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.


Yvonne Blake said...


Sarah Elisabeth said...

Aw, I kinda started liking Deacon there at the end :-)

Scott M said...

Indeed, quite intriguing! Just came here from Life's a Witch, and I'd be interested to see more of this story sometime.

Sara Harricharan said...

Very fun! I like how this is turning out--you've already got my attention and I can't wait to see what's going to happen next. Congrats on week 2 of Nano (and thanks for hosting Friday Fiction this week!) Happy writing!