A clockwork fable….

The Dawn of the Spiders – Londinium 1886

The work bench was saturated with mechanical bits and bobs, cogs, springs small match like pieces of brass, fob watches, many without hands and papers; technical papers. The mess that was the life blood of the engineer. Cast aside by his own family and shunned in later years by humanity, the old man with bent fingers created, first one then two and before long a whole line of small brass spiders each one no bigger than a cricket ball but each one lovingly hand-crafted. If he had the inclination he would name each of them but that was not his nature nor were they his children, he just created mechanical toys for children; his usual toy was the common monkey with two cymbals that loudly clapped when wound up, much to the annoyance of the parents who would write to him to complain that once wound up the monkey would take an age to wind itself down and become quiet again.

It was those people that had been his undoing and the reason why he now made what he made. Being the toymaker he had a premises in High Holborn opposite the now closed “Noah’s Ark”, the toy shop opened in 1760 before moving to its present location in Regents Street in 1881. Business in those days was brisk because he catered for the more obscura clientele. Those to each he would send a clockwork spider in the first instance before saturating the Metropolitan and county boroughs of the land. An infestation of mechanical spiders. On his work bench sat a copy of the 1885 revised version of the Bible, a little tatty for a new edition; opened to Exodus 10 where in what looked like thin oil the thirteenth verse had been high-lighted “And Moses stretched forth his rod over the land of Egypt, and the Lord brought an east wind upon the land that day; and all night and when it was morning, the east wind brought the locusts”

It was time, for they shall cover the face of the whole of the earth, so that the land was darkened, and the wicked shall perish. The wicked shall perish.

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The March of the Spider

Across the dark foreboding nee satanic town of Londinium 1886, the high court circuit judge sat by the fire in the tatty old Chesterfield, his cigar and glass of malt nestled quietly on the small table next to him. On the floor beside him the Illustrated London News lay entwined with the Daily Telegraph; research one could suppose in readiness for the Michaelmass quarter session at the Bailey. A coal fire was spitting and whistling to itself; the gas fusion bulbs growling dimly, he watched cautiously as the clockwork spider slowly paced the floor…it’s tightly wound spring winding down until with a jolt it stopped, completely devoid of all power and life…with all the care of a new born child he gathered it up and re-wound small the brass key before returning it to the floor to set off on its travels. No emotion just the desire to move, like all clockwork toys.

Tick, tick, tick…not the tick-tock of the mantel clock high above the fire but the tick, tick, tick of a steady eight beat tattoo on the wooden floor.

The motor began to spring into life and the spider began to place one foot in front of the other, a little wobbly at first but then all eight legs working in harmony heading towards the door but first the obstacles. The heavily polished wood grain gave no traction. Sliding it made its way to the thick Victorian rug and certain freedom.  Its clockwork spring slowing the movement whilst in the chair the occupant slumped, his face turning ashen and a small trickle of blood running down his thumb, dropping onto the floor. The spider gone its job had been done. Baker Street was quiet again until the break of dawn.

+++

Meanwhile north in the smoky industrial metropolis of Manchester, she slept, her dreams kept her tossing and turning all night long, the rem sleep that she craved had gone and she was left staring into the inky blackness of the night sky. The lights in the street long since extinguished.

The same tick, tick, tick…only this time not the quiet tick of her brass and glass encased carriage clock.

The motor having been quiet for most of the journey suddenly began to spring into life and the spider began to steadfastly place one foot in front of the other, eight legs working in harmony bearing an eight note tune heading towards the bed…the same type of eight-legged clockwork spider that crept, silently crept, murderously crept.

The small pocket watch that made up the back of the mechanical wonder rang, all four tones in E major that made up the Westminster chime; quietly at first and then broadcast to the nation. Startled she sat up and looked down to the wooden floor upon which the bed sat. There it stood motionless, its fake eyes pleading with her to be wound up again.

Carefully she lifted the automaton and wound the small brass key protruding from the side before placing it back on the floor. The spider paused and then scuttled away and the occupant slumped half on the bed and half on the floor, her face turning ashen. The spider gone, another victim; blood dripping from her little finger soaking into the wooden floor.

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North of the border a spider wound its way down a silken thread and onto the copper taps of the enameled bath.  The water riding up to the overflow; the boiler over the bath heating the water bleaching black smoke into the dark Edinburgh sky. The gas lights emitting an eerie semi-warm glow as the rain fell from black clouds in a blackened sky.

The two young wards sat at either end of the enameled bath, while nanny was busying herself with other tasks, her eyes averted, her hands laying the towels over the newly installed oil fueled heated towel rail. The spider ticked as the silken thread detached itself, almost remotely from the body, allowing the spider to slide into the bath and climb out the other side and scuttle across the floor and out of the open door. Slowly the two young wards slipped under the surface of the bubbling hot water, their faces bulbous and ashen and then blue. The only marks to distinguish foul play was a small single puncture in the small of each of their lower backs

In front of the tub now devoid of all sound the nanny continuing to busy herself, lost in her dreams and now having lost her charges and her credibility to work.

+++

Far, far away from the smoky north back in the Metropolis of Londinium the full moon weakly lit up the night sky, the smog from the steam and coal put paid to any brilliance that had been before, the man in the moon was now frowning rather than the smile that previous centuries had seen. A perfect night for hunting and being hunted, in the distance the bell of the great Tower of Westminster chimed twelve times, the dawn of a new day and a frenzy of activity below.

A body had been found in the Docklands area with a single puncture wound in the neck and a small trail of blood congealed in a straight line down the deck, pooling on the floor. But this was no ordinary killing this was a dead vampire, not turned to ash like all the others…this was something new…something strange…

The Police were baffled not knowing which way to turn. Nothing like this had happened before, certainly not to a vampire. There were no defensive wounds and no blood around the mouth so this vampire had not fed but had been fed upon. The Police surgeon looked closely at the wound, the small puncture wound was tinged with a silver ring, the same silver ring that they had seen before. The Police knew they had a serial killer or something on their hands but did not know whom or even what was causing these random acts of malice, maybe time would tell or moreover maybe it would be confined to files marked unsolved until the end of time.

The newly establish Daily Mail cemented its vulgar lower middle class reputation by printing the banner headline “Four victims in as many days; related or a coincidence?” with the sub-text of another unsolved Jack-the-Ripper case or just incidents of random un-related events with the words Police baffled below the picture of the latest posed victim.

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At the same time in the county borough of Plymouth, as the Dreadnaught fleet docked alongside the quays at HMNB Devonport, the servicemen’s playground began to fill and with it the number of servicemen going AWOL from either ship or barracks as the invasion of servicemen was surpassed by the invasion of clockwork spiders. Although only a few were to take a victim as too many would cast suspicion on the two rival services pitching an all-out war, although no love was lost between the Navy based at HMS Vivid shore establishment and those on active or shore leave deployment from the Devonport Flotilla. Civilians knew to stay away from the area and takings suffered at the New Palace Theatre of Varieties on the corner of Union Street and Phoenix Street, however the economy from the drinking establishments increased, both benefiting the area and the corporation.

Slowly the number of bodies piled high behind the Theatre, it would be days before someone checked as the building was shut for the duration of the homecoming. Each victim killed by a single silver-ringed puncture wound, each victim a victim of his own drunken curiosity following the small clockwork spider to the rear where another dangled from a sliver of silver thread laying claim to the living. Every so often the spiders changed rolls and one became the prey or rather the catalyst and the other the assassin but they always worked together becoming more and more dependent unlike the previous killing which were done by an independent spider.

It was almost as if they had a hive or pack mentality driving them ever forward. An assault on the very fabricated existence of the planet. As the hive left and headed toward the coastal path and the open ocean, a tract of verse caught the wind of eight legs and flew into the night sky before being blown to the window of the local gentleman’s club, the verse was the same Exodus 10 verse, hewn from a Bible that one of the servicemen had dropped. “And Moses stretched forth his rod over the land of Egypt, and the Lord brought an east wind upon the land that day; and all night and when it was morning, the east wind brought the locusts”. The verse covered in oil, the same lubricating oil.

On the back of the paper the haunting words of Romans 12 verses 17- 19. “Render to no man evil for evil. Take thought for things honourable in the sight of all me. If it be possible, as much as in you lieth, be at peace with all men. Vengeance belongeth unto me”

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The End of the Spiders

Then suddenly just as fast as the hive killing spree had started it was over, in each metropolitan city or town where the small mechanical spiders had stalked and hunted, they were beginning to appear on the street. Individuals drawn together like lemmings ready for one last jump but this time as the assembly of spiders gathered they appeared different completely wound-down, devoid of motion as if dead. As if the hand or hands that fed them had forgotten to wind the keys, their tightly coiled spring now no more than a circle or strip of oil tainted brass, as if bleeding.

Just a faint ticking came from the underside of the meticulously built clockwork then silence, as people began to stamp on the spiders, obliterating them from the face of the cursed earth to dust from whence they came by the hand of someone, an engineer. A skilled engineer with a grudge against humanity or certain types of humanity. Who and what no-one would know, each spider meticulously hand-made without tool marks or signature each one individually crafted and now each one potentially dying, silently and almost reverently.

Back in Londinium in the middle of Abney Park, one of the magnificent seven parkland cemeteries opened in the early reign of Queen Victoria, close to Church Street and the tomb of William and Catherine Booth, the founders of the Salvation Army a mausoleum door had been prised open. The cobwebs wrenched from their holdings. In the gloom of the marble monstrosity a small clockwork spider scuttled down the steps and paused. His, her or rather its master hanging by a rope, his feet teetering on the edge of the stool, his tools all around him. His reign of terror now coming to an end as more and more spiders gathered. No note was left as to the reasons why or how or whom but it was as if the magic had gone from those infernal creatures as they either lay dying or climbing the body of their creator eventually covering him in brass, cogs and gears.

As they climbed upwards in haste the rickety old stool slipped and carried away on a tide of clockwork movement and with a sickening snap the engineer fell, his neck broken; dislodging a number of his creation who scampered back up his body, placing more and more weight on the rope until he was engulfed in his own creative misgivings. No remorse, no forgiveness just dead and forgotten.

Outside a swirling gale blew up, scattering leaves to the four corners of the cemetery before heading directly towards the doors; blowing on either side like to hands clasping the handles. Then with a resonant crash lounder than a clap of thunder the doors closed; the blackened rain that followed soaked the earth allowing vines to hastily grow sealing its secret with sinewy branches, forever. Opposite on the neatly manicured lawn a small object peered from behind a small grave marker before burying safely itself into the ground to wait out its days.

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High in the canopy of the sprawling oak trees that surrounded the graves, catacombs and mausoleums sat a flight of small mechanical dragons each one with a small engraved fob watch ticking. Sensitive prying eyes watching and waiting.

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 The Dawn of the Dragons – Londinium 1886

 High in the canopy of the sprawling oak trees planted in Abney Park before the ground became a cemetery that surrounded the graves, catacombs and mausoleums sat a flight of small mechanical dragons each one with a small engraved fob watch ticking. Sensitive prying eyes watching and waiting for a sign for the frenzy to begin. Below them sat a constable of Ravens, each one eyeing the ground for signs of movement that would indicate food. The black rain filling the sky bouncing as high as the standing regimented stones, the ground saturated forming torrents of sticky mud and pools of stagnant standing water. In the newly dug and covered graves coffins began to float, whilst in the pauper graves the rains washed the top soil away revealing the heavy damask encased and bound dead. The feeding frenzy had begun in earnest.

The constable took to the air and as one swept onto the dead, clawing and pecking at the decomposing bodies, many of whom where blighted with the same small single silver ringed puncture wound. Beaks tore at the flesh, reaching inside to suckle on the tender parts, before having had their fill returning to the same position in the trees. Their beaks, feet and wings dripping with the blood of the dead, the consecrated ground hewn in a red tinge as the blood flowed from the recently departed. The mausoleum over which they sat was now covered in ivy, vines and in the middle a single white rose, hiding a dark bitter secret, sealed forever. The only giveaway to the secrets within were a splattering of corroded brass cogs and small keys that littered the marble flagstones. Inside was death.

High in the top of the old oak trees a faint low tick emanated and silently reverberated throughout the branches. The tick sending the ravens into a panic, the battle was about to begin and there would only be one winner. Feather and claw flew in all directions before crashing to the ground in a crumpled mass of black and red. Then silence, as if nothing had happened, as if time itself had stood still; as someone pulled the winder on a pocket-watch out and the hands rested. The time on the watch face showed thirty-one minutes passed the hour of noon and the sun passed the yard arm.

The noon-day gun having sounded and faded on the passing wind.

(C) The Midnight Messenger 2018

 

 

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