Ghost story about a haunted family clock that perhaps shouldn’t have been passed down to the next generation.
It’s now past midnight and I have yet to fall asleep. I haven’t slept more than two hours a night for the last couple of weeks, and even then it’s a fitful sleep – tossing and turning, dreading the moment that I suddenly hear those noises downstairs again, and my childhood fears come to pass.
“Why can’t you sleep?” my wife asks me each morning as I stare blankly into my third cup of coffee, eyes bloodshot. And I’m too ashamed to tell her the real reason.
But perhaps you will believe my story.
It all began when my Great-Aunt Elspeth passed away. I was only 10 years old at the time, and the nights we spent sitting up with her body were very disturbing to me. You see, her death occurred in the old days when the mortician would prepare a person’s remains for burial, and then bring the body back to the family homeplace for viewing. I remember thinking how weird it was that we were in Elspeth’s house together with her lifeless body. I made sure to avoid the dark corners of Elspeth’s home during those nights, for fear that she would come back to life, leap out of her coffin and chase me around the room. I also didn’t stray far from my Dad, because I knew he had a knife in his pocket to protect me from all comers, be they quick or dead.
After the funeral, my Granny and the other siblings went to my Great-Aunt Elspeth’s house to begin dividing up her possessions. Since both my parents worked, I tagged along with Granny to help her. One thing she was intent on getting was a dusty old manual-wind clock with a glass door on the front. On the glass door, there was a worn painting of a pointer bird dog. The clock was about three feet tall and two feet wide, made completely of cherry wood, with the exception of the glass door and the actual workings.
After looking at the clock and discussing the matter amongst them, Granny’s siblings said it was okay for her to have the clock. Together, she and I struggled to get that heavy old clock into her car. We then went back inside, and within an hour or so, we had everything Granny wanted loaded into the car.
We went back to Granny’s house and unloaded her new things. She took special care with the clock, polishing the wood and cleaning the glass, taking care not to damage the picture of the bird dog. When she had finished her cleaning, and we had placed the clock on a mantelpiece in her back room, I asked her why she wanted the clock so badly. She then told me the following story:
“Way back before you were born,” Granny said, “My sister Elspeth was married to a no-account man named Arthur. He treated her real bad, running around with other women and taking off for weeks at a time. He would leave her without money and food to take care of their little babies. So one time she came to stay with your Granddaddy and me. She didn’t bring much, but she made sure to bring this clock with her. I asked her why she lugged that clock along, when she had so much to do with taking care of those babies. Elspeth told me she had to keep it hid so Arthur wouldn’t hock it. Besides, it was the only thing Daddy left her that she valued at all. She kept it with her to remember the good times we all had growing up.”
Granny suddenly paused, as if remembering those long ago days, then continued telling me the story. “I told Elspeth that I had never seen that clock before. Elspeth said, ‘That’s because Daddy kept it hid up in the attic under an old cloth.'”
“Elspeth then told me that one night, when everybody else in the house was asleep, she heard a noise that sounded like somebody walking around up in the attic. Not long after that, she heard Daddy jump out of bed and run up the attic stairs. She snuck out of bed and quietly climbed up the stairs to see what was going on. She saw that a big possum had gotten up in the attic. Daddy shooed it out through the eave vent and then slumped down hard on a bundle of old clothes, with his head in his hands. His face was all pale looking and he was breathing really hard, like he’d run a long way in the heat. After he sat there for a minute and some color returned to his face, he stood up, walked warily to the back of the attic, moved some boards, and lifted out something fairly big that was wrapped in an old quilt. When he unwrapped the quilt, Elspeth saw an old clock with a picture of a bird dog on the front. It looked just like Grandpa McIntyre’s bird dog.”
“About this time, Elspeth got brave and walked up into the attic to ask Daddy what was going on. He quickly tried to cover up the clock, but Elspeth told him she already saw him take the clock out from under the attic floor. Daddy told her that if she promised not to tell anybody what she saw, she could have the clock when he died. When she said that the dog looked like Grandpa’s dog Ol’ Luke, Daddy said ‘Well, Elspeth, that’s because it is Ol’ Luke.’ Daddy told her that Grandpa McIntyre loved that dog so much he paid somebody from Atlanta $50 to paint the dog’s picture on the clock, so that Grandpa could always have Ol’ Luke with him, even after the dog passed away.”
“Just before Grandpa died, he called Daddy to his side. Grandpa motioned for him to lean down, and when he did, Grandpa whispered to him to take care of Ol’ Luke, because he’d be back for him some day. Daddy didn’t know if Grandpa was talking crazy, since Ol’ Luke had been dead for years, or if he really meant the clock with Ol’ Luke’s picture on it. Either way, Daddy decided to hide the clock so no one would find it and mess it up. So after he told Elspeth the story, they put the clock back in its hiding place. And she never touched it again until after he died, at which time she went up into the attic, got the clock, and hid it over at her place.”
“I asked Elspeth if she asked Daddy what he thought Grandpa meant by ‘coming back to get Ol’ Luke.’ She said that Daddy told her to mind her own business and get back to bed. Elspeth said that she then asked Daddy if he thought that possum walking in the attic was Ol’ Luke coming back. He wouldn’t answer her, but just shooed her out of the attic and told her not to tell anybody about the clock or she’d get a whuppin’.”
“We guessed that since Daddy was the superstitious type, he believed the spirit of Ol’ Luke, not just his picture, was somehow in the clock.” So, when he heard that possum walking around in the attic, he must’ve thought it was Ol’ Luke and was scared to death that Grandpa was not far behind.” Granny told me she didn’t believe a word of that story of Grandpa and Ol’ Luke coming back. But since the clock had belonged to her father and grandfather, it had sentimental value and she wanted to keep it. “Do you believe the story?” Granny asked me. “Of course not,” I said, even though I believed every word. “There ain’t no such thing as ghost people, much less a ghost dog.”
“Well, you better not go in the back of the house where the clock is, because Ol’ Luke just might jump out and get you,” Granny said. “And my Grandpa McIntyre might just come with him.”
Granny’s story kept me awake every time I spent the night with her and Grandpa. I just knew that I would awaken in the middle of the night to find Ol’ Luke jumping out of the clock onto the bed, with Great-Great Grandpa McIntyre close behind. My Mama said that Granny just told me that story so I wouldn’t go in the back of the house, because that’s where Granny hid all our Christmas presents. Even with Mama’s assurances, I remained afraid of Granny’s house when it was dark and never, ever, went near that back room, even as an adult.
My Granny eventually passed away, and in her will she expressly deeded the clock to me. I tried to give it to my sister, but my wife just loved it and wouldn’t hear of me giving it away. Since she loved it so much, I didn’t tell her the stories behind it. But each time I would pass the clock on the mantelpiece in the den, I could feel Ol’ Luke’s eyes staring at me, as if he was waiting for Great-Great Grandpa McIntyre.
Every night as I tried to sleep, I thought about that old clock ticking downstairs. I would toss and turn incessantly, waking up my wife and making her quite grumpy the next morning. But one night while I was deep in my priceless two hours of sleep, in that blissful world between dreams and reality, my wife suddenly awakened me.
“Did you hear something?” she whispered.
Still half asleep, I mumbled that I didn’t. “What did it sound like?” I asked.
“It…it sounded like some kind of clicking noise,” she replied, her whisper more nervous and unsure, “Like long nails or claws, you know…an animal.” Then her eyes widened. “We don’t have rats, do we?”
Now, if there’s one thing my wife is terrified of, it’s rats. And roaches, and spiders, and any other critter that would come in our house uninvited. I assured her that everything was fine. But each night those noises would come back – faint scratching sounds downstairs, running up and down the darkened hallways, excited and agitated.
I had no choice – I finally called an exterminator to come inspect the home. Although he said the house was clean, with no signs of damage, he set poison traps anyway. And within a few days, the noises suddenly and blissfully stopped. Perhaps it was rats, I thought one afternoon as we cleaned up the house. I felt incredibly stupid losing sleep over such a simple thing.
That is, until I heard my wife suddenly gasp and scream out my name from the den. I ran inside to see what was the matter. My wife stood there pale, pointing at the mantelpiece. “The clock!” she gulped. “What happened to the clock?”
The old clock stood there naked, the picture of Ol’ Luke wiped away, its pendulum swinging back and forth with a mocking “tick, tock, tick tock.” The blood drained from my face, freezing in my veins. I then glanced at the cleaning bottle in my hand and somehow muttered: “I’m sorry, honey. I..I cleaned the glass on the clock this morning, and the picture came off. I guess the cleaner was too strong. And it’s an old clock anyway. I didn’t mean to. I’m just as upset as you are.”
My wife said something to me about being careless, but I didn’t listen. All I could do was stare at that blank clock on the mantle. Now the noises made perfect sense. Ol’ Luke had finally left with my Great-Great Grandpa McIntyre, back to walking the Georgia hills they loved.
So that’s my story. And if you’ve ever seen or heard a ghost, maybe you’ll understand. For once you know they exist, you sit up each night waiting for them.
And that’s now my curse – listening to that ticking clock downstairs, waiting for Great-Great Grandpa McIntyre and Ol’ Luke to pay us a visit once again.
– THE END –
The Ticking Clock – Story Credits
Written by Craig Dominey and Lanny Gilbert
Told by Lanny Gilbert
Sound Design by Henry Howard
The Ticking Clock is based on an actual clock that sat on a shelf above the TV in my Grandparent’s house for as long as I can remember. Just like the clock in the story, there’s a picture of a liver-colored pointer bird dog on the front. My Daddy has it now on his mantelpiece, next to a couple of very lifelike ceramic quail that a cousin of ours made just before she died. All of the people in the story are real, just had their names changed a bit. When various members of my family read the story, they knew exactly who the various people were. As Jimmy Buffett said in the introduction to Joe Merchant “I didn’t have to make a lot of this up.”