The Bronze Devil

Chapter 4

The Monster Atop the Tower

The next day, articles about the mysterious monster or person or thing made the front pages of the evening editions. The citizens of Tokyo excitedly devoured the stories. Rumors about this man or machine circulated far and wide.

Alas, the monster was hardly gone for good. In the month that followed, half a dozen similar incidents occurred in and around Tokyo. In every case, the target was a high-end watchmaker or collector of rare timepieces. Commonplace clocks did not interest the thief in the slightest. Expensive jewelry and old antiques were fair game if they also kept track of the time.

The culprit always sported that bronze face. When pursued, the creature dropped to all fours like a dog, raced away at high speed, rounded a corner, and vanished like smoke. No one had come close to bringing this criminal to justice.

Every day the newspapers had more to say about the monster. The rumors spread like wildfire.

“I heard its entire body is covered with iron or bronze. Didn’t it recently show up someplace without any clothes on?”

“Yeah. That’s what they’re saying. A cop took a shot at it and the bullet just bounced off. Made a sound like a gong.”

“It’s immortal. That monster is more like a walking tank.”

Those were some of the reasonable conclusions. Other chatterboxes expressed more radical opinions.

“Yeah, there could be a guy inside but that doesn’t seem to be the case. It’s a machine through and through. Nothing but gears and levers inside. Whenever it appears, it makes that whining, grinding sound. There’s your proof.”

“You’re talking about an automatic robot. Who could make anything that complex? There must be a mastermind hiding nearby guiding it with a wireless device.”

“If so, this mastermind came up with one wild invention. But who could imagine using such a clever device to pull off a bunch of two-bit smash-and-grabs? I hope they nab this fellow quick so the rest of us can find out how he did it.”

The conjectures didn’t end there. Some of the speculation was quite out of this world.

“Still, if this monster is made all out of metal, how does solid bronze evaporate like smoke? Doesn’t make a bit of sense. A ghost is the only sensible explanation. A bronze phantom.”

“A phantom that eats nothing but clocks?”

“Yeah. I think this monster eats clocks to stay alive. Clocks are its food, you see. A monster with gears turning inside it has to eat gears every day to keep its ticker ticking.”

Even out of a surplus of strange ideas, a robot that fed off the springs and gears in a pocket watch was a pretty weird one.

Until a more outrageous incident occurred a month after the first robbery. If the monster was indeed stealing clocks in order to devour their mechanical innards, this time it gobbled down the equivalent of Big Ben.

Inside Tokyo proper, in a field along the upper reaches of the Tama River, a peculiar clock tower stood on a small hill surrounded by a ring of trees. The house was built by an established watch dealer around the end of the Meiji period. The entire structure was constructed out of old-fashioned red brick. The watchtower was lined with brick as well. Its roof rose to a point like a witch’s hat.

A great many Tokyoites had no idea there was a clock tower in this remote location. Then it became famous overnight. Because the clock was stolen right out of the tower in a single night.

A fierce wind blew that evening. The young couple who lived in the house had departed earlier and wouldn’t be back until the following day. Staying behind was the landlord of seventy-plus years, the elderly housekeeper, and the maid. They secured the windows and doors and turned in early.

When they awoke early the next morning, the white dial and the clockwork mechanism that kept the time had vanished into thin air. The dial itself was three feet across. Moreover, the tower contained four dials that faced in the four directions of the compass. All four had disappeared without a trace.

The hands of the clock, the shafts attached to the hands—the big gears that drove the shafts—the motor that powered the gears—were all gone, leaving behind an empty void beneath the rafters of the clock tower.

The thief could be none other than that clock-crazy monster. Who else would be so obsessed? Who else but the Bronze Devil, that would not rest until it had stolen every watch in the world? The strange crime made headlines in the major newspapers. The entire population of Tokyo became experts on the subject overnight, and the crimes soon gave rise to stranger gossip.

“I heard that a couple of days before the incident, the Bronze Devil stood on top of the clock tower and laughed at the world. Some young farmhands in the fields nearby saw the whole thing.”

“You really think so? Then why didn’t they say anything to the landlord? Or call the police?”

“They told the local constable. He said they were seeing things and never bothered to investigate. You’ve got to admit, it’d be hard to take seriously reports of some guy who looked like a big bronze statue standing on a clock tower.”

“But how’d it steal something that big?”

“Well, the word is, one of those farmers saw it happen with his own two eyes. Late that night, on his way back from town, he passed by the hill that clock tower is on. It was dark and pretty far away but he saw something strange moving around up there.”

“Must have been that robot.”

“Yeah. And not just one or two. At least ten of them, all sporting the same appearance. They were using a big ladder to get up to the clock.”

“A ladder, you say?”

“That’s right. And no ordinary ladder, more like one of those ladder trucks that fire departments use. It was parked in front of the building. The ladder slowly reached into the air. When it reached the clock tower, a bunch of those robots started climbing up and down and all around. He swears that’s what he saw.”

All these rumors and tall tales turned into even more preposterous ghost stories. One version, told with a totally straight face, pictured the robots jumping into the sky in the final scene and disappearing amidst the clouds.

No matter how little credence was given these accounts, the fact remained that the dials and mechanisms in the clock tower were stolen clean away. A gang of thieves didn’t just target small pocket watches but any kind of timepiece in any shape or size, including the one in that big clock tower.

The thieves must be madmen obsessed with clocks and watches. Moreover, whether humans or robots or a lifeform from outer space unknown on Earth, there was the unsettled, indescribable feeling of having no clue to their true identity.

All anybody knew for certain was that these monsters had a hankering for any device that kept time. Nothing cheap or ordinary, but rare and expensive items with unique pedigrees. Something like a red brick clock tower built during the Meiji era was certainly peculiar enough to draw its attention.

Knowing this was enough to set on edge the nerves of any well-known collector of rare timepieces, who would subsequently spend many a sleepless night wondering if his luck was about to run out.

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