I honestly don’t remember when I first saw the sign, but when I did, it was night time and it gave me a bit of a creepy feeling. Tam and I were heading to the beach (this was when we were just friends), and we were kind of in the middle of what felt like nowhere. Seriously, I had no idea what that stretch of road looked like in the daytime and I was kind of thinking maybe it was lost in a permanent spell of darkness or something.
What got to me wasn’t actually the sign, it was the house not far from it. No, wait… it was the combination of the two because I thought, “shit, can you imagine sitting at your living room window and seeing that damn sign flash the time and temp…forever?”
No, that doesn’t sound scary or creepy at all, in fact, it just sounds really annoying, right? Well, leave it to MY brain to snap it up, give it a good yank and a twist before handing it back with a sneer and an “oh, yeah?”
So, for your reading pleasure, here’s a little bit of fiction brought to you by my twisted mind and a late night drive…
Mr. Fielding signed the closing papers and shook the hand of the broker handling the sale. “I’m glad this is done. When do I get my money?”
“The bank will issue you a check, or we can have the full amount deposited directly into your account.”
Mr. Fielding turned to his son, “I don’t know, why don’t you handle this part, Jacob? I’m going to go sit in the car.”
Jacob watched his father slowly make his way past the row of cubicles and out the front door. “He’s not doing well, but this will help,” he said, tapping the papers. “He couldn’t handle the upkeep and I have my hands full with my own place.”
“They’ve offered to let him live in the house as long as he wants,” the broker said, “but they will be moving forward on the property.”
“He knows, and I really can’t thank you enough for helping out with that. I’m not sure he understands this was everything and not just the parcel by the road.”
The broker nodded and extended a hand to Jacob. “My father was very ill for a long time and it took a lot of people caring for him near the end. I’m glad this worked out well for everyone.”
Building began shortly after the check was deposited and Mr. Fielding watched from his living room window. It hurt to do much of anything else, and there was nothing on that damn television, but it was fine to watch the construction. They even came over and did some work on his lawn. At first he was upset, but when he learned it wasn’t going to cost him anything, he was thrilled.
“I’ve been wanting to clear that area out for years,” he said, “now look at this place. Just like when it was new.”
The only thing that bothered him was the sign. All day and all night it flashed the time, then the temperature. “Look at that, as if I don’t know it’s hotter than Hades outside right now, or that time keeps on marching along.”
“You could always watch some television, Pop,” Jacob said one evening after they finished their Sunday night dinner. Margie was in the kitchen with the kids, packing up the leftovers into containers for her father-in-law to have throughout the week. “Or you could move in with us, you know we have room and the kids would love it. So would Margie,” Jacob added with a grin. “She wouldn’t have to clean two houses.”
Mr. Fielding shook his head. “Naw, this is my home, and yours too. I expect you know I’m leaving it to you when I die.”
Jacob blushed and ducked his head. “Aw, hell, Pop, don’t go talking like that.” He looked up when his father didn’t respond. “Margie!” he yelled, “call for an ambulance, I think he’s having another attack.”
When Mr. Fielding was released to his home, he sat in the wheelchair and stared out the window. It was 72 degrees at 10:00 in the morning. Jacob and his family had finally left, and the house was quiet. The cars on the freeway rushed past and he looked at the clock again. 72 degrees and 10:00 – no, it was 10:01. He saw it change. Thinking about it, he couldn’t recall ever seeing the time change on a clock like that. He always figured it happened when the sign was busy telling people they were either too hot or too cold, then it would pop up with the new minute showing.
It gave him a strange thrill to see it, as though he’d witnessed some electronic secret. He waited, blinking only when the temperature was showing, just to be sure he wouldn’t miss anything important. It remained 72 degrees for the next 30 minutes, but he never saw the number change on the hour during that time. With a sigh of disappointment, he reached for the television remote when the damn sign changed, only now it was 73 degrees, and he got to see it.
He put down the remote and began watching the sign. All hours of the day and for as long as he could stay awake at night, he’d watch it. Every time he caught it changing a number in the time or the temperature, he would chortle and write it down in the steno pad he dug out of the desk just for the occasion. Long columns of numbers with the dates next to them, proof of what he’d witnessed.
All his meals were taken at the window and he’d call out to whoever may have been visiting at the moment that he’d seen “another one.”
Jacob and Margie put the finishing touches on the apartment they’d built for Mr. Fielding one month after their last visit. The old man had barely spoken to them, just hooting that he’d seen something, then he’d write something on the pad and go back to staring out the window.
“Pop, let’s go for a ride. I don’t think you’ve been out of the house since you came back from the hospital.”
“I don’t want to go for any ride, Jacob. I’m staying right here. I don’t want to miss anything.”
“What are you looking at out there? All I see is the freeway and that sign.”
“Watch the sign, boy, you might see it too.”
The two of them watched for five minutes before the digit changed and Mr. Fielding chortled. “See?” he said, “What did I tell you? Now you’ve seen it too.”
“Ok…” Jacob was at a loss for words. “Maybe it’s time for you to come live with us. We’ve built this nice little place just for you. You’ll have all the privacy you want, but we’ll be right there if you need us.”
“I can’t leave, Jacob,” Mr. Fielding said, not taking his eyes from the sign, “I have to watch the numbers. I have to watch them change. Once,” he whispered, “I saw both the time and the temp change in one round. It was amazing. I can’t leave. I have to keep watch.”
Jacob swallowed the lump in his throat and went into the kitchen where Margie and the kids waited. “I don’t know what to do. He’s obsessed.”
Margie put her hand on her husband’s arm. “Maybe it’s time to stop giving him a choice, Jacob. I’m worried about him living here all alone.”
Jacob nodded. “I know. I’ll talk to him again, give him one more week, then we’ll start moving him out. It will take a little while, so maybe that will give him enough time to warm up to the idea.”
Mr. Fielding didn’t really notice the people coming into his house and taking his things. He did notice when that crazy old lady from up the road came over and offered to buy the damn rug right out from under him and the curtains from the very window where he sat. He ignored her, but Jacob took care of things. He made another entry in his journal and flipped the page. It was the last one in this book, but he had a new one at the ready. He settled in for another eventful afternoon.
Maybe it was the quiet creeping up on him that made him look away from the sign, but when he turned around, the house was all but empty. A few boxes were stacked here and there, messages written on the side saying what they held and where they were to go. He got up and looked through an open box. It contained things from his bathroom. His bathroom! These were his things and they were in a box instead of his bathroom! He began picking up a few things to put them back when a sharp pain stopped him. Gasping for breath, he got back to his chair and sat down just in time to see the minute change.
The pain stopped, just like that. He watched and the temperature dropped a degree. Another double! A rare entry to start his new journal. The box was forgotten as the day faded into night.
Jacob waited until his father was asleep, then gently wheeled him out to the car. “Come on, Pop, it’s time to go home with us.”
Mr. Fielding was too groggy to resist, but climbed into the front seat and fastened the seat belt. It wasn’t until they pulled away from the house that he realized he wasn’t coming back. “No, Jacob, I can’t go! The time! The numbers! I have to watch them. I know their secret, I have to keep watching them!”
“I’m sorry, Pop, but it’s time to leave the house. The business owner wants to move into his office…”
“I’m not stopping him.”
“Well, you are, because his office is the house.”
“But the sign, Jacob, the sign. Who will watch the numbers? Who will record their secret?”
Jacob had no answer.
The clock stopped working a year later and the business owner was furious. He called the manufacturer, who sent out a technician, who said there was nothing wrong and maybe someone cut a wire somewhere and that would void the warranty. The business owner threatened to cut a few wires if something didn’t get fixed right away. Three days of tinkering produced no results, until that evening when it just came back on as if nothing had happened.
The technician scratched his head, the business owner didn’t care how it was fixed, only that it was working and this better not go on any invoice because no one did a damn thing and it’s still under warranty. There was about to be an argument, when the technician looked up and frowned.
“Who’s that in your office?” he asked, pointing.
“It’s Saturday night. No one better be in my office,” the business owner said. He turned and went pale. An old man sat in a wheelchair staring at the clock, a steno pad in his hand. “But,” he said softly, “he can’t be there. They buried him this afternoon.”