By Derek Alan Jones
The work was nearly done. As he turned the crown to wind the spring, each click of the ratchet wheel was audibly crisp and firm. After one full rotation and a quarter of another, the balance started to oscillate, and the movement came to life. The man placed two fingers on his neck as he listened to the ticking, timing the sound of the mechanism against the rhythm of his pulse. Eight beats of the escapement for every one of his own heart. Perfect regulation. He smiled then, in satisfaction. It would function as intended. It would be among his best work.
In the Old World, he’d been a watchmaker — one of the few there had been in that time to keep the craft alive. Even in his youth it was said that the trade was obsolete. There was no need for springs and gears in a world of chips and screens. But there was so much more than that, he thought, in the things that he had made. It had never been about accuracy, or efficiency, or time. It was art. It was creation. He knew there was life in those springs and gears, and he was determined to harvest it. Now, in this new version of the world, where time was all but meaningless, he found freedom in the absence of the illusion of practical need. Now he could revel in his creations. Now he made other things.
The one on the desk in front of him was cast in oiled bronze. Into the metal he’d placed shards of glass, in amber and Heineken-green, which he had shaped and smoothed and polished over the course of several days. It was hard and careful work, but it kept his fingers nimble. Perhaps more importantly, though, it did the same for his mind. There was precious little left in his days to keep him occupied. He had set the glass into the shape of broad, symmetrical wings, and as those wings rose and fell, the shards caught the light from the lamp on the desk and dashed it across the walls, like a thousand tiny fireflies dancing in perfect rhythm.
A small boy stood behind the man as he hunched over his work, bouncing with excitement as the thing began to move.
“What is it?” the boy asked in wonder, as he followed the lights with his eyes.
“It’s a butterfly. Do you like it?”
“I think it’s the best one yet.”
“Not quite,” the man said, and he smiled. “But it’s close.”
“Is that really what they look like?”
The man shook his head as he answered.
“The real ones are more delicate. They come in every color you could think of. And they flutter, and they swoop, and they fill the sky in the summertime.” He did his best to imitate the movements of a monarch with his hands, and as he did, he could see a fascination growing in the boy.
“Do you think I’ll ever see one? A real one, I mean.”
The man sighed deeply then, turning slightly in his chair so that he could face the boy.
“They’re all gone now, I’m afraid.”
The boy’s shoulders dropped.
“Like Pterodactyls? And Dogs?”
The man nodded in response, slowly and apologetically.
“And like all of the other people?”
The man placed a clear glass dome over the new creation, and he pushed himself away from the desk, and he stood up from his chair. He placed two fingers on his neck, and two fingers on the boy’s, and they stood in silence as the man compared the rhythms that he found. Eight beats of the escapement for every one of his own heart. As he looked down at the boy, he imagined he could see a smile spread across the hand-carved meerschaum face.
In the Old World, he’d been a watchmaker. Now he made other things.
Derek Alan Jones spends most of his time working in a warehouse in Kansas and the rest of it writing speculative fiction. His work has appeared in or is upcoming in Utopia Science Fiction, Orion’s Belt and Penumbric Speculative Fiction, among others.