It was haunted. It had to be. How else could it be doing what it was doing, stealing her soul bit by bit? Evil. Sadistic.
It was incessant and invasive, convincing her that the world outside was not what it seemed. Pitting her against herself, that was its strategy. Whatever it was that lived inside that clock.
She wasn’t even sure where it came from. Was it there all along; when she’d moved in? Or, did someone sneak into her room under the cloak of darkness and hang it there, on the wall, at the foot of her bed, to stare at her? To taunt her.
With every tik, it stole. Every tok, it erased.
Her mind became mad. Scrambling, unsuccessfully trying to gather it all back like struggling to keep water in her hands. Drip. Drop. Tik. Tok.
“Stop it!” she’d scream, covering her ears as if to prevent the thoughts from melting out.
Then they’d come. The visitors.
They’d console her and tell her it was okay, everything was okay and it was as it should be, as it needed to be. And she would ask them to take the clock away. She would plead for them to make it stop. She would cry and wail and tell them of the anguish hoping they would empathize and smash the goddamn clock.
“Please,” she’d say calming herself. Maybe patience would instill reason and they’d listen. Maybe keeping a level head would convince them that she wasn’t crazy. Trapped in that room where the clock would laugh. Trapped, helpless against its power. How could they not see how powerful it was?
“Please…” she’d repeat softly.
Yet, every morning, every night, every waking minute it would be there. Marching along with its head held high, triumphant and boasting. Winning. Succeeding in its mission to scramble her mind. Its ultimate goal, to encase her completely.
So, she fought back. With all of her might, she would fight back, dead set on exorcising whatever spirit lived in the clock.
She would run. Hide. Escape to a place that never made sense. Where birds spoke words and fire was cool to the touch. Where she could walk across the surface of rivers, peering down to watch as the fish swam under her feet. They were big beautiful fish, every color of the rainbow and she would smile as they swam in perfect unified synchronization. When one moved, the entire school shifted with it. Excellence in their precision. It all seemed so confusing but still, she felt safe. So, she stayed for as long as she could.
She knew it was searching for her though, she could feel it in her bones. That demon, always searching for her, calling her name in the voiceless whispers on the breeze. She needed to get out of the open. Needed to find cover, shelter, where the wind could not transport the beast’s delirium to her ear.
Frantically looking from side to side, she spotted something. A cave, up on the side of a hill. It was high up and she wasn't sure how she would get to it, but she needed to try. The demon was closing in, pulling at her gown.
It took all of her efforts but she finally made it. Scraped up knees and bloodied elbows, but she’d made it out of the reach of evil. For now.
The cave was cool and dank, she could hear water dripping from dangling stalactites. Pointy, jagged spears hanging down above her head as far as she could see. She reached up to touch one. It pricked her finger, bubbling a tiny droplet of blood to the surface.
“Damnit,” she murmured.
“Are you okay?” a voice called out.
Startled, she pushed back, sliding to the sidewall of the cave then squinted to try and see into the dark depths from where the voice had emanated.
“Who...who are you?” she whispered shakily.
“How do I know that?”
There was a pause. “I suppose you don’t. But I believe we have a common enemy, so that must make us friends, or cohorts at the very least.”
“It’s chasing you too?”
“How long have you been here?”
“I come and go, same as you. I’ve seen you, you know? I’ve watched you along the river. You seem to enjoy those fish.”
“They are pretty. We had some when I was a little girl, much smaller of course. They were my father’s, actually. He kept them in a big glass aquarium in his study. I was never supposed to go in there if he wasn’t home, but he was never home and I liked to watch them.”
“Did something happen? To your father’s fish?”
She looked back at him squarely and brought her finger to her lips, cleaning off the coagulated droplet of blood.
“What is this place? How come it cannot find us here?”
“It can. It will. It just takes it a lot longer is all.”
“What does it want?”
“This.” He tapped a finger to her forehead. “It feeds on it. It’s how it lives. Crazy, I know.” His chuckle echoed through the cave. “Like a zombie movie, heh? Braaaainns!”
“Stop that. This is not a joke. How do we kill it?”
“Haven’t figured that part out yet. Not really sure we can.”
“We have to try. There has to be a way. Promise me you’ll try…”
“Sure thing. Tell you what, why don’t you rest a bit. I’ll take first watch and when you wake, we will hash out a plan. Sound good?”
She leaned back against the wall and closed her eyes. “Just for a bit. Don’t let me sleep too long, okay?”
When she felt the jostle of her shoulder she woke with a startle. She wasn’t sure how long she’d been out, but the light was bright. She pinched her eyes closed and that’s when she heard it.
She was back. It had pulled her back. It must have. Damn him for not being vigilant. Maybe he was working with it all along. That was the only explanation. She could no longer trust anyone.
“Ah, you’re awake. Good. Here, take this, it will help.”
His name tag read, Jacob. He placed a pill in her hand along with a glass of water.
“Go on now, take it. I’m not leaving ‘til you do.” He crossed his arms angrily, the clock visible over his left shoulder, ticking and tocking away. They were also working together. Had to be.
She slid the pill between her lips, curling it under her tongue then swallowed and handed the glass back to him.
“Good girl. I’ll take you to the garden in a bit and we can feed the fish. I’ll see if Thomas can join us. Would you like that?”
He turned away from her to place freshly folded, pristine white towels on top of her dresser.
She pulled the slobbered pill from her mouth and quickly tucked it into the crease of her mattress, next to the rest of the week’s doses.
Tik. Tok. She could see it this time, its ghostly face revealing itself, unafraid.
As she stared back at it, it held up a finger with a single droplet of blood at the tip.
“You won’t win. I’ll never let you win.”