Big Ben is actually the bell inside the clocktower at the Palace of Westminster, but everyone refers to the tower as Big Ben. It is instantly recognisable, worldwide–like the Eiffel Tower, or Sydney Opera House. It’s the writephoto prompt from KL Caley at New2Writing.com today, and I’ve rustled up just over 1000 words for you.
It was midnight, and Big Ben had just finished striking its eleventh dong.
“There you are,” Bert said, shifting his bag of tools over his shoulder. It clonked. “That makes twelve. Up over this fence now… and in through this squeeze gate….”
“Yes Sammy, what is it now?”
“It donged again. That makes thirteen.”
“Don’t be daft, the excitement’s gone to your head. Come on, run over the grass and keep up, won’t you!”
Sammy ran after Bert, keeping to the shadows away from the security light.
It was a bit muffled now, since it was way above them. But that made fourteen by Sammy’s reckoning.
Bert was muttering as he tried his keys one by one in the lock of the wooden door, set into the stone on either side, protected by a lovely stone arch.
Maybe ignore it, Sammy decided.
Once Bert had the door open, they squeezed through the gap, and started up the stairs on the other side. Fortynine steps to Lord Howard’s pantry, then another fortynine steps from there.
At the door to Lord Howard’s pantry Bert paused.
“I think… we ought to…. take our time…. on this, Sammy lad. No point… in getting ourselves over….exerted-like.”
“Whatever you say, Bert. Shall I look inside this here pantry and see if there’s any grub?”
“Not sure… it’s that sort…. of pantry, but… no, just in case … of security. I didn’t check out… side rooms for alarms.”
Once Bert breathed normally again, they went on.
“Fortyseven, fortyeight, fortynine,” whispered Sammy, since he had plenty of breath to do so.
A door appeared out of the gloom. “Is this it?
“Must… be…” Bert coughed noisily. Sammy wondered if anybody was listening to them.
Bert got his keys out again and fumbled at the lock. The second time he dropped the keys he turned to Sammy. “Here, you do it…. Just work your way… around the ring, one…. at a time, … until you find…”
Sammy started trying the keys in the lock. The third one opened the door.
“More steps,” he whispered as he looked up the inside the room on the other side.
“I think… you’d better do it… on your own, lad. … You okay with that?”
“Yes, of course. Have you got it?”
Bert took a package out of his tool bag, and fumbled among the implements for an adjustable spanner (wrench). “You know… what to do?”
Sammy nodded. His excitement was bubbling up inside him: maybe he would fizz over and go pop!
“Off you go then.”
Sammy climbed up the staircase to where the clock mechanism clunked and whirred. Good thing it had stopped going ‘dong’. It must be really loud in here, right next to the bells, when they were actually ringing.
Come to think of it, when would it chime the quarter hour?
A spring on the side started winding itself up, and then released, sending several huge cogs into motion.
Sammy hit the deck and covered his ears with his arms, still holding the spanner and the package. Even so, the first sound of the quarter peal rang through his head, shook his teeth, made his eyes feel like bursting, and quivering his spine all the way to his toes.
Once it was done, he lay panting.
After some tension in case of extra dongs, he decided he was safe for another fourteen minutes.
He climbed up through the machinery to the clockface on the opposite side from the door. He could see the lights of London through the opaque glass, and the shadows cast by the enormous numbers and the giant minute hand, but nothing else, except the outline of a door near the number six.
They’d studied every film of the inside of Big Ben they could find. It was just as Sammy expected.
Now for the hard part. Spanner in hand, he loosened a nut on the lever nearest the window, one that held a rod that led out to the hands to turn them. Then he opened one corner of the package, and pulled out a corner of fabric with a loop on it. Carefully, so he didn’t drop the nut, he undid it, looped the fabric over the bolt, and reattached the nut again. Tightened the nut with the spanner.
Now for the really difficult part. The minute hand was moving closer to the door. He opened the door (surprisingly unlocked) and sat on the bottom of it, one leg either side.
Don’t look down. Just look at the hand coming towards you.
He got the plastic out of the bag, moulded it between his hands, and threaded a rope from the bag into it. Then, reaching forward, he grasped the minute hand and stuck the putty on it. Just as he’d been told, the effect of the putty on the metal made it set solid. There was no way he could move it now, even if he’d done it wrong.
Now he moved the bag itself out onto the ledge on the clockface, and brought his leg inside. Closing the door, he checked there was a clear run from the spare rope in the bag to the mechanism where he’d attached it. There was plenty of room under the door for everything to work as planned. Maybe even like clockwork.
Time to leave before… He threw himself to the ground again as the striking of the half-hour began.
Then he made his way back down to Bert, who was curled in a corner, hands over his ears.
“All done, let’s go,” Sammy said.
Bert seemed to be disorientated, saying nothing, although Sammy could see his lips moving.
Sammy led the way downstairs, feeling Bert pressing close behind him.
They didn’t pause, just running down the steps, out of the door, and not even locking it behind them. Then squeezed through the gate and over the fence. They had to get away before the time came.
It was the talk of the country the next day. The outrage in the papers was mixed. Some called it a national disgrace. The Guardian praised it as a noble stunt.
Bert and Sammy, back in their own lodgings, turned on the tv to see the news. The pictures were brilliant, but however high they turned up the volume, they couldn’t hear a thing.
Thank goodness they had put up the banner ‘Save the NHS’, which waved serenely around the clock as the minute hand did its hourly round. They certainly needed NHS help for their ears.
But nobody could explain why Big Ben was ringing a random number of dongs every hour.
© J M Pett 2023
8 thoughts on “Big Ben | #writephoto Flash Fiction”
Well, there! I couldn’t come up with anything, but you pulled off a great little story. And as someone who lives where there is no NHS… yes, for pete’s sake, save the NHS!
With today’s events (co-ordinated strike of nursing and emergency staff) I should have made the banner say ‘Pay the NHS’ but this one’s more familiar.
Very clever, Jemima. With a good ending!
Glad you liked it, Noelle 🙂
Another great story Jemima and very topical and relivant. 💜😅
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Just saying hi – and remembering the March 2020 banners everywhere.. Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives – in that order.
National religion ? Heretic, definitely.
Great story – definitely sinister . .
Great story, Jemima. Having sadly spent a reasonable amount of time in hospital lately with loved ones, the system definitely needs some changes. The staff are trying so hard, but the systems are outdated, and the support is just not there or is very disconnected. KL <3