For thirty-two and a half minutes John Nell had been sitting at his desk staring at a blank piece of paper hoping some words would soon appear on it. No, no words came to Mr. Nell because he had no words in his pretty little head. His wildest fantasies consisted of himself walking around grey, shapeless masses considering the important things in life; the numbers he needs for that report due next Tuesday, who'll win the big game next Sunday. The lights of John Nell's life were flickering candles miles away, any part of Nell's brain which had even considered curiosity or exceptionality had been carefully stitched out by little old women in black while he was yet developing. It was, then, exceptional, that Mr. John H. Nell would be the one to stumble upon an age old secret, one which none would believe he found, and which fewer would believe he could possibly have made up. Luckily for Mr. Nell, he wouldn't have to explain his findings, as he would not live past 11:47 this night.
John's clock was an antique; it was a clock which constantly droned on in a monotonous series of clicks and ticks. John thought the clock proper representation of his own life. After minutes more of staring down at a faded piece of paper, yellowed from years of improper storage in the house of a smoker, John decided to stand up. It is quite possible, had he not stood up, he would still have the option to stand up the next day. It is more likely, however, that it was inevitable that John had stood up, just as the it was inevitable that the clock must tick, as it was 11:00, and it therefore was time for John to prepare for sleep.
John was now in his pajamas. He walked into the dreary kitchen of his ragged one-story home, if it could be called a home. As he made his way to the refrigerator to grab some sour milk or rust-flavored water, John heard a sound. A sound unlike the sounds John usually hears at this time of night. No, this was not the familiar tune of his neighbor and acquaintance O'Leary throwing his wife against his thin walls and his fists against his thin wife, this, this was a slightly gentler song.
Mr. Nell heard metal turning, he heard soft chains scraping against old pulleys, John heard the sound of a door being opened. “Must be a neighbor's got the TV on.” John said to himself. The thought contented him for a while.
But no, he thought, after taking a sip of the waterlike beer he chose over his very unwaterlike water, no, this sound continued, and it did not have the familiar choppy, buzzing quality of any TV he'd heard outside of some fancy electronics store. John stopped drinking and started to listen as closely as he could, and that was when he heard the whispers.
Faint, they were very faint when he first heard them. He couldn't make out words, let alone sentences, let alone the complex phrases they were truly uttering. But the sound grew, the sound of whispers grew as the sound of chains and long-since used mechanics grew closer, the sounds grew and so did John's fears. John wondered, in those moments, sometimes aloud and sometimes only in his head, he wondered if something was coming, and he wondered what it was coming for. And as he wondered, he begun to hear the words behind the whispers.
But they were not words, no, not to him they were not. To him, they were images, they were pictures. To him, every single word amongst billions said took a memory, a thought of his own and extrapolated from it a scenario in which his greatest fear was realized. He tried to cover his ears, he covered his ears, but the sound just continued to come, the sound continued to attack his ears, but not just his ears. He felt the presence. He heard the words, and the mechanical grinding perfectly in sync with his clock's perfect metronome, 11:36, he read, but those numbers no longer made any sense to him. John Nell screamed and ran and pounded his head against the wall just to try and make the meaningless words which somehow had so much meaning stop. And then, after Mr. Nell calmly sat down back in front of his three-quarters empty beer can at 11:42, everything stopped.
Everything stopped for a moment. The grinding of gears, the pulse of his clock, the pulse of his heart, the motion of the clock, everything stopped. John heard the sound – no – John heard the piercing scream of metal on metal and John then too heard his own scream. He could not tell which was more terrifying. John Nell, the thirty-two year old co-manager of Fonz' Deli; John Nell, the two-hundred and thirty-two pound ex-high school county weightlifting champion turned hotdog eating champion; John Nell the man who spent two months in jail for drug charges ran as fast as his stubby legs could carry him to behind his bed and cried.
His crying could not drown out the screaming of metal, nor could it prevent the inevitability which would be presently carried out. The screaming, as John heard from behind his twin mattress, was now met with a shrieking. A sound which made him then recall the time his family cat had wandered too close to their fireplace and ended up a pile of ashes. John wondered if he, too, would soon be a pile of ashes, and at 11:44, John wondered what a pile of ashes would wonder. John's thoughts were interrupted by footsteps.
The clock had once again resumed its ticking. With it, feet moved. Solid, heavy, yet quick feet followed the clock's beats. John stared over his yellowed bed towards the entryway from his kitchen to his room, and, with the movement of the feet, John saw a shadow creep towards him. His eyes widened, but his pace did not quicken, no, John's pace still matched the hollow clicking of his clock, its hands moving from one position to the next, never quickening, never relenting. The clock clicked to 11:46 and John knew he was a minute nearer the end.
The heavy footsteps continued towards his door, and with them, the shriek grew louder. Tears of fear ran swiftly down his cheeks, but John remained. Paralyzed with fear or curiosity or some dreadful mixture of the two, John watched as the steel imp made its way towards him. Its eyes were purely red, they shone with wicked glee and an awful curiosity. The creature again took an almost invisible step as the clock took its invisible steps. The clock moved precisely towards its inevitable destination, and the creature towards its terrible destination. John then thought that this must be death. This must be how all those who have sinned must die. John watched as the one who would take his life approached him, moving only towards him each moment, although after, John was sure, another would follow another minute, another day. John stood and with the last fifteen clicks of the clock, the creature took its last fifteen steps towards John.
With one step left the creature pierced John's heart with his drill-shaped fingers. John's body was left lying on the bed, his face forever frozen with the realization that he had been dead ever since the day he was born.