The Natural End of a Clockwork Boy
by Kelly Stiles
Brett awakened from a short nap and promptly coughed up blood. More than normal, he thought as he wiped his mouth with a rust stained handkerchief. He lay back with a groan and watched a group of doctors weave their way through the patients. Someone must have died; they only came like this when they were taking a body away to autopsy.
They stopped at his bed and surrounded him, looking him up and down while taking notes.
"I'm not dead yet," he croaked.
"No, but you soon will be, from the looks of it," replied the doctor nearest his head.
"I'm going to get better," Brett said.
"How would you like never to be sick again?" asked the doctor by his right elbow.
"Or even live forever?" Suggested the doctor by his knee.
“Your insides are all rotted out. We need to change your parts,” said a man by his shoulder.
“If we don’t you’ll die, probably within a few days.” Brett couldn’t tell where this voice was coming from. “Then you’ll be just another body to autopsy.”
“Why me?” Brett asked. “Why not someone else?”
“You’re the right size,” said the doctor by his elbow.
“Your parts will come right out,” said the one by his knee.
“You’re too young to die,” said the one by his shoulder.
"Let us make you better than Mother Nature ever could."
He looked at the wise men gathered round his bed and nodded. "Okay."
When Brett woke again his innards were made of clockwork. As time passed, he noticed his brown hair never grew, and though he was tall for twelve, he never got taller. People called him the crowning achievement of humanity. Every few years, the doctors and scientists took him apart again, and replaced all his parts with new ones, always the most modern. As they rebuilt him, the scientists continually told and taught him things until he knew more than all of them combined. He put his knowledge to use and made many advancements for the world. Two hundred years later most people knew him as a hero, the Clockwork Boy.
For his part, Brett was fairly indifferent to the praise he received. It was nice to be lauded simply for walking into a room, but the whole thing was passé. He was humanity’s greatest achievement, but with everything he’d done, shouldn’t he be more? Why not the greatest thing to ever come into existence? He mentioned it to a few people, and they told others, and a hoard of scientists of petitioned the Council of Rome to declare Brett The Greatest Thing to Ever Be. The council agreed and Brett was happily crowned.
The Clockwork Boy lived and created things in a mansion in the city. He would have preferred to live by the sea, but the salt air wasn’t good for his parts. One day as he watched his servants eat lunch--he couldn’t eat himself, but he still liked to pretend--the doorman came to announce that an emissary had just arrived with a message.
“Show them in!” Brett exclaimed. He sat back in his chair and tried to imagine who would come to see The Greatest Thing to Ever Be. Maybe it was a king, or better yet, two kings who needed him negotiate the end of a war. Yes that had to be it.
As he decided multiple monarchs were vying for his assistance, the doorman brought a woman into the room. The afternoon sun shone from her hair and made her look almost made of ice. A briny smell preceded her.
“Who are you?” asked the boy who didn’t age.
“You may call me Water,” the woman replied. “Mother Nature sends her greetings.”
Mother Nature needed his help? This was far more serious than he anticipated, but all in all not surprising. “What is it that you need from me?”
“Need?” She fixed her frigid stare on him. “Mother Nature needs nothing you can provide.”
“Is that so?” he asked. “Everyone on earth agrees that I am The Greatest Thing to Ever Be, why couldn’t I help?”
“There have been Greatest Things before you and there will be Greatest Things after. You are but a tick in time,” she said.
“I’ve lived two hundred years already!” he exclaimed as he stood. “And I’ll live many more; there might not even be an after!”
“What have you done with those years? Nothing worth the wait.” Water said as she took a step towards him; he felt too sluggish to step back, like his gears were sticking. “You built yourself up to look like the greatest, but all you are is a great mechanical fool.”
“How dare you come here and say that?” he cried. “I’ve worked for the past two hundred years to make the world better! I’ve created new medicines, learned the secrets of men, machines and nature. How dare you suggest I’ve done nothing to gain my title?”
She advanced again. “You claim to work for the good, but is that the truth? Your medicines are noxious toxins to keep people happy. Your secrets kill entire nations. With each of your advancements your factories dump more sludge into rivers, and you poison me.” There was an edge to her voice, but she controlled herself. “I have been sent with a message: Mother Nature is ready to withdraw her blessings.”
“Is this a warning? Perhaps a challenge to change?” he smiled disarmingly as she drew nearer still. “I never meant to upset Mother Nature.”
She smiled her icy smile as she walked around him, running a finger over his skin; it was cold, very cold. “No, this isn’t a warning. This is an assassination.”
Her frozen hand sliced through his chest. Gears and a mixture of blood and oil spewed out onto the floor. Brett collapsed to his knees, gasping.
Water smiled, a frigid, satisfied smirk, and disappeared through the cracks in the floor.
Kelly recently graduated from The College of William and Mary with a bachelor's degree in English, and has been published in Fantasy Magazine, SNM Horror Magazine, and Night to Dawn. She talks to inanimate objects (like her computer) and enjoys long walks with good books.Enter Bio
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