Once upon a time there was a girl whose heart had broken from grief. Such was the pain of her broken heart that she went to a kindly watchmaker and asked him to make her a new one out of clockwork.
“For if I had a clockwork heart, I need only replace the faulty cog or gear and never fear a broken heart again.”
“But hearts mend, with time,” he said. “I should know, for time is my business.”
“With a clockwork heart I needn’t wait,” the girl replied. “So I’d rather have a new heart, if you don’t mind.”
The watchmaker did mind, for secretly he loved the girl and if she had a clockwork heart she could never love him back. Still, he made her a new heart anyway, because it was what she wanted, although it saddened him to do so.
For a time the girl was happy. Her new heart worked better than the old one, and she could no longer feel the pain of her grief. But because her heart was clockwork she became cold and selfish, and all the people in her life began to drift away like clouds in the wind.
Because her heart was made of clockwork, she didn’t care.
After a time one of the cogs broke and she returned to the watchmaker.
“Will you replace the broken piece of my heart?” she asked him.
“Wouldn’t you rather have your old heart back?” he replied.
“Why would I want it?” the girl asked. So the watchmaker replaced the cog, although it broke his heart a little to do so.
The girl went back to her life, and after a time she began to miss the company of others. She tried to make new friends, but because her heart was made of clockwork they found her strange and distant, and drew away.
When the spring in her heart broke, she returned to the watchmaker for him to fix it.
“Wouldn’t you rather have your own heart back?” he asked her again. “It must be nearly mended by now.”
“Nearly mended is still broken,” she replied. “And I have no need of a broken heart.”
So the watchmaker replaced the spring, although it broke his heart to do so.
Time passed, and the girl realised she was not content. Everyone around her had a life full of laughter and friendship and love. After a time she went to them and asked how it was they had these things and she didn’t.
“Why, because you have a clockwork heart,” they said. “How can you expect to feel love and joy when you won’t let yourself feel pain and sorrow? A coin must have two sides.”
The girl realised they were right and went back to the watchmaker.
“What do you want?” he asked coldly.
“I would like my old heart back, please,” she said. “It must be mended by now, and in any case it’s better than a heart made of clockwork.”
The watchmaker did as she asked, and when her old heart was in place she finally understood why he had been reluctant and yet done as she requested.
“Are you in love with me?” she asked, surprised.
“I was,” the watchmaker replied. “But doing as you asked broke my heart until finally it snapped in two. Now my heart is made of clockwork and I need never fear a broken heart again.”
The girl’s heart broke all over again, for now that she could finally love the watchmaker he couldn’t love her back.
Seeing her pain, he asked, “Do you want your clockwork heart back?”
“Broken hearts mend with time,” she said. “So I have no need of a clockwork heart.”
“As you wish,” the watchmaker replied. “For I am quite content with mine.”
Once upon a time there was a girl whose heart had broken from grief. She may not have lived happily ever after, but at least her heart was not made of clockwork.
C.L. Holland is a British fantasy writer. Her works have appeared in publications such as Alternative Coordinates, Lorelei Signal, 10Flash Quarterly and Writers of the Future 25. She has an ever-growing collection of books and expects them to reach critical mass any time now.