For Whom the Beep Tolls
“Just remember, once you’re over the hill you begin to pick up speed.”
– Charles Schultz
By Jeffrey Bishop
Tell Time: 3 minutes 30 seconds
Scare Rating: 1 of 5 Ghosts
Mike wore the same watch his entire life. It was the watch his father gave him on his 16th birthday, and at the time, it was rather sophisticated, with a dozen features, weather hardening and illuminated visibility in all conditions, day or night. It quickly became very special to the young man.
When he first set it up, he programmed it to chime on the hour. In his youth, it seemed as if a lifetime passed between beeps.
When Mike went off to college, he saw no reason to change his watch. Money was tight and a new watch was a luxury he couldn’t afford. Besides, the instrument was still relatively new, and he liked it a lot.
Upon graduation, his dad offered him a new watch. A watch is a practical thing, and Mike was a practical young man — his practical nature exceeding that of his wrist-worn tool. So he stayed with the watch of his youth and invested the allowance in stocks instead.
The beeps continued on, reliably present, but in the background only, like an ever-present thought in his subconscious.
As he grew in his career and started his own family, he changed his watch batteries a number of times and a strap now and again. But he never changed his watch. He didn’t need to. And, he didn’t want to.
On a singular day in his middle age, for the first time in years, Mike took notice of the regular beep of the watch. The chipper chirping seemed to come much more frequently to him. Hours seemed to pass much more quickly — to Mike, they now seemed to mark just quarter-hour increments, although that was an absurd notion, which the timepiece proved: the watch face always showed the top of the hour when he reacted with a glance. The accelerating passing of time was a common phenomenon that many of his middle-aged friends also commented on.
At his retirement, Mike’s boss offered him a beautiful gold-filled watch, of a distinguished brand. The watch was something to be treasured, according to the certificate that was read in his honor:
“This gift symbolizes the many years of faithful and dedicated work, enormous contributions, and lasting legacy that your years of service have provided the esteemed company, our noble employees and its many shareholders.”
Mike accepted the watch graciously. He shook his boss’ hand, kissed his wife and bid farewell to his co-workers. The watch stayed in its velvet-lined box on his home-office desk, serving as a paperweight or an occasional conversation topic when a friend or family member paid a visit. But he never wore it. He still had his first watch. His only watch.
The frequency of the watch’s subtle chime had quickened; the beeps seemed to come like heartbeats now. This couldn’t be the passing of hours, as it had been. No, the watch was telling him something different now. An unknown feature had been activated. Or discovered. Or, created, from the symbiotic life-long relationship between man and a machine. Mike’s watch was now a timer, not a timepiece; synchronized with his life force, the accelerating beeps negatively correlated to his dwindling remaining time.
Mike never gave the watch a look anymore; he let the beeps confide to him the constant passing of time. And of life.
The loud, steady beep brought Mike’s wife into the couple’s living room. She knew before she arrived what she’d find.
There, her husband lay still in his armchair, his head drooped onto his chest, the newspaper on the floor beside him, just inches from the cold fingertips that had held it only moments before.
With a single hot tear escaping her eye, she lifted his arm and found the watch. She gently pressed a thin button on the side of the case, ending the steady beep. And forever extinguishing the light on the face of the man’s faithful, constant companion.