Clock’s Watch, by Michael Reyes

Bizarre creatures of darkness and chaos attempting to breach our world possess the body of a young mother! Can a strange observer unstuck from time put a stop to the threat from beyond or will it spill out from Coney Island to consume all in its path?!

It sits alone as the Wonder Wheel rotates, watches as the amusement park below empties out. It feels the curves of her body with soft hands, runs them through her long blonde hair. Her beige dress is caked in sand from the beach, flip flops drenched in murky Atlantic ocean water. An early autumn breeze drifts into this late August morning, giving her goosebumps. It can feel the flow of her menses, and for several moments her stomach cramps.

It puts a stop to both.

The rusty Wonder Wheel car is poised at the summit. It looks out through her dark blue eyes at Coney Island. It’s starting to rain. It stares at the ocean and grimaces. This will be its final call to shore, one way or another. This is the body. It has to be. Time is running out. Let the Tell rot. It wants the surface again. It wants life. It needs to bring back the man that can make that happen. It closes her eyes and takes a deep breath through stolen lungs. Greedy, inhaling so deeply it wheezes. The Wonder Wheel descends.

Jimmy ‘s been waiting for his mom for the past twenty minutes. She had been laying down on the beach blanket, thumbing through a magazine when he went out swimming. She was gone when he came back fifteen minutes later, though everything was still on the beach towel, her phone face down next to the suntan lotion and sand-plastered issue of Cosmopolitan. He tries to stay calm. Tries to act older than his nine years but he’s starting to lose it. It’s still morning, and there’s nobody else around besides joggers and a distant beach goer who’s packing up because it’s starting to drizzle.

Jimmy gets dressed. He grabs his mom’s cellphone and heads out to look for her.

He observed it all from the rooftop of a bar on the boardwalk. He had watched silently as the blonde haired woman suddenly smacked the magazine against the sand, right hand twitching uncontrollably. Her whole body jerked violently for several moments, then she went inert, catatonic for several more.

She seemed calm when she suddenly stood up from the beach blanket. She looked around, gave her son a passing glance as he splashed in the water. Then she walked in the direction of the boardwalk.

Clock saw it all.

He lowers his binoculars and eases back a bit as the boy runs to find his mother. Clock sits back on the ledge, small legs hanging off the side of the building. Nobody will notice him, and not just because he’s small, a Little Person. The fact is very few people can see Jerry Clock, even when he’s standing right in front of them. Nowadays people who see him have to have a sense for him, or not be people at all. Clock is human, solid flesh and bone. Something in humanity has changed. It wasn’t always this way, but it has been for years now in New York City.

Clock adjusts his coonskin cap; he glances at his crossbow. A Barnet Ghost 410. They’ll be back this way in no time. Patience, he thinks.

Jimmy watches her walk out of Luna Park under the now steady rain. He stares at her blankly. This walk isn’t her walk at all. It’s awkward and unsteady, a strange sideways gait, like a crustacean. Her facial expression is fierce, and he’s never seen it on his mother before. Jimmy walks behind her, not saying anything. Her steps become more steady, but that strange sideways gait remains. Even though he’s still wary, his anxiety gets the best of him when he sees her get back onto the sand and head underneath the boardwalk.

“Mom! Where are you going? What’s wrong?” he grabs onto the back of her skirt.

She stops walking, slowly turns to face him. The mother stares down at her son with a look of complete unfamiliarity, then to Jimmy’s horror, one of malice. The eyes in her skull begin to transform…change color. They’re no longer her own.. Jet black, shark-like. He takes his hand away from her skirt just as she viciously swipes it back. She stares at him, saying nothing.

The rain falls hard. She begins to bite down on her lower lip, drawing blood. He recoils and steps back. Within seconds the blood is gushing down her chin… She continues to leer, black eyes, cold and lifeless. His mother spits in his face… Then she walks onto the beach.

Jimmy wipes the blood off; he stares in shock, paralyzed. He watches in terror as she strips off her dress and disappears underneath the boardwalk. Several moments pass and he can sense her beneath his feet. Jimmy can hear voices below, speaking to his mother in a language he can’t understand. He also hears an eerie music…faint.  Ethereal. It’s like no other instrument he’s ever heard before. He runs away, looking for the nearest police officer.

Clock watches all of this through his binoculars. He lowers them when the kid bolts. Clock’s sitting on a beach chair, with a large umbrella overhead, shielding him from the rain. He sighs and takes out a plastic wrapped Danish pastry from his knapsack. He eats it. Clock stays at his post.

Hours pass.

The rain tapers off as the cops search the boardwalk to no avail. The son is nowhere in sight. The police soon fade away like the rain. They could spend years searching. They won’t find it.

It’ll appear when it wants to.

Clock feels bad for the kid, but there’s nothing he can do. He’s more than likely invisible to the boy, and even if he wasn’t what could he possibly say to console him? Clock remains well past midnight. Even though he’s ninety percent sure of the outcome, call it a gut feeling, he still needs to see it emerge, see if the flesh has stuck.

It has. At a quarter to three it emerges from underneath the boardwalk and takes slow steps to where the beach towel had been. She stops there and stares up at empty space. She puts her hand out and it looks as if she’s attempting to turn a knob and open an invisible door. It’s not entirely hidden to Clock’s eyes, however. He can faintly make out the large elephant shaped structure, he can even see windows and the front door of the building.

Her hand drops. Clock nearly jumps out of his skin when she lets out a sudden cry.

She stomps around the spectral base of the Elephantine Colossus and into the dark waves of the Atlantic. Clock cracks a can of Red Bull and continues to observe.

She emerges before dawn. Bleeding from small cuts all over her naked body, covered in moss and sea slime. She stands at the front of the large invisible building for several moments, then she walks back  into the darkness underneath the boardwalk.

Clock wipes his eyes. A certainty now. It will surface occasionally, but now it’s energy will be focused on one day. A date Clock has to discover. It could be months from now. Maybe longer. He stands and stretches. He closes his eyes as the August sun rises, unable to fight off sleep any longer. He pulls his coonskin cap over his eyes, crossbow close at hand, always at the ready.

Months pass. Jimmy dreams about his mother, his real mother, not the creature on the boardwalk. In the dreams she tells him she’s a prisoner, but still alive. She needs his help. The police are worthless, and the aunt he now lives with has stopped believing her sister is alive. Jimmy bides his time, waiting for the message that will put all the pieces together.

The snow’s falling heavily. He’s in pursuit, small legs pumping hard. Clock moves quickly for someone his size; in this terrain it’s all about the footing. His prey is cagey, fast. Clock’s been hunting him for the better part of an hour now. Clock stops at the edge of the creek. Somewhere off to his left…. by the snow covered bush. He fires his crossbow into the thicket, hears a sharp, abrupt squeal. Wild thrashing, snow falls off the shaking bush in packed clumps. Sudden stillness, silence. Clock looks over his shoulder.

 

He’s recently felt as if he’s being followed. Clock grows more and more suspicious by the day. Every Chaos Magic ritual he does confirms it, though he can never find out exactly who or what it is. Even if the thing under the boardwalk knew about Clock would it risk expending its energy to stop him before its own rite? Clock doubts it, but it could be possible. Time will tell.

He walks forward, observes the bush. Clock sees his prey. It’s dead, arrow buried deep into its chest. The raccoon is huge. Easily the size of a pit bull. Clock pulls the corpse out into the open bank. The chill waves wash onto the dull mud of the creek, brackish water threatening to touch Clock’s leather boots. He steps back and drags the coon by its tail. Only his eyes see the infernal smoke rising from its belly, he can hear the sizzle and the murderous array of voices hiding in the animal’s intestines. Clock hums a personal prayer of protection embedded in an old T.V. jingle, he takes out Typhon, his serpent handled dagger, and tosses it at the mud, evoking the winds of prime chaos. Typhon flies straight for a moment then, as if altered by an invisible hand, it lands horizontally along the muddy bank. Clock nods and picks it up, opening up the raccoon’s stomach with it.

It’s filled with them. This specimen, like so many others he’s captured around here, seems to be infested. Clock’s beginning to think it might be some kind of epidemic. He watches as they rise up out of the beast’s guts, black and gnat-like. They murmur in lost tongues, they throw antediluvian curses down upon his large head. They try to make his veins pump mud, large brown eyes pop. Clock waves them away, his magic is strong. They try to escape, but Clock commands them to be still with a deep growl. These spirits, although wild and rabid, do not resist. A major epidemic of these spirits could easily spread from lower animals to humans, could even reanimate the dead if their numbers were high enough. Clock speaks words of banishment, waving his dagger in the air he traces the shape of Ouroboros then slices it.

The voices stop chattering, and they fall to the earth, get absorbed into it. He waits for several minutes and then he pisses on the spot where they disappeared. Clock throws the dead raccoon into Coney Island creek. He leaves and heads to Surf Avenue to grab lunch.

“You look worried, Jerry Clock.. What’s wrong?” asks Tahir in his thick Pakistani accent.

He stares down at Clock in the alleyway of the small Pakistani restaurant on Surf Avenue.

Tahir is the restaurant’s owner and one of the rare people who can see him. He’s a friend.

“Nothing that you should concern yourself with, Tahir. At this point anyway.”

Tahir hands him a falafel and can of ginger ale. The snow’s falling lightly in the cramped alleyway.

“You sure you don’t want to come inside? It is empty.”

Clock bites into the falafel and shakes his head.

“No. In a little bit of a rush,” he says between bites. His crossbow is strapped onto his back, he wears a thick black pea coat, army fatigue pants and expensive boots. The coonskin hat as always.

“If something bothers you, it bothers me, does it not? You are a friend.”

Clock thinks this over as he eats, but he doesn’t say anything. Tahir watches him.

“I want to help you. You help me all the time…”

“You help me enough, Tahir.”

Tahir shakes his kufi covered head, fat cheeks shaking viciously.

“That is not true…! Not enough! You pay me too much! Your people have no concept of money…”

“What do you mean, my people?” Clock asks between bites.

“The Jinn,” Tahir says.

“Jesus Christ, Tahir. How many times do I have to tell you? I’m not Jinn. You remember Sal the bus driver? He could see me too. You’re just like him. He thought I was Italian. Kept saying I look like a little blonde haired Joe Mantegna. Wouldn’t stop. But I’m not Italian or Jinn, Tahir. I’m just me. And I do have a very strong concept of money. It’s just useless to me. And I find it everywhere. So I give to you.”

Tahir persists.

“Still, you are my friend. If you’re troubled…”

Clock finishes his falafel. He cracks open the can of ginger ale and guzzles it.

“Don’t sweat it. Say, Tahir, what’s been going on with the alley cats? This place was filled with them last week.”

Tahir squints at Clock. He leans down close. Glances around the alley. Gets a few inches away from Clock’s face.

“The raccoons have killed them all!” he barks. “They are ruthless… and sexually perverse… I think they also have their way with the victims!”

Clock squints back at him.

“You’re saying you got an infestation?”

“Yes! Possibly. I see many out here at night. Dozens.”

Clock looks around the alleyway.

“They carry rabies, no? Tahir asks.

Clock takes out a handful of hundred dollar bills and hands it to Tahir.

“These ones might be carrying something much worse. No hot sauce on the falafel next time, Tahir. You  always forget. And watch your back. I’ll keep an eye out around here for you as well.”

Clock turns and leaves without another word.

It’s buried itself in the sand next to its secret Tell. The circular mound of abalone, whalebone, and sea glass is small, and though the voices of its kith sing softly they are blocked out. No more, it thinks as it lay coiled inside the woman. No more traveling in the dark lonely reaches of the abyss, not sure if it’s the last member of its race. The aching loneliness. Waiting for the ghost music on the surface so it may brave the sun and come to shore… no. It will have life once again on the surface. It will break it’s tribe taboo, its lost race’s taboo… and claim absolute possession of a body above the surface. It will enjoy the sun once again for a lifetime, even if it’s not in true form. It just needs help from the dark soul that can perform the ritual, one that unfortunately no longer has a body. Still, when the stars are aligned and the time is right that barrier can be crossed.

That time is near.

It had first encountered the Abyssinian when it visited this Tell over one hundred years ago. The man had been alive then, a carnival performer first at Sea Lion Park then Steeplechase. He was a gifted Bouda, a powerful Ethiopian sorcerer. He located the Tell and learned all about it through his magic. He was burned to death by rivals at the turn of the 19th century, but his spirit remains. He refuses to fade into whatever afterlife these mortals suffer.

Even now he speaks. He tells her there is a threat, an adversary that wishes to stop the ritual. But no worry, the Bouda says. It will be taken care of. Rest and prepare yourself for the day. Our day. The threat will be dealt with.

Two days from now. He has the day and hour of the ritual. Clock opens his eyes, he’s sweating profusely, seated in a meditative position. He’s breathing heavily now. The mindscaping exercise has been extreme; Clock has been at it for eighteen hours.

It’s been worth it.

He now knows more than enough. The elemental’s weakness lay in a strange artifact. A sort of ceremonial stamp of its species’ collective memory…. embedded in a tellurian object.

Ancient magic, he thinks. Clock wipes his eyes. Sighs heavily.

It wants to escape the abyss and live again, indefinitely, in that poor woman’s body. It wishes to summon the spirit of a dead sorcerer, an Abyssinian who was killed years ago in that elephant-shaped building. It wants to offer the Bouda a body, living or dead, so it can reanimate and perform the ritual. Clock has to destroy the Tell and throw it back into the ocean. When the possessed woman leaves its side is when he must act.

Clock looks around his tent. The heater’s on full blast, and the snow continues to fall outside. The tent is pitched by Coney Island creek, and his small generator hums loudly outside. He grabs a bottled water and drinks. The tent’s large, filled with books and canned goods. There’s a Polaroid taped to the tent wall, a picture of Clock ten years ago standing in the Red Desert in Wyoming with friends and his ex-wife. All dead now. His old life.

 

Clock puts the bottle of water down. He feels a sudden rush of fear, danger. He grabs his crossbow the moment they pounce onto his tent. They bark and tear at it- he can hear the voices inside their intestines, howling insanely. Clock manages to escape the tent, crawling out onto the snow covered ground.

The full moon illuminates the creek, and Clock can see the three raccoons tearing into his tent. The snow falls heavily, and he stands and fires his crossbow in rapid succession. Two go down instantly, the other turns and charges Clock. He reloads and fires. The arrow hits the raccoon dead on and it flips backwards, landing with a splash into the creek.

“I see you,” a familiar voice says from behind. Clock’s stomach drops.

“Tahir,” he says faintly.

Tahir stands there at the foot of the bank, rabid, frothing at the mouth. His eyes give off a red gleam. He carries a butcher knife. He’s been infected by one of the things, possessed by those malicious, rabid spirits.

“We see you. We see you…” Tahir growls as he steps forward. Clock steps back, he tries to reload. Tahir screams and dashes toward him, slashing wildly with the butcher knife. Clock grabs a bolt out of one of the dead raccoons. He loads and fires. It hits Tahir square in his solar plexus. He screams and trips. He drops the knife and lands on it, neck first. His kufi tumbles off of his head. Still, he tries to stand and attack Clock. Clock calmly takes out another arrow. He fires it into Tahir’s skull and he drops instantly. He stays down.

Clock stands over his old friend. He shakes his head. Personal now, he thinks. Two more days. The snow continues to fall heavily. He takes off his coonskin cap and reaches down. He picks up his dead friend’s flattened kufi and places it on his own head. It looks more like a yarmulke than a kufi on Clock. He unsheathes Typhon and holds it to the sky, invoking the powers of primal chaos. Ready to unleash his own personal brand of old-time religion on his enemies.

She smiles at him in the aquarium. He smiles back. The man is young, early twenties. Possibly a student. She just needs to look into his glassy blue eyes to know the weakness of his aura. A perfect victim. It commands the woman buried deep inside to do the talking. She has no choice; she’s a slave to its will. The man smiles and speaks, not noticing or caring about the sand on her brown dress or her emaciated frame. It has a glamor on, and it shields its host from scrutiny.

 

She leads the bewitched man onto the cold beach and under the boardwalk with the promise of cheap sex. When his back is turned, she hits him across the back of his head with a metal pipe and he falls. She suffocates the man and buries him in sand, and then lays down next to him. She can make out the ghostly outline of the Elephantine Colossus; can feel the Bouda’s dead eyes. Eager, ready.

One more night.

Jimmy slinks out of the Stillwell Avenue train station at around noon, black hoodie covering his head. He walks against the cold wind, heads to the boardwalk. Let his aunt call the police, tell them he ran away again. They won’t catch him this time.

This is the night.

He knows he’ll find her tonight. The dreams have led him here, on this day. They’ve even showed him visions of a protector. A Jewish elf. With a mighty crossbow. Jimmy continues to power walk toward the boardwalk, intent on saving his lost mother.

Clock isn’t prepared for the child. He watches from the rooftop. The boy’s been milling around the location since noon. He remembers the face. It’s her son. Of all days. The kid’s presence muddies things up. Clock watches him go walk the length of the beach, dipping under the boardwalk. After some time he walks away from the beach and disappears, much to Clock’s relief. Hours pass. He puts the child out of mind.

At long last, the sun fades and the full moon rises. At midnight Clock does a protection ritual. Then he prepares to step onto the beach.

 

Jimmy hoped to find a trace of her before nightfall, before the sun went down. He hoped that it might be possible even though he knew in his gut it wasn’t true. He knew she would emerge when the sun went down. Jimmy stepped onto the boardwalk in the late afternoon to grab some food then he doubled back onto the beach. There he waits by the fishing pier, watching the boardwalk.

She emerges several minutes after midnight, dragging the corpse along the hard sand. The sharp wind stings her body, and the full moon shines down on the empty beach. The magic of the night is strong. She drags the dead man before the ghostly motel door on the beach. It grows more visible with every passing moment.

Clock waits several moments then jumps onto the sand. He darts underneath the boardwalk with his flashlight. Its territory smells like death. He can hear the thing, and sees it shining brightly even without the aid of the flashlight. It’s mesmerizing. A bright light emanates from the sea glass. Shifting indigo, then emerald rays… images from a prehistoric past rise like smoke from the abalone… the spectral chorus of voices, an indescribable melody transcribed on the ancient whale bone. He has to gather all the will he has to complete his task.

Clock crushes it. The voices shriek. The light dissipates. Clock picks the shattered thing up with a gloved hand.

It feels the Tell being destroyed, and her head snaps around in the direction of the boardwalk.

The ghostly vision of the Bouda stands at the door of the motel. Dark skinned and wiry, bright red eyes that shine out of his skeletal face. The hour is now, and the window of time is small. He needs possession of the body at once. She forces her head away from the boardwalk and drags the corpse further up toward the ethereal door.

“Mom! I know you’re in there somewhere! Fight!”

Her head snaps left. The vessel’s child. The soul of the woman thought to be so thoroughly subjected suddenly kicks and scratches up, trying to seize control. The thing reels.

How was this possible? It realizes in an instant. Fear washes over the ancient creature. It had started to lose control when it shut out the music of its kith…and now that the Tell is destroyed its power on the woman is lessened…

It screams in rage. The phantom at the door begins to shimmer and disappear. The hour is passing…The boy doesn’t see the portal but he steps toward it…

Clock races toward the scene. His vision allows him to see everything. He sees the evil spirit preparing to leap onto the unknowing boy as he backpedals toward it…

Clock aims the crossbow at the child.

The arrow flies and hits the kid in the leg, toppling him before he gets any closer to the portal. Jimmy cries out in pain.

The Bouda at the threshold shrieks. It begins to fade, and the creature fighting for control of the woman’s body makes one last effort to drag the corpse forward. Clock yanks her backwards. She falls to the dirt. Clock takes the shards of the Tell and throws them out into the ocean.

It screams as it gets ripped out of her body, tumbling back into the ocean’s depths.

Jimmy hears the cry, and he sees the elephant hotel and the man in it explode in a bright burst of blue ghost light. He screams. Then he stares at Clock. The beach is black once again. And quiet.

“Jimmy…” his mother’s voice, shaky, uncertain, but not afraid.

“Mom!”

Clock stares at the mother as she stands and walks over to her son. She hugs him.

“Why is there an arrow in your leg?” she asks.

“It’s you…” He points at Clock, ignoring the pain.

Clock stares at him, surprised by his vision. The mother doesn’t notice Clock at all. He ignores the child.

“You’re my Jewish elf…”

Clock stares at him, puzzled.

“Jewish elf? What the hell are you talking about?

The boy screams in pain. Clock jumps back.

“Your yarmulke!” Jimmy cries out between clenched teeth.

“Who are you talking to?” his mom asks, turning around and staring right through Clock.

“Oh this,” Clock says, taking the kufi off his head. He grabs his coonskin hat. Places it on his head.

“Thanks for saving us.”

Clock nods.

“She’ll get better over time. But she’ll need your help.”

Jimmy continues to stare at him, transfixed.

“Um…sorry about the arrow kid.”

“I can see you. They can’t. But I can.”

“Forget you ever did. Take care of your mother.”

Jimmy mutters thank you once more. Then he passes out from the pain.

“Help!!” Jimmy’s mother screams. She stands and cries out, faces away from her son.

Clock walks over to the child and stares at him

“Brave kid,” he says to himself.

He jams the kufi on top of  Jimmy’s head. Then he leaves without another word. She continues to scream for help at the top of her lungs but stops for a moment when she sees the small shadow on the moonlit sand. It moves past her, growing taller with every passing step. It disappears from the beach as the sound of police sirens approach.

Michael Reyes is a writer from Brooklyn. His fiction has appeared in Weird Tales Magazine, Dark Eclipse, 31 More Nights Of Halloween by Rainstorm Press and Twisted Boulevard by Elektrik Milk Bath Press.