They say that superstitions are fallacies. Yet all my life I have avoided walking under ladders, only opened umbrellas outside, and held my breath when passing cemeteries. They say it can’t hurt you if you don’t believe in it, but I can’t help but be obsessed with the constant reassurance that I haven’t altered my fate, my luck, my destiny, by a mere slip up in my life. For me, superstition was a religion, and that was that.
I always blamed that house for doing this to me. It brought my family bad luck. Even as a child I could feel the wind blow a little differently each time I stepped into my yard. The stairs creaked a little louder. The mirrors gazed a little deeper. Something was in that house, and even the horseshoe above the door couldn’t stop it. Nothing could.
The house looked normal from the outside. The long, winding driveway secluded us from passersby, and the pine trees that covered nearly every inch of the backyard practically scraped the clouds. I never thought much of the eerie landscape; the whole town looked like that. But the inside was what made me shiver.
As you stepped into the foyer, the cream wallpaper that had turned yellow with age began to tell you stories. A red stain in one corner added a splash of color to the otherwise drab surroundings. “If walls could talk …,” my father would always say.
The hallway to the kitchen lacked any source of light, so the walk seemed to last forever. The kitchen led to the living room, bathroom, and two bedrooms: one for my parents, one for me. And in the corner of the living room, under the oriental rug my mother purchased to cover up yet another rose-colored stain, was the trap door to the basement. Under the warped floorboards where each footstep echoed, the basement sat empty, except for the grandfather clock.
I hated the faceless demon the clock had become. Its rusted hands were trapped behind glass, but they reached around the house as if to taunt us with our superstitious fates. The clock had been broken for as long as I could remember. The hands never moved, the chime never sounded, time never passed. So when my mother unexpectedly passed away that February night, I blamed the monster in the basement. They say that if a broken clock chimes, death will soon follow. They weren’t kidding. When the mahogany structure of the clock rattled and the thundering chime bellowed through the house, we all froze. I remember I cried.
“Was that the ….”
“Yes.” My mother already knew what he was thinking.
“But how?” I could sense panic in his voice.
“It chimed. It’s not the end of the world. You and your silly superstitions.” Her gentle voice calmed him. She squeezed his hand as if to reassure him. Her radiating glow lit the room and she walked over to me and kissed my forehead. “It’s getting late,” she said. “You should get some sleep.”
I turned to go to my room. “’Night, Mom. I love you.”
“I’ll make you pancakes in the morning. Love you too.”
She lied. In the morning she was gone. I remember waking up to a commotion in the basement. I heard glass breaking on the concrete floor, wood smashing against the walls, the gong of the chimes being thrown all around.
I didn’t even cry. I couldn’t. The funeral was small. Only the priest, my father, and I attended, joining the six uninvited guests whose pitch-black wings stood out against the crisp white snow. The sharp cackles of the crows seemed to linger in the frigid air. My father’s face tightened as the coffin was lowered into the ground. He thought no one had seen him place the rusted hands from the destroyed grandfather clock in my mother’s pocket. I was sure she would have objected, but I couldn’t tell him.
We never talked about her. Ever. In fact, talking was rare. My father had changed. The obsession consumed his whole being. He had fallen prey to the house and all that it stood for.
We no longer ate together, if there was even food to eat. The electricity was shut off; the plumbing no longer worked. I was prisoner to the confining walls and suffocating darkness that seemed to fill my lungs. I swear the silence grew thicker every day.
My father must have thought so too. One night he brought home a clock. An old oak frame surrounded a shattered glass plate over hand-painted numbers. He hung it in the kitchen like a trophy. The methodic ticking mirrored a heartbeat, as if making up for the one we had lost. My father either found comfort in this – or the insanity got the best of him – because every day after that he would bring home a new clock.
Like a mad man he frantically made room for each addition. Sometimes at night I would catch him just staring at them. His sunken eyes had turned black from the darkness we lived in, and his thin lips stretched into a twisted smile that distorted his face.
Soon every inch of every wall was covered. I could see their faces when I closed my eyes. Some were wooden; some were metal. Some were rusted, tarnished, darkened with age, shattered, or cracked, but still they continued to count off the minutes of eternity.
My head rang with the hypnotizing ticks. The candles illuminated each hand moving at the same pace, exemplifying the fact that time didn’t seem to pass fast enough. I was trapped in the haunted echoes that drowned out the living and welcomed the dead.
Then one night I snapped. I couldn’t take the reflections in the clocks that weren’t mine. I couldn’t understand why, when my father slept, I heard footsteps cutting deep into the floorboards. I wasn’t safe in that house. I wasn’t safe with this man who had grown into the ground that I wanted so desperately to escape.
I walked into the living room and found my father rocking back and forth in time with the ticking clocks. His eyes were blank. The candles he had placed in a circle around him lit his face in a way that made him almost unbearable to look at.
“W-we need to go.” I struggled to find my voice after so much silence. His head slowly turned to meet my eyes. The fire reflected off of his black pupils and pierced the night air.
“We can’t go.” His lips came together and began to expand until his whole face stretched into a grimacing smirk. He laughed – a deep throaty sound that for a moment overpowered time. “We can never leave. We are the hands to the clock we live inside.”
I felt a chill rush up my spine and for a moment I was frozen. It was 3:33. I know this because at that exact second, something dark and powerful filled the house.
I stood helpless as I watched each candle blow out one by one. Tick by tock, the room grew darker. They say that if a candle blows out by itself, evil spirits are nearby. They weren’t lying.
As the last candle went out, I caught a glimpse of my father’s horrifying smile. He remained motionless as the clocks read 3:33. Silence.
Suddenly they all stopped. All of them. The silence rushed over me and took my breath away. Time no longer echoed off the walls.
I slowly crept to the door, keeping my eye on the dark outline of my father. I remember that just as time left the clocks, something left my father.
That was the last time I saw him. Or that house. I walked away that night. Unable to run or scream, I walked silently away from everything I had ever known. And my footsteps kept time through the night.
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