Chapter Description: Thomas Dean finds something strange inside the clock.
Chapter 3-For Whom The Bell Tolls
“Come with me
And you'll be
In a world of pure imagination
Take a look and you'll see
Into your imagination”
“No seriously,” Tom had repeated himself at least a dozen times, “What’s a Malacus?”
“I think it’s the manufacturer,” Katlynn had said.
“I’ve never heard of a clock company called Malacus”
“So you’re a clock expert now?”
That had shut him up. Tom had grunted and groaned and very likely pulled something getting the giant piece of timber and gears out of the convertible. At half past midnight, he’d probably still be dragging it inside (or more likely abandoned it in the complex’s parking lot) if Katlynn hadn’t thought to tie a couple of old skateboards together using a bungee cord.
Sometimes having a packrat hoarder for a mother came in handy, Tom allowed himself the thought. Then again, he refuted himself, if Mary hadn’t possessed the impulse control of a magpie he wouldn’t have to be lugging a useless clock into his already crowded home.
As Tom and Katlynn pushed and grunted the big broken box of rubbish into the apartment, Mary “Supervised”. A word which here meant pointing and clearing the path of paper plates and unwashed shirts so that the clock could be pushed up against the wall nearest the couch and then going to park her car.
Dinner had been the Elvis Special: Peanut butter, Nuttella and sliced bananas, grilled on a skillet greased with butter flavored PAM. No milk, though. Milk always ran out first at home. Tom hated bananas but the peanut butter and chocolate made up the difference. The bananas were at that critical point where the ratio of yellow peel to brown spots was shifting in the spots’ favor; leaving chunks of the inside slick and slimy like bad pudding skin.
The disgusting yellow fruit had to be eaten, though. They’d been on sale, the Deans were in no position to waste food, and the bananas weren’t going to taste any better come the morning.
“Shopping’s tomorrow,” Katlynn had reminded Mary. Friday Night Bingo. Saturday morning shopping, provided the SNAP updated at the first of the month like it should. If not, it’d be all spaghetti, no sauce, tomorrow.
That had all been hours ago. It was dark now. Dark and quiet. Half past midnight according to the digital alarm clock on the coffee table. Tom lied on the couch that served as his bed tonight. The heap of clothes- maybe dirty, maybe clean...Schrodinger's clothes- were now decidedly dirty.
Tom had tossed them to the floor and the floor meant unclean.
The door to Mary’s room was wide open, as per usual, with Mary’s light kitten-like snoring wafting out into the living room. The door to the spare bedroom that Tom and Katlynn took turns with was closed. His sister was very likely sleeping as well.
Tom needed to be the only one awake right now; needed to know that he was alone in his thoughts.
He laid there on the lumpy couch; springs too shot to squeak. The couch was the kind of broken down comfortable that came more with familiarity and less with design. The cushions didn’t support whomever laid on them as much as they absorbed the body and sucked in their unsuspecting victim.
Feed me, Seymour! Feeeeed me!
Heh...little couch of horrors.
Tom’s back always ached the morning after he’d slept on the couch. He’d often wake up with a crick in his neck that wouldn’t quite go away the entire next day, making him feel like an old man before his time.
It wasn’t any better for Katlynn, he knew, with her constantly needing to stretch and flex her back like a cat that hadn’t gotten enough sleep the morning after she caught twenty winks on the ol’ brown bomber.
The cushions were only part of the problem. The air was hot and humid, too, with the ceiling fan uselessly stirring the air above his head, and adding it’s constant mechanical buzz to the chorus of Mary’s snores.
The spare bedroom had the portable fan in it that Tom could aim right at his head and pass out spread eagle on the mattress. Katlynn was likely doing much the same right now.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
Tom shouldn’t have taken that first shower tonight. He’d worked up quite a sweat pushing the old grandfather clock out of the parking lot and into the apartment. His own body odor was starting to get to him, but a cold shower would have ruined his evening’s plans. A real damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t-situation.
Tom thought about Katlynn and almost wished that the two of them were still small enough, innocent enough, to share a bed again.
The young man didn’t want his sister to be present for this. He had unfinished business to attend to. Clad in baggy basketball shorts and nothing else, Tom stared at the alarm clock, working up his courage.
He really shouldn’t be doing this.
At least the goddamn grandfather clock was well placed. The master and the spare bedroom were catty corner to each other. The giant block of chipped wood, cracked glass, and rusted gears was placed to the right of the couch, blocking the immediate view of either door. He’d be able to hear the Katlynn’s door opening or his mother’s heavy footsteps; giving him time to cover up, roll over to his stomach, and pretend to be asleep.
He really shouldn’t be doing this.
With his left hand, Tom pulled open the front waistband of his redneck PJ’s and slid his right hand in. A rational person wouldn’t be doing this right now. After the humiliation in Math class, no amount of mental images concerning Amanda Monroe should hold enough appeal to him to get his rocks off in the middle of the night.
But what eighteen year old dude was ever rational where sex was involved?
To quote Dr. Horrible: “A Man’s gotta do what man’s gotta do. Don’t plan the plan if you can’t follow through. All that matters is taking matters into your own hands.” Tom stopped singing to himself, even in his head. The Whedon brothers had written some catchy songs and Neil Patric Harris was a treasure, but right now Tom’s musical loving brain and his horniness were at cross purposes.
Focus. Find that right balance between quietly tuning out the world and being alert enough to stop if someone walks in. Take a deep breath. Listen for the sounds of snoring, but not TO the sounds of snoring. Listen to the voices within but also be ready to abort at the sound of voices coming from without.
He really shouldn’t be doing this.
Logically, if he was going to masturbate in the here and now, Tom should have at least relocated into the bathroom.
Sit on the toilet.
Rub one out into a wad of toilet paper, flush it, and pretend he’d taken a huge dump.
But the walls of their bathroom were somehow both very thin and very echoey. Every hum, moan, grunt would be amplified and transmitted out to anyone conscious enough to register. Tom didn’t trust himself not to make noise, so better to rely on the whir of the ceiling fan to cover anything up. Bathroom was closer to Katlynn’s room, too, so it would be more likely to wake her in any event.
Last time he’d tried the bathroom, he’d shaken himself so hard he’d accidentally rattled the toilet tank. Nothing to kill the mood like pounding on the door and shouts of “Are you okay?” and having to think of a quick lie. And unless his fantasy was getting a BJ on the toilet, (it wasn’t), something just didn’t feel right about spreading his cheeks on porcelain while he beat the one eyed monster on hard mode. The smell alone in there should bother him, but Tom had long ago gone nose blind to most things in the apartment that weren’t on his immediate person; kind of like how men’s locker room stopped stinking after a few minutes without fresh air.
He shouldn’t be doing this.
He was, though.
Hand closing around his member, Tom laid back, shut his eyes and thought about what he’d seen that afternoon, and what he’d wanted to see happen instead of what did.
His cock swelled up and engorged itself on blood. Tom was a grower, not a show-er, and he was definitely growing right now. Gripping himself, he played with the pace a little bit with the grip, finding the right balance of rhythm, speed, and tightness around himself. Gotta prep the engine before the motor started running.
Behind his eyelids, he was back in Math class. This time though, no one was around. No Mr. Jordan, or any of the other kids. Just him and Amanda, bent over her desk and wiggling her hips, giving Tom a good peak underneath her cheerleader’s skirt.
The bike shorts were gone this time, replaced with matching colored panties that just barely covered her gorgeous ass. Her gorgeous ass that she was more than willing to let him look at.
From his spot on the couch, Tom thrusted his hips a little bit as he imagined Amanda shaking her butt at him. This time, though, it wasn’t the second nature body movements of a hottie who hadn’t noticed she was being peeped on.
Here it was all on purpose. All for him. Just for him. He shuddered a bit and focused his moan into a breathy sigh instead.
Real Amanda wanted to slap him. Real Amanda probably hated his guts right now, if she thought of him at all. Real Amanda wasn’t here right now. In her place fantasy Amanda looked back over his shoulder and gave him a playful wink.
“Hey, cutie…” she said. Tom didn’t even notice that his lips were moving ever so slightly as Amanda spoke to him, her giggles showing that she was flattered, her low whisper of a voice showing that she was turned on. “Do you like what you see?”
Yeah he did.
No guilt. Not now. Not in this moment. None at all.
From the next row, Cameron leaned out and grinned. “Someone’s enjoying the view,” she said, not a hint of malice or irony in her voice. “I think we can help him enjoy it more.”
Unbidden, Tom’s hand picked up the pace as behind his eyelids, both girls helped him out from his desk and laid him on the classroom floor, unbuckling his pants and marveling at his penis.
The two girls stopped talking to him, and addressed each other, instead. “Math is sooooo boring,” Fantasy Cameron said to her counterpart. Tom was drooling with anticipation, even though he already knew exactly what the two mental constructs were going to say to each other. “Know what would be fun?”
They gave each other a kiss, with imaginary Amanda copping a feel on imaginary Cameron’s boobs. Mean girl had great tits. “That,” Amanda said. Then she looked down at Tom’s throbbing cock. She licked her lips. Meanwhile, on the couch, Tom licked his. “And this…”
She bent over and took him into her mouth. A little bit of pre-ejaculate leaked out in the real world. Tom doubled down and told himself that the slimy sticky stuff was saliva; not his...hers. He took his left hand, less sensitive and less dominant and wormed up the left leg of his pants. In his waking dream, Amanda had reached down and was teasing and tickling his balls while she fellated him.
“Awwww,” Cameron whined. “No room for me.” Then her eyes lit up and a mischievous grin spread out. “Or maybe there is.” She leaned in, lips puckered. Had either of his family members been present, they would have seen Tom on the couch puckering his lips. His right hand shaking like his dick was dice at a high stakes crap table, and his left one playing an invisible piano that was awfully close to his testicles.
They weren’t though. Not as far as Tom was concerned. Tom was miles away.
He savored Cameron’s lips caressing his own while Amanda’s phelated him.
More, Tom thought to himself, willing his subconscious to do his bidding instead of the other way around.
It worked. Cameron broke off the kiss, panting and running her fingers through her pixie cut hair. She looked down at her chest, and then looked up. They both got the same idea at the same time.
Slowly, sensually, while Amanda gobbled his knob and continued shaking her sweet sweet ass, her skirt swishing in the background. Cameron took off her shirt, exposing her perfectly shaped breasts. She wasn’t wearing a bra, because of course she wasn’t. He wanted to touch them, to pinch them, to squeeze them, but for some reason he couldn’t move his hands just then.
He didn’t have to.
“Open up big boy.” Her breasts came at him, one perfectly erect nipple getting ready to pop right into his mouth.
Oh god. Oh god. Oooooooooooh!
Tom yanked both hands out of his pants shivered as he spurted jizz all over the inside of his shorts, his lips curling over his teeth as he clamped his mouth down in a poor attempt to replicate the pressure of a kiss, or the feeling of sucking on a nipple. His fingers curled into the dirty upholstery of the old couch as he soiled himself.
Heartbeat slowing in his chest, Tom inhaled and relaxed as his penis pulsated, erupted, leaked and then lost steam and went limp. The wave of ecstacy was soon replaced with an almost reptilian calm.
But no excitement, either.
It was the emotional equivalent of glass shattering: Big and loud and shocking...then silence...followed by a kind of “now what?” feeling.
And as his cum started to cool and dry and crust over his curlies, Tom’s eyes started to droop. Just like broken glass, just like everything else in this apartment, he could clean it up later. No one would notice.
Time to sleep.
Time to doze and drift.
Tom sat up with a start. The fuck?! He looked around. Had someone seen him jerking off? Someone had seen him jerking off! Mary? Katlynn? Who? What? Had a roach or a rat tipped over a plate? Where had the noise come from? Where?!
Tom swung his legs over the side of the couch the bottoms of his feet coming to rest on dirty clothes. He held his breath and listened.
Nothing but the mechanical hum of the useless ceiling fan. He strained his ears and could still hear Mary’s rhythmic snoring going on unabated.
No sound of a toilet tank refilling or floorboards creaking. Nothing to imply that Katlynn had been out of the room or was awake. He didn’t dare get off the couch to get a better listen.
What time was it anyways? He looked to the coffee table and saw the old digital alarm clock blinking 12:00.
It could be a quarter to one. It could be just before dawn. Either way, Tom was too lazy to bother scrabbling around in the dark looking for the cheap prepaid flip phone to find out for certain.
The noise must have been a dream, the result of an unnecessarily guilty conscience. He hadn’t done anything wrong. It was perfectly natural. If Katlynn saw him masturbating, she’d at least have the good grace to razz him about it privately. Tom smacked his chops a bit and rolled over, burying his face in the back cushions of the couch.
Just a dream.
He wasn’t asleep. He’d barely closed his eyes and counted to three. No sound from the spare room. Mary was still snoring. How had that not woken either of them up? The reverberations lingered a bit this time around, the echo swirling around his head a bit; a catchy ear worm that wouldn’t quite leave his conscious thought alone.
Had he really heard the noise? Or had he just imagined he’d heard it?
Tom closed his eyes again.
The couch rattled that time! Now he was sure of it. Either the rest of his family had become such deep sleepers that they were dead to the world, or he was completely tripping balls as a result of eating stale peanut butter and fermented banana.
At the very least, he was sure of where the sound was coming from. He stood up off the couch, briefly two inches taller thanks to the laundry and felt his way over to the grandfather clock right by the couch.
It had been coming from the clock. Definitely from the clock. Gingerly, Tom began to feel around the side panels of the broken device, the tips of his fingers running along every little cut that had scarred the once smooth and sanded timepiece.
Carefully, he rapped on the sides with his knuckles, hoping that he’d hear some sort of “BONG” sound. If he could replicate the noise that had awoken him, then he could go back to sleep in peace. Perhaps, he theorized, he’d kicked the side of the clock in his sleep knocking some rusty old cog loose till it clanked down and rang against the bell.
(Grandfather clocks had bells in them right? Or was that cuckoo clocks? Maybe it was just the really big ones like in London.)
He knocked lightly and received a surprisingly muffled thump in reply. Barely a sound at all. Practically nothing. Despite how battered the thing looked and felt, it was surprisingly sturdy. It was more like knocking on a solid stone pillar than a hollow wooden box. A sleep kick wouldn’t have done the trick.
Eyes adjusting to the darkness, Tom was better able to make out the shape of the clock. Just like it had in the sunset, the clock had an almost regal silhouette, moreso in the dark. Tom was no more than a food away from it, and he couldn’t make out all the slashes and splinters that he’d felt a moment ago. If he hadn’t known any better, he wouldn’t have thought it was broken at all.
Maybe Mary could sell this thing at her latest Garage Sale if the garage was very very poorly lit.
Squinting as if that would help in the pitch black, Tom mimed his way to the front of the clock. Careful not to cut his fingers on the cracks of the glass panel, (or worse yet break the glass panel any further), Tom’s fingers closed around the little handle on the left side.
The highschool senior hesitated and swallowed hard. Maybe the deep rattling BONG hadn’t come because of movement outside the clock, but because of something moving inside the clock. What if a wild animal, like an owl or a possum had crawled in there before Mary had won it at Bingo and was only now starting to stir in the dead of night?
What if the moment he opened up the glass panel a bat or a racoon launched itself out and clung to its face?
Nah, that was impossible.
Any varmint or critter that had gotten into there would have started stirring way before now, or else would be making some kind of cry or noise of anger and distress. It was possible, Tom conceded, that the clock could be infested with some form of pest or another, but if it was, it was most likely roaches or mice, and they’d be perfectly at home with all the other vermin around the place.
Probably not though. Tom heard no skittering or squeaking from the clock, and any animal in there would have made SOME kind sound.
Maybe not a snake. FUCK! Now he was thinking about snakes. Why was he doing this to himself?!
Slowly, Tom pulled open the panel door hoping to get himself a looksee, ready to duck in case a swarm of bats mysteriously manifested.
Nothing. Not even a sound. Not from the inside the clock. Not even from the cracked glass door. Well how about that? The one hinge in the entire house that didn’t creak or squeak or groan and it was on the broken door of a broken clock.
Was that irony? Tom wasn’t sure, and it probably didn’t fit the strictest of definitions, but Tom thought it worked pretty well.
The door open, Tom leaned forward, his eyes to the floor, hoping to see the loose gear or fallen bell that had woken him up. Nothing. Only blackness inside. No gears. No bells. Nada. Tom waited for his eyes to adjust a bit more, thinking that any moment now, the darkest parts of the interior would present themselves as tiny little gear outlines giving credence to his sleep disturbed theories.
His eyes had dilated as much as they could and there just wasn’t enough light coming from the hollow compartment to take any objects in. Or there were no gears on the floor. Tom started scraping the carpet with his fingers inching ever outward, feeling for where the floor ended, the clock began, and hoping to find a loose piece of scrap in the process and as he did so. It was there, hunkered over, almost on his hands and knees groping around in the darkness, that he felt something.
It wasn’t strong like the blast from the portable fan in the spare room. Nor was it as weak and impotent as the hot and humid air being stirred around by the overhead fan. It was cool, even.
Was that wind? Wind? From inside an old clock? A fucking breeze? No way.
Jerkily, slowly, as if he was afraid he’d stub his fingers or get caught in some ancient mechanism, he leaned his left hand inward.
When he didn’t touch anything, he kept leaning.
He was left shoulder deep stepping into the cabinet and still hadn’t hit gear or bell or the wood back of the clock. Ducking his head, Tom Dean turned sideways and kept going.
Internal Addendum: He was definitely tripping balls now. There was no way this was real. The good news was, having accepted the unreality of the situation, Tom’s fear evaporated completely. No need to be afraid of something that was only in your head.
“Hold your breath,” Tom whispered, grinning. He was probably still on the couch, dreaming this. “Make a wish.” A dozen crab steps sideways and the path was widening out. He squared his shoulders and kept walking straight ahead. In reality, the clock was still sitting next to the couch, broken and busted. But that didn’t stop the little cogs from turning in his brain. This could be fun. “Count to three.”
“ree…ree....reeeeeeeee.” Tom’s voice greeted him back as a cavernous echo. A wish bouncing back from Snow White’s wishing well in perfect pitch.
Beneath his bare feet, wood gave way to well worn stone. Arms stretched out to either side, Tom walked in the dark, the pathway getting slightly wider every few feet. This tunnel, this cave, was getting bigger and bigger the further he went in.
Soon he was unable to touch both walls at the same time. Time to pick one, the other, or neither. Both wasn’t an option. He leaned with his non-dominant hand outstretched, and drew his right hand up in a protective gesture, just in case this dream had any nasty surprises “Guess I’m going left.”
“Eft. eft. Eft. eft.” The cavern echoed his decision.
There were no twists or turns, no forks in the road in this tarry air as far as he could detect. The only choice he’d made was which wall to lean on, but even that decision, that illusion of choice gave him a deep sense of comfort.
Llittle by little, slowly, he began to see light. It was no light at the end of the tunnel; proverbial or otherwise. No bright white life giving light. No yellow sun to power Superman. It was still life, however. As Tom went deeper and deeper into this cave within a clock, (A clave? A cack, maybe?”) light started to ease his aching eyes.
It came in blue. Tiny little flecks at first, just along the cave edges where the floor and the walls met. Then in blotches on the ceiling. To an entire swathe carpeting the ground. All of it glowing bright electric blue and carrying with it an almost earthy aroma. And what it illuminated was huge!
Stalactites hung from a cave ceiling that was at least fifty feet high. Blue covered stalagmites, covered with the glowing stuff justted up from out of the ground and cast Tom’s shadow across the floor. The sound of dripping water and Tom’s own breathing filled the section of cave he was in. Not that it was saying much but this place was bigger than his apartment!
Leaving the safety of the far wall, Tom walked to a nearby stalagmite and took a closer look at the glowing blue stuff. Every foot fall along the electric blue floor made shocks of light ripple out from his steps. Carefully, Tom scooped a swatch of the stuff with two fingers from the nearest rock and perhaps unwisely, took a sniff.
This stuff smelled like pool water...really bad pool water that hadn’t been cleaned. Algae, Tom realized. Glowing algae. This was impossible. Algae like this only glowed in the ocean, far, far away from Scumpton, Georgia.
What was farther away from Scrumpton than his own dreams?
Satisfied with his own explanation, Tom wandered about the glowing cave. Taking in the sights and sounds, he paced along the glowing blue walls, looking for a way to advance. At first there didn’t seem to be one. “Not much of a cave.”
“No way through.”
If that was true, Tom thought, then where was the sound of dripping water coming from? Where was the life’s blood for the electric blue algae coating everything?”
The answer was found on the far wall, behind a stalagmite.“Correction”
The tunnel continued it seemed, though judging by the size of the hole in the rock face, it was almost as small as the passage near the beginning of the clock. Just above, the hole, a name was traced in the algie, fingers scratching it so deep that only bare rock surface remained, the hollow spots forming dull rock colored letters on living electric blue canvas.
It read: “Charles Watson.”
“Huh,” Tom said. “I’m not the only one who’s been here.”
Plip. Plip. Plip. Plop. Plop. Plip. Plip. Plop.
“Dripping,” Tom said to himself.
When you were alone, and no one was around to hear your thoughts, it felt better to speak them aloud. Given enough time, Tom might even attempt to break out into song. The acoustics of this place were so great that even Thomas Dean might be able to carry a tune. Wouldn’t be funny if he were sleepwalking and this was the bathroom, the leaky shower head adding to the soundtrack of his fantasies?
“Ipping, ipping ipping ipping” the cave answered back.
As if taking it for an invitation, Tom stooped down, turned sideways, and plunged back into the darkness.
Plip. Plip. Plop. Plop. Plip. Plip. The dripping got louder and intensified. Tom realized the water was rising up the deeper he went. It was up to his ankles now.
The dripping had stopped, supplanted with a steady growl. The scrawny boy of a man inhaled, the scent of water getting stronger, palpable even. “That means something,” he said. “That means there’s water-”
The scream didn’t even leave his throat before he hit water. Drowning! Drowning! Water over his head! Water pounding down on him. This made no sense! He had been shuffling along, one hand against the wall, and listening for the sound of running water, but then his foot came down on nothing but air and now he was all wet and couldn’t breathe. He hoped this didn’t mean he’d wet the bed in real life.
Strong arms grabbed him by the wrist and pulled Tom upward. Reflexively he gasped, coughing and choking as his body was dragged onto the grass. Eyes blurry from water, he slammed them shut in pain.
LIGHT! SUNLIGHT! Sunlight blaring down on his poor eyes even though it couldn’t have been dawn just yet!
He vomited up some water onto the grass beneath him. When his vision cleared, he stared out all around him. Instead of a cave, he was now surrounded by trees, a lush endless forest. The kind that only still existed in storybooks.
“Where in the hell am I?” Tom heard himself say, his voice disappearing into the endless forest in front of him.
From his spot on the ground, Tom heard and felt hoofbeats. He looked up. Standing over him on four powerful horse like hooves but with an upper torso of a body builder, stood a centaur, its...his arm hair still damp from where he’d dragged the boy out of the water.
“Malacus, M’lord,” The centaur said. “You’re in Malacus. And we’ve been waiting for ye.”