When Midnight Strikes - The Case of the Cursed Clock

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Flaremon, Apr 4, 2010.

  1. THE CASE OF THE CURSED CLOCK!

    1
    "Johnson Wee, Private D."

    That's what my card will say. The D, in case you don't know, stands for Detective.

    I'm going to be the best private detective in town. Sure, I'm only twelve now, but you've got to have a plan in life, right?

    I haven't told Mum and Dad yet. Dad wants me to be a doctor or an executive or something and drive Mercedes.

    My kid brother, Aloysius, reckons the D stands for Dummy. But what can you expect from a jerk like him?

    I figure I'll have a real cool office, with a big desk I can put my feet on. And Samantha Leong from Secondary One will be my secretary. Now she is v-e-r-y cool. So what else would she want to be? A dumb receptionist for some dumb dentist?

    Truth is, in detective work, you can never start too early learning the job. Like me. I'm always snooping around, watching, taking notes. The things I could tell you about our estate would make your hair curl.

    I could put the finger on the dame who steals flowers, and the old man who dumps his rubbish by the lift.

    But that's chickenfeed. The real action is down at the market. The things that go on down there, wow! Things the cops ought to be in on. Maybe they're too busy. Maybe I'll do them a favour, give them a break one day.

    Anyhow, I'm down there every morning of the school holidays, checking things out, just routine. I usually sit at the bus interchange, just across the road from the chicken rice stall. I can see them, they can't see me.

    One day I'm there, this old man came out of the stall. Had a face that could have been chopped out of wood, all nobbly and rutted, really tough. And he couldn't have squeezed another tattoo onto his arm, believe me. I had him figured as suspicious.

    So he came out from behind the chickens, carrying this parcel, looking around to see if anyone's watching. He went along to the big basket where they dump all the rotten fruit. And he buried the parcel in it, up to his elbows.

    Then he slipped away, looking this way and that, figuring he's in the clear.

    Johnson Wee, I told myself, you can talk the walk. Now let's see if you can walk the walk!

    I eased off the seat, real slow, no sudden moves. I just crossed over, taking my time, kind of casual, and stood by the basket. The fruit stank. I don't know what they had in there. I checked the street. The old man had gone.

    I pretended to drop my pencil into the basket. Anybody watching would think the poor kid lost his pencil, right? Then I reached down to get it, shoving my hands really deep into this mass of slimy lettuce leaves and durian skins. Yuk! Somebody ought to talk to these hawkers!

    Then I felt it! The old man's parcel. All wet and sticky. So I hauled it out, shoved it under my arm and walked away. Real smart, right? Wrong. Real dumb. I'd forgotten my stupid pencil.

    And that's not all.

    If only I'd been paying more attention.

    I might have seen them.

    Seen who?

    I didn't know it, but they were watching me.

    They were watching every move I made!
     
  2. 2
    Hey, even the best detectives slip up sometimes.

    How was I to know they were on to me?

    I thought I was being so clever.

    It was a quick walk back to my block. I took the stairs two at a time, dived into our flat, raced past Mum who was cleaning and went straight to my room.

    I locked my door.

    I set the parcel down on my desk. I figured I'd better remove the paper carefully, didn't want to disturb any latents. (Latents: that's police talk for latent fingerprints, page 51 in my detective's manual.)

    I slipped on some plastic gloves, the spare ones Mum bought for washing up.

    Carefully, I started to unwrap the paper. It stank my bedroom out. I looked closely at the soggy paper. Part of a newspaper, but not a local one. Some strange language.

    I peeled the paper away, bit by bit, until I was staring at its mysterious secret.

    A clock!

    A clock, kind of black-coloured, made of metal, with rust marks on the sides and a dial covered with streaky stains.

    It looked old. Kind of cheap.

    But it was still ticking.

    I must have sat there, studying it for five minutes. It was just a crummy clock. Was that why the old man had thrown it away? Maybe.

    But think again.

    Why did he make such a fuss of dumping it so secretly?

    Simple, I guess.

    Because it contained a secret.

    And if I couldn't detect the secret on the outside of the clock, it could only be one place else.

    Inside the clock!

    That's it, I thought. There had to be something hidden inside. But what? Money? Stolen diamonds? Secret microfilm?

    My hands were shaking.

    I turned the clock around.

    There was a panel on the back. I tried to open it. It wouldn't budge. So I got my Swiss Army knife, the one Dad gave me for Christmas last year. I dug one of the blades into the edges around the panel. It was jammed tight.

    I tried again. Pressed harder.

    Suddenly the panel flicked open.

    I leaned in close to see what was hidden inside.

    Nothing.

    Just an empty space.

    I looked again.

    Still nothing.

    I froze. My hairs were prickling on my skin.

    Not only was there nothing hidden inside, there was nothing inside at all.

    I put my hand in, felt all around.

    Empty!

    No motor, nothing.

    But the clock was ticking, I could hear it. It was ticking, it was working, but it didn't have a motor or anything!
     
  3. 3
    So there I was, sitting in my room, staring at a clock without clockwork, ticking away without anything to make it tick. And I was wondering why the old man from the chicken rice stall didn't want to keep such a scientific marvel.

    I couldn't figure it. None of it made sense.

    Then something else dawned on me, something that my flesh crawl. I glanced at my watch. It said 10:30. I'd picked up the clock an hour ago - 9.30, right?

    So how come the clock was saying it's only 8:30?


    I scratched my head. Maybe, I thought, this empty clock can tick but not tell the time so well? Stands to reason, right?

    So I waited. Fifteen minutes went by. I looked at my watch. 10:45. I looked at the clock.

    8.15!

    I jumped to my feet. I must be going nuts! Either that, or...

    THE CLOCK WAS GOING BACKWARDS!

    That's nutty, I told myself. No motor and it still worked? And it worked in reverse? It's telling time backwards? Johnson, you need a vacation.

    Checked my watch again. 10.50.

    Checked the clock again. 8.10!

    I slumped into my chair. My mind was numb.

    Then I figured something. I figured anyone who owned this clock would get younger. Got to be, right?

    Now, getting younger by the hour is fine if you're an old, nobbly-faced old man covered in tattoos. But if you're Johnson Wee, Private D, aged twelve, it's a problem.

    Like, if I got twelve years younger, I wouldn't even be alive, right?

    I drummed my fingers on the desk. I had to act fast. I didn't have any time to lose, ha ha.

    I had to call in help.

    My parents? No way.

    "Hey Mum, hey Dad, I found a clock in a basket of fruit that doesn't have a motor and tells time backwards!"

    "Yes, Johnson dear, go and lie down and we'll get the doctor."

    My science teacher? Mrs Craig? At least she'd be interested.

    But she was away for the holidays.

    The police?

    "Nobody finds clocks in fruit baskets, kid. Tell us where you stole it from!"

    Who could I trust? Who could work on this case with me?

    There were only two people I could rely on, the Tyler twins, Keith and his sister Linda. As two detectives, they're almost as good as I am.

    I picked up the phone.

    "This is an emergency," I told Keith. "You'd better get right over here."

    I looked at the clock. Tick-tick-tick-tick. Fast approaching 8:03.

    If only I'd looked out my window instead. I might have seen them. Two of them. Watching my window with binoculars.

    How much trouble I could have stopped!

    How much danger I could have been spared!
     
  4. 4
    Keith and Linda looked at the clock. I swore them to secrecy, according to the detective's codebook.

    "Wow!" said Keith, leaning forward. Keith always leans forward, even when he walks. And he keeps his head down, like he's looking for footprints or sniffing the ground like a tracker dog. He also wears black. Black jeans, black tee-shirt, black cap.

    "Scary!" said Linda, leaning back. Linda always leans back, with her nose in the air, like she's sniffing the breeze. She always has her hair platted, and big glasses perched on her nose. Maybe that's why she leans back, so her glasses won't fall off. She also wears black. Don't get me wrong. She isn't b-a-d to look at. If Samantha Leong doesn't want to be my secretary, Linda would do just fine!

    "What's our next move?" I asked.

    "The museum?" Linda wondered. "The university? They'd have experts to examine the clock."

    "They'd take the clock away," Keith shook his head. "We've got to keep the clock with us. It's our only clue."

    "Clue to what?" Linda scowled.

    "I know!" Keith exclaimed. "Let's go talk to the old man."

    "That could be d-d-dangerous," stammered Linda. "He tried to get rid of it. If we take it back, he might try to get rid of us, too!"

    I snapped my fingers. "A better idea!" I shouted. "We take the clock back to the market, wrapped in the same paper. Only there's no clock inside!"

    "Why?" asked Linda.

    "We put it in the fruit basket and see who comes for it!" I explained.

    "What's your deduction?" asked Linda.

    "Just say the old man wasn't trying to get rid of it," I told her. "Just say he was hiding it in the basket for someone else to collect it!"

    "You mean - he was a go-between?" Keith's eyes lit up. "Cool, man, let's do it!"

    "But what if somebody else does come looking for it," demanded Linda. "What if they take the parcel out of the basket, thinking the clock is inside. What are we going to do then?"

    "Follow them!" shouted Keith. He was catching on to my plan real fast.

    Linda gasped. B-b-but if they see us, if they suspect we're on to them-" She shivered.

    "Then we call in the cops," I reassured her. "Then we'll have evidence!"

    So we got to work. I had an old shoe box, about the same size as the clock. We stuffed some old sneakers into it, and my old baseball, so it weighed about the same as the clock. We wrapped it up in the newspaper. Then we were ready!

    I hid the old clock under my bed, we said goodbye to my Mum, and headed back to the market.

    We thought we were going to set a trap.

    Little did we know we were walking right into one ourselves!
     
  5. 5
    "That's it!" I pointed to the basket of rotting fruit. "The old man dumped it there!"

    Linda looked around. "Where's your old man?"

    "The chicken rice stall's empty," reported Keith. "Just a few chickens hanging up."

    "Wait here," I whispered. "I'll put the parcel back into the basket."

    I left Keith and Linda hiding behind a column at the bus interchange. I walked quickly across the road, checked that nobody was watching, then buried the parcel back into the filthy fruit basket. It was really stinking now!

    I turned and calmly strolled back.

    "All clear," Keith congratulated me. "Now what?"

    "Now we wait."

    The minutes passed. An old lady hurried by. A couple of bus drivers. Two construction workers.

    "Maybe we should split up," Keith suggested. "Linda could keep watch from the other end of the bus interchange, you could watch from the back of the chicken rice stall, and I'll stay here."

    I figured it was a smart idea. Then we'd have all the exits covered. No matter which way he or she tried to leave, we could follow.

    That's if my plan worked. There might never be a he or she to follow. The parcel might just sit there in the rubbish all day!

    So we took up our new positions. Only trouble was, we couldn't talk to each other. As time went by, I got bored. Then I got thirsty. Then I got hungry.

    It was getting on for lunchtime when it happened. And it happened so fast!

    One moment the street was empty. The next, this guy on a motor bike, with his helmet pulled down, stopped by the basket. He reached inside, and pulled out the parcel.

    Suddenly, there were two men running towards him. They must have been waiting inside the market. The guy on the bike cried out. He stuffed the parcel under his jacket and bent forward over the handle bars. The bike roared away.

    I jumped out from behind the chicken rice stall. I could see the bike scorching around the corner towards the main road.

    Then someone grabbed me from behind.

    My arms were pinned back.

    I couldn't move.

    And as I struggled, I heard Linda screaming!
     
  6. 6
    I kicked back as hard as I could. I felt my shoes crunch into a bone. Somebody wailed with pain. Whoever it was loosened his grip on me.

    For a split-second I was free!

    I sped off, racing towards the bus interchange. I saw Keith up ahead. He was running towards Linda's hiding place.

    I thought I heard someone chasing me. I ran faster, my heart pounding.

    We got to Linda. She was sitting on the ground, rubbing her arm.

    "W-w-what happened?" I panted.

    "Somebody grabbed me!" she gasped. "I was trying to get a look at the man on the bike! Then they pushed me on the ground!"

    "Who was it?" Keith helped her up.

    Linda turned red. "I g-g-guess I didn't see them," she croaked.

    We stood there, staring at each other.

    We'd really blown it!

    Had we seen the people who attacked us?

    No.

    Had we got a good look at the guy on the bike?

    No.

    Had we written down the bike's registration number?

    No.

    Oh boy, had we blown it!

    "D-d-do you think we should call the police?" asked Linda.

    Keith shrugged. "Why? What do we tell them?"

    I looked around, still dazed. "Who were those other men? The ones who tried to stop the motor bike?"

    "They must have been waiting here all the time," Keith groaned. "And we didn't even know."

    "Well," I sighed, "at least they'll think the man on the bike has the clock, right?" I looked from Keith to his sister. "They won't come after us again, right?"

    Keith thought about it. "Which means we're in the clear."

    "I guess," I swallowed. "Until-"

    "Until what?" Linda asked in a scared voice.

    "until the guy on the bike finds out he doesn't have the clock," I breathed. "Then he'll come after us!"

    "I'd forgotten about him," Keith groaned. "Quick, let's get out of here!"

    We cut through the bus interchange, heading back to my flat. Crowds of people hurried past. Buses rumbled in and out. I didn't see the fat man who was limping behind us. I didn't see his angry face. But he was there, rubbing his knee, talking into his cellphone as we ran out.

    Nor did we see the motorcycle, slowly cruising along behind a taxi, following us down the street.

    We just wanted to get away.

    But they weren't going to let us, were they?
     
  7. 7
    We pulled out the clock from under my bed. It was still ticking. It said the time was 6.30!

    "Well, we've solved one mystery," I told Keith and Linda. "This clock is valuable. A lot of people want it."

    And a lot of people must be wondering where it is, I thought to myself. I was beginning to wish I'd never found the clock! Maybe I should stop being a detective, I thought. And take up tennis. Or hockey?

    "If only we could find the old man," said Linda. "He could tell us where the clock came from."

    "Why would he do that?" Keith asked sourly. "He's one of them."

    "One of them..." I repeated. "Who are they? That's the next mystery we have to solve."

    Keith nodded. "The men who own the clock, and the ones who tried to steal it." He picked up the clock and studied it. "I wish the clock could talk."

    Linda shot him of a look of disgust. But before she could say anything, the doorbell rang.

    I opened my bedroom door and called to Mum.

    "I'll see who it is," she said.

    I heard her open the front door.

    I froze.

    It was a man's voice, an old man by the sound of him. I waved to the others and we crept along the wall to see who it was.

    "Does Mr Lim live here?" I heard him ask

    "No," Mum told him.

    Oh no! I could just see his face over Mum's shoulder. It was very old and nobbly, like a grinning prune!

    "It's the old man!" I warned Keith and Linda. "He must have followed us somehow!"

    They edged forward for a better look.

    "There's no Mr Lim living here," Mum went on. "Our name is Wee."

    Don't tell him anything, Mum! I wanted to shout.

    "But you have a boy, a young boy?" the old man asked her.

    "Yes. Johnson," Mum said. "Why, has he done something wrong?"

    I gritted my teeth. Mum, close the door - now - please, Mum, I silently pleaded.

    "No, it is a mistake." The old man's face was all crinkled with triumph. He'd found out what they wanted to know!

    We dashed back to my room as Mum was saying goodbye. I slammed the door.

    "Oh no! Now they know your name!" scowled Keith.

    "Johnson, you'd better tell your mum the truth," Linda insisted. "Show her the clock, tell her everything that's happened."

    "But that will be the end of the case!" I wailed. "Mum will take away the clock!"

    "But what if those men come back?" Linda breathed. "What if they stir up trouble?"

    "Let's get the clock out of here!" Keith snapped his fingers.

    "They'll see us!" Linda argued. "The minute we go downstairs, they'll grab it!"

    "Not if we're in a crowd!" Keith scoffed. "They wouldn't dare!"

    "But where do we take it?" I asked him.

    "Easy! Let's show it to someone who knows all about clocks," Keith suggested. "Our uncle has a shop that sells them in Chinatown."

    "Yuk! It's so dirty down there." Linda wrinkled her nose.

    I thought it was a smart move! Chinatown has always been the place where mysteries are solved. Lots of people down there know lots of things.

    So we wrapped the clock in an old tee-shirt and bundled it into my schoolbag. We told Mum we were going out for lunch and headed for the stairs.

    I thought I heard our phone ringing.

    Maybe it was the old man!

    The stairs were deserted. No strangers, nobody waiting to grab us. It all looked too easy to be true. But when we reached the last landing, we could see the old man across the street with another man. They were standing near the bus stop.

    Problem!

    That was where we had to catch the bus to Chinatown! Somehow, we had to get onto the bus, without the old man and his friend getting their hands on the clock.

    But how?
     
  8. 8

    Suddenly, the lift door opened on the floor below. We saw three old ladies get out, all chattering away. They were carrying shopping bags and pointing to the bus stop.

    "Now's our chance," whispered Keith.

    He sprinted down the stairs and raced up to the first old lady. She jumped with alarm.

    "Auntie, auntie, let me help you cross the road," Keith said sweetly, flashing her a charming smile. Does he want to be a detective, I wondered, or a car salesman?

    The old lady beamed and offered him her arm.

    "Quick!" I called to Linda.

    We ran down and each grabbed the arm of another old lady.

    "It's our good deed for the day," I told mine with a smile. She gave me a strange look and eyed my schoolbag.

    I hoped she wasn't one of that old man's gang!

    We made our way over to the bus stop. I could see the Chinatown bus approaching. Faster, faster, I begged. The old man shouted at me. He waved a fist, but he kept his distance.

    When the bus pulled in, Keith leapt on board first. Linda and I squeezed in after him. The bus driver was yelling at us, calling us rude. The old ladies were yelling at us, too, as they struggled on board.

    The old man tried to push his way past them.

    "Everyone's so rude!" howled the bus driver. "You've got no respect! You can wait for the next bus!"

    And he closed the doors in the old man's furious face. He was still pounding on the glass when the bus pulled away.

    The old ladies scowled at us. So did the other passengers. We rushed upstairs. Empty! We threw ourselves onto a seat.

    "Phew..." Keith tried to catch his breath.

    "Those poor old ladies..." Linda bit her lip.

    "It was either Them or Us," Keith told her in his best macho voice.

    "At least we got away," I panted.

    The bus stopped a few more times, but there was no sign of the old man.

    It was a hot day and the rumbling bus soon made us drowsy. I could feel my head nodding forward.

    I woke with a start. How long had I been asleep? I looked out the window. And froze!

    I shook Keith and Linda.

    "Wake up! Wake up!" I shouted.

    They looked around, dazed. "Have we got to Chinatown yet?" Keith mumbled.

    "We're nowhere near Chinatown!" I yelled at him.

    Outside, we could see thick jungle. Once or twice, I caught sight of old, broken-down farm buildings.

    "W-w-where are we?" stammered Linda.

    I crept along to the stairs. I went down, one by one, until I could see the lower deck.

    It was empty.

    Empty - except for a fat man with a cellphone, and another guy dressed like a security guard.

    I raced back to the others.

    "We've been hijacked!" I told them.

    "You're right, kid," growled a thick voice. It was the fat man. He had followed me up the stairs.

    Suddenly, the bus stopped. We heard the whooooshhh of the brakes. The engine was turned off. It was quiet, very quiet.

    "This is where you get off, kids," the fat man announced. "You're all terminated here!" He roared with laughter at his own feeble joke.

    Fear clutched my throat. I looked around wildly. There had to be a way of escaping.

    "No tricks, kids," he warned us, "and don't forget to bring the clock..."
     
  9. 9
    The fat man marched us down the stairs and out onto the roadside. It was the end of the road, alright. We were surrounded by jungle, dark and gloomy. The big bus looked weird, parked at the end of the narrow track.

    "W-w-what happened to all the passengers?" Keith blurted out.

    "We asked them to get the next bus," the man in the blue uniform said. "Security reasons."

    "But where are we?" Linda croaked.

    "Somewhere nice and quiet," the fat man sneered, "so we can have a little talk." He looked at her frightened face. "Not too scary for you, is it?"

    "You've got no right to do that!" I aimed a kick at his leg.

    He jumped aside. "Don't try that again!" he bellowed. "I ought to beat you for the first time you did that!"

    So it was him and his friends who were at the bus interchange! But what about the old man and his gang? Where were they? Had they followed us, I wondered. Or had the fat man found a way to stop them?

    A third man, dressed like a bus driver, walked over to us. "We're wasting time," he snarled.

    "Yeah," agreed the fat man. He turned to face us with a crooked grin. "Someone's been looking forward to meeting you kids..."

    I couldn't figure it! There was nothing here, just jungle. They pointed to a path which wound off into the trees. I hoisted my schoolbag onto my shoulder. We started walking. Despite the heat, a cold feeling crept over my skin.

    Suddenly, we came to a sharp bend. Up ahead, in a little clearing, we could see an old shed. It was shrouded with twisting vines. The tin roof was rusty, held down in places by big rocks and bricks. In one part, the wall had caved in.

    The bus driver led the way inside. It was hot, the stifling air heavy with the smell of damp, rotting vegetation. Surely no one had been here for years!

    The fat man reached up into the roof. He tugged on what looked like a rotten beam of wood. It must have been a lever, because a moment later, the floor suddenly swung open.

    "Follow me," ordered the bus driver gruffly.

    We couldn't believe our eyes@ We walked down a flight of concrete steps. Instantly, the air was cool and clean. We heard a motor humming in the distance. Airconditioning!

    The walls were white. Two men in white coats were working at a long bench covered with scientific equipment. A huge computer was flashing data onto a screen.

    We were in some kind of secret, underground laboratory!

    "W-w-who wants to see us?" I asked, trying to squeeze the fear out of my voice.

    "All in good time, kid." The fat man shoved me along a narrow corridor. "Don't want to spoil the surprise."

    The bus driver pressed a button. A shiny metal door slid open.

    "In here," he grunted.

    We stepped into a huge room. Every wall, every shelf, every table, was crammed with clocks. Hundreds of clocks. Big clocks, small clocks, alarm clocks, cuckoo clocks, more clocks than I'd ever seen in my life. The ticking sounds were deafening.

    And from behind a desk, cluttered with clocks, rose the strangest man I'd ever seen! He was completely bald. Even his round face looked like a clock, an evil, egg-shaped clock. His eyes had a mysterious slant. We he smiled, his mouth twisted into a menacing sneer.

    "Hello, my little friends," he greeted us. "I'm Dr Q."
     
  10. 10
    I shuddered.

    His crow-black eyes were fastened on my face. He held out a hand.

    "Johnson, please give me your bag," he requested, "like a good boy."

    For a moment, I couldn't move. Then, I shrugged, and slipped the bag from my shoulder. He took it over to his desk.

    "I must say you led us all on a merry chase." He reached into my bag and removed the clock. He unwrapped my tee-shirt carefully. "I see that you've taken good care of my possession."

    He held up the clock in both hands, examining it proudly. "Mac," he called to the fag man, "you can take it out for tests."

    The fat man left the room carrying the clock. The metal door closed behind him.

    "Well," said Dr Q, regarding us as though we were clocks as well, "time for a little talk."

    "What's with the clocks?" demanded Keith.

    "How do you mean them run backwards?" I added.

    "And why have you kidnapped us?" accused Linda.

    Dr Q held up a hand. "One at a time. To begin with, you have not been abducted."

    "You mean we can leave?" I asked in amazement. "Like, now?"

    "Like, soon," Dr Q mocked me. "You see, you stole something that was very valuable to me. I want to know why!"

    "We didn't steal anything!" I yelled angrily. "The other people stole it! All we did was take it back from them!"

    Dr Q raised an eyebrow high into his skull. "So, you have been meddling in things more than I thought."

    "If it wasn't for Johnson and us," Linda protested, "the other people would have your silly clock now!"

    "Quite so," Dr Q agreed. "And that wouldn't do at all." He leaned forward and his voice dropped to a whisper. "Who do you think these other people are?"

    "We're detectives," I told him. "Give us the case and we'll find out!"

    Dr Q smirked. "How very kind of you to offer your services, but I don't think you're very good detectives."

    "Why not?" blurted Keith.

    "Because you interfered in something that was too BIG for you!" Dr Q shouted back. "Because you think this is all a GAME!"

    "What are you doing that's so - so important?" Linda challenged him. "Why are you hiding out here in the jungle?"

    "The nature of my work requires a very quiet, very private place," Dr Q snarled, "away from prying eyes."

    "And what is your work?" I asked him, fighting down my fear.

    "You haven't guessed? You, the great detectives?" Dr Q rocked with laughter. Then, without warning, he snatched up a clock and thrust it in my face. His voice was a sinister hiss. "I've found the way to control time!" he gloated.

    "W-w-why?" I choked.

    "Because, stupid boy, whoever controls time, controls the WORLD!"
     
  11. 11
    I figured Dr Q was mad. Like, he had to be, right? Nobody controls time. Time just ticks away, you can't stop it. You can't make it go any faster, any slower, right?

    Then I figured, maybe he wasn't mad. Maybe he was real clever.

    And that scared me!

    None of us spoke, we just stared at him, and his next words turned all our worse fears into a nightmare!

    "Look at all these clocks!" He waved a triumphant hand. "Some of them run forwards. Some of them run backwards. Some have motors. Some don't. They are all under my control. They tell me whatever time I want them to tell!"

    "Cuckoo! Cuckoo!"

    The cuckoo clock on the wall started chiming. We burst out laughing. Dr Q screamed with rage and hurled it onto the floor.

    "You can laugh!" he bellowed. "But all these clocks are MY SLAVES! AND SOON, EVERY CLOCK IN THE WORLD WILL BE MY SLAVE!"

    That stopped us laughing.

    "Nobody will know what time it is! Time won't exist! When to go to work, when to go home, when to watch TV, nobody will know - except ME!" Dr Q fumed. "That's why those people tried to steal my secret. At first they thought the clock was cursed. Then they discovered it was controlled by science, not mumbo jumbo!" His eyes narrowed. "You see, I can create chaos all over the world. My secret is worth BILLIONS!"

    I swallowed. My whole body was shaking with fear. "You've got your clock back," I said. "I think we should go now."

    Dr Q shook his head. "It's too late, my little friends. You know TOO MUCH."

    "I want to go home!" wailed Linda.

    "IMPOSSIBLE!" yelled Dr Q. "You have to stay here, until I've given the world a taste of my medicine!"

    "W-w-when are you d-d-doing that?" Keith stammered.

    Dr Q looked at his watch. "In a few minutes! That's when I take control of every clock in your country!"
     
  12. 12
    Dr Q jabbed a button on his desk. A wall of clocks began to swing out toward us.

    "No!" screamed Linda. "You can't do it! It isn't fair!"

    "FAIR?!" Dr Q echoed. "What do I care about being fair?"

    The wall had stopped moving.

    "Come, be my guests," he invited us.

    He led the way into a hidden chamber. It was a small space, lined with shiny green plastic. There, in the centre, encased in solid glass, was a computer. But not like any computer you've ever seen, though. This one was red, and it had metal discs and a small motor attached to its top. On its screen, digital numbers were counting the time to four o'clock.

    3.54...

    3.55...


    Dr Q pulled a remote control from his pocket and pointed it at the computer.

    "It's my invention," he explained. "The first of its kind. An electro-magnetic time simulator. It's connected to my transmitter in the jungle. It will send high-frequency radio beams to every clock and watch within five hundred kilometres. The radio beams change the magnetic fields around the clocks, and by pressing this button, I can reset the real time to any time I like!"

    He pressed a button on the remote control.

    "First, I choose a new time..."

    He punched in some numbers on the control. The numbers on the simulator screen suddenly changed.

    4.56...

    4.57...

    He pressed another button and the metal discs on the simulator began to glow and vibrate. We could hear a deep, throbbing noise. It was getting stronger and stronger, louder and louder. Whup-whup-whup-whup-whup!

    "You see - I have now moved time one hour ahead!" he gloated. "Quick - turn on that radio - any station you like!"

    I picked up the radio which was sitting on a bench. I flicked it on. I figured we might as well listen to our favourite station.

    The numbers on the screen flashed bigger and brighter.

    4.58...

    4.59...


    Suddenly, the radio blared out.

    "Hi, you're on Perfect Ten. The time is now four o'clock and-"

    Then there was silence. The numbers jumped on the screen of the simulator. 5.00.

    A moment later, the deejay was back, sounding kind of strange, really puzzled.

    "Sorry, it's five o'clock."

    Dr Q gave a loud cheer and laughed.

    "Hey, that's weird," the deejay was saying. "I thought it was going to be four o'clock. Did we have a four o'clock today? Oh well, time flies when you're having fun..."

    I switched him off. I wasn't having fun. I was terrified. But Dr Q was clapping his hands, dancing from one foot to the other.

    "I've done it, I've done it!" he chanted.

    I shuddered. I could imagine the confusion out there in the city. Thousands of people, going home one hour early. All the buses and trains, one hour late.

    And the airport! Half the planes arriving one hour late, the other half taking off one hour early.

    Wow! What a mess!

    Suddenly, Dr Q shot us a dark look. "So, my little friends, you aren't laughing at me now, are you?"

    He put the remote control down beside the radio and snapped his fingers.

    "You've seen what I can do," he boasted, "and that was just the beginning. Now, I have to get my next surprise ready. I'll call Mac to take care of you," and he picked up the phone.

    "W-w-what do you mean, take care of us?" Keith demanded.

    "You'll find out," Dr Q promised as Mac strode into the room.

    "Mac," he ordered, "you know what to do with our little guests..."
     
  13. 13
    Mac pushed us outside. He loomed over us. I wondered how much of him was fat, and how much was muscle. Right at that moment, I didn't want to find out.

    We were herded down the corridor. Keith was leaning forward as he walked, a dismal expression on his face.

    Then I looked at Linda. Girls! You can't figure them. She was strolling along with her head in the air, her hands in her pockets. She didn't look too troubled at all!

    Me? My mind was racing. How could we get out of here? I wondered, not even knowing where here was! How could we warn the police? And our parents? We had to do something before Dr Q took control of the world!

    Mac reached a door and pulled out a key. He unlocked it and beamed.

    "Your new home, kiddies."

    I wished I'd kicked him harder at the market! We were in a small, grim room, like a storeroom, but it was dark and empty. No windows. Nothing. Just like a prison cell. Before I could even turn around, I heard the key scraping in the lock.

    Keith sat on the bare floor and groaned. "Now what?"

    "No choice," said Linda calmly, squinting her eyes in the gloom. "We have to wait."

    "Maybe that old man will find us," I suggested.

    "Him?" snorted Linda. "He's so blur he wouldn't even know the right time!" She laughed at her own joke.

    "I wish we had one of those shoes," Keith said, "you know, where you open the heel and it's got a radio inside."

    "You've been watching too many spy shows on TV," Linda shot back.

    "Well, we've got to get out of here somehow," I moaned, shifting my position on the cold concrete floor.

    "Ow!"

    I'd just sat on something sharp. I felt around on the floor. What was it?

    My fingers closed around a metal lump of some sort. It was too dark to see what it was.

    "What have you found?" Keith asked hopefully.

    "I - don't - know," I grunted, scrabbling around with my fingers.

    It felt like a bolt. But it couldn't be. What would a bolt be doing on the floor?

    Unless-

    I tapped the floor with my knuckles. It felt like wood!

    I felt around some more.

    "Aha!" I grunted, like a true detective.

    "Johnson, what is it?" Linda breathed.

    "You're not going to believe it," I whispered. "There's a trapdoor here!"

    Keith slithered across to join me. "Wow! Great work, man!"

    He fumbled around in the dark, too. A moment later, I heard his voice, loaded with despair.

    "Uh oh! There's also a padlock," he croaked. "We'll never get the trapdoor open now!"

    I laughed. "Keith, didn't you ever read the detective's manual? About picking locks?"

    "Of course I did!" he answered hotly. "But I don't have the tools!"

    "Well I do!" I told him excitedly.

    "What?" he blurted.

    "A good detective should never be without them," I reminded him smugly.

    I dug into my pocket and pulled out the little ring of metal picks. I passed them across in the dark.

    I turned to Linda, who was kneeling beside me.

    "Never fear when Johnson Wee is near!" I told her.

    "Johnson," she was about to say something, then stopped. "Oh, never mind..."

    Girls! They just can't admit that men are smarter!

    So we sat there in the dark, listening to the click-click sounds as Keith jiggled all the different picks in the padlock.

    Suddenly, there was a loud CLACK as the lock sprung open. It sounded deafening. I wondered if anyone had heard it outside!

    I heard Keith unfasten the padlock and slide across the bolt. Together, we hauled the trapdoor open.

    If we'd thought our little room was dark, it was even darker down below. We couldn't see anything. I felt around with my hand, then my foot.

    "There's just - nothing," I whispered. "There isn't a ladder or anything. Just a big hole."

    "It must go somewhere, otherwise they wouldn't have locked it up!" Keith deduced.

    "I'll go first," I volunteered, my heart pounding.

    "How deep is it?" asked Linda anxiously.

    "There's only one way to find out," I replied in my bravest voice.

    I swung myself over the hole, so my legs were dangling in thin air. Black thin air! What was down there? Well, I'd soon find out...

    "Wish me luck," I mumbled.

    Then I eased myself further out, took a deep breath, and counted to three.

    Then jumped.
     
  14. 14
    I dropped through black space. I held my breath. I braced myself.

    Where would I land? On rocks? In water?

    Water! Oh, no-

    How deep would it be-

    THUD!

    I landed! On plain, ordinary dirt.

    I gasped for breath. My legs were shaking. Not with pain. Just with fear. Fear, and relief!

    "Johnson, are you okay?" It was Keith, somewhere over my head.

    I looked up. It was too dark to see anything. But when I reached up, I could just touch the edges of the trapdoor.

    "Hey, it's not deep at all," I called back. "Nothing to it."

    "What's down there?" Keith asked.

    I moved around. Nothing. It seemed to be just a square hole by the feel of it. Nothing to be scared of down here.

    Until I stepped on something round, something that was coiled up. My foot was tangled in it. I couldn't shake it loose. It had me in its grip!

    "Snakes!" I screamed.

    I kicked at it! Again and again! I leapt clear! I banged into the side of the hole! I landed again - straight on top of another coiling thing!

    It was either a piece of snakes...

    Or worse.

    A huge python.

    It was everywhere!

    "Ugh!" I was shaking from head to foot. "It's a python! Help!" I screamed. "Get me out of here!"

    "Johnson! What's happening?" Keith begged, his voice high pitched with fear.

    "Johnson, what's the python doing?" squealed Linda.

    I was dancing up and down. I mustn't let the python wind itself around my leg. But every time I landed, it was there, coiled up, under my feet.

    And then I figured something.

    I figured the python wasn't moving, which it definitely would have been doing if it had been alive.

    So I was jumping up and down on a huge, dead python!

    Errrrrkkkk!

    It must have fallen in, or got trapped!

    Or maybe it was Dr Q's pet python, that's why he kept it down here with a padlock on the trapdoor. He must have forgotten to feed it!

    So I stopped jumping on it. Like, who wants to end up sharing a black hole with a squashed python, right? Much smarter to just pick it up and roll it out of the way, right?

    Right, I told myself.

    So I took a mighty breath and slowly, v-e-r-y slowly, crouched down. I put my hand out in front of me. It was shaking so much that I didn't even feel the dead snake when I first touched it.

    "Johnson, talk to us!" pleaded Keith.

    "Johnson," croaked Linda.

    It felt cold and round and fat. Very fat! How many chickens had this monster eaten?

    "Johnson!" Linda was sobbing my name.

    It felt dead. Really dead. All slick and smooth and long!

    "Johnson..." Linda wailed. "Oh, Johnson... poor, dear Johnson..."

    Then I figured something. This python felt more than dead.

    It felt plastic!

    "Poor Johnson," she wailed, "he risked his life for us and now he's - he's - dead!"

    I just knelt there in the dark, trying to figure out what a plastic python was doing in the hole.

    That's when I figured it wasn't a plastic python at all.

    It was a plastic cable!

    Which led me to my next deduction...

    If it was a cable...

    And if it was a cable that linked Dr Q's time simulator to his transmitter in the jungle...

    Then it had to run along an underground tunnel.

    And if it did, and if the tunnel was big enough, we could follow it right to the end - and escape!

    I was down on my hands and knees, probing around in the dark. I felt my way along the plastic cable. It coiled across the floor of the pit. Inch by inch I tracked it... until I banged my head against the wall. But the cable kept going. It disappeared into a hole.

    I flattened myself on the floor, one hand still gripped around the cable. I edged forward, bit by bit. The hole was large enough to squeeze into.

    It had to be the start of a tunnel!

    I crawled out backwards and stood up, just in time to hear Linda sobbing in the darkness above.

    "Oh, poor Johnson," she cried, "I never told him how c-c-clever he was, and how b-b-brave he was, and now I'll never have the chance..."

    Oh boy! Women!

    I cleared my throat.

    "Excuse me," I called up, in my trying-to-be-Harrison-Ford voice, "it's okay, you can come down now. I've killed the python!"

    Me and my big mouth.

    When Linda discovered the truth, I'd be the one who was killed!
     
  15. 15
    Keith landed first, dropping down through the trapdoor, almost on top of me.

    Linda followed. Smack, straight down on top of the cable.

    "The snake!" she screamed. "It moved!"

    "Only because you jumped on it," I told her. "Forget about it," I rushed on, "I've found the way out of here!"

    "Oh, great!" whooped Keith.

    "Oh, Johnson!" Linda hugged me.

    Oh boy! I thought. "You see, I figured they had to dig this hole for a reason, right?" Could I bluff when I had to! "Well, it's just the start of a tunnel. My guess is that it goes to Dr Q's transmitter."

    "But how did the snake get in?" Linda quizzed me.

    "Are there any more down here?" Keith blurted.

    "Trust me!" I reached out in the dark to touch them. "I'm standing by the tunnel. I'll go in first, then you both follow me. We're going to have to crawl on our tummies."

    "Yuk!" muttered Linda.

    I squirmed back into the tunnel I could hear Linda and Keith moving along behind me. Once or twice, my head brushed against the roof. Tiny pieces of stone and dirt dropped down the back of my neck. Mum was going to murder me when I got home, I'd be filthy!

    I heard Linda gasp behind me.

    "Are you okay?" I called back.

    There was no answer.

    Suddenly, something stung my leg.

    "Yow!" I screamed.

    I panicked. My arms and legs were shaking with fear.

    "Don't worry, Johnson," Linda whispered bitterly, "it was only a snake bite!"

    I was stung again. And again. Only it wasn't a sting.

    It was Linda, pinching me!

    "I found the cable, Johnson," she told me, pinching me even harder. "So much for your precious snake!"

    "Yow!"

    My bottom! My legs! She was pinching me everywhere! I could hear Keith laughing behind her.

    "I'll never speak to you again!" she hissed.

    "Yow! Yow! Stop that!" I cried.

    "Let's see how fast you can go!" she called, pinching me again.

    "YOWWWW!" I cried.

    I wriggled and squirmed for my life. I banged my head. I scraped my arms. I didn't care. Anything to get away from Linda. Girls! No sense of humour!

    Then, I saw it! A beam of light, straight ahead. I pushed myself along even faster. The light grew brighter until it was shining down into the tunnel. The tunnel had become higher, too, and wider. I could stop crawling and sit up.

    Directly above my head was another wooden trapdoor, only this one hadn't been closed properly. I could see a glimpse of blue sky through the crack along one edge. And I could see the cable clearly now. It was green, and it ran straight up the side wall and out through the trapdoor.

    "We're here!" I called back.

    I reached up and pushed on the trapdoor. Nothing happened. I pushed harder and it moved. Suddenly, a pile of leaves fell through the crack onto my face. I pushed again. This time, a whole load of dirt and twigs tumbled through. I shut my eyes just in time. My face was showered with wet muck. Yuk! I heard Linda giggling behind me.

    I figured Dr Q's men must have covered the trapdoor with soil and leaves so it looked like part of the jungle. Smart move, only they didn't have to open it from underneath!

    I gritted my teeth and pushed again. The trapdoor opened further. I was able to hoist myself up higher. I took a deep breath and hurled the door back as far as it would go. Bright sunlight dazzled me. I sprang up, and my face was level with the ground. Towering above me were vine-clad trees, thick bushes, huge clumps of bamboo. We were in the middle of the jungle.

    We were free! Well, except for two problems.

    Staring at me, eyeball to eyeball, just a few inches away in the tree roots and grass, was a big python.

    And right behind it, holding an axe, was that old man from before!
     
  16. 16
    My stomach rolled and heaved. My heart pumped. The python's head was waving. It blinked. It opened its mean, ugly-looking mouth.

    And I let out the most hideous scream I've ever heard. It was enough to make your blood freeze.

    "WAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!"

    The old man took one look at the muddy, screaming monster in the hole, dropped the axe, turned and run.

    The python swung its head, saw the old man, and thrashed off after him.

    I hauled myself out of the hole. Linda followed. She caught sight of my face and laughed.

    "Shhh!" I warned. "That old man was just here!"

    Keith clambered out, brushing dirt from his hair.

    "What are we doing to do now?" he wondered.

    "We should find that transmitter," Linda insisted. "Before Dr Q uses it again!"

    She was right for once, I thought. We searched the ground, kicking away leaves and rubbish, and found the cable. It wound off into the bamboo. Maybe that python had thought it was his girl friend!

    "Look!" Keith grabbed my arm, pointing.

    Sure enough, the cable snaked its way up the side of a massive tree. High up, in one of the top branches, was a flash of silver. As we got closer, we could see it was a small satellite dish.

    "How are we going to reach it?" Keith asked me in dismay.

    "No need!"

    I raced back to where that old man had dropped his axe. I scooped it up.

    "Stand back!" I ordered, swinging the axe high above my head.
    I brought it down with a mighty WHACK! The blade sliced right through the cable. Dozens of little wires were hanging out, like chopped spaghetti.

    "My turn!" Keith grabbed the axe and ran a few feet further along the cable.

    He hacked clean through it.

    "They'll never fix that!" he grunted, rolling up the long piece of cable we'd chopped.

    "Dr Q will kill us when he finds out what we've done." Linda shivered, looking around at the jungle. "We have to get away from here!"

    We pushed our way through the dense growth. I figured we could go round in circles for days. We'd be lost out here and no one would ever find us. I should have brought my detective's compass.

    Suddenly, we stumbled onto a narrow track. But just as we did, we heard voices. We dived behind a tree. A moment later, two men appeared. One was wearing a bike helmet. The other was that old man.

    They stood there, shouting and arguing, so close we could almost touch them.

    So close that Keith was able to unroll the piece of cable and poke it out from behind the tree.

    He rubbed it along the old man's leg, like a snake. The old man's nobbly face turned white. He uttered a hideous cry of fear and ran. The man in the helmet chased along behind.

    As soon as they'd gone, we darted out and followed. How clever we'd thought we'd been!

    Although we didn't know it, we were about to find out how dumb we'd really been!
     
  17. 17
    The track was taking us somewhere.

    But where?

    It widened out. Then it took a sharp turn.

    We raced around the bend and stopped dead!

    We were in a clearing. Ahead of us was the ruined shed.

    Dr Q's headquarters!

    My heart sank. Linda choked out a cry of alarm. We'd escaped - only to run all the way back to our enemy.

    Who was standing there, waiting for us, the sun gleaming down on his shiny bald head, a vicious look on his face.

    And he wasn't alone.

    Mac and the bus driver and the security guard were with him. And they all held knives.

    And that old man and his friend were there, too, with their hands in the air.

    "So, I was right!" snarled Dr Q. "You were all in this together! Well, now you are all going to pay for it! Bring them down below!"

    He turned on his heel and stamped back to the shed. Mac shouted orders and we were all rounded up. We were marched along behind him, back into the shed, and down the stairs into the underground laboratory.

    This time, I knew, there'd be no escape!

    My stomach had turned to ice. My whole body was trembling. Playing at detectives was one thing, but playing with real criminals was another! I'd thought it was all a big game. How could I have been so stupid? I should never have taken that clock. I should never have dragged Linda and Keith into this mess. Now they were going to get hurt, too. For what? All because I thought I was so smart!

    It was all my fault. Johnson Wee, Private D. D for Dummy, my kid brother was right.

    I shot a quick look at Linda out of the corner of my eye. She was just walking along, hands in her pockets. How could she be so c-o-o-l about things? Girls! I couldn't figure them.

    Dr Q lined us all up in front of his computer. The numbers were still flashing. The discs were still glowing.

    "You fools!" he screamed. "You thought you could steal my invention! You thought you could stop me!"

    The old man looked very confused.

    "What, what?" he babbled.

    "SHUT UP!" Dr Q yelled. "Now you're going to see my masterstroke! I'm going to make time go even faster! The whole world will soon be at my mercy and there's nothing any of you can do to stop me! NOTHING!"

    A chilling laugh burst from his twisted lips.

    He reached into his coat pocket.

    "It's not there," Linda said.

    We all turned.

    Linda was smiling sweetly at Dr Q.

    "Is this what you're looking for?" she asked.

    She pulled the remote control from her pocket and stepped back. She must have had it with her all that time!

    "GIVE ME THAT!" Dr Q bellowed.

    "You've had your fun," Linda told him. "Now it's my turn!"

    Dr Q's face froze. His eyes were filled with alarm. Sweat broke out on his bald head.

    "Give me that control, girl," he barked hoarsely. "It's not a toy. It's dangerous."

    Linda pointed the remote control at the time simulator.

    "STOP!" screamed Dr Q frantically. "YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING!"

    He lunged forward, his arms swinging wildly. I stuck out my foot. He crashed into Mac.

    Linda started pressing buttons on the control. Dr Q was screaming at her. Everyone was yelling at once.

    The last thing I remembered was Linda, calling out to Keith and I.

    "Quick! Take off your watches!"

    And then the room was spinning, the whole world went upside down, and I blanked out.
     
  18. 18
    My head was thudding, my heart thumping. I tried to stand. My legs were jelly.

    Linda was leaning against the wall, laughing.

    Keith was shaking his head, trying to take up.

    I gasped.

    We were still in Dr Q's room. Only now, we were alone. Just Linda, Keith and I. The computer was a twisted, smouldering wreck. It must have blown itself up.

    "What — did — you — do?" I groaned.

    "Look," Linda giggled.

    I looked around. I couldn't see anything.

    Then I heard a weird, gurgling sound.

    I looked on the floor.

    It was Dr Q.

    He was still bald.

    He was still ugly.

    Only now he was crawling around.

    He was a baby. In white nappies.

    The nastiest, meanest baby I'd ever seen.

    He raised a fat little fist.

    Not at me, though.

    He started beating the other baby, the hideous, nobbly-faced baby covered in tattoos.

    "Waaaaaaa!" it screamed. Old man!

    Linda had done it! She must have spun time INTO REVERSE! Because we'd cut the cable to the transmitter, the rest of the world was safe. And because we'd taken off our watches, we'd also escaped the electro-magnetic beams!

    Then another baby crawled towards them. Fat and bulging, making angry gurgling sounds. Mac!

    And there was another baby, a baby dressed like a bus driver.

    And one dressed like a security guard.

    Chasing after a baby in a bike helmet.

    I think that's when I fainted.
     
  19. 19
    "Where have you been?" shouted Mum.

    She was standing at the front door, her hands on her hips. It must have been midnight. That walk through the jungle had taken us hours.

    "Johnson!" she yelled at me. "Do you know what time it is?"

    I looked at her. And burst out laughing.

    I just laughed and laughed and laughed.

    "I'm sorry, Mum," I gasped, "I'm not laughing at you..." I tried to catch my breath. "It's just... well... I completely lost track of time today..."

    And I ran to my room, laughing and laughing and laughing.

    END

    Next time on When Midnight Strikes!

    Turn off your lights, get ready for frights! When the clock strikes midnight and the moon's full and bright, it's time for dread and fear. For Ominous Flare is here, with double the danger and twice the terror!

    Eugene, Alonso and Samantha take a ride they'll never forget - on the Scary School Bus to Nowhere. But will they ever come back?

    Find out next time,
    When Midnight Strikes!