The Old Watch
“Nobody knew where it had come from, which great grandfather or distant aunt had owned it before it was given to us,” said the boy, crouching so low that his forehead was a few inches from the floor. Footsteps had dislodged dust from an overhead beam, and it was trickling down, caught visible in a beam of light from the window.
“What the hell are you on about Steve?” said the other, standing behind him with his hands in his pockets.
“That’s how I’ll begin the story of our discovery,” said Steve. “Pretty good, huh?”
“What...” said the other, screwing up his face and letting the starts of responses form and collapse breathlessly on his lips. “What discovery? That thing?”
“It’s a watch,” said Steve, holding it up with his chest swelling with pride. “Look at it.”
“That’s pretty cool, actually,” said the other. He took and examined it, turning it over. It was an old brass thing, as big as his hand. Its surfaces were thick with grime, but its face was unharmed. “Do you know anything about it?”
“Nope,” said Steve. “Hence my starting line. Pretty mysterious, isn’t it?”
“So how do you know it’s from a distant aunt or great grandfather?”
“Well...” Steve paused, frowning. “It’s like, really old. And from this box.” He tapped a cardboard box with his fingers. It was almost bursting from overfilling and covered in a film of dust on top.
“And where’s that box from?”
“My granddad’s old rubbish. He was going to give it to a charity shop.”
“So you decided to hoard it in the loft instead?”
“Oh, come on Pete!” said Steve. “Can’t you get a little excited? It’s so... ominous. That watch.”
“It’s a watch,” said Pete. “I mean, yeah, it’s cool. Could sell for a bit as well.” He turned it over to examine its back. “I saw a bit of that Flog-the-Road-Show-for-Antiques thingy-ma-bob a while back. They said you’ve got to like look for marks and stuff.”
“You can’t sell it!” said Steve, rising up and snatching the watch back. “It’s priceless.”
“How can you have sentimental value for it? You never knew it existed till now!”
“It’s not just sentimental,” said Steve. “It’s... something more. I don’t know. Can’t you feel something emanating from that watch?”
“No,” said Pete.
“It’s kind of cold...” said Steve, staring at the device with fascination. “But warm. At the same time.”
“So like room temperature then? You know, like the temperature it would be without the watch at all.”
“Temperature can’t be reduced to numbers!” said Steve, then frowned. “Shut up, okay, I know it can. But not, like... entirely.” Pete looked at him, squinting his eyes and slightly screwing his nose.
“It is hard to believe that someone can be as stupid as you,” said Pete. “It’s a bloody watch, and nothing but a bloody watch, subtle changes along the x-axis of temperature or not.”
“You’re so closed minded!” cried Steve, standing up and holding the watch to his chest. “This means something to me, okay?”
“Calm down,” said Pete, taking a step backwards as Steve leant forwards. “I’m just using logic and reason. You found an old watch in a cardboard box, not the Holy Grail.”
“This has significance beyond logic and reason,” said Steve. “This is something truly special.”
“Guys!” called a voice from downstairs, and both boys in the loft turned to listen. “Guys! Are there controllers up there or not?”
“Yes,” Pete called back down. “But Steve here’s having a Numinous Experience with an old watch first.”
“Ah...” said the voice, followed by a pause long enough for both Steve and Pete to think he had stopped. “Also, I think you must have had a virus on your laptop Pete.” Pete sighed.
“And why’s that?”
“Well, it’s been doing a lot of odd things.”
“It may have messed up your files a bit.” Pause. “And downloaded some toolbars.” Pause. “And posted some Facebook statuses.” Pete’s groan was so loud it became a shout.
“I’m going to kill you Sam!” he called as he climbed the ladder back onto the landing. “You little shit!” Steve, alone, got out the watch and looked at it, holding it in the beam of light so that it seemed to bathe in the shining sparks of visible dust. He stood for half a minute at least, tilting it so that the areas of light and shadow shifted and he could examine each detail in turn. Then he slipped it into his pocket and went back down the ladder.
“Do the buses even run this late?” said Sam, leaning on the doorframe. The other two boys were sitting on a mottled green sofa staring at a now paused screen. They turned in unison.
“Weren’t you calling your parents for a lift?” asked Pete.
“Yeah,” said Sam. “They said: “You were supposed to call at seven. We’re in bed now, so you can sort yourself out.” Then they hung up. Because they love me that much.”
“Shit,” said Pete. “I was relying on you to get back.” He paused. “How late is it?”
“Ah,” said Sam, stretching out the syllable as he leant back to look at the clock in the next room. “Midnight.”
“Midnight?” exclaimed Pete, panic spreading across his face. “How did it get that late?”
“I know,” said Sam. “I would’ve guessed like nine.”
“I would’ve said midnight,” said Steve, looking pleased with himself.
“I think we’ve got to stay the night,” said Sam, sitting down on a lumpy wooden stool. It was not comfortable.
“Three boys, staying alone in a house when the parents are gone,” said Steve. “Sounds pretty gay.”
“Shut up Steve,” said Pete. “Well, if we’re here to stay, we may as well continue.” Sam picked up his controller, and they continued with the game. Nobody really enjoyed it, as it wasn’t a very good game.
There was a knock on the door. Steve paused the game, and the boys were silent. It was completely dark outside, and no sound could be heard except for the faint buzz of faraway cars. “What was...” began Sam, but he was cut short by another knock, this time a sharp, rapid succession of raps. The boys did nothing. The third knocking was made up of low thumps, sending the door shaking in its frame.
“I think you should go answer it,” said Sam, looking at Steve.
“Why don’t you?” said Steve, eyes wide.
“Your house,” said Sam, and Pete nodded in agreement. “You answer it.” There were more thumps. Steve got up without another word, and walked out into the hallway. He picked every step with care, his arms tense and motionless by his side.
“It’s probably just a locked-out neighbour,” said Pete.
“No,” said Steve, shaking his head. “I think I know.” He could feel the watch in his pocket, rubbing against his leg. He thought he could feel it heat up. He looked at the door, and though it was made of frosted glass it was dark enough outside that he could not make out any shapes on the other side. It was also almost completely dark in the hallway, the only light coming from around the now closed door to the living room, enough that all the bags, shelves and other details were gone. In this way it became a corridor formed of perfect black, a path through the void, the road to the gates of damnation. Steve walked forwards, feeling the door command his legs onwards with no input from his brain. Then he was at the door, his hand on the handle, and the door was opening.
Outside there was a man, and as he was lit only from the streetlights far behind him Steve could make out only a few details: he was tall, wearing a long coat and a hat with a wide brim. “I have little time,” said the man in a voice of gravel and whiskey, “so talk to me straight, boy. I am looking for something of great value.”
“Yes?” said Steve, heart pounding.
“This is important,” said the man. “More important than you could ever know. The fate of this world could lie on what I seek.”
“I think I have it!” said Steve, grinning. The man raised his head slightly
“Show me,” he said. Steve fumbled around in his pocket, withdrew the watch and displayed it with arm outstretched and face full of pride.
“Is that it?” he asked.
“It’s an old watch,” said the man, and though his face was smothered in shadow Steve could sense his confounded squint. “Why would I want an old watch?”
“I... thought...” said Steve, stumbling, his cocky grin collapsing. “It felt... important...” He paused, shaking his head. “What do you want?”
“That!” shouted the man, pointing across to the neighbour’s garden. There, on the grass, sat a small statue of a dragon that looked like it was carved from one massive ruby. The man sprinted towards it, jumped when he was near and grabbed it with both hands. Then space itself split, a great rift of roaring light opening before the man, and Steve could hear the tortured yawn of infinity echoing from within. Then the man was swallowed whole, sucked in before he could hit the ground, and the split closed after him like a pair of lips. There was silence, and Steve closed the door.
“Who was it?” called Pete, opening the living room door and letting light flood the hallway. The void was replaced with bookshelves and discarded bags, the gates to damnation with the front door.
“Some guy,” said Steve, emotionless. “He did some stuff.”
“Yup.” Steve went back into the living room, demanding a change of game. Realising that all of their Play Station Three games were boring, they put on Crash Bash, from the Play Station One, and soon got used to the substandard graphics to enjoy the game play. They went to sleep around four. And all three boys learnt a valuable lesson that day: that high budgets and good graphics, although helpful, do not always make for an enjoyable game. And so they lived happily ever after. Until they died, that is, like all people must; then they did not live at all, never mind happily. But until that day, they led relatively happy and contented lives. Except for Pete, that is, who became an alcoholic after a series of failed marriages. He would die alone at the age of forty two, his body only discovered two months afterwards.
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