The Reading

Author’s Note: Today’s prompt came from an old Furious Fiction post: The last four words had to be: “the clock struck four.” Don’t know why my brain came up with this. But it did. Please do let me know what you think.

A vein throbbed on the forehead of the man seated in front of her, and she smiled innocently in response. The air in her city apartment was thick with the scent of a hundred candles. Crimson drapes hung from the windows on the wall to her right, and the beams of the now-setting sun bled through, creating an orange haze. The woman drummed her fingers on the hardwood table, returning the stare of his bloodshot eyes, the steam from the coffee pot beside them drifting upward, to join the heavy cloud of smoke hanging above them. 

“What’s taking so long?” he grumbled, pulling at the charcoal tie around his neck. He seemed familiar, like a creature from a long-forgotten dream. But the shadows flickering along the lines of his face twisted and distorted his features, and she couldn’t quite place him.

“Do you have somewhere to be?” she asked, her eyes flitting to the busted grandfather clock beside her door. It was hours early. While the sun dipped closer to the horizon outside, it was ten minutes to four in her flat.

The man’s eye twitched, sweat glistened on his brow. She could see he had little faith in her work. But he’d come here for a reason. Perhaps she was his last resort. It was obvious he wanted – no, needed – something. But what?

“Tell me,” she said, her eyes roving his figure, stopping at the timepiece flashing with diamonds on his wrist. “What’s your wife’s name?” He scowled. “I’m only trying to make conversation.”

Tugging the sleeve of his cobalt shirt down, he replied, “I’m not married.”

“Girlfriend?”

“No. And no fiancé, either, before you ask.”

“Children?”

He tensed, for a millisecond, but she noticed. And when he answered, “None,” she recognised the lie written all over his face. And in the shadow that emerged behind him, that grew, and twisted, until it resembled an ungodly being, its claws digging into his shoulders, its wicked grin half-concealed by the blanket of smoke, as it stretched toward the ceiling.

A chill settling on her bones, she reached for his upturned cup, and the saucer it lay on, wriggling it slightly, until it came loose enough to flip. She stole a glance as she turned it over, and her heartbeat quickened. Eyes flying toward the man, she discovered a change within him. His resolve had strengthened. It was then that she realised with the utmost certainty, even in the present dimness, why he seemed so familiar. And while she observed another shining object on his person – a key, perhaps – her mind’s eye saw something different. A party, a frosted cake, her white dress twirling, being dipped in the middle of the dance floor by the man she called hers. Before she could whisper another word, the man was upon her, the face of a dagger catching the light of a hundred candles, and the last thing she heard was a baby’s cry, and a resounding chime, as the clock struck four.

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