Aphelion Issue 287, Volume 27
September 2023
 
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The Clock

by Gary Shugar




A cool autumn breeze could be heard blowing through the grove of stately oak trees outside the large Vermont house. Through the un-curtained window, John Courtney could be seen sitting on a blue wing chair thoughtfully sipping a cup of hot tea. There was a lighted floor lamp next to the chair and surrounding that were piles of cardboard boxes of standard sizes, each containing a large blue letter K and the words Keller’s Moving Company.

John Courtney had just moved again. This was the fifth time since he married Mandy twelve years ago. Each move seemed worse as they accumulated more and more belongings. Twelve years ago they had moved into a small one bedroom apartment with the help of two close friends and a pickup truck and only needed to make two trips. Today he spent the entire day overseeing 4 professional movers unloading a huge moving van into this five bedroom country house. He wished Mandy had been there to help, but her Aunt Agatha had died and Mandy had flown to California to attend the funeral.

“Well, Mandy finally got her dream house, a large country home,” thought John. Mandy had fallen in love with it the moment Mr. Beiber, the real estate agent, had shown it to them. John was sure he couldn’t afford such a place, but the price, to his chagrin, was rather low. True it needed some fixing up, but it was structurally sound. Mr. Beiber explained that it had been on the market for quite some time and no one locally was interested in buying it. There were several things that dissuaded the local folks from buying it. One was that the previous owner had died there and the rotting corpse was not discovered for nearly two weeks in the hottest days of the summer. Dr. Gamble said the previous owner had died of a heart attack which is unusual, but not unheard of, in a 45 year old man. The previous owner was a reclusive eccentric with strange ideas of the supernatural. For example, he claimed to have invented a clock that would run forever using a mysterious force. The Chinese, he said, called this force chi, or the life force, and the clock could access this universal force to wind itself. A guest of his had also died of an apparent heart attack when staying overnight, and the owner’s two dogs had also died at a rather young age. The locals considered the house to be unlucky or perhaps malevolent. The heirs were eager to sell the unwanted house and had made the price very attractive.

The only problem Mr. Beiber reported was that the grandfather clock had apparently been glued to the floor. He gave John the option of keeping the clock in the corner or having it removed with considerable damage to the beautiful oak hardwood floor. John and Mandy found the clock attractive and opted to keep it there, at least for the time being. Apparently, Mr. Beiber had wound the clock to show that it was in working order for it was loudly ticking off the seconds.

John finished his tea, got up from the chair, and walked to the window. He could see a bright gibbous moon shining through an oak tree now half naked from the seasonal fall of its leaves. The stars sparkled like jewels among its branches.

John felt a little uncomfortable now. He had lived his entire life in a city and was not accustomed to the darkness and quietness and foreign hushed sounds of the country. He knew that Mandy would arrive and quickly turn this house into a home; she was good at such things. But, tonight he missed her company and found himself wishing he had stayed in a hotel.

He had had the movers assemble the bed and he found the box containing the sheets, pillow cases, pillows and blankets. He set a night table next to the bed and put a light and an alarm clock on it.

BONG. John jumped slightly and felt his heart race. The sound had startled him from his reverie, and his fatigue made him more susceptible to surprise. He stood by the window staring at the moon and counting the chimes. Twelve. He hadn’t realized it was that late, but he now noticed the heaviness of his eyelids and decided it was time to go to bed.

As he walked past the clock, he noticed that the weights were very close to the bottom of the case. He tried to open the case door, but the door would not open. He decided he was too tired to try to figure out this problem tonight.

John went upstairs, changed into his pajamas and got into bed. He turned off the light and tried to fall asleep, but the steady sound of the clock ticking kept him awake. In the stillness and darkness, with nothing else to occupy his mind, the ticking sounded loud and strained.

Bong. John sat up straight in bed. He was now wide awake. His heart was racing and a cold sweat covered his body. He turned on the light and his mind quickly sorted things out. It was 12:30 and he now realized his fears were the product of the convoluted logic that can be found in the realm between wakefulness and sleep. He stopped sweating. His heart rate returned to normal. He smiled at the craziness of his recent thoughts and fears.

He got out of bed and closed the bedroom door to help muffle the sounds of the clock. He went back to bed, turned out the light and felt relaxed, for it seemed that after that fright the worst was over.

He was just close to sleep when – bong- he heard the clock strike one, muffled now by the closed bedroom door. Bong. Was it two? Had he fallen asleep for an hour? Bong. Was it three? Bong. Four? He looked at his alarm clock and it said 1:00 am. BOng. Something’s not right. BONg. It seemed to be getting louder. BONG. And closer. BONG. It sounded like it was just outside of the door. BONG! He got out of bed. BONG!! And opened the door and there it stood - BONG!!!

******

The next day the body of John Courtney was found just inside the bedroom doorway. Dr. Gamble called it a heart attack. The clock was in the living room corner fully wound and ticking loudly.

THE END


2023 Gary Shugar

Bio: Gary Shugar is not new to published writing. This is his second story in Aphelion. He has others, elsewhere.

E-mail: Gary Shugar

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