SHELLY'S WORLD: The Dreadful Tale of the School House Clock

Updated 2 years ago By Shelly Reuben
SHELLY'S WORLD:  The Dreadful Tale of the School House Clock

Recently, I sold the row house where I had lived for over thirty years.

I was more than happy about my move to a new city, and I was certain that everything would be, to quote Cole Porter, “delightful, delicious, and de-lovely.”

Before I left, I had carefully considered what I would bring with me (furniture), what I would donate to Good Will (books and clothes), and what I would throw away (old files from my life as a private investigator).

And when I unlocked the door of my new house, I was ecstatic. Awakening every day to sunlight streaming through so many windows made my heart do somersaults of delight.

There was a problem, though. One I never would have had, but for a poem by Henry Clay Work that I’d memorized as a child:

My grandfather's clock was too large for the shelf,
So it stood ninety years on the floor…
It was bought on the morn of the day that he was born,
And was always his treasure and pride.
But it stopped short, never to go again,
When the old man died.

I am not a superstitious person. Without fear, I walk under ladders, allow black cats to cross my path, and break mirrors.


Shortly after I got married, I bought a School House clock. Like the one in the poem, it had to be wound once a month with an old-fashioned key. Although my clock was not purchased “on the morn of the day that (I) was born,” it did survive our 23 year marriage; the move to our first house; and the many years after my husband died and before I decided to pull up stakes.

In all that time, though, I never forgot to wind the clock. Not once.

And I never doubted for an instant that it would survive my move to a house with sun drenched windows that would give me so much joy. 

I unpacked everything else first. My bedding. My furniture. My glassware, dishes, pots, and pans. And not until I had hung all of my favorite paintings did I finally and painstakingly unpack the School House clock. 

I examined it for damage.

Perfect.  Not a crack in the glass; not a scratch on the varnish.

I gently propped it on a chair, grabbed a hammer, and cautiously (I didn’t want to break the plaster) tapped a nail deep into the dining room wall. I tugged at the nail. Strong and Solid. It wasn’t going anywhere. So I lifted the clock and carefully positioned it on the nail. Then, slowly and tentatively, I backed away from the wall.

It held. And it looked great. Terrific. As if it had always been there and nowhere else.

I was happy.

I opened the glass door over its face, inserted the key into one of its spring mechanisms, and began to wind. Thirty times to the left for the gong. Thirty times to the right for minutes and hours. Then I opened the little door over the pendulum, and I gently set it in motion. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

I smiled.

Then, tick … tock … tick … tock.

Then tick …….. tock …….. tick.

Then …….. tick.

Then silence.

Again and again and again, I re-started the pendulum. Again and again and again, there was a brief flurry of activity, followed by zero. Nada. Nothing. The pendulum stood still.

I thought about the poem.

Ninety years without slumbering, tick, tock, tick, tock,
His life seconds numbering, tick, tock, tick, tock.

I also remembered that: 

It stopped short never to go again,
When the old man died.


Okay. He died, but what about me

I don’t believe in omens. But … a clock that I’d owned for decades suddenly deciding to stop, short, never to go again on the very day that I move into my dream house? How could that not be ominous? 

Days went by. 

I contemplated the School House clock. I stared at it. I considered it. I mused about it. And on the third day after I moved in, I glanced at it from the corner of one eye and thought (could I be mistaken?) that I perceived a slight misalignment of the pendulum. It was not, as it should have been, exactly perpendicular to the floor. 

Without thinking, I shifted the clock case one-sixteenth of an inch to the right.  

Then. Suddenly …

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. 


No evil omens. No ominous portends. Just a faithful old clock that a new homeowner had foolishly hung askew. 


What did it all mean? 

Probably nothing. 

But what it would have meant if, despite shifting its position on the wall, the clock had never again issued forth a single tick or tock?

I shudder to think.

Copyright ©  2018, Shelly Reuben - Originally published in The Evening Sun, Norwich, NY - Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards.  For more about her books, visit

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