I'd had the old watch for a while now, but it was only recently that it'd been starting to bug me. It was mechanical, no battery, but no windup either - somehow the motion of your arm when you walked around was supposed to keep the internal springs wound. Very clever what they can build, these days. You keep seeing new things all over the place.
During the day, I wore it like you wear a watch. At night I kept it on the table next to my bed. Without it I was worthless - I'd never be on time to anything. I'd gone for at least a year without letting it get out of arm's reach. The idea of forgetting it somewhere was pretty scary.
But lately...lately it seemed to be getting louder. Sometimes it even seemed to be getting slower, didn't it? The ticks sounded farther apart. But it kept perfect time, I never had to adjust it. I kept checking it, shaking it, trying to figure out what had changed. I brought it to a clockwork repair shop, but the guys couldn't find anything wrong with it. They said it didn't sound all that loud.
It's loud, though. Sometimes I'll be doing something, in a meeting at work, writing something, reading a book, and I'll realize I've been sitting there for like five minutes - well, who knows how long, really? - listening to it. Tick. Tick. Tick. It's embarrassing. I'm always looking around, apologizing to everyone else for how loud it is. They always say it's nothing, they can't hear it, but I'm afraid they're just being polite. Last week I realized my girlfriend was waiting for me to answer some question - I had no idea what she'd been talking about. All I could hear was Tick, Tick, Tick.
The last two nights, it woke me up out of a sound sleep. I tried moving it farther away from the bed but somehow it still seemed too loud. You know how that happens, you get up and fix something that's noisy, a leaky faucet or whatever, and just when you think you're going to fall asleep, you hear it again? Your ears keep adjusting. I put it in the other room and closed the door but then just tossed and turned, terrified that I wouldn't wake up on time, and finally went and got it again. It seemed like I could still hear it anyway, almost like an echo - like I've been listening to it for so long, my mind kept making the noise.
Today I went to the store to get a new watch. Something quiet and digital. Obvious answer, right? People kept asking me if I was okay. I guess it's clear I haven't been sleeping well - I'm pretty pale and sweaty, bloodshot eyes. I sat in front of the display case for a long time - I don't know how long. I just couldn't make up my mind. Every time I tried to figure out what features I want or how much money I wanted to spend, I'd realize I'd just been sitting there, staring at nothing, listening to the watch. I swear I can hear it bouncing around inside my head. The clerk was trying to ask me something but I just couldn't concentrate - I could barely hear what he was saying. The watch was so damned loud...I'm sure he was asking me what's wrong with it. God, if only I could sleep right...somehow I found myself back home without a new watch.
I kind of broke down, then, a little. All I'd had to do was buy a new one, but now I was stuck with this fucking watch for another night! Damn it, how'd I screw that up? Sure, I'm tired as hell, but all I had to do was buy a damn watch. This whole pain in the ass would have been over with.
Okay, it doesn't seem like this is a big deal. It shouldn't be, right? It's just a noisy watch. But for some reason I was totally freaked out. Something about the way it kept getting louder, the way it was slowing down. It was definitely slowing down. Like the ticks were getting heavier, like it was pushing a pendulum through syrup or rust. It made me feel sick. No, hell, I was terrified. It must have been the lack of sleep, right? When you're running on the edge of exhaustion, you get scared and jumpy. I can't explain it. I felt like something terrible was about to happen, like someone I knew was going to die, but if I tried to think who, I couldn't remember. There was no reason. It was just a watch. But it was hard to think. I kept losing time, waking up out of that empty trance, hearing Tick Tick Tick.
Just now it happened again. It's fucking dark outside. This wasn't five minutes, more like five hours I just lost. I just come to myself and I'm sitting on my bed, watch in my hands, staring at it. It was like 3 PM when I sat down. There's a bowl of soup I was about to eat, cold and thick now, on the little table over there. I just lost my whole evening listening to Tick, ...Tick...
I freak out, now. Totally lose it. I almost throw up. Somehow the missing time is the scariest thing that's ever happened to me. This fucking thing has to go. It'll be worth missing work tomorrow, if I do. I've got to sleep. I've got to get some peace from this Tick, Tick.
I turn the watch upside down in my hand, cool smooth metal in my palm, and smash the glass against the bedside table, I beat it down again and again until the thing is dead, the arms are bent, the soft metal's fucked, the brass gears and springs and bits of glass are all over the place like parade confetti.
I close my eyes. I hear nothing. I take a breath. Silence, total silence. I'm at peace.
Then I feel it, terrible pressure inside my chest, like a heart attack might feel. Heavy, slow. Like a gear grinding, like a heavy weight falling. More like a clunk than a tick.
I tear open my shirt to uncover my heart, trying to press my hands against my skin. Am I that stressed out, I'm having a heart attack? I'm not old enough. My chest feels wrong.
When I look down, I see something pushing my skin out, like a rib, like something that shouldn't be there, like when my stupid cousin ended up with a B-B stuck under the skin on his forehead, only bigger. It hurts terribly, like something's broken. My arms weigh a million pounds, sweat's stinging my eyes, I feel freezing cold. I can't feel my fingers, they're clumsy and numb. For some reason I decide that I have to push this thing back into place, like setting a broken bone. I fumble around for a while, my skin is slick with sweat, my hands are useless. Finally I get enough purchase, I suck wind into aching pinched lungs, I push with all my feeble power. Chonk!
The pain is horrible, worse than anything. The world is red. Then the world is black. I can't feel or see anything. I seem to keep thinking I'm cold, though. I drift for a while, occasionally thinking I'm cold, not really understanding what that means or caring.
After a while...who knows how long? I hear crazy whispers in my ears. There's a little whirring sound, like a motor pulling an elevator far away, like a wheel spinning.
Things happen out of sequence. Or I remember them wrong. I'm sitting up. I can see my room again, but there's no color at all. I'm blind, but I can feel again - my chest, mostly. I feel something sliding around under my skin, someone pushing something into me. I try to scream but I can't make a sound. There're mechanical noises again, clicks, winding noises. I feel a strange pressure building between my ears.
There are two men in the room with me. They're doctors. Somehow I know this. Maybe it's because they're wearing white coats? I feel like I knew before I thought about it.
There's another big click, and more things sliding around inside my head. The world has color again. I still can't move. There's more winding noises.
"Very clever what they can build these days," says a doctor man. He reaches behind my head and I feel something long sliding out of my brain. Very, very long. I should be dead. I try to imagine how far into my head it was, and I gag, only I don't because I can't move. It keeps sliding out. I can't feel where it was inside, only where it moves through the skull.
Finally he pulls his hand back. There's a big brass key in his fingers, covered in blood and a little hair.
"I hear they've got new ones that keep themselves wound up somehow, just by walking around."
"Man, I'd like to see that."
"Okay, hit the reset and let's get out of here."
Today I got a watch in the mail from a relative, one of the old kind that has moving parts but no battery. You have to keep winding it up though. I like it. It makes a nice, quiet ticking noise, very quick and regular. For some reason, the sound is really soothing, like everything's right in the world.