This story started as some simple background information for vehicle designs in Concept Art. Obviously I got a little carried away.
25th of August:
Summer days are growing shorter now. Had some luck the past few months. Managed to convince the local farmers returning from the city markets to bring a few papers from the University. Not much to work with. Curse this exile to the coast and this dreary estate. No matter, with Autumn chill fast approaching I fear even this window to the scientific community will soon close.
Sent word again to the Chancellors but to no avail. Even my few allies hold out little hope for my reinstatement. Frustration is so great I think I may be frightening the household staff. Have taken to long walks in the woods surrounding the estate to keep my wits.
11th of September:
Most troubling news. Got word from the city today that the last of the laboratory staff from the accident, a Mr. Farthing, has passed on. I will remember him as a truly capable man, though I doubt his family will remember me as kindly, thanks to the Deluvian Professor and his friends in the Chancellory. If only they had not interfered this all could have been avoided.
Must keep up the spirit. Another chambermaid gone this week, decamped in the middle of the night, in tears the poor thing. Can I really be that unsettling? Mrs. Devereux has made herself clear that such turnover in the staff will not be tolerated. A veiled threat I assumed, but several of the kitchen staff warn me otherwise.
Of a brighter side, I think my frequent constitutionals have done wonders to clear my thoughts. Set out to the cobbler at the cockscrow to acquire a right and proper pair of woodsman’s trompers. Anything would be preferable to these flat city soles. Heard the sounds of rushing water several hours to the North but the way was thick with underbrush and well off the trail. With these new boots hope to investigate, and look smart doing so.
18th of September:
Quite a discovery to the north. Following a small brook I navigated to its headwaters, a large pool fed in from the hills. What’s more, ruins all around! Quite overgrown and covered in scale, hard to estimate but certainly back to Roman times, or earlier. Have sent the stable boy to the University’s library with some rubbings, my seal, and hope. Certainly my former office still carries enough weight to bring back a few references. If nothing else that old librarian Wenfrow won’t be able to resist those rubbings.
The site is something of a huff and a hike, especially with no beaten path or pack animal. Still, a cursory examination is just not enough. Once the boy returns I shall pack a few nights worth and make an expedition of it. Noticed plentiful greens about the pool, the cook thinks them watercress, and a perhaps a few fish besides. Should be adequate. Quite excited.
Two more missives to the Chancellors but still no reply. Blind fools the lot of them. And to each in kind I say!
26th of September:
Set out before the dawn and made straight for the site, but hit bad weather not an hour past the edge of the forest. Downpour and dour spirits, but pressed on. Slow going in the mud. Just made camp, but exhausted and losing light rapidly. Too wet even for a proper fire. Nothing but to rest now and wait for the morning.
Awoke thinking it morning, but stepping from the lean-to and the pool is aglow! So bright I sit by its light and write these words without lantern or candle. Fish are the cause of it. Small diaphanous things, their organs glow right through their flesh as they flit about. Quite a sight. No doubt my pagan friends thought the same, so much so to build these monoliths all about.
1st of October:
Four days at the site. Wanted to stay longer but supplies began to run low and the nights are turning colder much sooner this season. Have rubbings of most of the carvings, and even managed to translate a few thanks to Wenfrow’s tomes. Worth the sweat effort to get them out here I confess. Mostly about forest spirits and the like. Also some interesting mechanical figures, that’s more in my bailiwick. A few slides and stains prepared from a fish, crudely dissected. Will get a better look at them under the scope once I’ve returned.
I suppose there will be a letter waiting for me from the Chancellory by now.
5th of October:
Stopped at the lab just long enough to resupply. Mrs. Devereux was quite shocked to see me, but seemed just as happy to set me on my way again. Even had the kitchen make me up some meat pies. Shall have a scope now, and the right stains and solvents to prep slides. Also a potpourri of new books from the city. Oh, and a jar. Mussent forget the jar to take back a specimen. The stable boy’s already laid claim to any exemplar I bring back. He has in mind to name it Gustav.
Mrs. Devereux informs me that no letter has arrived from the city, but a messenger sent word that the Deluvian Professor and the Antitherian Professor will be traveling to the estate in three days time to discuss the matter in person. I’ve left instructions to give them tea and curt looks and little else.
Rain continues but I shan’t be unprepared this time.
6th of October:
The hills abound with mudslides and progress to the site has slowed to a crawl. Have pitched camp less than half the distance to my goal and will make another go of it tomorrow. I feel as the target of some angry god. The trail, or what was made of it, seems all but lost now under the damage.
8th of October:
Disaster! Finally reached the site as the sun fell behind the western hill line to find the angry deity besetting my Odyssian hike. The rains have overwhelmed the burn of earth holding back the pool. Let loose, the torrent likely caused the mudslides that blocked my path. What cruel fate that it should last these thousand years only to be cut down so soon after I had found it. This was my earnest thought, but as I survey the damage I can see it is my careless clearing of the trail that has laid the seeds of this destruction. Monoliths are toppled and mostly buried. The pool a shadow of its former self.
I doubt spirits could be lower, even if I had stayed behind to meet the Chancellory’s sower vanguard. I long for a walk in the woods, but felled trees grow my ire like mushrooms on their rotten bark, and I see them all around me. Nothing now but to sleep.
10th of October:
Three restless nights collecting what I could. Tried to right a number of the stones but their girth is impressive. By what stroke of luck I dare not say, the mechanical notations on the western monolith have landed face up. One of the few. A flywheel design is described, though for what purpose I cannot say. Its mechanics are stirring.
Also made a go at shoring up a bern at the pool’s windward side, but without tools or shovels I fear my meager patch will never hold out the season. With the water so low, I fear too that winter’s chill could reach to the depths of the pool where it had not in the past. A lake frozen over insulates its residents in the liquid depths, but a puddle frozen through makes only stagnant pools come the thaw. I have scoured the ichthyological references brought along, but I see no mention of this species, marvelous and perhaps now doomed. I have collected as many as I dare carry and will set back for the estate at daybreak.
13th of October:
Stumbled in to the main house quite breathless well after the witching hour. Apparently gave the night butler quite a start as he fainted clean away and now rests in the drawing room under smelling salts and the scullery maid’s bitter root tea. Violent rains the final night at the site cleared my makeshift earthen dam. The pool is gone, and its ephemeral inhabitants with it. May God forgive me for what I have caused. The dozen or so specimens collected did not fair the journey well, three being the soul survivors. I awoke late this morning to learn only one has made it the night. Gustav it shall be.
In all of the excitement my grim callers were all but forgotten, but this morning Mrs. Devereux relates the episode. Snubbed by my absence the Deluvian Professor made quite the nuisance of himself, seeing fit to castigate every member of the staff until Mrs. Devereux herself beat him down the front path and back to his carriage with a broom, where he sulked for some time. As she recounted it her ladies in waiting could hardly contain their simpering smiles. I regret having missed it though I suppose had I been there things would have gone quite differently.
Indeed, though the Antitherian Professor was in a similar mood his manner was apparently more swiftly mollified by the kitchen’s sweet biscuits, of which I’m told he partook with a rapacious character. Having sampled the recipe myself I wonder if it was their flavor that swayed his conscience, or rather the threat of Mrs. Devereux’s broom. More surprising, with him was another gentleman who I take instantly from the butler’s description to be old Wenfrow, who was most excited to speak on matters of the rubbings. Perhaps I still have friends in that camp. They leave behind them a letter with the Chancellor’s seal. The day’s events casting about my conciseness I have set it aside for the present.
15th of October:
I have sent the stable boy, who has been most especially dutiful after I presented him with Gustav, to the city with the remainder of my rubbings for Wenfrow’s review. With him I have sent another long list of documents to acquire as I begin to study the mechanics of the flywheel design. Its form is quite ingenious, and though the pagans seemed interested in little more than its novelty I believe with the proper modern materials it could make a superlative clockwork mechanism.
And yes, the letter remains as it has. I am sure I will come to it just as soon as this matter of the device is more thoroughly settled.
11th of November:
After several weeks work on the device I still find myself somewhat thunderstruck. Calculations make little sense and a working model still eludes me. Though I know there is something here. Is it simply my guilt at the price this knowledge cost me? Cost the world?
My brooding is again affecting the staff, and perhaps thinking the letter was its cause Mrs. Devereux took the missive from my desk and forced me to hear it read aloud. I don’t know what made me laugh louder: to hear the Chancellor’s words in her Scottish brogue, or to hear them intone such obsequious offers of grants and assistants to study the ruins, of all cursed things on God’s dower little sphere. I fear my cackling may have verged the preternatural, as Mrs. Devereux is now weary to be left alone in my presence. The vicious demons those dusty old professors bring forth from my soul are but the final blow in this whole affaire. A few short months ago I would have leaped for such a scrap, today I turn my nose up, and far worse. To blazes with them all.
23rd of November:
Little progress is forthcoming on the model, though I think of little else. The staff and I are at a bit of a standoff, and I have barricaded myself in the laboratory as not even my constitutionals ameliorate the stress. Deverex has threatened to force the door and shower me with buckets like the stablemen do with the horses. Or at least this was the gist of her shouts.
My only visitor is the stable boy, they call him Ansel, and of course little Gustav, who against all odds is thriving.
2nd of December:
A breakthrough! And well too near the precipice for my comfort. This dawn as I stirred about the front of the estate the yellow tabby, one of the stable cats, appeared from the hedge and placed before me the limp rag of a captured frog. A gift perhaps? As swiftly as I stopped to examine the item the cat darted away. Holding the poor thing limply I had a mind to dispose of it towards the wood, but as I lifted it the extent of the damage became apparent. The cat had been most gruesome with its surgery and as the thing’s body rose, the entrails did not follow. Most ghastly of all, among them could be seen the creature’s heart, the organ still pumping away the creatures vitality, if only for moments.
I rarely count myself among the squeamish, but on this occasion I made an exception. However as I turned away, the sight of that beating organ struck something in my mind. I had assumed the device a flywheel like those I had studied before, but nothing could be further from the case. Spun in one direction the wheel quickly destabilizes and fails, but set back and forth at a steady beat!
In a scarce 16 hours today I have constructed five prototypes, the last three more than functioning. It is all I can do to record these thoughts before I rest. Finally rest.
10th of December:
A week of the most marvelous progress. A visit to the local blacksmith and I’ve returned with a number of alloys to try out on the device, and what’s more, the promise of time at the smithy’s furnace as soon as the morrow. Have already made models from nearly anything I could get my hands on here at the estate. Wood from the pile, an iron shovel head from the stables, Kitchen staff was kind enough to donate one of the chipped china pieces. Have found that, quite against odds, the wheel seems to function better the smaller I can make it. Thanks to the oscillations the system is self sustaining as long as not disturbed. Accepting of course minor losses to entropy, I predict that a properly balanced and lubricated model could spin for days on end at no apparent reduction in power.
One model already drives a small fan at the corner of my laboratory. Too cold for it really, but I’ve kept it running for the novelty. Also rigged up a small clockwork mouse for Ansel and the other lads to drive at the stable cats. Have heard their shouts all day. Recall reading of a motorized carriage in some work from the continent. I believe a denser wheel could supply sufficient torque. Shall take it up with the smithy when I see him.
Another missive from the city two days past. Yet to read it.
18th of December:
Much headway made on the subject of the carriage. The wheel is forged just this morning, and with it gears, traps, rods, and the like. They rest in the smithy’s annealing furnace for a fortnight. A model in wood sits upon my workbench and though a bit unpredictable when destabilized I believe it sound. The wood’s density is far from uniform.
Ansel and the lads have proven lose of lip with the clockwork mouse. My journey into town this morning was waylayed not twice but thrice by those looking for oscillators to drive every manner of thing. Some of the docksmen were most intrigued by the mouse, and I have agreed to look in to mechanical bate for their lobster traps as soon as work on the carriage permits an idle moment.
23th of January:
Tested the carriage today, or rather attempted to do so. Vibrations became violent before the wheel reached half the intended velocity. The device is undamaged, though the carriage wood creaked and cracked most concerningly. I fear my pride suffered far worse, and with it a number of window pains in the carriage house. Mrs. Devereux has instructed the kitchen to deny my supper, to what I believe to be their great relief as I fathom not one would venture down to my room, even on threat of termination. I have, in fair turnabout as I see it, instructed Ansel to fetch for me a mouse or frog or other small denizen of the grounds to be cohabited in Devereux’s living quarters. Thankfully, I suppose, the winter’s chill shall make the errand all but impossible, as my ire has near fully subsided and Ansel is
yet to return.
Concerning the boy, I have these past few months found him to be quite indispensable. Though unschooled, his mind is a pliant one, and he quickly grasps the odd topics I have raised. I have begun to set aside an hour most evenings to converse with the boy, and have begun to instruct him on his letters and basic calculations. His progress has been remarkable.
And of course so too thrives little Gustav. Overgrowing the sample jar I have procured from the kitchen’s storage the large crystal punch bowl to serve as his domicile. Chef protested, but soirees are few and far between here at the residence. The bowl proved a simple trade at the mention of my uncle’s bottle of Scottish Sour. Ansel has taken to appointing the dish with various water flora and silts to see to Gustav’s comfort.
Another letter from the city, this one delivered by courier. It sits with its sibling unopened.
11th of February:
Have devised a system of coil springs to isolate the oscillator’s vibrations from the carriage, and hope to make another attempt to bring the device to full rotation in the coming days. The effect on the model is subtle, but I feel that it shall prove workable. I have also procured a new alloy from the smithy with a considerable density. In Ansel’s toy it can run the wheel for what seems like weeks on end.
Mrs. Devereux again discovered correspondence from the University, and took her usual actions at reading them. The Chancellor has become quite insistent but I am unwavering. My work is here now, and with a recent sale of clockwork baits and decoys to some of the townsmen I have satisfactory resources to continue in earnest.
28th of February:
Most tragic news. What a fool I have been. Attempted a new test of the carriage oscillator again today, but words cannot describe the disaster that has resulted.
Worked? I can but laugh. Of course it worked. And glorious it was as well, just as I had seen it so many nights in my dreams. A steady state, that was the key. As it has been with every aspect of this damnable contrivance. As before the vibrations grew violent, but my coil springs performed their part flawlessly, holding the entire device until a sufficient speed could be achieved. Then, like a tempest’s calm, as the revolutions reached their zenith a quiet came over the carriage. Over the carriage house for that matter, and all of us in attendance. A transcendent moment of clarity.
But as a frequent student of weather I should rightly have known, a tempest’s calm is but a brief reprieve. I have envisioned the events in my mind’s eye countless times since the morning, but I still cannot fathom the cause of it. Other than, that is to say, the violent cracking and splintering of wood that was its vanguard. Loosed from its moorings the oscillator’s great wheel struck the cobbles of the carriage house most violently, and then it had but to spend its pent up inertia on whatever poor soul was within its reach. The stable master and his assistant are cleaved in twain even now before my eyes each time they close. Behind them three columns of the structure are splintered to bits, and then horrifying sounds as one of the quarter horses is beset. Struck so swiftly it remained standing to receive a second blow on the things return.
By what providence I know not, and fear to speculate, I dashed beyond the wheel’s reach mere moments before it passed me to play out its rapacious energies on the front gardens. Though not before it struck the final pillars of the carriage house, brining much of the masonry down upon my worthless head. My injuries were not grave, but my poor Ansel has payed that price in my stead. The remaining horses driven to a froth, broke free from their stables, one striking the boy’s temple with its hoof for good measure. I have brought the boy to the library and Mrs. Devereux stays by his side as the physician does as he can. The man’s face is most doleful.
Even Gustav has not escaped the miasma of misfortune that surrounds me. As if I had not visited upon him more sorrow and destruction than is deserved by any creature in such a short lifetime. His crystal bowl smashed I found him gasping in the rubble of the carriage house. He floats now in his specimen jar, but is too weak to swim. His diaphanous body crossed with haggard red lesions.
Ansel drew his final breaths moments ago. The doctor will take him in the morning. My words fail me. But to say this: To declare with what hubris, what foolish pride I drove towards this with what I see now was a full knowledge of what might happen. And now it’s not I that has wagered a pound of flesh, but those about me. And I am left to sit and suffer unscathed. Perhaps that is the crueler torment.
I can but sit here in my darkened laboratory and pen these words by Gustav’s fading light. I fear that he too will pay my toll to the ferryman before the night is through. I will watch over him as Ansel did. I owe him that much. Owe them both.
A fitful sleep at my workbench vigil has struck me with a monstrous idea. But if I dare to try it I must be swift. Gustav’s light fades. In my dream I have seen the workings of the clockwork bate I designed for the docksmen. Even now they sit all about me in stages of construction, and at the center of each a compartment for bait bits, and the wheel, beating away like a heart. Like the tiny heart that now grows slower and colder within Gustav’s chest.
The principles are the same. Nearly identical. And with the smithy’s alloy it could run for, for longer than I can surmise. But dare I take this any further? If only there were time to think.
The deed is done. I worked through the night with thread and leather and sinew. I can no longer consider what I’ve done. I function now on grief and instinct, and little else. Gustav, if he can still be called it, rests now in his specimen jar, encased in the carapace of my handiwork. If you are to be my judge then know my conscience: what further harm could I have done?
15th of March:
Another letter today from the University. Perhaps my warning on these Ides of March. I have not read it, but I know its content. Know enough of that lot to know that when word reaches them of what has transpired their encomium will dry up like so much spilled milk in the sun.
The constable has taken an inquest to my actions, and I suspect the University will best be forwarding my future correspondence to Stockmore, if not the gallows. It’s more than I deserve. If nothing else, it should keep the Deluvian Professor from calling on me.
If there is but one brightness from this sordid affaire, it shines from little Gustav, who seems to thrive in his new suit of clothes. By my reckoning he can expect to outlive us all.