Short Story Sunday: Death Clock

None of the family had ever been into Uncle Everett’s private office room tucked behind the half bath and garage of his rambling ranch house. As far as I knew no friends had been there either.

That isn’t completely true. As a teen I went into his office during a party held for his fifth wife, in honor of her being the centerfold of a now defunct magazine for horny men. 

It was 1976. While Everett and his then wife Gail-Ann were showing off for their guests in barely there red white and blue swim suits, I went exploring. It was the day after Christmas, and I had no desire to stand in the cold and watch as the love birds frolicked with friends and family in the redwood hot tub and heated pool.

Uncle Everett had gained success, and a fortune at an early age. His first wife had divorced him. She’d left him for his best friend. The second wife went on vacation to Italy and never came back. The third wife and her lover died in a fiery car crash. The fourth wife, the love of Everett’s life passed away from cancer. All of the wives seemed to have nothing in common except they were all vivacious and extremely attractive. 

I remember my mom telling Everett, “Marriage is not a hobby. You have to take it seriously, or you might as well just live with a woman.”

Everett should have listened to my mom.

As the first guest splashed into the pool, and the hot tub overflowed with almost naked bodies, I went inside to find out exactly what was in Uncle Everett’s private office.

Despite the fact that I’d brought a pocket full of bobby pins and a screw driver with me in case I had to attempt to pick the lock, I found the door unlocked.

No alarms rang out as I opened the door. A bucket of paint or water did not fall on my head. Nothing happened.

Well nothing but me catching my breath at the wonder of the room I’d just walked into. Uncle Everett always had a fascination with the macabre and paranormal, but this room went beyond that. Taxidermy bats and strange patchwork creatures stared at me with dark glassy eyes. The shelves were lined with books on magic, witchery, murder, poisons, ghosts, vampires, and horror. On his desk sat a shrunken head used as a paperweight, and next to it was a jar with a 8 fingered human hand floating in some sort of yellowish liquid. Another jar contained a small two headed human baby. The more I looked around, the more I saw. There were amulets, bones, a collection of leather gloves, masks from countries around the world, religious icons of saints dripping with blood, and dark disturbing paintings of a sexual nature I will not describe. 

The most curious object, at least to my 16 year old self, was a strange clock softly ticking on the wall. The clock was round like most clocks, but instead of numbers it had skulls at each hour. Above the number six was a small slate. A piece of chalk hung on a string from a hook on the bottom of the clock. It was three minutes to twelve. Noon. Lunchtime. I was hungry and thought of the lavish spread in the kitchen. I also knew I had to get out of the office before I was caught.

At the same time I was feeling out of sorts and bored. I loved Uncle Everett but hated his fifth wife Gail-Ann. She was selfish and never had a kind word to say to me, or my parents, or my brother. She hated dogs and cats. Everett’s beloved dog Merlin had come to live with us when he married Gail-Ann. 

Then as if someone, perhaps a ghost had whispered open the envelope, I looked down at the desk and had told me to look, I glanced down at the desk. There was an envelope. I opened the flap and pulled out a note and photographs. The note was from a private detective. The photographs were of Gail-Ann and another man in graphic detail performing sexual acts I could have never even imagined.

The clock made a noise, as old clocks do when they are setting up to chime. I have no idea why but I suddenly thought of people who needed to die.

On the slate I wrote three names: Gail-Ann, Mao Zedong, and Ronnie Wilkinson.

By the way, Ronnie was a boy who had bullied me without mercy, and then once we got to high school had tried to rape me in a school bathroom. I told my parents I’d slipped on some stairs, when they’d asked out my bruises and scraped elbow. 

A second after I’d written the names the clock chimed twelve. To my amazement the names on the small slate vanished. I felt a cold chill run through my entire body, and quickly left Uncle Everett’s private office.

As I headed out to the kitchen I heard yelling from the backyard. Apparently Gail-Ann had taken off her bikini and done a back flip off the diving board. She’d hit her head on the end of the board, which cracked her skull like a small ripe watermelon. 

The party was over. My brother and I went home while my parents stayed with Uncle Everett. The next day we heard of the death of Mao Zedong. A few days later a friend of mine told me that Ronnie Wilkinson had died on December 26 when he’d hung himself from the old foot bridge we’d all hung out at when were were kids, and where he first threatened me. Nobody expected it. All of friends spoke of how happy he’d been and how he’d just been accepted into several top universities. Oh well.

I never mentioned what I now think of as the Death Clock to anyone. The clock was frequently in my nightmares, but I never said a word to anyone.

When Uncle Everett passed away in 2020 he left his house to me. On the wall of the office the Death Clock still hung with the piece of chalk, now only a stub, dangling from the string. 

I sold most of the contents of the office for a small fortune. All of the contents except the clock. The clock went into a box, which I sealed with what seemed like an entire roll of packing tape. I brought it home and hid it in the back of a closet behind old coats we rarely ware, crutches we hope to never use again, and a box full of dried up tubes of paint.

I did the research to try to figure out what other names had been written on the clock. Then I stopped, due to my fear of more nightmares, and worried my blood pressure would go through the roof.

My husband never asked me what was in the box. I never told him our our children. When the old sprawling ranch house was cleared out, cleaned, and repainted, my son and his wife moved in. They’re happy there, and ignorant of what was in Uncle Everett’s office.

But sometimes, he’ll ask me, “did anyone else ever say they hear a clock ticking. You know a click that isn’t there?”

I just smile and tell him old houses make noises. 

That said, I am still tempted to take out the clock and write a name or two on the slate. I won’t of course, but after listening to the news today, maybe I should. Maybe.

~ end

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