written by: Bruce Rowe
The date on the back of the German-built grandfather clock read 1872 ˗ ironically the same year that grandfather Richards was born. Three weeks ago, its pendulum had stopped keeping time the moment he passed of heart failure.
It loomed eerily next to a broad, ten-tiered maple bookcase in his dust-laden library; the smaller of two libraries that occupied the mansion and his favorite place for solitude. The brass hardware had long since begun to tarnish and rust and the dark lacquer finish was cracking and curling in places like a dried, mosaic riverbed. A small naked child carved out at the base held a bird in its right hand. Posing at the left of the clock was a young girl standing with an outreached arm that extended under the face of the clock holding a vine of flowers. She wore a sheer dress that completely exposed her front. At the top of the clock sat two naked children peering out toward the room also holding flowers.
“You can still smell the stagnant cigar smoke in the air,” said Detreas Richards to her boyfriend, Gerard, as they strolled into the study. She was a long, slender gray-haired woman in her late sixties, dressed in a black, low-cut ruffled silk midi-dress. She carried herself with grace and substance. Gerard was thirty years her younger, well built, and dressed in a gray double-breasted pinstriped suit tailored to accentuate his muscular form. Detreas spared no expense doting on him to secure his faithfulness; at least until the time came that he could no longer sleep next to a piece of shrinking gristle.
“They say it contributed to his heart attack,” Gerard replied fingering dust off the surface of the two pedestal chestnut desk that sat front and center of the massive bookshelf.
“And good riddance, I say; one less beast in this world to terrorize the unfortunate, destitute children.” Detreas placed her calf leather tote bag in the cushioned leather chair that sat behind grandfather’s desk. “Did he honestly think that donating hundreds of thousands of dollars would make his improprieties go unnoticed?”
“It would have eventually come out sooner or later. Fine thing he died when he did. He was getting sloppy as though he hadn’t a care in the world. All we can do now is keep his secret close to the vest. Just think of the financial devastation it would have with the half-wit social workers from the orphanages mounting one lawsuit after another. There would be no inheritance left,” said Gerard, “millions down the drain.”
“And god knows we could use the money.” Detreas turned noticing the clock. “Look at this dreadful thing. It has perv written all over it. I doubt very seriously that it will catch a good price; even refurbished. Have grandpapa’s butler Curtis toss it out along with grandpapa’s clothes. The incinerator can have at it as well.” Detreas walked over to the large pane-glass window and peered out at the well-manicured lawn.
“Most certainly sweetheart,” answered Gerard. “Besides, the damn thing hasn’t keep time for weeks. A waste of money it would be to have it fixed.”
“Where are those siblings of mine?” Detreas said starring down at the long driveway. “I wouldn’t want to keep Samuel, Grandpapa’s trusted Executor of the Will, waiting too long,” she said derisively. “The sooner everything is divided the sooner we can get on the plane to Paris and indulge in some French cuisine.”
“Too bad your mother, ’Grandpapa’s favorite’, died in that plane crash on the way to Rome last year,” Gerard said with a clever smile.
Detreas smiled back at Gerard. “Well of course she was Grandpapa’s favorite, she was his only child, and never believed in marrying to have children; a woman before her time. Grandpapa loved her for that ˗ less hands to dip into his fortune. What a spendthrift she was. So wasteful, flying here and there to buy gaudy antiques for her homes in Africa and Italy.”
The low crackling of tires on gravel came from outside. “Finally, they’re here,” Detreas said as she walked out of the library with Gerard in tow to meet her siblings in the vestibule. The young girl that adorned the clock turned her head to watch them exit the room then turned back to her original position.
Detreas brashly greeted her two younger siblings, Franklin Richards and Carol Richards.
Franklin was the typical hippie with his long, shaggy, brown hair, faded denim jeans with a white long sleeve shirt overlaid in a psychedelic vest and feet in leather-braided sandals from Morocco. Carol, on the other hand, having come straight from her office, wore a black shawl-collar business dress suit and typical high-heels. “Where the hell have you ingrates been? It’s only a two hour drive from Philly.”
“Sis here had to close some big contract with a Texas oil drilling company that’s destroying Mother Nature before she could leave the office and come pick me up,” Franklin said in a condescending tone.
“If you would buy your own car with the money you inherited when ma-ma died, I wouldn’t have to pick you up!” Carol snapped. “We all got equal amounts, but you would rather squander it protesting wars instead of going to college and becoming a contributing member of society. Moreover, not all the protesting in the world will ever make those skunk-smelling cigarettes you smoke legal, Frankie. Grow up!”
“Yes, yes, we can rehash all this later, as usual,” Detreas sighed, “but for now Samuel is waiting in the main library. Shall we?” Detreas asked extending her left arm directing them to the library.
Entering the spacious room, they noticed Samuel sitting behind the broad European styled executive desk with a leather briefcase lying closed in front of him. Four chairs neatly arranged in front of the desk eagerly awaited their occupants. “Shall we begin?” Samuel asked tapping on the briefcase. The siblings took their seats.
“Before there can be a reading of the Will, your grandfather has requested that you stay here one night in an effort to prove to my satisfaction that you have the ability to get along. If you cannot, for one night, go without arguing or attacking one another, there will be no disbursements of any inheritance and you may all be on your merry way…right now if you like.”
“I’ve got nowhere else to be,” said Franklin smiling.
“Do you ever?” Carol croaked, “Unless there’s a protest or a sit-in of some kind?”
“This is absolutely unacceptable!” Detreas yelled rising from her chair. “The old pervert couldn’t keep his hands off children and we complied by keeping our mouths shut. And now the bastard wants to force us into doing something against our will.” Gerard knew better than to open his mouth when the three of them were together in one room.
“Then you are all free to leave,” Samuel said conclusively.
“And where would the money go, if not to us?” Carol asked standing up waving her finger at Samuel.
“If you cannot fulfill your grandfather’s simple request, the contents of this briefcase remain private,” Samuel said standing up revealing the handcuff attached to his left wrist and the handle to the briefcase. “As I said, you are free to leave.”
“Wait, wait, hold on a sec,” Gerard said finally speaking up. “Is it really that hard to get along with one another for one night, especially with what is at stake?”
“But I haven’t a thing to wear for tomorrow and for bed, Gerard,” Detreas said looking over to him.
“It’ll be for one night. You can all be civil to each other over dinner and make a simple, valiant effort to get along.” He then turned to Detreas. “As for not having anything to wear, you can hang your dress up in the closet and wear it again tomorrow. No one will ever know you wore the same dress twice. As for tonight, you know how I like you in bed…”
“Oh for god sake shut your boy-toy up!” Carol said. “He’s about to give me a visual that will take at least three sessions with my physiatrist to erase.”
Franklin snickered, “Please, go on.”
“I repeat, if you all can show me some evidence of civility at dinner, I promise, first thing tomorrow after breakfast there will be a reading of the Will,” Samuel said. “For now, you seem to be proving your grandfather’s point quite well.”
“I’m not up to driving another two hours, so what the hell,” said Carol. “Where’s the brandy?”
During dinner, the three siblings put on pleasant faces for Samuel and reminisced about their childhood: Christmas, Easter, the summer vacations in Fiji, as well as other trips abroad. Those were the happier times, though short lived as they were, until the value of money replaced the value of family. However, there was genuine laughter as they poked fun at each other’s faults and shortcomings.
Curtis began clearing off the elongated dinner table as the siblings mounted the broad staircase that led to the upstairs bedrooms. “How’d ya think it went, sir?”
“Escaping the jovial ridiculing appeared unavoidable but it seems reminiscing about their childhood softened the hatred they’ve had for one another all these years,” said Samuel with a smile.
Curtis placed the last plate on the sterling silver kitchen cart. “Yes sir. The good book says that the Kingdom is made up of children, so it seems fittin’.”
“It’s too bad Mr. Richards didn’t see it that way.” Samuel stood up and cleared his throat. “The dinner was delicious, Curtis. I think I will head off to bed myself. I’ve been dying to get this briefcase off my wrist.”
“Mr. Samuel, there’s a nice guest bedroom right down the hall there,” Curtis said pointing to a doorway at the back of the kitchen. “You’d be more comfortable there than in any bedroom upstairs and sleep much better too I think.”
“Very well…thank you, Curtis.”
The house was silent, except for the low moaning and giggles coming from Detreas and Gerard’s room. Carol covered her head with a pillow and sang ‘This Diamond Ring’ by Gary Lewis and the Playboys to drown out the sounds. After smoking a joint on the balcony of his room, Franklin crashed into a heavy sleep.
Downstairs, Samuel had fallen asleep as soon as his head hit the feather-down pillow.
Curtis sat upright in bed staring straight ahead at a picture of a cross that had stars at all four points. On the left and right side of the cross there appeared to be coffins with stars set above them and bones below. Two white candles burned atop the nightstands by his bed. The leather-bound bible given to him as a Christmas present from Master Richards lay open on his lap. He spoke in a low voice.
“Hic En Spiritum
Sed Non Incorpore
Evokare Lemures De Mortuis
De Angelue Balberith
En Inferno Inremeablis”
He then blew out both candles, closed the bible and set it on one of the nightstands and slid under the covers.
In the small library, the pendulum on grandfather’s clock slowly began to swing but made no ticking sound. It was 12:00am.
An hour later, a pair of small feet mounted the staircase. Slowly, one at a time, the steps gave out a small creaking sound. Carol turned in her bed and the creaking stopped momentarily. After a short span, the creaking came again but quieter.
Carol’s door slowly groaned opened disturbing her sleep. Raising her head from the pillow, she could see a small shadow of a girl standing in the doorway. “Who is it?” she said drowsily. She rubbed her eyes trying to focus. She looked again and the figure was gone. She laid her head back onto the pillow and looked up at the ceiling. There it was again, hovering high above, eyes faintly yellow. It fell on her so fast she didn’t have time to scream. Oddly, she never felt the weight of the figure on her only the long knife entering her chest repeatedly until all went black. The bedroom door slowly groaned closed.
Franklin had left the balcony door open to let in a cool breeze. Being that his room was several rooms down from Detreas and Gerard’s, he was able to leave the bedroom door open without having to endure the sounds of their lovemaking. The breeze flowed over him and out into the corridor. The small figure drifted across to his bed and slipped under the covers at the foot. Franklin moved in response but didn’t wake. The covers slowly rose and fell as the figure moved toward his head. Franklin became aroused feeling soft breast against his chest.
The small shadow of a girl's head peeked through the top of the covers next to his ear and Whispered, “Do you like to pretend like grandfather Richards?”
In a dream-like state, Franklin whispered back, “You know what they say, ‘If they’re old enough to…’” His eyes popped open as he suddenly felt a burning sensation across his throat and the taste of metallic rising in his mouth. He gagged for a moment then suffocated. The figure drifted from the room without disturbing the bedroom door.
Gerard woke thinking he had heard or felt something. He noticed the bedroom door was ajar but thought nothing of it. The moon was shining through the pane glass door that led to the bedroom’s balcony. He looked over and noticed Detreas was sound asleep. He rose naked out of bed and went to take a piss. Walking back to bed, he thought of waking Detreas for another romp. ‘Three times are always a charm’, he thought. He had left her nearly exhausted after the second time and decided against it. ‘Don’t want to give her a heart attack like the old pervert,’ he thought, ‘at least not until I can convince her to marry me’.
He slid back in bed and gave her a kiss on the forehead. It was then he noticed in the moonlight her eyes frozen open in terror. Her mouth was widely ajar as if she was trying to scream. With his heart racing, he jumped out of bed yelling. He ran out of the room and down the hallway to Carol’s room. Busting in, he turned on the light. Seeing her soaked in blood he screamed in horror. He ran further down the hallway to Franklin’s room.
Slamming into Franklin’s bedroom door, Gerard fell sliding across the floor. He felt an object by the bed. Picking it up he noticed it was a carving knife covered in blood. He threw it and quickly crawled over to the bed. As he slowly pulled himself up by the sheets, Franklin’s head rolled off and into his lap. He frantically juggled it then managed to toss it to the side. As he pressed against the bed burying his face in his blood-covered palms, Franklin’s body fell on him. He tried to scream but no sound came forth. All he had witnessed threw him into an extreme distressful state. He had lost the ability to speak and crawled into a corner drawing his body up as tight and secure as he could, sobbing.
The next morning Samuel walked into the kitchen where Curtis was making fried eggs and bacon. Wheat toast was giving off a sweet aroma in the toaster. He noticed the kitchen table was set for two.
“Are the kids not eating with us, Curtis?”
“No sir, I’m afraid not.” Curtis flipped over a fried egg.
“What do you mean?” Samuel asked.
“Well, sir, it seems like Mr. Gerald went on a killin’ frenzy last night. Yes sir, everybody’s dead.”
“What? Why didn’t you wake me? Why didn’t I hear anything?”
“I told you that was a good room for sleepin’.”
“Have you called the cops?” Samuel was becoming frantic.
“Now calm down, sir. They’ve already been here and gone. They took Mr. Gerard to the precinct for questioning. Though good luck with that. When I found him, he was balled up covered in blood crying and shaking like a scared child. Seems murdering ain’t exactly his cup of tea. Cops took the murder weapon too; a long carving knife from this kitchen with his prints all over it.”
“And the kids?” Samuel asked in disbelief.
“The coroner came and picked them up shortly after Mr. Gerard was hauled away. The only one that wasn’t cut on was Ms. Detreas. Looks like she died of a heart attack just like Mr. Richards; eyes bulging till you could see the veins and mouth open wide like she was tryin’ to scream. Just like Master Richards.”
Samuel’s legs began to grow weak. “I’d better sit down.”
“Here ya are, sir. A good breakfast will make you feel lots better.”
After breakfast, Samuel showered and got dressed then had Curtis meet him in the large library.
“There is still the matter of reading the Will.”
“But the kid’s are all dead, sir,” Curtis said confused.
“Yes, I know. Please have a seat,” Samuel said directing him to the only chair in the room.
Samuel clicked open the locks and opened the briefcase. Inside he opened a vanilla folder. He rifled through the pages until finding the one he wanted.
“It says here that, ‘In the event that there remains no surviving family member, the whole of the Estate shall be liquidated along with all furnishing and the monies to be donated among three of the local orphanages with thirty percent of said monies going to my faithful servant, Curtis Barlow.’ Pulling out a single page, Samuel slid it across the desk to Curtis. “If you would sign right here, when I get back to the office I’ll get the paperwork started ASAP.”
“Well I’ll be. Ain’t Mr. Richards just full of surprises?” Curtis said with a wide smile. He signed the paper and slid it back to Samuel who shuffled it back into the folder and closed the briefcase.
“Sorry you won’t be able to stay in the mansion, Curtis,” Samuel said.
“That’s alright, Mr. Samuel, I can buy a nice, comfortable place of my own now.”
As they walked to the front door, Samuel heard a ticking sound. “Is that the old clock in the small library?”
Curtis nodded. “Yes sir, I believe it is.”
“I thought that old grandfather clock was broken.”
“Oh no sir. That clock has a heart all its own. Some days the gears work better than others and you won’t hear a peep out of it,” Curtis said opening the front door.
Standing by the large pane-glass window in the small library, Curtis watched Samuel drive away in his brand new 1962 red Studebaker. After the cast-iron gates closed behind Samuel, Curtis walked over to the library door and began to close it one last time. Looking up at the clock, he saw the four figures of children looking back with frowning expressions on their faces. For a quick second the little girl’s eyes gave a faint yellow glow and a tear rolled down her cheek.
Curtis smiled back as tears filled his eyes. “Don’t worry, children, Curtis’ ole heart has seen too many years. I’ll see you all soon enough in the Kingdom.” Then he closed the door.
He has short stories published at Spillwords, Dastaanworld and Cafelit. His story, ‘The Rider’, was nominated as Publication of the Month in October 2018 as well as ‘Grandfather’s Clock’ as a featured piece at Spillwords. ‘The Lonely Traveler’ received a special mention at Cafelit.
He presently resides in Southern California with his wife Donna.