The ticking of Ponyville's clock shop never ceases. No matter the disaster that sweeps through the town, it keeps its gentle tick-tock. In the face of rampaging dragons, crazy students, lepus stampedes, all-devouring sprites, and musical numbers, Sepia Tock resolutely keeps his wares in prime condition, never losing a pendulum swing as he stands guard over his domain. The clockmaker rarely lets anything interrupt his work outside of biological needs.
Holidays were no different.
"Are you sure you don't want to come?" Colgate asked as she wrapped a scarf about her neck, "Carrot's bringing her cakes, and the tree's gorgeous."
"I'd rather stay," Sepia answered honestly, "This flip-clock's not going to finish itself."
Colgate rolled her eyes, "Come on. Nopony's going to buy a clock tonight. Not on Hearth's Warming Eve."
"You can't be sure of that," Sepia said with an optimistic smile, "And I really want to finish this flip clock! It will be my crowning glory."
"You can work on your silly clocks any old day," His assistant said, "Lyra's party only happens once a year."
"I'll be fine, Colgate," Sepia said with a wave of his hoof, "Go on and enjoy yourself."
"Confident," Sepia answered, "I won't be missed anyways."
"You really should try to be sociable, Sepia," Colgate tried to reason, "Maybe if you let the other ponies to actually get to know you…"
Sepia shot her a look. "I'm not going, Colgate, and that's final. I'll see you after the Holiday."
"Yea, see you then," Colgate conceded, trotting out of the workshop.
Sepia Tock turned back to his clock. The panels for the inventive face design were carefully laid out, stacked in the proper order. He was still debating whether to put a zero on the first hour digit, or keep it blank. Perhaps he would try it both ways and see which version sold better. The rectangular build was going to be a novelty, though. The whole construct was going to be a novelty, even. If this didn't finally get him out of the Doctor's shadow, nothing would.
The hours wore on as gears and rods were slotted in. Finally, fighting heavy eyelids, the clockmaker slid the whole assembly into its casing. He finally decided to paint the zero on in the end. He turned it about and inserted the key to wind the spring and placed nobs on the tiny pins used to set the time. He smiled in triumph as he turned towards his master clock, by which he sets all other clocks. It was late, nearly midnight. He carefully turned the nobs as the panels flipped downward to indicate the time. He then wound the whole construct tightly. He compared the two clocks. "Right, better get some sleep then," he said to himself, and picked up the new clock. It was getting a place of honor on his bedside table.
Sepia slid into his bed, and shut his eyes, smiling over his job well done.
A din erupted from down stairs. Sepia got out of bed, "I swear, if that danged Wonderbolt is making another late night visit, I'm forbidding him pie from my refrigerator," he grumbled to himself. He lit and picked up a candle and descended the stairs. He set the candle upon the sale counter "Alright, who's there?" He asked, trying to clear his blurry eyes.
"Yea… you're going to hate this," came the reply in a Trottingham accent.
Sepia, eyes finally cleared, looked at the intruder, who wore a bow tie and a long, brown coat. He possessed a very familiar face, one seen by Sepia every day in the mirror. "Who are you?" the clockmaker practically growled.
"Interesting question, that," the invader began, "How does one really begin with that question? Identity can be very important, after all."
"Let's start with a name." Sepia Tock continued his intense glare.
"Ah, name! There's a lot to a name, you know."
Sepia's glare didn't waver in the slightest.
"Well, I suppose you can call me 'The Doctor', if you really must-"
"No," Sepia said flatly, "Try again."
"Try again?" the Doctor inquired with confusion, "Is there a particular reason I shouldn't introduce myself as me?"
"Doctor Whoof is a lie," Sepia answered gruffly.
"How can I be a lie? I'm right here!" the Doctor said with a grin.
Sepia checked a nearby clock, "Can't be a dream, I can read the clock." Sepia went back to glaring at the supposed Time Lord, "Which means you're either an illusion, or a particularly dedicated imposter."
"I'm afraid I'm the genuine article."
"Fine, I'll play your game, for the sake of discussion," Sepia said, "Let's get to the next question: what're you doing in my store?"
The Doctor glanced about the store, "Well, I've been charged with helping you, Sepia Tock."
"Great. Fix the stock you broke, and get out," Sepia said shortly, "If you want to go the extra mile, you can fix my door's lock."
"I'm afraid I'm not here for such a mundane mission, Sepia," the Doctor said, "Rather, I'm here to help you with a much more deep-seated issue."
"Is this issue related to your existence?" Sepia asked.
"No," the Doctor said, then gave it a moment's contemplation, "Well, perhaps tangentially. I refer to a much more dire issue: Sepia Tock, you're antisocial." The Doctor paused for effect.
"Is that all?" Sepia said, "What's your point?"
"Well, Mr. Tock," The Doctor said with a clicking sound on the hard 'ck' of Sepia's surname, "Here you are, living in one of the greatest communities in the whole multiverse, on the greatest night of the year, and you choose to stay late with your clocks."
"So you, who are the ponification of my frustration with socialization, have come to correct this?" Sepia said, "Great. How do you intend to go about it?"
"Are you familiar with the story of a Miserly Screws?" the Doctor asked, smiling his clever smile.
"Yes..." Sepia answered cautiously, "Are you claiming to be my Marley Chains, then? Doesn't that require you to be a pony I actually had familiarity with? Somepony who is an example of what may become of me?"
"I am the pony everyone else confuses you with," the Doctor answered, "I am the pony whose reputation currently supersedes your own."
Sepia processed this. "Okay, fine," he said at last, "Let's just get this over with. I'd like some sleep."
"Goody!" the Doctored said, bucking in excitement, "Let's get going, then!" He cantered to the door.
Sepia remained stationary. "Go where, exactly?"
"To the past, of course. Come on." The Doctor motioned his head towards the exit.
"Sorry, but aren't I supposed to be visited by three ghosts?"
"Look, despite the claims, my resources aren't exactly limitless," the Doctor said, "I'm afraid you'll have to do a little legwork."
Sepia kept his even glare.
"Come on." The Doctor motioned his head again.
Sepia sighed and followed his doppelgänger.
It certainly was a blue box. At least outwardly. And it hadn't been there, outside his shop, the last time the clockmaker had checked. "So, this is the box then?" Sepia Tock asked, trying not to sound impressed.
The Doctor nodded, "It sure is. Come on in." The time colt beckoned, opening the doors.
Sepia trotted in and looked about the astoundingly large room. The Doctor looked at him expectantly. "I'm neither surprised nor impressed," Sepia said sourly, "Merely additionally annoyed."
The Doctor deflated slightly, "Sure, take all the fun out of it, why don't you?"
"Wouldn't this have to be pleasant to begin with?" Sepia asked.
The Doctor moved to the TARDIS's controls with a jumpy gait. "You weren't always this sour, were you?" the Doctor asked, hitting a switch. The console came to life, and echoed its distinctive call. The entire room shook for a minute, and then calmed down.
"I'm not going have to listen to your blathering the whole time, am I?" Sepia asked.
The Doctor rolled his eyes, "Oh, will you just relax and go with the moment? We've got somepony else waiting for us just outside those doors." He pointed at the exit.
Sepia gave him an untrusting glance as he opened the doors.
"Sepia! You're finally here!" Colgate announced happily.
"Colgate?" Sepia was taken aback slightly, "What're you doing here? Where are we?"
"More appropriately when: we're in the past!" Colgate answered, "Some point in your childhood, if the Doctor's told me the truth."
"Now why would I lie?" the Doctor asked as he joined them outside. He closed and locked the TARDIS doors.
"Anyways, I'm here to be your ghost of Christmas Past!"
"That's great," Sepia lied, "Why?"
"Well, as your oldest friend, who better to do the job?" Colgate answered. "Come along now, Sepia."
The Doctor waved them off, sitting patiently by his box.
Colgate led him to a snow-covered building, clocks beating contently in the frost-cornered windows. It was a small store, and its structure wasn't entirely distinctive from the buildings about it, though nostalgia instantly told Sepia it was far from the dull, small store it appeared to be, and the father and son decorating it were not just any father and son.
"D'aw, look at little Sepia!" Colgate coo'd, "You look so happy!"
"I was." Sepia said, "This was the first Hearth's warming Eve after me and Dad moved into the store."
Colgate's wonder-filled face descended to a look of a sad realization, "I see..."
"At the time I didn't know it was because Dad had to sell our house," Sepia said, "Probably for the best I didn't know then."
They watched the happy pair finish decorating, the elder Tock helping his son off the ladder. Young Sepia hugged his father, and then they went inside.
"Come on," Colgate said motioning for them to move into the alley, "We're not done here yet."
They walked to the workshop window and wiped away the fog. Inside, the future clockmaker was, under the tutelage of his father, making his first hourglass.
"It was a great night," Sepia commented, "The fire kept us warm."
"You know, I've never seen your first hourglass," his apprentice said as young Sepia rolled the pince into the lumpy glass bubble. "It's... Charming."
"Fifty-seven minutes, thirteen seconds," Sepia said, "That's how quickly it flowed. Still, dad asked to be buried with it, so that's where it lays."
Colgate chose not to comment, and merely smirked as the young Sepia celebrated his Cutie Mark.
A sharp knock rang, and Young Sepia galloped out of the workshop. Colgate and Sepia peered around the corner of the alley.
Three foals were at the door. "Childhood friends," Sepia noted, "We're going to the town pageant."
"And look at how happy you are to see them," Colgate said pointedly.
"Well of course," Sepia said, "I was the first among our circle to get my Mark." Colgate gave him a punch to the shoulder. "Ow. Fine, I was happy to be going with my friends."
"You enjoyed the company of others," The Doctor, suddenly behind them, commented. "Keep in mind what you were as we go along. Come on you two, next stop!"
"Out of curiosity," Sepia said to Colgate as they started to follow the chronological adventurer, "what're doing here?"
"The Doctor enlisted my help." Colgate answered, "After I agreed, he told me what I'd be doing, dropped me off in this time, and exactly one minute later, he showed up with you."
Sepia accepted this answer as they entered the TARDIS. "So, are you the Colgate from my time, or some other point?"
"I'm afraid I'm not allowed to tell," Colgate answered, "Been sworn to secrecy as to the specifics."
"Of course you would be."
The TARDIS once again quaked into life as it roared towards its next destination.
Tock Clock Shop was less festive this year, decorated with only a banner made of a tattered tarp and scrawled on with a marker, the lettering inconsistently sized and too thin, announcing the reopening of the store. Inside, its inheritor sat slumped behind the sales counter. While its stock wasn't as crowded on the selves as they would be in the future, Colgate couldn't help but observe it contrasted sharply with the meager offering when Sepia's father was in charge.
"I work when I'm upset, and I prefer to start anew with each clock, while Dad improved the clocks he already had, Sepia told her when she brought it up.
"You look so lonely,." Colgate said, peering into the store.
"While I was learning under my father, my friends went and grew up," Sepia remarked, "They scattered across Equestria, seeking their future."
"You didn't keep in contact with them?"
"I tried," Sepia answered, "However, time and distance made it difficult, and then Dad got sick."
Colgate tactically changed the subject, "You know, I recall this banner."
"I still use it when I need to clear some floor space to assemble larger clocks," Sepia said, "I didn't have much money after buying the store back."
"Why didn't you go to the pageant or any parties tonight?" Colgate asked, looking at the decorations on the other buildings.
"I'd been gone for quite a while after Dad passed," Sepia answered, "No longer felt a part of the community, and I was desperate to earn some bits." Sepia watched a tiny blue filly cautiously approach the store, "Worked out well for you, though."
Filly Colgate stood awestruck, hooves against the window, wide eyed wonderment, her hourglass cutie mark practically glowing.
"You know, you've never told me exactly how you earned that," Sepia noted, indicating the mark.
"That's a story for another time," Colgate said dismissively, "We're focusing on making you a better pony right now."
The Sepia of the past poked his head out of the door, studying the excited young filly. "Hey there," Past Sepia greeted his future apprentice, "May I help you?"
Filly Colgate's eyes managed to widen even further, "You're Doctor Whoof!"
"By the way, thanks for being the one to introduce me to that stupidity," Sepia said to the elder Colgate.
"I'm standing right here," The Doctor said from behind them.
"If I'd known how much it'd come to irritate you, I wouldn't have mentioned it," Colgate replied, "Well, I'd at least have been more tactful about it." They watched as the Sepia across the street patiently introduced himself to the filly, and then offered to show her some of his work.
"You were my first customer," Sepia said minutes later, as a satisfied Colgate trotted out with a cheap watch swinging from her mouth. "Should've charged you more," he added dryly.
The Doctor checked a watch, "Well, we should probably go on soon. Can't keep the ghosts of Hearth Warming Present waiting."
"You travel time, wouldn't have to make a conscious effort to be late?" Sepia said as he glanced at the clear glass face of the watch, seeing its cogs turning industriously. "Nice watch," Sepia noted.
"It was a gift from a dear friend," the Doctor said, quickly pocketing it, "Well, not a gift as much as a loan." He awkwardly kicked at a tiny pile of snow, "Anyways, let's just leave our ghost of the past here for now, and I'll take her home in a minute or tomorrow, depending when you're standing."
The TARDIS was filled with decadence. Mirrors, Pies, cotton candy, cushions, pine cones, and portraits of one of the two ponies sitting atop the pile that took up the middle of the room. The pair were focused on separate tasks, one brushing her mane, the other gorging himself with a pie.
Trixie was the first to notice the entrance of the two tan stallions. "Hello, mortals! It is I, the Ghost of Hearth Warming Eves Present, the decadent and grand!"
Soarin made due with a wave. "Hey there, Sepia! How's it been?"
Sepia nodded back, "Hey there you two. Got dragged into this, too?"
"Hardly! Trixie is her of her own volition!"
"Plus, free feed!" Soarin said, "We don't talk about it much, but Wonderbolting is hungry work. You want some?"
"That's okay," Sepia said, and looked to the Doctor, "They appear to have buried your console. You sure we can get to the next piece of your harassment?"
"I've got it covered," the Doctor answered, moving behind the high pile.
"I'm sure you do," Sepia mumbled to himself with a smirk. The two acting ghosts slid down the mound, causing small avalanches around them.
Finding her feet, Trixie looked at her partner, "Why didn't you just fly down?"
Soarin grandly indicated their horde, "How often do you get to sled on a pile of random stuff?"
The Doctor galloped back around the pile, "Here we are! Sepia's modern time! Take it away you two!"
Trixie puffed herself up, looked momentarily blank, then awkwardly shuffled back to the pile and then dug out a packet of papers, mouthing as she read. The Doctor rubbed his forehead with a sigh. Trixie, now recalling her lines, came back, "Sepia Tock, we have been summoned for a very important task: we must get you to join society."
"Great. I already knew that," Sepia said, crossing his forelegs, "Now comes the difficult part: why should I?"
Soarin shrugged, "Well, that's how the story usually ends."
"Yes, because stories are always the same as reality," Sepia said dismissively, "Remind me again how many ursa pelts it took to make your lovely hat and cape, Trixie?"
"Just because not all stories end up being completely… factual…" Trixie began, but trailed off, trying to hide the effects of Sepia's remark.
"Just go along with it for a little longer, okay buddy," Soarin coaxed, "Come on, I'll make sure we'll all have fun." The TARDIS doors creaked open.
"Go on without me, I have to clean this up," the Doctor said, indicating the hill as he waved the three goodbye. As they exited, the TARDIS doors closed.
"So then, where's the first stop?" Sepia asked, glancing around the clearing. The box hasn't moved spatially, he thought.
Trixie checked her script, "Says we have to take you to Lyra's party… who's Lyra?"
"Haven't a clue." Sepia lied, "Now, if you two don't mind, my bed beckons."
"Oh, wait a minute, we've got a map!" Soarin announced, looking at Trixie's script, "She doesn't live too far off. Come on!" Soarin, seeing in Sepia's eyes a conspiracy to run, grabbed the clockmaker firmly by the tail and dragged him along.
"So what I did was take the sounds of a clock shop, and use it as the underlying tempo."
"The decorations are beautiful."
"For goodness sakes, that punch is for everypony, get your mouth out of it!"
"You know, insurance premiums have really shot up this past year."
The beat of conversation slowly died out as Sepia tried to discreetly enter the party despite arriving between the unicorn who insisted on bucking the door open dramatically and the pegasus who expressed excitement over the pie on the refreshment table. Silence fell over the crowd as they watched the spectacle.
"See?" Lyra whispered to BonBon, "My party's so awesome, even Doctor Whoof is here!"
Sepia forced his grimace into a pleased neutral expression as the other ponies came over to meet the illustrious time traveler. He carefully excused himself from those attempting to coax a tale of his fictional counterpart's history from him. Even after seeing himself as a colt and his father alive, Sepia still had the denial of Doctor Whoof engrained into his being.
Sepia traversed the crowd to reach Trixie and Soarin, who had located themselves at the refreshment table, where they could eat and keep an eye on their charge. "You know, being the ghosts of Christmas present, aren't you supposed to be a bit more subtle?" Sepia hissed.
The two exchanged a glance. "You have met us, right?" Soarin asked, "The Doctor didn't accidently pick you up too early, did he?"
"Hey, you should try this marshmallow and pinecone treat!" Trixie said, levitating the plate to the two stallions, "I just can't get enough."
"Sepia! You came after all!" Colgate galloped up to her employer.
"Quick question: when was the last time you saw me?" Sepia asked as he dodged Colgate's hug.
Colgate sat down, "At the shop a few hours ago, why?"
"It's been a long night. I'll fill you in later," Sepia said, then suddenly was behind Soarin, pushing him towards the blue unicorn. "Look, I brought along Soarin," he announced, "Why don't you keep him entertained? I'm attracting much too big of a crowd, and I'm sure he gets enough of that as it is."
Colgate's eyes seemed to produce their own light, they shone so. "I would love to!" She took ahold of the pegasus's leg, "Come on, there's some friends who'd love to meet you."
Soarin opened his mouth to protest, but Sepia preempted him, whispering, "I'm sure Trixie can handle me for a couple of minutes. Go have fun."
The Wonderbolt gave in and followed the unicorn.
Sepia turned to his remaining chaperone. "Please, you can't rid yourself of the GREAT and POWERFUL Trixie so easily!" the unicorn declared.
"You." An angry pony made themselves known, advancing on the magician, "You destroyed my house!"
"Now hold on," Trixie held her hooves up defensively, "What happened with that Ursa was not Trixie's fault!"
"Not your fault?" The disgruntled home owner, "If you weren't such a self-centered braggart…"
"How dare you."
Sepia merely smirked as he fled out the back door, and away from the party.
"It's about time!" the Doctor greeted, "So, how was it?"
"Everypony thought I was you, the music had no back-beat, and I just wanted to leave," Sepia answered gruffly.
"Did you try socializing at all?" asked the Doctor.
"Of course not," Sepia said, trudging off, "Even as a child, I never wanted to play doctor."
"Have you ever considered letting others get to know you?" the Doctor said as he bounded after the clockamker, "Maybe then they'd stop confusing us!"
"Is that why you're doing all this?" Sepia spun to face his pursuer, "Are there ponies who stop you in the street saying 'Hey there, Sepia Tock! Mind repairing this watch?'"
"Well…" the Doctor scratched his head awkwardly.
"I figured as much." Sepia began marching off again.
"Where you going?" The traveling colt raced to catch up.
"Back to your moon-banished box," Sepia answered, "We've still got one more obnoxious attempt by you left before I can be rid of you, so let's get to it, shall we?"
"Well, that's the thing," The Doctor began, intercepting Sepia as they approached the TARDIS, "Showing ponies their futures can be… hazardous."
"Really now?" Sepia retorted, "I have personal experience that tells me any time-based shenanigans can be hazardous in the wrong hooves."
"But futures are extra tricky," the Doctor pressed, "You'll see things, and they might upset you. Then, for the rest of your life you're living in dread of what will happen, incapable of enjoying life."
"Is it set in stone?"
"Is the future a giant mess of possible outcomes, or is it just one inevitable conclusion?" Sepia asked.
The Doctor hesitated for too long.
Sepia shouldered his way into the TARDIS. He turned to face his guide, "Well?"
"Don't say I didn't warn you."
The doors shut, and Sepia was alone. The console came to life, and the room shook. When it stopped, Sepia just stood, and looked fearfully at the exit. A frightening thought surfaced. Miserly Screws was alone for this. He had to face his death alone. Sepia was scared.
Music, soft and gentle lofted from the outside, muffled by the wood doors. Of course he would choose her, Sepia thought to himself as he nudged the doors open, She's who I'd want right now.
Octavia stood there, playing her cello.
"So, you're the Ghost of Hearth Warming's future, are you?" Sepia asked.
She merely played the sad carol, slow and gentle.
The thicker part of town was unusually dark, lit only by solemn candles. Sepia sat in the icy snow. Wind blew a newspaper to him, which he pinned down. 'Doctor Whoof found Dead in Clockshop' the headline read. Sepia gritted his teeth and ran away, his frantic pace haunted by sorrowful notes of the cello.
The shop was coated thickly with dust where the particles could find space between the forest of glass and metal. The store was deathly quiet; not a single sound reverberated through the building. Sepia Tock's beloved home was dead, every last spring was unwound. A shrine had been built on the sales counter, between the devices that had encroached upon it. Blue candles, tiny hourglasses, clippings of the article. Every shred of it mourned for Doctor Whoof. "Colgate promised my obituary would get my name right," Sepia told the empty air.
"She's wasn't here," the Doctor said, entering from behind, "She was long gone when your heart stopped. You managed to alienate everypony else, but she still tried. Eventually, even she was forced from your life."
Sepia shook. "Even when I'm not The Doctor, I'm still The Doctor."
The Doctor merely waited.
"All this elaborate scheme, getting my friends involved, just to torture me." Sepia spun and faced his guide, "Why did I come as the one person I despised?"
"Oh, what'd you expect me to do?" the Doctor replied, "Just show up and say, 'Hey there, me! Let's have a chat.' We wouldn't accept it. We value our time too much to just sit and take it."
"Really, you honestly believe I'd refuse to even listen to myself?" Sepia barked back.
"It's not belief, its knowledge," Sepia's future answered darkly, "I don't enjoy this. You know I wouldn't. But… those late nights in the workshop, so alone, knowing it doesn't have to be that way, but too proud to change."
Sepia glared at himself, "How?"
"Just talk to the other ponies. It'll be hard at first, but you'll grow used to it over time," Doctor Sepia answered, "I did, after all."
"That's not what I'm asking and you know it," Sepia said back.
"I know, just needed to keep the continuity," Future Sepia replied, "Luna happily lent us the watch. We'll change the timer for that clever chest, by the way, make sure to leave our mark."
"The TARDIS? How did you manage that?"
"Careful bubble use, expanding them as need be."
Sepia glanced about the dusty store, "Must be expensive, all of this."
"I'm not telling you that much. Need to leave you some surprises."
Sepia Tock stood, "Fine, you win. I'll try to be more pleasant." He looked at the shop again, "Still, this happens. This is certainly in my future."
"Rule number one, if I recall correctly: the Doctor lies."
Sepia nodded, "So, after Dad needed to sell the shop…"
"What, we're allowed all of time, and I'd just let our home be claimed by somepony else?" the Sepia-to-come scoffed, "Please. For the record, sorry about all those clocks you could've sworn were there a second ago. I'll put them back later."
"One last question then."
"I would never, ever even consider causing the creation of Doctor Whoof," Future Sepia answered, "The only reason I haven't tracked down the source is because I can't find it."
Sepia Tock accepted this answer. "Should we even bother with going back to the TARDIS?"
The Doctor Sepia smirked and held up the watch, "Into the kitchen."
The Sepia Tocks watched himself leave the shop with Doctor Whoof. "Well, I got to admit, as peeved as I was the whole time, I did have fun," the Sepia of this time admitted, "However, that's not an open invitation to visit whenever you'd like. The stories are bad enough with one of us running around."
"Of course," the future Sepia agreed, "Now, final order from me: wait ten minutes, then back to that party with you."
"Will do," Sepia Tock conceded easily.
"And wear a bow tie. Nopony'll notice its sudden appearance."
"I was planning to anyways," Sepia replied.
"I'll be you when you're older," Future Sepia said, and faded into the future.
Sepia sat for a spell, then went to retrieve his tie. Colgate would be happy to help when he arrived.