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The Clock, Short, Short Fiction, A Response to Bill Holland's Photo Challenge #5

Chris has written more than 300 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.


Author's Note

I have written part two to this story. You can read it at,

The Clock, Part Two

Jacob walked across the river bridge, looking down at the sidewalk. Whenever he came to the next line in the concrete, he would alter his pace to avoid stepping on it. Step on the crack, and you'll break your mother's back. OCD was just one of the emotional challenges he had struggled with since his mother was murdered when he was ten years old.

He looked up and saw the clock that was mounted on a twelve-foot tall concrete stand. The time was 5:33 PM, the exact moment of his mother's death fifteen years earlier on this same day.


He stared at the clock, but the image he saw wasn't quite right. It was like a picture being projected onto a curtain that was waving in a gentle breeze. A man stood in that patch of distorted space, motioning for him to approach. Goosebumps rose on his back, ran up his neck, and onto his scalp, making it feel as though his hair was standing up. He cautiously approached.

"This is a gift from your mother and father," said the man.

His father had died of a heart attack just two weeks before in the prison where he had been serving a life sentence for the murder of his wife, Jacob's mother. The jury had found him guilty of murdering her at their home while Jacob had been visiting his grandparents.

Jacob was overcome by the surreal scene and the suggestion of this man that his parents wanted to share something with him from the other side of death. He stepped into the wrinkled fabric of time and space, not knowing what to expect.

He was in the living room of the house where he had grown up. His mother was across the room near the fireplace. He stepped forward to run to her, but the man who had escorted him here placed his hand on Jacob's shoulder.

His mother was not alone. A man Jacob did not recognize stood several feet from her. Their conversation involved something about which Jacob had never heard a word. His mother's name was Ruth.


"I'm telling you, Phil, Someone at the bank is doctoring the financial records and embezzling money."

"We know you've seen some unusual accounting, Ruth. We just want you to let it go. Act like you never discovered a thing. If you do that, we can promise you a considerable amount of money as a way of showing our appreciation."

"You can forget that. I want nothing to do with whatever scheme you're running. I'm filing a Suspicious Activity Report with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network tomorrow, and nothing you say will stop me."

"I'm sorry to hear that, Ruth. I really am." Phil pulled a pair of gloves from his pocket and put them on. He reached back in and produced a handgun that he pointed at her head. "Now we will just wait."

"What are you doing, Phil? Wait for what?"


At that moment, the front door opened, and Jacob's father, Anthony, walked in. He took in the bizarre scene, staring with his mouth hanging open. He didn't even have a chance to speak or act.

Phil fired the gun. The bullet caught Ruth in the center of the forehead. He turned to Anthony and tossed the gun fast enough that the man reacted by catching it rather than letting it fall to the floor. Anthony pointed the gun at his wife's murderer and pulled the trigger. One click, two clicks, three clicks. There had only been one round in the pistol. Anthony dropped the weapon and ran to his wife. Phil disappeared out the back door.

Jacob's knees gave out, and he fell to the floor. This was the exact scene his father had described to the jury. It was the scene they had rejected. Of course, it did not include the part about his mother's discovery of the crime of embezzlement at the bank. His father had only seen a man shoot his wife and then toss the gun to him.

This was supposed to be a gift from the spirits of his dead parents? Since the murder, his life had been filled with anger and hate, two emotions that were tearing him apart. By knowing the truth, he could let go of destructive despairs.

Jacob got to his feet. One arm reached around and pulled him close while another held him from the opposite side. His mother and father, together after all these years, escorted him back to the clock.

He embraced his parents, then stepped through the curtain to his own time and place. That night, as he undressed to get ready for bed, he noticed something in his shirt pocket. He unfolded a piece of paper and immediately recognized his mother's handwriting.


The note instructed him where to search in the bank's database to find a particular document. The message also gave him the name of a trusted friend who could help him access the information.

When they found the file, it contained dates, account numbers, names, a description of the embezzlement scheme, and Ruth's own statement that she feared for her life. At the bottom, she had signed and dated it. The date was the day before she was murdered.

It was the kind of document that could warm cold cases and open those that were closed. It could root out the guilty and emancipate the wrongly accused. It was a testament that could set straight a family history and soothe a tortured soul.

But would it also lead the authorities to the murderer of his mother's killer?

© 2020 Chris Mills

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