TerrierA Chapter by Domenic Luciani
please, please review. I really need some criticism on this.
Tick . . . Tock . . . Tick . . . Tock . . . .
The heavy clicking of a clock in motion could be heard -- one so enormous it shook the house as its bell chimed the hour.
He recognized the sound, but not the heavy space his body seemed to have entered. It smelled of garbage and rats. He rolled over in the bed and opened his eyes, but not before a figure darted from his side through an open door.
The room was tiny, only large enough to accommodate the bed and a few feet of hardwood floor. A dark grey light swept the room from a tiny arched window overhead.
He sat up, almost certain that the figure who darted away had been Hope, and the entire event had been a dream. He stood up slowly, aware of the lightheaded feeling clouding his senses.
Terrier stumbled into the room beyond, catching himself on an old wooden chair just before toppling over. He was in a dank kitchen rendered a monochromatic scheme of black and darker than black. Steam rolled across the ceiling in small, grayish fogbanks as an aged man in the corner garnered ingredients for what appeared to be a soup. A dented metal pot sat on the stove churning out the strong scent of cabbage.
Terrier watched the man warily, bracing himself should this man prove to be an enemy, but finding that his vision was unusually difficult to correct and for a moment wasn’t sure if there was a man there at all.
Well you’re up, good. Now, what’s all this about, hmm? The old man said, not taking his eyes of the pot.
Who’re you? Terrier asked.
Hey, now I asked who you were, the man turned and waved a ladle threateningly at Terrier. I’ll be asking the questions here. I want to know how you found my house, and I won’t take ‘I don’t know’ for an answer.
The clock chimed again somewhere in the house and Terrier was silent. He stared awkwardly down at his bare feet and realized that his clothes had been changed. Now he wore a somewhat ragged grey t-shirt and matching shorts. His windbreaker was draped across one of the chairs at the table. The old man seemed to perceive the silence.
I see. You truly don’t know then. I expected a long winded story of you the victim of some crime, and the begging for your life at my heels. I’m not so trusting of visitors anymore, not since the last who washed up on my shore stole something very valuable to me. You are not like them, I suppose?
Terrier shook his head. I need to know where New York City is. I think I went away.
New York City, eh? the old man said, returning to his soup. Can’t say I know of it. Is it in the City of Senses?
I don’t think so.
Then I can’t really help you.
This a dream?
What - a dream? I should hope not. That would mean sixty years down the toilet.
You’re not going to eat me, are you?
That depends; do you taste good with minestrone?
No, I don’t think so.
Hmm, that’s too bad. I’ve been running out of ingredients to put in my soups.
If this ain’t a dream, and it ain’t New York, what is it?
Technically nonexistent, socially off the grid, and economically we are somewhere between broke and poor. I wish I could help you in your search of this . . . Newark, but I’m quite busy. The scientist stopped moving for a moment and perked up an ear like a hound. In the stillness, the tick-ticking of the great clock could be heard. That last one seemed to be off by three seventeenths of a second, it will have to be calibrated.
What is it?
My house, of course. I’m a clockmaker; Mortimer the clockmaker to be precise. And you are . . .?
My friends call me Terrier.
I see -- and what should I call you?
Well, anyways. Soup’s almost ready. Celia, dear?
Terrier was sure Mortimer had called for someone, but not even the slightest shuffle of footsteps could be heard.
I’m sorry, she’s very shy, Mortimer said, raising his voice. Celia!
Celia appeared to be Terriers age, or close to it, with an enormous mess of dirty blonde hair, under which her face was hardly visible. She entered through a low archway that separated the kitchen from an equally dilapidated living room, her scrawny frame passing easily beneath a ceiling that came near to Terrier’s forehead. She wore clothing matching that of his and he realized with embarrassment that it was her clothes he was wearing.
She gave Terrier a wide birth, sitting at the farthest seat from him. Terrier understood her fears and sympathized, sitting at the chair opposite her.
Mortimer brought over bowls of soup one by one, placing them in front of Terrier and Celia, respectively. He sat down at last and immediately started on his meal. Terrier looked at it for a moment, rolling over individual pieces of undercooked meat and hardened pasta timidly, uncertain whether or not this man was as mad as he appeared to be. If he was, the soup could be equally disastrous. He glanced over at Celia, whom he could tell had been watching him intently through the untidy mop of hair that hung in front of her eyes like tree roots. She turned her head down quickly as their eyes met.
Terrier ate very little, but there was an uncomfortable swelling feeling in his stomach. He voiced this to Mortimer who could offer him nothing but sea water.
You don’t have milk? Terrier asked, astounded.
No, I’m afraid we ran out of that quite some time ago.
Terrier found the nearest bathroom and vomited, coughing up mostly bile and a few undigested noodles of spaghetti.
It was apparently late in the day, though the sky hadn’t changed for many hours. Terrier could do nothing but sit quietly in the living room and look out the window.
The house was indeed on a low island. It was situated roughly in the center of a large flower-covered garden that seemed to span from shore to shore. The silence was filled with the hum of insects and the light breeze that brought tiny waves washing over the flowers.
Celia stood in the doorway, obviously trying to be quiet but not understanding that her presence was easily sensed by Terrier, who did not wish to turn and startle her. The ticking of the strange house had stopped for a moment, but started up again just as quickly. Terrier gazed studiously out the window, trying his best to identify some of them but couldn’t. It was his first inclination that he may not have been in his world at all, much less New York City. He was somewhat familiar with floriculture, as the woman who had raised him some time ago had been an herbalist with a wondrous garden. Even so, he could recognize none of the specimens before him. The fact disheartened him.
His mind wandered to the fate of those who had not shared his; Hope, Luna, Rag, Harper, and Barney. What could they be doing right now?
He was so deep in thought that he hadn’t noticed that Celia had been replaced by Mortimer, who coughed loudly as he approached, startling Terrier out of the deep confines of his mind.
Boy, er, Terrier, that is. Do you intend to go to the city, or stay here? said Mortimer.
I dunno. I . . . I’d rather stay here, if that’s OK.
That’s quite fine, as long as you promise to work. I have a few odd jobs my hands are getting too old for, and Celia isn’t the strongest helper. Anyways, it’s good you’re staying. I want to show something to you, by the way. Would you come with me?
Mortimer left the room and Terrier followed, hesitantly.
Up a narrow flight of stairs, Mortimer walked, until the inner workings revealed themselves. Bare copper gears rotating quietly, prodding other gears to move along as well; patches of naked wall exposed.
Most of the gears were rusted and their teeth worn down to little nubs. Terrier longed to grab hold of one and stop the moving house completely, but at the slightest motion towards the workings, Mortimer would sense it and turn to scold him.
If it moves, do not touch it.
Words of advice he would never forget.
There weren’t many rooms in the upper floor, only three; one for Celia, one for Mortimer, and one for Mortimer’s hobbies which largely included the somewhat deranged art of clock making. It was near this room that Terrier could hear the ticking the loudest. It stirred the walls and startled dust from its position. It was a wonder how these people ever got to sleep being around such a noisy machine.
The room itself appeared to have once been a cathedral of some kind, with high-vaulted ceilings and a bell tower at the far end. Most of the walls and a vast portion of the floor had been torn away to make room for the larger gears, some protruding halfway out of the floorboards. The windows, which let in grey light as thick as fog, seemed to have been stained glass at one point, but their vibrant colors had long since faded.
Come look at this, Mortimer said, calling the boy over to a smaller gear that stuck out of the center of the room like a ship’s helm. A chain wound around it, the right side fed into the teeth with the left flowing once again down below to darkness.
Wonderful, isn’t it? he asked, watching the gear revolve with a loving stare.
What’s it? Terrier looked around the room with unnerving curiosity, wanting nothing more than to peel the walls and the floors away to reveal the clock in all its grandeur.
You see this here? Mortimer asked, directing Terrier’s attention to a sliding panel in the floor that opened to reveal the smallest gear of all the ones he had seen. It was hardly any larger than his thumbnail and operated amongst a trio of larger mechanisms.
Now, we wait.
Terrier was unsure of what Mortimer spoke of, but stood in silence dutifully regardless. Mortimer himself was unmoving, hovering over the opening as if he were peering down the slopes of vast mountain.
The clock sounded, its great bellow reverberated throughout the house. Mortimer pushed up his sleeves and bent down, carefully removing the tiny gear, taking careful note not to touch the other three.
It must be carefully removed once a day at a precise time, he said. It is the oldest gear and has a slight warp right here. It must be adjusted so that the thirty second bit fits in right here. He touched his finger between two teeth. For the first time, Terrier noticed Mortimer’s hands were gnarled and warped; the skin blackened in some areas, as if they had been broken and never properly healed. He replaced it back onto the still-rotating cylinder. The gear returned to life and Mortimer pushed the panel closed and stood up.
This will be your job from now on. My hands don’t work to well anymore. I must use them for only the most important tasks, which means the smaller ones will fall to you. Celia takes care of the house work and can’t be bothered with the mechanism.
What does it do?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing. But they keep an old man busy. My actual trade is much smaller in scale. You will see. I’ll be needing my materials soon and you’ll see. As long as you stay here, I’ll teach you.
The next day, Mortimer once again took Terrier to the cathedral and showed him the precise groove which fit into the topmost gear. He allowed Terrier to replace it and found it wasn’t too difficult to do.
In the fading light, Mortimer’s silhouette could be seen pointing to various pieces of the clockwork house while Terrier, the silent boy next to him, listened to him explain what they did.
In the hallways, Mortimer taught him how each gear and lever was attached to the main room in some way. Terrier was shown the bedrooms, both with a thick layer of dust covering the surfaces. Even the beds.
In Mortimer’s room, a small wooden box was positioned at the far end. It sat alone in the stillness. Terrier felt a strange presence from the device, as if it were an animal quietly pleading for attention.
Soon, this will be finished. I only need a few more pieces.
Is it a clock?
No, my dear boy, no. It is something . . . much more. But there’s no use explaining it until it is finished. So, until then, I must ask you not to touch it.
Even as he said it, Mortimer touched the box and opened a tiny cover on the front of it, revealing what appeared to be a small black screen, no larger than Terrier’s hand. At once, the boy knew what it was, but he didn’t dare tell Mortimer this.
Terrier was given the guest bedroom on the first floor of the house.
He settled into the cramped bed and closed his eyes, listening closely to the methodic clicking of the grand clock and the unsteady footsteps of Mortimer as he paced the room just above.
For the twelve days of a week, Mortimer fed the boy and taught him the uses of mechanical knowledge. He had a grand book in his bedroom which also served as a sort of library. A large chair sat in place of a bed and all other space was cluttered with old books. An insurmountable amount of volumes were stacked to the ceiling and pushed tightly against walls. Pages of handwritten notes cluttered the narrow paths through the forest of leather and paper. Mortimer set him about memorizing the texts, which at first seemed an impossible task, but Terrier learned most of the volumes were in fact stories.
It was here that the boy learned of the world he had fallen into; its history, its people. Something odd struck him though. It was of a character in a few of the books that was represented as a tyrant, but in others was shown to be a rather evangelical man. In one other, it was said that nothing was truly known about him, and yet he was secretly the leader of the entire city.
Terrier tucked this one into a corner of the room so he could return to it later with better knowledge.
He began to skip meals to read the books, and if he did eat, it was in the company of one of Mortimer’s books. He read during the day in the cathedral, where the light was best and the great clock, oddly enough, soothed him. At night, he would place the book in his lap and read by candlelight until his eyes couldn’t take the tiny black words any longer.
A large majority of the food was developed on the island, in a large and overgrown garden behind the house where Celia spent most of her time. Terrier still hadn’t heard her speak, but found himself wishing more and more that she would, even if it wasn’t to him.
Water needed to be purified before it went into the garden. He figured this out even before Mortimer said anything. Simply by leaning over the sea’s edge and gazing down at it, he understood, by the pale green color, that it was not safe to drink.
A trader came once a week to the island. At least he mentioned himself as a trader. He was old, though not as old as Mortimer and carried himself like a rich man. He brought food with him and gave it to Mortimer, though Terrier would only ever see Mortimer give one thing back, and a small pocket watch at that. He met with the trader the first time he arrived and though he never got a name, he could tell the trader was very kind. It was in his eyes and the way he smiled when he shook Terrier’s small hand.
The two never crossed paths after that, though he could tell of the trader’s arrival by Mortimer’s enthusiasm, the door opening with gusto, and the muffled sound of voices.
A month after his arrival on Mortimer’s doorstep, the old man announced a journey needed to be made. He had, at last, run out of spare parts for his various clocks. The parts, stashed in a dark cellar beneath the house, were necessary to Mortimer, as if they sustained his life, and lived themselves. They were always kept very neat; organized by size, amount of teeth, and intended use. The one time Terrier ventured down there, he thought it a very dead place, despite Mortimer’s point to the contrary.
We will be off within the hour, young Terrier. Celia, dear, you will accompany us.
Celia nodded sheepishly and darted out of the room.
Mortimer buttoned up some form of traveling cloak as well as a pair of dirty boots. He gave Terrier a matching pair. You’ll be needing these - and this as well.
He passed Terrier what appeared to be a surgical mask.
They crawled through the sea at frightfully slow pace, using an old steamboat covered with dripping grime and rust. Mortimer worked underneath, working the ships various mechanics and powering it along. For an old man, he was remarkably strong. Celia piloted the craft, even though she was tiny in comparison and needed to stand on a block of wood to see above the helm.
Terrier could only sit in silence and watch as the boats wake ruffled the calm waters. The only company being the wind that blew by him, off to another destination. He thought he saw a tower once; a black spear shooting into the clouds. But a rolling grey cloud of mist rolled in front of his vision, and by the time it had passed, the spire was gone.
He could smell their destination before he saw it. A strong odor of rotten food, dilapidated metal, and sheer pollution invaded his nose. It moved like a wildfire through his senses, clouding his vision, making him lightheaded. It even caused him physical pain in the bridge of his nose. He thought there must have been a thousand decaying bodies in the sea, but when he looked over the edge, he saw only his murky reflection.
Eventually they came to the source of the smell: an enormous city. It came at them from a distance; the air turning hazy and thick. It was only a mountainous silhouette at first, but became clear as a series of towers made of garbage. It looked as if there had been some order, but many of the towers had crumbled to nothingness, miles and miles of trash littered what might have been streets. By then, Terrier had put his mask on, but had only succeeded in blocking some of the stench.
The mountains in the distance soon approached their tiny vessel, until they loomed over Terrier like a giant watching over an insect.
A slab of heavy metal that might once have been an enormous door stuck out through the murky water, offering the steamboat a hand and a walkway to its crew. Mortimer threw a line over what might have been a door handle and pulled the boat in closer, finally tying it off so that the lulling waves wouldn’t pull the boat away.
The earth was a few feet higher off the ground due to the immense amount of decaying waste compacted into the earth. Mortimer pulled a thin rope around Terrier, then Celia, and finally himself.
You may wander, dear boy, but not too far. It is easy to get lost in the City of Smells and there will be no finding you if that does indeed happen. Take careful head of your surroundings. This is a place where things get thrown away; good things, bad things, things you do not want to encounter. Now, you know enough of clocks to know what can and cannot be used. If you should see anything that particularly interests you, be sure to take it along.
Mortimer left, Celia following suit. There was at least a mile of line between the three of them, so Terrier chose a direction and made his way along, stepping precariously over shattered glass and rotting garbage; his dark silhouette disappearing into the thick cloud of smog.
It was with mixed curiosity that Terrier came to the first of several factories in the City of Smells. He gave it a wide birth, but always kept it within sight, trundling along the slopes that cascaded into the factory’s open mouth. The groan of crushing metal came from it like a hallow wail. Smokestacks shot into the sky, nearly into the clouds, and pumped out a black smoke.
It seemed the world had succumbed to this pollution. Terrier could accept that the lonely clockwork in Mortimer’s basement could one day fulfill life, but this place was as dark as death, with a scent to match.
He found a few gears that stuck out of the machines they once belonged to, and some springs and nails that could be put to good use. He found a necklace, too, underneath rippling canvas of rich blue material; with an enormous sapphire set amongst diamonds. Who’d throw this away? He thought to himself, placing it with the other objects in his burlap sack.
Soon he had run out of line and was forced to make his way back through the maze to the boat. He was standing atop a hill consisting of porcelain dolls and cracked light bulbs, trying to see the boat from where he was, but the air was too thick, and even the next hill was nothing more than a blurred shape.
He rode down the slope, allowing the garbage to roll out from underneath his feet and carry him down the side.
He attempted to follow the path he had taken to get there, but it was difficult to find. The rope had slipped under the heaps of garbage in some areas and needed to be pulled out. In one area, he fell into a small cave where a golden statue of some lion-like animal crouched, ready to pounce. But its front paw and a large portion of its head had fallen off, revealing traces of copper. It would’ve been much too heavy to lift and so Terrier left it there; climbing out using outcroppings of metal instead.
He lost his way twice, finally retracing his steps far enough to see the rope line crawl out of the ground like a muddied worm each time.
When he got lost a third time, he realized that the line had gotten snagged on something, a factor he had been wary of from the beginning, but it was nearly impossible to keep tabs on everything he crossed.
He found the snag, but was so revolted by what he saw that he was too afraid to approach it. What lay there, amongst the ruin and the waste, the stripped metal and the scattered objects devoid of any love or kindness, was a human (or at least the foot). It protruded haphazardly out of the soil, covered in dirt. The rope strung into the hill next to it, and protruded out along the other side. Terrier gave the line a pull, but it wouldn’t budge.
He choked down his fears and grasped the leg, fully aware of the disease that probably clung to it like a fungus. He tugged on it warily, as if waiting for it to come to life, but it didn’t budge. He pulled on it again and managed to loosen it up inside the hill. He tried another approach: pulling out the debris that clung around it. For a few minutes he dug, revealing a thigh, a hip, the starting of the other leg, and the torso. Finally, he managed to dust off the hand, clutching the bit of string that kept him tethered there like a balloon. He pulled the body out, over his initial unease, and now perplexed as to how the rope had gotten stuck there. The man’s face, for a man it was, seemed calm, as if he had died in a peaceful manner and not at all one that would result in his being in this place, stuffed beneath a pile of rubble. His eyes were closed and his mouth hung just slightly open.
How sad, Terrier said. Why did you die?
He opened the man’s clammy hand and removed the piece of string, then turned to leave.
Please. . . .
Terrier froze in his tracks. Had his mind played a trick on him, or had the man just spoken.
Please . . . don’t leave me here. . . .
Terrier turned. The man shuddered like a stalling car and reached up. Terrier backed away, a look of horror playing across his face. He took the line, hastily pulled it until there was no slack and tugged as hard as he could, in order to beckon Mortimer.
The man appeared to have no control of his legs, and his arms jutted out over his head, forming odd angles. He moved like a dying insect towards Terrier, his eyes open, black irises staring blankly as if he were still dead.
Please, don’t leave me here.
The gentleman did not speak for a very long time. He seemed distant, not even acknowledging Him.
He watched the gentleman carefully, noting how he looked almost imperceptibly flustered.
“I take it you have heard of this story, then.”
“Yes,” said the gentleman, coming out of what appeared to be a dual reality, or faint reminiscence. “Now that you tell it like that, I have heard this story.”
“Good, then we will proceed along with the rest at a quicker pace if your knowledge may be taken into account.”
“Please,” the gentleman pleaded. “I want to hear it.”
“Well, alright,” He said. “If you’re going to insist; I’m not the one who has places to be.”
The two men had left the shop and were proceeding down an adjacent alleyway. The gentleman waited for Him to continue, but once again, He had reserved his story for a particular destination.
By the time the story could be continued, they had walked into a park. Trees rose up in spirals and shrubs dotted the edges of sidewalks. He sat on a bench, making room for the gentleman next to him. They sat together in silence, watching the couples pass by and the groups of rowdy children who darted from place to place in what appeared to be a traveling game of tag.
“Do you remember where we left off with Fox,” He asked.
“With that machine, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, correct. I had almost forgotten myself, imagine!”
“I suppose it wouldn’t be too hard to believe.”
“Oh, shush. I didn’t request an opinion.”
“But, in fact you did--”
“Do you want to hear the story or not?”
The gentleman was silent. Clearly the line had been drawn.
“Right then. And so . . . we continue.”
© 2010 Domenic Luciani
Added on October 3, 2010
Last Updated on October 18, 2010
The City of Senses
AboutThat is my real name, and that is really me in the picture. Like Patrick says, I'm not in the witness protection program. I mostly write books and stories. I like fantasy, or fiction, but if.. more..