Clockwork Spiders

Author’s Note: I humbly submit February’s edition of  Cait Gordon’s 2020 Flash Fiction Challenge,‘ featuring an apothecary as this month’s setting, the object is a spider, and the genre is steam punk – all in 1000 words. Thanks for reading and enjoy!

Albert Pennywise dressed in top hat, monocle, and tailed blazer, unlocked the door to his store. The mounted timepiece protruded from his chest and chimed 8:50 a.m. He turned on the lights which triggered a complex apparatus consisting of conveyor belts, clocks, and mini-broilers. Scoopers attached to a wheel on one end extracted powder from a large bin, then mixed liquid from the bottles en route to the other side where the mixture would be packaged into pill boxes. The process would took less than five minutes.

8:55 a.m. Metal screeching filled the apothecary, shaking the floors and rattling the bottles on the shelves. Albert caught the back end of the air-train in the window of his shop braking its way into the station. It signalled the arrival of his first customer in five minutes.

He retrieved the prepared prescription, labelled it, and placed it on the counter. He spent the next few minutes inspecting the bottles of medicines lining the top shelf on the far wall of his store.

8:59 a.m. The grapefruit sized timepiece on his chest chimed. It activated the series of rods attached to his arms, legs, and neck prompting him to stop his task and take his place behind the counter. He obliged, retrieved another prescription his machine produced, and placed it on the surface.

9:00 a.m. Albert’s first customer entered the store. Albert’s heart leapt, as it did each morning when he had his daily minute with the lovely Agatha.

Like Albert, Agatha had a clock affixed to her chest with rods controlling her limbs. She fashioned a beautiful plumed hat and looked radiant in her floor-length skirt despite moving like a robot.

Albert cursed. She’s fifteen seconds late again. The Watchmakers would not be pleased. He longed for the one minute discourse he was permitted to have with her each day. He’d have to cut out the usual “how are you” pleasantries this morning.

“Hello Agatha, here are your pills,” Albert said.

Her watery eyes contained an emotion which moved him. She picked up the bottle and turned to leave. Albert noticed something falling off Agatha’s back onto the floor when she stepped out the door. About the size of a dime, an eight-legged device with a stopwatch on its back scurried under the counter. Albert moved to investigate, but… 

9:01 a.m. The timepiece in Albert’s chest went off forcing him to return to his inventory work, only to stop him at 9:04 to prepare and await for the next customer entering the store. The process continued until 10:00 a.m., at which point the mechanics attached to his body made him complete a requisition form to restock medicines and to refill the drug-making machine. 

The next customer arrived at 10:15 a.m sharp, and his day continued as pre-ordained by the governing Watchmakers. 

They had scheduled Albert’s life, like everyone’s in the city. No one could deviate from their timetable because of the robotic limbs they were forced to wear. Any resistance to the devices, or worse yet, unauthorized removal, would result in months of painful “recalibration” therapy.

Albert’s apothecary provided state-sanctioned medications to ensure the precision and timeliness of its citizens. People with disease would need to be treated immediately for fear of breaking time-laws. Albert pondered what could have afflicted Agatha to be fifteen seconds late over the last few days.

The pharmacy never had more than one customer at a time. They were all programmed to enter and leave in-between Albert’s other tasks. 

5:00 p.m. The screeching metal of the air-train shook his store signalling the end of the work day. Albert locked the shop’s door and left for his home, an apartment above the apothecary. 

The Watchmen permitted citizens who weren’t under routine and in the confines of their house to remove the robotic attachments. Albert noticed the small eight-legged creature affixed like a magnet on top if his chest clock. The stopwatch on its back spun around in circles as the creature raised and lowered itself against the timepiece. Fascinated, Albert observed the creature with a magnifying glass. It’s backend appeared to have a microscopic tube attached to his clock, which pulsed with its every movement. It shifted around his chest piece every few minutes and repeated the process. Albert bored of the little spider and permitted it to have its fun. He went to bed dreaming of his next minute-long encounter with Agatha.

8:25 a.m. An alarm went off warning Albert that he needed to don his robotics in five minutes, otherwise be arrested. He rushed to change into his clothes, but noticed the spider was nowhere to be found.

8:50 a.m. His device had him situated in his store to resume business.

9:01 a.m. Agatha arrived over a minute late, sounding an alarm in his chest clock. Albert panicked. He didn’t want his love, Agatha to be arrested. His robotics prevented him from serving her, because he had to perform the inventorying. 

She rushed over to him. Her limbs flowed with a grace which Albert never witnessed of anyone in his life. She reached over to his chest-clock and rotated the face 180 degrees, then grabbed his hands.

Albert’s limbs relaxed, almost making him fall to the ground.

“Come with me,” she said. “Before the Watchmakers get here.”

She pulled him out to the back door of the apothecary and ushered him into a passenger seat of steam-powered tricycle. She embraced and kissed him.

“Oh, have I longed for this moment,” she said. “We’re going to finally live among the free.” She turned turned a crank by the steering wheel igniting the engine, and drove full speed to the boundaries of the only world Albert ever knew.

In the back, Albert heard much whirring, ticking, and chiming. He looked over to the boot. Hundreds of mechanical spiders like the one that freed him marched around.

The revolution was afoot.

Clockwork Spiders © 2020 Bruce Gordon. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without permission except in the case of brief quotations in critical articles and reviews. For more information, contact Bruce Gordon.