The Reading Corner: novels by Lichelle Christensen

Precious Little Time

Chapter One

The collector clicked the kitchen door shut and stood silently for a moment while his eyes adjusted. Rather than turn the flashlight on right away, he always waited for his eyes to become accustomed to the darkness. It always added to the suspense for him. It was excitement mixed with a dash of danger. He relished the feeling of adrenaline pumping fresh blood through his veins. It was plain spine tingling for him to realize that there was the possibility of getting caught. Of course, the possibility was next to impossible since he always took great care to observe his potential collection points long enough to know the right moment for collecting. He could even acknowledge when a planned collection was not going to be productive and exercise enough self-control to call it off. His timing had only been off once in many years of collecting. He shuddered inadvertently as he thought about it, and the flashlight slipped in his hand. He lunged and caught it before it could clatter onto the ground. He crouched motionless in mid-lunge, listening for sounds. The refrigerator fan started up, and he jerked toward it. His blood was really pumping now. He smiled and straightened up. He knew why he was so jittery. This was the most important piece for his collection. He reminded himself of his many well-executed plans and knew this would be just as successful.

Sometimes he snuck into the house when the occupants were asleep. Other times he waited for everyone to be gone. Each case was unique and demanded special planning. In some instances, he had even had to visit some houses several times before the time was right, before the right plan could be put into effect. He never broke into a house if an adult male was present, regardless of how innocuous he might seem. The collector had been forced to postpone for months for some of the pieces in his collection while he waited for a man to be gone. It gave him a flush of pride to think of those pieces because they represented extra patience and self-control, the kind of restraint his mother would have been proud of.

When he could finally make out the layout of the room, he depressed the button on the flashlight. He swished the light over the pictures on the refrigerator and past a small round dining table that sat dwarfed inside a large bay window. A twelve-inch hourglass set inside a cherry hardwood casing sat in the middle of the table. Three clocks hung in a triangular arrangement on the wall next to the table. One was a dark wooden owl. It had black eyes with yellow slits and was perched on a branch. The belly of the owl featured the clock face. The second clock was large and circular with roman numerals. A rooster occupied its entire face. The third one was about the same size as the rooster clock. The hour and minute hands were a fork and a knife, and the second hand was a spoon. Red chili peppers marked the quarter hours of the clock.

He went to the living room and stood in its entrance moving the light around the room. The room was as he remembered it—decorated in Victorian reproductions of solid Honduras mahogany and spotlessly clean. He had visited here many times, but this time was different. The day had finally arrived for him to collect the ultimate achievement of his entire collection.

He ran the flashlight quickly across the top of the upright grand piano. It had ornately carved columns and gold-leafing etched in the paneling with candle sconces on each side. Clocks of assorted sizes and styles were scattered across its top. The clock in the center was a metal eighth note. Others were southwestern or retro; some featured animals or whimsical creations; there was a flower clock, a star clock, and many others. He smiled and dragged the beam of light slowly across the piano. He paused, hovering the light over several of the clocks, enjoying each one, even though he had already decided which was to be the pinnacle of his collection. It was a tiny blue crown with dark blue stars. This was the crowning piece of his collection, so the crown was the appropriate choice. His lips curled as he picked it up and caressed it with his thumb. He laid the flashlight on the piano bench, being certain that the beam of light pointed toward the piano, causing the reflected light to shine back without creating excessive light in the room. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and shook out the neat folds until it hung limp in his hand. Coddling the inexpensive clock as if it were golden, he enclosed it in the handkerchief and folded the corners around the clock one at a time. He smiled as he pushed the clock to the bottom of his pants pocket.

He returned to the kitchen and slipped into a kitchen chair. He caressed the sides of the hourglass. He really wanted to take it with him, but it was so large. It would surely be missed. It was fascinating that someone had figured out a way to make sand granules count time. He turned it over and watched the grains slip through the tiny neck in the middle.

He was certain that she wasn’t home, but he didn’t want to be caught by surprise like he had been a few months ago during a collection. He approached the end of the hall and stood motionless. The only sounds he heard were the mingled tickings of clocks. He held the flashlight low and slowly raised it with his fingers still cupped across it, allowing only slivers of light to peek through as he crept down the hallway toward her bedroom. It gave him raw shivers of excitement to think about waiting for her there. He always waited in the bedroom for each of them. They were so vulnerable there that it was sheer pleasure to see them react to him. Just inside the doorway he slowly pushed the open door against the wall. When he was certain there was no one behind it, he lifted the light and flashed it all across the room.

Slowly he made his way across the room to a chest of drawers. He ran one hand across the drawers, prolonging the suspense of discovering their contents. The first drawer spoke to him immediately. A stack of camisoles of varying colors were folded neatly on one side. The collector pulled out two of them and laid the flashlight inside the drawer. He stroked the red silk camisole and then the white one. He put the white one back into the drawer. He stretched the shoulder strap of the red camisole and tried to pull it over his head. It almost slipped over, so he was certain it would serve its purpose well with her. He smiled as he rubbed the smooth fabric against his cheek.

He took the flashlight from the drawer and stepped to her bed. The pillow on the left side was pushed upward into the headboard and still bore the indent where her head must have lain that morning. He stroked the indentation and for a moment, the pillow was her hair, soft and flowing. The covers were thrown to the side. The sheets were a crisp white with tiny yellow flowers. The comforter was one of those fluffy down things that made you feel like you were lying in clouds. He made “tsk tsk” sounds and shook his head. The naughty girl hadn’t even made her bed before she’d left that morning. Hadn’t her mother taught her to clean up after herself?

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