Monday, August 25, 2014


Apothecary of Forbidden Clocks
96,084 words
YA Dystopian Steampunk

The day of her mother’s murder was the last day Arianna could remember her father smiling.

Like every day, they kissed too long for an appropriate goodbye. Her father whispered something that made her mother blush prettily. Jace giggled and covered his eyes. Arianna was a curious spectator to their openly displayed affection, her memories of that moment still illuminated by the bright golden naiveté of childhood.

She remembered sitting on the floor that day, carefully winding a broken pocketwatch her father had given her as a toy. She remembered the feel of the miniature brass gears in her hands, as well as the tiny indentations for missing release pins. The device felt magical under fingers, the metal seeming to ebb and thrum in response to her touch. She ran her fingers over the contraption, flicking the tiny gears, watching them spin and stop together.

With a startling crash, her mother burst through the door, four hours too early. Her eyes darted wildly around the room, as if seeking out a hidden threat. She clutched a twisted menagerie of metal wiring to her chest.

Jace, oblivious, toddled towards her. A shock of blonde hair had fallen across his face, which was illuminated with the joy of welcoming her home.

“Ma-ma, up!”

After a moment, her mother’s panic melted away, and she carefully set down the contraption she carried. She picked up Jace, holding him close and burying her face in his baby-soft curls. Unshed tears appeared, sparkling in her deep blue eyes.

“Arianna.” At her mother’s voice, Anna came forward obediently, sliding her arms around her mother’s slender form. She burrowed her face in the practical muslin skirts of the laboratory uniform, her cheek grazing the protective leather overlay. The uniform was oddly streaked with dark stains, and the faint scent of something unfamiliar clung to the fabric.

When she felt a cool wetness fall against her cheek, Anna looked up and realized her mother was crying. She suddenly felt uncomfortable and confused.

“Mama, what’s the matter?”

Everything seemed wrong, and her five-year-old mind didn’t know how to process it. She clutched the broken watch in her hand, the exposed gears digging painfully into the flesh of her palm.

“It’s nothing, sweetling.” Her mother reached up with her free hand and wiped the tears from her cheeks. Her cheeks were too pink. She crouched down and put Jace back on his feet, but kept one arm around him. Her other arm pulled Arianna close.

“You know I love you both very, very much.” Her mother’s voice had broken slightly, and she took a long, steadying breath. “More than anything else in the world.”

“I love you too, Mama.” Arianna cuddled closer in her mother’s arms, comforted by the familiar warmth of her embrace. Jace babbled, his gap-toothed grin full of sunshine.

“There’s so much I wish I could say,” her mother spoke quietly, almost to herself. “And yet… no sense in dwelling on it. I’ll do what I must.”

She bit her lip and looked down at Arianna. Her voice had steadied.

“Can you two darlings keep a secret for me?”

Arianna nodded obediently. Her mother rose, leading them both into the downstairs bedroom. Kneeling down, she pried up the well-worn corners of one of the floorboards. Arianna had felt a thrill as she stared into the blackness, which whispered of secrets and big-girl responsibilities. She crept closer, as her mother retrieved the device she’d abandoned by the door. Handling it carefully, she manipulated the tangled wires to fit into the narrow space.

“There will be people who come looking for this,” her mother talked as she worked, her tone quick and hushed. “They might try to trick you, and say they need it, but you have to keep it safe, okay?” She flipped the board back down, carefully smoothing the edges.

“Yes Mama,” Arianna reached over to clutch her mother’s hand, her brow furrowed. “And Daddy too?”

Eldon Dawney had appeared in the doorway, his face pale.


“It’s as we feared, Eldon. They’ve torched the lab, and will be here shortly. It’s up to you to keep the children safe.”

Her father’s face twisted, a terrible anguish distorting his handsome features. His voice was broken.


“Eldon! Please. Not in front of the children.” The severity of her tone made Arianna startle in confusion.

As her father disappeared from the doorway, Arianna felt fear creeping into her chest, the sense of wrongness increasing. “Mama, what’s happening?”

“Hush, sweetling.” Her mother’s voice was soft. “Mommy’s going away for a while, but I love you and your brother, so very much. Will you tell him that for me?” Her voice caught suddenly, and she squeezed her eyes shut, tears flowing freely down her cheeks.

“Arianna, I…”

A loud crash at the front door cut off her words, and her father gave a yell of outrage. Men spilled into the small space, black-robed Sentinels each armed with a dual-barrel blunderbuss. Arianna gave a cry of terror, clutching her mother, as Jace began shrieking. Her mother held them close, unafraid, and stood up. Her cheeks were wiped clean of tears, and her eyes blazed with an unfamiliar fire. When she spoke, her tone was strong and clipped.

“I do believe you gentlemen are here for me.”

A man stepped forward, his wristplate gears clicking as he drew out a rolled parchment. He bore the red striping on his brass armor that identified him as being of the Brotherhood.

“Doctor Joanna Ellis Dawney, you are to be apprehended for interrogation and immediate reeducation. You have been implicated in the use of illegal research in an attempted assassination scheme against Lord Baelish.”

“Take me, then.” Joanna’s voice was calm. “Just don’t hurt my children.”

Arianna and Jace were ripped from their mother’s embrace. Arianna began shrieking for her mother, trying to cling to the fabric of her skirts, but it slipped through her fingers. Jace was crying “Ma-ma! Ma-ma!” over and over in between hiccupping sobs. Suddenly, the men were gone, and the door was shut. Eldon Dawney held them both, his hand painfully clutching Arianna’s wrist. Arianna screamed and struggled until she broke free. She ran to the front window, pressing her face against the uneven glass. The sea of brass uniformed Sentinels was impenetrable as she searched for her mother.

There was a sudden flash, a dazzling light of a thousand colors that crackled across the cobbled street square in front of her house. Arianna saw the men closest to her mother fall heavily, screaming and clutching their faces, their hands raw and bloody. She had a single glimpse of her mother’s face, pale and luminescent, before her body was shattered by a barrage of blunderbuss fire.


The schematic was still unfinished.

Her stylus glided over the rough paper, seamlessly outlining mechanics that she could have drawn in her sleep. She always drew the central console first – it was smooth, oblong and impossible to activate. Three sets of wires, each twined around an oddly empty conduit. A compressor chamber, which had ghostly imprints of missing gears.

A rumble underfoot signaled the afternoon shifting of the underground cogs, jolting her out of her imagined solitude.

“Place your stylus on the desk and fold your hands,” her elderly theology professor droned, walking the aisles of desks while tapping his gold-etched cane threateningly.

Arianna frowned severely at her desk tablet, which was littered with unanswered questions. This was fourth exam in a row that she’d failed.


  1. Wow, this is great, I wish I could read more. Love the title. It drew me in instantly.

  2. Very much enjoyed this. I have a thing for good titles, this one's intriguing. Seems like it ended a little abruptly, or could have left a better cliffhanger; but, if I was able to just keep reading (if you didn't have a word limit) I think it would work well. I know I'd continue with the story!

  3. So, when do I get to read the rest? I love it.

  4. I dig the steam punk vibe the characters seemed to be giving off. The emotional tension was good and kept me interested in what the mother is/was all about and what the daughter is willing to learn..especially knowing how she is failing certain classes.
    I'd enjoy reading more of this story

  5. The writing here is just beautiful. You create a great tone and sense of mystery in the opening as well. I did wish we'd seen the older Arianna sooner, but I would definitely keep reading!

  6. I enjoyed this as well!

    I have one small suggestion. I had a tiny bit of temporal confusion going from the paragraph which starts "She remembered sitting on the floor that day" and is followed by "With a startling crash, her mother burst through the door.." Grammatically it was a bit hard to tell at first if the her mother bursting through the door was interrupting the memory or part of it. It becomes immediately obvious as you read, but perhaps a tweak to tenses or something.

  7. Love the imagery, and the sense of mystery. I would totally read this. I want to know what happens next!

  8. The details are so fantastic that I already envision the characters perfectly. More please! :-)


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