Excerpt: The Ticking Heart

One last turn should do it. Vincent heaved his weight behind it and the wheel turned slowly, creaking out its reluctance. On the other side of the wall, the clips sprang free with a shuddering clunk. Vincent ran to watch, his eyes transfixed on his creation—a masterpiece of machinery that looked like a man and would, hopefully, act like one too. A loud whirring filled the air around him as the key rebounded, tightening the clockwork mechanisms that lay deep inside the body. Its work done, the key receded into the wall and the body was freed.

Vincent watched, wringing his hands as the clockwork man blinked his eyes open. “Edgar,” he gasped as the man reached out a quivering hand. The name was Edgar .3, to be exact; the original prototype hadn’t taken more than a few, tentative steps before it fell to pieces, and the second had had some complications with homicidal mania. But Edgar .3 was the best of the lot, and Vincent knew he was the one, that he was going to last.

As Edgar took his first steps, Vincent was close to tears. He couldn’t fault this one. Edgar .1 hadn’t looked nearly as good—the skin had had a leathery texture to it, but Edgar .3’s was soft and supple and even from just a few feet away, Vincent couldn’t see anything that made him seem less than human. The stitching holding the skin together was hidden beneath the gentleman’s clothing and underneath Edgar’s hair. His eyes were a problem, of course—the glass was the best quality money could buy, but looking at them now Vincent could tell they weren’t real. Maybe it was just because he knew, and they’d probably fool a regular passer-by, but anyone who looked closely would know.

“Oh my word,” a familiar voice breathed, and Vincent turned to see Samuel standing in the doorway, his eyes wide in shock, brows drawn a little together.

Samuel had never seen any of Vincent’s creations in their activated state before. He’d been Vincent’s assistant for as long as either of them cared to remember, but he’d made it clear a long time ago that he wanted as little to do with these clockwork human facsimiles as possible.

“He works,” Vincent said, his voice higher than usual, excitement bubbling away beneath his skin as Edgar’s white-gloved hand connected with his cheek. He closed his eyes, savouring the touch. Edgar .1 had never gotten this far, and .2 had gone straight for his throat. Vincent had dreamt of this moment for years, ever since … He bit the inside of his cheek. The past didn’t matter now; he had the future right here.

He stepped forward, hands brushing Edgar’s chest—real, it felt so real—and raised himself onto his tiptoes to press a kiss to his mouth. His lips felt so soft, albeit a little cold.

Behind him, Samuel made a harsh clucking sound in the back of his throat, and when Vincent turned he was gone, the doorway dark and empty. Vincent frowned. Samuel should be here to enjoy this moment, to share in his success. After all, he couldn’t have done this without him.

A loud clanking noise made him jump, and with a jolt of horror he realized it was coming from Edgar’s chest. “No,” he muttered. “No, no, no. Edgar—”

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