The Clock on the Mantle

Submitted into Contest #249 in response to: Write a story around someone (literally) bumping into someone else.... view prompt


African American Suspense Coming of Age

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

Keylani Marshall stared at the shitty old clock on the mantle in the living room of her apartment. She’d found it at a garage sale and only paid one dollar for it. It was one of those old ones that you found in antique stores.

Full of cogs and gears that turned and interacted with each other to function.

It reminded her of the clock that had been in her family home back when she lived in Alabama. It had sat on the mantle as well. She remembered staring at the clock when she was five years old. The hands on the old clock had stopped moving and she thought that all time had stopped.

Time hadn’t stopped.

The clock had just broken.

She remembered when her dad had taken it off the mantle and disassembled it. He did odd jobs as a handyman from time to time. She’d been fascinated by all the cogs and gears that filled it. How all the small pieces worked together to keep such a small thing going. How each piece served a purpose and if one part malfunctioned…. The whole thing stopped. 

She often wondered if people were like that.

If their brains were full of cogs and gears that just kept ticking along.

She wondered if the heart was essentially a battery that would keep the body moving as it pumps blood along veins and arteries.

Then one day that battery died and all the cogs and gears stopped moving.

She wondered if that’s how people died because they were just walking clocks. They were just ticking along until their time was up. 

She also knew that people thought she was a bit strange. She was half way through her thirties and didn’t have a husband, boyfriend, or children. She didn’t like physical touch and that was also a by-product of her upbringing.

 She grew up in a very conservative and religious family and was often teased for dressing like an old lady. She was required to be neat and quiet.

She still dressed the same—even to this day.

However, she never really considered herself particularly religious even as a child. She often struggled with questions and fallacies she read in the bible as grew up. She was never one to simply believe things just because she was told too. She just kept things to herself since she believed that was easier. It was easier to simply get on her knees and pretend to pray when she was told too. She’d always been a very non-verbal person and kept her thoughts to herself.

She liked to read anything that she could get her hands on.

She remembered vividly reading the book Carrie by Stephen King. She thought there were many similarities between herself and the main character. The only saving grace was that she’d never had a bucket of blood thrown at her.

She couldn’t move things with her mind but she could see things. It had rather specific requirements…. But it was called Precognition.

It required her to make physical contact with a person or object.

It was why she didn’t like being touched.

It was much harder to handle when she was younger. She thinks her mother referred to them as “spells”. It was when she would touch something or someone and then go into a daze. It was hard for her to discern what she was seeing and what was happening around her. It was only after endless ass whoopings, disciplinary prayer, and bible reading that she realized she needed to get a handle on things. She had scabs on her knees from all the kneeling on the hard floor. 

She did her best to keep it a secret.

Then the young girls around town started to go missing

She was sixteen years old when it happened.

 They were all pretty, young girls around her age and they started to go missing one-by-one. There was a small uproar in town as everyone tried to find the girls. However, this was the United States and people went missing all the time. These girls were also black girls and….

The odds were not in their favor.

It was also when she found out about her father. It was when she accidentally bumped into her father carrying the freshly washed laundry outside to hang them on the clothing line to dry. She remembers the small impact causing darkness to creep into the corner of her vision. Then she vividly saw her father in the dark of night digging a fucking hole. He dropped something into the hole and the vision panned in a different direction to reveal the body of a young girl.

 It was lucky for her that her father believed she was having one of her spells again. 

They never appeared to last long to the people around her. A couple of seconds to a minute but when Keylani came back to herself she forced herself to continue her day as usual even as her mind raced.

It wasn’t until evening prayer in the living room that she made her decision. The cogs and gears turned and turned until she came to a decision. She never put much stock in what she read in the bible. They were simply stories to her that could be interpreted however one wanted.

 However, she remembered her mother telling her that God never gave a person more than they could bear and that she should always do what God commanded. The problem Keylani had was that God never responded to her prayers. She never heard a voice from the heavens giving her answers.

 Then she remembered the story of Moses.

God sometimes showed people signs.

Perhaps the things that she was seeing were signs from God.

 So Keylani tried to tell her mother about their father. She couldn’t really explain it very well. She had problems articulating the things she saw and how it happened to her. She remembered her mother half listening to her as she washed dishes in the kitchen and she froze up when she started talking about the missing girls. How her father was taking long walks in the forest behind the family home and about the holes he was digging. 

That was the first time that her mother had hit her in any way that didn’t involve discipline. She claimed that Keylani was just making things up to get attention and that she didn’t want to hear her lies. 

That she needed to keep her sinful mouth shut.

Keylani didn’t understand what was happening until she looked into her mother’s eyes and  saw the fear in them

That was when she realized that her mother knew.

She wasn’t going to do anything about it.

Keylani was ordered back to her room and told to pray about her wrongdoings. 

So she went to her room, got on her knees, and thought.

And thought.

She realized that she had absolutely no evidence to convince anyone of anything. Everything that she knew was from the things that she saw. She decided that she needed to verify if the things she saw was right. That she needed to find some empirical proof that her father had done this.

She realized pretty quickly that no one would believe her claims about her father. She wasn’t good at talking or explaining things and her father was a prominent Deacon at their church. He was handsome, charming, and had even prayed with the families of the missing girls. He expected his wife and daughter to act a certain way and considered them to be an extension of himself.  Keylani would need to act like everything was fine until she could get some proof. 

That would be step one.

So when her mother came in hours later and asked if she learned her lesson. Keylani made up a lie that she was having nightmares and that she didn’t mean to try to lie. She just wasn’t good at talking and she was sorry.

Thankfully, her mother believed her.

She was still punished and given extra chores but her mother also never told her father about what happened between them.

So she laid low and tried to act normal under her mother’s watchful eye and followed the family routine. She finally made her move when she felt her mother’s attention wavering.

She finally built up her nerve to “bump” into her father as she carried her mother’s things to the car for their Wednesday Night Couples Bible Study.

When she “accidentally” bumped into her father …. The world faded around her a bit.

Darkness crowded the edge of vision and she saw her father standing in their living room in front of the mantle. He stood directly in front of the old timey clock that her mother had found in an antique shop. He pushed the clock to the side and lifted the panel underneath it. It contained a small, wooden box.

Keylani’s father reached into his pocket and pulled out a cheap golden necklace with a sparkling, bedazzled capital A on it.

He opened the box and placed the jewelry into it.

When Keylani finally snapped back to herself and found herself back and where she should be. She realized that her father had left her standing where she was and getting into the driver’s side of the car. He’d taken her mother’s things from her and decided to ignore her while she was spacing out. She looked up to see her mother watching her..

“You allright baby?” She heard her mother ask and Keylani simply nodded before remembering she had to speak. There had been a strain in their relationship ever since Keylani tried to talk about the missing girls and her father.

“Yes ma’am.” She replied before turning and going back to the house.

She watched from the living room window as her parents backed out of the driveway and headed towards church. She walked towards the living room mantle, moved the clock, lifted the panel, and opened the small wooden box.

It contained a couple of pieces of jewelry. There were some cheap pieces of jewelry in it. The kind of things that young girls would buy in stores.

There was no sparkly necklace with an A on it.

Keylani closed the box and put everything exactly back where she found it. She went to her room and pulled out the homework that she was supposed to be doing. The gears and cogs turned and turned....

There was no A necklace in the box.

What did that mean?

When saw things… they always seemed to be correct.

Did that mean she was wrong about her father?

  •        *                      *                                *                                    

Keylani was at a loss until she was in church two weeks later. She was in Sunday School and pretending to listen to Mrs. Deborah gives a lesson on Jacob’s ladder to her age group. There was a knock at the door and there was a girl and her mother standing at the door.

She was about Keylani’s age and she was most likely the prettiest girl to ever be in this small church.

She was wearing a sparkling A necklace.

Keylani felt her blood run cold and she stopped breathing.

She was introduced as Alice to the class and Keylani watched in horror as the boys immediately tried to flirt and the other girls started making friends with her.

Alice looked over at her and gave a nervous smile.

Keylani didn’t smile back.

That girl was gonna die.

She spent the rest of the church service with one eye on her father and the other on Alice. She watched as her father introduced himself to the family and welcomed them to the church. She watched him turn up the charm with the entire family and Keylani finally saw it.

 She finally saw Him.

 He saw the way her father looked at Alice and wondered how she never saw it before. There was something dark and twisted in him. There was something about the gleam in his eye as he sized up Alice.

 Was he always like this? Was Keylani so lost in herself all the time that she could never see what was in front of her?

* * *                               * * *

It took alot of pretend praying for Keylani to figure out what to do. She stayed on her knees for hours after her mother told her could stop and simply thought.

What was she going to do about her father?

She realized her father was a prominent man in this small town. He had influence and was well loved and respected. She thought about the local sheriff and realized that man would never believe her. 

She wondered who on earth would possibly help and believe her? 

Then it dawned on her. 

There was an anonymous tip line. She would call that number and implicate her own father. There had to be someone….someone who would believe her. She had come up with a theory about the jewelry underneath the clock. 

The jewelry in the mantle belonged to the dead girls.

There were also the dead bodies behind the house.

 She needed to move fast because of Alice because she didn’t know when her father would strike.

So when everyone went to sleep that night she left the tip on the hotline and prayed someone  would hear it before it was too late.

Alice went missing two days later.

Keylani knew she was dead when she peaked in the mantle and saw the sparking A necklace in the small box.

She fucked up.

She should’ve gone to the police even if no one believed her. Maybe it would’ve at least cast some suspicion on her father..

The problem was…. She was just scared.

How  was she going to tell the police how she knew? She “saw” things but didn’t see it physically? Would they think she was crazy?



But it would’ve been better than this.

She couldn’t even look at her mother anymore. She knew about the dead girls and still did nothing.

It took three more days before the FBI responded and showed up on their doorstep. She watched through half-lidded eyes as law enforcement ripped apart their home. She watched as they found the jewelry in the mantle. The dead bodies behind the house. 

It turned out her father wasn’t who he said he was.

He was a pervert who skipped out on his court date after being set free on bail twenty years ago. He fucking disappeared and changed everything about himself.

There were alot of other dead girls.

Keylani’s mother lost her mind and both of them were shunned by the community and the church.

They never moved…

Keylani stayed there until she was eighteen and left town with a couple hundred bucks and a beat up old car.

She also stopped praying after that.

So now… she tries to live her life.

She tries to minimize contact with people as much as possible so she doesn’t have visions. She figures they won’t do her any good.

So when she steps out into the snowy night her shift at work. She sees a man standing on the corner trying to hand out flyers to people who mostly ignore him. Keylani plans to be one of these people. The only problem with that is that he steps directly into her path and shoves a flyer at her.

It’s a missing person flyer of a two year old.

“Have you seen my daughter?” He asks her tiredly but determinedly.

Keylani shakes her head and tries to sidestep him but mistimes it and bumps into him.

She watches in horror as the darkness fades in around her….

And she sees a small girl.

Small, Dirty, but still alive.

When she comes back to herself....she looks up at the man again and makes up her mind. Would it be okay if people thought she was crazy?

 Would it be okay if no one believes her?

She doesn't know the answer and most likely will never know. However, she decides that the onus will be on the other person to decide what they will believe or won't believe.

It will always be their choice decided what to do.

So she takes a deep breath and meets the man’s eye and finally decides to take a leap of faith.

"I can help you find your daughter."

May 10, 2024 23:28

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Ayesha Malik
00:14 May 16, 2024

I love the idea of the story. This has potential to be a great thriller. Incredible ending. I have a couple of gentle suggestions for you. The first is purely superficial. There are some places where the formatting could be corrected, for example, there is a period missing at the end of the line: Then the young girls around town started to go missing The second is to make the story tighter, more succint. This will free up some space to learn more about Keylani, what drives her to help in the end eventhough she was unsuccessful in saving ...


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David Sweet
18:52 May 14, 2024

I really like this story. It is unexpected that the father isn't brought to justice, which makes for a great transition for the ending. You said you were up for some constructive criticism, so I am going to give you my two cents and you can take it for what it's worth. I think you have a great character here and a fantastic story. However, you tend to TELL us more than you SHOW the story unfold. For example, I think the beginning is a little slow in getting to the meat of the story. Once the story gets involved with her abilities and her ...


Erica Dorsey
19:12 May 14, 2024

Thank you so much for taking the time to read the story AND leave good criticisms for me to improve my writing. I knew there was something off my story but I couldn't quite pinpoint what it was. Once again... Thank you so much. I appreciate your feedback!


David Sweet
22:11 May 14, 2024

Anytime. I have several mantle clocks in my house, so it resonated with me and intrigued me from the beginning. Was her purchase of the clock in the beginning a conscious or unconscious decision? It almost seemed to me that it was unconscious and she had supressed all of those memories until the clock made them resurface? Perhaps make that clearer?


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