The Night Before
“I hope you find this as useful as I have. I think it’s the perfect thing to get you past your little phobia.”
Scoff! The nerve! Jose couldn’t believe she’d be that presumptuous, gifting him something she knew would tighten his throat and grip his chest. Sure, they’d discussed easing him into various tech gadgets, hoping they might bridge the gap between his mental island and the rest of the technologically advanced world. He didn’t think she’d send him something without warning. To his house. Where he lived. His wooden house, full of analog devices and nothing so complicated it required voice-activation or a remote app to control.
His skin bristled as he held the light box, shooting lasers from his eyes to see what sort of danger hibernated inside. Cautiously, he raised it to his ear and shook. A rubbery vibration traveled down his hands and arms into his chest.
“Damnit!” he screamed, ripping the box apart.
A harmless-looking alarm clock. The accompanying booklet described the clock’s special features, which weren’t evident from the exterior. At first, Jose thought it was one of those retro items, things that didn’t need to be refashioned into their original designs, but people clamored after because retro was cool. Its round body stood on four short legs, and the two bells on top rested between a clapper. Large numbers packed onto the circular face read from across a room, perfect for someone near-sighted like Jose.
He sniffed suspiciously at the gift, wondering where the enhancement hid. Otherwise, his sister had given him a truly thoughtful present.
“Tired of waking to the harsh and startling sounds of your old alarm? Studies have found that waking up to a jolt can catastrophically ruin your day, so what’s stopping you from waking up better? Nothing, now that you’ve purchased the Wake Your Way Clock!”
His eyes rolled so hard his brain throbbed. He hated the tacky way people marketed their tacky trinkets. Maybe the gift was a dud after all, but he kept reading.
“Choose from a selection of wakeful moments and Wake Your Way Clock will recreate through force-touch technology how you experience waking up!”
Uh-oh, force-touch technology. That always creeped him out, the way holograms and imaginary things could touch you, kick you, spit on you, as real as real gets.
He found the list of ways the clock wanted to bring you out of sleep, and they sounded okay enough, but some sounded strange. Who wanted to wake up with a bucket of water to the face? That sounded like a great way to drown in your sleep.
Another wide eyeroll.
The clock offered the Disney princess option (singing birds and forest animals peeling the sheets back and physically lifting you through the air), the End of the World option (low sirens wailing from a distance while zombies crashed through windows and tore away your blankets), and the Mommy Mommy Mommy option (just kids jumping on your stomach until you tumble onto the floor).
He scrolled and scrolled until a subtle option snuck in. To most people, waking up to a swarm of bees buzzing through your room, coating the walls, the bed, even your body, might’ve sounded extreme. Still, force-touch technology always stopped one step before it harmed anyone, so bees buzzing and tickling his skin sounded the least aggressive.
“Whatever, we’ll see if it even works,” he said, setting the clock on his nightstand and crawling into bed.
Sweet buzzing whispered into his ear, and hairy feet dotted his face. The shushing and tickling persisted, waiting for him to open his eyes and shut the alarm clock off. Bees flew lazily across the room from wall to wall, no real agenda, just there to softly wake Jose. He was right; the sensation was rather enjoyable. When his hand hit the OFF button, the bees evaporated, and he jumped out of bed, surprised to find a smile crossing his face.
Buzzing and tickling, again, he was surprised to wake so peacefully.
Standing in front of his bathroom mirror, yawning, and twisting the sleep from his body, something red bloomed on his neck. Thinking it was a pimple, he pressed hard to pop it, but he expelled a small stinger instead of pus.
“What the hell?” he hadn’t felt a sting, but maybe he startled a little guy while he was still deeply asleep. He considered switching settings on the clock but shrugged and grabbed for his toothbrush.
“Ow, shit!” He flew from his bed, wide awake and forgetting to hit the OFF button on his alarm clock. Red welts speckled his arms and chest; new bee stings waking him up painfully. The bees, agitated by the disturbance, zipped around furiously, aiming more stingers at Jose. A threat until he hit the button on the clock.
Eyes wide, he dove for the button just in time, barely dodging the angry swarm.
“That’s it, fuck bees.” He scrolled through his options and picked the Disney princess alarm, hoping singing deer and rabbits might be kinder.
Snorts tickled the hair in his ears. He twitched violently to scratch at the canal his fingernails couldn’t quite reach. As the morning fog cleared from his eyes, the snarling deer inches from his face came into focus.
It wasn’t singing, and neither were the birds perched around the room. They all glared at him like he was birdseed, and they hadn’t eaten in weeks. Chipmunks on the bed hopped closer, sniffing the air, sniffing him.
Jose’s heart pounded loudly, but he slowly reached for the OFF button, slamming his hand down as the sweat trickled down his cheeks and the deer snarled even louder.
“Fuck, I can’t even get the Disney animals right?” he wailed, dropping his head back onto the pillow. He adjusted the clock’s settings so tomorrow there would be no alarm.
Growling rumbled through his head, waking him up. He hadn’t set the alarm because he didn’t need one that morning, but if he had, his old malfunctioning clock would’ve done the trick. So, what was growling?
His eyes pried open, searching for hungry forest animals or angry bees, but there were none. He instinctively threw his hand to the alarm clock to silence whatever irritated spector it had conjured but quickly drew it back to his chest.
The alarm clock had grown a lot of very sharp teeth, and each one smiled at him.
He screamed incoherently, disgusted and shocked by the transformed clock. It hopped and wiggled, never losing its terrifying smile. Jose looked around, wondering if the rest of his furniture wanted a piece of him, but it was just the clock.
“Alright, this is too much. What do you want?” He screamed at the clock. It said nothing but kept grinning and growling. Then, it began floating, like wings had replaced its decorative windup knob.
Jose’s eyes nearly plopped out of his head, and he rolled to the other side of the bed, ducking behind it to watch the clock’s next move. It kept coming. He ran screaming out of the room, slamming the door behind him to lock the clock inside. The Wake Your Way Clock dashed across the room after him, colliding into the shut door with a booming crunch. Jose saw the dent through his side of the door and leaped backward.
Over and over, the clock rammed the door, and its growling intensified. At some point, he thought the clock stopped ramming to chew at the wood instead. Its chompers looked sturdy enough to handle a measly wooden door.
He ran before the tiny creep escaped, but where to hide, and what to do once he hid? His cramped pantry beckoned him, so he dove inside, silently closing the sliding door just before the hungry clock burst through.
Sweat blinded him. He wiped at it and blinked it away, focusing on the flying alarm clock in his kitchen. Through the narrow slats in the pantry door, he watched the floating menace zoom from room to room, gurgling in frustration. Would it kill him, he wondered? Was that even possible? After all, he was so much larger and only needed a good grip on the thing to smash it to the ground.
The flimsy door rattled, drawing Jose’s attention back to the kitchen. He almost let out a high shriek when the clock appeared in front of him, only separated by the door. It hissed and snarled like one of its ravenous deer. Jose suddenly didn’t care to think how the clock might kill him, only that he didn’t want to die. Especially by a clock. It was his worst nightmare and the most embarrassing way he could think of to go.
Searching the pantry, he found his beautiful, manual, wooden broom. He grabbed it with both hands and stood up, ready to charge the stupid clock. In one swift movement, he kicked the door open, swatted at the clock to push it into the pantry, and shut the door again. If the clock could work through the other thicker door, he didn’t have any hope for the pantry door, so he bolted.
Outside, running through the streets, onlookers gave him quizzical stares. Nobody understood he was on the run from a man-eating alarm clock, but if he could just explain it, tell someone what was happening, they’d help him.
“Please, my alarm clock is trying to kill me. Help!” He grabbed a stranger’s arm, pulling and pleading. The stranger frowned, wanting to assist the insane person grabbing at them, but the story was too absurd. They shook him off and kept moving.
Glass shattered from a window. Jose knew what that meant without seeing the clock bursting from his front window. The clock shot up into the sky, searching for Jose like a hawk spying a rabbit below.
He ran, looking back every few seconds to see how much closer his pursuer was. Each time, the clock drew in closer. It caught up to him and sunk its pointed teeth into his shoulder. Spinning and wailing, and managed to throw the clock off, but it hung in the air a few feet away. Blood poured down his shoulder and back. His arm on the same side felt stiff and heavy, but he readied his broom to attack.
“Sir, I’m sorry, are you alright?” A faceless voice off to his side stepped up to him, concerned about the bleeding man holding his broom like a weapon.
“Oh, I’ll be fine once I squash this little creep!” he barked through gritted teeth.
“Um, sorry, who? Who’s a little creep?” the voice asked.
“This floating alarm clock, didn’t you see it attack me? It’s right there!” he shouted. He pointed at the clock and looked toward the voice, but the person’s face saw nothing outside Jose and his strange appearance. They crinkled their face in confusion, not sure where to look.
“Right THERE!” he pointed again. Nothing.
The clock launched forward while Jose was distracted, catching his outstretched finger, and ripping it off. Spurts of blood pulsed from the missing digit as Jose screamed. Again, distracted with his missing finger, the clock dove for his neck, taking a huge chunk of flesh and artery away with it.
Losing blood fast, Jose’s face paled, and he crumpled to the ground. As his sight fogged over, he continued to hear the buzzing clock nibble at him, though the crowd drawing in did nothing to stop it. He heard someone shout for an ambulance, but he didn’t think that would do much good if they didn’t stop the little rat first.
His eyes slid shut, encasing him in darkness, and with his last thought, he wondered if he’d bothered to set his alarm for tomorrow.