A Robin on the Windowsill

Submitted into Contest #253 in response to: Write about a character who has the ability to pause the passage of time.... view prompt


Horror Science Fiction Fantasy

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

It was in the cluttered backroom of The Rusty Nail, a junk shop on Charlton Street, that he first saw it. The watch wasn’t particularly eye-catching among the sea of relics, but as David passed, it seemed to hum with a strange energy that drew him in. When he asked about it, Mr. McCaffrey merely shrugged.

“Strange piece, that one. Found it in an estate sale.” McCaffrey muttered. A tremor ran through his eyelids, causing them to flutter open and shut rapidly, “ Doesn’t keep time but refuses to cease its tick. Like a heart that won’t concede to death.”

David bought it on impulse. At home, he took the watch in his hands and rubbed away the grime with his thumb. He noticed the intricate patterns etched into the metal. He turned it over, inspecting every detail, until he saw the small button hidden on the side. Curiosity piqued, he pressed it. The world around him froze. Birds hung motionless in the sky, and the gentle ripples on his cup of coffee became a solid sculpture. Time had stopped. Intrigued, he jumped up from the table and threw open the kitchen window. A Robin was perched on the bird feeder; bits of sunflower seeds tumbled from its mouth and hung in midair. He grabbed the bird and squeezed it tight till he felt the low crunch of its bones breaking beneath its skin, and slowly opened his hand. The feathers around its midsection remained motionless, crushed with the imprint of his hand. David placed it back down on the wooden perch. He pressed the button on the watch. The bird sprung up, then keeled backward off the windowsill as sunflower seeds rained down on it. David smiled.

          At first, David used his newfound power sparingly. He’d pause moments to savor them, stretching out the seconds of a sunset or a particularly good mood. It seemed harmless, even beneficial. He grew bolder, stopping time to explore museums at night- pocketed the Netsuke of Demon on a visit to The Met and tore off the shirts of three young girls on the subway. He uploaded that one to his social media account, the before and after videos, not him actually doing it. One second, they’re laughing. The next, naked and screaming. David got 500 likes for the post. The potency of control was intoxicating and fueled his expeditions. He roamed the streets at night and day, eating Wagyu steaks off patron’s plates, and stood beside lovers locked in petrified embraces. Taking pictures.

As time passed, David's power became an obsession. He quit his job. After all, he can take whatever he wanted. He immersed himself more in his still world than the bustling one outside. The loneliness he once felt from others was replaced with a god-like detachment. To him, they were mere puppets in a grand diorama that he easily controlled.

During a frozen dawn, as he walked through the quiet streets, David first noticed something was off. Shadows flickered at the edge of his vision—shadows that moved even when Time did not. He attempted to disregard them, but the longer he paused Time, the more distinct and abundant the shadows grew. One day, motivated by a blend of terror and intrigue, David trailed one of these shadows during a Pause. It led him down into the subway system and onto a train stuck between stations. In the last car, he found them—a gathering of shadows, more solid than the rest, huddled around something.

 As he approached, the air grew cold, and the shadows turned toward him, their forms vaguely human, eyes glowing dimly with a spectral light. They weren’t just moving in his paused world; they were aware of him.

David panicked and pressed the button. Time lurched forward, and the normal sounds of the world rushed back. He jumped through the train door as it closed and ran out of the subway station. David didn’t stop running until he got to the Washington Bridge.  His heart smashing against his rib cage, he fell down onto his hands and knees. A shopping bag handled by a middle-aged woman smashed him in the head.

He didn’t care. David vowed never to stop Time again.

But the allure was too much. As the days passed and normalcy set in, the temptation to press that button once more, to have just another Pause, another moment of peace and control, became overwhelming. It tugged at him like a magnet, threatening to consume him.

He sat alone at a small table nestled in the back of a cozy coffee shop. The rich aroma of freshly brewed espresso filled his senses as he took a sip from the steaming cup in his hand. The buxom barista, Chloe, was finishing her shift. They met the other night outside of Le Chat Noir.

They sat beneath a black canopy adorned with twinkling lights, which cast a soft and romantic glow over their conversation. David treated her to drinks and delectable hors d'oeuvres, hoping to make a good impression. He finally mustered up the courage and asked for her number.

She hesitated, explaining that she had recently ended a long-term relationship and wasn't quite ready to dive into something new. But she “had fun”.

Chloe walked out the door, and he quietly got up and followed. David wanted to “have some fun”. He spent money on her and what did he get? She lived three blocks away in a 5-story walk-up in Greenwich. Chole entered the apartment building foyer. The door was quickly closing. David held his breath and convinced himself that the ominous shadows lurking on the street corners and the subway train were nothing more than a figment of his overactive imagination. He could hear their faint whispers and see their eerie shapes shifting in the dim light, sending chills down his spine. But he knew deep down that it was all just a product of his own mind, a result of too much time spent alone with his thoughts. David shook his head.

  He pressed the watch button.

The shadows were already there as if they had been waiting for him. As soon as the world around him came to a halt, they converged upon him, their murmurs in an unfamiliar tongue filling his ears like the sound of withered leaves in the wind. David ran.

As he raced down the street, gasping for breathe, he abruptly turned the corner and skidded to a stop. A formidable wall of shadows loomed before him, blocking his way. Panic set in as he frantically searched for an escape route. But when he turned back around, the shadows seemed to have multiplied and were now whispering menacingly, herding him toward the brick façade of the building behind him. Trapped like a rat in a maze, David could feel their cold, insidious presence creeping closer, taunting him with their mutterings. His mind raced with desperation as he tried to think of a way out of this nightmare. The only sound was the unsettling susurrus of the shadows as they crept closer, swallowing the light whole.

He repeatedly smashed the button to restart time, but the watch did not respond. He clicked it over and over to no avail. The ticking that had never ceased before was now silent. David finally grasped the true essence of the watch. It was not a useful gadget but a snare. These shadows held dominion over time, protectors of the minutes and hours humans were never intended to manipulate. And by taking too much from Time, he had angered their guardians.

David wrestled with the watch strap on his right wrist. Maybe if he gave it back, they’d go away? He opened his mouth to bargain, but no noise came out. David could no longer move. The shadows caressed his cheek and punched him in the gut. David felt the touch, the pain, but could not cry out. In one swift motion, the watch was ripped from his wrist. The shadows enveloped him, lifted him up, and carried him down the street. David viewed a golden sunset sky with the twilight blue of night slowly creeping in. He saw birds motionless in midair.

Suddenly, he caught sight of the cables of the Brooklyn Bridge looming ahead. He broke out in a cold sweat as he realized where the shadows were taking him. They hoisted him up and over the railings, holding him precariously above the inky black waters below.

The watch started ticking.

David screamed all the way down while the shadows quietly watched.

A half-hour later, Mr. MacCaffrey emerged from the back room of the Rusty Nail. Half an egg salad sandwich rolled around in his mouth, and he suddenly stopped. The junky watch ticked on the shop counter.

June 06, 2024 20:13

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C. J. Payling
21:39 Jun 12, 2024

Hi Jordan You have some nice descriptions in your piece. I especially like - "The loneliness he once felt from others was replaced with a god-like detachment." and "... filling his ears like the sound of withered leaves in the wind." I would have liked some dialogue, with more 'showing' the story rather than 'telling'. A good story though. I really didn't like your protagonist, which I think was the intention. Good job. Keep writing C.J.


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Krislyn Lyon
02:33 Jun 12, 2024

What a cool idea! Love the idea of shadows and angered guardians. Love the watch ticking at the end. "Inky black." Yeah, I can see that water. Nice work!


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