Great-Gran’s attic is stuffed with junk. My wife and I are consigning most of it to bin bags and putting aside stuff we want to take downstairs for a closer look, away from the rustlings of mice. We’ve come across a padlocked box.
My family suffered from one of those congenital conditions that result in an early demise, but Great-Grandmother intended to go on forever. Some rumours attributed her longevity to a pact with the devil, while others claimed she drank the blood of each generation’s infants.
She wasn’t a popular woman.
Nevertheless, she was on track to receive her telegram from the Queen when she tripped down a flight of stone steps in the town centre and broke her neck. Local opinion suggested she’d been pushed by one of the shop assistants she’d argued with over the years.
She used to have a soft spot for me, though. Mother almost died when I was born, and I wasn’t expected to live. Great-Gran took charge of me when I was discharged home to die – Mum still being in hospital – and she made it her business to see that I survived.
In time, Great-Gran fell out with my parents – as she did with everyone – and we lost touch. The old witch left no will, and I’m the only one left now to inherit. And my kids, of course, medical science having moved on over the years.
So it is that my wife and I find ourselves clearing her rambling Edwardian semi. We can’t help agreeing what a boon all that space would have been when the girls were young, and I’ll swear the old house creaks in anger.
She goes downstairs to make us a cuppa while I take up the bolt-cutter from my van to the box’s padlock. As I lift the lid, there’s a wire between the box and lid that stops it from opening properly, but I can see an ornate old clock in there, ticking away with the second hand still gliding around its face. With my restricted view, I can’t read the name and date on the clock face, but it looks valuable. Downstairs Great-Gran’s bone china teacups clatter as my wife takes them from the display cabinet.
I cut the wire.
The ticking stops. Birdsong outside the dormer window falls silent.
I lift the lid and let it drop behind the box.
The clock’s second hand has stilled. In the silence I lean forward to read the name and date on the clock face.
The name is my name.
The date is my date of birth.
I hear no teacups clattering downstairs, no rustlings of mice in the attic. A chill crawls over my scalp and down my spine.
What have I done?