Killing Takes Time
By Ruth Calder Murphy (Arciemme)
The first death was reported as a phenomenon. A family of three, a happy family by all accounts, the couple not long married, the toddler a ‘delightful, contented little thing’. (A Local source.) They had spent a long, happy, luxuriously lazy day walking in the woods, beside the streams, collecting pine cones, teaching the baby new words. On the way home, sleepily, companionably quiet, they had murmured about this and that and the baby had fallen asleep.
“It’s getting late,” he said.
“Past his bedtime,” she agreed, casting a fond and indulgent glance towards the back seat. The baby snored a deep breath and squeaked once. She turned back to face the front and glanced at the clock. “Twenty past seven,” she commented, unnecessarily.
“Mmmm,” he agreed.
They drove on, woodland opening into meadows and hills darkening on the horizon as the sun set sanguine behind them.
“How long do you think it will take to get home?” She asked, having her own idea
as a ready response. She looked at the clock and frowned. “That clock’s stopped,” she remarked, a hint of annoyance creeping into her tone. “Still twenty past seven.” He looked too.
“Strange,” he said. “I would have thought the clock would run on the car battery.” She Looked at her watch.
“My watch has stopped too,” she said, the annoyance rising to alarm. She pulled out her phone. “And my phone. Twenty past seven.” She stopped, looked at him. “What’s going on?” He frowned, trying to think. “Pull over,” she said, indicating a place at the side of the road. The imperative in her voice was strong. He stopped the car, looked at his watch. She studied his face, anxiety rising although she did not know why. She knew before he said it.
“Twenty past seven,” he confirmed. They looked each other in the eye. Neither could have said why they felt black dread creeping over them, why the air seemed cold, why they hesitated to look...
She looked first and it was her cry that broke the stillness. She clambered over the handbrake and undid his harness but he was gone, the tiny dimpled body that had held him, formed his first words for him, tumbled and toddled with him, was blue grey and already growing cold.
Perhaps it was her husband’s words that precipitated the divorce. He looked from the cooling face of his son to the clock on the dashboard.
“The clock’s working again,” he said. Then, the shaking and the sobbing started. Two weeks later when he was interviewed on daytime television, it still hadn’t stopped. In the back of the car his wife moaned and held the empty shell of her absent child to her breast.
That was the first death. The second happened the day of the daytime television interview. Again the clocks stopped. This time it was in a shopping precinct. People glancing up at the big black and white clock frowned and checked their watches, their phones and one by one realised that they all said the same thing and kept on saying it for far too long. A hush fell as people remembered the news reports and even those who hadn’t seen them sensed that something tar-black and nasty paced amongst them. Then the screams. A child, a little girl with red ribbons in her hair, holding her mother’s hand, had realised that the hand no longer held hers. The mother crumpled and was gone, leaving a confusion of shopping, a cooling corpse and a sobbing girl with red ribbons in her hair.
There followed the third and fourth and several more, spreading outwards from the first like a disease. Like ripples across the country, stopping neatly, somehow politely at its border. Each time, Time stopped to allow the death to occur. The ripples increased in size as they spread so that deaths eight to sixteen happened simultaneously, in a large circle more than a hundred miles in diameter. People beyond the circle started to panic. They checked train journeys, plane journeys, country walks, trying to predict where the next blows would fall.
Underground, they felt safe. They carriage rattled, breathing oil and sweat, stale food and stale feet through tunnels of reflections in windows that threw the cares of the day back into people’s eyes. They did not make eye contact here until one by one, they began to notice that time had stopped. It had stopped for them after all. Eyes, used to sliding surreptitiously over faces now stopped and stared, wide and frightened, trying to tell where the scythe would fall, had fallen... Who it would be...
The Transport for London spokesperson shook as, standing outside HQ, she confirmed that none of the one hundred and twenty two people on board the Central Line train to Marble Arch had survived. It was thought, she said, that the driver had been the first to die - of natural causes - and that his death in turn had caused the crash.
“Is this linked to the Time Thief Deaths?” Asked one salacious reporter, wanting to dramatise one hundred and twenty two deaths as much as he possibly could.
Replying that there was no evidence to suggest that the Time thief had gone underground, she was bustled back into the building where the clock on the foyer wall stopped dead and another killing took no time at all.