A short fiction that falls into the category of mystical realism or maybe fantasy realism, not too sure. Enjoy.
We’ve got a reading nook in our house with a wide burgundy armchair and side table. I sunk into the cold leather lifting the clock that sat beside a stack of books. The craftsmanship was beautiful, mahogany wood cut into a perfect square, a brass ring circling the face, numbers bent into smooth black shapes, and two hands made of thin gold that ticked silently around the face. It might have been a clock fit for a lawyer’s office, or even a rich big shot, except that every number was a twelve. Whoever made it must’ve had quite a sense of humor, one that my grandmother shared because she bought it on the spot at a garage sale.
“What time is it?” yelled Grandma. Her voice funneled down the narrow hallway from the kitchen.
“Five minutes till twelve!” I yelled.
“Ha!” said Grandma.
It never got old for her, but I didn’t quite understand why it was always funny. The clock clonked against the wood table as I put it back. Chi-chi, our grey long haired cat, rubbed her stomach against my calves. I lifted her to my chest, scratching her chin, rubbing her belly, but something outside caught my eye.
The nook had a view of the neighborhood and sauntering down the sidewalk were Tesa and Vero. Vero, the shorter of the two, walked how ballet dancers move, whimsical, but somehow precise. Tesa had her arms wrapped around calculus books. Our eyes met. She wiggled a few fingers to wave hello while still clenching her books. Vero swung her arm up to give a giant hello wave, but my eyes stayed on Tesa. We stared at each other for what seemed like the entire length of the street. She glanced over her shoulder to look at me. Her hair- as brown as the mahogany clock- fanned across her face.
In the kitchen, a red cloth draped the table and at the center was a steaming pot of cabbage and ground beef soup. On either side of the soup were a glass cup, a black bowl, and a spoon. I sat on the bench resting my back against the wall fiddling with my spoon while thinking about Tesa.
“So how was school?” said Grandma making her way to the table.
“Fine,” I thought about Tesa’s hair, her freckles, her smile.
“Well, do I have news for you!” she grabbed the ladle sitting inside the pot, “I had another visitor,” she poured chunks into the bowls, “the masked avenger came by today and boy, did he have some stories.”
She told me about some murder that had happened and how the masked avenger had been asked to solve it for the town. I nodded and smiled. My brows raising with excitement at the appropriate times. I didn’t believe her of course. Her stories were just for fun, and when I was nine, they were the thing I looked forward to after school. But, I’m twelve now, and well, I’m not a kid anymore. I still smile and nod, but I think about more important things, like Tesa for instance. Grandma’s voice cut through my thoughts.
“Arty, you listening?”
“Of course Grandma, he fought off some bandits,” I slurped a spoonful of soup, the steam crept into my nostrils.
“No no no, did you hear that noise?”
I suddenly became aware of my ears. I heard it. A light tapping like someone scratching a plank of wood.
“Probably Chi-chi stuck in the walls again,” I said then, right on cue, Chi-chi hopped onto the table.
We followed the noise from the wall in the kitchen to the living room then up the stairs. A light rapping, it was. The closer we got, the further away it seemed to move. Grandma kept her ear close to the olive green wallpaper. I followed behind holding Chi-chi, her purring tickled my chest. The floors creaked Grandma turned and smiled.
“How exciting! Like a murder mystery without the murder,” she said.
We ended up in the spare room where Grandma kept all our junk: tennis rackets, canoes paddles, a small statue of Zeus, sitting on his throne holding a gold scepter, and, for some reason, an out-of-commission carousel horse. Between the horse and statue was a chest buried beneath a mound of quilts and held inside was the source of all the scratching.
“Maybe it’s a toy or some mechanical thing,” I said.
Grandma moved towards the chest, Chi-chi plopped to the ground as I began helping Grandma move the blankets. We tossed them up and around till it was just us and this wood chest that seemed ancient. Its handles were rusted; Its wood cracked and smelling like wet dirt. The scratching was louder now. I held my breath as Grandma’s hand touched the latch.
For a second I was scared, but I knew at worst it was probably a rat. When the door flung open, I expected something to jump out. When nothing happened, I exhaled. I could hear Grandma scratching her head. It was when we moved closer to peek inside that it sprung out. A giant hand squeezed through the chest opening; Its arm covered in purple wooly fur, its thick fingers grazed the ceiling. I fell backward onto the pile of quilts, but Grandma stood poised like Zeus.
“Grandma.” I wasn’t sure if I was asking a question or just desperate for words. The hand, which reminded me of a gorilla, feeling everything within reach even Grandma. I thought it’d squish her, but to my surprise, its fingers gently caressed her face and hair. It touched her as though she were a delicate dandelion. Grandma’s response was to hand the hand a quilt; It rubbed the blanket between its finger as though it were shopping for fabrics. Then, the hand sunk back into the chest taking the quilt. Grandma began picking up the remaining blankets. I rushed towards the chest glancing inside only to find it empty. I searched behind it, beneath it and all around, but nothing. Grandma had to drag me out of the room and down the stairs.
“Dinner?!” I said, “how can we eat after all that!”
Dinner took longer than usual, I couldn’t stop talking about what had happened. Even as we cleared the table and washed dishes, I couldn’t stop asking questions.
“How can you just act normal! As though nothing happened?” I said. W
We were in the living room now. Grandma shrugged while placing her reading glasses on her nose.
“Happens all the time, you lose something, so you search everywhere,” she said.
“What! I’m not traveling through worlds when I’m sticking my hand behind the sofa looking for the remote.”
“Maybe you are and don’t realize it,” said Grandma plopping down into her armchair. Chi-chi climbed onto her lap, “maybe that’s where lost things go, you know, to other worlds.”
“No Grandma that’s not possible,” I said, a thousand thoughts rushed into my head. Nothing she said made any sense. She knew things and wasn’t telling me, then I thought about the masked avenger, “those stories you tell me, are they all real?”
“Of course, I’d never lie to you,” she turned a page. I felt like she was pretending to read.
“But-but,” I scratched my head and stared out the window into the dark street.
“What time is it?” said Grandma.
Naturally, I looked at the clock on the table and saw the thin gold hands on top of each other touching the twelve, “Midnight,” I said.
Then a curious thing happened, I suddenly got it. I understand why the clock was still so funny to Grandma, and the laughter burst out of me, and I couldn’t stop.