David C. Hughes, Writer

“For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your JOY will be complete." –Deuteronomy 16:15

Archive for the tag “The Other Side of the Covers”

The Clockmaker (Part 1 of 3)

NOTE: The following short story took 1st place in the 2015 Oklahoma Writers Federation Incorporated (OWFI) “Short Story–Adult” category. Thank you all for your continued support–you are all a blessing, an inspiration and the reason I keep relentlessly pursuing this crazy vocation. Happy reading!

 

THE CLOCKMAKER

A long time ago in a faraway kingdom there lived a clockmaker named Horace. Horace, the last of a long line of clockmakers, spent most of his days and much of his nights alone, bent over his worn table crafting exquisite timepieces. With skill and patience he constructed gears and springs, cases and weights, pendulums and faces, for that was his lot in life and he had long ago accepted his fate. True happiness eluded him, but he found a sort of restless contentment transforming bits of metal, strips of wood and touches of longing—the rubbish of mankind plucked from heaps piled along the cobblestone roads—into art that guarded mankind’s most desired possession. Time.

Customers came and customers went, never looking twice at his melancholy form but always gasping with delight when he brought out from behind the counter a pocket watch or pendulum clock, an hourglass or a candle clock fitting their exact needs, wishes and means. The patrons left without uttering a word, their timepieces secure in their purses or packed neatly into sturdy crates nestled in their carts. In this manner, Horace lived day-by-day, catering to man’s need to know precisely where he stood in relation to time’s unstoppable advance. Obsession created time, time the necessity and necessity the provision, a belief Horace could never argue against and was content to uphold.

As days ushered in the nights and nights swept in the days, Horace forged these gatekeepers of time. His foot tapped a steady beat and all of his creations ticked, chimed and rang to the pace of that accurate foot. But his toe tapped most enthusiastically while his fingers were engaged in building a cuckoo clock. Time, it seemed to Horace, danced most gaily while employed in the art of crafting this invention originating from the dark forests to the east. His hands, misshapen since he was a young child from some disease of the knuckles and joints, worked less painfully as he constructed the pipes and bellows to give the bird its voice, a voice he remembered well and with tenderness.

Time swirled around him, elevating him as he whittled the casing, cast the iron weights and carved the cuckoo itself, its head turned without exception to the right. And time held its breath as the minute hand swung toward the twelve for the very first time and released the bird from behind its hatch. Horace allowed for a moment a tiny smile to ply across his lips each time the sorrowful notes filled the shop upon the newest cuckoo’s hatching. Once satisfied, he froze the works, set the weights and hid the clock away in a vault hidden behind the walls of his bed chamber.

Thus Horace had labored for more than twenty-two years, since he was a wee lad of ten, time showing no mercy, it seemed, despite his dedication to its worship. It began to sprinkle silver into his hair whilst keeping silver from his pockets. It lengthened his beard and forced him to wear spectacles at a very young age. It etched lines upon his face and painted dark circles under his eyes. His smiles came less frequently while his pain, especially in his fingers, took more and more pleasure in his company, extending its stay like a tiresome guest in the boarding house of his flesh. And as time took its toll, glances his way—rare to begin with—became even less frequent.

Patrons continued to bring business, but as he grew toward middle age he could not help but peek longingly at the handsome young ladies hanging onto the arms of their dashing young men as they entered and perused the shop. His mother had passed away young, bearing his father only himself, and in his angst his father had spent his remaining years and energy training his son in the art of clock making.

He did not remember much about his mother, but one memory in particular stood out: the look on her face when his father presented her with a cuckoo clock built by the hands of an old Black Forest clockmaker passing through the kingdom. He never saw the clockmaker again. Horace’s mother delighted in imitating the plaintive sound of the bird even as her illness stole away everything but the memory of her voice, which still called out to him when he was most tired. Despite a sudden and mysterious increase in means, his father died a short time later of a broken heart, but not before successfully marrying Horace off at the age of eighteen to the same fickle bride that he and his forefathers had embraced. That is why he at first did not realize what overcame him when the princess walked through his shop door one evening.

That night began as any other. The day had turned into dusk, the dusk flowed into twilight and twilight fell into evening. Not a single customer had entered the shop that day despite the pleasantness of the weather. As he laid in place the last gear of a large clockwork for an equally magnificent clock tower, the door flew open. Startled, he dropped the gear and allowed a curse to escape his lips, one he regretted the moment he lifted his eyes and gazed upon the woman standing in the doorway. Time froze. His heart did likewise. She was radiant, like no other he had seen before.

The woman, wearing a maroon dress trimmed in white lace, began to move through Horace’s shop like mist rolling across a still pond, sure and mysterious. As she drifted from clock to clock, she gave him a quick glance, highlighted with a slight smile which burned into his memory. Around her neck she wore an elaborate necklace decorated with the most brilliant stones. Her raven hair rose above her perfect white face into a mound pulled together at the crest and decorated with a spray of blood red primroses. A bird, possibly carved from wood and roughly the size of his thumb, rested in the nest of her abundant hair. She spoke not a word while admiring the clocks, caressing their faces with gloved fingers, opening doors and peering into their workings.

When she approached the case containing the watches, the woman looked up at Horace. For the first time in years he was given the opportunity to gaze into the soul of another, and what he found there turned the hands of the clock backwards. He stood a little taller and shifted his feet.

“Kind sir,” she said, her voice resonating with the joyfulness of a woodlark. “I am looking for something special.”

“Aye, madam.” Horace stroked his beard. “How may I be of service?” His heart thudded as the woman’s blue eyes pierced him.

“I desire something … unique.”

(continued)

 

Copyright 2015 David C. Hughes

Princess Hannah and the Pink Frog (Part 2 of 2)

“She played the game well,” called a familiar voice.

Princess Hannah opened her eyes a crack and the pink glow of the frog illuminated a monstrous ogre as tall as a grizzly bear and just as thick, dressed in tattered rags. The hideous creature towered over the cage, appraising her with one large, filmy eye. Drool overflowed his cracked lips and slopped onto the front of his torn shirt.

The frog hopped to the cage door, and this time there was no mistaking it—he did, indeed, smile. “Yes, she played the game quite well,” the amphibian repeated, staring at her with unblinking amber eyes. “And now she gets to be ‘it’ again.”

Another guttural laugh emanated from the hideous ogre, who reached into the pocket of his ragged trousers and pulled out a long, rusty key. “Come with me, my princess,” growled the ogre. “The frog says you played the game well, so now I have a special place for you. My pretty little decoration. My pretty little bird. My helpless little bird. No longer free. No longer free at all.” The ugly beast swung open the door, reached into the cage and grabbed her arms with rough fingers. “Yes, a very special place for you. Yes, indeed. Indeed.”

Princess Hannah swooned, and the ogre jerked her out of the cage as easily as if she was a ragdoll. He carried her through a door toward a massive fireplace on the far side of the adjoining room. Flames roared in the firebox and cast undulating shadows on the walls. The beast lifted Princess Hannah over his head and shoved her into a cramped cage hanging to the right side of the fireplace. He snapped the door shut. The tight enclosure reminded her of a birdcage her oldest brother had built to keep a mangy raven he had captured. The raven had died of starvation, to the delight of her brother. Princess Hannah turned round and round, searching for a way out of the cage. She found none.

“There, my dear,” the ogre gurgled. “From now on you will be my bird. My bird in a cage.” He turned his attention to the fire, stoking it with a long, rusted poker and drafting it with his leather bellow. The room glowed brighter. After a short time, he dragged a stewpot the size of the castle’s bathtub to the hearth and mounted it on a hook. He filled it with water poured from jugs so large Hannah could hide in one. After he swung the pot over the flames, the ogre turned and thundered out of the room. “Must go hunting, now,” the ogre growled. “Fresh meat for a fresh bird. Hmm.” As he left, Princess Hannah heard the monster laugh again. She curled into a tight ball on the cage floor, sobbing.

***

She awoke to the sound of the birdcage’s latch unlocking, and when she opened her eyes the room glowed pink as well as orange. Thick smoke filled the chamber, and the sound of boiling water bubbled from the colossal, black cauldron. Princess Hannah coughed. Her throat burned. The pink frog clung to the front of the cage near the lock, the ogre’s rusty key firmly clamped in its mouth. The princess grabbed the key and slipped it into a pouch tied around her waist.

“Come along,” the frog said, hopping out of the cage, “and keep quiet. He’s fallen into a stupor from his ale, but we mustn’t take any chances and rouse him.” The frog nodded toward the far end of the room where the hideous beast slumped in a chair, head lolled to one side. A deer carcass lay sprawled at his feet. A stein the size of a chamber pot lay in a puddle on the floor beside him. “We must leave the house quickly,” urged the frog. The amphibian vaulted off the cage and plopped onto the hearth. “I’ll stay here and distract him should he awaken while you make haste into the woods.”

Princess Hannah didn’t question the frog. She quietly slid out of the cage, lowering herself as far as she could, until she was hanging by her fingertips.

“Let go!” the frog commanded. “And run!” She did as the frog said. As she hit the floor she rolled, stood and bolted for the front door. She ran as fast as her legs could carry her, and, with all her might, she thrust open the door and tumbled into a patch of soft grass glowing silver in the brilliant light of a full moon. As Princess Hannah scrambled up, she heard the ogre roar from inside the house. She froze.

“What happened to my little bird?!” he thundered. “Where has she gone?”

“Sir,” she heard the frog yell. “She managed to free the cage door. I tried to stop her, but she fell into the cook pot and I fear she is now dead. Come quickly and see for yourself.”

The ogre grunted.

Princess Hannah heard him trudge across the floor. Moments later, a loud splash erupted from the house, followed by a dreadful shriek.

Her trance broken, she darted into the woods. She didn’t look back until she knew she was safely away.

She hid in a thicket, trembling, until daylight filtered through the trees. Princess Hannah crawled out from the cover of the bushes, brushed herself off and listened closely to the sound of the forest. Hearing nothing threatening, she made her way east toward the rising sun and, she hoped, home. By and by she stepped onto a familiar path winding through the trees, and she knew then that she was safe at last.

“Hello again,” called a familiar voice. Princess Hannah spun around and spied the pink frog hopping up the trail behind her. “May I come along?”

The princess dropped her hands onto her hips, cocked her head and glared at the frog. “After what you did to me?” she hissed. “Of course not! Run along now before I snatch you up and hand you over to my brothers. You wouldn’t like that. Not one bit.”

The frog looked at her, his amber eyes flecked with gold, imploring forgiveness.

“But, Your Majesty,” begged the frog. “I rescued you.”

Princess Hannah’s scowl deepened. “You rescued me after luring me into the ogre’s house, knowing he would enslave me, possibly even eat me! Why should I listen to you, you fat blob of amphibious jelly?” She crossed her arms tightly. “Explain yourself, else I’ll catch you and serve you in a nice barley soup.”

“I freed you,” said the frog, his rosy glow softening, “because I found myself enjoying your company immensely.” He lowered his head. “By the time I realized how much fun we were having, the cage door had already closed. Knowing I could help you escape when the ogre fell asleep, I bided my time, playing his game until then. Will you ever forgive me?”

“Hmm,” Princess Hannah snarled, a sound unbefitting of a princess. “On one condition.”

“Anything, Your Majesty the Princess,” the frog said, bowing deeply.

“That you come home with me and become my pet.”

“Why, I would be delighted!” The frog hopped up and down, dancing a little jig.

“So what happened to the ogre?” Hannah asked.

“Oh, him?” said the frog, grinning. “He took a bath. A hot one.”

Princess Hannah snickered, then giggled, then laughed, and soon the frog laughed along with her. The beautiful princess and the uncommon frog made their way to the castle, where they found dinner, warmth and hours and hours of Hide and Seek and other imaginative games whilst evading five bratty brothers who stunk like a heap of rotting socks.

 

—THE END—

 

Copyright © 2015 David C. Hughes

 

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