Today the winners of the 3rd Quarter L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future winners were announced. An original piece of fiction by Christopher Broom made the Honorable Mention list and you can read the entry, The Bluebird and the Tick-Tock Man, right here.
The Blue Bird and the Tick Tock Man
He was, as he always was, in his workshop. This Tick-Tock Man, this creator of artifice, denier of the change. My mother tells me to stay away from him. My father distrusts him. Any man who refuses the gifts of the Splicers is no man worth his salt, or so my father so often-reminds me.
We all have dual roles to play now, my mother says. The Splicers have given us amazing gifts in the face of a terrible loss. The Tick-Tock Man yearns for a time we cannot go back to.
I don’t agree, can’t agree. I’ve seen the picture books; the images of multicolored eyes peering through dense foliage. Claws that were longer and sharper than any of our own. Hair, fur, feathers. Bodies of every shape and size. No, I could not agree with my mother nor with my father for I too yearned for a time we could not return to.
Sometimes, high among the clouds, I forget about the Tick Tock Man and the picture books. Sometimes I simply circle the sky reveling in the gifts of the Splicers. I see my parents from on high. My mother with her powerful legs straining against the weight of the old iron plow. My father, his tail wagging, dances alongside her ever vigilant towards those who may slink or slither by seeking an easy meal. Carnal instincts often overpowers good judgement.
I’ve wondered if that’s the reason the Tick-Tock Man refuses the gifts of the Splicers. Their promises of a new world, a new age, holds no sway over him. They leave angry, bitter, convinced they have found the solution.
“We can have it all!” They would shout to passerby. “We can be better. We can be new. Their loss will not be our loss. We will change. We will adapt. We have gifts for all of you.”
I don’t remember accepting their gifts. I don’t know if I’m better. I don’t know if I’m new. I wondered about the Tick Tock Man.
I spotted the smoke long before I saw his home. I watched as smoky tendrils snaked their way above the tree line; ever upward they ascended to destinations beyond my own meager comprehension.
That was my cue. To turn my wings against the currents holding me aloft. To return to my picture books and the safety of my mother and father. Instead I tucked my wings close to my side, angled my beak in a downward direction and felt the wind rush past me as I drew closer and closer. A child’s curiosity is never sated.
Like a leaf falling from a tree I descended, quietly and quickly. Gingerly I wrapped my zygodactyls, which had replaced my feet, around a small branch opposite a large window. It was my hope that I would catch a glimpse of the man who refused the change. Perhaps I would speak with him about my picture books.
When the wires dropped over my wings, instinct ruled all. I flapped, I fluttered, I called out for my parents, for the Splicers, for the change to let go and yet all I heard was squawking.
My feathers, my blue feathers, they burned and wilted against the heat that assaulted me. My lungs ached for crisp, clean air that never came. My legs kicked so furiously it was only after the adrenaline left my body had I realized they had been removed. I cried, I squawked. I squawked, I cried.
So soft, so blue. I have waited a long time for one such as you.
I felt it then. My wings spread wide, the sharp piercing of metal against what would be flesh. I was still, suspended, and held aloft. I did not want to see but he cut and he would say, “do you see?” He would cut and he would say, do you see?
I did see then, those from my picture books. Claws, teeth, fangs, talons. Bodies of all shapes and sizes. But no fur, no multicolored eyes peering through dense foliage, gone were the colors found only in nature, gone were the mysterious beasts with no names found only in pictures! Replaced they were! They had become one with cogs of bronze, springs of steel, and casings of iron.
Who was he? The Tick-Tock Man? He who denied the gifts of the Splicers. He who lived beyond the village. He who remained human. He who cut and burned. Was he like us? Did he hate us? Or was he simply curious?
I cannot begin to say how long I had been there, down in what I can only assume is the workshop of the Tick-Tock Man. The heat that had penetrated every pore of my body finally subsided. The light of the fires were nothing more than embers. I could not see much for dried tears, soot and metal shavings had collected themselves in and around my eyes. But I tried. I noticed first the change had left me. I was naked, pink in places, a mixture of browns and reds in others. It took everything I had to keep my head from lolling to the side. Pain, a terrible pain would shoot through my arms whenever I attempted to move them, even a little. Thick spikes, reminiscent of railroad ties kept my hands firmly against the wall in which I found myself. I cried, not a helpless squawk but a tear riddled cry that left me shaken and broken.
“Let me go…” I mumbled. “Let me go….”
“There is no release from the Tick-Tock Man.” A voice in the darkness answered. “Soon we will all be corrected.”
“I don’t want to be corrected!” I shouted. “I want to fly! I want to taste the air. I want to feel the wind…”
“We were never meant for such things. We were meant for the Earth. The Splicers would have us believe we’re better. We’re no better. It was us. It was always us. It should have been them. We’re not deserving.”
I didn’t understand. My words were hoarse screams. Every vibration from my throat rattled the nerves in my arms causing my hands to jump and twitch and then the pain would settle me.
“We will be corrected,” the voice answered. It was a girl, that much I knew. Her voice never wavered though. No fear in her words, only submission.
“What does he want? The Tick-Tock Man?”
“To make us whole again,” was her reply.
“Are we not whole? The change….”
“Was not meant for us!”
She didn’t speak after that, yet I did not relent. I asked her questions; her name, if we would be released. I offered my name, I told her stories of my parents, what they could do, change into. I could not see her through the darkness and when my throat burned with thirst I quieted.
The Tick-Tock Man returned after a time. He cut me then. He cut me, and he would say, “do you see?” He cut me, and he would say, “do you see?”
Then I was alone, in the gloom of his workshop. No light, none that I could see. I had no recollection of time, not in this space, this place of metal and change. I could move, though not my wings. Those he took from me, the Tick-Tock Man. I had fingers again but not flesh and blood and bone. When I moved them, the appendages that were taken from me, I felt nothing and yet I heard a squeal, a rubbing of metal on stone.
“We deserve this,” a voice floated to me from somewhere in the dark.
I tried to see, to open my eyes but where I had hoped for light I found only darkness and pain.
“Why…? I” croaked. “Why do we deserve this…?” I was nothing more than a whimper. A soft innocence bereaved of anything innocent.
“He cut me,” she said, her voice barely a girlish whisper. “He cut me, and I finally saw.”