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Friday Snippet: My Clockwork Heart

So far this month, I’ve written a whopping 3,700 new words (although I’ve been editing other completed manuscripts).  I’m pretty proud of those words, even though the count is so small.  What, you say?  How can less than 4K be an accomplishment when I’ve written that much in a single day?  

Because it’s a new short story and interesting, engrossing shorts can be so difficult to write.

I saw a horror anthology call a month or so ago and immediately got an idea for it.  However, as I worked through the storybuilding process, the idea fell apart on me, tattered beyond recognition.  The fire burned out.  As of two weeks ago, I wasn’t going to write anything for the antho after all. 

As soon as I said nevermind, my Muse snickered and hit me with the REAL idea, laughing with wicked glee that I only had 10-14 days to write a 2-6K story by the deadline (today).

I finished the story last night.  The first several sections have been polished several times, but I need to edit the last section today over lunch, and then I can fire it off to the editor.  If it’s not accepted for the antho, you’ll get it as a freebie next month, which has particular significance in the story.  *winks*

So here is the opening section of a horror (creepy not gory) story:  MY CLOCKWORK HEART.

A gentleman took note of Mary’s dishabille, peering down his long aristocratic nose with a cruel, sensual curl to his lip. Then he noticed the splatters on her nightgown: mud, no, surely not blood… and his top hat fell into the gutter.

Yet he did nothing to help her. No one did.

She ran through thick, suffocating fog from island to island of dirty gaslight, muttering out loud, “One more light. One more step.”

Even the street urchins who typically jostled for a passerby’s attention by waving the latest news could only stare at her with a knowing horror in their eyes. Too many women had ended this way, especially in this part of London. They would be shocked to know that she was Lady Aurum, wealthy enough to purchase each and every ragged shack on this crooked narrow lane. The only building that had managed to obtain her notice, however, had been the large abandoned factory in the deepest, darkest warren of streets just off the wharf. Her laboratory; her refuge.

Her heart gave a weak stutter. The knife had sliced deeply, surely more injury than a bloodletting doctor could ever hope to mend. She laughed, a wet cough of blood in her mouth. I have no more blood to let.

Her leaden arms were numb, but she kept her left fist buried hard in the gaping wound in her chest to staunch the flow. Perhaps she could use her fingers to manually pump the damaged organ if her heart ceased beating before she reached the laboratory.

Barefoot, she staggered onward. The loud clang of her left foot echoed eerily in the endless night. A particularly vicious case of gout had crippled her father, until she’d managed to construct a new golden foot for him. Then she’d contracted the same debilitating illness, giving her incentive to improve on the prototype.

Despite the failing weakness of her injured heart, the foot of delicate gears and gleaming metal still worked to balance her weight perfectly, arching and pushing against the treacherous cobblestones to propel her another pace closer to her sanctuary. If she died on this filthy street, she daren’t guess how long it might take for one of the poor to gain the courage to cut off that golden limb.

She shoved the door open so hard the wood rebounded on the wall. Her assistant, Mr. Moreland, whirled around with a copperwhirl in one hand and a magnifying glass in his other. “My lady! Anne, come quickly!”

With a swipe of his arm, he cleared the high table, heedless of his project. Mary glimpsed only bits of wire and cogs before the construct shattered on the floor. He scooped her into his arms and gently lay her on the table.

“Heart,” she gasped out through frozen lips.

With a comforting squeeze to her shoulder, he smiled. “Never fear, my lady; I know exactly what to do. How fortuitous that you were already experimenting on a replacement!”

The clockwork heart had been the natural progression of her work. After she’d accomplished foot replacements on her father and herself, she’d returned precious music to a violinist whose hand had been crushed in a carriage accident. His tearful gratitude and charm had been so considerable that she’d married that handsome young—but extremely poor—Italian. Not only had she returned his music, but she’d also gifted him with her heart.

She’d never intended to make the latter a physical exchange.

As calmly as though his mistress stumbled through the door every day requiring massive surgery to preserve her life, Mr. Moreland strode to the cabinets and began selecting the tools he would need. She heard the muted, frightened questions from Anne, the maid-of-all-works they were training to be an assistant, and his soothing response, although their words made little sense.

Fog still enfolded her, cold and heavy. Too heavy to breathe. Too cold to ever be warm again. Her heart beat out a ponderous dying waltz. She counted a slow twenty, chest aching with agony, until the next beat.

Tears trickled down her cheeks. Love had blinded her. Love had killed her.

Her heart gave one last desperate painful thump in her chest and she sank into the billowing fog.