The Ticking Clock

A Halloween Story

by Phineas Redux




Summary:— Ann Lascelles, visiting friends for the weekend on their estate of Lackland Hall, Somerset, finds herself making a night run to the kitchens to gain safety from a perceived danger.

Note:— The story unwisely read by Ann is the all-too-real ‘The Clock’ by W F Harvey, available nowadays in many editions: read it at your peril.

Warning:— There is a little light swearing in this story.

Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright ©2016 to the author. All names and characters in this story are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons living or dead, is purely coincidental.


Past one o’clock during the early hours of 31st October, 1948. The darkness made even more so since the internal lights in the great mansion had long since been turned out by the servants; leaving late-active guests, going about their unofficial purposes, to bump into pieces of furniture or trip unwarily on short sets of unseen steps at the end of several corridors. The country house, Lackland Hall, Somerset, sat in a huge Park surrounding the building; the Lackland estate, in fact. Of the standard E-shape, with a short central bay making up the entrance portico, and two side wings, the two-storied house had a powerfully strong presence. The fact that its youthful owner, Jake Barnham, and his equally young and energetic wife, Rosemary, enjoyed the companionship of their many friends meant the Hall was hardly ever empty of a weekend.

Saturday had passed with mild revels and enjoyment by the several house-guests attending that week-end. Ann, though never much of a party-going gal, made the best face she could and passed muster fairly well among the others; though it was a relief when all was over and she could respectably totter off to bed. Her room lay on the second floor along a corridor in the West Wing, this being where most of the guest rooms were situated. Ann, having come unaccompanied for the weekend, soon sorted herself out into a pair of soft loose silk pyjamas of a pale blue tint and thankfully reclined on her bed.

She first made sure her room door was firmly locked, she having a pronounced personal-safety bump on her head, then set-to the enjoyable task of being mildly frightened out of her wits by reading ghost stories in the dark of the night alone. The volume she had brought along from her London flat for this estimable purpose was a compendium of short stories, by several authors, in the chosen genre. Being somewhat of a light sleeper Ann felt no difficulty in passing away the early hours of Sunday in this manner; she having long ago found that reading helped her to eventually go to sleep. The root cause of this tendency not to sleep very well, even at this distance from events, lay in her war-work; she having been a member of the ATA, and having undergone something of a bad war.

The end result of which was that even now, several years later, she still went everywhere armed; her personal choice for this arrangement being a Colt New Special .38. long-barreled revolver. This imposing weapon now lay in solitary splendour on the top of the low bedside table by her left hand, beside the glass of water which was her second constant night-time companion.

Ann was of that group, or cult, or species, known as Lesbian; though she had often been subject to various other less friendly or polite titles for her position. Her present partner being away on a gallivant to the continent on business, she had come to the Barnham’s weekend party alone. She was still not quite sure whether either of her hosts realised her persuasion, though she surmised Rosemary probably did. Ann’s general personality was rather given to the undemonstrative than otherwise; she bearing no likeness to so outgoing, even notorious, a representative of her sexual disposition as Radclyffe Hall, for instance,—or other women determined to beard mere men in their dens by dressing and acting like them.

Having started reading just after midnight had, appropriately, struck on the mighty grandfather clock in the main entrance hall some distance away downstairs in the rambling old house, but still perfectly audible, Ann had now polished off two of her volume’s presentations, not finding either particularly noteworthy or nerve-wracking. Determining this should be the last choice for the night she riffled through the pages of the thick book till she found what appeared to be a satisfyingly short text, apparently only a page or two long.

“This’ll do.” She settled comfortably under the cover of the quilt, head supported by a thick pillow, and moved the heavy tome into a favourable position on her chest. “Right, let’s get to it.”

The story, indeed, hardly took any time at all to read, a matter of a mere three or four minutes, all told—but, afterwards, Ann lay back with the absolute knowledge she had made a seriously bad decision in taking on this particular text.

Jay-suss God A’Mighty.

The night, now well past one o’clock, was silent; no sound of owls, or other creatures of the dark, reaching her from the wide lawns and copses of trees outside her curtained window. All sign of human activity had ceased more than an hour ago within the confines of the Hall’s now unlit corridors. In her room Ann had only herself to commune with, rustling uncomfortably as she moved on the wide bed.

God, what made me read that bloody thing?”

What she was now most uneasily aware of was every little sound around her. Whether it be the crackle of her quilt or bedclothes; the rustle of her silk pyjamas; or, most alarmingly of all, the curious physical noises as the old house settled in the cold night air. Slight cracks and snaps, unnoticed till now, as the wood paneling in the room responded to the night temperature; the creak of floorboards, old and dry, as unknown pressures worked on them; the simple unfocussed noises with no perceptible source that now assaulted her ears, began to more than annoy Ann, they started to actually frighten her.

Jee-sus, what am I, a child or what?”

But even this pragmatic outlook could not take away the definitive knowledge that Ann was now lying in bed in a state of near terror.

Tossing the book aside, twitching nervously as it slid off the bed to land on the bare floorboards with a loud thump, she flung the quilt wide and rose to put her slippers on. Her comfortable wool dressing-gown lay over the back of a nearby chair, and she lost no time in wrapping herself in this garment. The next thing, of course, was to have a definite plan of action.

What does one do in such circumstances, she thought, as she paced the confines of her bedroom cursing the fact that the bare floorboards echoed her steps like the thunderous reports of high-explosive shells bursting. It was now decidedly cold, with a sharp nip in the air. There was only one thing to be thought of, either going back to bed—

“The Hell with that.”

—or going in search of comfort, either physical or moral, via another companion.

“Don’t suppose anyone’ll thank me for tapping on their bedroom door an’ asking to come an’ spend the night with them?”

Having thought about this ludicrous notion Ann gave a short low bark of mirth.

“One or two might, nonetheless.” She giggled quietly at the idea. “For all the wrong reasons, o’course.”

But mirth, in present circumstances, quickly died a lonely death, mourned by all. Once again Ann shivered, wriggling her shoulders in the warm grip of her dressing-gown—for she had become aware of noises out in the unlit corridor beyond the safe barrier of her locked door.

“What the fu.. was that?” She, being an old military hand, had no qualms about saying it like it was. “Someone out there? Nah, can’t be; must’a been one o’these dam’ old house noises. God, y’d think the dam’ building was alive.”

A few more paces up and down the length of her room finally convinced Ann there was, indeed, only one solution; to leave her haven and set out in search of some form of security elsewhere in the Hall. The first problem with such a plan being, of course, the need to traverse the corridors alone and in the dark.

“What the Hell is this?” She growled with intense dislike as she stood undecided. “Why am I in such a funk? Hell, I’ve gone through shot an’ shell during my war years, what’m I afraid of?”

But then, cocking an anxious ear to further supposed noises in the unseen corridor, she realised exactly what she was afraid of: that what she had so recently read in that damnable short story was in no way mere fiction but was happening in reality at the present moment out there in the dark shadows of the corridor beyond her bedroom door—and the idea was, indeed, fearful.

Almost in a trance she took a few almost inadvertent steps then, looking down at her left hand, found she had unconsciously picked up her Colt .38 Special. The feeling was of tangible relief; though she was not quite convinced of a revolver’s efficacy in her present situation at least it provided a level of mental security to feel the trusty weight of the weapon in her hand.

Being now some distance from her bed she took another few paces and reached out her free hand to grasp the handle of her bedroom door. But before her cold fingers touched it she suddenly froze in place; her whole attitude one of intense listening, her face pale as the moonlight fitfully coming through the curtains of her window.

Jeez, the clock’s ticking—the bloody clock’s ticking. Oh, no.

The reason for her anxiety was not hard to find; having been a guest of the Barnham’s several times in the past Ann knew the old tale of the ancient tall clock that sat at the far end of the corridor in which her room lay. It had, so the legend went, stopped in its tracks on the evening of the day war was declared on Germany in 1914, and had not ticked once since—but now, to Ann’s tender and highly strung ears, it was going like the clappers, banging away like a drummer on the parade-ground, echoing along the corridor in gloomy reverberations. The obvious question occurred to Ann, freezing her in her tracks—

“If it’s ticking, and it bloody is, who the hell wound the dam’ thing up? I didn’t hear anyone; an’ it’s a dam’ strange time o’night t’go wanderin’ around a dark house winding clocks.”

And then she bethought herself of the work of fiction she had so misguidedly read so little a time before.

“The clock? Oh God, —is there something out there, in the corridor?”

When one stops in one’s tracks to listen to strange noises in the dead of night one can easily become the victim of neurosis; imagining what is not there, and intensifying what little there is. Ann had now entered this condition.

Another, sharp intense, sound broke on her ears—something near and close to hand which made her jump in fright; then, glancing down at her left hand Ann found she had unconsciously cocked her Colt. This act of defence brought her back to reality; or, at least, as much of said status quo as she felt was presently available.

Fu--, I’m goin’ mad. Get a bloody grip, woman.”

Grasping the door-handle she depressed it and pulled the door wide, stepping back as she did so—the dark rectangle leading into the corridor now looming, to her tortured feelings, like Avernus -the Gate to the Underworld itself.

Tightening her grip on her weapon Ann stepped beyond the safe confines of her room into the dark outside. As most everywhere in the old mansion the floor of the long corridor was uncarpeted; the bare floorboards dark and shiny with ancient layers of varnish, well polished over the two centuries of the building’s lifetime by many feet. To her immediate left lay the stairs leading to the ground floor; to the right the corridor ran on for another sixty feet or so, lined by a row of windows looking out onto the open lawns; opposite which was a series of bedroom doors where many of the other guests were at present apparently blissfully asleep. Also, down at the far right end, sat the still invisible source of Ann’s present fear—the now ticking clock.

She stood for an appreciable time staring down the corridor, into the gloom, then came to a decision.

“Bugger me if I go lookin’ t’the dam’ thing. Let it bloody tick forever if it dam’ well wants to.”

With this decisive comment on the activities of the supposedly, hopefully, inert object, Ann turned and began to softly slowly and carefully tread the few paces to the head of the stairs. At this juncture her old military training made itself felt once more, she moving slowly with an eye and ear for every sound and object around her. The trouble was, she soon discovered, that every step she took-even in soft slippers-seemed to create echoes as of huge boulders rolling down a mountainside.

Stopping short, just before reaching her desired destination, Ann leant her head to the side, intent on every single little sound around her. Why on earth the other sleepers, in their warm beds, had not come out to enquire what the hell the noise was about as she made her way down the corridor astonished her; for to her heightened sensitivity she was making as much racket as a tank on a battlefield.

The head of the stairs, finally, loomed by her side; the ghastly abyss they presented in the dark almost seeming to encourage the late-night walker to dash herself down like a mad woman over a cliff.

“Deep breaths, Ann, deep breaths.”

This silly, but apposite, remark steeled her little to continue her expedition. Clasping the edge of the wide banister in an iron grip she took a tentative step down, placing her slippered foot with preternatural care. Finding the stone step stayed in place, not attempting to buck her further down the flight, she straightened her shoulders and commenced the descent.

The staircase was relatively low, having at best twenty-five stairs each about a foot wide. The banister on her right loomed over the dark hall below, in which there was not so much as a single guttering candle. A wide window over the main entrance door, and another to its right, let enough moonlight in to create a curious effect of apparently quivering, or shimmering shadows. There were what Ann took to be various items of furniture scattered haphazardly around the tiled floor, but all was so steeped in darkness as to make details impossible. For all she knew an army of hideous creatures could be awaiting her arrival on the cold stone floor below.

She stood now, in the entrance hall of the ancient house, only a few paces away from the grandfather clock which normally ruled the advent of Time for the inhabitants of the building; but presently, in a way Ann couldn’t quite understand, its ticking seemed to be subordinated to that of the recently revived member of the clock family now sitting in the dark away up in the first floor corridor from which she had so lately made her escape. Listening intently Ann realised the clock’s sound beside her seemed muted almost to that of a bare whisper; while the tick-tock of the machine in the bedroom corridor above seemed to ring throughout the house like the tocsin of a cathedral carillon.

Stepping over to the far wall, across from the staircase, she felt for the square light-switch she knew was there and, thankfully finding it with ease, flicked it down—nothing happened.

Fu--ing great.

Ann took a moment to consider this latest problem then, sighing deeply, turned to face along the entrance hall, in the direction of the kitchen. It had occurred to her that entering one of the ground floor rooms would be of no use to her; they being simply large sitting-rooms, lounges, the library, or Jake Barnham’s private study. The only other rooms here being toilets, and one where you hung wet jackets and coats on hooks on the wall, sitting your boots on the floor below, with a battered bare table to fling your odds and ends on: no use at all to her in her present predicament. What she required, it now occurred to her, was somewhere relatively small, but safe. To her ever more fevered imagination the kitchen seemed to allow of the greatest chance for these conditions to be met—after all, she could lock herself in the kitchen, and defend it against all comers, however supernatural or demonic they might be—or so she fervently hoped.

Steeling herself,—and this was no idle preparation,—she stepped along the hall to the left hand passage which led through the main centre of the building to the workaday rooms in the rear. A few steps along this dark passageway brought her up against a single high door covered in green baize, though its texture was, in the circumstances, invisible to anything but touch.

Ann felt for the knob and turned it, with more hope in her heart than certainty. But the door gave under her finger’s pressure and opened wide.


Stepping inside she swiftly turned to close the door behind her with a solid thump. Again feeling the wall by its edge she found the relevant light switch, and this time, on her clicking it down, the room was flooded with satisfyingly bright electric light.

Thank the Gods for that.

The kitchen, on examination, proved to be relatively contained; not being overly huge, as in some old country houses. The room was around twelve feet wide by twenty-five long. A range of windows on the far side gave light, in the daytime, but were now well-curtained against the night. A door in this opposite wall obviously giving access to the outside, where a cobbled area led across to a row of old stables and sheds; all invisible in the dark, even if Ann had wanted to investigate their presence, which she was far from wishing.

Grasping the outside-door knob in a tight grip she found it firmly locked; though a glance to the side showed the key responsible for this fine state of affairs hanging on a string from a nail in the frame of the doorway. A second door, at the far end of the kitchen led off to pastures unknown to Ann; but she swiftly paced across and tested the door-knob. Finding it unlocked and all too ready to open at a touch she sighed with relief to see the key comfortably fitted in the lock on her side. It took a matter of seconds for her to do the obvious thing and, being so reminded, went back to the door she had originally entered by, leading from the main hall passage. The key here too was in situ, so she swiftly accomplished the task of making herself a prisoner in the long room, against all comers, supposing they didn’t themselves have a spare key.

Feeling herself safe for the first time since rising from her bed Ann gratefully dragged a straight-backed wooden chair out from the long table in the centre of the room and sat down. The table was still covered with a variety of kitchen utensils; bowls both ceramic and earthenware, cups and saucers, plates of several sizes, an empty teapot and coffeepot of gleaming silver, and a selection of kitchen knives—all seemingly expertly sharpened—lying on a clean cloth, glinting in the light, with long blades. Ann felt reassured by this choice of possible extra modes of defence, if the worst came to the worst.

Thinking along these lines she recalled the weaponry she had brought along herself. Glancing down she regarded the cocked long barreled Colt in her left hand; a certain disinclination to part from its comforting weight leading her to keep a firm grasp of it.

“Never know what might happen—suddenly.”

For a minute or so Ann remained in this seated, slightly hunched, position; not by any means at rest or comfortable, but tense and aware of all the sounds of the night, which still penetrated to her hearing from regions both inside the old house, and outside beyond the kitchen. What might yet be out there, on either hand, awaiting its chance?

God, I need a cuppa tea.”

Suiting the action to the need she rose and crossed to the deep white-enameled sink under one of the exterior windows. A metal kettle sat on the board to her right and she quickly put this under the tap and commenced filling it from the flood of cold water which issued when she turned the tap on. Glancing around she took note of the stove against the interior wall some way down the kitchen. Bringing the filled kettle over she placed it on one of the gas jets and searched for a match.

“Where, where?”

Another glance showed there were none lying on the kitchen table; nor anywhere in sight on the wooden board running along the window wall on either side of the sink; nor anywhere else, apparently.


Finally she registered the multiplicity of drawers available; some in the underside of the table itself; some in dressers ranged along the interior wall; some in wooden units in various corners of the clearly well-stocked kitchen. A search taking a couple of minutes finally ran a box of matches to ground in one of these corner’s, in a chest of drawers looking as if it had been filched from somebody’s bedroom decades ago and never returned. The pop of the gas jets lighting made Ann jump in nervous tension once more.

Bloody Hell, I’m goin’ mad.”

A couple of minutes later, seated with a hot cup of tea doing its best to bring back normal intellectual service to her nerves, Ann considered her position. Here she was, driven from her bedroom by thoughts and imaginings brought on by nothing more than the reading of a silly short story; what on earth was the matter with her?

“Anyone’d think I was six, instead of —”

At this point she froze in place, the teacup barely touching her lower lip; her every muscle tensed to breaking point: something was moving, ever so slowly and quietly, out in the passage leading from the entrance hall to the kitchen.

Although immobile as a statue her mind was as over-active as a bubbling volcano; her sense of hearing seemed super-sensitive, reacting to noises which in normal times would have gone unheard. Yes, yes, there were sounds of—what? Movement? Was it movement? Or, rather, a kind of slow clicking, tapping, on the bare stone tiles of the unseen passageway beyond the locked door?

Like an automaton which needed oiling she slowly turned on her chair to bring her left flank towards the closed door. Leaning forward a trifle she listened intently, as much so as she had ever done in her life. Yes, she could hear something—some thing, but what?

Almost in a trance she brought up her left hand to waist level, Colt pointed somewhat unsteadily at the wooden panels of the door. If whatever she imagined was out there, and tried to enter, she was damn well ready to deal with it, anyway, —if it responded to bullets, at least.

Now virtually hypnotised, and showing a strong unwillingness to respond to reality, Ann gazed at the door as if its actions in the next few seconds would influence the rest of her life—which was entirely possible, depending on her own response to the present perceived danger.

There came a soft light tap on the exterior of the door, followed by a faint scraping, barely heard in the silence of the night. Ann, though she never realised, stopped breathing entirely for the next ensuing few seconds. At this point the door-knob suddenly began to revolve, slowly, ever so slowly, as if turned by the faintest of spirits or the palest of demonic powers. She gazed rapt at this first sign of an actual physical, she desperately hoped, presence in the dark otherwise noiseless house. There was no other person in the building, she fervently surmised, whom this could possibly logically be—unaware that she had stopped thinking logically some time previously.

The knob had stopped turning and returned to its former position, as if the power on the other side of the door was considering its options. Sweat broke out on Ann’s forehead, and she could feel trickles slipping down her spine. She gave a soft gasp for fresh air, which sounded to her in the silence like a whale spouting, and then returned her attention to the door as some further sound came from its unseen side. A scrape, a scratch, a further muffled scraping—and Ann realised that whoever, or to her shattered mind more likely whatever, in the dark passage outside was using some discovered key, which she herself had missed on entering the kitchen: the door was now being furtively unlocked by what she couldn’t imagine, and in the next few seconds it would be inside the kitchen with her.

Slipping further round on her chair Ann raised her revolver to shoulder height, held out in front of her face, gripping both hands round the butt, keeping the long barrel aimed squarely at the upper panel of the door. Softly the door slid open a few inches, accompanied by what Ann, sweat now trickling freely down her face, could only categorise as a soft quiet long-drawn-out hissing—as of a demonic serpent of unknown origin. The door opened another two inches and some sort of pale whitish unformed matter slipped round the edge at waist height. Without waiting for any further evidence of the unworldly, Demonic, presence which had been stalking her through the cold dank dark corridors of the old mansion house, Ann opened fire—


Three shots fired in swift sequence; whereby, because of her total fear at the point of firing, two hit the right-hand side wall by the door, with only one penetrating the panel. There was a loud shriek—a loud feminine shriek—and the door thumped closed once more; quickly followed by a sustained series of frightened screams as the young lady in the passage—such a person now obviously being the wholly down to earth source of the uproar—gave free rein to her astonished fright. Then things seemed, to Ann, to happen all at once and in a perfectly unwitting manner.

More shouts, this time from deep male throats somewhere distant in the maw of the dark house; a thumping tread as several people made their way down from the first-floor bedrooms; a scuffle or gathering of many feet and bodies in the unseen kitchen passage outside Ann’s shattered door; then the quiet but firm tapping of a fist on said wrecked entrance.

“Who’s in there?” This in the restrained and gentlemanly tones of the mansion’s Host himself. “There are three men out here, and we’re all armed with shotguns. Tell me you’re giving up and all will be well—shoot again, and we’ll bloody well blast you to atoms, whoever the hell you are. D’you hear?”

Oh God.


The inquest,—almost autopsy, as Sheila Murrigan, near fatal though actually unharmed victim of Ann’s shooting prowess, insisted on describing the incident; having changed her voluminous white night-gown of the early hours for slacks and blouse—took place in the ground-floor lounge the next morning at eight o’clock. Present were Jake Barnham, his wife Rosemary, Sheila Murrigan, the still jittery survivor of Ann’s shooting spree, Tom Kershaw, a young man-about-town down for the shooting—pheasants, that is,—and Colonel Graham Ferguson, another guest. No-one was ecstatically happy with the events of the previous night.

“You read a ghost story,” Rosemary was repeating for the fifth time, obviously simply incapable of taking in the import of this explanation. “you were armed with a heavy-duty loaded revolver and, feeling frightened, you made your way to the, ah, safety of the kitchen where, eventually, you found it necessary to try to blast Sheila’s head off, because she had decided to come down, through not sleeping, to make herself a cup of tea?”

“—er, yes.”

“I don’t see it, myself.” Colonel Ferguson brushed his short ginger moustache in a clearly unconvinced manner. “What the Hell are y’doin’ goin’ t’people’s houses for the weekend, armed t’the teeth with dangerous weapons? Is there a war on I don’t know about, or what?”

“I just feel safer, with a revolver, that’s all.” Ann, while in the act of giving this explanation, was only too aware of its weakness. “My old war experiencies, y’see.”

“Oh, yes.” Colonel Ferguson’s mutter was obviously wholly sceptical.

“Well, the thing is, Ann, y’just can’t go about shootin’ at people—especially in their own homes—or, at least, those houses in which you’re also a guest.” Jake shook his head, quite sure of his position. “Readin’ a ghost story? And it had such an effect you had to brave the dark haunted corridors of ‘Udolpho’ itself to find a place of safety? Then defend your virtue, or life, or both, with a Colt .38? Goin’ a bit far, don’t y’think?”

I do.” Rosemary cast an unforgiving glance at her guest. “The men blasting pheasants out on the moors is one thing; but guests blasting each other inside the house, for no good reason, is that step too far. Damned if it was up to me if I didn’t’ call the police in. I’m sure Sheila feels the same way.”

Sheila, standing wholeheartedly behind her hostess, nodded in agreement; slashing a glance of pure hatred at her semi-attacker and near-assassin.

“—er, well, perhaps that might be a shade too much, all things considered.” Jake was ever one to seek the gentlemanly view of incidents, be they never so alarming. “Perhaps we can come to some sort of an agreement about the whole thing, eh?”

The upshot being that Ann,—free, though barely, of any chance of police involvement,—left the manor-house, and the surviving guests, that same morning, a sadder and a wiser woman.

She was never again invited back to Lacklands Hall.


The End.