The Clock Strikes Thirteen
The car was just a distant cloud of dust on the horizon, the late afternoon sun ablaze on the highlands. Darcy was alone now, just her and the house. Her Grandfather was nowhere to be seen. Dragging her suitcase up the rickety, mossy stairs she reached for the door handle. Before her hand could make contact, the door slowly swung back, its hinges complaining noisily, revealing a dark and dusty corridor. As the light from the open door crept down the ornately decorated carpet, spiders reared away from the unfamiliar warmth and into the shadows.
A hunched, wrinkly creature was getting closer and closer, squinting in the daylight… “Ehhhh! Darcy!” Rasped Grandad, showing a toothless grin. “Come in, come in.” He walked off, his green and red slippers scuffing the ground.
After listening to a few hours worth of moaning about arthritis and shingles, something he said about a clock caught Darcy’s attention. “You have a clock?”
“Ahh, yes. Found it a few days ago, in the attic. Big, old, Grandfather clock with too many numbers. No idea it existed. Best to stay away, Dear. Ooh, it’s getting late, goodnight.”
Puzzled, Darcy wandered up the twisting staircase, heaving her suitcase behind her. It wasn't like Grandad to be so abrupt. A few minutes later, she stood in the yellowing bathroom, brushing her long black hair, staring into her own dark eyes in the mirror. Something in the background caught her eye. “Huh, a calendar.” She flipped the pages to the correct date. Friday the thirteenth. October. 1914. She felt sick to her stomach. She wanted her parents, but they were away, fighting in a war. Shivering, she climbed into bed.
Darcy woke thirsty. Creeping silently down the corridor, she searched for the kitchen. A loud BONG froze her to the spot. It came from the attic. All thoughts of a drink far behind her, Darcy pursued the noise, unaware of her doom.
Pushing up the trapdoor, Darcy pulled her thin body through the gaping hole. The scent of dusty artifacts and musty, stale air clogged up her lungs. A lone shaft of moonlight lit her path, spotlighting a rather large grandfather clock. It looked as though it had been carved from an entire oak log, inset with gold and porcelain. A magical sensation spread through her body, making her twitch and shiver with awe and excitement. Stepping forward to take a closer look, hypnotized by its beauty, something cold brushed against her leg.
“AHHHH!” screamed Darcy. An angry, furry, pointed face scowled up at her. “Shut up, humans,” sneered the Cat in a clipped English accent, whiskers twitching in annoyance. “Who...what are you?” gasped Darcy in disbelief. The Cat sashayed into the shaft of moonlight, revealing cogs for eyes and copper wire for whiskers.“I am Orion. Now follow me, unless that’s too hard for a dumb human like you.” In one lithe jump, he disappeared through the clock face, spinning the hands until they came to rest on thirteen. Darcy groaned and followed the clockwork cat.
Whirpooling in a world of steampunkery and colour, Darcy’s feet slammed into hard ground and she crumpled into a heap. Darcy's eyes blearily took in her surroundings. Cogs chugged and pistons pumped, steam hissed and machinery clinked, all polished to a bronze sparkle. Clouds filled the sky, giving everything an industrious, monotonous, dull look. The air smelled of petroleum and pollution, streetlights replaced the sun and the very clouds themselves seemed depressed. It was a miserable place. “Orion?” A stabbing pain knocked her over. “Come with me. You're going to see the Puppeteer,” snarled the Guard, gesturing wildly with his spear. “He does not take kindly to visitors.”
The throne room was the most golden room Darcy had ever seen in her life. Its walls were encrusted with gold and gems, with the royal insignia of interlinked cogs everywhere the eye could see. And in the middle of it all, hung a tall, wiry figure with a long black cloak and a red velvet top hat, suspended from the roof. The cogs in his eyes spun wildly and the grin on his lips seemed infinite. “Ooh, a fleshy”, giggled the Puppeteer. “Well, we’ll soon change that!”
Darcy’s arms ached. She had hung there for hours, no food, no water, no bathroom breaks. “Can I come down now?” She yelled at the Puppeteer. No answer. She had to do it herself. Darcy wriggled from side to side, building up momentum, swinging and swinging until...CRASH! She smashed the sleeping Puppet against the wall. Cogs and springs and twisted metal hit the ground slicing her suspension ropes. For the second time that day, she hit the ground painfully. Troubled meows reached her ears. “Orion! I’m coming!”
Orion hissed at this unfamiliar sensation. “You’ll get used to it,” laughed Darcy, her dark eyes glittering. The clouds had parted, the sun shone.