A new short story. I wanted to try and write a story that involved a paranormal object. So here it is, but this is not just any old clock...
I think Martha blamed the Grandfather clock standing like a sentinel in the hallway, for all our family's woes. She always walked past it making that clicking noise you get by flicking your tongue against your teeth. It was a sound of annoyance.
She was making that noise now too. She swung her long blonde hair tied back in ponytail, something else she did when she was angry.
She paced the long dining room, only stopping to point at me, in a frustrated, and sometimes openly hostile gesture. I was seated in one of the old armchairs. I had no idea about antique furniture, but I reckoned there was some monetary value in the room.
"We'll have to sell it, there's no point denying it. We can't afford to keep it."
I didn't disagree in principle, but we were in our Grandparents house. And that stood for something in my mind. Or it should have done. Now that they were both gone, and our parents were, well, we didn't know where they were. We hadn’t seen them for years.
Martha stopped pacing, and stood glowering at me, her hands planted on her hips.
"Well? What do you think?"
"I think we should wait until Howard gets here. He'll be able to advise us what our options are."
She started pacing again, but pushing her arms in the air as she spoke.
"Bloody hell, why should we wait for that creepy old bugger? We are quite capable of making a decision aren't we?"
"We are, but a bit of advice wouldn't go amiss…"
She stopped pacing again, flicked her hair once more, and then stood with one hand on one of the expensive looking high-backed dining room chairs, and the other pointing in my general direction.
"Would you really want to live here, after what happened… after what happened to…"
She still struggled to get talk about the multiple disasters that had befallen our family while living in the house. First, when Martha and I were only children, our Aunt Sylvia had taken a tumble down the large staircase. She broke her neck on landing at the bottom. She'd been trying to adjust the Grandfather clock to stop it from chiming so loudly.
Then a few years later, Oliver, our cousin, was apparently messing around with the Grandfather clock. The chandelier that hung from the high hallway ceiling suddenly broke free from it's fixtures, and crashed down on poor Oliver's head, breaking his skull.
"They should have sold the damn place after Oliver…"
Martha sighed, and shook her head, making her ponytail swing wildly.
Our Grandparents had wanted to sell up immediately. Aunt Sylvia was one thing, but after Oliver they were so distraught, they just wanted to move straight away. It was Howard that changed their minds. He was the family lawyer, adviser, and general "go to" man if there was a problem.
I could remember him going back into my childhood. I knew what Martha meant, he was a bit creepy. His hair, alway slicked back, was fully grey, his face was bony and angular, and his piercing blue eyes seemed to be constantly watching - everything.
Martha came and joined me in the living room. She sat by the window on the Chaise-Longue we used to clamber up on as kids, to look out of the large, Victorian bay window.
She gazed out of the window while twirling her necklace between her fingers.
"Why are you so keen on keeping it John? Neither of us can afford it's upkeep."
I flicked through the manilla folder on my lap. It contained a variety of paperwork regarding the house. The latest valuation was there. It was worth a lot of money. But Howard wouldn't like it. And it just didn't feel right.
"You're just after the money Martha. I understand that. But I still don't think we should be so quick to let it go. It's been in the family for generations."
"Bah! Who gives a flying crap about that? History won't pay the bills… Oh, here we go. Creepy Howard is here."
she shook her head, and scowled in my general direction, then walked out into the hallway. And screamed.
I jumped up and ran into the hall. Martha was stood very still staring at Howard. He was standing at the Grandfather clock, checking the time against his pocket watch. He was dressed in his usual black suit, and his hair was still grey and slicked back.
"How… how did you get in?" Martha asked.
"Why, with my key Miss Martha, same as people usually do. Your Grandfather gave me a front door key many years ago."
He looked over at me, and bowed his head slightly. "Good afternoon Master John, how are you?"
He always called us "Miss" and "Master", no matter how many times we told him not to. He was old, but how old was impossible to say. He still stood upright, and he walked with a steady stride.
Howard glanced back at the clock. "Do you know how old that there clock is?"
We both shook our heads. I knew it had been there before we were born.
"It's said that it was created by the workshop of Thomas Tompion way back in the 18th century. Made with finest oak timber the case is, and the time is still as accurate as the day it was made."
"I think the bloody thing is evil Howard, look at the sorrow it has bought to our family," said Martha.
Howard fixed her with his bright blue eyes, and spoke with a low tone.
"Oh, no Miss Martha. That weren't the clock's fault. That came about from folk meddling with it."
I decided to lighten the mood. I beckoned to both of them to walk to the far end of the hall and into the kitchen. "Come on, we'll have a mug of tea. How do you like yours Howard?"
We all sat around the large wooden table in the kitchen. I could imagine it would have been where the servants ate many years ago.
Once we all had a steaming mug of tea, Martha wasted no time.
"We have decided that the house should be sold Howard. John and I can't afford to pay for it's upkeep, and we could do with the money."
Howard watched her over the lip of his mug and he sipped his tea.
"Ain't your decision Miss Martha."
Martha frowned, and sighed. "Who else's decision is it then?"
"It be mine really, I'm the executor of your Grandfather's will."
Howard's west country accent was coming through quite strongly - it always did when he was annoyed.
"Well, you can pay for it then. We can't. It's as simple as that." Martha slammed her mug back on the table.
"It has to be kept by a member of the Grey family Miss Martha. That's the rule."
Howard continued to hold her in his gaze. The Grandfather clock in the hallway chimed as if in agreement with Howard. I glanced at my watch. It was already 4 o'clock. I wanted this to be over quickly, I had things to do.
"How do you mean Howard? Is that what Grandfather's will said?" I asked.
Howard shook his head, "Nope. That's what history says. And you don't want to try and change it. Bad things will happen."
He spoke to me while still holding Martha in his gaze. Martha let out a disbelieving snort. She stood up from the table and began pacing the kitchen floor.
"That's just stupid Howard. I simple don't…"
"That's what your Aunt Sylvia used to say."
She froze, and stared at Howard. "What? What do… what's that supposed to mean?"
"I'm just saying you ought to be careful with them assertions you're throwing around." Howard took another sip of tea.
I was getting irritated. I decided to step in as mediator again. "So what is your advice Howard?"
This time he did look at me before answering. "Make sure you keep the Grey family name on the deeds. You could rent it out, but whatever happens, the deeds must stay…"
"Why Howard? What on earth for? Just because your precious history says so?"
Martha was pacing the floor again. Howard placed his mug carefully back on the table, closed his eyes, and tilted his head back.
"I'm just saying you need to be careful about demanding to sell this house. It was tried once before, many years ago. Would have been in your great Grandfather's possession then. He had a gentleman round who were right for buying it. Then his wife slipped and fell in the back garden. A piece of timber pierced her leg, and she died of blood poisoning."
I heard Howard tell that story before. So had Martha, she snorted again, and started busying herself tidying the kitchen.
"You're a miserable old bugger Howard, you always tell those awful stories. Well, I'm telling you, not asking, telling. Arrange for the house to be sold."
Howard continued to sit with his eyes closed, head tilted towards the ceiling.
The Grandfather clock out in the hallway chimed.
Martha went to move the electric kettle, and froze with her hand on the metal part. She began to shake, and her face turned white. I leapt out of my chair. I'd seen this before, She was suffering an electric shock.
"Let go Martha! Let go!" I yelled. She let out a gargled scream and snatched her hand away. As she did so, her hand landed on the hot plate that we'd used to heat the milk for our coffee. It was still on.
She screamed in pain from the burn.
And then the kettle exploded. Fragments of steel and aluminium shot into her face and body. She collapsed to the floor spurting blood from her face. She lay very still.
The Grandfather clock chimed.
Howard had remained seated, eyes closed. He had raised his arms in a 'v' shape above his head. Then he slowly lowered them back to the table.
I rushed over to where Martha had fallen. She was very still, and bleeding profusely. "Howard! Phone an ambulance, quickly."
He lowered his head, and opened his eyes. He watched me for a moment, so I tried to shock him into action again.
"Howard! The phone. Please call an ambulance! Martha needs…"
"Ain't no point Master John. She's a dead 'un."
I grabbed Martha's arm and tried to feel for a pulse. There was nothing. I tried the side of her neck. Still nothing. I couldn't believe what I'd just witnessed.
Howard was still watching me. "You didn't want to sell the house did you?"
I felt cold. I also felt afraid all of a sudden. I figured it must be shock. "No… No, not really, but we have to…"
Howard stood, and walked over to where Martha lay. I was knelt at her side, my trouser leg getting soaked in her blood.
"I did tell her to mind out what she was saying about selling the house. I did tell her bad things would happen," Howard said.
The Grandfather clock chimed, as though in agreement.