Chase Walker is beginning to doubt his own sanity. From the moment he turned eighteen, a strange paranoia has taken over his mind. It all started the moment he discovered his uncle’s old watch...
The watch calls to him. Though it beckons, he resists. His body strains toward it, blood pulsing, heart pounding in a mysterious and primitive need to connect with his uncle’s old beat up watch.
When sexy and mysterious Alyx saves his life, she promises answers. She talks of dimension travel, and wears a magical watch of her own…
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The first time Chase saw the watch, he thought it was junk. Just an old, broken thing to be tossed aside. With all the recent advances in technology, he had no need for an outdated watch like this one. As he continued sorting through his recently departed Uncle Charlie's belongings he dismissed the wristwatch, having every intention of throwing it away.
While preparing to leave, Chase reached a hand toward the old timepiece and a sudden electrical charge filled the air. The entire room seemed to sizzle and shake as if an earthquake had struck, and he grabbed onto his uncle's desk chair as the air around him hummed with an unknown power. When his fingers made contact with the watch, a jolt traveled from his fingertips to his toes, making the hair on his arms and legs stand on end. His blood came alive inside his body; pulsing, writhing, wanting ... and he felt a powerful magnetic pull toward the watch.
What the ...? He jerked back abruptly, sucking his injured fingers, little pinpricks still racing inside their tips where they had touched the watch.
Stupid watch. Why had Uncle Charlie kept this old thing? In all the years of living with his uncle, Chase couldn't recall ever seeing him wear it. And why had he kept it in the safe locked away with all of his valuables? It can't be worth anything. It doesn't even work.
It must have some sentimental value only known to Charlie. Chase would probably never know what made this watch special in the eyes of his crazy old uncle. But for some reason, unknown even to him, when he reached for the watch again, he found himself placing it safely inside his pocket instead of tossing it into the junk pile as he had intended. No magical or mysterious electricity filled the air on the second contact with the thing.
Must've been a static shock, probably caused by friction. With one decisive headshake, he flipped the light switch and turned to leave. His imagination was running away with him.
Picking up his pace, Chase fought the urge to look over his shoulder. I'm losing it. Why would anyone follow me? He shook his head and took a deep breath. He hadn't seen anything the last time he'd turned around, or the ten times before that.
But he was almost certain someone was following him. Chase continued walking along the waterfront, heading toward work. His temporary summer job was located on the water, and that was the one redeeming quality about scooping ice cream at By the Scoop. Well, besides meeting all the hot girls. There were always plenty of lonely girls, vacationing with their families and just looking to break away to spend time with the local boy. He'd always been more than happy to be that guy. Until recently.
Without even being aware he was doing it, he scanned the crowd as he walked along. No one is following me. I'm just being paranoid. And yet he gave in to the tickle at the back of his neck and stole yet another glance over his shoulder, again not seeing anyone, or anything that seemed out of place. Still, he couldn't shake the fingers of dread that crawled up his spine as he walked. This wasn't the first time he had felt this way. Ever since his eighteenth birthday, three weeks ago, he'd often caught himself looking over his shoulder in search of something, or someone. Lately, every sound made him jump; every person made him wary. Was he being followed? That just seemed crazy. Usually, Chase was over-confident in every aspect of his life. These new bouts of paranoia were an anomaly.
Nonetheless, he briskly walked along, resisting the urge to look back yet again, missing the heavy beat of hard rock music that usually pounded in his ears. He'd abandoned this habit in recent weeks to pay closer attention to his surroundings, just in case. In case ... what? Chase shook his head. He yearned for the soothing chaos the music provided him. Music had always been an escape for him. He looked longingly out over the shimmering waves, the evening light mystically refracting off the water. The cathartic ebb and flow of the waves were another. He breathed deep, savoring the salty smell, wishing he could ditch work and go swimming. Shoulders slumped, he sighed and moved on.
In his distracted state, he bumped into a passerby and lurched backward, arms raised in automatic defense. His heart beat a fierce rhythm as he braced for, and even welcomed, the anticipated fight with all the pent-up energy of the past few weeks. Let's do this.
"Hey, Chase! How's it goin'?" the person asked, as he enthusiastically pounded Chase on the back.
Willing the stiffness out of his stance, Chase recognized his classmate and replied, "Oh, hey Brian. On my way to work. What's up with you?"
"Packin' for college. I'll be heading out in three weeks. I'm stoked, man. Are you packed? What university are you attending? You won that football scholarship, right? I can't remember where you ..."
"I ... don't know if I'm going to college. I'm taking a year to decide. That's great, Brian. It was nice to see you. I miss seeing everyone since graduation. We should get the gang together before everyone leaves. I'll talk to Mason about it."
"Yeah, man. Great idea!" Brian turned to leave, and hesitated. "Hey, Chase. I heard about your uncle, but I was away when it happened. I'm sorry, man. He was always nice to me."
"See you, man."
With long strides, Chase continued on his way, mentally rehashing that last crucial football game. He shook his head and clenched his jaw as he relived the game yet again. Why didn't I catch that ball? That mistake had cost him the scholarship. And now he'd lost Uncle Charlie. 'The Game' didn't seem as important after that. His inner voice whispered, You were never sure about football as a career, anyway ... but Uncle Charlie had been so proud.
Still, it was good to see Brian. At least it had been a distraction from his recent paranoia.
He arrived at work safely, tied on his apron, and got busy. This was peak season, so the place was always full of vacationers looking for a cool treat to alleviate the heat of the day. He juggled taking orders, preparing them, and cashiering while keeping up a steady banter with the customers. With his tall, good looks and his sun-streaked blond hair, he had never had to work very hard at getting a date. Girls melted when he flashed his dimples, and despite his recent melancholy tonight was no different. One girl in particular hung around the shop for much longer than it took to eat her single scoop cone. Before she left, she wrote her phone number on a napkin, and winked shyly as she handed it to him. Ava. What a nice name to go along with those big, green eyes and long, vacation-tanned legs. Just the kind of distraction I need. The interaction gave him back a small measure of normalcy, and his heart lightened in his chest for the first time in weeks.
At the end of his shift, with the late evening breeze coming off the water, he clocked out and exited through the back door instead of the front. He knew he was letting his paranoia take over, but if anyone was out there waiting for him they wouldn't be expecting him to leave through the back door.
Not for the first time, he wished he owned a car. The house was only ten blocks away, but in his current state, he thought driving the ten blocks would be preferable. Technically, now that Uncle Charlie was gone, he supposed he did own a car. If you could call that old clunker a car. Uncle Charlie sure had loved that ancient piece of junk. He could picture it now, his uncle lovingly calling it "a classic" as he polished the faded olive-green paint. As much as he had loved his crazy, eccentric uncle, he had to draw the line somewhere. No way am I taking Ava out in that ugly old thing. No rational, sane girl would be impressed to be driving around in the beat up 1974 AMC Gremlin. Luckily he didn't need a car, since everything around here was conveniently located for the tourists. If he and Ava ever did go out, they would just have to walk.
Chase's head darted from side to side as he rushed home, trying to take in everything and pay attention to details. Nothing looked suspicious or out of place, and he didn't get the strange sensation of being watched on his way. He arrived at Uncle Charlie's house — his house now — and reached out to put the key into the keyhole.
As he turned the key, smoke began rising from inside his pocket, great billowing puffs of gray smog from within. The electric shock vibrated through his hip and traveled up his body. Chase clutched at his hip and remembered the watch he had placed there that morning. He tore the thing out of his pocket, and though it was hot to the touch, surprisingly it didn't burn him. It was an unfamiliar kind of heat, and he felt drawn toward it. He did not have an urge to drop it on contact, instead, he irrationally wanted to get as close as he could. It was almost ... welcoming. It beckoned him. His left wrist began to ache, and he once again felt the magnetic pull of his body toward the watch. It was as if it needed him to put it on, and his body reciprocated that need. As before, he could feel every cell of his blood as it flowed in his veins and pumped through his beating heart in a mesmerizing swish-swish swish-swish, which kept a perfect rhythm to match the ticking hands of the watch. In that moment, his body came to life as it never had before, and his mind went blank except for this one all-consuming connection. He reached out for the watchband ...
A large CRASH broke the silence of the night. It had come from somewhere inside the house. All of his energy had been focused solely on the watch, and the noise instantly jerked him out of his trance. He jammed the watch back into his pocket, pulled out his cell phone, and dialed 911 as he turned the key and opened the door. He didn't think about what he was doing, instead let instinct take over and rushed into the house yelling, "Who's there?" to the room in general.
Looking slowly around the room, he found the source of the sound. A lamp lay on the floor next to the table, shade askew, and he picked it up and held it defensively like a baseball bat above his head. As the minutes ticked by his shoulders began to relax, and he lowered the light and replaced it on the table, reaching around to plug it in. The silence of the house was eerie, and he reached down to wipe his palms on his pants as his eyes searched every dark corner. He flipped the lightswitch just as the sound of a door slamming echoed through the house, and bounded across the room in time to see the door bounce back open, straining on its hinges as it banged loudly against the kitchen wall like a gunshot. When he looked outside, he couldn't see anyone in the inky blackness. Should I follow?
His body lurched at the sound of a knock on the front door. "Police!"
Inhaling deeply, he let them in. As the two patrolmen entered through the front door, he bellowed, "He went out the back door!" pointing in the direction of the kitchen. Without a word, they jogged out the back and disappeared into the blackness of night. In the silence that followed, Chase wandered through the house, careful not to touch anything else. He had seen enough CSI episodes to have a good idea of what would happen when the officers returned.
For the millionth time in the past three weeks, he wished Uncle Charlie were here to lighten the mood. Chase flopped down on the couch and leaned his head back as he let the memories come. His uncle had a way of making the people around him laugh at the most inopportune moments. Chase could hear the sound of his laughter as clearly as if he were sitting right next to him. He would chuckle through the telling of a joke, barely able to contain his joy before the ending, and then boisterously laugh until tears came to his eyes as he slapped his hip as though he couldn't handle the hilarity. No one else would understand the punch line, but inevitably they would laugh with him just because his laughter was contagious. He really did miss that old man.
When the officers returned, they were alone. After searching the house room by room, they came back to the living room.
"There's no sign of forced entry, and everything is in place. Did you see anything or anyone?"
Chase shook his head as he answered, "No. I heard a noise before I came in, and the lamp was on the floor. Then I heard the kitchen door bang."
The two officers looked at each other over his head. The taller one nodded.
"Maybe you left the door unlatched this morning. You probably didn't realize it was open, and your imagination created a thief in the house," concluded the tall, thin, obviously rookie cop. "Possibly the lamp was near the edge of the table, and it fell off?" He didn't look much older than Chase. What does he know?
"Even though this time it was a false alarm, make sure you lock all of your doors tonight. Next time, it could be the real deal." Advised the shorter, pudgier officer. He looked like he had stopped at one too many donut shops recently. No wonder the intruder had gotten away.
Thanks for the help, guys. I would never have thought of locking the doors tonight, he thought sarcastically. They don't believe me because I'm a teenager. Eighteen. Legally an adult, but no one actually treats you that way.
His uncle had instilled in him the need for security from a very young age, even taking him to target practice at the age of eight. He could shoot a gun in his sleep and still hit the bulls eye, dead center. He would never go to sleep without locking all the doors, and the windows, too. Chase took a deep breath and crossed his arms in front of his chest.
I'm sure I heard someone in the house. It wasn't my imagination. Was it? Chase began to question himself. He knew he hadn't opened the back door at all today. So that meant he hadn't left it open or even unlocked. What explanation was there other than an intruder in the house? I didn't actually see anything, and I was distracted by that stupid watch ... Maybe I'm just tired. It has been a long day. Maybe after I get some sleep, I'll be able to think more rationally. Like an adult. Chase grumbled as he moved through the house.
He yanked the watch out of his pocket and put it in the top drawer of the end table in the living room, slamming it shut with bang that echoed through the empty house. This time, it did not feel hot to the touch, nor did his body strain toward it. Yes, lack of sleep was the culprit. Either that, or I'm losing my mind. He dragged his feet up the stairs to his bedroom, pausing briefly on his way past Uncle Charlie's room. I really do miss you, old man. The sting of unshed tears burned behind his eyes, and he blinked them back.
Uncle Charlie's words flashed through his memory, "Next to laughter, sleep is the best medicine in this world." Chase had always suspected that he had made that up to excuse his frequent napping, but maybe the saying had some merit after all. Chase hadn't been getting enough sleep lately; that was all. His uncle had always attributed his own good health to the daily naps he'd enjoyed.
His good health had run out, though, hadn't it? Chase turned out the light and suffered through yet another restless night.
The intruders, a man, and a woman, were furious and frustrated. They were dressed all in black, which blended well with their midnight hair. Though they were not related, they looked as if they could be siblings with their tall, lean build and dark eyes to match their hair. The woman paced the small room. Back and forth, back and forth.
"We have to find that watch and destroy it!" she snarled.
Their lives depended on it. The attempt to find it inside the house had been a failure. They had looked through every inch of that place, but they were professionals, and she was positive that no sign of their presence had been left behind. Except the lamp. Stupid mistake. Her eyes narrowed on the man.
They'd escaped the house just in time. The pair had watched those silly cops running around in the dark from their carefully concealed hiding place right under the officer's noses. When they didn't want to be seen, they had ways of becoming virtually invisible.
"Where would that crazy old man hide it?" hissed the woman.
"How should I know? You're the one that insisted we break into the house. I say we just grab the boy and make him tell us. He has to know about it by now. He turned eighteen three weeks ago, so the process has already begun. He doesn't have to get hurt if he hands over the watch," growled her companion.
Excerpted from "Keeper of the Watch"
Copyright © 2017 Kristen L. Lackson.
Excerpted by permission of Black Rose Writing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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