Excerpt for Time's Deformèd Hand by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Time’s Deformèd Hand


Steven R. Southard

All rights reserved

Copyright © October 13, 2014, Steven R. Southard

Cover Art Copyright © 2014, Charlotte Holley

Gypsy Shadow Publishing, LLC.

Lockhart, TX

Names, characters and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author or the publisher.

No part of this book may be reproduced or shared by any electronic or mechanical means, including but not limited to printing, file sharing, and email, without prior written permission from Gypsy Shadow Publishing, LLC.

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ISBN: 978-1-61950-241-3

Published in the United States of America

First eBook Edition: November 15, 2014


To all my English teachers from elementary school through high school and college. I may have forgotten your names, but not the love of language and story you conveyed. Believe it or not, some lessons got through and stuck with me. If I obeyed the rules while writing this tale, the credit goes to you. For any rules I broke, I’ll take the blame, and I’m sorry.

The clock in the tower overlooking the town of Spätbourg struck five, though several minutes late. On this sixteenth day of June in 1600, Heinrich Jäger descended toward the center of town, having flown over the Alps using a set of rented daVinci wings. Twelve narrow streets radiated out from the circular courtyard, and a curved outer street circumscribed the whole town. Soaked in sweat from flapping the aerial contraption, he turned it in to the daVinci Wing Exchange office. From there he walked straight to the local municipal building. Hoping he wasn’t already too late, he’d come to warn yet another village about his son.

Five minutes later, Heinrich had introduced himself to the Wachmeister—the local constable—and sat across from him at a desk in the police office.

“My son is a thief. He may already be in your town, or will arrive shortly. It’s my sad duty as a loyal citizen of the Swiss Confederacy to warn you about him.”

Wachmeister Baumann looked up, nodded, and then twisted his moustache, which jutted out to both sides in large waxed spirals, ending in tapered points. The moustache made his face look like a clock stopped at nine-fifteen. He dipped his quill in ink and let it hover over the paper on which he’d begun taking notes. “To open this case, I shall require all the partic . . . particles. Why do you think your son is a thief?”

Heinrich sighed. “It’s a long story. I’m partly to blame, I’m afraid. It was difficult to raise a child all by myself, especially when my job as a clock merchant took me to so many places. Not a proper upbringing for a boy.”

“What happened to the child’s mother?”

Heinrich shut his eyes and hung his head in painful recollection. “About twenty years ago, we were travelling together, my wife and I, on our way to a hamlet where I had to make a sale. I should never have agreed to take her such a distance while she was with child, but she insisted, and I did not fully appreciate the dangers. In those days, people did not simply fly over the Alps. I had bought two identical clockmen—I called them Chrono AM and Chrono PM—to carry us on the journey.” Heinrich realized Baumann might think him a very rich man to have bought two of the giant clockwork automatons, though the purchases had consumed all his savings.

“Clockmen, Herr Jäger? Did you buy these clockmen new?”

“Yes, except for their minute hands.”

“And how did you acquire their minute hands?”


“Hmm. Got the minute hand second-hand,” the Wachmeister mumbled while he wrote, then looked up again. “To afford clockmen, you must have been wealthy.”

“Business was good.” Heinrich no longer felt pride in his accomplishments, long since overwhelmed by the familial shame of his criminal son.

“Please continue, Herr Jäger.”

“We had stopped to camp on a mountain ledge. My wife’s pains became worse and she gave birth, there on the mountainside. Twin boys.”

“Twins, did you say?”

“Yes. A pair of healthy little boys. While sitting by the fire, I held one babe wrapped in a blanket and my wife cuddled the other. She told me she wanted one to be named Georg when—” he stopped to wipe tears from his eyes. “I’m sorry, Wachmeister.”

“Perfectly understandable. Please continue when you can.”

Heinrich composed himself. “The avalanche came suddenly and with great force. A sea of snow swept me right off the ledge. For a time I could not breathe. I must have passed out from all the tumbling and rolling. When I awoke, I found one baby in my arms, with one of the clockmen shielding us. That machine saved our lives. When it dug us out of the snow, I called for my wife, but never found a trace of her or the other baby. That clockman bore us both—me and the one living son—to the nearest town. I named the boy Georg to honor my wife’s wish.”

“Georg Jäger is the lad’s name, then?” Baumann looked up from his notes.

“Correct, Wachmeister. Please understand, I did my best to raise him right. I even gave the clockman to him. But somehow along the way he went wrong. In recent months I’ve learned his patterns enough to anticipate his moves as he travels from canton to canton, town to town, stealing merchandise and reselling it elsewhere. I only hope I can find him here in Spätbourg and convince him to stop robbing people, to rewind his moral clock, if you will. In any case, I felt it only right to warn you, sir.”

“Please describe your son.”

“Well, he looks something like me, if you could turn back the hands of time. My height. My hair color, though his is rather thicker and less gray. The same facial features, but without so many wrinkles.”

“Nor quite so many birthdays as you either,” the Wachmeister said with a laugh.

“Not nearly so many. He’s had only five birthdays.”

“Five?” Baumann looked up from his notes. “He’s a little boy, then? I thought you said he’s about twenty years old.”

“He is twenty. It’s just that—”

“Now see here, Herr Jäger.” The Wachmeister frowned and twisted his moustache. “If I am to apprehensivate your son I need accurate information. He cannot be both five and twenty.”

Heinrich sighed. In his anguished state, he’d forgotten how people often got confused by this calendrical enigma. “Georg was born on Leap Year Day. He has a birthday only one year in every four.”

“Ah, I see.” The Wachmeister placed his quill pen back in its holder. “Thank you, Herr Jäger. I sense this was not an easy thing for you. Don’t worry, I’m good at tracking down such men.” He twisted his moustache. “It comes from being smarter than they are, from knowing their modus operetta.” He tapped his temple. “You know, there’s a wedding tomorrow afternoon at the Church of St. Eligius. The whole town will be there. Perhaps your son will make an appearance, too.”

“Thank you, Wachmeister Baumann,” Heinrich stood up to leave, “I may visit, though I doubt Georg would be among a crowd in daylight. He’s a thief of the night.”


Three hours after night brightened into morning, Georg Schmid emerged from the door at the base of Spätbourg’s clock tower, his mind troubled by confused thoughts about his upcoming wedding. He liked the idea of getting married and sharing his life with a loving companion. True, he considered his betrothed—Anna Müller—quite pretty and even pleasant to talk to. But deep inside he remained unsure she was right for him. Something seemed missing, not quite right, like the tower’s clock being five minutes late. Even so, he found it difficult to admit to himself he did not love her.

For reasons no one could remember, Spätbourg’s laws forbade arranged marriages. Having banned the clean efficiency of parental deal-making, the town had placed matrimonial decisions in the hands of the two least-experienced people involved—the would-be lovers themselves. Such an ill-considered law led only to extreme anxiety among the parties as they analyzed and second-guessed the depth of their own affections. Georg had fallen victim to this malady of indecision.

He’d been wishing his ill feelings would pass, that things would fall into place somehow. But now the day had arrived and he felt even more unease about the whole thing. Too late to do anything about it now, he realized, except to go through with the wedding and hope for the best in marriage.

Georg found he could not repair the faulty mechanism that had caused the tower’s clock to run late. He thought he might have caused the problem himself, by previously leaving an oily cleaning rag hanging from a strut. The clockwork machinery’s vibration had shaken the rag loose and it had fallen into the gear mesh, causing the gears to skip a tooth. But he could not free the sticking clutch mechanism that would allow time corrections. He vowed to ponder the problem and return to it after the wedding.

As an apprentice clocksmith, he had not yet attained the level of guild member. But the town’s master clocksmith had grown too old to climb the tower, so only Georg could repair it. He enjoyed the time he spent among the gears and cams of the tower clock, the one timepiece in town he had all to himself. Of late, the work had given him plenty of time to think about the dilemma of his impending marriage and whether he could come to love Anna.

So much to do before the wedding, and so little time. Luckily, his clockman could assist with his preparations. Like all clockmen, Chrono AM stood eight feet tall. A wooden outer shell enclosed all the metal machinery within. A wind-up key stuck out of its back. The automaton bore a large clock on its chest which now showed a time of nine-fifteen.

Few had paid attention to clockmen when Leonardo da Vinci had invented them a century earlier. Only when someone tried to build one from the pine of the Forest of Hohbach did interesting things begin happening. In 1555, woodcarver Hans Kreutz had heard a sweet singing voice coming from a fir tree near the village of Ralligen. Ever since then, people had known something unusual marked the flora of those woods. DaVinci wings constructed of those pines flew farther and with much less human effort. Clockmen made from those trees could be taught to understand spoken words, speak, and obey orders. In time, all clockmen came to be constructed from the magical pine of this forest. It still mystified the greatest minds of Europe why clockmen made from a particular forest would come alive. The most widely accepted theory attributed this to magic spirits dwelling in those trees.

No longer an unusual sight throughout Europe, clockmen remained possessions of royalty and the rich alone. For many years, Chrono AM had been the only clockman in Spätbourg.

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