An International Student of Literature in England.
As some of you may know (time to test your Anne-Sophie knowledge), I didn’t go straight to UEA after my baccalaureate in France: I went to university in Nice for two years. In one of my modules (I think it was American Literature) we studied Southern Literature, the gothic and short stories for a while. The final assignment was a short story we had to write that was inspired by what we had studied in class, with a commentary.
To write this short story called “The Watchmaker”, I was mainly inspired by gothic stories I’d read and also strongly relied on two songs by Steven Wilson that had just come out called “The Watchmaker” and “The Pin Drop”. The lyrics of both songs are very dark and I thought they would work perfectly for my assignment! I used some lines from both songs.
In the end, I was really pleased with my story and got a good grade so why not share my only decent (I’m not saying it’s particularly amazing…) and finished piece of creative writing with you?
Simon and Bessy moved into their newly renovated mansion on a Sunday evening. The weather had been bad for the previous weeks, but somehow it became even worse after their arrival. They could hardly make out the English manor across the garden because of the thick fog. All they could see was a large dark spot in the horizon. Since it was getting colder and colder in the car, Bessy suggested that they go into the house to visit it. The removal men they had hired had just left. Now that the place was theirs, she led Simon to their house, with a huge smile on her face that her husband could barely make out through the fog. He simply followed her without displaying any emotions. She had been the one who had found this Gothic manor and insisted on buying it. “This is way too spacious for the two of us, darling”, he had repeated endlessly, “I don’t like the look of it, I can already smell the dust. And besides, how are we going to pay for it?” She said she had “a feel for this place” even though she’d never even seen inside, and had bugged him until he had eventually given in. Simon slowed down, looked at Bessy and joked:
“Happy? You’d better not make me regret buying this damp-smelling manshit”
“Come on, why can’t you just call it a mansion?” Bessy looked amused by his pun and giggled.
Both of them laughed, grinned and then hugged each other. An immense feeling of delight ran through their bodies. This was the right place, they knew it, and they would be truly happy there. They resumed their walk and finally reached the porch and the front door, where they stopped. Taking the key out of her pocket, Bessy looked at Simon : they smiled and sighed. The door creaked, along with the walls, releasing a sickly smell that made them feel ill. The manor dated back to the nineteenth century and had only been partially renovated.
Their disappointment was sudden and great: the smell was unbearable and the inside of the house was not what they had been hoping for. The decoration was simplistic, minimalistic and old-fashioned. Of course, they wanted the place to look “authentic”, as Bessy had kept telling the renovator, but perhaps this simply looked too old for them? Even though the living room was filled with a variety of sofas, tables, chairs and plants, it still looked empty. They didn’t dare to step into the large room past the doorway. They stayed motionless for a few seconds, looking around silently. When the evening breeze reached them, Simon went and closed the huge door behind them, making the walls creak once again.
“God, it’s so chilly in here!” Bessy murmured. Simon remained silent.
In front of the door was an imposing staircase, and to the right was the half-furnished kitchen. The wooden floor also creaked as he paced the room. Suddenly, he looked up; something had caught his eyes. On top of the front door, carved into the wood, were the words:
“Love intersecting a rift that will break us apart”
“What does it mean?” Bessy whined in fear. “I’m not feeling great. This place is too disquieting.”
Indeed, it was. And still, Simon said nothing.
In spite of all this, they spent the evening in the dim light of their large and cold bedroom. When the first rays of sunshine crept in through the windows the next morning, Simon got up and shuffled downstairs to inspect the ground floor. It was even colder and gloomier than the previous day. However, he noticed something else, something he had not seen before. He saw the stain on the staircase.
The previous owners had lived there nearly all their life, from 1910, until their death, in 1969. Just like Simon and Bessy, Charles and Elisa Dawn got married at an early age and quickly moved into the manor, when they were still full of hopes and dreams. They first visited the house on a rainy day, and quickly made arrangements in order for them to move in as soon as possible. They wanted to lead a long and happy life there, surrounded by children, and then by grandchildren.
According to the neighbours who, for the most part, arrived years later, they were both polite and nice, if a little distant. At least that is what they said at first: they say that the other women never got Elisa to chat with them for more than ten minutes, and that whenever she was invited to have tea, she would kindly shake her head, smile, and walk away. Eventually, they deduced that her husband wanted her to be home, in the kitchen, cooking. Isn’t that what women were supposed to do back then? They even started calling her “The Cave Woman”, for she hardly stayed out for a long time. As for Charles Dawn, he was a watchmaker and spent most of his time, day and night, in a little room upstairs, making or repairing the clocks people brought to the manor. On very rare occasions, people caught a glimpse of the couple – calling them housemates seemed more appropriate – together. In fact, nobody really knew what Charles looked like. However, some of the neighbours reported seeing him by the little window, late at night and with only a candle for light. He never seemed to give his wife much time or attention. To him each hour was just an empty space to fill, among wheels, screws and cogs. On a cold winter evening, a few days before Christmas, passers-by heard them arguing and shouting: from this day onward, something broke inside of Elisa, she looked different, and wrinkles appeared on her weary face. Some did not care – why pay attention, they always refuse our help – some were worried. Since she was nearly forty and still did not have any children, most of the villagers decided that they were arguing about that; nobody ever mentioned it again and their lives went on.
Perhaps Elisa herself did not know why she receded into herself or why her face became so wan. She would spend hours and hours locked in her own room, the windows of which were barred. Was she under some sort of pressure? Was she increasingly unhappy about her life, or was it the fear of getting old? The wishes and life she and her husband led in the 1910s seemed very far away. Something had to be done.
On a nice and sunny afternoon, a terrible event occurred. It was in October 1955: trying to please her, Charles offered to take her out for a picnic in the meadow. It goes without saying that Elisa was delighted, and yet, she and all the villagers were in complete disbelief. Although she was somewhat uncomfortable and shy to be in the company of her husband, she could not hold her enormous smile back. They walked for a while and finally stopped on a quiet little spot by the river. They ate and even drank alcohol all day long: they were celebrating their anniversary for the first time in decades. When the man giggled, she realised that she had forgotten what his laugh sounded like.
Nevertheless, things did not go as well as expected. It was dusk when Charles rushed into the village, yelling desperately for help. A group of men came out of a house, alarmed by the cries they heard.
“SHE’S GONE!!!” he howled. “What did I do?! How could I let her go?!”
They all ran to the forest, by the river, where the Dawns had spent the day out. It seemed that Elisa had disappeared when Charles went away for a few minutes, and she was nowhere to be found.
“Some lunatic must have kidnapped her!” suggested one of the younger men. Charles glared at him furiously. “Just go and call the police at once!”
After searching through the forest for two entire days, and when all hope was gone, Chief Grant found Elisa. She was lying down in the freezing stream, deeply wounded, fifty miles away from the spot where the Dawns had had their picnic. She still had blood all over her body, he clothes were torn, and she was severely bruised. Her whole body was turning blue, her lips were purple. She whispered faintly “Tired of struggling… I cannot feel my arms and legs…” in relief, while the rain was still beating down on her. She was taken back home, wrapped into infinite layers of clothes and covers. Charles cried at the sight of his wounded wife and looked after her with a nurse for several days: she had a bad fever and spent most of her time sleeping. Every day, police officers came to question her, but she would not speak, nor even cry. She was like a dead lump of flesh. Perhaps that’s how she really felt inside – dead?
On the sixth day however, she finally sat up and spoke in a delirious and irrational manner:
“I haven’t lived and loved enough” she whined. “I don’t deserve this bitter end I don’t deserve this bitter end I DON’T D–”, she repeated, gradually shouting, until Charles put his hand on her lips. “Of course you don’t, darling”, he said, warmly, and she looked at him with her eyes wide open.
Chief Grant had a private talk with Mr Dawn, regarding the “incident”, as the villagers called it.
“Sir, do you have any idea what happened? How long did you leave your wife alone there? Do you think she had an affair with another man?”
To all these questions, Charles said he knew nothing and had no idea how such a horrible thing could happen: he was still shocked. The police concluded that due to her torn clothes and lack of evidence, she had probably been kidnapped or raped. Grant broke the silence, laughed at loud and said: “Hohoho, or perhaps she tried to run away with another man and he tricked her, hahaha, that’ll teach her to be unfaithful”, and the Dawns never saw him again. Even though the chief had uttered these words as a joke, something awoke in Charles’s mind. What if, all this time, there was another man in Elisa’s life?
Weeks after weeks, months after months, hatred grew inside him, their relationship becoming worse and worse again. She lost her right leg due to what happened, and became very ill. At least, he was now sure of one thing: she was his and she would not try to run away again. As a consequence, he was the one who had to do the chores, he was the one who had to feed her, he was the one who could still walk and go out. Charles was in control.
Their life went on in this way for years after the incident. Charles was nearly unable to look after both of them, as he was very old. Although he had been replaced by machines that could also make clocks and repair them, he still worked, day and night. Most of their neighbours moved and were replaced by younger couples who had no idea that two souls were living in the “Big Dirty Manor”, as they said. When Charles wandered in the streets and came across boys and girls, he usually frightened them. Their lives were grim and they could not bear it anymore. But was there anything else do to?
In March 1969, Elisa became even more ill and doctors could not do anything about it. Charles would barely speak or come to help or even feed her. “It hurts too much to see her like that”, he said to himself. One evening, Elisa called Charles several times, with her faint voice, which sounded more like a whimper. But he would not come. Minutes passed, she was still moaning in the night, but nobody answered. All she could hear was her own voice echoing in the large bedroom, the creaking of the house, and the breeze outside. She had a feeling that something bad was happening. She whined again. After a while, she decided to get up and go down to the kitchen by herself. Her bare feet instantly froze on the wooden floor as she struggled to walk, trying to hold on to anything she could grab: it was the first time she had walked in more than two years. Before going downstairs, she glanced at the watchmaker’s door: “I bet he’s in there, ignoring my calls”, she thought. When she reached the bottom of the stairs, there was a shadow in front of her.
“Charles, is that you? Charles…” She suddenly stopped.
“Do you realise? Fifty years of compromise…” Charles laughed, with his hoarse voice. “You were just meant to be temporary. You filled up the years and I found that I liked having someone to hold.”
His voice was now threatening, and Elisa was at a loss for words. The whole world was collapsing all around her. It felt like the house and her life were crumbling down to pieces. She opened her mouth but there was no sound.
“But for you, I had to wait. Now it’s too late.” Charles’s voice was more assertive and confident than ever.
Her legs were shaking, while his words echoed in the mansion and in her mind. How could this be happening? She suddenly felt something warm inside her and all over her weak body and stared at him, questioningly. He smirked.
“Elisa, dear… You know there’s something I should say. I never really loved you, but I’ll miss you anyway.”
She felt like everything was torn apart, and the thunder roared far away in the dark night. She looked down: that is when the saw the pool of blood dripping from her stomach. She also noticed the butcher’s knife Charles was holding. He looked evil and had a twisted grin on his wrinkled face. Of all the things Elisa wanted to say, the only sentence that came out of her tiny lips was:
“I said… I don’t deserve this bitter end…” And she fainted.
Charles laughed at the remembrance of the words she had uttered years ago, after the incident in the woods. But this time, he had nothing to fear anymore. He lifted the knife and stabbed her again; one, two, three, four times.