The Last Clock: Therapy Session

 “I killed him,” the words came out of Jude with what felt to be the most honest statement she’s said in some time.

“Who did you kill?” Her therapist Miriam responded with obvious words of concern. Miriam tried to catch Jude's eyes, but her gaze was locked onto the floor. 

For a moment, only silence filled the room. It was only ten seconds, but both Jude and Miriam felt that it was time so thick that it needed to be severed with a knife. 

“My dad,” she said at last, with a hollow tone.

“Under normal circumstances I would have to report any acts of violence, but Jude, your father passed away in an unfortunate plane accident. It is normal for people to bear the guilt of responsibility during their time of grief, but you did not in anyway contribute to–”

“Have you ever heard of The Last Clock?” Jude quickly interrupted. The look upon her face was one of distress, as if pleading for someone to finally connect with her. Yet, even with this plea, her focus never left from the spot on the ground that she happened to be so fixated with.

Miriam's face contorted, as if caught completely off guard by the question.

It was obvious to Jude that her therapist was not following the words that she spoke, that much she could feel. Who could, really? The Last Clock? A question that came from nothing, directly after speaking about her father's unfortunate fatal voyage. Those words had no meaning, at least, not yet, but Miriam intended to listen, as if Jude were attempting to build a bridge for her. Still, the words did run a chill across her body, like suddenly hit with a cold wind that replaced the warm autumn sun.

Ever since her father’s passing Jude felt like she talked in fragments, jumping from one place to another, trying to piece together a puzzle that has taken control over her life. At points it felt like the words weren't even hers, but out they came nonetheless.

“I’m sorry, Jude, I’m not exactly understanding.” Miriam stated. “Do you care to explain?”

“My dad died because of this app, because I downloaded it.”

“Take a breath, Jude, and start from the beginning. How is your father’s death and this app related?” Miriam asked.

Jude took a deep breath. When the words did not come out the first time she continued to breathe some more. She reclined into her seat, closed her eyes, then gave the same empty stare toward the ceiling that she had once given to the floor. The words needed to come out as natural as each exhale and inhale. That was the truth she felt. That was the truth that bound her. 

“I never told you this story. I know that I’ve mentioned that my dad underwent several mood changes after my mom died, but I never went into detail. It’s why I was told to go to therapy in the first place. And I’m sure you know the story of what happened to my mom. It’s not like her death wasn’t all over the news.”

“I want to hear your story, Jude.” Miriam responded compassionately.

Jude sighed again, waiting for the words to come out of her like each persisting breath. 

“My mom set out to be the first female free solo climber of Yosemite’s El Capitan route following Alex Honnold's successful climb, it came out of nowhere. I mean she loved climbing, she was remarkable. She would set records for some of the most dangerous climbs, but she never was a free solo climber. Taking on a task like that was something that she never really spoke of before. It absolutely terrified my dad, terrified me. 

"He always supported her in her hobbies and activities. He joined on some routes, but even he couldn't keep up with her. Then, this came up, and honestly, the tone of everything was different. He really tried to convince her not to do the route. He made the same speech that so many said about how dangerous it is, even to say what kind of person would risk their life at the chance of their child not having a parent. Something about that way he pleaded to her made it seem like he carried guilt with him. 

My mom didn’t see it that way, there was an overflow of confidence that made her state that it wouldn’t just be an accomplishment for her, but for so many others that would look to her for inspiration and create something grand. She was always confident, but this time it was eerie, like she accepted the results of what would happen. It's not like she planned to die, at least, that's what I thought.

I’ve never seen my dad so scared for her, it felt like he knew something that she didn’t. In the same way, it felt that she knew something that he didn't. It eventually led to a fight between them, or rather, it was more of a one sided argument. My dad yelled, even screamed, but she just smiled, and this made him even more frightened.

“We both went to Yosemite with her. The two of them did not speak a single word on the way there. No words of encouragement, no banter, just silence. The way their silence was made it seem like no matter what was said, the other would already know the answer so why waste the energy to speak. My mom must have fortified her mind in some way, because she was more positive than I had ever seen her. She’d done the route so many times prior with rope that I could see there wasn’t even an ounce of fear in her. But this determination was even stronger than she’s ever been. My dad however, something about his expression showed he had witnessed something, something that just kept eating away at him. Like I said before, he was never one to discourage her, and they did get in some arguments from time to time, I mean what couple doesn’t, but this, this absolutely terrified him in ways that I've never seen before. It’s like he knew she was going to die that day. Like he could see her final minutes as they slowly passed.

“When she readied her climb, I wished her luck, and told her how proud of her I was. She gave me the warmest smile, almost haunting, and said, ‘I love you.’ She didn’t mean it as a goodbye, but it felt like one. It was like she too was relieved of something. My dad didn’t try to discourage her. He couldn't say anything, but the look she gave him was one that said 'thank you'. The fear he wore was visible to the point where you could see it on his skin. They didn’t fight. They didn’t argue. She said I love you, and he did too. 

“As she ascended, news crews recorded every possible angle with ground and air units covering her every move. It was amazing to watch her climb with such precision, such vigor. Times was hailing it as a standing achievement for all women around the world, and yet, all the while my father was glued to his phone. It was nearly an hour in, she had positioned herself so high that even her placement was a phenomenal record for women climbers. 

"I glanced over at my dad, somehow he had distanced himself even further away from all of us. As I started walking toward him I could see the increasing amount of sweat that pooled from his brow. His shirt was drenched in a way you'd see someone on a hot humid day, but the weather was cool and calm, definitely not one that would make someone sweat like that. I started walking toward him, at that moment, his eyes left his phone and raised up to where she was. Something in me told me to look at my mom as well. It felt like the world went quiet at that moment. Not a single bird, nor gust of wind cut through the sky. Time stood still for everything but her. I didn't see her climbing or catching her breath in a position before trying another hold, I saw her body plummeting. She didn’t flail or attempt to grasp the wall by her, she just fell. Either she was embracing death, or she had died before the fall even began.

“I’m sure you know the rest about when the paramedics arrived.” Jude said, with one final breath. 

“Her body was in no condition to determine the cause of death, I remember. That must have been a horrific thing to witness, Jude." Miriam took a pause. "Her death isn’t what torments you though, am I correct to assess such, you needed to say this because of what happened with your father?” Miriam asked.

Jude repositioned, closed her eyes, and gave a slight nod. She then looked out the window.

“My dad was silent for nearly a month after that incident. I did try to talk to him, but he never said a word during that time. His work was kind enough to give him paid leave for the funeral and for the time leading up to it, but in that time he never said a thing, never did a thing. His stare was empty, he was empty. It was hard enough losing my mom, I didn't want to lose my dad as well. I had to cook, clean, I did everything to take care of us that I don't think I even gave a chance to cry for my mom.” Jude stated.

“Not being able to grieve is a difficult aspect for sure." Miriam responded. "It’s like not allowing an open wound to heal properly, where it just continues to bleed out until you yourself feel sick from the other symptoms.”

Jude shook her head. “While I’d love to be able to grieve, something bothered me more about the way he acted. It was after that month that my dad broke even further. All he would murmur was, ‘I killed her.’ over and over again. I tried to console him that it wasn’t his fault, but it’s like he wasn’t even there. It was like a prayer he would never stop whispering. 'I killed her' he would repeat to no end. All he did was mutter those words, day after day. I begged him to stop, I screamed at him, telling him to shut up, but he didn't. I hated hearing it, hated that he blamed himself. Every time I'd bring him food, 'I killed her'. Every time I put him to bed, 'I killed her'. My feelings toward him grew into resentment. I started feeling like I despised him. Taking care of a broken grown man took a toll on me.

"One time, I passed his room and in the middle of hearing that whispering prayer, the words ‘The Last Clock’ came from his room. I paused, asking him to repeat what he said, but back to the repeated words he went. It sounded like his voice, but at the same time not. Like something used his vocal chords to speak it into the air.”

Miriam was silent, intent on hearing more of the story that had engulfed much of Jude’s existence. 

“I never heard him say the words again. Again, all he would repeat was that he killed her, for days, then silence.”

“You’re certain that those were the words he spoke?” Miriam said, confirming the statement that I had just given to her.

A slight nod was given in response. 

“That name haunted me, despite never hearing it from him again, it was all I could hear from them on. Echoing nightmares would fill me, night after night, like maybe it wasn't something I was supposed to hear, but once I did, it's all I heard. It consumed me from the moment I woke up the minute I slept. I could feel it crawl on my skin, like if I was dropped in a pit of centipedes. There wasn't anywhere where I didn't feel those uncomfortable words crawl on me."

"Did you ever ask your father about it?" Miriam asked.

Still not looking at her therapist, Jude gave a nod.

"I never got an answer. When he finally started talking again it was like he never heard me when I asked about him. Every time I'd mention it, his response was an answer to another question I didn't ask.

"I’ve always been tech savvy, so my curiosity took hold of me. If he wouldn't give me an answer, I knew I'd be able to find it on my own. 

"I looked up the history of his downloaded apps. Most of them weren’t things out of the ordinary, some trading stocks, social media, music apps, but one did stick out. It was sourced to an unknown app. There wasn't a name or traces as to when he downloaded it, but the memory space showed that something was once there. I tried to do a google search for it but nothing came up. No sites, no forums, nothing regarding this app. Maybe he just made it up, but I knew I heard him utter those words. I tried every country code and still found nothing. I did, however, manage to find it on the App Store itself. I felt kinda foolish, like this should have been the first place I looked. Things became stranger when there were no descriptions, no reviews, nothing about the app. It was strange to me that something like this could exist with absolutely no presence online.

“I wanted to learn more about it, so I did the only thing I thought I could at this point and that was to download it on my phone. I don't know how to describe it, but upon finding the app, it felt like this was something I was supposed to do. I've never been compelled by anything like this before. It's like I didn't have a choice.”

“So you downloaded it?” her therapist reaffirmed.

“I did.”

“Then what happened?”

“It asked for my name.”

Miriam waited silently, as if she was waiting for Jude’s to continue.

“I tried several screen names, ones that I’ve used in games and discord, but all it kept telling me was ‘invalid name’. Getting frustrated with it, I tried to delete it, but that's when things got even stranger. The app wouldn’t go away.”

“Was it some form of malware?”

“I thought that. I tried as many ways to uninstall it, but every time the app would still be there with the minutes and seconds moving from the last time I tried to delete it. It was terrifying. It felt like everytime I tried to get rid of it, time toward something was drawing closer. It felt like needles were stabbing every inch of my body looking at this clock, so I resorted to resetting my phone to its factory settings.”

“Was anything backed up?” Miriam asked.

Jude shook her head and answered, “I deleted everything, from my backups to my contacts. I made sure nothing was connected to this phone. I had to. If there was to be any way of getting rid of it, I needed to erase it all."

Miriam waited for her response.

“When I turned the phone back on, it was still there, in the same place, with a different time.”

“The app was still on your phone?” Miriam asked as if she couldn't believe what was being told.

She shook her head. “It shouldn’t be possible, but there it was. The only things that can be stored in that kind of way are what apps were set through the manufacturer, at least, that's what I thought, but there it was, staring at me, almost mocking me.” Jude took another breath. “I didn’t know what else I could do, so I bought a new phone. I changed my number as well.”

“And I’m guessing you’re going to tell me that the new phone had the app installed.”

Jude nodded silently. This should have been an impossibility, Jude knew that much. She did not transfer any files from her old phone to her new one, but somehow the app followed her. It had become a part of her. Even if she were to get rid of having a phone, that app would still find a way to find her.

“I looked at the phone, opened the app, and wrote Jude Caples…”

“Your name?” Miriam asked.

She nodded softly.

"Why did you write your name?"

A shake of the head was given with no verbal answer.

“What happened after you entered your name in the app?” Miriam chose to change her question, hoping it would lead Jude to a response.

“A series of numbers appeared, then instantly shut itself down. I tried to open it back up, but it wouldn't launch. I thought everything was fine, but when I looked at my dad, I could see a faint timer above his head; the numbers that originally showed on the app.”

“A timer?”

Again Jude nodded, “to his death.”

Though nothing would for certain link the timer to his remaining time, the feeling inside her told her so. She couldn't find a way to describe it, just that the emotions that stirred knew what she was witnessing was his death. Jude could swear this was the same fear that her father felt. It's what led her to believe that he had in fact downloaded it and seen the same thing when it came to her mom.

She wasn't sure why she put her name. In her heart she wanted to write her father's name, it could have been that she secretly despised him for believing it was the cause of her death, it could have been that she didn't know what other name to put. Ultimately, it was her name that came to mind when glaring at the screen. To her, it was the only name she could put. She was sure this was how her father felt when he downloaded the app before.

The clock somehow knew the moment of his death, and as time grew closer to that moment, she felt as if life itself was being taken from her, like a yarn being used to thread a quilt. Her life was now being used to fulfill something else, and she had no control over it. What had come upon her curiosity was the result of a curse that in the end, according to her, took her father’s life, as he must have taken her mother’s before. It was set in motion. Her father was cursed. She was cursed, and even after Jude died the curse wouldn’t stop. She wanted to know where it came from, but knew that answer would never arise. Ultimately, she longed that this curse would not be a part of her, but if that were to happen, it would come at the cost of her life.

These were all things she wanted to say to her therapist, but the words never came. No matter how hard she tried to mouth them, it was as if she was being prevented from even releasing such words into the air.

Instead, her words led her to talk about my moments toward her father’s departure from this world. 

“I could not look at my dad.”

Miriam noticed the silence and filled it with a question of her own. “Why was it that you couldn’t look at him?”

“Because every time I looked at him I could see the timer, slowly counting down his life. He had less than a month to live.”

“Did you tell him about this clock you were seeing?”

Another shake of the head, “I couldn’t. Even when I tried it's like words would just change as they came out of my mouth. That, and his behavior was finally changed for the positive, it was like it came out of nowhere. It was strange, like that part of his memory that included my mom’s death was just erased.”

"Did this behavior change after you entered your name in that app?" Miriam questioned. 

“I… yes, it did."

"Are you thinking these two incidents are related?" Miriam asked.

"I'm not sure. I think so?"

"What exactly changed in his behavior?"

"He was just happy, like he was no longer weighed down by a burden he'd been carrying for a long time. I know that whenever I would try to bring up my mom he’d just skip over the discussion and start a new one. This went on for some time to the point where it led to a fight between us. I couldn't stand that he wouldn't talk about my mom. How could he feel so guilty for so long then change like that part of his life, the woman he shared so many years with just erased.

"How did he respond?"

"He just smiled and told me how proud he was of me." Jude shuddered. "I couldn't stand the way he smiled at me. It's like he knew we weren't going to see each other again."

“That was the week that your father’s plane crashed?”

Again Jude silently nodded.

“I begged him not to go, but he wasn’t himself. He had this determination, this motivation that I’ve never seen in him before. Like he was untouchable, or finally free from something. It’s exactly how my mom was before she went to Yosemite. He spoke about how he had plans for his company, how he was going to make a huge change for the better. It was so hauntingly similar.”

“That does sound like how you described your mother before she passed.” Miriam stated.

Jude nodded slowly.

"It's because of this that you feel you caused his death."

There was no nod or shake to confirm nor deny.

"My phone got a notification, one I hadn't heard before; it was the app. I watched the time go down to zero. The next morning I knew I had to watch the news." Jude took a pause. "My dad's plane had crashed on route to its destination."

The room went silent for another moment. The seconds felt like hours as they passed. 

Unsure of how to approach, Miriam cautiously asked, “Do you truly believe your father passed away from this app?" 

No answer was given. 

Hesitant, Miriam tried a different question, "You haven’t always been superstitious, correct?” 

“Raised in a science household and taught to question everything. I know, it sounds strange coming from someone like me, but I'm not lying to you.”

“I do believe that you experienced a number of traumatic issues, and it's not that I think you're lying. A mind can go through difficult conclusions, trying to find some explanation as to why events are happening to us. What are some questions you think you can ask yourself to help you understand this situation more clearly?"

“I honestly don’t know." Jude said while staring at her open palms. "I have no way to put it into words. This is one of those times where I wish it was just a play of my imagination, but it all feels too real. I just want it to end.”

“We’ll find a way, Jude. We’ll get through this together. Recovery doesn’t just happen instantly, and you’ve shown signs of progress since you've been here. I'm glad you finally opened up to me about the situation with your parents. It truly seems as if you've been carrying quite a lot of burdens. I'm very proud of you. I think you'll be able to achieve great things if we keep up with these sessions.

“Do me a favor, for this week," Miriam continued, "I want you to give yourself some time to grieve. It seems as even with your time with me you haven’t really given yourself a proper moment to reflect on your parents. Go for a hike, do some writing, find something that you used to connect with long before and see where that takes you.”

“Can… do me one favor as well, please?” Jude asked.

“What is that,” her therapist asked.

“Download the app.” Jude said, finally locking eyes with her therapist. 

“I’m not sure that’s such a good idea, Jude. We want to eliminate what makes you feel uneasy so that we could help bring a balance to your life. Doing something like this would only feed into a paranoia that seems to be festering.”

Jude interjected, “You aren’t superstitious either, so it shouldn’t be a problem. You don’t have to tell me if you did or didn’t, but please, look into it. It'll make my mind easier.”

“We’ll reconvene next week, I’ll have your answer by then. Does that sound acceptable?” she asked, revealing an uncomfortably confident smile.

Jude gave another slight nod, watching the numbers tick away above her therapist's head.

When Jude had left the office, Miriam couldn’t help but to feel sorry for the poor girl. She couldn’t believe the trauma that befell her in such a short period of time. She went on to read through several texts to see if there were patterns of similar behavior and even go as far as looking up any other possible cases that had involved ‘The Last Clock’. Parts of Miriam hoped that she would find nothing on the subject, for the way that Jude spoke of the events were nothing shy of terrifying. Her fingers shook with a sense of panic, afraid of what she might find. Not too surprising, nothing had come up in regard to cases involving something called 'The Last Clock'. There were no names, no articles involving such app, it was non-existent when dealing with any cases. Miriam followed similar steps as Jude for even she went online in search of any possible connections regarding it. She did every action except the one that Jude had requested. "Download the app" echoed Jude's voice, as if she was back in the room with her. 

It was the first time all session that Jude had made eye contact, and it sent a chill through her bones. Miriam tried to reflect on how many times Jude had done so, but she could only remember them ever looking at each other two times, the first time they met, and this most recent session. It was like staring into the bottom of a well that would hypnotize someone enough to voluntarily let themselves fall into the pit below, unaware if there was water, or even how far they would drop. Her eyes yearned for release, of what Miriam wasn't sure.

Miriam picked up her phone and stared at the screen for a moment. She unlocked it and opened the App Store. Whether it was that she did not want to entertain such a paranoia or that she was fearful herself it was unknown, but ultimately, she turned off her phone and put it back in her purse.

The week that followed Jude showered as usual, and like every time before, wiped the mirror to notice a set of cryptic numbers and symbols above her own head. Seeing the symbols above her head made her realize that she was still carrying what the app placed upon her. She thought that this was the reason for her mom and Dad's happiness in the end. Maybe when the curse was put onto someone else they no longer saw what loomed above them. This was what she believed, so she had to pass it on.

She had tried to get a hold of her therapist to no avail, as expected. The only information that she had received was that her therapist had not come in. Jude received another notification on her phone, the app alerting her that a timer was reaching zero. Later that evening it had been reported on the news that Miriam Vasquez, her therapist, had been the victim of a fatal hit and run. The app opened once more, displayed a new series of numbers, then closed once again. At that moment, Jude's phone rang, displaying her best friend's name.


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