teeth that hadn't tasted flesh in generations bit into a vein of blood–-at that tonguing, Florentin realized something that no other currently-living human had. Bloodlust. Primordial hunger from a time when anything and everything was meant to be eaten.

Pain was the first thing he noticed after–-toothaches for one, but also stomach pain. Florentin calculated in his head–-he'd eaten the whole thing, which was about the size of a medium bouquet. He buried the remains. If he could keep this up, it would be the end of the police visits.

Until they bred chicken-chasing butterflies.


a loco



ing vi



At least, that was the plan.

They came with a roar of wings the next day, not bothering with the bell or petunias, dozens of white-hatted men packed so tightly in the parlor that for a moment Florentin had visions of them taking him by the elbow and all levitating in harmony, being dragged to the sky by a pair of wings in the heart. The city's lead inspector was there, death's-head moth solidly affixed, to clap the irons himself. They took him from the crapper, where he'd been the entire night and morning, straight to jail.

They--police, pigs--dug up the bones from the garden, inducing hysterics in the neighbors who averted their children's eyes and cried for the TV cameras. "He was such a nice man, a nice man," they insisted.

Their tears, the chief inspector's smile, matched-–nobody ever saw him smile in public because he only smiled at criminals. A smile like that to a Private Citizen would be rightfully considered illegal. The chief inspector said, "Look at you--the Scareman, caged. Know how we caught you?"

Florentin felt down. "It was probably Ven. Got sick of putting up with me. Don't blame her."

"Your wife? No, it was that bookseller. We paid him more than you did."

"Yeah? What'd you get for it?"

Chief Inspector leaned in close to his prisoner, nearly putting an eye out on Florentin's clove cigarette. "Something worth more than Venus Florentin's little bribes. Audacious bribes, like putting out a platter of cocaine for the DEA."

Florentin let a crack of a grin out with the next cloud of smoke. "Almost worked, didn't it?"

"Nothing can mask what you did! Willful death of a living creature! There's only one punishment fit for that."

"Flowers are alive too, you know that?"

"And it's not the worst--we've got you tied to grave robbery. Armed robbery. Terrorism."

"Can you imagine this society evolving any further? When plants are protected life?" Florentin looked at the cigarette. "Can't smoke tobacco, can't eat flowers. How would you feed the world? Give them dirt?"

"They're calling you the greatest criminal in the history of the city." It was a conversation where nobody listened. "You're going down as an example, Florentin. If we show any mercy, there'd be anarchy! People would be bathing in blood again, to get their eternal youth."











Chief Inspector was right, he didn't stand a chance at the trial. Antia visited him in tears and lingerie to tell him the greenhouse had been confiscated as evidence.

Ven had left the city.

     Even his Cohorts said he had gone too far this time.

There was a language of flowers, and Florentin knew pidgin flower--red roses were love, yellow ones were friendship, &c. The only thing that flowers talked to each other about was relationship, and the only thing that man understood was the looking glass. Himself.

So, alone with the unwavering gaze of the two-way mirror, Florentin took his last meal of lilies in his cell. The guard who deposited it told him, "Save room," because down the hall, his hemlock was being prepared. Every meal made him younger. Every day made him more dead. His appeals could go on for a million years, and he'd sit still in his cell, outwaiting and outlasting and outliving his condemners.

There was something that nobody understood--not Ven, not Cohorts, not the Chief Inspector--that after eighty-three years of staring at a mirror, Vanity saw the world. He ate a lily and looked at the mirror, saw the worry of the trials fade away like melting snow. The Earth lifted her hand to her mouth and in Florentin, her reflection did the same, biting another of the lilies. Everything reflected in Vanity, and he grew younger. The Earth grew younger as she ate an entire race of time travelers.

White-hatted watchers saw his last meal, saw not only the everyday unaging, but also the prisoner pull a stage-escape with mirrors, drifting out of sight like smoke. Butterflies felt the panicked quickening of hearts under the shirts and their proboscises unfurled, eager for that red nectar forever an inch away. The world turned backwards, looking over its shoulder, then continued on in its counter-clockwise path.


of me







Vanity had unaged past the point of his own birth, folding inside out like a wad of origami and coming out unfolded on the other side, running headlong into the past.

They chased him.

No, there was only one pursuer, vague and male. He chased him.


full of



For a time, Vanity Florentin feasted on botanical gardens and public parks, unable to believe the new world he'd stepped into. The fountain of youth was giving off splashes of blue triodanis perfoliata everywhere he looked. The buildings were made of solidly opaque material! Peasants used internal combustion! Anyone who thought that the Scareman was some sort of Robin Hood, standing upright in a garden and protecting defenseless beings from The Man, was wrong. He just wanted out.

But he couldn't get it. Those shadows, those footsteps, those eyes were always behind him and he never knew which way to run. Florentin missed his wife.

He saw cotton swabs on rabbits' eyes and cried. He saw blubber being rendered. The simian inquisition. Worst, Vanity saw Age. Up the stairs to his hotel room at night, the Scareman's head in hand, he told himself it was just culture shock and homesickness. It would pass.

His heart seized like an engine at the top of the stairs. There! The end of the dark hall was a shadow, vague and male. Was that a breeze of wings on the shadow's chest, or was it just the tick of his own heart restarting? Florentin said, "Is that you, Inspector?"


"Yes, it's me, Florentin. So, you followed me. Congratulations."


"You're welcome. How do you like this land of new opportunity? Everything's so novel! I've been at this one week for almost a year–-I can't take everything in. But," he mused, "that's probably how you found me."


Florentin looked both ways in the darkened hall and saw a plant stand nearby that would make a good bludgeon. He stepped closer to it. The inspector didn't react. "Can you imagine Inspector, what crime-fighting will be like once everyone understands Vanity's Mirror? That chaos and anarchy you were telling me about? How can you chase a criminal back in time? How do you make jurisdictions?

"How do you prosecute a crime that's been uncommitted?

"What possibilities there are when every crime becomes victimless, and the criminal becomes a vague shadow in your rulebook?

"Imagine the sweetest, youngest flowers I can have here. I can eat anything! Do anything! Be anything!"


He snatched up the plant stand and charged at the shadow, swung low, aiming at the torso. A solid blow. With the impact, he felt a shattering pain in his gut and Florentin, last of the glass people, cracked open in the middle. Great ropey vines tumbled out of his stomach, touched and veined with tropical flora. They tangled around his ankles and tripped him to the ground, kept pouring out. From his knees, Florentin gathered them in his hands, great armfuls, because they were important. When too many to carry came out, he began stuffing them in his mouth. It would be okay. He just had to find an unbroken mirror–-the shards of this one were going through his knees. There was a mirror in his hotel room, not far away. He crawled, and cried out, "Oh God Ven! The world, it never ends! The world never ends! The world--!"