Clockwork

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
What if you could make you're dreams a reality? Charles is an old man haunted by his past until one event changes his life forever

Submitted: November 20, 2016

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Submitted: November 20, 2016

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Darkness surrounded them but for the car’s headlights. He was driving on a quiet country road. The car picked up speed without him pressing down on the accelerator which made him panic.

‘’Hey slow down a bit Charlie’’ he heard in a whispered tone but when he looked back the car was empty, it was then that he saw a dazzling flash and felt like he was propelled forward. Charles awoke in a cold sweat and was sitting up on his bed in his apartment. The yellow wallpaper had faded to a sad and sickly colour and peeled in every direction. He lied back down on his bed to go back to sleep for as many hours as he could.

He opened his tired eyes to a damp and dreary ceiling. Charles manoeuvred his body as best he could to place his feet on the creaking timber floor. Pushing himself wearily up from the lumpy mattress, an effort which nowadays had taken him far more effort than he could ever comprehend. He was getting older as each sun rises, he thought. He edged toward the stove, and lit the gas placing the saucepan of porridge on it. He glanced out the old dirty window which faced nothing more than the similar brownstone attached buildings the other side of the street. It was barely sunny for a walk in the park but he didn’t want to be late. He grabbed his suit, shirt and pants after eating his breakfast. He pulled his jacket over his stooped shoulders in front of a mirror dotted with specks of stains followed by fumbling his tie with long sluggish fingers. He grabbed his hat off the doorknob and made his way out.

 

The park was small but quaint and didn’t need much maintenance. Charles sat, bowed and bent his gaze fixed on the chessboard in front of him. A light breeze stretched across the city. His hand stretched over his final rook while perceiving the expression of his opponent’s face. He moved it into position. ’’Some people never change’’ James laughed as he lifted his bishop into place to win the game. Charles didn’t laugh or smile merely gathered his pieces for another game. He always chose the black set so he wouldn’t seem racist by having a ’’white versus black’’ game with his closest friend of nearly seventy years.

James counted 87 birthdays and for 80 of those he liked others to call him Sammy. This weekly routine of chess long ago replaced long nights in smoke filled bars. Sammy raised his head alerted to something in the distance,

 

‘’ Hey Evie, stay back from the pond’’ he bellowed to his young granddaughter. She skipped up to her elder and stuck out her hand for more breadcrumbs.

’’More!!’’ he exclaimed, ’’ these ducks have bigger appetites than my wallet can take’’. He lifted a brown bag off the ground and dug down searching for bread. When he handed her a handful of crumbs she skipped happily back to the pond tossing food in every corner.

’’She’s something else’’ Sammy said,

Charles responded with a quizzed face as if he hadn’t noticed what just happened.  ’’Huh’’ he responded, ’’Evie, my grand-daug….’’ he briskly waved away mid-sentence, ’’Never mind, doesn’t matter, you’ve never been too good with kids anyway’’.

A young woman walked energetically up to the two octogenarians ’’Come on Dad we got to go’’. Always in a hurry these days thought Charles, the pair exchanged best wishes before going their separate ways. Strong gusts of wind blew against Charles as he walked home, every step was laboured and small in length.

 

Charles’ gait slowed to a crawl as he noticed his excessive breathing as he entered the small corner shop. The shop-keeper greeted him with a quick nod. He picked up a litre of milk and a loaf before edging towards the local newspaper stand. He slipped his reading glasses out from his suit pocket and clumsily put them on. A gale swept in the open door lifting the corner page of a newspaper resting flat on the bottom shelf. Charles took little notice before glancing a small print advertisement on the lesser known paper with the words ’’A SECOND CHANCE’’. He had seldom broken his shopping routine yet something about this statement intrigued him greatly enough to reach downwards for the lower shelf. He extended his reach until he felt dizzy and lightheaded and all of a sudden. His knees felt like they were buckling under his own weight until the ground came up to meet him. His vision faded as he fell into darkness.

 

He heard the screech of tyres and smelled the country air fill his lungs until it made him sick to his stomach. He knew Sammy was saying something to him in the back seat but a deafening ringing tone filled his eardrums.

’’Charlie, can you hear me?’’, he awoke from his nightmare in an unfamiliar bed staring up at an unfamiliar clean ceiling he looked around confused.

’’You’re in the hospital’’ Sammy whispered. He later explained that Charles likely pushed himself too hard. Sammy pulled a rolled up newspaper out of his jacket pocket and handed it gently to his friend.

’’Shopkeeper said you were holding this so he gave it to you for free, nice gesture’’. Charles unwrapped the paper to reveal the advertisement again.

’’Hey Sam would you mind reading this?’’. Sam toke the paper and read it aloud.

’’ Subjects wanted for experimental new clinical therapy techniques, ever had regrets? Need a change? A SECOND CHANCE’’. Sammy lowered the paper,

’’Didn’t think you bought these things’’ he said.

’’ I don’t’’ answered Charles who was considering what he had just heard in his mind.

’’I think I’d like to go’’ he said,

Sammy didn’t hesitate ’’ Oh it’s just procedure, they keep you here a couple of days that’s all’’.

 ’’No I mean the therapy, I want to go to whatever it is’’ Charles affirmed.

 Sammy stammered, ’’ You know these things just take money out of your pocket at the front door and send you straight out the back’’.

Charles ignored this, not for one moment taking his eyes off the ceiling tiles. Sammy knew this expression, it was no use arguing when Charles had his mind set.

’’This isn’t about what happened….’’ He was interrupted by an indignant Charles who had clinched his fists until they had turned coral pink.

 ’’Alright’’ he surrendered ’’but I’ll come with you just to make sure this isn’t some scam or something’’. Charles turned over in his bed, calming himself until he feel asleep.

 

 

The rain poured down on the cobbles of the dimly lit street. The clock tower in the centre of the town tolled for midnight blissfully unaware of the happenings below its very face. Charles stood underneath the shelter of a doorframe, loading each individual bullet into the handgun. His hand trembled, not knowing was it caused by fear or excitement. He could not tell yet he knew that he would not stop now. The gun was surprisingly light and fit neatly in the palm of his hand. He then realised his hand was different somehow, stronger and less wrinkled. He held his breath while the last ding of the bell rolled out across the town. He counted backwards from five to ensure himself he would go. ’’Five…Four…Three…Two…One…….GO!’’. He expelled his breath as he raced outward into the street. He saw his target not 50 metres down past the clock tower located behind an empty telephone booth. Charles shot out into darkness, seeing his attempt ricochet off the wall far from his opponent. He quickly sought out cover behind a low wall a few paces in front of him but before he got there the other came up from his crouched position behind the booth and fired. This time the bullet didn’t miss its mark striking Charles in his side. Looking down he saw a slow but steady flow of blood stain his shirt followed by a stabbing pain that rushed through his body, forcing him to kneel. His body went numb until he couldn’t keep his eyes open and he fell onto the slick and wet cobbles of the street.

 

He woke up to the sounds of electronic devices working away to his every side. The sympathetic looking nurse came to unhook the needle from his arm while he regained his surroundings. Above them all in the centre of the spherical room was a containment of a bluish substance that ebbed and flowed like water but seemingly held the strength of common steel. It gave off a florescent shade of sky blue that lit the entire room including all those lying on their beds. He traced the substance from the ceiling through to various tubes and pipes until it branched off into the syringes that were hooked up into the patients. He noticed a shape stir in the corner of his eye, the man he had just been shot by sat up to greet him with a wide grin.

’’You almost had me that time too, but you still need a bit more practice’’. Charles smiled back and replied to his friend,

’’I suppose that’s our last round’’. He nudged his body forward toward the edge of the bed. His pivoted himself so that his legs dangled above his shoes.

’’Careful’’ he heard the nurse say, ’’Here let me help you’’.

He shrugged away the offer with a polite gesture, ’’I’m good, Thanks anyway’’ he said.

This place had seem too surreal to exist to Charles not so many weeks ago but he had now grown accustomed to his surroundings. His daily routine of going to the park to play chess were now taken up by visits to this wonderland of unconsciousness. His friend, Sammy, was convinced to attend this institute by Charles. The advertisement in the paper promised an experience that would be life changing. Charles was tempted by this proposition.

The doctor, or the woman who looked like a doctor anyway had explained it with long scientific words that made no sense to either of them. He recalled a few words of how one could control their subconscious mind during sleep with the help of this chemical to do anything and be anything they wanted while dreaming. With skill and practice one can learn to stay in the dream for a significant amount of time, weeks perhaps even years in the dream state. Before they started they were given a notepad with a thick pile of sheets and a place for a signature at the bottom. The doctor had smiled and said that all good things come with terms and conditions, Charles signed followed by a reluctant Sammy who gave a suspicious look at the doctor.

The nurse spoke in a matter of fact tone that showed no sense of emotion as if she were an android, ‘Please sit back as we sent you on your next adventure’. Charles lay back down again and closed his eyes.

He gripped the handlebars of the bike and revved the engine. A spray of sand blew back into the path of Sammy behind as he neared the ramp. The dirt bike’s front wheel ripped through the air. Charles shifted his weight to land the front wheel on the ground but he over extended and sent the bike in a downward trajectory until it hit the landing and sent him lying into the sand. He felt a spasm of pain as he awoke.

’’Sorry about that’’ he heard the nurse say to him,

’’The impulse of feeling pain is so fast it remains for a second or two even after we wake up’’.

He leaned his head on its side to see Sammy stripped up to the drip that contained the pale substance going into his arm. His eyelid fluttered open a he rose while the nurse went to treat others across the room.

’’My god’’ Charles exclaimed ’’it all feels so real’’. They had first thought the idea as being ridiculous and impossible but Charles had deeply hoped that it was somehow real.

The nurse had explained it to them.

’’When we dream we are capable of things our bodies may be incapable of doing, flying, running, going to a place we had never even seen’’. Charles thought back to the dreams he had been having here with joy, something he hadn’t felt in a long while.

’’ When I dream’’, he asked curiously, ’’what age am I?’’, the answer he got gave him sudden relief from a pressure on his shoulders he never really knew existed.

’’Whatever age you want to be’’.

 

The following weeks were filled all kinds of expeditions. They had climbed to the top of Everest together, looking out across the vast and open skies feeling like giants. Another time he had seen the predators and prey of the jungles. In all this time they had gotten to know the rest of the patients a lot better as where they went they followed.

Charles often saw a crippled boy who went to the same dream space with them. It was surprising that the boy looked the same in the dream as he did back in reality only he didn’t have crutches.

’’Richard’’, he introduced himself as he held out a hand. Charles had heard him speak of how he walked with crutches all his life and that he couldn’t do many things other kids his age could do like sports or going out.

’’That’s just the way it is’’ he resigned to say.

Charles had taken a great liking to him as once he got out of his shell. Rather than being shy he was actually confident and energetic while still possessing the dignity of someone of his age. Sammy on the other hand had taken the opportunity to do spontaneous things like jump off sea cliffs or skydive off skyscrapers. Yet he was happy and that was all that really mattered.

Charles awoke from his slumber and searched for his shoes which were out of sight while the nurse was on the other side of the room helping Richard stand up. A man who looked like he was in his late 60’s reached down from his bed to the pair of shoes and positioned them for Charles. ’’Thank you’’ Charles replied to the smiling man with black rimmed glasses. It was only when leaving the room that Charles had noticed that the very man helping him was paralysed from the waist down. It seemed cruelly ironic that all of those in the room who dreamed of great things in their minds were held back by their own bodies in the real world.

He learned in later sessions that the kind man did not share his name with other patients. He preferred to keep to himself. Richard had also taken to calling him the ‘’kind man’’ so the nickname stuck. Charles settled with Sammy, Richard and the kind man more than any of the others in the institute. He felt it was a closely knitted group, almost like they had known each other their entire life.

 

A streetcar’s lights flashed back into his vision as he pulled the steering wheel away. Charles opened his eyes once more to his drab ceiling and felt guilty. He dressed himself, ate, grabbed his coat and left. When he arrived he found the room in a frantic condition with many guards surrounding a man with a scalpel in his hand. Sweat perspirated from his brow while the bags under his eyes made him look tired and sleep deprived. Charles had recognised the man as he often meet him coming out just as he was going.

’’PUT ME BACK!!!’’ he screamed at the scared staff yielding the razor sharp instrument in his hand.

’’Please sir, remain calm and we’ll get you the help you need’’ one of the calmer members of staff replied yet the man clearly did not hear what he wanted to hear.

 ’’I don’t need your help, I just wanna see my wife again, just one more time’’ he began to cry now holding a hand to his face while the other still pointed at the guards.

’’I just wanna wake up and see her again’’ he whispered now holding out his wrist for all them to see. He slashed at his arm with the scalpel sending a spray of blood into the air that cascading onto the floor like raindrops. He dropped the scalpel while the guards rushed to him but it was too late. He was gone.

 

Charles had heard the police talk about the man outside. He was a widower whose wife had died from illness a couple of months ago. He lost his job, his kids and his home after her death and never really recovered. The other patients for the day complained to staff that it might have been the substance that had caused the man to lose it yet they denied this.The scene was cordoned off for the rest of the week.

When Charles had returned he found the blood gone but not forgotten as the room seemed to have fewer people in it today. Sammy, Richard and the kind man were there though which for reassuring for him. The nurse went to the centre of the room to make an announcement to the group.

’’I know what you saw yesterday was unsettling’’ she said. ‘’Feel free to discuss us if you have any questions about the programme, just know that you are safe from any consequences he had’’ she placed considerable emphasis on the ‘’he’’ when referring to the suicidal man.

‘How can you be so sure?’’ Sammy questioned

 ’’He began to think of memories which made him lose sight of what was real and what was not’’ she calmly responded. In all this time Charles had not known they weren’t supposed to use memory for their dreams, he hadn’t even considered what he could do if it were possible, maybe go back and relive some of the happier moments of his life? He pondered and concluded these were too few and far between so he laid his head back and rested.

He pulled with all his might on the ice axe so he could plant the other a few inches ahead. He glanced downward to see Sammy and the kind man, they were further down the rappel than he would have liked as the space between them grew longer as they climbed. Richard was scaling the ice like a fireman climbing the rungs of a ladder, never pausing for breath and only wanting to continue onwards and upwards. When they reached the top they looked out at the sight before them of a calm and deep blue ocean that contain dots they knew were in fact colossal icebergs that were ten times bigger underneath the surface. They stood there for a while in silence until Charles moved his foot onto firmer ground but it slipped beneath his feet. He reached out for Sammy’s hand but it moved away from him as he fell looking up toward the sky. The others rushed away from him until he blinked his eyes and startled. He was back in the room lying on the bed. Charles only felt the rush of the fall, the breeze against his back and nothing else.

The Kind man and Richard left together while Sammy walked Charles home. As they walked Sammy noticed his friend’s stature somehow decaying since they had last spoke. ’’You feeling alright Charlie?’’ he asked. Charles walked on seemingly unaware of the conversation which led Sammy to repeat what he just said. ’’I’m fine, it’s just…..that night’’. Charles noticed Sammy’s eyes filled up with tears a little as he spoke. ’’Yeah I get those nights too but there was nothing we could have done’’. Charles’ face flashed with anger ’’you don’t know that…No one does’’. He walked back home on his own.

 

Dazed, he shook off the pounding in his head to aim his attention at the other car. It had smashed into the trunk of an oak tree, twisted metal was fused with torn bark on the side of the street. Charles opened the door and ran over to the car but was stopped by some force he could not explain even to this day. His legs cemented in their position until they turned and ran back to the car. He put the car into gear to the protest of the girls in the car and drove off, never looking back.

 

The reels of yellow police tape had vanished outside the institute as Charles walked into the building greeted by the same friendly receptionist. The room was empty but for the lying and unconscious figure of Sammy, sleeping peacefully and completely ignorant of what was happening in reality. A sense of unease fell upon Charles as he saw his friend’s eyes flicker under his eyelids as he slept, the nurse claimed rapid eye movement was common during REM sleep. He laid his back against the bed and waited.

 

The steering wheel felt cold under his hands, his gaze fixed on the illuminated road ahead. He realised where he sat and where he really was. His glance went back to Sammy who clearly grasped where they were at that moment in time, his eyes widened toward the bright light shining on him in front. It was the other car. No matter what Charles did the car veered off into the tree. Sammy muttered words that were inaudible to the ears of Charles who was deafened by the sound of the crash. Charles stepped out onto the street, his heart pounding in his chest as he edged closer to the car. His heart skipped a beat when he saw the backdoor open. A skinny leg reached out for the ground followed by a boy of no more than five years of age by his reckoning. Charles felt his head spin until it was so lightheaded that he passed out.

He peered open his eyes to see the Kind man standing menacingly above him never breaking his stare. He squeezed the tubing leading to Charles’ arm which sent a spasm of pain through his entire body.

’’Now you remember me’’. The idea didn’t enter his mind at first until he saw through the glasses the same brown eyes that had stared at him just a few seconds ago while he was asleep.

The Kind man and the boy were one in the same.

Charles struggled for breath trying to say anything at all that would stop him. It was then he saw the syringe in the hand of the man. His feeble hands could not stop him from injecting whatever was in the syringe which made Charles squirm at the thought of it. Charles passed out.

He felt the rough texture of mud and dirt against his cheek when he woke. He was lying down beside Sammy who was unconscious but breathing. When he stood up he saw the kindly man in front of the car. He was weeping until he saw Charles get up. From out of his jacket pocket he held a revolver.

‘’Welcome Charles, did you miss me?’’ he laughed hysterically.

Charles tried to position himself in between the gun and Sammy but the man fired out a shot that struck Charles in the shoulder. Charles felt it and hoped the pain would subside.

‘’You fool’’ Charles winced, ‘’you can’t kill me here, I’ll only wake up’’.

The man still possessed a disturbing smirk on his face. ‘’No, I don’t want to kill you, I only want to hurt you, make you feel the pain I felt’’ he retorted. ‘’That’s fair, you did kill my family and leave me in a wheelchair for the rest of my life’’.

Charles was shocked by what he heard, he knew the other car was driven by a husband and wife from the local newspapers, but not the fact that they had a son. Charles felt the weight of the world fall on his shoulders and a lump in the back of his throat. He deserved this he thought. The Kind man reached into clothing and pulled out a pocket knife. ‘’Now let’s have some fun’’. Coiled like a viper he was about to strike until Sammy tackled him to the ground. The knife dropped beside Charles who desperately reached out for it. The Kind man stood now and went for Charles who reacted by stabbing him in the chest. The Kind man breathed deeply in the ear of Charles who whispered in his ear,

‘’I’m sorry’’.

When they woke they saw the man writhing in his bed. He pulled out a gun that he pointed blankly at Charles. At that moment the guards rushed into the room with guns pointed at the Kind man. He shot at Charles and then was shot dead by the guards. Charles grimaced at the bullet wound in his chest. He knew this pain was real. Sammy ran to be at his side. ‘’It’s going to be ok’’ he assured but Charles saw a bright light in front of him and lost all consciousness.

He opened his eyes wondering where he was, was he in heaven? He looked up at the crash, the tree and his own car. He lifted his hands against his smooth and youthful face. He walked over to his car and drove down the road.

 


© Copyright 2017 Sean Kelly. All rights reserved.

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