Arts et Metiers Station in Paris, France.
The hourglass poured sand through the tiny crevice, the glass bubble trapping the mountain of sand within.
Grain by grain, it slowly filled up until it reached its zenith and a spiny hand reached out and flipped it, checking it with his timepiece.
An analogue item, in a digital world, the Clockmaker preferred gears over electronics, the application of physics over the magic of charges.
He liked cranking levers, turning wheels and making tiny adjustments with his precise screws. The colour of bronze was more pleasing than the clean sterile nature of the modern age.
The Observatory where he was working, was a steam-punk haven, of clocks, gears, steam, bronze, copper and wood. The roof was a burnished metallic sphere, that resembled Line 11 platforms of the Parisian Arts et Metiers station.
It arced over the entire spherical workshop, with a singular window cut out in the front, that allowed the Clockmaker to project his large telescope out.
Taking up most of the room, and providing an appropriate shadow under which the Clockmaker did most of his work, the telescope was an incredible feat of engineering, that rotated on large mechanical gears, that interlocked each other and a series of wheels that led all the way up to the viewing platform.
Up there, the Clockmaker had made a small wheel for himself that using minimum effort, could rotate and adjust the large optical telescope for his liking and fine tune the focus.
The base of the telescope was open, an chasm that showcased the intricate engineering and the gleam of all the copper, metal and bronze.
Due to its spherical design and central circular platform, all of the Clockmaker’s workshops were lined along the wall, with a single straight table at the base of the telescope, the precise centre of the entire space. At the bottom was also a large auto-winch, which he used to move the telescope on its axis.
Along every bench were thousands of projects that had been started and all with varying levels of progress. A single large train engine here, an unfinished sewing wheel there, and all type and sizes of screws strewn about, in what seemed like a careless manner, but were actually very precise placements for reference.
A gas stove ran in the rear, and that powered the steam generator that provided gas-light for the workshop, a pale, flickering, yellowing light that burnished the bronze interior.
As he watched the hourglass slowly fill up with sand, the Clockmaker wiped his hands on a rag that hung from his hip, and using his wrist, nudged the large goggles from his eyes, onto his forehead.
He would take a break, briefly and eat something before continuing his greatest project.
Walking away from the central workshop, he stood next to his coat rack and plucked a greatcoat off. Covering his slightly dirty white linen shirt and black waistcoat, he moved to his hat stand, a beautiful mahogany affair, and wrestled the flat cap atop his tousled brown hair.
Opening the large door that featured an enormous combination lock of his own design, he stepped out into a chilly world where green fields had been replaced by white fresh snow and blue skies with grey storm-clouds.
The Clockmaker flipped his lapels up to protect his neck and thrust his hands deep into the pockets of the greatcoat and began trudging his way across the fields, into the nearby town, where life was slowly beginning to accelerate as bakeries sold their goods and half-frozen newsboys shouted at people to collect their papers.
Hunched into the coat, he moved silently through the dirty cobble streets, the industrial sounds of a production revolution surrounding him, as men, covered in soot, flame and coal, banged away at metal and rivets, sweating profusely under their strain.
Belches of fire erupted from warehouses around him, and he reflexively ducked as a police carriage, slowly rattled its way past him. Scanning up and down for any more of the constabulary, he cautiously made his way out of the street and closer to the nicer parts of the town, where he could find nourishment.
Aware of his disheveled appearance, the Clockmaker kept to himself, doing his best to avoid well-to-do couples in their finery, dresses and jewels, and the piles of horse manure on the road alike.
Spying an unobtrusive bakery, he stepped in quickly and ordered himself a loaf of bread and butter, tucking the wrapped goods under his coat and hurriedly passing over the few coins he had.
The bakerwoman, had been too absentminded to notice him properly, but when she saw his figure leave the store, her eyes had widened slightly in recognition of something.
Scurrying away, he deftly made his way back through the industrial area, stopping occasionally to wolf down pieces of the bread that he liberally smeared with butter, using his fingers. Scanning nervously the entire time, he only relaxed his pace when he reached the relative safety of the fields, where hibernating trees, soured the landscape and cast an air of isolation and gloom over everything.
Doing his best to stop his feet from freezing over, the Clockmaker was glad when he reached the front door and unlocking the heavy combination lock with frozen fingers, he stumbled in, just as the wind was beginning to pick up.
Slamming it shut behind him, he looked at the remaining half a loaf he had eaten and touched his stomach. Feeling sated, he settled it down on a round workbench, near the gas stove to keep it warm, and hung up his coat and hat on the racks.
Picking up his goggles once more, the Clockmaker went back to the hourglass and noted that it was nearly empty again.
Waiting patiently, he flipped it as it neared the hour and turned his attention to the large project in front of him.
It was a woman.
To be more accurate, it was a pair of women.
Both were cold and lifeless, one shiny mechanical and the other formerly flesh.
The dead woman, was the Clockmaker’s wife. He had accidentally killed her in a flash of rage and been remorseful ever since. His obsession with her, and the keen loss he felt, had led to a singular night, where gripped with fanatical inspiration, he broke into the town’s graveyard and dug up her corpse.
He left only the funeral veil behind and had laboured under her weight across the field and night, and into his Observatory.
The Clockmaker believed, with the power of the Observatory and genius of his intellect, he could recreate his wife and transfer her essence from her body into the new one he was making.
His greatest project, was hideously intricate and a poor simile for the woman next to it.
Featuring an enormous amount of gears, cogs, and screws, each part of the mechanical body featured a large crank handle, that could allow the limbs to move. Situated at joints, the screw would turn anticlockwise, or clockwise to allow rudimentary movement, left and right, with another handle allowing up and down.
The fingers and toes were frozen in place, but at the wrist and ankles were cranks to allow slight pronation, allowing the feet to adopt a “foot in heels” posture, and the hands to close into a right angle grip.
The body itself was a mass of gears and metal, with copper wiring through it all, that lead to a unit at the back, where the Clockmaker could program the body to bend at the waist, raise her arms and move her head. He had yet to place the bronze plates over her body, to mimic her belly, breasts and buttocks, but they were being cooled in the corner, having been just smelted and caressed into shape.
But it was the head, that drew the imagination. It was here, he was taking the longest time to perfect.
Every detail had been painstakingly recreated. The aquiline nose, the wide eyes, the tiny beauty spot on her left cheek … only in the Clockmaker’s eyes, improved and enhanced by beauty and infinity the gears and the ridges that only clockwork could provide.
Her blue wide eyes had been turned into a quartet of gears that when he cranked them, emitted a pale blue light, that he had fashioned from an old bulb with a sheet of blue plastic.
The nose was awaiting the finishing touches of bronze plating, whilst the lips were a strange mockery, with a mouth that opened and closed, according to the crank situated at the corner of her mouth.
Only her hair had not been replicated, the luscious blonde locks replaced by straight sticks that poked out of the scalp.
Overall, the Clockmaker’s project was a masterful display of engineering, physics and precision, but could only ever be considered beautiful in his eyes.
It was then, in the midst of his concentration, as he was delicately screwing in the breast plate into the side of the body, he heard noises outside his door.
A thunderous banging on the door shook him.
“THIS IS THE POLICE. OPEN UP. WE HAVE A WARRANT FOR YOUR ARREST, FOR MURDER AND THEFT. OPEN UP OR WE WILL FORCE OUR WAY IN.”
The Clockmaker’s eyes widened and he immediately ran to the door and grabbed a workbench, barricading the entrance.
Staring up at the huge telescope, he began the auto-winch, which would generate power and move the instrument. He frantically overturned the hourglass and began to time his process.
Moving quickly, he began to screw in every single finishing touch, as the banging got louder and louder, until the noise was total and echoed endlessly in the room.
Dull thuds could be seen imprinting themselves on metal, as the door shook and heaved under repeated blows from rifle butts. But the hinges were strong and the Clockmaker had reinforced the door with multiple bolts to prevent entry.
Then, a dull, shrill shriek was heard, as the auto-winch reached its capacity and the Clockmaker eyed the completed clockwork body lovingly, before rushing over and allowing the winch to stop.
Taking strands of copper wiring and inserting them into the two bodies, in the heart and the head, the Clockmaker, caressed the clockwork body on the forehead and looking distastefully at the dead corpse, he let the auto winch go.
Gears shrieked and steam bellowed from giant pumps as the telescope moved, spinning in a circle, generating power to the two bodies.
The noise was unholy, unbearable, a deafening envelope of cogs, screws, gears, metal, steam, heat and burning copper that wrapped and shrouded the Clockmaker in dense smoke.
Power surged through the corpse, reanimating it, causing limbs to flail around, and discharge excess gas and waste build-up, yellow, pale, decomposing liquid and fluid ejecting out the orifices of the body. The hair atop started to burn, through the copper strands inserted and strangely the blue eyes became clear for a second, as the glassy look was replaced by clear pupils that screamed internally.
Shots rang out, as the policemen outside fired their rifles into the Observatory, causing ricocheting bullets to bounce around inside, as they struck metal, after metal structs, fragmenting themselves into sharp pieces of lead.
But the Clockmaker continued, taking over the auto-winch, as he kept manically winding the huge telescope around, and with it the two corpses. Three pieces of shrapnel tore through his chest and arms, but he ignored them, concentrating wholly on the reanimation process.
Then an explosion tore through the Observatory.
The policemen, having had enough, had placed a stick of dynamite in the corner of the door and blown it clean off its hinges, lifting it into the air, where it crushed the Clockmaker and buried him under it.
The policemen ran in, rifles drawn, but any bravado they had immediately was replaced by fear as the smell of putrefaction and burnt copper reached their senses.
Four of the five officers instantly vomited on the floor, the moment they saw what had become of the corpse, burnt and smoking, with foul liquid splattered everywhere.
The last officer, the Captain, instantly reached for his scarf and drew it up to his nose, his eyes wide at the travesty that had occurred.
To his shock, the clockwork body that the man had worked on for so long, for so many sleepless nights was now staring at him, blue lights switched on, its arms outstretched like some kind of woman seeking comfort.
Its mouth was open, in a silent scream, the eyes unblinking in an unending stare, and there was a terrible screeching noise as the gears and bronze plate of the body tore at each other, as it tried to turn its torso towards the Captain.
His men screamed, and fled into the night, whilst the Captain stood, frozen in horror as he watched the Clockmaker desperately crawl out from beneath the door that had killed him, and with a shaking hand, reach up for the abomination he had created.
The Clockmaker failed to grip the frozen hands, and collapsed into a pile at her feet, expiring as the blue lights that were meant to be eyes slowly dimmed and the entire clockwork body shuddered and collapsed under the strain, burying the Clockmaker’s body.
The Captain, mute, and uncomprehending in terror, stared as the hourglass on the table finally stopped pouring sand and without warning, shattered into a thousand pieces of glass.
I admit, the inspiration for this piece came from out of nowhere. I was originally going to write a strange horror story about a good-looking Clockmaker who would kidnap young women and force them to become sacrifices for his telescope, but struck by the period of time that I was writing about and the obvious steam-punk influence, I went for a different Frankenstein route.
Aside from the Frankenstein influence, this was actually inspired by a similar plot, that I loved, in one of my favourite Napoleonic historical fiction series, Matthew Hawkwood – Resurrectionist. In addition, I also stole some elements from a steam-punk young adult series, that I loved reading, known as the The Laws of Magic series.
Keen pop-culture enthusiasts will also probably note the similarities between the clockwork body and the famous robot in the film; Metropolis (1927)
This was one of the stranger attempts I made to write horror and I still think it needs a lot of work.
Still, I liked the overall novelty of the idea and is originality and the conclusion was probably one of the fastest I’ve ever written, the story really gripping me as I wrote it.