The Masterful Timepiece
by Bryon L. Havranek
Table of Contents|
chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Chapter V: A Final Bit of Justice
“That, gentlemen, was just this morning.” The men gathered about the table at Price’s stared at Browning in disbelief, not knowing what to make of his narrative. That something highly unusual had occurred was a given, but all the talk of the supernatural and vengeful curses from beyond the grave left them wondering about the portly corn factor’s sanity.
By the looks of the man, Browning had certainly been having a hard time of things, and it was probably the sudden death of his friend that had driven him to delusion and drink. The gentlemen sat in silence for a time, only the steady motion of the grandfather clock’s sickle-shaped pendulum disturbing the sepulchral quiet of the private dining room.
“Well,” said Avery at last, pulling out another cigar and puffing it alight. “That was a most... unique... tale there, Browning, old man. I don’t know quite what to say to it all.”
“What is there to say, except that it is all a bunch of stuff and nonsense,” sneered the cadaverous Mr. Timms. “I will admit, it was most entertaining, especially the part about Coswald aging a decade or so a day. But an accursed timepiece? Bah, that sounds like it came straight from one of the penny dreadfuls!”
Browning merely glared drunkenly at the younger man. “Oh, how I wish that it were all just something that I had imagined. But I’m afraid that everything I have related to you gentlemen really did occur.”
“Indeed?” scoffed Timms, leaning forward in his chair. “Well, I guess that this whole thing can be cleared up fairly easily. If there was indeed a cursed pocketwatch, I should certainly like to see it. But let me guess, by the look on your face, my dear Browning, that it is no longer available for scrutiny? What’d it do, disappear from Coswald’s corpse once its fell mission had been accomplished?” He laughed then, and soon the other men joined him, though it was a rather uneasy sort of merriment.
But the mockery came to a sudden end when Browning reached down into a pocket on his ample waistcoat and pulled something from within its depths. All eyes flew to his closed fist, and as he opened his clenched fingers, one and all drew in deep breaths of wonder, for there in the palm of his hand lay the beautiful timepiece, inlaid with rubies just as it had been described in the narrative.
“By Jove,” whispered Avery in awe, “what an exquisite piece of workmanship! Surely it must be worth a king’s ransom at the very least!” The other men agreed, each feeling an overwhelming desire to possess the extraordinary pocket watch for himself.
“All right, so there it is,” Timms said grudgingly, “but what about the so-called curse? I refuse to give any credence to such childish superstitions.”
But, before he could continue, his mouth dropped open in horror as Browning, as though animated by a compulsion, popped open the watch to consult the time. And promptly aged several years as he did so. To a man, the gentlemen leaped from their chairs in fearful dismay and drew away from the table in terror. The corn factor, who was portly no longer, closed the watch and returned it to his pocket.
“My God, Browning,” Avery stammered after a moment, “what on Earth are you still doing with that dreadful thing?! After you saw what it did to Coswald, you should have taken it and had it destroyed at once! Why keep it, for it will now surely kill you the same as it did with Josiah!”
Browning reached out to the decanter and poured the last of the liquor into his glass before responding. “Why, you ask? Because I have no choice in the matter, that is why. After I had dealt with Coswald’s papers, I found the bloody thing in my pocket. How it came to be there I have no idea, for the last I had seen of it the watch was in the custody of the coroner, along with the rest of Josiah’s personal effects.”
“So you are now the bearer of the curse,” replied Avery flatly. “Poor devil. I don’t know what to say, except that I am truly sorry for you, old boy.”
Browning looked at the others with contempt, then ran his tongue over his teeth. Frowning, he bent forward and spat a pair of crumbling teeth onto his plate. “Ah, gentlemen, shed no crocodile tears for me, for I have resigned myself to my fate. In this, a final bit of justice, I am now paying the price for the part I played in Rosenberg’s destruction. But I refuse to let myself go meekly, as Coswald did. No, I shall blow my brains out first.
“And before you all breathe a sigh of relief, thinking that my suicide will put an end to this whole sordid affair, let me assure you that it will not. The blackguard must have cast his cursed spell just before he killed himself, perhaps empowering it with his very own soul. But, as that old man said, in the end what other recourse did Rosenberg have for vengeance if not for an appeal to Divine justice?
“And it is at work even as I speak, a darksome force that is warping the natural order of things. And it won’t stop until it has satisfied Rosenberg’s thirst for revenge.” Browning rubbed absently at his nose. “Which means, gentlemen, that each and every one of us who helped to ruin him, all of us must pay.”
Timms licked his lips nervously, not liking where this was going. “What does that mean, exactly? We all must pay?”
“I should think,” gasped Avery breathlessly, “it should be quite obvious. It means that each of us in turn will have a go with the watch until we are all quite dead.” He raised his eyebrows and looked at Browning. “Am I right?”
Browning nodded his head. “Yes. In a handful of months we shall all meet our Maker, and then and only then will the world see the last of the masterful timepiece.” He lifted his glass and smiled ghoulishly at the others. “Now, who will join me in a toast? Here’s to Time, and to our dwindling supply of that most precious of commodities.” He uttered a choking laugh and threw his empty glass to the floor, where it shattered into a thousand pieces.
Browning contemplated the glittering ruins for a moment before pulling a small revolver from his coat pocket. As he held the pistol to his head and cocked back the hammer, the grandfather clock tolled midnight, its somber peal battering the air like thunder. Thirteen chimes, not twelve, struck that night to announce the hour. A new day had begun for all but one, yet not a soul would see the coming of the dawn.
Copyright © 2017 by Bryon L. Havranek