“How on Earth did he create such an intricate contraption?” The inspector asked, bending down to examine the clockwork heart through his goggles’ magnifying lenses. It was no bigger than his fist, its cogs and wheels still quietly whirring and whizzing like a child’s wind-up toy. “It’s incredible, I’ll give you that, but what purpose does it serve?”
“I couldn’t tell you,” the detective replied. She shifted her weight and crossed her arms, nodding her head toward the dead man whose hand still tightly clutched the heart. A crimson rivulet twisted through the kitchen and into the parlor, leading the detective to believe he had either crawled or been dragged to where he now slumped against the wall. But his method of arrival wasn’t what intrigued her. It was the grisly state of his torso.
His chest had been rent apart. It now oddly resembled a predator’s gaping maw, the ribs jutting out like teeth about to tear into the flesh of prey.
She shook her head, perplexed.
“But what about him? Who—or what—could have done this to him?”
With a quick twist of his screwdriver, the engineer sealed the panel to his creation’s central circuitry. This was what he’d wanted—no, yearned for—foryears.
He was the type of man who was married to his work, and the few romantic relationships he’d held in the past floundered within only a few months, transpiring largely behind the locked doors and drawn curtains of his century-old apartment. Now, wifeless and without children, the villagers seemed to behold him with pity, as though they were concerned that the eccentric hermit’s heart had already shrunken and withered away without a proper family to care for. It was all utter horse-feathers, in his opinion—he was perfectly content to spend his life with his work, and he didn’t think himself all that odd for behaving as he did. Of course, he didn’t do himself any favors when he regularly emerged from his home wearing a moth-eaten scarf and mismatched gloves, and most certainly not when he visited the liquor store, where he would purchase cheap bottles of scotch with handfuls of oil-smudged coins.
And yet, despite his insistence that he led a perfectly satisfactory life, a gray storm cloud of discord had followed him for years now like a stubborn stray cat. It drizzled rainy notions into his thoughts, the most persistent of which was that he had no real sense of purpose, not a single companion in the world. He didn’t want to admit the villagers were right—in fact, he refused to believe they were or ever could be.
So he took to creating his machinations in the privacy of his own home, away from prying eyes and loose lips. He strove to build something perfect, something more than human. However, this was more difficult to achieve than he’d anticipated. Although his projects had indeed grown increasingly lifelike over the years, they never became the true companions he sought in the absence of the family he never had.
But the creation in front of him presently could be different.
He placed his screwdriver neatly on the scratched wooden table and folded his hands in front of his stomach, taking a deep breath to calm his jostled nerves. Would she?
He switched on her power source, sending a current—her lifeblood—surging through her limbs. Her head shuttered, her neck’s coils tightened, and she lifted her face, positioning her gaze directly at the wall in front of her. The engineer lifted his hands to his mouth in delight, his eyes welling with tears he had not expected.
She moved her head to the side, showing him her beautiful face.
No, this was his. His beautiful, perfect face.
He’d cast her in bronze. Her petite nose was perfectly balanced over gently curving lips, and her green glass eyes possessed eyelids that blinked—he’d designed her to intake her environment through sophisticated optical sensors. A black cascade of clippings from a horse’s mane served as her hair, which tumbled down her back in layers. To him, she was perfect.
“Hello, my doll,” he whispered.
She shifted her body, stretching her newborn metal muscles and bones, and they began shifting and spinning inside of her in a quiet mechanical harmony. She fixed her foxfire eyes on him. They made her more lifelike than he could ever have imagined.
But she didn’t say anything back to him.
He hadn’t given her the ability to speak.
“I’m Rastigan,” he said, taking her clockwork hand in his. “Can you see me?”
She nodded once, a curt gesture. Ah! He marveled. She could understand him.
Still cradling her hand in his, he stepped forward and curled his arm around her shoulder. He glided his hand across her chest, stopping at a seam in the center of her torso, and spread his fingers wide, feeling the metal vibrating beneath his palm. It was warm, almost as if she were truly alive, and that inside her frame, her heart beat only for him. He leaned into her, brushing his lips against her hair.
“I see you,” he said softly. “My Evangeline.”
Evangeline had already begun registering her surroundings. She quickly came to an understanding that this was her home, and that he was a fixture in this home.
A prominent one.
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