"That's where he hanged himself," the sheriff said.
Jake Dowell looked over at the white rope that hung from the high ceiling. He took three quick pictures of the noose from different angles.
"And the wife?" Jake asked.
"He killed her and the two dogs down by the pond. The neighbor who lives across the dirt road found them two days ago."
Jake could tell that the overweight sheriff wanted nothing to do with him. He was used to that. Most people in law enforcement tried to avoid him once they found out he worked for a national tabloid. The few who didn't caused him the most problems.
"How did he kill them?"
"He used an ax."
"Is the ax still here?"
"Look, I'm just supposed to give you the key to the place. No more. I've already said too much. You're on your own from here. Are you still planning on staying the night?"
I really don't have a choice, Jake thought. My readers have come to expect this from me. Jake Dowell writes from the location of the bizarre incidents.
"I'm planning on it."
"You'll need to haul some wood in for the night. It gets mighty cool up here this time of year. Snow flurries are predicted by morning."
"Thanks for the advice. Sheriff, may I ask you one more question?"
"Sure. But make it quick."
"Why is the rope still hanging from the ceiling?"
"The mayor had me put it back up when he heard you were coming. Man, I wish I knew whose strings you pulled to get this approved. Lock up when you leave. Put the keys in the mailbox."
No strings, Jake thought. Just some money. Way less than I thought.
The sheriff handed him the keys then left through the door in the kitchen. Jake took a few more pictures of the rope before heading upstairs. The large open loft contained a single queen-sized bed along with a pair of matching oak dressers. He looked up at one of the small skylights. The stars were already out in full force. Jake took a few more pictures of the rope from above then went back down.
Jake walked back into the kitchen and took a few pictures of the woodstove. The woodstove reminded him of his ninety-year-old grandmothershe still cooked on a woodstove. Jake took two wide shots of the kitchen in an attempt to get almost all of the black-and-white cow ornaments into the picture. He started to count the different types of cow ornaments, but stopped at forty. There were just too many. Jake went over to the fridge and opened it. He half-expected it to moo. It didn't. The fridge, along with the rest of the appliances, was unplugged.
Jake looked out the kitchen window. The dark trees were swaying in the gentle breeze. He closed his eyes, listening, then heard something elsea strange and constant clicking noise. Jake followed the clicks into the living room. He found the source of the clicks hanging above the fireplace. The small silver clock with Roman numerals looked out of the place in the rustic cabin.
Okay, now where is this pond?
Jake walked out to the enclosed porch. The pond was visible with the aid of the moonlight. Jake continued to hear the constant clicking from the silver clock. The clicking seemed to increase in intensity with each passing second. He walked back into the living room and looked up at the rope. The noose was less than a foot away from the silver clock.
Jake felt a headache coming on, no doubt caused by the constant clicking of the clock. He went back into the kitchen, opened the cabin door, and took a deep breath of the fresh northern Minnesota air. He heard the sounds of the trees swaying in the light breeze; he also heard the constant click of the clock from the other room.
I have to get away from the clock, Jake thought. It feels like there's a bomb in my head. Ready to go off at any second....
Jake half-walked, half-ran outside, started up the grass road, and continued to walk until he found himself standing on the neighbor's porch. He knocked twice. The porch light came on a second later. The bright light blinded him for a brief instant. Jake turned away. When he looked back, an elderly woman smiled up at him with crooked teeth. The woman had a small-caliber rifle cradled in her left arm.
"What can I do for you?" the elderly woman asked.
The woman's voice surprised him. He had expected to hear the soothing sounds of a grandmother. Instead, she spoke in a voice that said "lifetime smoker."
"My name is Jake Dowell. I'm a reporter covering the incident across the road. May I ask you a few questions?"
Incident, he thought. I need to come up with a new word, along with a new line of work.
"You look awful young to be a reporter? How old are you?"
"How well can you shoot?"
"How well can you shoot a gun, Mr. Dowell?"
"I used to hunt rabbits as a kid."
"That's good enough for me. If you do me a quick favor, I'll answer all your questions."
"Okay. What do you need me to do?"
"A family of skunks have moved into my barn. I need you to go in there and get rid of them. I'd do it myself, but my eyes aren't what they used to be."
The elderly woman handed him the rifle before he had a chance to reply.
"The barn's over to your left. The motion light will kick in once you get into range. The barn door is unlocked. You'll find a red flashlight hanging on the wall next to the barn door. Good luck."
"What part of the barn do the skunks like to hang out in?"
"Just follow your nose. No need to knock when you're done. I'll be in the kitchen."
Jake sat in the old woman's kitchen. The old woman was in the process of taking an apple pie out of the oven. The smell of the fresh pie reminded him that he hadn't eaten in a while. "How well did you know your neighbors?" he asked.
"I knew the Hamiltons quite well. Cynthia always made a point to stop over whenever they came up for the weekend. Andrew was my marksman before you arrived. And I went over to their place for dinner at least twice a month."
The elderly woman set the pie on the counter, took out a pair of small flowered plates from the cupboard, then came over to the table with two pieces of pie.
"Thanks. You must have read my mind."
"A lot of folks thought Andrew Hamilton might have been the next governor of Minnesota."
Andrew Hamilton never would have been governor, he thought. His years of infidelity hit the papers two days before his death.
"That's basically why I'm here. When did you see them last?"
"I saw them both the night before it happened."
"Why do you think he did it?"
The old woman appeared to ignore his question. She took a few bites of her pie then looked over at the kitchen clock. Jake followed her eyes. The clock on the wall reminded him of the clock in the Hamilton's cabin. Both were similar in size, both had roman numerals. Jake listened intently for the "click click" of the clock, but he only heard the rumblings from the fridge.
"I see you know about the clock," the old woman said.
"Yes, the clock. Cynthia bought the silver clock at an estate sale for a dollar."
"What does the clock have to do with anything?"
"The silver clock has a history, Mr. Dowell."
"What kind of history?"
"The bad kind. The previous owner of the clock killed herself in the bathtub."
"Are you serious?"
"Yes. Christine Johnson used to live just down the road from here. She kept to herself for the most part. Seven months ago, Ms. Johnson put all of her kitchen appliances in the bathtub, turned them all on, then stepped in. You couldn't pay me enough to put that clock up in my kitchen."
I may have a bigger story on my hands than I first thought. I should have brought my tape recorder.
"You know why."
"The clicking sounds?"
"Yes, the clicking noises. Cynthia and I used to sit on her porch and watch the sunset. Everything changed after she brought the clock home. I couldn't go within a hundred feet of their cabin without hearing the 'click click' of the silver clock. I told her on numerous occasions to get rid of the clock, but she never listened. She loved that clock more than her husband."
A casualty of infidelity often does strange things, he thought. I should know.
Jake looked down at his slice of apple pie; he no longer felt like eating.
"Why did you go over there the night of the incident?"
"I heard an awful scream. I should have just called the sheriff, but I decided to check it out for myself. I heard the clicking sound before I saw the cabin. I forced myself to enter. Andrew's body was still swinging from the ceiling. Mr. Dowell, I hate to admit it...but I've read some of your past articles. They remind me of a car wreck."
I know exactly what you mean, he thought. I don't plan on doing this job forever. Times are tough. I have bills to pay.
"One can't help," the old woman continued, "but slow down for a quick peek. Do you want to know what I think?"
"I think the clicking of the clock drove Andrew insane."
"Yes, insane. Andrew Hamilton was a light sleeper. Cynthia told me her husband would wake at the slightest noise. I imagine Andrew had many sleepless nights listening to the click click. Mr. Dowell, are you a light sleeper?"
"Do you plan on spending the night over there?"
"I hope you'll reconsider. Three deaths across the road in the past year are more than enough."
"Three? Who's the third?"
"Kenneth Hamilton killed himself on the grassy road. He had to have been around your age at the time."
"Andrew and Cynthia had no children. Who was Kenneth Hamilton?"
"Kenneth was their nephew. I never cared for him much. He used to throw these wild parties at the cabin. I used to find beer cans, broken bottles of whisky, and other unmentionables the mornings after his parties. He died six months ago. Kenneth made two mistakes that night: he forgot to wear his seatbelt, and he rammed his car into the wrong tree by-"
"His car hit the biggest tree in the area." "I see. How did it happen?"
"Yes, the clock. I believe Kenneth left the cabin in a hurry to avoid the sounds from the clock. I found him the next morning with his head stuck between two branches."
"Did you tell any of this to the authorities?"
"Hell, no. They would have sent me away to some godawful home for the elderly."
"Why are you telling me all of this?"
"I saw the look on your face when you stood on my porch. It reminded me of the look on I saw on Andrew's face the day before he hung himself. Mr. Dowell, do us both a favor. Get back in your car and drive away."
"I can't do that. I need to take a few pictures of the cabin in the daylight."
"You can stay here. I have an extra bedroom."
"Thanks. But, I'm going to pass. My readers expect me to stay the night."
"Are you sure? I won't tell."
"Yes, I'll be fine. And I better get going. I've taken up enough of your time."
Jake stood up and stretched his arms. He felt tired, but his head no longer ached.
"You haven't even touched your pie?"
"I sort of lost my appetite. Good night."
Jake got up from the couch. He stared at the shadow of the hangman's noose for a good ten seconds before making his way over to the fireplace. A few red coals were all that remained of the logs he put in only a few hours ago. He opened the door, shoved another log into the fireplace, watched the log burn for a few seconds, then made his way back to the couch.
The earplugs were earning their keep tonight. Nothing penetrated Jake's pair of deluxe earplugs. Jake closed his eyes and smiled. He felt himself fading off into the land of dreams. He focused his thoughts on a sandy beach in an attempt to control his dream. A beautiful Spanish woman made her way over to him. Make that two beautiful Spanish women. Both of them were smiling at him as they made their way along the sandy shore. He heard the sounds of the waves hitting the beach along with a faint clicking sound. The clicking sounds grew louder with every step the women took. Jake opened his eyes and looked up at the silver clock.
"What the hell is going on?" he asked himself.
Jake turned away from the clock and put a pillow over his exposed ear. The clicking noises continued.
This is ridiculous. So much for the deluxe earplugs. These are going back to the store first thing tomorrow. I think I still have the receipt in the car.
Jake got up and walked over to the clock. The clicking sounds became louder with each step he took. He reached up, took down the silver clock, brought the clock into the kitchen, then set it on the counter. Jake went back into the living room and laid back down on the couch.
Jake closed his eyes and listened for a few seconds. He heard nothing-just the way he liked it. Jake tried to focus his thoughts back to the beach, but he had no luck. An office replaced the beach; two balding male co-workers replaced the women. The pair of co-workers were talking next to the copy machine. A few feet away, Jake typed away on his computer at a furious pace. The clicking of the keys drowned out the other sounds. Jake opened his eyes. The clicking sounds continued.
I'm beginning to see how someone could go crazy in here. I might have to use the clock in the story.
Jake got up, walked into the kitchen, grabbed the clock, and put it in the fridge. He started back towards the couch, but he only made it halfway. The clicking intensified.
"Okay. I've had enough. Playtime is over."
Jake went back into the kitchen, got the clock out of the fridge, opened the door that led outside, then flung the clock into the darkness. The clock landed without a sound. He closed the door, made his way back to the couch, took a seat, and got his breathing back under control.
From the couch, Jake watched the flames. The flames were quiet at first, but one orange flame rose above the other with a click. Then another rose with a click. Jake jumped up from the couch, ran into the kitchen, threw open the door, and stumbled outside.
"Where are you, you little clicker?"
The clicking sounds led him to the clock. The clock was leaning up against a large birch tree. Jake picked up the dented clock and started walking toward the pond. The moon offered more than enough light for him to see. He stopped next to the pond, took a deep breath, then threw the clock into the fire pit. Jake walked back to the cabin, slammed the door shut, then checked every window in the cabin and made sure each was closed. After that, he took a seat on the couch. He looked over at the fire and once again heard the flames clicking.
"What the?" Jake ripped out his earplugs; they fell to the floor with a click. The clicking sounds became unbearable. He ran outside. The clicking increased in intensity. Every step he took sounded like a click; every breath he exhaled sounded like a click; the trees no longer swayed in the windthey clicked.
Jake ran down to the pond, grabbed the clock out of the pile of ashes, and stumbled back to the cabin. He felt the clock throbbing in his hand with every click.
Jake hurried into the living room, opened the fireplace door, and tried to throw the clock into the flamesbut his arms wouldn't cooperate. Jake dropped the clock and rushed back into the kitchen. The clicking sounds continued to get louder.
I can't even think straight. I have to get out of here.
Jake grabbed his car keys, ran back outside, and opened his car door. Jake got no further. He remembered the story of Kenneth Hamilton ramming his car into the treethe biggest tree in the area.
Jake half-ran, half-stumbled up the road. The clicking sounds got louder with every step he took. Jake covered his ears with his hands, took a few more steps, then collapsed in pain. The pain started in his head and made its way to all corners of his body. It felt like a thousand bees were stinging him all at once.
"No! Stop it!"
Jake started to roll back toward the cabin. The pain started to subside, but the clicking noises continued. He got back to his feet, stumbled back to the cabin, opened the cabin door, and went back inside.
Jake made his way back to the living room, picked up the clock, and threw it against the wall. It landed with a click. The clicking became deafening. Jake went over, picked it up again, then threw it against the wall with all his might. The outer glasssurrounding the clockshattered on impact. The clicks intensified. Each shard of glass landed with a click. The whole cabin seemed to resonate with each click.
Jake picked up the clock and went up the stairs three at a time. From the loft, he raised the clock above his head and threw the clock onto the floor with force. The Roman numerals splattered. Each landed with a soft click. Then, everything started to click. Jake heard a loud click every time he blinked; his heart clicked with every beat; every drop of sweat that dripped down his face clicked; the dark shadows clicked with every movement. Jake reached for the rope and pulled it up hand over hand. Each movement of his hands made an awful clicking soundit sounded like a chicken bone being broken in two. He put the noose around his neck, took a step forward, then stopped. His toes hung over the edge.
I have to stop the clicking, he thought. One more step will stop the clicking ... yes ... yes ... stop the clicking....
A loud bang brought him back to his senses. Jake no longer heard the click click of the clockor any other click. He looked down; the old woman smiled up at him, with the rifle in her left hand, the remains of the silver clock in the other. A thin trail of smoke exited the rifle's barrel.
"Like I said earlier," the old woman said. "Three deaths across the road in the past year are more than enough."
The Harrow: Original Works of Fantasy and Horror. ISSN: 1528-4271
The Harrow is published by THE HARROW PRESSSM