Anne woke with a cough. Her body was choking on something she could not immediately identify; her surroundings were a blur of dancing light.
‘Oh shit, I fell asleep in front of the TV again,’ she thought, but then realised that was not all. The dancing lights were red and orange, not at all like TV, and the reason why her vision was blurred was the smoke that filled her parent’s living room. She had fallen asleep in front of the TV, and as the Christmas candle had burned down, the paper beneath had caught fire...
Anne got up hurriedly, realising that she had to stop thinking and leave the house, but fell down onto the sofa again, dizziness holding her tight. With a groan and panic flaring up in her stomach, she slid to the ground and crawled to the door. At least the way out was clear ahead of her.
As she stumbled out of the front door, Anne heard the sirens announcing the immediate arrival of the fire brigade. Then someone grabbed her by the arm and dragged her away from the house.
“Thank God you’re all right! I was so scared for you, girl!” Her parent’s elderly neighbour must have called the fire brigade, and now she stared at her with a mix of concern and relief. Before Anne could think of a reply, the first fire engine hurtled around the corner, followed by two more and an ambulance. Suddenly people were shouting all around her, then someone separated her from the old woman and dragged her away. An oxygen mask was pressed over her nose and someone gently forced her to lie down. Then the bang of a door closing, and silence.
After a while, a quiet, regular ticking disturbed the stillness of Anne’s thoughts. Her eyes re-focused and found a small clock. The sweep hand was missing, but somewhere inside, the clockwork still measured seconds. The girl watched the minute hand move and pause and move again at 60 ticks. The cold that had clouded her mind left her slowly and she realised with a pang of guilt that, every time the hand moved, some possession of her parent’s was destroyed by the fire, or the water the fire brigade was using.
‘This is not what they meant when they ask me to do the house-sitting while they are on vacation, is it?’ she wondered.
Then the minute hand moved backwards. Anne closed her eyes tight for 30 ticks, then watched it again. It had gone from ten to nine, now it moved to eight.
‘I must be hallucinating,’ she told herself. Or perhaps the clock hands had become so tired of going in the same direction year after year that they had suddenly begun to go the opposite way instead. ‘No, I must be hallucinating,’ she decided. ‘I breathed in too much smoke.’
The ticking took up speed then, and the minute hand moved quicker and quicker backwards around the clock. It became so fast that the girl felt dizzy again and closed her eyes to the phenomenon.
Anne woke with a start. Flames danced before her eyes.
She sat bolt upright on the sofa in her parent’s living room, watching the candle burn down, utterly unable to move. Then the paper on which it had been placed caught fire.
With a small cry, the girl got up and ran to the kitchen, coming back only moments later with a glass of water. The flames sizzled and went out.
Anne sat down on the sofa, the empty glass still in her hand, staring at the mess on the table.
“Thank God,” she whispered, switched off the TV and went to bed.