The local charity shop.
This place is a wonderful safe-haven for unwanted clothes, toys, furniture, and other miscellaneous debris that ordinary people have suddenly become fed up with and decided to replace. These shops are usually cramped, dim, not very interesting and often, obvious by name, they reek of that “charity shop smell” which seems to be an accumulation of other household odors rising from the stock and into the air to form that unfortunate stereotype.
Of course however, people travel to these places for the financial benefits; and in an economy as crumpled as ours, of course people would be inclined to rake the economic reimbursements of second hand essentials, disregarding their appearance.
If you search long and hard though, you are sure to find something really cheap which catches your eye. When this event does occur, the overwhelming miracle of finding something you like that is dirt cheap, you would be pretty foolish not to invest in it.
Anyway, it was around this time my mother had decided that our twelve year old sofas needed replacement. The blue weathered beauties had suffered years of bombardment from curious children with scissors, house trained canines giving in to their natural teething instinct and careless adults flopping themselves onto a comforting fortress after a stressful day's work.
It was a refreshing April Saturday when my mother phoned up the charity shop to let her know that there was a blue leather sofa and two blue armchair companions ready to be collected. The two parties agreed that they would collect the couches on Monday morning, so with that, my mother hung up the phone with a cheery smile on her face.
“I’m going down to the charity shop now, Alex, do you want to come with me?”
In normal circumstances I would instinctively refuse, but I remember my good friend James telling me he was moving out of our small town and into the city soon enough, so I saw this as a good opportunity to seek out some inexpensive household items for him and his new home.
“Sure, I’ll walk down with you!” I said, trying to sound as enthusiastic as I could.
The business itself was divided into two shops. One shop was dedicated to selling clothes, cutlery, games, and miscellaneous items. I took part in my school’s “community week” in that same place, where students do free work to “give back to the community” and then write up about their experiences in the context of a diary entry. A fellow student and I did work for these people, and I can officially say it was the most God awful boring shit I’ve ever done in my life.
We were doing general duties such as organizing clothes on racks by size, defining which items were suitable to sell or not and organizing the shop to make it somewhat easy on the human eye. As if the atmosphere here wasn’t bad enough, getting somewhat first hand experience of employment was one of the most insufferable things I have ever had to endure in my life. The air was stale, the clothes were grimy, the shop was disorganized and the customers all looked like burned-out, boring, depressed, old, uninteresting lumps of melancholic and miserable bone and flesh. I remember the employees here being nice though, which made me feel sorry for them working in a place like this.
If there was even one interesting aspect of my time here though, it was the furniture shop, which was across the road from the shack where the clothes shop was. It was a proper building at least, and here I got to go on road trips to different towns, delivering furniture to people along side men in their twenties. At least I had some sort of common ground with them, and I could communicate with them better than I could with the older crowd in the clothing shop.
Anyway, while I wandered aimlessly and studied the fittings of this shop, my mother was discussing buying two couches with a middle aged man behind the till. One couch was a dull, crimson, two seated couch made from a mixed fabric, which elevated off the ground on four wooden stumps at each corner on the bottom. There were several stains scattered across it patternlessly, and time had worn it out profusely. It seemed like a nice sofa for an inner city apartment, rather than a suburban home, but I really wouldn’t have any objection towards her buying it.
Another couch she was going to buy was another, only larger, two seated sofa, which was dark blue and had a design of sickly golden flowers and leaves spread across it. Both sets of cushions, the ones which sank into the couch and the ones you lean your back against, could be flipped over so that the dark blue and gold design was transformed into a chaotic mess of red, yellow, gold, blue, purple and green with stringed up, down and across the cushions. It was disgusting, and even my grandparents would think this was old fashioned.
Upon silently judging my mother’s poor taste, I stumbled across a beautiful old grandfather clock amongst a muddled ocean of wooden chairs, tables and bedside lockers. It towered over them all like a lighthouse, with its white marble face shone out to me, like I was the captain of a ship. This clashed with black roman numerals which stood outwardly bumped, like Braille on a slab of concrete. The clock itself had a dominating height over me, and was made of a dark, shining, Maple wood, with a clear glass revealing the large, glimmering pendulum, swinging from side to side with unintended hypnotic purpose.
I looked around to see if anyone else was here. Just me, my mother and the middle aged man in the light blue shirt behind the till.
“Excellent,” I muttered to myself. I knew as soon as I had seen it that we needed it. I looked around for a price tag, and after a few seconds of searching, I saw a green label sellotaped to the side, near the back. It dangled, with the price facing towards the clock itself, almost like it was teasing me. Expecting it to be around €50 - €100, I flipped it around and laid eyes on a sight that made me drop my jaw like a rolling pencil falling off a slanted desk.
I rushed over to my mother who was now handing money to the cashier and informed her of the most beautiful item in the shop that would cost less money than two packets of cigarettes.
“You have got to see this,” I said in a demanding tone.
With that, she shuffled behind my quickened pace over to where the towering masterpiece settled, and I once again flipped over the shy price tag and revealed to her the unbelievable price. She gazed up once more at its mighty presence, and already, she was sold. Perfect. With that, she approached the counter once more and placed one more item on her order. Again, Perfect.
All of Sunday, I still couldn’t believe how lucky we had gotten with such an incredible deal. I phoned my father, who had been in a hospital since around Thursday due to a heart problem, and he joked, telling me he was proud that “For once you did something financially clever.” Once or twice a few suspicious thoughts had occurred to me that maybe it didn’t work properly or that it had a crack in it somewhere or something like that, but I highly doubted they would sell someone a faulty item.
Monday morning arrived, and because my father was still in a hospital and my mother and sister were at work, it was my responsibility to greet the delivery men and help them bring in the new items. The doorbell rang at around 11 AM and two men who looked like they were in their late twenties greeted me at the door, wearing read overalls and had a scruffy, manual look about their appearance. There was two couches and long a cardboard box in the back of a large, sparsely spaced, white Ford Transit.
The red couch was of small structure and was a flimsy weight, so that proved to be a straightforward job for the two hefty men. The other, horribly coloured couch was much larger and heavier and I tried my very best to assist them with this one. Pushing it into place in my sitting room, it gave out an ear-cringing screech when I rolled. Dear God, mom, why did you buy this?
After the two men then collected both my leather couch and the armchair, last, but certainly not least, was the clock. The two men grabbed either end of the box and assured me that they had gotten this particular one under control.
“Where would ya like this set up?” one of the men asked.
“There’s a vacant space in the dining room,” I informed them, “Can you set it up for me there, please?”
“Of course we will, yep,” they replied, as they carried it through the hallway like two men about to throw a dead body into the ocean.
I sat myself down on the new red couch, which was only really “new” in the sense that it had never been in this fastidious household before. I waited for them to set it up, which they had completed very quickly, with all credit due. With the new clock now fully set up, I went into the dining room to appreciate our home’s fine new contribution.
Admiring its sentimental value, I still couldn’t believe that somebody had just arbitrarily decided to give it away to some random charity shop to sell off for a significantly cut-price. Studying it further, it appeared to be in tip top shape, and when I had studied it later that night, the time on the clock was still matching the time on the electric cooker, just like it had earlier that day, meaning the clock itself also worked perfectly fine. It watched over us as we ate dinner, and I could only wish dad could see the beautiful new clock that we had purchased.
Anyway, I needed to be up early in the morning for some work I had been given by my Uncle, so I decided it would be best to go to bed as early as I could that night. Cutting copious amounts of timber in someone’s back garden that was as hefty as his was certainly not fun, but at least he paid as bulky as his garden, so I really couldn’t complain. After a glass of warm milk and a few chapters of a heavily worded book, I was out like a light by half ten.
I was usually a heavy sleeper, but an odd, unwanted feeling woke me up in the middle of the night. Submerged in darkness, I aimlessly rummaged my hand through the blanket of items on top of my bedside locker for my phone to check the time. My lazy, fruitless attempt had made me unsuccessful. While I was doing so though, three distinct noises, lining up in quick succession, echoed through my mind, to the point where all my senses could experience them.
And that was it. Three ticks from the grandfather clock in the dining room, which was right below my room, and that was it. Those were the noises that echoed throughout my brain like a wide, hollow cave. I froze still in my bed as I wondered why the hell it made that unknown, yet insisting clamour. Shaking from unknown, mind numbing discomfort, I shut my eyes and covered my ears with my pillow to avoid hearing the eerie sound once more.
Strangely enough, I had slept rather well that night, and hadn’t felt ill-refreshed or any dire exhaustion throughout the day. I chopped up my Uncle’s timber with ease and got the job finished before 4 o’clock that day. My Uncle gave me €150 for the job I had done and I got the bus home just in time for dinner.
I came home and I was warmly greeted to the news that it was likely my father would be coming out of the hospital as soon as this coming weekend. He would have to be on strict medication for the rest of his life, which was now most likely going to be shorter, and he would have to undergo a serious lifestyle change, but other than that, he would be back to his fit, healthy self, raring to go like a horse ready to bolt from the traps.
That news had made me feel content, as I had longed for his return for a few days now. The hard labour I underwent throughout the day had made me excruciatingly exhausted, so once again, I hit the hay early enough that night, around 10 PM if I recall correctly.
Nostalgia smacked me like a full speed golf ball when I awakened with that now familiar uneasy feeling once again. I sat up and analyzed the room anxiously before I heard that same ease-shattering noise again once more. Once again, except now with a little more determination, I searched the same bed locker and found my phone, checking the time. Midnight precisely. I instantly threw it back on the locker and tried to shrug it all off, but whatever it was, had beaten me to it.
Like last night, I got an odd overall sensation, only this time it was much more powerful. The ticking made me feel like there were earwigs relentlessly crawling in and out my ears, like I had just eaten a rotten apple and I could once again smell that must from the charity shop, only this time it was twice as strong and took total control of my nostrils. I could now see white blobs in my room, while my ears ringed from the overpowering ticking. I shut my eyes with all the force I could muster to drown out the ringing, but all my senses were still nullified slaves to the ticking. The blobs shifted and deformed, as if my daydreams was trying to disguise themselves as a lava lamp. I once again tried to drown it all out, and focused entirely on drifting off to sleep.
Like last time, before I knew it I was back awake again, like nothing had even happened. I checked my phone. “11:13 AM” it read.
Knowing I would be alone in the house, I was hesitant to get back out of bed that morning. Everything about the clock suddenly seemed to be so daunting. Its tall, dominating presence had reversed from being reassuring and comforting to suddenly seeming so threatening, like it was going to torment us all, just for its own fun and self fulfilment.
I spent the entire day in the sitting room and my bedroom, trying my very best to avoid coming into contact with the appalling, cursed, untrustworthy item. Mother came home at around 6 that evening and cooked me, my sister and herself a Spaghetti Bolognese dinner. I came in to the kitchen, which sits prettily right beside my dining room, and grabbed my bowl of food without as much batting an eye in the general direction of the clock. I ate my dinner in the living room and pretty much spent the rest of my night there.
It was around 10:50 PM, when the usual "American Dad" triple came on TV, ending just before midnight. It was when it ended, that I decided to get a glass of water from the kitchen before I stumbled back up to bed. Again, the plan was to run in quickly, get the water and run back out while all the while avoiding the clock’s hostile presence.
It didn’t exactly go to plan though.
I entered the kitchen at a quickened pace and performed the simple steps in what was suddenly an eligibly refusable task of getting a glass of water. The water was gushing out of the tap when suddenly the door behind me slammed shut, giving me a dread fuelled leap.
I looked around me.
A haunting silence.
There was no wind in the house and everyone was asleep, so who closed the door?
The lights above me suddenly smashed unexpectedly, scattering glass and dust everywhere.
Flooded in darkness.
That odd and unwanted feeling came back for the third time as I desperately sprinted for the kitchen door and tried to pry it open.
It wouldn’t budge.
I froze in place.
I turn my head around slowly to look at the clock on the cooker.
I look over at the grandfather clock.
Tick. – I hear as the image of my aunt Patricia who died from throat cancer comes into my mind. Her tongue was swelled up so badly that she could not close her mouth and she inhales a cigarette through her nostril. She puts her hand back down by her side and you can now see that her throat is covered in yellow, purple and red scabs and scars, faintly representing the other side of my new couch cushions. I’ve now got this extremely painful feeling in my arms that feel like somebody is violently pulling all my veins at the same time.
Tock. – I now see the dead body of my six year old cousin, who died a few years ago after he was hit by a car when he was playing football on the road outside his home. There are trickles of blood dripping from his head and his limbs are twisted, broken and dislocated. He lies on the ground staring into the sky with wide eyes, not blinking once. I can now taste and smell the must from the charity shop as it strongly engulfs me as a whole.
Tick. – I can now picture my grandfather lying dead in a hospital bed, his skin transformed into a dead pale blue. Everyone around me is crying as I sit and stare at his dead body. His eyes are closed and his lungs are swollen with Pulmonary Edema, like water balloons that look ready to pop any moment and soak everyone in the room. I can now hear the tormented crying screams of mental anguish as it rains down upon everyone in that room, deafening my ears and twisting my mind.
My hand still gripped to the handle of the door.
I go to push it one more time.
And then that’s when I hear it.
I can never forget it.
An extra one.
A break in the rhythm.
Tock. – As the image of my father, lying in a hospital bed with wide eyes, pale blue lips, gritted teeth, struggling to breathe and gripping the left hand side of his chest with both of his hands comes into my mind.
Written by CrashingCymbal
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