CLICKS AND WHIRS • by Kurt Kirchmeier

Lincoln Charles hobbled to the end of his driveway wearing only his old man slippers and silk pyjamas, the ones with Marvin the Martian on them. Twilight was fading; time to wind up the beast.

He paused next to a newly erected standard and reached for the hand crank mounted three-quarters of the way up from a solid iron base, just inches below the feet of a crouching demon. This new installation was sure to stir controversy amongst his neighbours, many of whom were probably looking out at him even now from between their custom drapes, pretty mouths tsk-tsk-tsking.

A gargoyle, of all things! How dreadfully tacky! Lincoln could picture them waving their arms dramatically, the highest-strung women fainting dead away.

Not all of his creations were gargoyles, of course, but he figured he’d start with this one.

His whole life he’d kept this part of him hidden, the quirky inventor with Victorian sensibilities, lover of all things clockwork, the more unconventional the better. The societal man in him, the gentleman raised on conservative values, had always felt that it should be so, never mind that his beautiful wife of forty-nine years (sadly, they would never reach fifty) had always felt otherwise.

You just be you! Grace used to tell him, her indomitable spirit alive in her every word and gesture, a ribbon of pure white light on the eve of shadows. Them who can’t abide it can take a long walk off a short pier!

And Lincoln would laugh, but then he’d straighten his everyman tie and polish his everyman shoes and dutifully carry his briefcase into the morning, another day spent at a desk instead of his private workshop. Tomorrow, he would tell himself, and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…

And then suddenly Grace was gone, her only spoken regret being that she hadn’t pushed Lincoln harder, that she hadn’t insisted the wider world meet the man she had loved and wed, eccentricities and all.

With a grunt and a series of crick-cracks from arthritic joints, Lincoln manned the crank, turning it ten times around before stepping back. Never had being out of breath felt so wonderfully freeing.

A chorus of clicks and whirs filled the darkening night, the sound of so many wheels and miniature pulleys, of pinions turning and tiny teeth catching as the wings of the gargoyle slowly winched opened. A modified bellows began to pump. The gargoyle began to breathe.

Two boys heading home on their bikes stopped abruptly next to the curb to stare, to watch as mirrored teeth reflected their own faces back at them, as shuttered eyelids of polished brass clicked suddenly open, igniting a gaslight glare.

“Cool!” said the boy on left, his eyes wide with wonder. The boy on the right sat in open-mouthed awe, an expression that remained firmly fixed until a shrill voice from down the street loudly beckoned him and his brother home, away from the crazy old man in his Martian pyjamas.

Lincoln offered a friendly wave to their waiting mother, who only scowled at him in return, the look in her eyes as she took in the beast promising future petitions. Lincoln couldn’t help but laugh. Just wait until she sees my nativity scene…

With the boys gone to placate their mother, the street fell silent save for a soft hiss as steam curled up from the gargoyle’s flared nostrils.

Lincoln stood for a moment and admired his handiwork before turning back up the drive to his empty house. On the way, he looked up at the night’s first stars and bid Grace goodnight.

Kurt Kirchmeier lives and writes in Saskatoon, SK. His fiction has appeared in Albedo One, Weird Tales, Shimmer, Tales of the Unanticipated, and elsewhere.

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