By Joyce Jacobo
[Author’s Note: Hope everyone is doing well! Here is chapter two of “The Tinker Town Chronicles.” Here is the link to Chapter One: https://theliteraryserenityarchives.wordpress.com/2023/02/17/chapter-one-concerns-a-clocktower-keeper/]
Clocks were ticking in the darkness. Surrounding her. Horatia found comfort in their regular rhythms. Like small, gentle heartbeats. She tried to move but found it too difficult. However, that lack of motion was less important than the sudden absence of the one clock she wanted to hear the most—The Grand Clocktower.
Her clock. A haven big and powerful enough to drive away any terrors.
Except Horatia was unable to hear it. Panicking, she called again and again, “Where are you? Answer me! Answer me!” Her voice came out muffled. Apparently, she was still lost among all those timepieces. Bound in one place and unable to remember how she had gotten there.
The last things could remember were plummeting through the air, plunging past the clockface of The Grand Clocktower, and heading towards the stony ground far below.
There had been the sudden elimination of all sensation.
Now she was aware—somehow. She was here.
Was being lost in this darkness her fate, after becoming too rusty and worn to look after The Grand Clocktower with sufficient ease?
Panic, however, soon gave way to a flare of rebellion. Horatia didn’t care how she had gotten here. Returning to The Grand Clocktower was what mattered. Nothing else. Afterwards, then she could sort out all the other implications in that safe, familiar environment. She would figure out how to fix herself.
Horatia struggled to move again, taking things slower this time, and realized some sort of fabric had been wrapped around her. And, pushing ahead with this knowledge, she wiggled a bit and managed to move one of her arms along the inside of her apparent bindings, moving up past her head. Once or twice, she tried to tear into the fabric with her claw tips, only to discover that they were now blunt and rounded. It was worrying, but—conversely—her arm wasn’t aching as it had in the past and was moving with greater ease than it had in a very long while.
At last, her rounded fingertips found an edge to her soft prison, which she yanked hard to one side. There came a harsh ripping sound, and light spilled in—revealing a room where various kinds of clocks, seemingly the ones she had heard, hung across the walls above long workbenches on which she glimpsed tools and pieces of clockwork.
She was on one of the workbenches, sitting up on a large cushion, and gripping what turned out to be part of a blanket in her… her…
Horatia stared at the limb. It was a limb that didn’t belong to her, except that it was at least attached to her at the shoulder. A wooden arm with fingers, complete with proper joints to bend at the wrist and the elbow, and to rotate around in its socket.
Her other arm was missing and had a bandage that covered the shoulder and wound around most of her body. Both of her legs had been replaced by wooden versions as well, while her tail was gone. Dropping the blanket, Horatia reached up and felt at her face, ears, and whiskers—all still intact, thank goodness.
What was going on? Horatia rubbed her head with her new wooden hand, trying to stave off her rising panic. She was trembling and couldn’t seem to stop. Just where was she?
More importantly, where was her clocktower? Without its mighty presence surrounding her, filling the air with its usual music, the whole tempo of the world seemed off-balance.
She heard a door open along the far wall into the room, and she hid underneath the blanket, peering out from between the folds. A short figure, albeit close to her own height, entered the room. Whoever it was wore a plain lavender robe and a big floppy hat, which had a brim wide enough that, when combined with the puffy green scarf wrapped up past the figure’s neck, cast the rest of the face into shadow.
But Horatia did notice two gray, sharp-tipped ears poking out, and two blue glowing eyes. As the figure turned towards one of the workbenches, a long, whip-like tail with a bright orb on the tip swished here and there.
It was then that Horatia also noticed Petri.
Her small mechanical bird assistant rested on a small cushion, missing his talons and one of his wings. He looked completely helpless there and didn’t make a sound as the figure went on tiptoe, picked him up gently in one blue-gloved hand, and headed for the ajar door.
In desperation to protect Petri from whatever was happening now, in this strange place far from their clocktower, Horatia threw off the blanket. “Hey!” She shouted louder than intended, and her voice was quite raspy. The figure twisted about in alarm, making an odd gurgling sound while the light of the orb on the tail flickered.
“Where are you taking—” At this point, Horatia tipped over the side of the counter, tumbling off and having the brief and horrifying sensation of dropping to the ground again—albeit this time she landed on a soft mat upon a carpeted floor. Still, those images. The feeling of being unable to latch onto anything or save herself.
Why wouldn’t these scenes go away?
They were nothing like The Dream.
Horatia rubbed her head, moaning.
While she was still recovering from this shock, the gurgling sounds drew closer until they were inches away. From between her new fingers, Horatia glimpsed the figure bending down with Petri still clasped in one hand. With the other hand, the figure began to reach into one of the sleeves of her robe for something.
Still, it was a distraction. The figure was momentarily occupied by something else.
Horatia tensed her legs underneath her, surprised again at how easily they responded, and then sprang, grabbing Petri. The springing motion itself was also more powerful than expected, sending Horatia tumbling head over heels past the figure, who let out a series of astonished gurgles as Horatia struggled upright.
Wobbling on her new legs, Horatia shook her mechanical assistant. “Petri, can you hear me?”
The bird’s eyes opened groggily. He looked at her and cooed.
“Oh, thank goodness, you’re okay,” Horatia muttered. “Let’s get out of here.”
The figure, meanwhile, had pulled what looked like a clay tablet out of one sleeve and hurriedly wrote something on it with some sort of stylus, which was, “Wait. You can’t leave!”
“Watch me,” Horatia shot back, keeping a close eye on the figure as she backed out of the ajar door. At first, the only details she noticed in her disoriented and fearful state were two large windows on either side of a glass door leading outside to a cobblestone street, at some point in the late afternoon.
The figure wrote something else on the clay tablet, following her. “I’m not supposed to let you go anywhere.” The gray ears were drooping, as was the tail. “It will cause trouble.”
“Listen, I don’t know what’s going on,” Horatia said, “but Petri and I are going back to The Grand Clocktower right now.”
Unfortunately, that was when the room around them seem to explode into life. There had been objects on numerous shelves, on the windowsills, and even along a front counter nearby that Horatia had completely overlooked, but they brought themselves to her attention immediately when one of them, in some sort of small humanoid shape with a dress, shouted, “Oh, goodie, a new friend!” At which a variety of strange and peculiar creatures and objects launched into wild choruses, filling the air with cacophonous yells and whoops.
All those eyes staring at them.
All those shouts for them to stay awhile, to come closer, to tell them everything about themselves. Some of them hopped down in front of the door, a line of what looked like tiny, plush bears, and excitedly waved at her—effectively blocking their escape.
Horatia felt like she was spinning as she clutched Petri close, shuddering as the first figure kept approaching.
From a roped-off staircase near the front counter, which led up to another floor, a bright, reddish-light zoomed down, and a small but fiercely stern voice cried out, “All right, all right, what’s going on with all of you now? Be quiet, already! You’d better not be playing ‘Wake the dead’ again!”
Horatia did the only thing she could think of to do. She sprang past the throng, scrambled into the first room, and slammed the door hard behind her. Examining its mechanism in a frenzy, she managed to figure out how to twist a smaller latch on the door and lock it.
Then Horatia slipped down to the floor and hugged Petri close, trying to take some comfort in the ticking clocks. But she was still all too aware of the dissonances taking place on the other side of the door now, which included that stern little voice telling everyone to “shut their mouths” and “settle down already,” before she heard a quieter, calmer conversation take place.
“What were you thinking, Gargle?” the stern little voice admonished, “letting her just saunter out of the workroom like that?”
There came several faint, apologetic gurgles.
The stern little voice sighed. “Well, I keep telling you that you’ve got to be more assertive about these things, Gargle. Otherwise, people will walk all over you—or, in this case, right out the door.”
A hesitant gurgle.
Another sigh. “No, I don’t think people might physically try to ‘walk over you.’ It’s just an expression. Anyway, let me show you how to properly handle this tense type of situation.” And a moment later, Horatia heard someone knock on the door. It sounded a bit like a tiny hammer against wood. “Hello in there, Timekeeper, can you hear me?” the voice was gentler, almost melodic. “Hello?”
Horatia sat there in silence.
“I said, can you hear me, Timekeeper!” The voice was back to being stern.
“Yes!” Horatia found herself yelping back. She blinked in surprise, then glanced down at Petri, who had chirped at the same time as if in response to the same question. “But… my name is Horatia, not Timekeeper,” she murmured.
“Fair enough,” the voice replied. “My name is Wispy, and an assistant shop manager. You’ve met my fellow co-assistant shop manager, Gargle.”
There was another gurgle.
“Right,” Wispy went on, “and she didn’t mean to scare you or your clockwork bird and—”
“His name is Petri,” Horatia interjected.
“Fine, she didn’t mean to scare you or Petri,” Wispy corrected, seeming a bit irritated at having been interrupted. “Anyway, it seems like we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot, as it were, so if you would just open up the door, we’ll talk about this whole thing—like civilized individuals.”
Horatia thought about it. About opening the door to that chaotic room. About all those strange creatures flooding into this room and muffling the sounds of the soothing clocks. It was enough to make her shudder. “I… can’t we just talk like this?”
“Nope, I prefer talking to people face-to-face,” Wispy said. “Directly and honestly. So, unlock the door and let us in.”
“Well, Gargle and I, for a start.”
That “for a start” portion was a too bit ominous for her. “No,” Horatia answered. “I’m not letting you in.”
“Of all the—” Wispy huffed and puffed on the other side of the door, muttering such things as, “serves me right for trying to be reasonable,” and lamenting the fact that most people refused to be sensible.
Gargle gurgled something.
“No, Gargle, that is not how these types of situations should go,” Wispy muttered. “Give me a minute, I’ll think of something. Otherwise, you might have to pull off the door.”
Pull off the door? Horatia glanced at it. This specific door was oak-paneled and looked very sturdy, and yet this Wispy was casually talking about Gargle—who was probably an inch or two shorter than Horatia without that floppy hat—just pulling it off. And, somehow, Horatia didn’t doubt that Gargle could do it, because the way Wispy had said it didn’t sound like a hollow threat.
They had to get out of here, somehow.
Horatia clambered to her feet and gazed around the room, but there were no windows. Just the ticking clocks, the workbenches, and all the tools and other pieces scattered atop them.
They were trapped.
“I do not think that will be necessary, Wispy.” Another voice. This time it sounded like a deep male voice. An oddly familiar one that tickled at Horatia’s mind until, in a flicker of recognition, she remembered the plaza and the figure who had stood over her. “Remind me to give you an extra key to the workroom later, all right, Gargle?” the deep voice continued, and Gargle gurgled back in response.
Horatia backed away from the door as it opened, and there on the threshold indeed stood the same man who had scooped her up as she lay sprawled on the cobblestones, in the same button-down green vest. He adjusted the small, wire-rimmed spectacles, and his white beard shifted as he gave her a broad smile.
“Why, hello there. Sorry I wasn’t here when you woke up; it must have been rather confusing.” The man knelt on one knee, so they were closer in height, albeit he still loomed over her. “My name is Mr. Gimble, and let me be the first to welcome you to Unique Toys.”
4 thoughts on “Chapter Two: A Confused Awakening”
It really got scary there! Good job building suspense.
If you’re doing a part 2 after it’s been some time since part 1, I’d recommend adding a link to the previous part at the top of the post. I once did a ‘previously’ one paragraph summery on the previous chapter and it worked really well for those that might have forgotten what happened earlierl
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Ooh, thank you so much for that reminder! I’ll go and include a link in the description. ^_^ Glad you’re enjoying it!
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