Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Excerpt from: Clockwork Charlie
Prologue to Clockwork Charlie:
The smoke from her cigarette drifted lazily through the falling snow, toward the streetlamp. The windows of the buildings across the way were all dark, making their flat, gray stone facades shine out, ghost-like, in the orange fluorescent light. Somewhere in the distance the young woman heard a temple bell ringing out mournfully, trying to break through the silence of the winter's night.
It would come as no surprise to her mother if Charlene stayed another night at the shop. Bernice was sure that her daughter couldn't carry the workload her husband had left behind, and nights away from home convinced her that Charlene was struggling to keep up.
"We could ask one of the neighbor boys to give you a hand," she would say.
"I've got it under control, Mother."
"It's not safe for a young lady to be out that late... and it might give people the wrong idea."
"I'm not out. I'm at the shop, and it locks up a whole lot safer than this place."
It was the same conversation they'd had dozens of times, and it inevitably ended the same way. "Fine, Charlie," her mother would say in that special bitter tone she had cultivated, "I just hope I never get to say I told you so."
"Fine," and that would be the end of it, until the next time.
Truthfully, though, Charlene wasn't behind in her father's work. She finished on time, every day, and never had any iron come back for the same problem twice. It wasn't the cars or the customers that kept her away from home... it was her project.
The idea had come to her one night, after she'd finished fixing a Buick that had been built nearly a decade before, and rebuilt that day. It was a heap when it was came into the shop, but now it shone out all black and chrome, and purred like a kitten. As she stood there, admiring her handy work, it struck her how closely the round, aluminum headlamps resembled eyes. As a matter of fact, the polished, chrome grill looked like nothing more than a jagged set of teeth, and the lumpy wheels like ears that stuck out just a bit too far.
It was an odd and fleeting thought, easily brushed away with a laugh and hidden behind the hours of cleaning that followed. Charlene's subconcious mind, however, was not so quick to let it go. She tossed and turned, her dreams filled at first by the facial expressions of different autos, and then by a mechanical man from one of the stories her father had told to her when she was younger. She always loved the stories he would make up, and all of the characters young Charlie met in her adventures; but the loyal robot had been her favorite.
She awoke the next day with a picture in her head; a mechanical man to help her at the shop, and immediately she began to collect the things she would need. For weeks she gathered gears and sprockets, scrap metal, and copper wiring. It started as a personal joke, a lark that was not to be taken seriously, and she never wrote any plans or drew a single diagram.
It was three months since those first dreams and anticipation had her shaking so badly she could barely keep the cigarette between her fingers. This was the night that she would test her experiment, the night that she would try to start her first real adventure, but she was afraid.
Failure could mean a lot more than just wasted time. Though the robot from her father's stories had been powered like a harmless clock, wound tight and left to be, Charlene's creation was not so simple. It was a new age, and she believed she was living at the beginning of the future. Machines didn't run like clocks anymore, they ran on diesel fuel and heat, fire and electricity. One simple mistake, and Charlene's whimsical project could end catastrophically.
She turned away from the street and the ghostly buildings across the way and the falling snow, and let her gaze fall to the rigid form lying on her makeshift table. The pale, yellow light hanging over the table was unflattering and almost useless. The machine wasn't a pretty sight, with uncut rivets sticking out in every direction, and wires hanging loosely where there was no metal plating. It was in the shape of a human, but Charlene hadn't bothered to finish covering the body. She didn't figure there was any reason to make it look nice, until she knew whether or not it would even work.
She took one last drag, allowing the smoke to work its calming magic, before tossing the pill into the street. It was time to get to work, time to find out if Charlene's "magic" could stand next to the magic of the young, adventurous Charlie from her father's stories.
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buh bye then