at One o'clock
by Kenneth J. Crist
"I really can't find anything wrong with the clock, Mr.
Bascombe," the man at the Tick Tock Doc said, "it seems to work fine
whenever it's here. Just make sure you hang it perfectly level." He smiled
at me and added, "No charge this time."
My friend Billy had brought me the clock a few weeks before
his death on
Christmas day, 2011, and this was the third trip to the repair shop. I didn't
yet realize what was going on, but I was starting to get a glimmer.
Billy was one of my good friends. I
wouldn't go so far as to say that he
was my best friend, but in my small
circle of friends, he was right up there near the top. We had been policemen
together, in the old days, when they still let you be a cop, rather than a
social worker. We both retired from the police department and took other jobs
to make up the difference, until we were ready to really retire. We shared an
interest in motorcycles and we had
ridden through all forty-eight of the lower states, at one time or another, and
we had done Canada, too. Twice.
It made me pretty sad when I
found out Billy was dying. He called me one day in April and of course, he
didn't say, "Harry, I'm dying.", or anything dramatic like that. He
just said he'd been diagnosed with cancer and it was already in his liver,
stomach, chest and lymph nodes. In other words, he was dying.
He took the chemotherapy and he
had good weeks and bad weeks. He was vulnerable to a lot of secondary infections,
a touch of flu here, a cold there, and they all took their toll.
During the time he was sick, I saw Billy
a lot. More than usual, actually.
I'd go over to his place and just sit with him, and we'd talk. Usually just
small talk and talking about where we'd ride to, when he got well. We both knew
it was all a load of crap, but we still did it. One thing about him, he never
lost his sense of humor, or his ready smile. He thought it somewhat funny that
he'd been a motor cop for so many years, had done so much dangerous riding, and
now he was most likely going to die in bed.
One day, about six weeks before
he died, we talked about death and what happens and where you go. Billy
believed in an afterlife, not the standard Heaven and Hell stuff of religion,
but something entirely different. Billy believed that this life on Earth was
like the middle stage in the life of a butterfly, just a phase we have to go
through to get to our final stage, and that death was just a transition. Or
maybe he was just whistling past the graveyard. Anyway, that was what I thought
then. As for myself, I didn't have much in the way of beliefs, so I was pretty
Anyway, at some point, probably quite
a few beers into a thoroughly
maudlin evening, Billy and I made a pact. He told me that after he died, he
would let me know if there was anything over there. He said he would come back,
if he could, or send word, or give me a sign, if nothing else. I went along
with this more to humor him than anything and of course, he also made the
stipulation that if I preceded him in death, I would do the same for him. Well,
it could happen. I ride motorcycles a lot and you never know.
About three weeks before he died, Billy
stopped by my place and gave me
the old German clock. It had hung above his fireplace mantel for years. I had
always admired it, as much for its simplicity as for its beauty and he wanted
me to have it. In a lot of ways, it was a strange clock.
Billy was kind of a collector of clocks
and he had bought this one at a
garage sale for eighty bucks from somebody who had no idea what it was worth.
Like I say, it was old. So old, in fact, that its interior works were all held
together with tapered steel pins, driven into holes in the rod stock that the
gears were mounted on. No screws. No bolts. Just those pins. The case was of
oak and it had three bevel-glass windows in the lower half, to show the brass
pendulum. It had two winding holes, one for the clock itself and one for the
single chime, that struck the hour and half-hour.
It also had no manufacturer's marks.
No numbers, letters, or dates.
Nothing. Billy had taken it to a clock repair place, and they told him who made
it and about what year, but I've forgotten all that, if I ever even knew.
I hung the clock in my living room and
kept it wound and learned to enjoy
its deep, rich tone when it would chime the hour.
Billy died on Christmas Day, at one
in the morning. His wife and two of
his kids were there with him and they say he went peacefully. I was glad of
that, anyway. It had been painful for him at the end, so I was glad it was
I had trouble sleeping the next night
and the day after the funeral, I
took some time to myself and went on a ride. Because of the time of year, I
rode south into Texas, to some of the places Billy and I had enjoyed, and I was
gone five days. I have to admit that I stopped in one or two places and cried.
That's hard for a man to say, but I did. When a good friend passes, you don't
just miss him, you miss all the good times you had and all the good times you
won't be having anymore, and you get a little peek at your own mortality.
When I got back from the trip, my wife
told me to get my clock fixed. She
said it wouldn't strike one o'clock. Everything else was fine. That seemed a
little creepy to me, but then at one in the afternoon, it struck the hour and I
thought she was probably imagining things, or she forgot to wind it.
I don't know why I woke up just before
one in the morning, but at one
o'clock, it failed to strike. I lay there for a while, thinking about Billy,
and then I decided my wife was right and I'd take it to the repairman the next
At the "Tick Tock Doc," the repairman
recognized the clock and I
told him what was wrong. He said it was not uncommon for an old clock to stop
chiming, and he'd check it out.
A week later, I got it back, with a
sixty-dollar bill and the assurance
that all was well. He'd cleaned it, oiled it, and adjusted everything, and his
work was guaranteed.
Within a week, we once again noticed
that it was back to skipping that 1 AM chime, so back to the shop it went. That was when I got it
back with the admonition to be sure it was level.
a week went by, I found
myself getting in the habit of waking up at one o'clock, to go to the bathroom
and hear the clock not chime. Finally, when Sunday came around, the day we always
wound the clock, I told my wife not to wind it. The constant reminder of Billy
and the time of day he died was starting to bother me. The clock had an
eight-day movement and on Monday it stopped running.
On Tuesday morning, at 1 AM, I was awake,
and I heard the clock chime. I scrambled out of bed and went into the living
room and gazed at the clock that Billy had given me. As I looked at it in the
dim light of a single floor lamp, I felt the back of my neck prickle slightly.
The pendulum was as still as death.
It’s been four months since Billy
passed on, and I still have his clock. It hasn't been wound since I gave up on
it nine weeks ago. It still chimes once a day, at one o'clock in the morning,
and I'm starting to get used to it, I think. Billy said he would get word to me,
or send me a sign, and I'm getting the message loud and clear. The wife thinks
we should sell the clock, but I think I'll keep it. Call it a Christmas
present. Or, call it my assurance policy.
It assures me, once each day, that death
is not the end of all things and
that somewhere Billy is waiting for me, his smile and sense of humor intact.
Besides, Billy wanted me to have it, and Billy was one of
my good friends.
Maybe not my best friend, but he was
right up there.
“Billy at One
originally appeared in the April 1999 issue of Black Petals.
Kenneth James Crist is Editor Emeritus of Black Petals Magazine and is
on staff at Yellow Mama ezine. He has been a published writer since 1998,
having had almost two hundred short stories and poems in venues ranging from
Skin and Bones and The Edge-Tales of Suspense to Kudzu Monthly. He is
particularly fond of supernatural biker stories. He reads everything he can get
his hands on, not just in horror or sci-fi, but in mystery, hardboiled,
biographies, westerns and adventure tales. He retired from the Wichita, Kansas
police department in 1992 and from the security department at Wesley Medical
Center in Wichita in 2016. Now 76, he is an avid motorcyclist and handgun
shooter. He is active in the American Legion Riders and the Patriot Guard,
helping to honor and look after our military. He is also a volunteer driver for
the American Red Cross, Midway Kansas Chapter. He is the owner of Fossil
Publications, a desktop publishing venture that seems incapable of making any
money at all. On June the ninth, 2018, he did his first (and last) parachute
jump and crossed that shit off his bucket list.
A. F. Knott is a self-taught collage artist focused on book layout and book
cover design as well networking in conjunction with Hekate Publishing, one of
its missions, bringing together artist and writer. Sometimes seen selling in
New York City's Union Square Park. Work can be found on
exchange of ideas welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org