First Thoughts

I suppose it’s somewhat ironic that a homework assignment [for my HTML-programming course] is what’s finally pushing me to start this blog. Before now, the idea was always a maybe, a what-if. Because let’s face it: Any time spent writing a blog entry could also be spent writing stories. For who doesn’t prefer a good story to the blog entry about the admittedly pretty boring life of a math student? In stories, you can make exciting things happen, you can let your imagination go wild and do anything you want to. You can write about places you have never been to and let others read and enjoy your work (although the thought of that is also a little scary). You can be as creative as you want to and even if no one likes what you write, at least you yourself can be proud of what you’ve done. Because as long as you like it, then there is probably some worth to the story. So that is what this blog is going to be for: stories. Stories written by others (book reviews, rants, discussions – that sort of stuff) and stories I’ve written myself.

So, as a first taste, here is a little something I wrote last year. It’s definitely not my best, but it’s the shortest thing I’ve recently written, so I hope you enjoy 😉


The Pocket Watch

The thorns dug into Jasper’s hand. Cursing, he withdrew his arm from the brambles, only to have a spiky tendril slap into his face.

Stupid bush, Jasper thought, kicking a rock to vent his feelings. Stupid town. And most of all, he hated his stupid parents for suddenly having decided that they needed to live in this dump. It hadn’t been his idea to move to some strange new place just as he was about to graduate from middle school. He’d tried to point out that it definitely wasn’t the best plan to change schools now. He’d even told his parents that Henry had offered to let him stay with his family, just until summer break. But had anyone listened to him? Of course not.

His parents were simply too caught up in their own lives, not bothering to think that their son might have one of his own. They only had to see the words “old Victorian style house for sale” to get all excited about restoring something for themselves. Never mind that this so-called “house” – Jasper preferred to think of it as a ruin, if anything at all – was in the middle of nowhere, in a village whose population consisted mainly of superstitious old ladies who spent most of their lives knitting socks or doing their laundry. Never mind that the building itself was in even worse condition than Aunt Tilda’s rotting dog house. At least that still had an intact roof. If Aunt Tilda did decide to get a new dog at some point, it would probably still be able to live in there.

Jasper would have to stay in a hotel before anyone could move into their “home”, which meant that he’d have to wait ages until he got any of his stuff back. Of course, his mom had said that it would only be for a few weeks, but Jasper had lived with his parents all his life. They were prone to exaggerated optimism. The way he saw it, rats would probably have nested in the moving boxes by the time they were taken out of storage. He’d probably have to stay in the hotel until he went to college. Now, if it had been a nice five star hotel with a big screen TV and a refrigerator filled with all kinds of drinks, the kind of hotel Henry always bragged about staying in, Jasper wouldn’t have minded. But their hotel wasn’t like that at all. It looked no different from any of the other houses in town and apart from a bed and desk, there was absolutely nothing in his room. He couldn’t imagine how he’d be able to survive the next few weeks here without dying of boredom.

Jasper kicked at another rock and peered around the hedge, trying to see if his parents were finished yet. However, they were still deeply engrossed in conversation, bobbing their heads like ducks at everything the realtor said.

Jasper turned to leave. Maybe there was something more interesting behind the house. Sure, he doubted it, but it was worth checking out. After all, there was nothing better to do. With a pang of envy, he thought of how his friends were probably all hanging out at Henry’s pool right now, together with Brittany and some of the other popular girls.

“Jasper!”

Jasper reluctantly turned around and started dragging his feet over to his parents. So much for exploring the backyard.

“Oh, there you are, honey,” his mother said. She made it sound as if they had been the ones having had to wait for him. Ever since they had decided to moved here, his parents seemed to be hovering around him even more, as if they didn’t expect him to cope with the emotional stress of leaving his home. That hadn’t stopped them from moving, though.

His mom smoothed his hair back in an utterly embarrassing manner. “Jane was just about to show us around the house.”

Apparently they were on a first name basis with the realtor now. Jasper trudged after his parents, up the moldy steps and onto the cracked wooden porch.

“Jane just told us that this house is said to be haunted.” His dad thumped Jasper on his back, maybe thinking that he’d be able to transfer some of his own enthusiasm to Jasper if he shoved him hard enough. “Apparently, the house burned down with a family inside ‘bout a hundred years ago. They rebuilt it pretty quickly, but a lot of the owners since have died under mysterious circumstances.” He used a voice that Jasper knew his father thought to be extremely creepy, although in reality, it just sounded ridiculous.

Jasper could tell his dad was absolutely thrilled. He loved having something other than old cars to tinker with and the fact that this house had some special history made it all the more exciting for him. As if to echo his thoughts, his father thumped him on the back again.

“Now isn’t that exciting, son?” he boomed.

Jasper glared at him.

The house turned out to be even more of a dump than Jasper had originally thought. The previous owners’ family hadn’t bothered to remove any of their stuff after they’d died and the whole place was completely overcrowded with musty furniture. Everything was covered in cobwebs, dust and what appeared to be dead flies. The water that came out of the ancient tap in the bathroom was a rusty brown and worst of all, the place didn’t even have electricity! His parents immediately got excited about planning where the new lights should go, while Jasper gloomily added another six months to their stay in the hotel.

His parents oohed and ahhed at everything “Jane” showed them. Jasper couldn’t help thinking that the realtor was secretly thrilled to have such idiotic clients. Probably, her company had been waiting to get rid of this dump for years and now they’d finally managed to find some morons who had bought it without even bothering to look at it first. And now that they had actually seen it, they weren’t even asking for their money back, but seemed delighted by the abysmal state the house was in. The realtor was probably laughing herself silly behind their backs. Not that Jasper could blame her. If he didn’t have to live here with them, he might have thought his parents’ nuttiness was hilarious, too. He just hoped his friends never found out what his new house really looked like. In Jasper’s descriptions, it had always been a newly restored Victorian mansion. Henry would have immediately terminated their friendship if he had known the truth.

It took Jasper until dinner to realize that his phone was missing. Maybe that sounded weird – usually Jasper checked it for texts every few minutes. However, reception was so terrible in this place that it wasn’t much use bothering to look. He couldn’t read or answer any messages unless he was back at the hotel and this afternoon, his parents had decided to drag him all over town to “get to know his new home”. So in a way, it was their fault that it had taken him so long to notice its absence.

“Where did you last see it?” His dad pulled his hand out from underneath the car seats. The phone wasn’t there, like Jasper had been trying to tell them for the last five minutes, but of course his father wouldn’t believe him unless he’d checked for himself.

“I don’t know! I already told you that about five times!”

“You must have some idea,” his mother wheedled.  “Just retrace your steps in your m–“

“Mom, I honestly don’t know!” Why couldn’t they listen to him for once?

His mother pursed her lips.

“Well, we’ll just have to ask at all the places we went today,” his dad announced cheerily, clearly enjoying the thought of being peacemaker. “We’ll have to find it eventually.”

But they didn’t. They asked at the restaurant, at every shop in town they’d been to, all to no avail.

“You must have dropped it somewhere at the house,” his father finally said. His forced cheeriness was beginning to show cracks. “We’ll check tomorrow. Your phone won’t run away from us and I want to get to bed. All that driving’s made me pretty darn tired.”

Jasper stared at him. “But I need it now! I haven’t answered my friends’ texts all day! And besides, what if it rains? I might have dropped it outside somewhere. My phone’s gonna be completely ruined!”

“I’m sure your friends will understand if you’re a little busy on your first day and can’t answer them,” his mother supplied. Jasper knew what was happening. His parents were uniting against him, just like always.

“And the weather forecast is good,” his father added. “I doubt it’ll rain tonight. And if your phone does get wet, we can always soak it in rice. I heard that that’ll make it as good as new.”

Jasper glowered at them. “Fine. If you won’t take me, I’ll just go by myself. You can’t force me to stay in this dump without a phone.” He raised his eyes defiantly.

His parents exchanged worried glances.

“Jasper,” his mother’s voice trailed off. “I really don’t think that’s the best idea at the moment.”

“Why not?” Jasper ground his foot against the pavement. “You won’t take me, so why can’t I go by myself! It’s not that far!”

His mother looked at his father.

“Look, honey, we’ll have to start trusting Jasper eventually. He’s right, it’s not far. And there’s hardly anyone about at the moment. I don’t think we have much to worry about.”

Jasper grinned smugly at his mother. He hadn’t expected his dad to side with him, but it was definitely nice.

 “Oh, all right,” his mother snapped in exasperation. “I suppose you can get to know the area a bit more, at least.” Clearly, she’d somehow managed to miss that that was what they had been doing all day. “It’ll make you feel more at home.”

Jasper was sure nothing would ever make him feel at home here, but he didn’t say so. There was no point in getting through to his parents. This was just as it had been when they were discussing their move here. Everyone’s opinion counted but his. He started to stomp off in the direction the house was in. They should at least know that they were in the wrong. If they’d decided to drive him – which wouldn’t take long at all, really – he wouldn’t have to be walking at all. He was getting his phone back. He wouldn’t let his parents cut him off from the rest of civilization completely.

“Take a flashlight with you!” His mother called after him. “It’ll be dark soon!”

It took Jasper almost an hour to reach the house. When he’d left, he’d been certain that he could find his way back, but everything looked so similar here. Little white houses with neat front yards, surrounded by green hedges. Nothing really set the streets apart. He took several wrong turns and was forced to backtrack. Once, to his humiliation, he was forced to ask one of the old knitting-ladies for directions. If he’d had his phone, he would simply have looked the way up on google maps before leaving. But of course, if he’d had his phone, he wouldn’t be going in the first place.

When he finally arrived, the sky was already beginning to darken. Streaks of red and orange stained the horizon. A faint breeze blew in Jasper’s direction, rustling as it brushed over the brambles on its way. The trees behind the house creaked as they swayed back and forth. It sounded almost as if they were moaning. Jasper felt a stab of fear. In the fading light, the grimy black windows of the house looked a lot more menacing than they had before. It was irrational, he knew, but he really didn’t want to enter. He thought of checking in the garden first, but the moaning trees and black shadows didn’t look any more welcoming than the house. Jasper’s imagination had no trouble coming up with all kinds of horrible criminals and murderers that might be lurking there. He decided to enter the house first.

The moldy porch groaned beneath Jasper’s weight as he pulled the door open. Swirls of dust greeted the beam of his flashlight as he stepped into the hallway. Jasper jumped when he thought he saw a dark shape standing in the corner, before realizing that it was only an old coat.

Get a grip, he thought. Henry would laugh himself silly if he saw what a wimp Jasper was being. Still, Jasper couldn’t help thinking about the fact that the realtor had told his parents the house was haunted. Somehow, at dusk, that didn’t seem as implausible as it had earlier.

He snuck through the rooms, leaving a trail of footprints in the dust and jumping every time he heard the slightest noise. He almost had a heart attack when he walked into the master bedroom and saw his reflection in the mirror attached to the enormous wardrobe in there. It was really pathetic. He proceeded as quickly as he dared to. He was more than eager to leave, but he didn’t want to miss anything in his haste, either.

He had almost given up and decided he had probably lost his phone somewhere else after all when Jasper saw it. A small black corner beside the bed in what was to become his room. Reassuring himself that there was no one behind him, he bent down and picked up the phone. Thank goodness. Now he could get out of here. And never come back, if possible. He shoved the phone into his pocket and was about to get back up and leave when something else caught his eye.

It was only about a foot from where his phone had been, lying on the floor next to the bedside cabinet. Jasper stopped and crawled over to it, completely forgetting his wish to leave. It was an old pocket watch, gleaming silver at him, reflecting the light. Unlike everything else in this house, it didn’t seem to be tarnished by rust or covered in cobwebs. It glinted welcomingly at Jasper, beckoning him closer. Jasper couldn’t say what it was that drew him in. He just knew that he was fascinated. As if in a trance, he stretched his hand out and grabbed the chain. The metal felt cold beneath his fingers, much colder than he’d expected. With a shudder, he stuffed the watch into his pocket. He’d better start getting home.

Jasper crept down the stairs and into the hall. His unease was beginning to return and he felt a rush of relief when he had finally pulled the door shut behind him. The rusty hinges creaked and suddenly, Jasper heard a horrifying screech. He didn’t think twice. He took to his heels and bolted, not resting until he’d reached the lobby of the hotel. He didn’t care what Henry would think. He had never heard anything like that scream. Never.

Jasper slept fitfully. He kept waking from dreams in which he walked down dark, cramped hallways which inevitably burst into flames. He clutched the pocket watch in his hand. Somehow, he needed its presence there, even if it’s ticking evaded his dreams, making him even edgier.

When he finally woke in the morning, drenched in sweat, Jasper decided that sleeping in wasn’t an option. He pulled on his clothes from the day before – they weren’t that dirty, he decided – and walked down to the lobby, which also served as a dining room. His parents were already there, talking to a small elderly man whom Jasper knew to be the owner of the hotel.

His mother was the first to notice him and of course, she immediately had to make a fuss over his being up so early. And didn’t his father think that Jasper looked a bit pale? They needled him with questions until Jasper finally snapped. It should be no surprise to them that he was feeling unwell, not after they had forced him to go back to a haunted house, full of screaming people. To his extreme annoyance, the hotel owner burst into laughter at this. When the guy had finally calmed down enough to stop dribbling juice all over his shirt, he decided to inform them that a family of screech owls lived in the yew tree in their new backyard. Jasper had almost wet himself because he had heard an owl. This revelation did nothing to improve Jasper’s mood.

“What’s that, dear?” his mother asked. She’d finally noticed the pocket watch. Jasper had clipped it to one of the loops on his jeans. When he’d tried to leave it behind in his room, an inexplicable feeling of panic had washed over him. Jasper supposed someone might steal it if he left it behind. He told himself that that must be the cause of his uneasiness. So he took the watch with him.

Reluctantly, Jasper explained about finding the watch. He didn’t really want to share it with anyone, but he knew if he didn’t answer, his parents might think he’d stolen it and would take it away from him.

“Can I see it?” Has dad was thrilled, clearly excited about something old he might be able to fiddle around with.

The uncontrolled panic engulfed Jasper again, but he forced himself to ignore it and handed the watch over to his father. It was still attached to his belt loop, after all. And it wasn’t like his father was going to steal it.

His dad turned the watch over in his hands. “Interesting,” he mumbled.

“What’s interesting, dear?” his mother put in. She leaned across the table, suddenly intrigued as well.

“There’s a date engraved on the back. 1839. Maybe this belonged to that family who died in the fire!”

“Honey, why would the watch be in a house that was built after the fire?” His parents exchanged looks again, then eyed Jasper suspiciously. As if it were his fault that they couldn’t decide whom the watch had belonged to.

Jasper ignored them. “Can I have it back now?”

He snatched the watch from his father’s hand and put it in his pocket. Immediately, he felt his anxiety vanish. The ticking of the watch vibrated against his leg, like a second heartbeat added to his own. Jasper felt cold, but he didn’t mind. The watch being there was all that mattered.

A week passed. At first, Jasper had not noticed much about the pocket watch. It was very simple, a silver casing bare of any decoration except the date on the back. It had two simple, black hands that moved in a regular rhythm, pointing to the Roman numerals displayed around the face of the watch. No, nothing about the pocket watch appeared to be anything other than ordinary.

But as the week progressed, he became more and more certain that the watch was not normal. In fact, he had a horrifying feeling that there was something sinister about it. For one thing, Jasper found that he couldn’t, however much he tried, leave the watch behind. Whenever he tried, a feeling of intense panic rose in his chest and he had trouble breathing. He couldn’t take it off, not completely. He’d even taken to showering with the damn thing! It seriously worried him, but he didn’t know what he could do about it. He couldn’t talk to his parents or Henry – that much was clear. His mother would start fussing at once and drag him to see a shrink or something. His father would be delighted to think that his horror stories of their house being haunted seemed to be having an impact on someone. And Henry would laugh himself silly if Jasper told him. If he responded at all. Since Jasper had left, his friends hadn’t really stayed in contact much. A few text in the first few days – that was it. Jasper hated them for it. No, he definitely wouldn’t tell them about this.

Then there were the nightmares. They came every night. Dark corridors, flames and screeches like the ones Jasper had heard that first day at the house. And all the time, that overwhelming sense of terror and dread. The certainty that he was going to die. When he looked down at his hands, they were usually covered in dripping blood. While he slept, the ticking of the pocket watch penetrated his dreams, a sinister rhythm in the background. When he woke, the ticking continued to haunt him. The watch felt cold and heavy in his pocket, weighing him down.

On the seventh day after their move, Jasper’s parents dragged him back to the house. He hadn’t been back, not since that night. He’d stayed at the hotel, telling his parents he had homework to do. However, today, he hadn’t been able to evade them. His mom had decided that Jasper looked pale and wasn’t eating enough, and that some sun and working around the house would be good for him.

With a deepening sense of dread, Jasper walked over the threshold. He could feel the pocket watch thrumming against his leg, almost as if it were eager to be back. The air around Jasper seemed to constrict. The chain of the watch seemed to become heavier and heavier. It was dragging him down, an evil thing trying to drown him. If he didn’t get rid of it, the watch would hurt him, Jasper was sure. Maybe he could return it to where he’d found it. Maybe that was what the watch wanted from him. He had taken it from its home, just like his parents had taken him from his. Maybe, if he returned it to where it belonged, it would finally leave him alone.

With shaking legs, Jasper clambered up the steps to his soon-to-be bedroom. The moldy smell in there seemed to have intensified since his last visit. The moth-eaten curtains billowed from the air coming in through the draughty window. His desperation mounting, Jasper walked over to the bedside cabinet. Everything was covered in dust and cobwebs, showing no sign that the watch had lain there only a week ago.

Jasper pulled the watch from his pocket. The silver glared at him. Jasper’s heart pounded. He put down the watch on the floor, right where he had found it, and tried to walk away, but found that he couldn’t. Something about the seemingly innocent object kept him transfixed. He knew that if he left, something terrible would happen. The flames from his nightmares crept into his mind. The dripping blood on his hands. Suddenly, Jasper was furious. He wouldn’t let this object, this antiquity he hadn’t even wanted in the first place, exert such control over him. He’d destroy it. He’d make sure he was free from its curse at last. He grabbed an old mahogany chest on the cabinet – probably a jewelry case, he thought – and lifted it over his head. The watch gave him a final glare, reflecting Jasper’s eyes, before Jasper brought the chest crashing down, straight into its gleaming face.

***

“And they say his body was completely smashed?”

The town had been buzzing with talk all day, ever since the body had been discovered.

“Completely,” Ms. Trennel confirmed, nodding her head in seriousness. She was known to be the neighborhood’s biggest gossip and she enjoyed living up to that reputation. “Not a whole bone left in his body. S’terrible, isn’t it?” The way she said it, one would have thought she were describing a birthday party.

“And they’re certain it was suicide?”

“Oh, yes.” Ms. Trennel nodded. “Pulled the wardrobe down on himself, apparently. Terrible business. But then again, he was never quite right in the head, they say.”

“You mean that thing about that Brittany girl?”

Ms. Trennel nodded again. “Killed her, didn’t he? They say it was an accident, but I don’t believe it for a second. That kid wasn’t quite right in the head. I could tell, you know? All pale and jumpy. And the parents made sure to hush it all up, didn’t they? Moved right out of town the moment it happened, down to this place. Gave up their jobs to keep the kid out of people’s way. They were terrified of it happening again, see? Guess they never saw this coming. Mind you, I do feel sorry for them. S’not easy to lose a child that way.”

Her companion clutched her handbag, eagerly following the juicy news. “And they don’t know why he did it? No note or anything?”

“No. They didn’t find anything but an old pocket watch. Nice and silver. Vintage. Still in perfect condition. It used to belong to the girl, apparently. The one he killed, you know? Suppose he felt some remorse after all. Or maybe he didn’t. With these cases, you never know, do you?”

Her companion nodded. No, one never knew. Not until it was too late.

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