A Visit To Clockwise

Cheshire lane is a short compact street, ending in a T intersection, and 2436 Cheshire Lane Apartments is a little less than halfway down.. Moths flutter around the chalk white streetlights lining the sidewalk. The aged wooden stairs of the nine-story building creak noisily, and are littered with old newspapers, their contents so faded that you can only read the headline, "Wax King Messily Decapitated in Bedchamber!" All of the windows have shutters drawn, and the second story room's door has a note tacked onto it that reads "Off to Bazaar, be back at 1:30". The ninth floor room's windows have wooden boards nailed over them. No name is written on the rusted mailbox.


"Crazy place," Hank mutters under his breath. "Best play this cool Frankie," he advises with a wink.

After first straightening himself up and trying futilely to smooth out the creases in his tie, Hank raps smartly on the door with his knuckles, hefts his case and applies an expression of casual disinterest to his face.


"Who is it?" A man's voice from inside inquires. His tone is both shaky and gravely, like one of an old man with a sore throat.


"Uh, Hank…" he answers, pausing a moment before shrugging and continuing. "Hank Sterner."


“Oh, dear.” He responds, sadly. “Come in, Hank. It’s unlocked.”

The apartment is a drably decorated, yet strangely cozy series of small and dusty rooms. Gray carpet covers the entire floor, and dark red curtains hang behind the boarded up windows. Several lit candles sitting on various pieces of furniture give off a beeswax aroma, and provide the only illumination besides a dim incandescent light bulb. A very old man sits in a very tall armchair in front of a coffee table in the living room, his lap covered in heaps of blankets that spill over onto the carpet. His thick glasses give his face a turtle-like appearance, emphasized by his thin jaw and sunken eyes. The man squints as he looks up at Hank and Franklin, and motions to the olive green couch in front of him.

“Please Hank, have a seat. Oh, hello…” He spots Franklin, raising a thick gray eyebrow. “Are you going to introduce me to your friend?”


"This is Franklin," Hank says, taking a seat. "We just met. Look, to be honest, I'm not exactly sure who you are, or for that matter, who am I."


Franklin sits, nodding to the man, waiting to see how this meeting unfolds.


The old man nods slowly. "Yes… I suspected as much. Franklin, would you fetch the tea please? It's in the cupboard next to the cups in the kitchen, just over there." he says, gesturing with his head. "Would you like some tea, either of you?"


Franklin is taken aback for a couple of seconds, but then stands (a bit stiffly) and goes to the kitchen.

(thinks) Better not upset the ancient guy, could be bad for his health…


"Tea would be great thanks. So you know Franklin too? Where did you two meet last, if you don't mind the question?"


The man furrows his brow. "No… I don't know this boy. Thank you, right there on the coffee table will be fine. You just introduced me, Hank." He says with a grin.

"Anyway" he begins, pouring the water into his cup. "I, as you may know, am Clockwise. I'm not sure exactly how much you remember… but you, my friend, are Hank Sterner, and you are in deep, deep trouble. You should not have come here, but I suspect desperate times call for desperate measures." He sips the cup thoughtfully. "Now. Do you remember where you are? What the city is?"


"Deep, deep trouble…" Hank repeats. "I've heard that before. What kind of trouble?" he asks, worry aging his face. "I don't remember this place at all, though it looks as if it remembers me. The city - my friends showed me the way. I have no idea what it is, or even how I got here really. All I know is I was told to find you, and, as you agree, that I'm in trouble."


Clockwise gives a quick nod, and leans in closer. "This place, Hank… it goes by a great many names: The Sprawling Abberation, Mania, Wonderland… one thing most agree on is the fact that this place breeds madness. So the name most agree on is the Mad City. As to how you got here, I don't know. There are many ways of getting here. One just has to open their eyes." He pauses to stir his cup, and taste the contents.

"Now, we come to the matter of why you're here, Hank. I'm taking the risk of worsening your relapse by saying this, but a certain Nightmare in the city by the name of Lamp wants you dead, or as good as dead. And Lamp has good reason. You betrayed him. And I helped you. That's why I'm here, Hank… it's why I can't leave here."


Hank's eyes glaze over while Clockwise speaks, drifting off to some other mental space. With a jolt, Hank returns to the present as Clockwise stops speaking.

"Who's Waters? How does he fit in?" Hank wipes the sudden beads of sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. "This Lamp… he's kind of… burnt looking?"


Clockwise looks a bit confused.

"I'm afraid I don't know that name… Waters, was it? No… doesn't ring a bell. To answer your other question, Lamp rather resembles a badly electrified corpse, yes. We Nightmares do all have our quirks. It takes all kinds, I suppose." He gives a small shrug. "Hank, you can't hide from Lamp. His Sockets can sniff out anyone, virtually anywhere. You should know, as he's let you use them on many occasions."

The Lady in Red strides casually into the room from the hallway, reapplying makeup whilst looking into a hand-mirror. "Careful, old man." She says at Clockwise as she passes by and takes a seat on a nearby end-table. "Don't want to make it worse." Franklin and Clockwise don't notice.


Hank looks from the Lady in Red back to Clockwise. "You'd better spell out the whole thing for me I think. We used to work for this Lamp, then we changed our minds, he got mad, you got stuck here, and I don't know what happened to me. And you're a nightmare? Granted, you could use some sun and maybe some new clothes, but you're not looking that bad old man," Hanks says in a feeble attempt to lighten the mood.

"So how and why, and when, did all this happen?"


Clockwise smiles, and drains the rest of his teacup. The long, mahogany legs of his tall armchair move independently like a spider's legs, turning the chair around. The chair crawls agilely over furniture and the kitchen counter without even jostling a plate, though you can see that there is an immense amount of strength in the legs. Though Clockwise himself is jostled around slightly, he doesn't fall out-it's as if he's attached to the chair. He reaches the sink, and he begins to wash the cup and saucer with a sponge. The Lady in Red looks bemused at Hank and Franklin's reactions.

"Not all Nightmares are boogeymen, Hank. As for what happened between you and Lamp, I don't know all of the details. You came to me with a problem, and I helped you solve it. I got caught unfortunately, Tock is indeed a clever one." He dries the cup with a hand-towel as he speaks. "However, on the other hand, the operation was mainly a success." He glances at Hank. "I hope that didn't trigger something too severe. Stop me if it's hurting, old friend."

You can hear several cars pull up outside, their breaks screeching on the cobblestone street. Several loud voices begin to talk excitedly as the doors open, then slam shut.

"He's actually here? You're sure you saw it, Sammy?"
"Biff, I'm tellin' ya, I saw him myself!"
"Hey you guys, settle down now, settle down now. Which floor does the old man live on?"


Franklin gets up, and carefully peers through the curtains.


Hank's mouth drops open as he watches Clockwise moving around his house. "What was my problem? Who is Tock?" he asks with a stammer.

The voices outside pull Hank back to the here and now and he closes his open mouth. Swallowing, he eyes Clockwise's disturbing movements and slides over to his case. Snapping it open, he slips out the heavy revolver and stuffs it into his jacket pocket, evening out the weight of the bottle in the other.

"What's going on out there Franklin?" Hank asks, eyes never leaving Clockwise.


Three 1930's Fords have pulled up in front of the apartment in a loose circle. Several slender men in old-fashioned suits and suspenders with large pins in the place of their heads talk loudly as they begin to come up the stairs. Most of the Pin-Heads have a short and stylish hat floating above their heads, and several of them hold flash-bulb cameras and notebooks.

"So let's check all the floors then, huh Butch?"
"Sounds swell, Sammy. You guys make sure that you get some good photos. This needs to be front page material, I tell ya. Boss won't be happy if this turns out like last time."

Clockwise replaces the now dry cup and saucer back into a cabinet. "Feel the back of your neck, Hank." The Lady in Red raises her eyebrows at Hank, silently inquiring 'Do you really want to do that?'

Clockwise's eyes shift to the window. "It looks as if some of the Tax man's goons have seen you arrive here. They'll be wanting a story… best not to let them get your picture out, eh Hank?. Lamp will see that you were here, and that won't be good for anyone. I don't mean to sound rude, but the two of you had best get away from here." He approaches the front door, and peers out of the curtains next to Franklin.


Franklin moves slightly aside, almost as a reflex, when the creepy moving chair comes next to him, but then regains control, and does not freak out.

"Those Pin guys are bad business, then?"

The weirdness level has surpassed Frank's limit: nothing seems to surprise him much anymore, not even guys with huge push pins as heads.

"How can we exit without being noticed?"


Clockwise pauses, thinking it over.

"The back door is chained up, so there's no getting out that way. The windows are boarded as well… you'll just have to leave the way you came in I suppose. Just ignore them, don't let them photograph Hank's face, and get away as fast as possible. "

"Hank, if there's one place that Lamp's Sockets will hesitate to go, it's the Warrens. They hate the smell of the melting wax… if you can get there, you'll be able to take a breather at least. I'll look into this Waters character, and send a Clothbird for you as soon as I can. Most importantly, you cannot under any circumstance go to sleep: they'll be on you like ants on a dead frog."

Clockwise looks down at one of the candles on the end table. He gingerly grasps the end of the flame, and stretches it like a flickering orange ribbon. Removing a short pair of scissors from a drawer, he snips the flame off from the candle, and begins to twist and shape it. He ties it up like a tiny balloon animal, and when he opens his hands, a moth made of flames sits in his hand. It flutters its wings, and Clockwise cups his hands over top of it.

"A parting gift. I hope you find whatever it is you're looking for, Franklin. It won't fly away, as long as you care for it." He extends the moth in his frail hand, opening the front door with the other.


Confused by events, Hank reaches up and feels the back of his neck, frowning at the Woman in Red.

"Where do we go to find these Warrens?" he asks Clockwise.

Gathering up his case, Hank pats his pockets for the reassuring lumps of the bottle and the revolver, then readies himself.
"I'm thinking we just run damn fast down those stairs and out the door. You got any better ideas Franklin?"


An intense and agonizing pain burns inside Hank's head as he runs his fingers across a line of stitches in the back of his neck.

A scalpel
A light bulb insignia
A searing pain as something cuts into the flesh of Hank's neck

As Hank comes to his senses he can see the Dwarf sitting on a deckchair outside leaning and looking in through the open door concernedly.

The Pin heads jabber to each other as they quickly ascend the creaking wooden stairs.

"Hey, did ya hear a door open?"
"I sure did, up there, near the top floor. Come on, hurry up guys."


"Feet, don't fail me now!" Hank hurtles toward the apartment door, feet knocking loudly on Clockwise's floor, and out into the hallway beyond.


Franklin follows closely, trying to look inconspicuous.

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