“What does it mean?”
“It means it’s almost 12 o’clock?”
“But what is it doing here?”
The fob watch hung from a branch by its chain. The delicate hands of the watch were angled upwards, one hand slowly ticking away the seconds. They had been hiking through the woods since the sun rose, lazily trudging over bared roots and moss. The air was thick and the wind cold, so by afternoon they were both over the idea all together. Thea shivered and glared at the watch with curious uncertainty.
“Can we stop? My feet feel like they’re going to break off,” she said. She had already taken off her backpack. She sat on it to avoid the dew that still gripped the ground. Noah gave her a reassuring nod, but instead of resting he approached the watch where it hung. It too had dew clinging to it. It was slowly dripping off and falling to the forest floor in a puddle. He held it in his palms, weighing it from one to the other. It was like ice. He could feel every tick resounding through the metal, yet it didn’t make sense. The gears should have been frozen in place. He let it go and it swayed like a pendulum.
He turned to see Thea munching on something she must have salvaged from her bag. She was hunched over and nibbling it like a squirrel, savouring every crumb.
“Do we have to keep going?” she mumbled, her mouth full. She looked up at Noah with pleading eyes and a jutted out bottom lip, a classic tactic. “Can’t we just, you know, lie? Tell them we made it through the woods?”
“They won’t believe us unless we come crawling back with twigs in our hair. Anyway, we’ve made it half way. There’s no difference between going back the way we came and going forward,” he said. Thea looked out at the space they hadn’t covered. The woods were thicker there, and darker. Noah turned and looked with her. He gulped.
“I don’t believe a word of it,” she said.
“Of course you don’t,” he replied.
“You want the rest of this?” she extended her hand—a an obliterated blueberry muffin. “The impending doom has ruined my appetite.” The pit of his stomach was yearning for home and warmth, not muffin crumbs. He frowned, shook his head, and sat beside her.
As they rested it got colder. The sun was supposed to be right above them, but its rays failed to find their way to them and instead got lost in the branches. As the cold air circulated around them something began to shift, something that made them both feel unsettled. It was silent. They could no longer hear the sounds of leaves rustling in the wind or birds chirping in the distance. The trees seemed to take up the sky, burying the two in branches. Thea curled up more, shying away from the cold.
“Noah…I’m freezing,” she said shakily. He was trying to warm himself by rubbing his hands together; a meagre attempt which he thought would mask his anxiety. But he could see his breath in front of him.
“Get moving,” he said. “It’ll…warm you up. We should get going again anyway.”
Thea’s teeth were chattering. As she stood her joints ached and her muscles stiffened. The cold was biting at her skin. She had just gotten on her feet when the ground shook beneath her.
It felt like a giant heartbeat coming from the ground. The pulse almost knocked them both off their feet without warning. The leaves of the trees shook and birds could be heard flying off, away from danger. Thea wished she had wings as she shuffled and tried to keep her footing. As soon as it was over they locked eyes.
“What was—” Thea tried to say. Another pulse cut her off. Both of them stretched out their arms and widened their stance for balance. It was like the earth was trying to shake them off.
“I have no idea,” he said quickly. His breath clouded in front of him with every sharp exhale of breath. Another pulse pounded through the forest. Noah held out his hand. “Here.”
Thea looked at it hesitantly. She flinched as the earth jumped again.
“Here, take my hand. We need to run.”
She ran towards him on unsure, shaky legs and clutched his hand. But when they turned towards their path they saw the fob watch hanging from the tree.
It didn’t just move with the beats, it preceded them. It jumped where it hung, always before the ground shook beneath their feet. Nothing was moving it. It moved on its own. It was creating waves that pushed through the entire forest. Thea crushed Noah’s hand, looking up at him. How? Her eyes were reflecting his own confusion.
“Don’t you dare,” Thea said. She yanked at Noah’s hand as he lunged to approach the tree. He gave her an unyielding look, one that made her release his hand and watch on in fear as he lay the hanging fob watch in his palm. She held her breath.
The watch jumped in his palm. The waves rippled through the forest, throwing Noah backwards. He was pushed through the air as the ground shook, landing with thud and sliding. He stopped before Thea’s feet, exposed roots digging into his back. He looked up at Thea, his face pale and swimming with fear. They waited in anticipation for the next pulse, but nothing came. The earth sat unmoving and quiet. The watch hung from the branch mockingly still.
Noah was covered in the forest floor with twigs jutting out of his hair. Thea laughed at him. It was a maniacal sound of both amusement and extreme panic. But as Noah brushed the moss and twigs from his body, trying to calm his racing heart, there were other sounds in the distance. Sounds that quieted them both where they stood.
The clicking and grinding started off small but as it crept up in volume it became a small orchestra. They couldn’t pinpoint what it was or where it came from. The watch was still on the branch, but the sounds didn’t come from there. The sounds of gears, metal, and machinery came from all around them. Like a massive machine being awakened—not awakened, revealed.
They backed away. The watch began to eerily sway, and as it moved the tree it hung from began to change. The bark was peeling off, revealing the silver that shined beneath. Where it didn’t peel it ripped, getting caught up in the gears that peered through its surface and joining the din of moving gears that filled the air.
“What the actual hell,” said Noah as he watched the tree become a machine, spinning and rotating like clockwork. Thea was looking away, towards the rest of the forest. One by one the trees were shedding. Simultaneously they revealed the machinery beneath and the sounds got louder and louder.
“It’s everywhere,” she whispered. Disbelief was beyond comprehension. Leaves began to fall around them, no longer finding nourishment from the trees turning to metal. As they fell Noah and Thea tried to back away. Their feet quickly became tangled by roots—no, wires. They were standing on wires. Both their breaths mingled in front of them, the gleaming surfaces of the trees reflecting the cold even more than before. Noah kept his eyes on the fob watch as it swung menacingly.
“We need to get out of here,” Thea said, the cold air stinging her throat. She was watching over the forest, watching as it morphed into something threatening, cold, and detached from reality. The constant clicking of gears was met with the sharp sound of wind against metal. The world had turned grey and silver. Only scraps of its past remained, disintegrating on the floor without defiance.
Noah refused to look away from the clock, but Thea saw it. She saw it move between the trees, its eyes a faint yellow glow. Gears had replaced its joints and it moved with a flow entirely unexpected. As it stalked them from a distance its paws scraped the ground. The sound of metal on metal made Thea wince, but Noah hadn’t noticed the sound. He was focused on the clock, studying its movements.
“—Noah, we need to go.”
It was circling in, getting closer. She could see the shine of its brow, a smooth metal that reflected its prey. She was tugging at Noah’s shirt trying to get him to pay attention, but they were both fixated on different things. He was more concerned with the clock that had started it all. It shone just like the metallic wolf shone. It reflected his face as he started.
“Noah…” The wolf had stopped in front of them and revealed its teeth. Noah still had his back to the creature. Thea stopped dead at the metal teeth it had bared. No growls came from its throat. What came from its throat were the sounds of metal scraping across metal, clicking and gliding from its metal gut through its sharp teeth. Its eyes glowed and latched onto Thea. It pulled back slightly as if sensing her growing panic. It was too close to them. Every time it growled it sounded nearer, until it was so close the sound made her shiver. Its paws stepped over the wires tangling over the ground with ease. She could feel the glowing eyes watching her with every move. She tried to back away, to do something, but her feet tangled in the wires every time she moved. She didn’t want to trip. She only looked down for a moment, that was all.
As the wolf lunged so did Noah. He sprung towards the tree and grabbed the fob watch in one swift movement, pulling it from the metal branch that held it in place. The chain broke, snapping cleanly in two. As he reached for it he fell, slamming onto the ground with the watch in his hand. He sat in a tangle of wires and regained his breath. He looked down at the clock. The glass had a crack down the middle and the silver hands had stopped ticking. What he thought were wires digging into him were actually roots.
There was a sigh of relief behind him and he turned to see Thea lying on the moss ridden floor. He held up the watch in triumph and gave her a small smile. Thea didn’t smile back. Instead she scrambled up from where she lay, ran towards him and snatched the watch from his grip. They could both here a thud as it hit a nearby tree.
“I am never going outside again!”