“I have to say, you could really afford to be a bit more careful… Not even a single security guard? Hindsight is 20/20, I suppose…”
“…G-get the hell out of my office!”
“Fat chance. How about you and I have a chat, friend?”
The sarcasm ringing clear in my voice, I saw my reflection in the plate glass door as I slammed it back into place. As I spun back around, I allowed myself to soak in the decor of my surroundings. You couldn’t throw a dart in the room without hitting some type of trophy, certificate, or celebratory photo—a constant reminder of the narcissism possessed by the office’s occupant.
That occupant in question, not as high and mighty without being in front of a wide angle lens, squirmed as he backed himself into a corner. Leaned up against the opposite wall, I toyed with the knife cradled in my palm. I flashed a menacing smile, approaching my prey with a snicker.
“I’m ashamed, mayor. I would’ve thought that you, of all people, would know when to back off. I kind of regret my vote for you…”
“I-… I know what you are, you demon! The people of Auburn will never bow down to you!”
“I’m going to ignore that. Do you know what the fastest way to kill a deer is?”
“You don’t have to stutter, mayor,” I answered, making myself comfortable in the mayor’s swivel chair. “If you play your cards right, you’ll walk out of here without even a slap on your wrist.”
“…If you want to kill a deer quickly, y-you… Aim for the heart.”
“Bingo. I’m not leaving until I get myself a serving of venison, so I suggest you make yourself comfortable and zip it.”
The mayor was intelligent, and obeyed my request. He swung around to the other side of his desk, and leaned against it, letting out the most overstrung sigh that I had ever heard in my entire life.
“You have demands?”
“Several. You have offers?”
“…Are you going to leave my citizens alone?”
“Stick a fork in it, mayor. I’m not altering my tactic.”
“I could call the authorities right now!”
“You’d bleed out before you pushed a single button. Auburn isn’t a hill worth dying on. Back your ass away from the desk if you have any sense of self-preservation. Judging from those awards, I’m going to take a wild guess and say that you do.”
I seemed to have hit the nail right on the head. The mayor obeyed my orders, slinking away from the desk with a growl. “…I’m listening, demon.”
"Call me Travis,” I picked up a framed picture off of the mayor’s polished desk, frowning as I saw the photo of his wife and kids gathered around him during a makeshift inauguration in the park. “…I was there that day, you know. Your wife is a lovely woman.”
“Leave my wife out of this!”
“That’s the plan,” I replied, slowly setting the photo back down. “Should you lend me a little bit of a helping hand… I might ‘overlook’ your little discrepancy here. You and your first lady can keep your stupid blindfold on for as long as you want.”
“You want me to be your pawn?!”
“Give yourself some credit, mayor. You’re not a pawn. You’re the king, and you’re in checkmate.”
“Of course, there’s the alternative, I-”
“I don’t even want to hear it.”
“Good. Are you finally ready to be reasonable?”
“I-if we’ll be safe… Make me an offer.”
“I want you to put a leash on your boys in blue. There’s a fear always nipping at me, that I’ll be shot right out of the sky… And with every passing day, and every new victim, that fear inches closer to reality. I need a safety net, mayor. I don’t care what you have to do, or what calls you have to make, I want you to take those officers off the street.”
“F-fine! T-they’ll be safer far away from you anyway… I’ll just-”
“Have the army on speed-dial? Nice try. I don’t want a peep about this to the higher authorities, do you hear me?”
“Are you out of your mind, Travis?! I can’t keep this a secret! Even if I wanted to, mass murder isn’t just going to fly under the radar! How am I supposed to hide all of that?!”
“I don’t know, you’re the politician. Figure it out. You’re in no position to leverage anything out of me.”
“I-… T-Travis, you-”
“No cops. No army. No evacuation orders. No mass hysteria. None of it. Do I make myself clear?”
“C-crystal clear, but-”
“Good,” I held my knife in my hand, and shifted it over to the framed photo once more. I pointed the blade to where the mayor’s wife was, and pantomimed slicing her head off. “Wouldn’t want your poor kids to grow up without a mother.”
I shifted my blade downward, “Or for them to not grow up at all.”
“Quiet! I-… I… I accept! Fine, I’ll do whatever the hell you want! Just leave me and my family alone!”
Whether the mayor knew that my words were lies or not, he accepted the demands anyway, worriedly shaking my outstretched hand.
“You’ve got yourself a deal. Pleasure doing business with you!”
The mayor didn’t know it, but after our exchange, I could do nothing but laugh as I ascended back into the air.
That’s one loose end tied up…
Only one more left to go.
I almost forgot what sunlight felt like. Sulking in the shadows of your former life would do that to you, I suppose.
That wasn’t about to stop me, though!
I couldn’t get the audition out of my mind as I strolled down the road, a childish grin on my face and a newfound spring in my step.
It felt really good to be happy again - the closest to happy I’ve been in a long time, at least. The sky seemed to cast a spotlight across the whole town, lifting my spirits. I couldn’t have been more thankful for this shimmer of good luck.
Of course, something else had to come along and ruin my good mood. Why wouldn’t that happen?
My phone’s GPS told me that I wasn’t far from my destination… But I would never even arrive.
A humanoid figure swooped down to the ground from above, landing in front of me and folding its wings to its back.
…Wait, wings? Was this…?
At first, I tried to sidestep away from the figure, but it moved along with me, so I had no choice but to get a good look at it.
It was apparently a male, an inch or two taller than I was. He was dressed in a dull amethyst-colored sweater with brown dress pants. His most striking features were the purple eagle-like wings folded up against his back, and his long hair that shimmered in a similar shade.
The more I looked at him, the stranger he seemed. His eyes were two different colors, one green eye, and one purple eye that became the center of my attention..
But despite the utter implausibility of it all, there was an air of familiarity about him… Those eyes, that face… Could it be?
Oh, how I wish he’d have just let me go.
“There you are,” an all-too-familiar voice spoke, making me take a few steps back and yelp in surprise.
It couldn’t be… Could it…?
I tried to speak, tried to get any words out, but they were caught in my throat. This was all happening so fast that I could barely handle it.
Eventually, I regained my ability to speak.
“You…” I began, hugging myself a bit tightly, resisting the urge to coil into a ball of pain and fear. “…You were on TV… Weren’t you…? You’re the Auburn Demon…”
The demon growled when I said that, taking a few steps closer to me. Seeing the expression of rage on its face only made me more afraid of what would come next… Would I be killed…? I thought the demon only came for couples…?
“Do you not recognize me, Ava?” it asked, unresponsive when I cried out in surprise.
“M… My name… How do you…?”
“It’s me, Ava,” the demon continued. Something seemed to manifest in its hand as it spoke. I couldn’t see what it was for a moment, but I eventually recognized the object…
The Christmas photo from my mantle, despite being shaded only in lavender, was all too familiar to not recognize.
This thing, there was no way it was him! That’s impossible!
“You… He died! A long time ago!” I argued, once again trying and failing to get around the demon. “You can’t be him! You’re nothing like Travis!”
It was getting more annoyed with me, I could tell. Still not letting me pass it by, the creature started to list off things that I had done with Travis throughout the time we were together.
I tried to block it all out, but the demon was profoundly persistent, I had no choice but to listen.
“I used to come and watch your auditions,” it began, making me stop in my tracks with my head held low. “Whenever you didn’t get a part, I’d be there to console you. We used to go to the amusement park, the beach, the town square… I always brought bread to feed the damn ducks at the pond!”
It was too much. I burst into tears as he went on and mentioned more things, things that were still fresh in my mind from my recent trip down memory lane.
“SHUT UP!” I finally snapped, my voice loud and sharp as I pushed it away so I could continue down the road. “YOU’RE INSANE! JUST… Just… Just let me go to this audition… Please… It’s all I have left…”
Why did I think that would work…?
It grabbed my wrist before I could draw my hand back, making me cry out in fear once again.
“After all I’ve done for you…” the demon scowled.
From thin air, I watched a dagger appear in its hand.
My assumption was correct. It was correct and I hated it.
“You can’t be Travis!” I repeated, trying to pull my hand back to my side, but isolation had drained most of my physical strength. The demon was able to keep its grip without exerting much force.
I could only think of one thing.
This thing wasn’t Travis Montgomery. This wasn’t the man I loved.
I would prove it.
I fought against my instincts and darted my free hand toward the dagger, which the demon was simply holding nonchalantly, apparently to threaten me. Once it was in my grip, I made another move to throw the knife away and slap my aggressor across the face.
Guess I wasn’t fast enough, though.
I only remember a numbing pain after that, and I was dropped to the ground as my vision went fuzzy and eventually faded to nothing.
So much for that audition.
So much for my happiness.
Tick, tock. Ti- CRASH!
“Doc, Doc!” I heard that familiar voice cry out. “You have to get down here, this is important!”
Of course. God forbid I actually get anything done.
With a sigh, I turned away from my desk and wandered over to the top of the stairs.
“What is it?” I called out. If she wanted to interrupt my work, it had better at least be important.
My assistant responded, “Doc, there’s a girl! She’s hurt!”
That caught me off-guard. Penny’s voice sounded fearful, distraught. I had never heard her like that before.
I walked down into the main clock shop and peeked into the open space. Penny was on her knees and, sure enough, she had a girl laid out on the floor.
The girl looked to be just a few years younger than Penny. She had crimson red hair that faded to ginger, and orange glasses, along with a grey tank top and jeans.
Penny called out to me, “We have to help her!”
“Why can’t we just get her to a hospital?” I responded. I didn’t know this girl, and I didn’t need yet another distraction.
But Penny replied, “We can’t just leave her! Come on, Doc, have a heart! She might need first aid!”
I hesitated for a moment, then thought the whole situation over. About a million questions were running through my mind, and I contemplated just letting Penny deal with the girl herself.
I saw that look of fear in my assistant’s eyes… She was genuinely worried about this random stranger she hadn’t ever met.
I wandered over and kneeled next to the unconscious woman, getting a closer look. She had a wound on the side of her head, which was bleeding steadily. I got out a first-aid kit I kept in the storage room and treated the wound before bandaging it up.
Penny was pacing around the room as I did this, probably trying to calm herself down. As I worked, she asked if the wound was deep enough for stitches, or something along those lines. I was focused on stopping the girl’s bleeding, so I didn’t hear the exact thing.
“She’ll be fine without them.” I answered. “Come on, Penny… I get that you want to help this girl, but you’re being too extreme. This isn’t a major wound at all.”
It didn’t take that look to bandage up the girl's scrape. Once I was done, my eyes darted to her hands. She was clutching something.
As Penny tried to wake the girl up, I managed to get the object out of her hands.
It was a dagger, a completely purple handle with an identically colored blade. Such an interesting design would have to be custom.
I immediately stood up and stated, “Penny, this girl is dangerous. We need to get her out of here.”
Penny obviously protested, choosing to ignore the dagger that this stranger was toting around. Just as I was about to demand Penny put this girl where she found her, I heard a few groans and whimpers, signifying that Penny had succeeded in waking her up.
The woman was beginning to regain consciousness. Soon enough, she had sat up and was blinking.
Penny stayed alert at the side of the girl, asking questions such as, “Are you okay?” and “What’s your name?”
I stood back, observing. As much as I wanted to return to my work, it would be better to get some answers.
However, instead of answering anything, the girl just asked her own questions. “…Who are you? Where am I…?”
“My name’s Penny Novoa,” Penny answered immediately, before pointing to me. “That’s Doctor Tockman. I found you hurt, so I brought you to his clock shop. He’s the one that patched you up.”
There were a few seconds of silence from the girl, but she seemed to have decided to trust us, so she introduced herself, “My name is Avalonia Milliken… Call me Ava… Th… Thanks for your help…”
Something about this girl didn’t seem right, not just the dagger. She had this awful look in her eyes. They were devoid of happiness, devoid of emotion, they were just… Empty.
Growing more and more suspicious, I took over asking the questions.
“What happened to you, and what on Earth are you doing with this knife?” I firmly asked.
At the sight of the purple blade, Ava’s eyes shot open with fear and she scooted herself against a wall, visibly shivering and whining quietly.
Penny shot me a look before helping Ava up. The ginger-haired girl stumbled both to her feet and with her words, but she eventually answered my questions. “…It… Th-… Th-… That demon! It attacked me! With that!”
Though I rolled my eyes at that answer, Penny seemed to understand, and tried to translate for me, “Doc, there’s a serial killer going around, remember? The Auburn Demon?”
Before I could formulate a response, Ava spoke out once more, “It’s not just a serial killer! It’s a monster, and it’s after me!”
“She’s crazy,” I dismissed her claims and turned back toward the staircase. “Penny, I sympathise, but please don’t keep her longer than you have to.”
Despite Penny’s pleading, I walked back into my lab, still carrying the ‘demonic’ knife. I had more important things to worry about than ramblings of some crazy girl. She’s probably just still in shock.
Setting the blade in one of my desk drawers, I returned to my blueprints. Even over all the ticking, I still heard Penny chatting with the girl downstairs.
Why did I expect her to follow my instructions?
Ava was spinning tales about a demon with magical powers. It sounded like something out of one of Penny’s fantasy novels.
I couldn’t help but think about the blade. There was something peculiar about it, and I’m not referring to the unusual color.
A bit angry at myself for letting my curiosity get the better of me, I took the blade out of its hiding space in my drawer.
Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to take a closer look.
Once Doc went back to his lab with the dagger, I was left with the panicking girl. Apparently, her name was Ava. I had a few friends that got nervous and anxious a lot, so I knew what to do.
I gently took her hands and held them. Smiling, I looked her in the eye and said softly, “Hey, hey, hey… Shh…” That seemed to get her to focus on me, at least, but she still looked like a deer in headlights.
“We’re going to take some deep breaths and calm down, okay?” I guided her through some deep breathing, which helped, before I moved on to a grounding exercise.
“Okay, can you tell me five things in this room that you can see?” Once she answered, I moved on to four things she could hear, three she could physically feel, two she could smell, and one she could taste. By the end of it all, she looked much more relaxed, though she insisted on holding onto my hands.
“Good… Now we’re nice and calm and everything’s okay, see?” Ava nodded. I decided that now would be a good time to get some answers, hopefully without panicking.
“Can you tell me what happened to you, Ava? You got a pretty bad bash to the head to get you knocked out like that.” She stiffened, but relaxed and nodded after a moment of silence.
She told me that she was on her way to an audition when the newsworthy cryptid landed right in front of her. She was sent into shock, he rattled off information that only she should know, and when she tried to push him away to leave, he grabbed her and brandished the dagger. She grabbed it in desperation, but was knocked out.
I paled. It sounded terrifying, to be sure. No wonder she was so out of sorts. “You must have some significant other then, right? I mean, he only goes after people in love, so—”
Ava’s breathing started to pick up and she started shaking again. Okay, so that’s a touchy subject for whatever reason. Hopefully this maniac didn’t already get to them… “Okay, okay, okay! That’s okay! That’s okay! Breathe, remember? Breathe…”
I took one of my hands from Ava’s crazy grip and rubbed her back as I shushed her. She must’ve liked the sound of white noise, because my shushing paired with the rubbing helped.
“Let’s talk about something else, then…” I smiled. “Your name is Ava. I have a younger sister with the same name. It’s lovely.” She nodded, as if to accept my compliment.
“You said you were going to an audition. What for?”
It took her a bit to say something in response, and when she did, it was quiet and a little shaky. “…I’m an actress…”
I perked up. “Small world, then! One of my cousins is an actor of sorts! He did plays in high school and college all the time.” Ava seemed to relax as we talked about other things.
I mentioned animals, and she said she wanted to get a dog and a cat. She asked what I did, and I told her I was a writer. She raised an eyebrow at me. “What’s a writer doing in a clock store…?”
I grimaced and scratched the back of my head. “Eheh… Funny story about that…” I told the story of how I found Doc and his clock shop.
“I was walking home one day, and I decided to take a new route. I stumbled upon the shop in the middle of nowhere, and I saw Doc fixing the clocks. They must have been out of whack or something.”
“Eventually, he noticed me and tried to get me to leave. He closed the curtains to the window, but I kept going around until I tried to go in.”
“I made it to the door before he could lock it. I asked him all sorts of questions, and he wouldn’t answer. Came back a few times, and eventually, he gave in and let me stick around as long as I helped him out.”
I shrugged. “He pays decently I guess. Been here for the past couple months or so.”
Ava nodded slowly, her mind sufficiently off of the encounter. “He doesn’t seem like the greatest boss…”
“That’s just ‘cus he’s really passionate about his work.” I paused, then continued, “I think he might be lonely, too. I mean, sure, he tried kicking me out before, and he’s a big grump, but it’s kinda like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, ya know?”
“When he realized his mistakes and what he was missing out on, Scrooge became super happy and like an entirely different person! I wanna help Doc out so he can be happy like that, too!”
“He might be a tough nut to crack, but I betcha he appreciates me being around and helping him, even if he doesn’t show it or say it.”
Ava smiled ever so slightly. “…Yeah… I guess I can see that…” The smile faded as quickly as it appeared. Ava curled up and hugged her knees to her chest. “…I don’t wanna go home… Is there somewhere I can stay… Please…?”
As she said this, she glanced at the clocks around us briefly. I could tell she liked them. I kinda liked them, too. That is, when the ticking didn’t overstay its welcome.
“Well, my apartment doesn’t really have room for two… But there’s plenty of room in the shop. I’m sure we could fix up a cot for you in the back.” I couldn’t help but grin when her eyes widened and she nodded quickly.
“Let me go ask Doc, and then we can get you set up, okay?” I stood and stretched before going up to Doc’s lab. “Hey Doc, can we—”
“Penny, excellent timing.” He shoved an armband under my nose. “Put this on for me. I need power quickly.” I fumbled with it as I put it on. Like usual, my natural energy gave Doc the power he needed for… Whatever he was doing.
“As I was saying… Doc, can we have Ava stay the night in the back? She’s too scared to go home now, and my apartment’s not—” Doc had stiffened when I mentioned Ava being in the shop. He didn’t stop me until he had finished writing something down.
“No. Completely out of the question. I already have to deal with one annoying female in my shop and lab, and I won’t be dealing with another.”
I scowled, “You don’t have to be rude, Doc. I’m standing right here.” He looked up at me.
“What does you standing there have anything to do with my stance on this matter? I said no, and that is final. Send her away and have her see a therapist if she’s that traumatized by her ‘demon escapade’.”
“Doc, this is serious! She could have been killed by the Auburn Demon! It’s not safe for her to go out alone!”
“Then walk her home yourself.”
I facepalmed. “You’re so thick-headed! Just let her stay here! You have the extra room! Why are you so adamant about this when she probably won’t do anything but stay in the back all day and all night?”
Doc stopped working and sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Do you promise to take responsibility for her?”
“Yeah, if you start being reasonable instead of a stick-in-the-mud jerk-off.”
Doc grit his teeth and held out his hand for the band. “Fine. But she doesn’t come up to the lab. Now leave me be.” I took the band off, gave it to him, and went downstairs, beaming.
“Good news! He said yes! C’mon, let’s get you set up for the night!” I took a confused Ava’s hand, practically yanked her to her feet, and dragged her into the back room with a yelp of surprise from her.
Doc can be salty all he wants. We were going to show Ava some kindness after what she went through.
If Doc can break the laws of time, then he can deal with a girl spending the night in his clock shop.