from The Hole in the Coal-Black Sky (excerpt of a work in progress)
Charlie sat down, opened the small velvet bag that held the more delicate of her failsafe’s tools, and withdrew from it a jeweler’s glass which she proceeded to hold up to her left eye, squinting to hold it in place. She then tipped out the tiniest of screwdrivers and picked it up between her thumb and forefinger. Under the unblinking gaze of the jewelers glass, a miniature universe in brass opened itself up before her eyes. She focused her attention on the path of the clockwork from arbor to spring and out through wheels and bars and oscillators, and tried to hear the toy cricket’s song. To her unconscious ear, it sounded out a most delicate and complicated tune, a tiny fugue so delicately orchestrated that she had to strain to keep track of all its parts. After several minutes of staring and listening, she at last heard the song in its entirety, heard where its themes meant to go, heard how it should end, and glared like a manic conductor out over the orchestra of clockwork in search of the instrument that had stopped pulling its weight, thus making the entire symphony grind to a halt.
Charlie frowned, now, as she followed the music again and again until at last her eyes settled on one tiny flywheel in the neighborhood of the cricket’s hind legs that had slipped on its shaft. She closed her eyes for a moment to give them a rest, took a deep breath, and then started her work as she slipped the head of the screwdriver through the cricket’s innards with the greatest of care and gently levered the offending gear back into place. Charlie let out a deep and satisfied sigh as she felt the cricket’s song return to order, then took up the shining cover of the toy’s abdomen with a care that neared reverence and screwed it back into place with graceful, practiced fingers.
Charlie sat still for minute and then pulled the jeweler’s glass from her eye. She had focused so intently on her work, lost in the sheer joy of the toy’s beautiful mechanics that she had almost forgotten that there were others seated at the dining table with her, and so she felt a small shock as her eyes readjusted to the light and she was greeted by the three faces that surrounded her – her uncle’s sour, brow lined with worry, Solomon Sligh’s bored frown, and Mr. Theophilus Gibson, with a smile so wide he looked like a man a decade younger. Charlie couldn’t help but return the smile, and realized she’d been holding her breath as her heart pounded.
“Did you find what was wrong?” asked Mr. Gibson.
Charlie nodded, too excited to speak.
“Perhaps we should check?” he said.
Charlie had to stop herself from leaping out of her seat. Instead she reached out to the cricket with a delicate hand and began to wind the toy once more, holding her breathing steady so that she did not rush the job and break the spring in her excitement. She felt the key come to the natural end of its turning, removed it from the cricket’s carapace, and placed it with its feet down on the dining room table.
For a few seconds, the cricket sat where Charlie had placed it and did nothing. They were, Charlie thought at the time, the longest few seconds she had ever experienced, and as they dragged on she feared that she had misheard the toy’s song and that it would remain a broken thing despite her ministrations.
Then, so quiet it almost went unheard, the cricket made a small clicking sound and sprang up to sit back on its hind legs. The little brass insect moved so quickly it gave everyone at the table a start. Even the dark and disinterested Mr. Sligh jumped back in his chair.