Authors: Leah Cutter
Tags: #dwarf, #fairies, #knotwork, #Makers, #Oregon, #paranormal, #shape shifters, #tinkers, #urban fantasy
Copyright © 2014 Leah Cutter
All rights reserved
Published 2011 by Knotted Road Press as “Clockwork Kingdom”
Published by arrangement with Book View Café
This book is licensed
for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of
fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and
any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book,
or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Thank you to my brother Weston Cutter, the original clock
and watch guy
Thank you to Clarion West and the write-a-thon that inspired
me to write this book
Thank you to Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn
for inspiring me to restart my career
“Dale! Don’t go that way!” Nora called in vain as her twin
brother disappeared into the tall grass off the main road. His whitish-blond
hair matched the four-foot tufts, blending in immediately.
Nora looked up and down the road, biting her lip. She stood
alone on the gravel, no dust trail of a car in sight. The sun beat down on her
from a deep blue sky. She couldn’t hear the traffic on the Interstate, not this
far inland. The quiet wash underlying everything had to be the ocean.
“Mom’s going to be pissed!” Nora called as she stomped after
her brother. Idiot. Mom wasn’t just going to be angry. She’d freak if they were
late. They’d only just moved to Oregon a few months ago and this was the first
time she’d let Nora and Dale walk home alone from the main road where the
school bus dropped them off.
The grass rustled, blown by a wind Nora didn’t feel,
muttering to itself. She walked faster, shoving the swaying stalks aside. “Dale!”
she yelled, pausing for a moment. The grass grew high above her head, making it
impossible to see more than a few feet in front of her. Stillness ran icy
fingers down her spine. She shook herself. No one was watching her. “If Mom
doesn’t kill you, I’m going to,” she muttered as she made herself continue
A knotted bunch of stalks swayed in front of Nora, blocking
her path. Just beyond them lay an open yard. With a final push Nora broke
through. The edges of the grass slid across her palms, leaving stinging welts
in their wake. “Ouch!” she complained and looked at her hands. None of her cuts
appeared serious. Still, she told Dale as she walked up to him, “You are so
Dale, of course, didn’t pay any attention to her. “Isn’t
that cool?” he asked, pointing at the abandoned cottage perched on the cliff.
Sad red paint covered the wood-shingled walls. Windows, outlined in white,
stared at Nora with dark eyes. Only the doorknob shone in the bright sunlight. Gold
flames licked the wood at either end of the doorplate. The knob itself
resembled a collection of interlocking gears.
“Don’t touch it,” Nora warned. The teeth of the gears looked
Dale immediately reached for it. The door swung open
“Dale,” Nora warned.
“Just for a minute. Then we’ll go home. I promise.”
Dale walked into the darkness.
Denise looked up from the dishes and down along the road
again. The kitchen clock ticked quietly behind her. Soft winds blew the
curtains framing the window. Nora and Dale would be appearing any minute now.
She took a deep breath, calming herself. She shouldn’t panic; it was bad for
Chris, her husband, had no idea where they were. Denise had
paid only cash during their drive to Oregon from California, using aliases and
hiding the kids when she could. She hadn’t contacted any of her old friends,
and had only called her mom a couple of times since they’d arrived. She’d
changed all their names here, as well. Chris couldn’t follow them. It was just
a formality that they were still legally married. Denise would never go back.
She should have just gone to meet the bus. However, both
Nora and Dale had complained about it. According to them, none of the other
moms waited like she did. She didn’t point out that none of the other moms had
as much reason to worry.
The water in the sink had grown cool by the time Denise
stuck her hands back in. She pulled the plug, drained half of it, then added
more hot. She made herself wait while the water level rose before forcing
herself back to the task of washing both the breakfast and lunch dishes. It was
one of the chores she’d negotiated with her kids, pleased they’d been so
insistent on helping out. She did the early day dishes while they did the
evening dishes. They took turns cleaning and cooking as well. Sometimes they
seemed so grown-up, though they were barely teenagers.
Denise washed an orange juice glass, then checked the clock
again. Maybe the bus had been late.
“Dale!” Nora called. “Mom said we had to go straight home!”
The only reply was the sound of the waves crashing onto the rocks. Nora turned
from the abandoned cottage and looked out, over the edge of the cliff. A white
smear marked where the gray ocean met the sky. Just below her, bleached-bone-colored
boulders jutted out of the water. She shivered despite the warm sun. Falling on
those would hurt.
Nora looked back at the house. Vines dotted with sharp
thorns grew up across the red wooden walls. Scraps of paper, plastic bags, and
fast-food wrappers lay plastered against the foundation. The strangely flat
roof absorbed all the sunlight striking it, reflecting none of it back.
Nora took a hesitant step toward the door, the rocks
crunching loudly under her feet. The smell of decay and mold drifted from the
dark entrance, as if the ocean had crept inside and rotted everything. She
clenched her hands into fists, wincing when her cuts stung. She looked at her
palms again. They were going to be in so much trouble when they got home.
“Come on,” Nora said. She made herself walk all the way to
the door, peering inside. Blackness greeted her. “Dale?”
A muffled cry came in response.
Only after Denise had emptied the water from the sink and
dried her hands did she allow herself to look at the clock on the wall above
the kitchen table again.
The twins were officially late now.
Denise assured herself repeatedly that nothing bad had
happened to them. Maybe the bus had been late or they’d gotten distracted on
the road. Perhaps they’d made friends with other kids who lived just up the
street and were walking slowly. There was no reason to panic. She still grabbed
a bottle of water from the fridge, as well as her cell phone and her car keys.
She’d walk down the road, not drive, but she still wanted them with her in case
she needed to get somewhere quickly.
Just as Denise opened the front door, her phone rang. Her
cell showed the call came from a restricted number.
“Denise?” a quiet male voice asked. Denise didn’t recognize
—you got the
wrong number,” she said, affecting a slight twang and a breeziness she didn’t
The man chuckled. “Sorry for disturbing you, miss.” He hung
Denise stared at the phone in her hand. She should ditch it.
Or at least turn it off so no one could track it. But what if the kids were
hurt? It was the only number the school had.
It had just been a wrong number. No one was looking for her.
She was just being paranoid, she told herself as she started walking down the
driveway to the road.
The phone rang again.
Nora took a hesitant step into the dark cottage. The carpet
squished under her foot, moist and soggy. The musty smell made her wrinkle her
nose. Before she could take another step, Dale raced toward her. Nora squeaked
as he pushed past her, out into the sunlight. She quickly followed, her shirt
catching on the sharp gear teeth of the door handle. The sound of tearing
startled her, but didn’t stop her from rushing over to her brother.
Dale stood in the sunlight, head bent over a jumble of gears
“Are you all right?” Nora asked.
Dale nodded, but paid no attention to her, still staring at
the thing in his hands.
“What is it?”
“Broken,” Dale said, looking up and grinning at her.
Nora sighed and shook her head. Her brother loved to tinker,
to take things apart and put them back together. She didn’t care for his gears
and schematics; she preferred soft wool and hard needles, to shape things out
of mere knots. “Where did you find it?”
“It was on the floor,” Dale said. He flicked one of the
flywheels, setting it to spin. “There were a couple of things like this. The
first one I grabbed bit me.” He held out his palm for her to see. Two tiny jab
marks, like a spider bite, marked the fleshy part of his thumb.
“Why’d you run out like that?”
Dale looked back at the cottage. “Thought I heard something
in there. It was kind of spooky,” he said softly.
Nora nodded, hearing the truth. Dale would never admit to
being scared to anyone but her. “Probably just a rat or something,” she said.
“We better get going home,” Dale said, stepping back into
the tall grass, easily finding the path. Nora followed. “Mom’s going to kill us
for being so late.”
“Kill you, you mean,” Nora said.
“Nor…don’t be a spoilsport,” Dale wheedled. “Can’t we just
say you lost a bet or something?”
“Come on. You know we only do crazy things for bets.” Nora
grinned, remembering the last time she’d won: She’d made Dale walk backwards
for three hours.
“Maybe you could say you fell.”
“You just don’t want to get in trouble.”
Dale paused. “I’ll do your dishes for a week.”
“How are you going to explain that to Mom?” Nora asked,
taking a deep breath to fight off the closed-in feeling of the stalks over her
head. She told herself again that no one hid in the grass, watching them.
“You didn’t fall. I pushed you,” Dale said.
“What?” Nora asked. She gratefully stepped onto the road.
Still no trail of dust from a car. Mom was probably waiting for them at home.
“Pushed you,” Dale said, shoving Nora’s right shoulder and
toppling her over onto the dirt road.
Nora put out her left hand to catch her fall. “
!” she complained as her palm skidded across the hard
stones. It bled more freely now. She looked down at her jeans, covered in dust.
“Why did you do that?”
“I’ll do your dishes for a week,” Dale promised, holding out
a hand to help his sister back up.
“You’re damaged, you know?” Nora said, disgusted, but she
still let Dale pull her back to her feet.
“Hello?” Denise said into the phone, still using a slight
“Dang it, I just called you, didn’t I,” the same male voice
said. “Say, you wouldn’t happen to know a Denise Monroe, would you? Out your
“Can’t say as I have,” Denise said, puzzled. That wasn’t her
name, or one of the aliases she’d used.
“Are you sure? She’s an old friend of the family, was my sister’s
best friend growing up. And Sally…well, Sally’s dying and I really need to find
“I’m real sorry, I just can’t help you.”
“Well, thank you for your time,” the man said. “I won’t call
you again. Goodbye.”
Denise hung up without another word. What had that been
about? Had it just been a wrong number? Or something else? Had it been a test
of some kind? She turned in place, looking over the yard. Her car was in the
driveway. How long would it take to pack? What did they absolutely have to
bring, what could they leave behind? She’d lose the deposit on this place, and
she still was waiting for money from her last editing job to be deposited into
her online account.
With a soft laugh, Denise took a deep breath, calming
herself. Everything was fine. No one was looking for her.
When Denise looked up again, she saw Dale and Nora walking down
the road. From the dirt on Nora’s clothes, she’d guess they’d had a fight,
which explained why they’d been late.
Everything was fine, she told herself again.
the dwarf rose from his
hiding place outside the abandoned cottage, the gateway to Queen Adele’s
kingdom. Even when he stood, the pampas grass towered over his head. He
tottered across the uneven ground, his large boots surprisingly silent. With
the curved knife he pulled from his belt, he cut down the stems he’d used to
block the girl’s path. Muttering a quiet spell, he licked the grass,
deliberately slicing his tongue, mingling his blood with the girl’s.
Strong. Stubborn. With a streak of Maker, thin and tightly
knotted, but there.
walked toward the
cottage. He raised his left hand and moved it through the air as if turning a
large wheel. The doorknob of the cottage didn’t respond. Frowning,
used both hands. Slowly the door handle rotated.
rocked back on his heels.
He didn’t need to go inside, to check his jabber, to test the blood it had
collected. The boy also had power, enough to set clockwork right, just by
He could fix Queen Adele’s kingdom.
After dinner and the dishes, Dale escaped to his room. He
spread a sheet of plastic out over the scratched wooden floor. He knew that he
wouldn’t hurt or spill anything, but his mom insisted he use it anytime he
worked. Then he got out the piece of machinery, placed it in the center of the
sheet, and examined it. He had the feeling that it was a prototype, though he
couldn’t see what it was supposed to do or what powered it.
The plastic crackled as Dale turned the piece on its side.
He grimaced. He missed the workshop at their old place. He turned the piece
again and identified six mounting brackets, where the mainspring came in, the
primary flywheel, a balance, and where the tension springs curled. He
speculated it was a type of battery—somehow it would be wound, then slowly
tick out. However, he didn’t see an obvious place for a handle.
With a silent curse, Dale reached for his tool set. Mom had
let him take only the one set. He’d tried to grab the one with the largest
variety of sizes, but right now, he wished he’d taken all the jeweler’s tools,
the ones he’d inherited from Grandpa Lewis when he’d died.
The bottom and side panels came off easily, exposing more
gears than Dale had expected. The piece was either more than a battery, or its
creator had believed in multiple backup systems.
Excited, Dale started to take apart the primary mechanism.
He couldn’t fix it; too many gears were missing. However, maybe he could get
the secondary set to work. He wished he could call his old friends. They’d love
to see this.