Clockwork Dickinson

September 14, 2011

I wrote a short story for one of my classes. Posting it here because my mom wanted to read it. After re-reading it a couple of times, I decided that the basic concept seems to be that Emily Dickinson is kidnapped by English Batman and taken to the future.

Anyway, here goes, also, it’s got quite a few errors, I just haven’t put in the time to do revisions yet. Will do that after it gets workshopped.

A Clockwork Dickinson

Part One: Stop the Clock Ticking


The rapping on the door began softly, as if to gently rouse the careful sleeper on the other side. However, the attempt at arousal was itself mistaken, for the woman in the room was not asleep, and had not been since the sun broke free of the horizon.

The young lady had watched the light break, curiously, as if she had never before seen such a wonder. It was not the simple act of daybreak that filled her with wonder, but the thoughts she’d never had before whose presence cast such shadows in the fresh light. She thought, “How easily the sun makes it seem, to overcome one’s own gravity.”

The rapping on the door grew louder, the frustrated fist pounding while she pondered the laws of science upon her own cursed humanity.

“Emily,” Austin called softly, more gently than suggested by the insistent knocking on her bedroom door.

She hesitated, cutting off her sunlit reverie mid-thought, where she left an apple dangling from a string above dear Isaac Newton’s head. She would cut the fruit free later, and continue this experiment in thought.

“I’m rather indisposed,” she called out lightly to the door, as if brother were made of wood. Carrying on the simplest conversations with him was akin to conversing with a lively Oak.

The knocking ceased. The lack of sound felt deeply more persistent. Emily strode from the window to the door and opened it.

“You’re up to your games again,” Austin accused, his voice vaulting to a higher pitch with the last few syllables.

“Am I having fun?” Emily asked.

Austin glared across the threshold at his sister. “You were missed at breakfast,” he said, his left eye giving a twitch.

“Was I missed at tea?” Emily asked, smoothing her hands on her wrinkled dressing gown.

Austin stared at her then, his cold blue eyes pained beneath their sparkling pools. He opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again, his eyes darkening against the swallowed grievance, unaired.

“I heard the strangest thing last night,” Emily began. “There was a curious ticking. In my sleep I could feel it beneath my pillow, and in my dream, I awoke, followed the noise through door after door to the street. There were more doors in this house than ever before, than ever I could recall. I was so startled to find myself out in the street, in my bedclothes, hid behind a tree. A hand reached out to greet mine, as though to kiss it, upon first meeting. Instead, into my hand was passed a single Daisy, withered as though it had been picked many hours prior. In the next instant, I was utterly transformed and then transfixed upon a carriage dark as midnight. In the very second it was assumed the carriage had arrived at our destination, I awoke to the sun pulling itself free of the horizon. Always, throughout my slumber, there was this curious ticking.”

Austin listened to her story, as he listened to all her stories, his mood never revealed by his chiseled features. She could not bear to look in his eyes, for fear her words had poisoned the well deeper, and pained his thoughts beyond that of her own.

“Could you still hear the ticking when you awoke?” Austin asked at last.

“No,” she lied.

“Then you are safe in your room, and you are my Emily.”

“So it hasn’t happened,” she said, unable to hide her disappointment.

“No, my dear, you are still with us.” He took her hand, and pressed it softly. “You mustn’t fear the Daisies. They’ve not come for you, yet.”

Emily laughed, let it rattle her bones deep throughout herself, the way she rarely did, but always did when Austin spoke her language. No one else seemed to understand. How lucky, she thought, to have a brother who understood her, but then maybe he understood her because she was his. If she had the opportunity to make the choice, she preferred to think of their deep connection as more special than that.

“Shall we have a cup of tea, and sit quietly in the garden?” Austin suggested.

Emily frowned, but then nodded slowly. “Yes, that sounds lovely,” she replied. Leaning away from the window, she declared, “I shall adorn myself with proper attire.”

“That would be best. What might the roses think?” Austin smiled at her. He closed the door behind him as he left to inquire about preparations for tea.

Emily felt a calm settle her feet to the floor. Tea. Garden. These words filled her with mirth and memories that had not been on her mind for some time. She liked the way they sounded much better. As she dressed for tea, the dreaded ticking resounded in her ears, as in her dreams. It was more like it was behind her ear, so she scratched away at the imaginary itch as she made herself presentable for a garden tea.


Though it was still summer, the garden had let a chill fall over it, and of this Emily did not approve. She sipped her tea silently, closing her eyes so that the birdsong seemed to overwhelm the ticking that had not departed.

Every so often, her brother would sigh, and she’d let her eyes pop open. Each occasion, he’d turn away as if he would looking at something else, worrying about someone else. The silence seemed to have gotten the best of Austin, as he said, “I’ve been meaning to ask if you’d like to go to the new gallery.”

“You should take Susan,” she replied, a bit too swiftly.

“Emily, forgive me, but I am asking my sister if she would like to go.” He repeated, ignoring her pointed comment.

“I’d sooner we talk about the weather,” she said, yawning. She sat her teacup down on the saucer in front of her.

“I’d sooner not speak at all,” he returned, his voice buttered with anger, as he took a bite of a tea biscuit.

“Oh, I wish you wouldn’t,” Emily replied, making a face.

“Only snakes stick out their tongues,” he muttered.

“Only snakes belong in gardens,” Emily retorted.

Austin stared at her, his eyes boring into her like she was an apple, and he was the worm. “Always there with a quick line,” he said, shaking his head and standing.

“Oh, you’re furious!” she said, laughing.

“I’m off to the pantry for more biscuits,” he replied, as he stuffed the last one in his mouth.

“If you think that’s for the best,” she replied, ducking his glare. As he withdrew into the house, she turned to see where his gaze might have hit, if it cast itself straight through her.

There was something across the garden that she certainly had not noticed before, not merely on this particular early summer’s afternoon, but ever before. There seemed to be a large figure moving back and forth along the far row of flowers. Emily stood up, and he seemed to shrink in her estimation, much the way physics condescended to defy itself within the constraints of her dreams. She pinched her cheek to make certain she was quite awake.

“Austin!” she called, alarmed.

The figure shot up tall, and at last her eyes could grasp a full view of him. He had a finger pressed to his lips, as if to suggest he required a kiss. He wore a tall black hat, and seemed too statuesque himself to necessitate the extra height. His coat was unlike any she had ever seen, also black, but shiny, and seemed to drape behind him like a cape. It was curious to her that he would be wearing wintry garb in the middle of July. As he motioned her to come closer, she found, such as in a dream, she was unable to move her legs. She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply, hoping the strange man would have disappeared when she re-opened them.

At that moment, Austin returned to the garden, a fresh plate of biscuits in his hand.

“What captivates the lady’s attention so?” he asked.

“There’s someone there, at the edge of the garden,” she hissed, pointing, opening one eye to peek out at the row of hedges where the man had stood.

“I don’t see a single soul in this garden other than my dear sister, who would do well to sit and finish her tea before it forgets it was ever hot.”

Emily sat down and sipped at her hot tea, like an obedient sister, but she could not keep her eyes off the now empty patch of garden. She had a queer thought that man-flowers grew there and that once mature, they would break free of the ground and stalk the earth. She wanted to say the words, but she let them catch in the back of her mind, whereas she’d normally let them catch in her throat in a self-contained chuckle.

“I see if I want your attention this afternoon, I’ll have to sit in line with your gaze,” Austin said, moving his chair across the table from her.

Along with the tea biscuits, Austin had brought with him a newspaper. As she slowly sipped her tea, he read quietly. He had only been back for a few minutes when the strange man reappeared once again. Emily remained calm, wondering perhaps if he rendered himself incorporeal when anyone other than her laid eyes upon him. She stifled a giggle as the man seemed to be getting shorter as he walked along the hedge row, as if he were descending a set of stairs on the other side of the garden. Austin looked up at her, and taking in her bemused expression, stared at her for a moment, as if trying to gauge her thoughts.

“I was just thinking,” she lied, “about how odd it would seem to be in two places at once. How could you keep them straight? One of them might never seem real.”

“These are the kinds of thoughts we spoke of yesterday, my sweet sister.”

“I am sorry that my thoughts trouble you. Imagine how they disorient me!”

“Shall I call the doctor again?” Austin asked, folding his paper.

“Please don’t,” Emily said, rubbing her temples. “I’ll be fine.”

“Is there a pain coming on?” he asked.

“The only pain I see in this garden is my brother,” she replied.

He stood up. “I shall call the doctor, I think. You might not always know what is best, particularly in relation to your own well-being.”

Emily started to protest, but as she had already done so once without deterring her stubborn sibling, she held her tongue. In all the talk of calling the chemist, she had forgotten the man at the end of the garden. As soon as Austin had retreated into the house, she scurried to the end of the garden, her feet bare and now dirty.

“Thought you’d never get a moment alone,” the man said, as he leaned against the house.

He was wearing thick-framed spectacles, which were again unlike any she’d seen. He had an accent, like he was visiting from England.

“Are you English?” she asked.

“What gave me away?” he asked.

“I am not certain what the obsession is that people have,” she began, “With not answering questions! Or with thinking that a question is sufficient answer to any query.”

“But you got your answer either way,” the strange man replied.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” Emily replied.

“Then try something else. Try being fearless. Understand?”

“Not even a little bit,” she admitted.

The man pulled a watch out of his pocket. “Would you like to stop the ticking of the infernal clock?” he asked.

Her eyes grew wide, and even as they did, she deigned to prevent it, for she did not wish for the man to take the temperature of her reaction. Seeing his recognition at her response, she nodded in agreement.

“Of course you do, dear,” he said.

“Do you trust me?”

“I don’t think I trust myself,” she replied.

“Oh dear, and how you complain about answering a question with a question. But might we speed things up a bit? There is always a deadline. You’ve only to decide, do you truly wish to stop the ticking of the clock?”

“Yes,” Emily said forcefully, the decision made in a word formed before she could think it.

“Then close your eyes and count to ten.”

Emily complied, opened her eyes, and let the world smack her in the face. She breathed in several shallow breaths, choking on the thickness of the oxygen. This was not her garden. This was a world she’d only once dreamt of, with dozens of faces moving past her each second, the street teeming with strangely dressed denizens of a world beyond her wildest imaginations.

“Where are we?” she asked, once she had caught her breath.

“London, and we’re just about home, as soon as that clock chimes 5 times.”

At that moment, the clock of which he spoke began its countdown. Emily watched the seemingly faceless faces of the crowd rushing past, and she wondered where they might be going.

The clock finished its countdown.

“Welcome to 2012, dear. I can’t wait to show you off around town. The others will be so terribly jealous.”

“Then their clothes aren’t strange at all. Ours are,” she said, taking his proclamation better than he had imagined.

“I thought for certain you would faint when you heard where I’d brought you.”

“I’ve always felt a sense of being trapped in an era that didn’t know how to handle me. I’ve always been told that I’m adaptable. It was never a compliment. Is it here?”

“It is.”

“Then I’m happy.”

The man stared at her for a moment. As his blue eyes pierced into her flesh, tore into her organs and took stock of her innards, she felt a twinge she’d only noticed a time or two before.

“Then, shall we?” he asked, extending his arm.

“With no question of whether it’s proper?” she asked.

“You’re already catching on.”

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