Christian A. Larsen

For July, The Horror Zine's Media Director: Christian A. Larsen

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by Christian A. Larsen

All the grown-ups were still outside playing softball in the field between the house and the apple trees, but night was on its way.  The sun dipped below the horizon, brushing the upper atmosphere with its farewell rays, sending dim but sufficient light fluttering into the earthbound sky as Kevin walked back to the house, trying not to cry. And he knew he’d better not.  He made a serious bid at being a big person when he told his mom and dad he would clean up the scrape on his forearm himself after that ill-advised slide into second base.

The screen door slammed shut behind him, and it surprised him. The screen door at his house always closed with a nearly-silent whoosh, but everything here was a relic of another time. Aunt Ann’s house was furnished in pre-Depression era furniture, from before Uncle Lloyd lost his Buick dealership when the stock market crashed.  It was a strange mixture of high-end walnut and weekend-home wicker. Aunt Ann was sitting in the chair under the buck’s head, her cheek almost touching the glass grape beads of the pull chain on the lamp next to the chair.  Kevin could barely see in the half-light, and he wondered for a minute if he should turn on the lamp.  She might be sleeping. Or…

“Should I get the iodine?” asked Aunt Ann, pointing at the blood on Kevin’s arm.  The knuckles on her hand looked like marbles under her skin.

“What’s iodine?”

“Good heavens!” she said, dropping her stockinged feet off the hassock. “Help me up and we’ll take care of that scratch. I remember what it was like to be ten, even if it was 82 years ago. You’ll need some iodine, and you’ll need my help.”

The bathroom looked like something out of that Honeymooners show Kevin’s grandpa liked to watch. He knew that show was old, shot in the black and white days. There was a rust stain the color of a skid mark running from the stunted little faucet into the drain—a drain that had a cracked rubber stopper to plug it. There was also hot and cold handles, which seemed like an awful lot of extra work to get the temperature just where you wanted it.

Aunt Ann cleaned the cut with a damp washcloth, examining it with her one good eye.  Her glasses made her look like she was staring through two little fishbowls. Then came the iodine, a hateful liquid just about the exact color as the rust stain (and a skid mark). The pain was worse than getting the cut in the first place, but those bird-boned hands held Kevin’s arm still until she was finished. He was sure she would put a mummy bandage on him, so he was a little surprised to see her pull a box of Curads out of the medicine cabinet, the exact same kind he had at his house.

“There, that ought to just about do it. Do you want to go back outside and play a little more before it gets too dark? The game’s not over.”

“Naw, the mosquitoes were starting to bite.” The mosquitoes weren’t the most fearsome bug he’d seen at Aunt Ann’s.  Seemed like once the pears and apples started dropping, there were enough queen bees to cause a regular border-war. “It’s cooler in here, too.”

“Cooler, hanh?  Why don’t you pour yourself a glass of lemonade? I made it with extra sugar. I’ll be in the other room, having a sit.”

Kevin poured two glasses, one for each of them. She didn’t want one, but thanked him and drank it, anyway, holding the glass in both her arthritic hands. The room was darker now, everything almost invisible except for the windows, outside which they could see the game continuing. Kevin sat in the chair across from her. It was an extremely different style, some early-70s assemble-at-home piece of junk. Nothing matched at Aunt Ann’s house.

“Want me to turn on a light?” he asked.

“I like this time of day. The French call it l’heure bleue.”

“What does that mean?”

“The blue hour. That painting in the living room, the one above the sofa, that’s a blue hour painting. Everything’s dark and light at the same time.”

Kevin could see what she meant, and he said so. He liked being in here with Aunt Ann—it was like traveling back in time—but he felt little ashamed he wasn’t out there playing, getting back on the horse, as his dad would say. The feeling grew and grew until he had to stand up and look at something else in the room, anything that wasn’t the softball game. There was a cuckoo clock on the wall at the far end of the room, so tucked away that he hadn’t ever noticed it before, and there was no way Aunt Ann hung it recently. Nothing was ever done recently at Aunt Ann’s.

The hands read quarter past eight, about the same time it was now, but it wasn’t ticking.  It had obviously not ticked in a long time, even though the three pine cone weights were all up as high as they could go.

“Don’t get too close now,” said Aunt Ann. 

Kevin hadn’t realized she was watching him. Older people always thought he was going to break something, but how was he going to break a clock that was up on the wall? It was so high up he’d have had to climb up on a chair just to touch it.

“I’m not worried about you breaking it. It’s already broken, anyway. I’m worried about it breaking you.”

Kevin remembered his grandma saying the same thing about the grandfather clock at her house. “It’s just a cuckoo clock.”

“It was my dad’s cuckoo clock from Germany. A real Black Forest cuckoo clock you only had to wind once every eight days. Every hour it would either play ‘Happy Wanderer’ or ‘Edelweiss’.  I can still hear the music.”  She hummed a little bit of “Edelweiss” in a sweetly off-key voice that Kevin found downright comforting. “There were four little dancing figures that haven’t seen the light of day in, oh, I guess its 40 years now.”

“Why don’t you have it fixed?”

Aunt Ann’s face crinkled up in a laugh. “Don’t you think we haven’t tried?  It’s broken, but there’s nothing wrong with it … except that it won’t stay on the wall when people stand too close.”


“You really want to know the story? Then come here. I don’t feel like shouting it across the room.”  She pointed at the chair across from her with her crooked fingers. “Come away from that clock.”

Kevin sat down again across from Aunt Ann by the window. Someone had a good hit outside, probably Kevin’s dad, who always took sports so seriously. There was some cheering and yelling, but it seemed awfully distant now, and unimportant. He was going to hear a story, and coming from someone as old as Aunt Ann, he knew it had to be good.

“Anyone ever tell you about Tante Regina?”

“Tanteregina? What’s that?”

“Two words … Tante.  Regina. She was my aunt, my dad’s sister.  See, tante means aunt in German.  Do you know what Regina means?”


“Queen. She was queen of the family alright, but she was no nun.” Aunt Ann waited for Kevin to latch onto the significance, but she moved on quickly, remembering that he was raised a Presbyterian.  “Tante Regina was a spiritualist, as many people were at the end of the 19th century. I say ‘many people’ but not in our family. We were raised Catholic, and her believing in séances, Ouija boards, automatic writing and the like was a little on the scandalous side. ‘Course my dad didn’t believe in any of it, but then again he didn’t believe in God or the afterlife, either, so you can imagine the rows he got into with Tante Regina. It wasn’t so much about what happened after death as their reasons for believing what they did—and neither one of them could ever leave it alone.  Not that they were fighting. They loved each other. They were just sharpening each other up, like knives.”

Kevin never saw anybody sharpen knives before in real life, but he’d seen it in a lot of Tom & Jerry cartoons. It sounded to him that’s just about how Tante Regina and Aunt Ann’s dad got along, too.

“I’m sure there was a lot more to what they said, but it was all so long ago all I can remember is my father saying ‘Das ist alles Mist’, and her answering ‘Sie sind Schwein köpfig.’”

“What does that mean?”

“‘That’s all shit,’ and ‘You’re pig-headed.’”

Kevin laughed and Aunt Ann laughed along with him. He was glad that she didn’t clean it up for his ears, and she was glad he let her cuss. Nobody let old women cuss, which was one of the reasons she liked living alone. She did miss Uncle Lloyd, though, dead for more than 20 years.

“When Tante was near the end at St. Catherine’s, my dad went to go visit her and listen to her make her final case. She quoted the Bible. She quoted Cora Hatch.  She quoted Mary Todd Lincoln.  She made her case and she made it as well as my dad had ever heard, but in the end, with her laying there on her deathbed, he still told her ‘Das ist alles Mist’. So you know what she said to him?”

Kevin shook his head, his mouth slightly agape.

“She said that if there was anything on the other side, she would find a way to prove it to him.  My dad patted her hand, told her he loved her—which he never did—and kissed her on the forehead. He went home that night—the night she died.

“Now it’s important to remember that I was there for the next part, visiting my old dad who had a dying sister and a touch of the cancer himself by this time. My father was reading the late edition of the Daily News when the cuckoo clock right above his head—the same one you were looking at a minute ago—just stopped ticking.  When he looked up, it just sorta slid off the wall and crashed into his forehead.  It’s not a heavy thing, were you to hold it, but it split his head open just like a log. Ah, killed my dad flat dead, and do you know what I believe? Tante was just proving to him that the afterlife existed. Showing it to him first hand.

“It might have all been coincidence, but the repair shop couldn’t ever get the clock to start ticking again. There was nothing in the world wrong with it.  So it had to be something out of this world, right?”

Even at ten, there was a part of Kevin, the part rushing to grow up, that chose not to believe what Aunt Ann said about the clock, but the larger part, even as he grew into his teens, kept him from ever getting close enough to let the clock touch him, even if it were to somehow use the wall like a springboard and launch itself at him. It wasn’t hard. Aunt Ann deepened into her late 90s and hosted the family less and less, until there was talk of moving her into a nursing home, a sad place for anyone, but sadder still for someone who had lived so independently, and done her own gardening into her mid-90s. But the date was set and agreed on by all parties. Aunt Ann would enjoy a last Christmas at home, and January 2nd, she would move into Golden Pines, which to Kevin sounded more like a cemetery than a managed care facility.

Kevin borrowed his mom’s car the Thursday afternoon between Christmas and New Year’s, driving out to Diamond Lake in the premature winter twilight for one last visit to Aunt Ann’s, a place where until a couple of years ago, the sidewalk really did end, and so did the curbs. The old house wasn’t a country cottage anymore.  It was just another pixel in the sprawl of the suburban screen. He couldn’t imagine what kind of changes Aunt Ann had seen in the 80 or so years since she and Uncle Lloyd bought the place.  He savored the long roll up the drive, knowing in the spring it would probably be sold to a developer. Everything about the old place was the same as ever, and he hated his parents and grandparents for taking Aunt Ann out of this place, but he also knew that they were right. It really had come to that.

His mom gave him a key so he wouldn’t have to make Aunt Ann—almost a century old now—get up to answer the door, so he was not surprised that the place was quiet. Old people liked to sleep, didn’t they?  What did surprise him was that the cuckoo clock was not on the wall anymore. He felt like Sigourney Weaver in Aliens, half-expecting it to wrap one of those pine cone weight chains around his ankle from under a piece of furniture. But that was crazy. He was a 16-year-old. A man now. No need to worry. It probably just fell off the wall.

When he checked, he saw he was right, but it hadn’t landed on the floor. Under where it should have been on the wall was the inert and somehow shrunken form of Aunt Ann, who he might have assumed walked into the corner and fell down in a dementia-related stupor if it weren’t for the clock driven into her scalp and the note in her hand. Scrawled in the wobbly, spidery script of a woman struggling to hold a pen, it read: “It’s my time.”

Christian A. Larsen grew up in Park Ridge, Illinois and graduated from Maine South High School in 1993. He has worked as an English teacher, radio personality, newspaper reporter, and a printer’s devil.

Before graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Larsen worked at commercial stations WHZT-FM (105.9) and WZNF-FM (95.3) first as a production assistant and later, as air talent. He returned to Chicago in 1997 to accept a position at WMVP-AM (1000) working as both a producer and on-air contributor for Steve Cochran (Grumpy Old Men) and Talkmess with Kevin Matthews (Blink).

In the early 2000s, Larsen hosted middays at WZNX-FM (106.7) while working as the promotions director at the station. He later returned to the Chicago market to host evenings at WIIL-FM (95.1) while writing copy and voicing radio spots for TopHat Media Group. After a brief layover teaching English at Grayslake North High School, he began to write in earnest, making his first notable placement in What Fears Become with his short story, “Bast”.

Other short story sales followed, as did his novel, Losing Touch, which was named Best Horror Novel of 2013 in the Preditors & Editors™ Readers’ Poll. The story is about Morgan Dunsmore who, in the midst of a mid-life crisis, finds that he can walk through walls. Larsen’s follow-up, The Blackening of Flesh, was released in 2016, and tells the story of a high school graduate who finds out his house is haunted by Prohibition-era gangsters.

Larsen lives with his wife and two sons in the fictional town of Northport, Illinois. Follow him on Twitter @exlibrislarsen or visit his Amazon.com author page.