Saturday, November 26, 2011

Friday Fiction for November 25, 2011

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Karlene, over at Dancin’ In the Rain. Take a break from all the busy-ness of this Holiday Weekend, and enjoy some great fiction reading from the wonderful folks participating this week!

Clockwork Deacon is finished for the first draft. It’s a bit shorter than I normally like for a novel-length project, tallying in about 50,400 words (NaNoWriMo Official Tally amount, which differed slightly from MS Word’s count), but I suspect the length will change when I go back and begin the revision process in the near future. Still, it takes its place as my sixth straight NaNoWriMo win, and my twelfth novel finished. Now, I can get back to work and FINALLY finish “Precocious by Consent.” For this week, though, please enjoy the next portion of Chapter 6.

Clockwork Deacon
Chapter 6 – A Clockwork Christmas, part 2

The service opened with a joyful carol, followed by the more pensive God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. Their father welcomed everyone, and extended holiday wishes, before declaring the good news that Christ was born. He gestured towards the back of the sanctuary, and added, “Even Deacon is filled with the spirit of the season! Good tidings of great joy, indeed, which shall be to all people, and – apparently – to machines like Deacon as well.”

If Deacon had any reaction to the statements, he did not show it. He simply stood quietly at the back, as he always did for services. With no voice, he could not sing the hymns along with the congregation, but he also never showed any outward signs of participation in the worship in other ways. He was no more animated than the podium itself during the service, and for Christmas Eve, he was no different beyond the costuming the boys had attached to him. His face stared straight forward, and his arms remain folded at his side.

The congregation sang a few more Christmas carols, and then came the Christmas message. Isaac and Jacob had heard such messages every Christmas of their young lives, and their attention drifted elsewhere as their father preached.

The two boys would rather have been at the back of the church, next to Deacon. It would have been a challenge to see what else they could do in decorating the Automaton, without anyone in the church noticing that they were doing it. Holiday service, or just the regular service, though, their mother had a firm rule that they were to sit up front as a family. It was important, she often told them, for them to set an example for the other children in the church. They had to remember, she always added, that their behavior reflected on their father, and if they did not respect his authority, how would anyone else in the congregation respect him?

Unfortunately, such logic failed to make the sermons interesting to the boys. By the time their father concluded the message, and the final song was sung, they were practically ready to explode from the pew. The church members came forward to decorate the tree after the service, but Isaac and Jacob ran to the back to find Deacon.

Except Deacon wasn’t there. “Where’d he go?” Jacob asked.

“I dunno,” Isaac answered. “Maybe the tool shed? Seems he’s been out there a lot lately.”

“Let’s go see.” Jacob ran for the door, and Isaac followed after him. They hurried through the darkness, around to the back of the church, and the fairly new tool shed that Deacon had built a couple of months before. Isaac, being the older and larger boy, had reached the shed first, and slowly pulled the door open.

Deacon stood inside at a bench, and gave no attention to the arrival of an audience. His gaze, and his hands, were turned towards something unseen in front of him.

“What’s he doin?” Jacob asked. “I can’t see.”

“I don’t know. Why’n’t you go ask him?”

“I ain’t gonna ask him. You ask him.”

“All right, I will. I ain’t chicken.” Isaac entered the shed, boldly at first, but the closer he got to Deacon, the more timid he acted. “Um, Deacon? What’cha doin?”

Deacon turned to look at him. The Santa hat and beard were still on his head, but the bag was now resting on the floor beside him. He rolled backwards just a bit, and gestured with his right hand towards the bench.

Several rows of little copper automatons stood on the bench, of various different configurations. A few were similar to Deacon’s design, while others were more similar to other designs the boys remembered from Schenectady.

“Where’d you get these?” Isaac asked.

“We made ‘em,” a voice answered from the door.

Isaac spun around, and Jacob ran across the floor to hide behind his brother. Standing in the door, leaning on a cane, was the miner that Deacon had rescued. He walked towards them, an obvious limp with each step of the wooden leg.

“Well, let me correct that,” the man said. “Deacon built ‘em, and I collected the metal he used.” He placed the cane atop the bench, and picked up one. There was a key on the back, and he turned it a few times. When he set it back on the bench, the miniature Deacon rolled across the bench, with his arms going back and forth. “No one was s’posed to know about ‘em yet, though.”

“Why?” Jacob asked, peeking out from behind Isaac.

“I ain’t got much, but I wanted to make sure every kid in Loma Roja got a toy for Christmas. Deacon was helpin’ me to learn to walk again, an’ I joked that every kid learnin’ to walk needed a Deacon to help ‘em, and then I started thinkin’, mebbe there was a way that every kid could have somethin’ like Deacon.” He picked up one of the other toys, and held it out to Jacob. “Since I can’t surprise you with ‘im now, here’s one for you. Just got to promise to not show him to any other kids until tomorrow, when all the kids find theirs.”

Jacob took the toy, still a bit cautious, but unable to resist the shiny metal miniature.

“I don’t know what kind that one is. Deacon jus’ made them all, and the only kind I recognize are the ones like him,” the man said.

Isaac looked at it. “That looks like one of the Automaton Porters that works at the big train station in New York.”

“Kinda thought it might be somethin’ like that, with the way it looks like it was made to carry lots of stuff.” He handed a different one to Isaac. “How ‘bout this one?”

Isaac took it, and turned it over and over in his hands. “This is the kind that works on the big engines that make the airships go.”

“You’ve seen the airships?”

“Yeah. They fly all over New York.”

“Are they as big as folks say?”

“Huge,” Jacob said.

“Bigger’n a house,” Isaac added. “They’re like big silver clouds, flyin’ along, with hotels stuck beneath ‘em.”

“An airship,” the man laughed. “Now, that’d be the way to deliver toys to kids on Christmas, huh?”

“So, how’re you gonna deliver ‘em?” Isaac asked.

“Deacon’s gonna deliver ‘em, late tonight. I’m gonna wrap ‘em up, and put each kid’s name on ‘em. I got this map that shows where each kid lives, and Deacon’ll leave the presents on the door of each house.”

Jacob’s eyes lit up. “Deacon is gonna really play Santa Claus?”


“Can we help? Please? We been makin’ Deacon up to be Santa all day, and this would be the best Christmas ever, if we could help really make him like Santa.”

“Well,” the man said. “I got all these little boxes here, that I need to put together so’s I can put the toys in ‘em. If you boys wanna help put the boxes together, that’ll make my job go a lot faster.” He held out his hand. “Name’s Syl, by the way.”

“This here’s Jacob,” Isaac said, shaking the hand. “An’ I’m Isaac.”

“You’re the Rev’rend’s boys, ain’t’cha?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I thought I’d seen ya before. Your folks ain’t gonna get worried ‘bout you?”

“Naw,” Isaac said. “It’ll be a while yet, before they’re done with the Christmas tree in the church, and then with the socializin’ that always goes on after, we got a while before they’ll come lookin’ for us.”

“Well, then,” Syl said. “We best get to work, before they do.”

To be continued…

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Friday Fiction for November 18, 2011

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Joanne, over at An Open Book. More NaNoWriMo excerpts to enjoy! Huzzah!

Speaking of which, with the Holiday season rushing towards us, I thought this excerpt from my NaNoWriMo project, Clockwork Deacon, would be fun. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have been!

Chapter 6
A Clockwork Christmas

Loma Roja grew cold in the winter, but snow was just an occasional occurrence, and when it did fall, it rarely stayed on the ground for more than a day or so. A day or so before Christmas, a few of the men of the town would take a couple of wagons to the higher elevations of the Chiracahua mountains, and bring back enough trees for each family that wanted one, to have a Christmas tree.

A particularly tall tree stood at the front of the church sanctuary, ready to be decorated by the congregation on Christmas Eve. As was the custom in the town, the church would be open on Christmas Day, and dinner would be served to anyone who wished to come by for the Holiday.

Deacon went about his normal chores around the church, looking a bit silly with the red and white Santa Claus hat that someone had slipped atop his smooth metal head. An hour later, and someone else had tied a fake white beard around the bottom of his face, keeping it from slipping with some sticky wax.

Isaac nudged his brother, and tried to cover his laughter as he watched the reactions of the various folks that came by the church, bringing preparations for the Christmas Eve service, and food for the cooking of Christmas Dinner.

“The coat,” Jacob said. “We gotta get the coat on him.”

“I don’t think it’ll go over his boiler,” Isaac said.

“I bet we could tie the bag over his shoulder, though.”

They’d found the old Santa suit in one of the storage closets of the church, and Abe Kelly had said that the old pastor used to dress as Santa and give presents to the poor children in town every Christmas.

When the boys had broached the idea with their father, the Reverend had smiled at the suggestion, but said he didn’t look like Santa any more than Deacon did. That was all it had taken to plant the thought in their heads, and it became their mission to covertly transform the Automaton into Father Christmas himself.

The next time Deacon came into the anteroom, the boys finagled a way to tie the gift sack over Deacon’s shoulder, having first dropped just enough empty boxes into it to give it the appearance of substance.

As he went about sweeping the church floor, hat and beard on his head, and sack over his back, the boys went through fits of laughter.

Their mother entered the sanctuary. She took one look at Deacon, and also laughed. “I declare, Deacon,” she said. “If you don’t look more festive than I’ve ever seen you look.” She hung a freshly woven wreath on the front of the podium, and went back to the house.

“Too bad he can’t wear the boots,” Isaac said.

Jacob lifted a wide-buckled, black leather belt. “I’ll bet he can wear the belt, though. Hey, Deacon!”

He stopped sweeping, and turned to face them.

They ran out while the sanctuary was deserted, and quickly fastened the belt around the metal torso. It took a little work to feed it under the lower part of the boiler on his back, but in the end, that worked out for the best, anyway. There were a pair of bolts fastening the boiler to the back at the bottom of the gap, and these served well to keep the belt from slipping down the smooth metal to the legs.

There was little more of the suit that they could fit onto Deacon, but through the rest of the day, they tried different things to further the festive appearance of the Automaton.

They were certain that either their father or mother would insist on all of it being removed before the Christmas Eve service, but when the boys returned to the sanctuary that evening, wearing their Sunday Best clothes, Deacon stood in his customary place at the back of the church, looking like a mechanical Santa.

Folks showed up for the service, and without fail, the costumed appearance of the copper man made them smile. More than a few actually wished Deacon a merry Christmas.

To be continued...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Friday Fiction for November 11, 2011

Happy Friday! Friday Fiction is hosted right here this week, so please add your link to the Linky Tool at the bottom of this post. It just so happens to also be the second week of NaNoWriMo. My project this year is a Steampunk story titled, “Clockwork Deacon.” In this story, the new pastor arrives in the small town of Loma Roja, Arizona Territory, in 1902. With him and his family, he brings Deacon, a Clockwork Automaton domestic servant. The townsfolk are all hesitant of accepting Deacon, and the book recounts different stories of his interactions with different folks. In this chapter, Sam Taylor is rebuilding a home that has burned down, and is encouraged to recruit Deacon to help with the construction.

Clockwork Deacon

Chapter 4 – Deacon the Builder

Sam stood there, awestruck, watching the Automaton selecting and cutting the wood. The clockwork arm drew the saw back and forth in a rapid rhythm that would have worn out most men, while the other arm clamped the wood in a grip that allowed no slippage.

“So, how’s he workin’ out?” Ulysses Kelly asked, walking up the street.

“He makes me feel like a kid what don’t know what I’m doin’,” Sam replied. “He made the cabinet frame as clean an’ square as any I’ve ever seen, and he got the wood for this wall cut and nailed so fast, we got a good chance of getting’ the other wall done today.”

Ulysses laughed. “Tol’ja he’d surprise you.”

“He kinda scares me, though.”

“How so?”

“I look at how he works, an’ all I can think is, what’s a man got to offer to a boss? They keep makin’ those things better ‘n’ better, an’ it won’t be long before folks won’t be needed at all.”

“You might have a point, but I don’t think they’ll listen to the likes of us ‘bout that.”

“A man’s got to have a job an’ a purpose, or he ain’t really a man at all.”

Deacon brought the first armload of wood, and configured the pieces on the ground. Without giving any attention to either of the two men talking, he spun around, and returned to cutting more wood.

Ulysses rubbed his chin. “Makes you wonder if the day’s gonna come, when folks from the big cities will be comin’ to places like this, just to find someplace where a man can find an honest day’s work to do.”

“You know that it’ll be like when the Rev’rend came here, though. When the folks come, they’ll bring their own Deacons with ‘em, and before long, Loma Roja is gonna be just like them cities back east. Most likely, by the time you got a grandson as old as Abe is now, folks’ll wonder what we ever did without things like Deacon to do our work for us.”

“We took longer to build a house, that’s for sure.”

Between the two men and Deacon, the left side wall went together even faster than the right, and they called it a night well before the sun started dipping below the hill.

Deacon parked by the lumber, and soon a column of smoke rose from his back, as puffs of steam blew out to either side in time to the sound of the engine on his back. His head angled forward in an approximation of sleep, and his arms folded motionless against his sides. The elbows were straight below the shoulders, down by the waist, and the hands were turned to curve over the shoulders. He did not react to the departure of the two men, and they expected to find him in that same position in the morning.

Instead, when Sam arrived at the Woodson House the next day, he found Deacon already moving about with loads of wood in his arms. At the back, the framework for the rear wall was mostly finished, and Sam just stared with jaw agape.

The wall, as near as he could tell without measuring, was an exact duplicate of the wall that had stood at the back of the house before the fire. If he had shown Deacon some plans, or given him some instructions the night before, he could have understood it.

The rear door frame looked to align perfectly with the path to the outhouse, and the window for Miss Woodson’s bedroom was the right size and location to match the old one.

The window that Deacon had opened, and lifted Miss Woodson through on the night of the fire.

When Deacon carried a load of wood over, Sam stopped him.

“Deacon, did you ever see this wall before the night the house burned down?”

The head pivoted side to side.

“You remember this wall from seein’ it just that one night?”

Deacon nodded.

“How? I’ve lived here for years, an’ seen this wall every day of that time. I’ve done work on this wall myself, and I couldn’t have made it this exact. How do you do it?”

Deacon held his inscrutable gaze on Sam for a few moments, and then, as if in answer, just went back to work.

Sam, you fool, what did you expect? He can’t talk, so why did you ask him a question that needed more’n a nod or shake of the head to answer?

He followed Deacon over to the lumber pile. “You’re gonna have the last wall done here shortly, so I need to go round up some men to help lift the walls into place, so’s I can nail ‘em to the foundation and to each other.”

Deacon paused, and then put the piece of wood he was holding down onto a pair of saw horses. He spun around, and went to the front wall. Spreading the ‘V’ legs on each side, he brought his torso low to the ground, and grasped the top of the wall. He tilted the wall up, and moved forward until the wall stood straight. He then picked the entire wall up, and aligned it on the foundation frame. He turned his head to look at Sam, and just waited.

Sam rushed to grab the hammer and nails, along with a couple of pieces of long boards. He first drove a single nail into the near corner, and then followed suit on the far corner, making sure the wall was straight and square on the foundation. He added two more nails at each corner, and then nailed the two long boards to one of the middle studs, angled down to brace the wall against the ground and keep it upright.

Once it was secure, Deacon went and repeated the lift on the right side wall. Before long, the three finished walls were up and secured on the foundation, and to each other.

Sam looked at him, and shook his head. “Every time I think I got you figured out, you go and do somethin’ beyond what I expect. It’s like I ain’t even really needed any more to finish this house, am I?”

Deacon had been rolling back towards the lumber pile, but stopped. He spun around, and rolled up to Sam. With a gentle grip, he lifted the man’s hands and turned them over for a moment, palms up. Then, he placed them folded over Sam’s heart. With his left hand holding Sam’s in place, he brought his right hand back, and tapped his own chest. The metal gave a solid thump; hard, and with no ability to even ring like a bell.

Sam felt his heart beating beneath his hands, and then Deacon brought one of them to his chest, placing it flat where a heart would have been, if he’d been human. The metal was cold and unyielding, and instead of the beating of a heart, there was the vibration of countless clockwork parts ratcheting and turning inside of him.

The man swallowed, and felt his eyes growing damp. “I wish you could talk, Deacon. I’d sure like to know how something with no heart, could know what it means to have one.”

The Automaton released his hands, and then turned back towards the lumber pile.

We got us a deal, then, Deacon. You give this house strength, and I’ll give it heart.