Day 9 of the Flash Fiction February Challenge. The prompt today is to write a story about a surprise gone wrong. The idea for this story comes from the children’s poem “The Ghost and Jenny Jemima” by Dennis Lee, which you can find after the story in case you aren’t familiar with it.
Not the Best Timing
Jenny Jemima had never been in love until she met Steve. They had fallen in love one New England summer over their shared passion: antiquing. Steve was a history buff and loved finding rare items that had, supposedly, been owned by well-known people in the past. A chamber pot once owned by Benjamin Franklin was one of his prized possessions.
Jenny was more interested in the history of design and the colonial era was her favorite. She loved the intricate details and small practical elements of a well-designed wooden desk that sat in her own small apartment.
When their hands had both reached for the same silverware set at a flea market, they bumbled over each other awkwardly for the next five minutes. Over the next week, the nervous laughter turned into warm glances and soon Cupid’s arrow had them both spellbound.
When Steve planned a fall trip up the coast to a quaint town in Maine, Jenny couldn’t help wonder why he had picked the most romantic bed and breakfast in town for their stay. They had only known each other for five months but she couldn’t imagine being with anyone else. She pretended not to notice when his trips to the antique jewelry store became more frequent, not wanting to get her hopes up for nothing.
Their room in the bed and breakfast was perfectly decorated in colonial fashion, down to the quilted bedspread and chamber pot with a note “for appearances only.” It was perfect room for their romantic getaway.
Well, almost perfect.
After carrying their bags up the flight of stairs, they had plopped down on the bed to relax before planning the rest of their afternoon. Tick, tick, went the old mantel clock sitting on top of the dresser. It was the first thing in the room that really stood out to Jenny. It’s perfectly preserved face had black Roman numerals and its intricately detailed golden arms narrowed into impossible points. A painted panel above the face showed the moon and sun looking at each other over bulbous gray clouds. Initially, she was delighted by the unique piece but as the second hand ticked around the face, something about it made her uncomfortable. She shivered.
“Are you alright? Is it too cold in here?” Steve’s arm was around her shoulder.
“No, no, I’m fine. Let’s go check out that antique mall on 4th Street!”
After a successful afternoon of antiquing and a romantic dinner with a few glasses of wine, Jenny noticed Steve was a little nervous. She hid a smile and let the soft buoyancy of the wine and young love carry her back to the bed and breakfast, her arm enlaced in Steve’s.
They arrived just before 9:00 PM and Steve excused himself to go to the bathroom. This is it! she thought. She was giddy as she lay back on the bed, not really sure what she should be feeling. Then she heard it. Tick, tick, TICK. She looked up. The second was just making its way past the VI. As it rounded its way up to the XII, Steve walked back out of the bathroom with something in his hand: a small velvet box.
“Jenny…” he began but he couldn’t finish the words because the mantel clock began loudly chiming the hour. Jenny’s eyes lit up but it wasn’t for his proposal but the gray and black form that was rising from behind him. It seemed to be coming straight out of the clock. Shrouded in misty fabric with nothing but dark holes for eyes, it loomed up over him and hissed, “JJJEEENNNNYYYY!”
Jenny Jemima’s hair stood up straight and she didn’t wait a single moment to see what the ghost wanted. She ran right past a confused Steve, down the stairs, and out the front door. Steve turned around to an empty room and looked at the clock, still chiming away the hour. Huh, he thought, I really thought this was going to work. Maybe it just wasn’t the right time?
“The Ghost and Jenny Jemima” by Dennis Lee
The clock struck one,
The clock struck two,
The ghost came playing Peekaboo.
The clock struck three,
The clock struck four,
And Jenny Jemima Began to roar.
The clock struck five,
The clock struck six,
The ghost could walk through Steel and bricks.
The clock struck seven,
The clock struck eight,
And Jenny Jemima’s Hair stood straight.
The clock struck nine,
The clock struck ten…
The ghost wound the clock and went home again.