The clock stopped ticking...
The sharp "click-tick"ing of the wall-hung clock was jumping out across the silence in my darkened bedroom and methodically poking at my brain. Click-tick…click-tick…. I sensed myself adjusting my breathing to match its rhythm -- I'd inhale for two counts and exhale for four -- as if to disguise my presence in the room. There were no other sounds, sights or smells to distract me. No matter how hard I tried to resist its intrusive tapping, the Clock was holding me hostage to its relentless reminders of passing seconds. It seemed somehow to be desperately trying to communicate with me... and demanding a response. My concentration could not be averted for longer than the few moments required to inwardly curse myself for my lack of control over its influence. Still, I didn't dare move to cover my ears or leap from my bed. I was paralyzed with fear, I realized, but of what? I became more frightened as I lost the struggle to recall how long I had been in that captive state and what I'd experienced prior. My mind was aware only of the "here and now" and had seemingly emptied out all other thought and memory. I remember becoming curiously calm and detached, however, when I began to wonder if I was losing my mind. Or worse. Click-tick…click-tick. There was an urgency in the Clock's tone that bordered on frantic. My own anxiety was squeezing the breath out of me.
I had no idea how much time went by that night before the Clock suddenly stopped. Just as I had decided that I was indeed going mad and that I should simply hold my breath in surrender, a merciful silence swept across the room and rescued me from the agonized pleas of the Clock. I lay in disbelief and exhaustion for what seemed a lifetime before attempting to move. Since I wasn't certain of my condition or safety, I dared only twitch a finger then a toe, before confirming that I had control and free will once again. I had to rise slowly, though, for every muscle in my body had apparently been contracted in tension during my ordeal and they were now cramping and knotting as they were allowed to relax. My head was suddenly thumping again to a muffled, erratic tempo - which is to say I had a pulsing headache. I felt my way for the light switch and hesitated for only a half-moment before turning on my lamp with a rattled sigh. A warm, amber glow spread to every corner of the room, forcing the Dark to scurry and shrink into harmless shadows. Light and Silence were then my lovers, caressing and comforting me. I closed my eyes and took in a long, slow breath. The throbbing in my temples began to subside. The initially painful cramps in my extremities had eased into mere discomfort. My mind, which had only minutes before been seized in the tight clutches of Fear, was fogging over into a complacent state of relief. I was recovering, I knew then. I was safe once again. I also knew (I'm still not certain how or why) that I shouldn't try to analyze what had happened. I felt very strongly that what I had encountered had not been meant to directly include me, but rather that I had been a passerby pulled into someone else's tragic experience. And I had been spared the worst. But I also sensed, which disturbed me most, that I was somehow responsible for it all. So I made the conscious decision to dismiss it as a crazy, surreal dream and chastised myself for becoming so panic-stricken. After all, it had only been a ticking clock, hadn't it?
After leaving my bedroom on shaky legs, I hobbled to the bathroom for a glass of water. I looked in the mirror and was taken aback by my appearance. My pale-grey face was beaded with sweat and my hair was disheveled to a comical extreme. My eyes were like highly polished marbles, bulging dramatically and still wet with evidence of my fear. I had been crying! I shook my head a few times to dispel the fog and gulped down the water as though I'd not had a drink in days. Sighing again, I sat down on the closed toilet seat and gently held my head in my hands, with elbows resting on the cold, lacquered vanity adjacent. Now what?, I asked myself. I didn't really want to go back to bed. The Clock was in there. Maybe it's time to get up anyway, I thought. So I made my way to the kitchen, flipped on a light and focused my eyes on the digital clock on my stovetop. It was ten after midnight - I'd only had little more than an hour and a half of sleep. I knew I should try to go back to sleep; I'd just have to attempt it somewhere other than in my bedroom. But as I propped up throw pillows and spread out an old afghan across the couch, I realized I'd be unable to sleep before addressing an issue that was nagging me: I had to remove that clock from my room -- from my home! - before I'd feel completely at ease. As ridiculous as it seemed, just knowing that It was still in the house was bothering me terribly.
When I returned to my bedroom, I half expected my lamp to be turned off and the Clock to be ticking away furiously. But the room was still lit and the Clock was hanging in silence. It looked completely harmless (As any old clock should, I assured myself) but my hands were trembling, nonetheless, as I reached up to take it down from the wall over my bed. Though I wasn't sure exactly what I was afraid of, I was wary of even touching the damned thing. I was once bitten by a dog that had been sleeping as I approached it. I think I was expecting a similar, unwelcome surprise from the Clock.
In a span of three minutes that seemed like thirty, I had carefully pulled the Clock from the wall and carried it out behind the garage to a trash bin. As I lifted it up over the rim of the chest-high dumpster, the Clock burped out a final tick that startled the breath right out of me and I flung it so quickly that it appeared to have jumped from my hands. "Jeez!", I cried out as I backed away. My heart was pounding violently. I turned and ran to the house without looking back.
When I awoke again, hours later, my memory of the night's events was hazy. Had I really been afraid of a clock?, I wondered with some degree of amusement. What was so terrifying about its ticking and why did it suddenly stop? I lay on the couch for quite a while, trying to sort through my recollections and to rationalize my actions. Eventually I decided that I had been quite irrational and that I should retrieve the clock. After all, it had been a gift from my grandmother and I had always been rather fond of it. She had given it to me as a house-warming gift, telling me that her own grandmother had given it to her on her 18th birthday. She'd also told me the heritage of the Clock, an obvious antique but well-cared for, that led me to believe she was bestowing me with a gift far more valuable than it appeared:
Evidently, the Clock had been in my family for many generations. My grandmother's grandmother had acquired it overseas somewhere (Grammie couldn't remember where) on her honeymoon. She wound it daily and cleaned it faithfully every week. She had planned to give it to her own daughter but bore only sons. Thus, she ended up passing it to her first granddaughter. History then repeated itself when Grammie gave it to me… my dad had been her only child.
For the first several months, I too wound it daily and cleaned it as often as I could. I eventually slacked off, though, and got to the point where I would clean it maybe once a month and wound it only when I noticed it losing time. When I would finally get around to it, I'd feel guilty about ignoring it for so long. I knew Grammie would be disappointed if she thought I wasn't taking good care of it.
So what would she think now?, I thought to myself wistfully. I had to bring that clock back in! I put on my robe and slippers and went back out to the garage, pausing about ten feet from the dumpster. I took a deep breath before making my way to the edge to peer over. The Clock was lying face down in a mound of wilted lettuce and old coffee grounds. I plucked it out of the bin and carried it back inside, holding it out at arm's length. After wiping it down with an old rag over the kitchen sink, I placed it gingerly on my dining room table and sat down in front of it. It didn't appear to have been damaged during its stay in the dumpster --- no cracks; no chips. It was still silent and motionless, though. I obviously went too long without winding it, I realized. That's why it stopped! I wondered if it had ever been allowed to wind down completely, before I owned it. I doubted it very much. You're the first one to be so irresponsible to let it go to hell like this!, I admonished myself. With a little sigh of self-disgust, I turned the Clock over to wind it. The key wouldn't budge; it wouldn't turn either way. I jimmied it out, put it back in and tried again but it was of no use. Now you've done it! How can you wind it without------?
The telephone's ringing interrupted my thoughts. I sprang to my feet and reached for the phone in a singular, startled motion.
It was Dad. The reverence in his tone and deliberation of his words as he greeted me immediately set off an alarm in my head and my pulse quickened. I knew before he told me that something was terribly wrong. As his words gushed through the receiver, I slumped to the floor and began to cry. I composed myself briefly to tell him that I'd pull myself together and be on my way to his house within an hour, then hung up the phone with a wrenching sob. Several excruciating minutes passed before I could find the strength to stand. As I swiped the moisture from my face, I glanced at the Clock. It was lifeless; frozen at 11:52. I walked back to the table and fell into my chair again, in front of the Clock. I stared at it blankly, trying to slow the rush of my father's words, which were then swirling in my head. "She died in her sleep sometime around midnight", he had said. "The coroner said it was a heart attack, but that she went quickly and painlessly". He had talked on but I was not hearing him. For in that horrifying moment, my entire body went numb and my ears fell deaf as the truth was suddenly revealed to me. It was not like a mere light bulb being turned on but as a fiery sun exploding in my brain. I knew the exact moment that Grammie's heart had stopped.
And I knew that her clock would never tell time again.
NOTE: I have had a few readers ask "Is this fiction?" ....The answer is "Yes!" :)