In a little cookie-cutter neighborhood in Northern Virginia stands the house that will forever scare me. It’s not haunted, to my knowledge. Nor is it in an unsafe neighborhood. No. This house is more unique than that. For this house, it’s all about the clocks.
You heard me. They’re everywhere. One in every room and they all make noise. Every hour, on the hour, a cacophony of discordant chimes sounds throughout the house, marking that this is the top of the hour. This is not to mention the smaller chirps every quarter hour.
How the owner of the house could ever relax, I’ll never know, but she never failed to point out her “beautiful babies” every time I was invited over. One day, we sat down to have a cup of tea, her little dog running around in circles and jumping. Whether it was in excitement at my arrival or irritation with clocks, I didn’t know.
“My husband and I are going on vacation in Europe. Would you be able to watch Lilly and the house for us?”
My unthinking, overly generous brain answered before I could stop it. “I’d love to. We’ll have a great time, won’t we Lilly?” The dog didn’t answer. She was too busy attempting to battle my shoelace. “Excellent! Come with me. There are some things I want to go over.”
She took me around the house and I was a little horrified to realize the there were even more clocks in the basement. One chimed the quarter hour loudly right above the head of her husband who was ensconced in a leather armchair watching TV. He didn’t seem to notice the sound.
Finally she took me back to the main room where Lilly greeted us with a fit of barking and stood for an eerily long amount of time on her two hind feet. “The last thing you need to know is that Lilly needs to be let out every four hours. Make sure it is no longer than that.” She was intensely serious, so I nodded, figuring the dog was young and just needed to pee a lot. I got the house key from her and left to wait out the couple of days before they left. Aside from the weird clocks, I was actually pretty excited. I would have the whole house to myself for almost two weeks.
On the day that they left for the “Continent” I drove under a cloudless sky to the Clock House, as I had affectionately begun to call it. The pre-July heat was starting to set in and the humidity was thick enough to swim through, but I happily lassoed Lilly into her collar and took her out on a short walk. She seemed happy to see me, albeit confused, and pulled at her leash, trying to chase after every squirrel, bird, and leaf that passed us by.
We spent the rest of the evening happily watching reruns of Criminal Minds and snuggling on the couch. With the TV on, you could almost drown out the chiming from the clocks, so I watch until exhausted then carried Lilly up the stairs to bed.
Another clanging let me know it was now eleven o’clock at night. Long past my bed time. The two of us snuggled into the gigantic sleigh bed, ready to drift off into dream land. There were no large clocks in this room, so the sound might actually be muffled now that the doors were closed. I burrowed deeper into the covers, exhaustion overtaking me.
Just as I felt the film of sleep rushing through and over me, I heard it.
TICK, TICk, TIck, Tick, tick, ticK…
And on and on and on. I sat up, searching for the source of the sound. A small digital clock sat on one nightstand, but that wasn’t making any noise. I turned to my left and blanched in horror.
Not only were there six–count ’em–watches of various types and sizes resting ominously on the nightstand beside me, but there were no less than three analog clocks mounted on the wall. All were slightly out of sync with one another, resulting in a grating TICK, TICk, TIck, Tick, tick, ticK symphony of second hands.
I jammed a pillow over my head in an attempt to drown out the sound. Just when I thought I could stand it, a chime sounded the quarter hour in the distance, bringing the ticking back into sharp relief.
Even Lilly didn’t seem to like it. She paced restlessly on the bed, unable to settle down. Her whole body went rigid at each chime. Occasionally, throughout the next several minutes I would hear a soft growl escape her lips.
A chime signaling the half hour. TICK, TICk, TIck, Tick, tick, ticK. TICK, TICk, TIck, Tick, tick, ticK.
11:45. TICK, TICk, TIck, Tick, tick, ticK.
At 11:59 a low whining growl began to sound from the dog at my feet. I sat up to comfort her, but she skittered away from my hand as if I’d been about to strike her. The thought was obviously abhorrent, but I didn’t want to distress her any further so I pulled my hand away.
I don’t remember the moment the clocks struck midnight very clearly. It was all a blur of impressions that happened so fast it was almost as if it was a dream. First, Lilly’s growl grew to a frightening volume just as all of the clocks in the house began to proclaim the arrival of the witching hour. The sound no longer seemed muffled through the bedroom doors. I could honestly feel the bed frame shaking with the force of the noise.
Lilly began sprinting around the bed in circles, rolling over and jumping as if trying to outrun the sound from the damn clocks. The vibration from the chimes travel up through the bed and into my bones, making my teeth rattle. My brain grew fuzzy and my vision blurred.
The last thing I remember is Lilly barking on the other side of the bed, terrified. When I woke, there was a hand shaking me.
“Wake up, dear. We’re back! Did you have a nice time with Lilly?”
I sat up, disoriented. Lilly was no where in sight, but her owners were. What were they doing back so soon? “I thought you were going to be gone for two weeks. Is everything ok?”
A light chuckle escaped the woman. “Oh dear, time must really fly here when you’re having fun.”
I didn’t know what she was trying to pull, but I was happy to leave after last night, so I gathered all my stuff and headed downstairs. Her husband was standing out in the driveway staring off into the distance as I exited the house. He turned to me when he heard the door shut. His eyes were wide and more awake then I’d ever seen.
“I didn’t realize…everything’s so different….” he trailed off. I assumed he was talking about Europe, but I was still confused as to how they’d gotten there and back in a day. Not knowing what to say, I turned to leave just as the snot-nosed paper boy chucked the day’s news at me. It smacked me square in the chest, so I caught it and glanced down. The headline had something to do with a tragic accident at a firework show and I wondered what dumbass was hosting fireworks shows two weeks before the fourth of July.
Then I saw the date at the top of the page.