Cogs of the Clock
Butler, Housekeeper and Goundskeeper glanced stoically at the broken body of Resident Artist sprawled at the base of the observatory tower. "Well, we'll have to find another. Who this time?" She vibrated, eyes transfixed on nothing, unbreathing. Then with a shuddered she said "A writer."
Butler tilted his head. "Not a poet I hope?" They all felt the vibration, heard the silent, toneless voice. Never Again.
They all remembered and never spoke of the incident at the brick wall that enveloped Eldwood. It was better to forget. "Well, let's begin preparations for the feast. Housekeeper, get a short list of writers. They can give readings between courses. Cook will need to put in an order. Groundkeeper, see that the east garden is prepared for champagne and music. Oh, and find someone to deal with this." Butler gestured at the ill fated Singer, half forgotten save for the gathering summer flies.
Mr. Alexis Howard received a gold embossed invitation in May. He hated to admit it, (he was an artist after all, and above the shallow frippery and fetes of the aristocrats) but his hand trembled slightly as he broke the wax. The parties and feasts at Eldwood Estate were famous for their opulence. They were infrequent and only the cream of society was ever invited. He nearly fainted upon reading the included card inviting him to a short work to read as part of the evenings entertainment. He sent his acceptance without hesitation.
Two maids were polishing the silver in preparation for the feast, every utensil would shine. “This is the third Artist since I’ve been here. Remember the painter what hung himself from the grand staircase? Why get a new one if they’re so much bother?” Maid Younger gabbed.
"I think its something to do with needing all the pieces.” Maid Elder mused as though to herself. “like a clock missing a tooth won’t keep time right. A clock without a cog wont work at all. I think you and me is teeth, maybe, and the Artists a cog. The Eldwood needs one." This insightful remark should have stayed unsaid. They both grew stiff for a moment, then resumed their task glassy eyed and silent. Empty.
Mr. Howard spent the first hour of the party in a daze of witty banter, champagne and violin. It wasn’t until sitting down to the feast that everything came into sharp focus. The wafting aromas of delicate soup and light fresh bread seemed to ground him, and he ate with polite gusto. There were several writers present to read a selection between each of the ten courses. The soup was followed by a man who shared a fiction of life at sea. Steamed fresh muscles in a butter wine sauce with a murder mystery. Roasted root vegetables with red wine glaze and a scathingly steamy romance. Every dish was perfection, every conversation pleasant and engaging. And every guest attentive when the writers gave their recital. There was no host present, but there seemed no need for one, everything progressed like a ballet.
Mr. Howard presented a philosophical comedy about a city man’s misadventures in the country after a fabulous dish of quail in plum sauce. As he sat down to polite applause, the conversation around him was suddenly muffled and his vision blurred. He found himself thinking uncomfortably over his life and work. It felt like he was being questioned by a stranger and he was compelled to answer. His vision darkened, and his ears rang. Mr. Howard was about to cry out, when and aromatic dish of fish and wild mushrooms was placed before him. Everything came back into focus. He shook himself. Nerves. Startled, he barely heard the next reader, but the sense of dread faded with each sip of vintage wine. He had a spirited conversation with the gentleman next to him about free will and the role of writers and artists.
After fresh strawberries in clotted cream and an odd tale of ancient sea monster gods Mr. Howard had quite forgotten his episode. But at the final desert course his vision went black. He felt his mind invaded and was helpless to it. It worked backwards through his life, dissecting him into bits of memory until it found those earliest: loyalty, friendship, obedience. Something flashed, adhered, and with shocking pain in his head, he snapped back. The room was empty, all evidence of the decadent feast gone. Butler and Housekeeper were the only ones in the room other than himself.
“Mr. Howard. Welcome to Eldwood Estate.” The whole manor resonated, jingling the china on the table. Welcome.
Mr. Howard uttered an incoherent shriek and heard laughter rattle in his mind. Butler ignored him. “You have been selected to be Eldwood’s Resident Artist. You will stay here, write, and present at events. You will have comfortable room and board, but may never leave. You are to do as your told; you wont really have a choice.” The Writer felt the truth of this in the mans flat words. It was there in that thing that had latched itself to the deep part of his brain. “But you can choose to be content.”
Writer ran for the door, but it slammed shut in his face and locked. The large windows also locked. “Please don’t try to leave" Butler’s voice was emotionless.
In desperation Writer grabbed a chair, intending to smash the glass. And froze, chair raised above him. His head seared with pain. Images flashed in his head of a man running, toward the brick wall, fingers brushing brick, the man imploding. Then exploding. There was nothing but agony. Do Not Try To Leave.
Over the weeks and months the thing in his head kept him dull, telling him to write, to feast, drink and be content. It was present everywhere, the whole house resonated with it. But occasionally, in waking nightmares, he would catch wafts of life before, and one day, perhaps soon, it would be too much.