The Fallowing – The Fourth, Part II

by Steppen Sawicki

Novel: Occult Adventure

“Do you have a watch?” Sam asked.

I glared at him.  We were outside the hotel.  We had stepped outside the doors and stopped, not altogether sure of where to go to from there.

“You gave my watch to Gehazi,” I told him.

“Oh yeah.”  He was looking up at the tops of the buildings, at the sky that was pretty clear as far as the sky goes.  I took that as a good sign.

“We’ll have to use the backup.”  He pulled a watch from his pocket.

“You’ve had a watch this whole time and you gave mine away?” I nearly shouted at him.

“Well we needed one in reserve,” he said, almost apologetically.  “And I know this one works.  I wasn’t sure how good yours was.  We need a working one.”

“Mine worked perfectly.”

“I said I’d get you another.  And here we are in Chicago.  You can buy anything here.”

I let my breath out in a huff.  “Anyway, what do you need a watch for?”

“Wherever Atsel uses his watch, residual power resides.  It’ll wreck havoc with any time telling device.  Even a sundial.  If we had no watch we could dowse for him with a pendulum.”

“Which makes me even angrier that you lost my watch.  So we’re just going to walk the whole city with this watch in front of us until it goes haywire?”

“I said he’d have certain apartments he was likely to hole up in.  We’ll check those out first.  But we need to be careful.  It’ll be – ”

“Dangerous.  Yeah, I know.  So how was your shower?”

“Heavenly.  Where should we get breakfast?”

***

We had investigated two other areas when we came to State Street.  Like the other places, State Street was affluent, lined with shops that didn’t look like a rifle hid behind the counter.  Without our packs and bedrolls and sled we got fewer sour looks, but I hardly noticed the ones we did get for our poor fashion sense.  Everywhere there were things for sale, lights, sound, dancing in bars, televisions playing recordings of sports games and old shows.

Not that any of this distracted me from our hunt.

“How many apartments did Cain have?” I asked Sam.

“Five that I know of,” he answered, peering down at the watch in his hand.

“Rents must be atrocious.”

“He didn’t pay rent.”  He sighed and pocketed the watch.  “Nothing here either.”

I scanned the street, looking for anyone suspicious that might be watching us.  I spotted a teenage girl leaning against a window, talking to something between a cellphone and a walkie-talkie.  I was about to ask Sam how much something like that ran when I noticed in the window the girl was leaning against was an array of clocks.

“Remember how you owe me a watch?” I said.

“You won’t let me forget,” Sam moaned.

I grabbed his arm and dragged him towards the shop.

“What now?” he protested.  When he saw the shop he pulled his arm out of my grasp.  “You do know we’re hunting right now?”

“Hunting a thing that messes with clocks.  So what better place to take a break?”  I indicated the timepieces in the window with a wave of a hand.  “Besides,” I added over my shoulder as he followed after, “two watches will be better than one.”

Sam made a noncommittal grunt to that, which I knew I could take as grudging agreement.

The sound of wooden-metallic ticks and tocks surrounded me along with the rush of electric heating as I stepped through the door.  Lining the walls were cuckoo clocks and a couple of larger grandfather clocks.  On the shelves were modern alarm and glass clocks.  The light from the electric lamps on the ceiling shone in their glass faces.  The man behind the counter looked up from the worn paperback in his hands, making to stand and set it aside.  But when he saw our clothes the forming smile fell away and he only nodded greeting and opened up the book again.  Behind him the hands of a line of clocks ticked forward steadily.

I was actually a little let down.  The place was clearly too fancy for us.  Sam owed me a watch but I knew the state of our finances, no matter how much I wanted to show up this guy who was more interested in his book than us.

Still I could window-shop, couldn’t I?  I drifted among the shelves, looking closely at the clocks, glass and chrome and possibly gold and silver.  There were no price tags.

Sam stepped to the counter, where items were displayed under glass.  I heard him ask to see something and the shopkeep harumped and slid open the case.  The tick-tocks drowned out the rest of their conversation, though the tone of the shopkeep whined through, rumbly and annoyed at having to waste time on someone dressed as Sam was.

I looked down at my coat, and my eye was instantly drawn to a tear I had sewn up with a bit of miscolored thread, criss-crosses of bright blue over black.  A stray branch had made that tear, several weeks ago.  I could probably find some black thread to match my coat, sew it more carefully to mask the hole, but I hadn’t thought of doing so until just now.

I snorted at the thought.  What did I care what Chicago thought of me?  What do these people know, who never had to travel or work the cold soil?

Right?

A chime sounded to my left.  I looked around and saw most of the clocks sitting at 4:25.  I followed the chime, a low gentle ringing, and found the culprit.  A clock on the bottom shelf was striking 7:00.

I knelt and examined it.  Flowers were pressed dry behind the glass.  The city probably had entire greenhouses devoted just to flowers, and I didn’t even know what type of flower this one was.  The clock’s gold hands were in the shape of fresh buds.  I touched my finger to the minute hand and dialed it backwards to the correct time.

Sam knelt beside me.  “Don’t mess with the merchandise,” he said low enough for the man not to hear.

I ran a finger over the glass, over a flower petal.  “Okay, so we can’t afford anything here.  I admit it.”

“I never said that.”  He held his hand out between me and the flower clock.  A pocketwatch dangled by its chain from his hand.  I could swear it was gold.

I stared at it before looking at him, one eyebrow raised, silently asking if this were some joke.

“Take it.  It’s yours.”  He tossed it lightly in the air, letting it go.  I yelped as I grabbed for it.

Sam had stood up and was making to leave.

“Sam,” I called as I jumped up.

“Hm?”  He stopped and looked over his shoulder, looking as if he had just handed me a sandwich or stick of firewood and didn’t know why I was stopping him.

I opened my hands and looked at it.  It was gold.  A blue jay in flight was embossed on the cover.  “What is this?” I asked.  I still thought this might be a prank.

“A blue jay,” he said.  “A type of bird.  Made me think of you.”

“That’s not…I know what a blue jay is,” I snapped.  “I also know how much cash we have.”

He shrugged.  “I don’t share all my finances with you.”

I gaped at him for a moment before punching his arm with my free fist.  He cried out and started to complain but I drowned him out.  “You’ve had money all this time?  You’ve had gold all this time?”

“What?  Have we been wanting for something?  You demanded a watch.  If you don’t like it – ”

“I do like it!” I practically shouted.

Sam’s eyes widened.  My cheeks felt hot, and I was angry at him for it.

“I just don’t see why you would give me something so expensive.”

He looked away, scratching the side of his face.  “I said.  It made me think of you.”  His voice faded as he said this, the last word a breath.

Which is how we both noticed the silence.

I looked to the line of clocks beside me.  None of them moved.  The second hands were frozen.  Beyond, past the shelves and the shop window, I could see a couple stopped in motion, one in mid-gesture, hands in air.

My gun was already in hand – automatically – when another figure walked past the shop as if nothing were out of place, as if two people weren’t stock still on the sidewalk.  It passed by the window and on down the street.

I ran after it, Sam shouting after me.  As soon as I was out the door I aimed where the figure had headed.  Everything was dead silence.  People stood like statues on the road, their scarves snaking into the air.  A truck was stopped in the street, vapor from its exhaust pipe frozen in mid-puff.  Nobody and nothing was moving.

Sam burst from the shop, looking around wildly.  “Faye,” he said, “don’t – ”

The voice that come from directly behind me was light and rich, but with something sick hiding deep underneath the surface.

“Now she’s outside the equation.”

I ducked to the ground and brought my gun around and up.