Horror Love Murder fatherhood

Lullabies for a Clockwork Child

By Shane Halbach
Jan 23, 2019 · 952 words · 4 minutes

Photo by Aimee Vogelsang via Unsplash.

From the author: This story is about how love can make you blind, how you always want the best for your children, and why you should never, never wind that mainspring.

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You are not Jack, but I will tell you of Jack, so you can know.
Jack was beautiful and strong. Jack had curly hair and shining brown eyes, and when we walked, he held my thumb and swung our arms just to feel them move.
You will not look like Jack. Every child is different. You are both my sons, but you are different.
If he were hurting, Jack would snuggle in my lap like a kitten. Jack would fill an empty a bucket of sand for hours, and never grow tired. Jack said, “I love you papa,” and kissed my cheek, and, “You don’t have to help me.”
You are not Jack. You cannot get sick. You cannot die. You may wind down, but when you are wound up again, you always come back to life.
Once, Jack threw his ball in the pond. The wind blew it and we had to walk all the way around to the other side to fetch it. When I gave it back to Jack, he threw it back in the pond. “Why did you do that?” I asked him. “I like to go for walks,” said Jack.
Maybe someday you will understand. Then you too can help remember him, the brother you never had. You are not a replacement for Jack, not a second Jack, but a new thing. Your own thing.
But I still think you should know.

You do not look like other boys. This is not your fault, and it does not make you less than them. No matter how well you’re made, they will always feel they have something you do not. Instead, I made you better, so you would have something they do not.
You are fast and strong, ticking clockwork and clicking gears, as you bound across the room. Your fluids and processes are different from theirs. These things could not fit in a human form, and skin would serve no purpose. Your sharp blades grip better than fingers and a mouth is extraneous for one who does not eat. Three legs move faster than two.
I am so proud of you, my son. Only a parent can understand the feeling of watching you taking your first steps. Only a parent can understand what it’s like to look at you – a tangled reflection of my face, your father’s face, reflected in your polished gears, and the chains and counter-weights that are all your own.
And that is why I cried, my child, when your sharp-bladed fingers pierced my palm; I knew that you were trying to hold my hand.
Shh, shh, my sweet boy. Be still now.
Not even you, with your pneumatic strength, can open this door.
Hush now.
I do not know why you fell upon her as you did. You did not know the crushing power of your hands. You did not know the sharpness of your blades. It is not your fault.
Living things make mistakes. It is this more than anything that tells me you are alive. And birth is always in blood. It is not your fault, it is the way of things.
But that does not mean you will not be punished. Mistakes must be learned from. I cannot take from you except time, so in you must stay until time uncoils like a mainspring.
Jack made mistakes too, but a father always loves. You did not mean to hurt her. You did not realize we are such delicate, fragile things.
It isn’t your fault.
As I have watched you these past three days, I see now that I have made an error. A child cannot be responsible for his actions; he that raised the child is to blame.
I can see from your movements that you are a gentle soul. Your frantic slashing and tearing has flown; instead you slink in the shadows with remorse.
I have pondered these past three days as to where I erred, and I see now that I have been a bad father. You were not made to dwell in solitude. Like your brother Jack, you require company. Your appetite for the social must also be fed.
You need children your age to play with. At the park, Jack would invite strangers to join his game, rousing a flock of fellows to be zookeepers or sailors or explorers.
I must uncage you, not just from your room, but from your father’s watchful care. You must fly into the greater world, and make your way.
I know you shall make me proud.
Oh, my son, my son. What have you done? From where does this dark joy spring?
I saw you as you took them, one by one. First the two dirty boys in the street. They never saw you before you fell on them. Then the washing woman from across the street, who was roused by their cries. Her eyes were round with the sight of you, flashing silver and blood red.
After, I could not watch, and looked away from the window.
I do not know what you did next, but it was dark when you returned. I sat in the great room with a single lamp burning, hoping you would come home.
You were moving slowly, your gears clogged with gore, your mainspring running down. I took your head in my lap, bathed you, and sang you lullabies until, with a final shudder, you stilled.
I think about the things I saw you do, and the things I did not see you do. I wonder if this world is better with you or without you. I think about Jack, and I think about how a parent feels when his child is gone, never to return.
Tomorrow, when the sun rises, I will wind you again.
You cannot learn from your mistakes if you are dead. You cannot improve if you are not given a chance.

This story originally appeared in Pseudopod.

Shane Halbach

Shane Halbach writes whatever he feels like: humorous science fiction, fantasy, magical realism when it strikes his fancy, even a touch of horror