“Hey Ry,” Wynn called out to her roommate, “Where did this watch come from?”
“What watch?” Ryan plopped down the box she was carrying and wandered into the kitchen to investigate.
“That one,” Wynn pointed to the window at the base of their new kitchen stairs. Sure enough, there on the bright windowsill was an old fashioned wrist watch. The dull bronze finish and worn leather band seeming to soak in the sun, like an old cat whose only mission in live is the observation of it.
“Wynnie,” Ryan slowly admitted, “I’ve never seen it before.” Seeming almost entranced with the non-descript newcomer, the dark haired girl reached a pale hand toward the window. Feeling an almost electrical hum near the watch face, Ryan yanked her outstretched hand away with a nervous laugh just before her fingers could graze the finish.
“Maybe it belongs to the landlord,” Wynn suggested, taking an involuntary step toward the window, “Or the electrician?”
“I don’t think either one do them came into the kitchen…”
“Ry you don’t think,” Wynn gulped in a deep breath, “I mean, do you think it could have been…his?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Ryan scoffed, tearing her gaze from the watch with a snort, “No one has lived here for decades. Mr. August said that he bought the house a few years ago from the caretakers, and he remodeled it all before renting it to us. Even if any of –his—stuff was left behind, I’m sure Mr. August and the remodelers would have removed it. Why in the world would they have left a dinky old watch?”
“Maybe they didn’t see it,” Wynn suggested, her pupils almost dilated as she leaned a head full of fiery hair into the light streaming through the window, staring intently at the object in question.
Shaking her head at Wynn’s fantasy tales, Ryan went to open the door for the movers. Both girls were quickly re-immersed in the task of relocation. Though each stayed occupied for the next several days, the odd appearance of a window watch was never far from either one’s mind.
Throughout the course of the week, Ryan and Wynn were both presented with opportunities to sleuth. First by asking around to see if anyone had lost a watch (they had not), and then by doing a little research on their new home.
According to Mr. August, their landlord, and what few public records existed, the property had been used as a vacation home for around twenty-five years after the death of its builder. Kept up by a loyal family of caretakers, the Zanes, who then inherited the home through the last will and testament of Old Mrs. Quincy, as none of her remaining family showed any interest in the property.
Advancing in years, the Zanes sold both their home and the Quincy property next door in order to move to Florida’s warmer climate.
The only other known occupant of the house was the sweet, two and half story cottage’s original builder, Rupert Calator.
Calator, Old Mrs. Quincy’s even older brother, built the home in the late 1940s and proceeded to lock himself in for days, sometimes weeks at a time. His anti-social behavior coupled with the strange noises and colored smokes that would often emanate from the house, earned Mr. Calator the esteemed reputation of scariest man in town.
His was the home that local children dared each other to touch. His was the visage that people shrank away from in the grocery store, and his was the local legend that grew and took on a life of its own as each new generation heard the tale.
Now, almost seventy years after Mr. Calator’s death, the story was still an oft used favorite among local youth. “He”, as Rupert was most often referred to, was blamed for any strangeness that happened within a ten block radius of his home. So, of course, the girls had been warned long before signing the lease and taking control of the keys.
But with all of this information floating around, no one knew a single thing about the watch that remained in the window.
Finally, almost two months after first spotting the watch, Wynn was maneuvering a thin table into her chosen ‘thinking spot’ under the stairs when she accidentally nudged an old light fixture affixed to the wall. With a creak and a groan (and a considerable amount of dust puffing up), an old shelf and the wall behind it slow swung inward, revealing a small landing, a bare, blinking light bulb, and a stairway leading under the house.
“What in the worr…” Wynn’s questions dried on her lips as Ryan burst into the small room, having come running at her friend’s surprised yelp coinciding with a rumble in the house’s walls.
“What’s going on? Oh,” Ry skidded to a stop and yanked Wynnie away from the new opening. “How did you do that?? I wonder everyone else missed that?”
“They didn’t remodel under the stairs,” Wynn pointed out, “Well come on, grab a flashlight and let’s go!”
“I don’t know…”Ryan’s denial was cut as Wynn, short on patience but long on curiosity, grabbed her friend’s arm and plunged into the gloom surrounding the hidden staircase.
Five minutes, one curve, and 18 creaky steps down later, the girls stood in a slightly damp and thick darkness with one flickering keychain flashlight and an increasingly dim glow from the upstairs bulb.
Shining her keychain around their immediate surroundings, Wynn spotted an unobtrusive little light switch just waiting for someone to flick it. She obliged the switch and with a deep echoing click, lights suddenly begin flickering to life all across the large, industrial space that spread in front of them. The fact that there was such a large space, apparently run on generators that spread along the walls on either side, was not the first oddity that attracted the roommates’ attention. Nor was it the old fashioned table and chairs situated around a kitchenette area, whose coffee maker had just come to life and begun percolating that grabbed their eyes. Wynn and Ryan were instantly and completely enthralled with the huge metal tables that lined the center of the room, experiments set up along each with a thin layer of dust covering carefully labeled and stoppered bottles of multi-colored liquids, chunks of minerals, and intricate heating and tubing systems that looked to have come straight out of some old school demented scientist’s lair.
“I think my middle school science teacher was trying to create this set up when he rearranged the classroom,” Wynn quipped quietly, still tugging Ryan along with her as she crossed the room. Both girls stepped lightly, staring around them in awe as the full extent of what they were living above began to sink in.
“No wonder he locked himself away,” Ry breathed, reaching out to pick up the top paper on a stack of notes, “He may have been eccentric, but he was a scientist working on something important to him.”
Impatient with how slowly her best friend was reading, Wynn snatched the paper and began to read for herself, “Listen to this, I am so close to discovering the secret. I merely need to find the final equation and everything could change. I will change history with this. And then there a whole bunch of shorthand words and chicken scratch numbers that I can’t understand. I guess they’re the equations he already had.”
“I wonder what he was working on,” Ryan mumbled, sifting through more papers, “I bet it was important. This looks like an awful lot work and seclusion for something if it isn’t an amazing break through.”
“I think he was trying to time travel.”
“What??” Ryan dropped the pages she had been trying to make sense out of and hurried to Wynn’s side.
“Look at these charts, all lists of events in history or in his own life, all color coded. And look at that hanging rack over there, loaded with period specific costumes. Either he was trying to time travel, or he was putting on one man shows down here for the machinery.”
“Wow,” Ryan slowly turned a circle, noting for the first time each little section of the space. The hanging racks, the kitchenette, the sofa and chairs, and the clocks. There were clocks of all shapes and sizes, all colors and choruses, hanging throughout the room. And a wall of watches that was bigger than their television, with one small missing piece.
“They’re all still running,” Wynn pointed out, “And they’re all still keeping accurate time. That’s not normal.”
“Wait! That’s the time??” Ryan rushed to the stairs, “I have to work!”
“I’ll come up with you, I’m not sure I’m ready to be alone down here.” Wynn paused to look back over the room before flicking off the switch and heading up after her roommate.
That night, while Ryan was at work, Wynn contacted Mr. August to let him know about their discovery. The next morning found their house swarming with scientists, engineers, police, and one very befuddled landlord.
At one point Ryan pointed out to one of the engineers that there was an old watch in the upstairs window that might fit that bare area in the watch wall. He said he would check but later, when Ryan and Wynn had time to look, the dull bronze finish and worn leather band of the old watch was still quietly ticking away on their windowsill and the engineer had simply, disappeared. So, the busy workers catalogued, checked, and cleared out the basement room, Mr. August registered it with whoever it is that keeps track of those things, and Ryan and Wynn began to use the space as a game room/study area. Mr. August had a talk with the scientists and the clocks were allowed to stay, of decorative purposes of course, and the world went on turning as before. But the clocks never needed to be wound or have new batteries, the watches all kept perfect time, and no one ever saw that engineer again, at least not in our time. There were some pictures that surfaced of a man identical to the engineer, posing with Rupert Calator in front of the newly finished house, but that couldn’t possibly be the same person…right?
Through it all, the old bronze watch with the worn leather band kept up its ticking monologue as it watched the world change through the window, and if it glowed brightly every once in a while, when someone was playing with the wall down stairs, that was its own business. Watches keep good secrets.