It was 10:25 when her phone went off: she had one new message.
For the last few weeks Tatiana had been talking with a new guy. Eddy was charming and funny, his two dogs cute as could be, and she had taken a liking to all three of them. He was a little different than her previous boyfriends but she had not yet figured out what that difference was, or where the suspicion came from. She only knew that she loved dogs, and had loved dogs since she was little.
Her family had a dachshund named Sherlock. They named him after the detective because he was an inquisitive puppy, always sniffing his way around the house as if there were something he could sense– trails that only he could see– and his likeness to the famous sleuth was undeniable.
If Holmes were a dog, that is.
The message was from Eddy: he needed a favor. There was a concert in Los Angeles that he would be attending tomorrow, and he was crashing with some friends. He needed someone to care for the dogs. Would she be able to spend the night with the animals?
Of course she would!
He hoped it would not be too much trouble.
It was no trouble at all!
Besides, he said, the dogs were missing her.
She was so excited!
He thanked her and she promised to see him tomorrow, and she did.
It was 7:06 when she arrived at his house. The sun had set and the temperature dropped about as much as it would in this part of Southern California. It was a cool breeze that flowed through the neighborhood, the quiet broken only by the excited barking of the dogs when she walked through the door.
They hugged and chatted, and he showed her how to feed the animals their dinner: one and a half cups of dry kibble each, with a few slices of spiced sausage as an extra incentive to behave while he was away.
Tatiana will take care of you, he assured them. And they would take care of her.
Then they shook on it– Eddy and his dogs– and then he left.
The calm evening was passed with the television on, Tatiana flipping through channels and the dogs approaching the couch every so often to earn a pat on the head.
At 10:31 she stood to stretch her legs and began wandering through the halls of the empty house. The marble floor felt cool on her bare feet, and the curious dogs followed her aimless footsteps.
She had been in the house before, though never alone, and as she explored she began to notice that the artwork on the walls was a bit peculiar, if not downright strange.
It seemed so random, she thought, an eclectic mix of classic paintings and contemporary ads and pictures. In the entrance hung a portrait of Napoleon, gallantly riding his horse into battle, and next to it a man with a moustache enjoyed a Michelob Light. Near the bedroom was a picture of a wizard, composed of the pieces of a framed puzzle, and across the room the Grand Canyon. The bathroom was bland, modern walls of granite and stone, and reminded her of a castle or a dungeon of old. Then she came to the door at the end of the hallway.
She thrust the door open blithely: it was the guest bedroom, clean and tidy, with flower-printed linens and an antique lamp on the bedside table. A large mirror sat on top of the dresser directly across from her, reflecting back her own frame within the doorway, and in the corner stood an ebony grandfather clock.
Immediately the clock captured her attention.
Here was another example of the curious juxtaposition of things old and new, a modern house with peculiar elements of traditions long past, remnants from the time of superstition and sorcery and magic.
She felt the dogs brush against her legs.
These days, it was rare to see a watch, let alone a seven-foot longcase clock. She had friends that could not even tell analog time. Yet here she found herself before a giant clock, solemn in its height and in the reflection of its polished black surface.
It was certainly an antique, and unusual enough on its own. In this house, however, it seemed to fit the theme—whatever that was. And true to form, there was another aspect of the clock that only emphasized its anomalous presence in the corner of the empty room.
It had no hands.
There were the roman numerals, one through twelve, hastily scratched into the dial with what must have been a sharp quill, and the ornate centerpiece featured patterned circles of gold. But she saw no trace of the hour or the minute hands, and the clock could do nothing but stare blankly back at her confusion.
The chains too were missing, and no pendulum swung suspended in the glass cabinet. It was empty, just a thin layer of dust and a hollow wooden chamber.
Suddenly the dogs began to bark. She had been so focused on the clock that she did not even notice their departure, but now she could be sure– they were howling in a frenzy. There was some kind of commotion occurring outside.
And at that moment the clock began to ring. There was no precedent, no chiming of the Westminster Quarters to announce the turning of the hour– and again, no hands to indicate what hour it even was—but she knew enough about these antiques to expect something to come before the brazen chord that now echoed through the halls, the dull tone sinking into the walls and pictures that adorned them, the reverberations settling among the dust in the corners of the cold floors, and then repeating itself again, and again.
She closed the door very deliberately behind her, trying and failing to shut out the disconcerting tolling of the bell, then she rushed toward the backyard.
First she saw the dogs, one barking in rage from the ground and the other running and leaping as high as it could toward the top of the tall stone wall. She could hear scraping claws as the dog tried in vain to climb the partition, totally consumed by its quest to reach the pandemonium on the other side.
Then she saw the head.
Fetid and brown and mounted on the top of what had to be a heavy stick, the large severed head of a calf, with lifeless eyes black as the surrounding night.
It bobbed up and down as the operator– whomever was holding the post– seemed to be waving it rhythmically. There were fires over the fence, and the light of the flames danced across the wall as if in time with the solemn chanting that echoed over the concrete.
Tatiana screamed until her voice cracked but could not find the sense to move or to run. Her feet felt rooted to the spot, as if the sheer madness of what she was witnessing had rendered her legs useless. Her outburst earned the brief attention of the dogs and both turned to look at her, but when she did not move they returned to the furor next door and continued to bark hysterically.
She could think of only one thing to do.
“Hello?” Eddy’s voice was barely audible over the sound of chaos: distorted guitars grinding and drums pounding while an organ wailed and a man– at least she assumed so– was screaming hideously into a microphone.
He was still at the concert.
She screamed into the phone desperately but he could not understand her– the music was too loud!
“Please!” she pleaded. “Please help! There is someone outside! Some lunatics with rakes and fire and a cow’s head on a stick! The dogs are going crazy!”
And then they stopped.
She looked toward the scene but the head was gone and the fires out. Nothing but silence from over the wall, a slight breeze, and the two dogs returned panting mildly as if nothing had happened.
“Please,” she gasped again, wailing in between breaths. “Something is happening… The dogs… the dogs are freaking out!” She grasped the empty air with her free hand.
“There are people over there!” she shouted.
He did not respond.
“Hello?” she called into the phone.
All was quiet on the line. She began to cry.
Then her iPhone blinked: the call was lost, and the silence that followed hung heavy in the still air.
She called to no one in particular, but she did not realize the futility of her question. Her mind had ceased to operate logically.
The events of the past thirty seconds flashed before her eyes in rapid succession. But it was absurd, she thought– it made no sense! She stood amongst the quiet night with the dogs gently licking her fingers as if to further insist nothing had happened and everything would be all right. Then a vibration and the phone broke the silence with an insufferable beeping.
“Eddy?” She nearly dropped the phone in her haste.
His voice did not greet her on the other end of the line; instead, the music returned, but it was not the violent outburst that she had heard moments before. The song had changed and she could hear it as clear as if she were standing there herself.
There were no crashing cymbals, there was no screeching of the guitar, and the song was instead carried by the organ– an ascending scale of four notes, with the last and highest bringing the instruments to full volume again, crawling along and repeating, and each time growing louder. Then the drums entered, beating soft in a slow, steady rhythm, then the bass to amplify the organ.
The vocals returned but not as one voice. The crowd had joined and now contributed to a layered chorus that sounded like a song of praise. But it was not a happy song; the voices were not filled with any type of joy, but of a hypnotic and heavy timbre– an astonishment, as if their own words shocked them.
As the volume increased the weight of the music grew on her, and she felt a mounting pressure to do something, to run or flee or hide. Still she could not find the ability to move from the spot. She yanked the phone from her ear and flailed in desperation, but her distress only worsened when she realized that the sound was not coming from the phone at all.
It was coming from just over the wall.
“Eddy? Are you there?” She yelled into the phone.
There was no response from Eddy, only the same chanting as that from the backyard, now emitting from every direction. The incantation grew louder as the notes ascended, each repetition accompanied by the increase in the drum beat, until a frantic pounding escorted the harrowing chorus, growing louder and louder, over and over until she was finally able to make sense of the message and the meaning of the words became clear to her.
Without thinking the words escaped from her own two lips, an unconscious whisper that seemed drawn from her, seduced, and given to those that already possessed the night.
No sooner had she uttered the words then the phone crashed to the ground– her empty hand still next to her open mouth, her eyes wide with terror at the impaled head menacing once again from atop the garden wall and glowing in the light of the surrounding fires.
Her body followed her phone, a crumpled heap on the concrete, and the ominous chorus continued to seep over the wall, the same sound duplicated by the dying phone that lay idle next to her lifeless body.
When they found her in the morning they identified no apparent cause of death. The testing revealed nothing wrong with her systems of defense, and no evidence of trauma of any kind.
They called it an anomaly.
Then they called it a day, never to discover what had happened to the victim, never to learn why the display on her phone would never work again, its clock forever frozen on a moment in time, her last minute of life, and the instant she has spoken the words that had echoed over the wall through the black and soundless night.
“Satan is Time.”