Congratulations, Clockholder!

Edited by Yanni Kuznia

Copyedited by Chelle Parker

October 2021

945 words — Reading time: around 4 minutes

Really excellent news. According to the glossy envelope you find tucked in your moss-covered mailbox, you’ve been preapproved. At last, a lucky break! You split the waxen seal and let the trifold letter unfurl in all its glory. A golden crest winks from the finely milled paper.

You — yes, you — are preapproved for the Bank of Chronos Platinum Credit Clock.

“As a clockholder,” the letter reads in its amply flourished pen, “you’ll enjoy access to a fifty-year line of existential credit at a low introductory rate. With the simple turn of a dial, you can exchange your time for money, in the blink of an eye!”

You recall an old coworker who became a clockholder. Cashed out thirty years and made her life a permanent holiday. Constantly sunbathing in wide-brimmed, fashionable hats and snapping photos of food. Made you so envious.

“That’s right, with Chronos Platinum, you can trade the long hours you spend hard at work for instant credit — all without lifting a finger. Borrow against the hours, weeks, or years of your earthly existence to finance the lifestyle you crave.”

You look up from the page. Sensing your deep interest, an incorporeal loan officer made of fog and moldering lace curtains has appeared in your cramped living room with an icy pressure dip that makes your ears pop. Between its lizard-fingers swings the small silvery clock on its jangling chain.

“I’m with the Bank of Chronos,” it says in a voice like sandpaper harps. “Would you like to learn more about our special offer?”

“Yes, please,” you say.

It arranges its vaporous shawls to hang more neatly and begins to recite in sing-song: “Thanks to our special partnership with the eternally damned, the Bank of Chronos can offer amazing cash-outs based on the equity of your mortal soul.” One of the specter’s translucent hands lifts in your direction. “Did you know our records indicate your soul could be worth millions?

“No,” you say. “No, I didn’t.”

The wraith continues with mounting excitement: “How will you indulge yourself? Whether it’s world travels, illegal pets, or a luxurious vacation home with talking toilets, the decision is yours. The Platinum Credit Clock gives you the freedom to live in style, without waiting for your fortune to change.” The ghostly loan officer tilts its wrinkled head. “Can I interest you in this clock today?”

The timepiece swings tantalizingly before your eyes, catching sunshine on its intricate cogs and gears. Reminds you of a pocket watch your uncle had years ago. He was a zany man with a waxed mustache, who occasionally popped into your childhood and swept you off on strange adventures. He died a young man with the world’s largest fedora collection.

“Well?” asks the phantom, proffering a willowy quill.

When you sign, the loan officer’s smile spreads with gleaming crocodile teeth. “Congratulations, clockholder!”

The credit clock is placed triumphantly around your neck — and begins to tick backwards.

You swiftly quit your tedious office job and upgrade your shabby home and car. Your existence becomes a dazzled dream. Boating and grand hotels and Michelin-star restaurants. Honestly, you’re not quite sure where those twenty years you borrowed against could be, but in their place you have diamond-studded bling, cube-shaped furniture, designer underwear. And the timepiece, ticking merrily around your neck like a second heartbeat.

Even so, sometimes you still wish….

“More good news from the Bank of Chronos!” It’s the rasping song of the loan officer once again, materializing upon your posh living room sectional in a sudden puff of crimson smoke. “Now you can earn incredible rewards every time you advance your clock. Save on fine dining, hotels, and travel — including special discount fares to the underworld.”

You sign away ten more years and redeem an all-expenses-paid trip to visit your uncle in Hell. He’s thrilled to hear you’ve been establishing credit, and seems strangely interested in your platinum-level soul. It’s an exquisite trip — with sweeping brimstone vistas and sailing on the lake of fire — but you detect an insatiable need in your uncle’s eyes. And the way his long fingers cling to you as you say goodbye…. Haunting.

Back from another tour of Europe, you linger in the sprawling gardens of your beachfront summer home. Such beauty. Such opulence.

And yet you often wish….

“Don’t miss this limited-time offer!” Once more, the vaporous loan officer has returned, popping onto the marble ledge of your triple-tier water feature. “Extend your line of credit today and become an exclusive member of our Eternal Concierge Club.” The phantom’s blazing eyes flit greedily to the timepiece set around your neck. “So how about it?”

With the swish of an ostrich quill, you borrow against the final years of your existence and become one of the truly elite. Such fortune. Such status. With fifty years on your credit clock, you’re literally living every second like it could be ticking down to your—

In a burst of sulfurous red smoke, you evaporate.

The credit clock is still there around your neck, but its golden hands have gone quiet and lacy cheesecloth shawls drape your phantom body. You blink, recognizing the red shores of Hell’s inferno from your trip to the underworld.

Your uncle waves, drifting toward you and doffing his moldy fedora. “Lost your soul, I see,” he jests, poking you in your lack-of-ribs.

“Wish I hadn’t signed it away,” you tell him.

He turns to you, spreads his wispy corpse-hand across the fiery caverns. “Good news! Thanks to a special partnership with the Bank of Chronos, you can earn back your mortal soul.”

© 2021 R.L. Thull

About the author

R.L. Thull is a graphic designer, illustrator, and writer with a small robot collection. This is her second publication with Fireside Magazine. Her speculative fiction has also appeared or is forthcoming in Daily Science Fiction and The Drabblecast, and has received honorable mentions in the Writers of the Future contest. She resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with her husband and two misbehaving cats. Find her online at