by Aman Gupta
“Tick tock,” the old woman with hypnotic eyes whispered.
Stephan struggled, but his eyes refused to move. He stared into hers without blinking. “Tick tock,” he repeated somewhat reluctantly.
“Tick tock.” The woman bit down on the words, her gaze boring into him.
“Tick tock,” he agreed, his will drained completely.
The woman gave him a wicked smile and licked her lips.
* * *
Stephan’s eyes refused to close. He stared at the grandfather clock that didn’t exist. Somehow, it was standing in front of his bed, looking back at him. Everything in the room had eyes: walls, cupboards, door. But none was half as penetrating as the mirror. His gaze glued itself to the mirror, watched as the mirror watched him back. He could see the clock in it, but it didn’t exist there, either. Mind games.
His mind repeated two words in an infinite loop. “Tick tock, tick tock,” he whispered continuously. He couldn’t say to whom. Witch? Myself? Both?
He knew he wouldn’t sleep tonight.
* * *
“You look horrible.” Stephan’s wife scowled as she served him a spicy bowl of poha to be washed down with a hot cup of coffee for breakfast.
“Rachel” — Stephan tried a spoonful. Everything had lost its taste, but spices still burned his tongue — “don’t worry. I didn’t sleep well. That’s all. T...” He barely stopped himself from uttering the words that wouldn’t forsake him.
“Okay, get some sleep while I go to the market.” Rachel sighed, and Stephan saw her neck muscles relax.
“Okay, love, bye. Tic...” He quickly kissed her on cheek to cover up. He really struggled to keep “Tick tock” out of conversation.
* * *
Mike leaned forward, placed his hand on Stephan’s leg and knitted his brow. “Are you okay?”
They were seated in the white-walled living room on white sofas surrounded by polished furniture which reflected the white lights, just like the white-tiled floor.
The air was clean and pleasant on his skin, but Stephan felt the rough clutches of air around his neck tighten with every breath. It was all he could do not to gag.
“Why do you ask?” He swatted his friend’s hand away against his will. Sorcery. Witch. Bad. Worse.
“You look tired. Are you really okay?”
“Hmmm.” Mike eyed his friend suspiciously. He took a glass of water and gulped it down.
“Do you remember back at school, they used to call you the Disheveled Devil because of your tangled hair and the dark circles under your wide eyes?” Mike put the empty glass on the table and leaned back, laughing. Obviously trying to lighten mood.
Grievous mistake. He has given me a reason to be angry with him. Witch is not likely to miss this chance. “Shut up or I will kill you!” It wasn’t Stephan’s voice. Neither were those his words. His vocal cords were under someone else’s control. The air has penetrated my skin and is down to my larynx. He hoped against hope that it went no further.
“Go on.” Mike’s words were heavy with mockery.
Stephan’s expression darkened. “We are always just a few seconds away from death. Next beat of the heart resets the clock. I mean to take that heart off.” The air is in my head. It has full control of me. It is Witch herself. He smelled Witch’s sorcery in the air and wondered if his guest felt it.
Mike started to speak but stopped.
I stink of Witch’s sorcery. Mike, run! Save yourself! But he himself was not able to hear his screams.
I am just a witness. My body is chosen to do the deed.
Stephan narrowed his eyes, watching Mike’s reaction. He’s unsure, I’ve confused him, doesn’t know what to do. He so badly wanted to smile at his friend, to tell him about his condition but couldn’t so he stared at him unsmiling.
I called him to tell him about my situation, but the witch has proven faster. He wondered if the witch had lived inside him all the time. But then, why would she even allow me to call anyone?
“I think you need to rest, Stephan. I should go now.” Mike’s breath deepened, beads of sweat covered his forehead and face as white as freshly fallen snow.
Stephan stopped him against his own will. Now, he couldn’t control even his own limbs. Air is in my bones. Sorcery. Witch. Bad. Worse. Death. All in my little bones. Suddenly, he lunged forward, his fingertips digging into Mike’s chest.
Inhuman screams filled the room after the sounds of ripping linen.
“You refused a witch’s love. I came to you, leaving my kin. I did everything. I was a bit odd. Different from others but loved you more than anyone else.” Stephan heard a sob.
Then, Witch sniffed and continued, “Giving you such a quick death is a mercy.” Stephan whispered but it wasn’t his voice; it was Witch’s. Witch’s love. Rejection. Witch’s wroth. Witch. Sorcery. Bad. Worse. Death. An odd progression. Too bad he never gave a fart about Witch’s love. Now he gives his life, Stephan reflected.
His fingers pierced through Mike’s skin. That’s the power of love turned hatred. It’s all the witch’s power. He wondered how his bones handled such pressure.
His fingertips scraped something muscular inside his friend’s chest and pulled it out with unbelievable force, ripping everything. It was Mike’s heart. White tiles and sofas were sprayed red.
My biology teacher told us that mind controls the body, sending muscles orders. But she never told us what happens when a power superior to mind enters the body. Well, I have now found out.
The heart beat once in his hand as it pumped the remaining blood in it outwards for the veins which were no longer there, but it produced a completely different sound: Tick tock. Suddenly, Stephan’s mind was free from the foreign power. The air fled his body. His legs folded beneath him as the floor came up. A hollowness filled his body. It was strange to feel his body under his control again. Stranger to feel like that in first place, he reflected.
A thousand thoughts flipped through his mind, and he saw Mike in all of them. Wrestling in the schoolyard, running and chasing each other in the school hallway, standing together in punishment and in an award ceremony alike, passing out of the school, graduating, finding and getting job at the same company, same branch. He had been with him through it all. What have I done?
Tears welled up and made his eyes more heavily, but he wiped them away. What good will crying do? I will never be lighter. Never free from this guilt. I will die a thousand deaths before a real, more pleasant one, takes me off to God. He hoped to see that lively face again, always helping him out and asking just some time together in return.
But now, he lay on the floor, dead. Stephan stood beside him, Mike’s heart in his hand.
He wished the Witch would have him under control again, if it would help curb his emotions. She obliged. His mind went numb as the power returned and just repeated Tick tock in an endless loop, just as he had wanted. But, as he had discovered to his relief before and now remembered to his sorrow, she had never been able to control his thoughts.
* * *
The room was dark and damp, with air stinking of blood and sorcery. Stephan stood in the basement wondering what to do now that he had separated Mike’s heart from his body. Why doesn’t Witch help me with this, as she had helped me with killing my friend and ruining my life?
He heard the main door open and close. He heard footsteps enter the house. He assumed Rachel was tiptoeing in hopes he was sleeping. She does not have slightest of idea. She is so innocent. If Witch means to take her too, I am going to commit suicide. I will save a life. Also free myself from all this.
“Stephan! Come here!” She might have seen the blood trail and bloodstained sofa. Obviously.
“Stephan, are you here?” Rachel’s voice quivered. He heard her descending the stairs.
“In God’s name... What is this? A hole in...” She covered her mouth, and her eyes strained out of their sockets. “Chest? Stephan, what...” She saw him holding the heart and stumbled backwards, fell down, hurried back up, turned and ran upstairs, screaming and screaming and screaming.
As he heard his wife scream hysterically, his mind processed just two words: Tick tock.
* * *
The air was hot and humid. The metal chains were cold and tight. Stephan could not see a single beam of light.
Mike had made a huge mistake by rejecting Witch’s heart and love when he was offered them. The penalty was death. I was just a catspaw. And dying at the hands of his closest friend would have multiplied the agony.
He felt a twitch inside his head, “If you ever thought this would have a happy ending, you were not paying attention.” The Witch. She’s talking to me.
As it came, it went as well. Quickly and with a twitch in his head. But sorcery remained. He didn’t have enough time to ponder the words, let alone reply.
I will have all my remaining life to ponder them. It won’t do any good to me to reply, even if I could. Tick tock, tick tock.
His mind spiraled into insanity by the same words: Tick tock.
Copyright © 2018 by Aman Gupta