Better Watch Out

Submitted into Contest #42 in response to: Write a story that ends with a character asking a question.... view prompt



The gray mists swirl around the damp streets as a man anxiously checks his pocket watch.

“Where is he?” He mutters, his foot tapping anxiously on the sidewalk. “He’s late.”

“I’m right here,” a voice echoes from the shadows. He turns to see another figure leaning against the boarded up side of a shop, his dark suit sharply pressed and his broad-rimmed hat pulled low over his face. Gary frowns. He was almost certain that there hadn’t been anyone there a moment ago. “I’ve been waiting, Gary.”

Gary can feel his face paling in the yellow lights from the streetlamps. “I’m so sorry, sir,” he whispers, lowering his eyes to the ground. “I didn’t see you there.”

“Hmm,” The man replies, seemingly indifferent. “Never mind that now. Do you have the package?”

“Yes.” Gary reaches inside of his coat pocket, pulling out a wrapped package, about the length of his thumb. It had been hard for him to acquire, the small pocket knife engraved with strange characters.“I don’t know what you need it for, though.”

“That’s not for you to understand.” The man holds out his hand, waiting. Gary reluctantly drops it into the outstretched hand.

“What do I do now, sir?” Gary asks.

“Your next assignment will come soon. Until then.” the man tips up his hat and for the first time, Gary gets a glimpse of the old, wrinkled face. It wouldn’t have been unsettling except for the fact that where the man’s eyes should have been, there were merely dark empty holes. The man turns on his heels and heads down the streets, disappearing before he reaches the corner. Gary blinks in surprise. Disappearing people! He thinks. What is it going to be next? Dragons?

As much as he wants to run after the man, to see if he is actually gone, Gary turns the other direction, toward his home. He’s been taught not to question what he sees. He still remembers the first day and the one rule that they have. Don’t ask questions and you will be safe. 

The floorboards creak as he makes his way up the stairs, dust billowing out with each footstep. He unlocks the front door of his apartment with a jangle of keys, the hinges squeaking as he pushes it open. Letting out a sigh into the empty air, he flicks on a light, jumping backward in surprise as it illuminates the figure sitting in the armchair. The figure is a vaguely humanoid creature, with tentacles instead of legs and a strange snout extending from its pale blue face. 

“Gary! A pleasure!” The creature jumps up, outstretching a blue hand.

“Y-yes,” Gary stammers, taking the creature’s hand. It’s strangely cold in Gary’s sweaty hand. When it lets go, Gary shakes his hand out, surprised at the clinking of ice crystals falling on the ground.

“So, you know why I’m here.” The creature returns back to the armchair. 

“Suppose I do.” Gary straightens his jacket, tugging at the worn fabric uncomfortably. 

“Your next target is in here.” The creature hands him a folded note. “All the information you need is enclosed. Good luck, Gary. Do not fail.” 

Gary nods, turning the folded note over in his hands. The creature winks at him before slithering toward the open window. Gary stares in astonishment as large bat-like wings unfurl from the creature’s back and it springs out into the empty night air. He watches it wing away, disappearing into the distance before unfolding the note. It’s a simple message. To anyone else, it wouldn’t make any sense, but to Gary, it does. 

WHERE: left 3, right 1, across, right 4, front.

WHAT: medium, gold face and hands, silver chain

MEET: same place 

The WHERE portion makes sense; it always does. When it’s morning, he leaves the apartment. He turns left, walking for three blocks. Then turns right for one. He crosses the street, then turns right, walking for four blocks. As he walks, he muses over the WHAT portion. Gold face and hands. Silver chain. It could be talking about a person, but it’s more likely a watch. He looks in front of him, to see his destination, a rundown store, the faded golden sign proudly stating that the store is WILLIAM’S ANTIQUES. Seems about right to him. He peers into the window, seeing the piles of objects cluttered inside. What other men might call beautiful or rare, Gary merely calls it his job. 

He pushes open the door, the bell clanging as he does so. A white poodle sniffs him as he walks in, drawing back with a growl. Gary looks at it curiously, seeing the lid of a third eye close on its forehead before it yaps at him angrily. 

“Can I help you?” The store owner calls out. Gary turns to see an old pot-bellied man staring up at him.

“I’m looking for a watch- I think,” Gary replies, glancing around in surprise the heap of random objects, mismatched books, a tiny white sofa, glowing teapots. 

“What kind of watch?” The owner squeaks out. Gary looks down to see sweat beading on the old man’s forehead. 

“Medium-sized, golden hands and face, silver chain,” Gary rattles off, spotting the target in the corner of his eye. “Ah! How much will this be-” He turns to see the man sprinting out the front of the door as fast as his little legs will carry him before smacking into another man entering.

“Trying to escape are we?” The new man booms, gripping the store owner with one large hand. The store owner cowers from the man, who Gary recognizes instantly from the night before, with the broad-rimmed hat and the sharp suit. 

“N-no,” the store owner squeals, struggling to get away.

“Alright. Round him up.” The man beckons forward with his other hand. An array of large bird-like creatures stalk in, hands reaching out from under their red wings to grasp the store owners. 

“Y-you’re with them-” the store owner stammers out, staring around at him.

“What’s going on?” Gary breaks in. “Why are you here?” 

“Thank you Gary,” The man says, giving a wave of his hand.

“What about the target?” Gary holds up the watch that he’s been clutching the entire time.

“The watch?” The man looks confused. “We didn’t need the watch. We needed him.” He cocks his head toward the store owner. Gary watches in astonishment as the store owner’s face and hands turn into a shining golden, a silver chain wrapped around his waist. A loud ticking sounds through the whole store as Gary sees numbers shimmering around the man. Like a clock face, he realizes. 

“Don’t let them take me away!” The clock-man screams. His face twists in agony as the bird-like creatures struggle to drag him away.

“What are you doing with him?” Gary shouts. “Can’t you see you’re hurting him?”

The clock-man flashes him a relieved glance. Gary shrinks back as the man looms over him. “This does not concern you,” he bellows. 

“Sir, I-”

“You’re dismissed,” the man barks, his voice taking an edge. “Unless you want to go with him.”

“No sir.” Gary drops his head. 

“Good.” The man steps back. “Go home and stay there.” He turns to the bird-like creatures. “Get him out of here!”

Gary nods, uneasily glancing back at the store owner as the other creatures drag him away. Though he wants to protest, he follows his instructions, dragging himself home.

No other assignment comes through that day, which makes Gary begin to worry. Usually he would be glad at the respite, but after what happened in the store, he can’t help but worry. What did he do wrong?

The sun has set by the time Gary hears a knock on his door. “Coming!” He shouts, setting down his cup of tea. The knocking sounds again, more persistent this time. Gary unlatches the door, pulling it open to come face-to-face with a large hulking creature. It snarls and Gary steps back. 

“Do you have an assignment for me?” Gary falters when he sees the handcuffs dangling from the creature’s belt.

It snickers at his expression. “Have you said your goodbyes yet?”

May 23, 2020 02:41

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