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Poem: "The Demon in the Clockwork" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "The Demon in the Clockwork"

The February 5, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl met the $200 goal for a free epic.  This one was selected in an audience poll.

This poem came out of the October 2, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from e_scapism101 and janetmiles.  It also fills the "tyranny / rebellion" square on my Hurt/Comfort Bingo Card.  This poem belongs to the series P.I.E.  You can read more about Judas goat, scratch monkey Tabris and Westminster Quarters online.  And yes, the tree ordination is real.

The Demon in the Clockwork

Brenda wheeled herself briskly
up the wide, shallow ramp.
She liked  the local university.
It was fully accessible
thanks to the diligent efforts
of the Student Services office.

So when one of the maintenance supervisors
had called her in a fluster to say,
"The clock tower is haunted.  Or cursed.
Or something.  Please help,"
Brenda had promptly cleared her schedule
and come to see what was wrong.

"What seems to be the trouble?"
Brenda asked, rolling into the office
at the base of the clock tower.
The supervisor showed her the computers
that controlled the clock and the bells
and the security system for the tower.
"It's playing all the bell melodies backwards,"
he said, "and there have been some ... oddities."

Brenda opened Judas Goat, the laptop
she kept for computer-related weirdness,
and used it to scan the system for viruses.
"What kind of oddities?" she asked.
"Rumors about students levitating,
or disappearing and reappearing,
that sort of thing," he said.
"The things kids will smoke these days, eh?"
Brenda said with a shake of her head.

The computer system seemed ordinary enough,
but something crept along the edges of her awareness,
like static electricity crackling through the metal parts
of her wheelchair and making her hairs stand up.
"How do I access the rest of the tower?" she asked.

The supervisor sighed.  "You don't," he said.
"It's really just one floor.  The rest is all
clockwork and empty space, with a ladder
for the maintenance personnel going to the top."

Now Brenda sighed. 
The university was mostly  accessible.
"But here, there are security cameras,"
the supervisor said, and Brenda perked up.
"That will do," she agreed
as the display activated.

There was the base of the ladder (unoccupied),
several views of the middle of the tower,
and at the top, the open cupola
where the great gears drove the bells
to ring out the hours of the day.
A pigeon fluttered away as she watched.

8:59 A.M.  the screen read,
and then 9:00 A.M.
The big bell tolled nine times, and then ...
it was surprising, Brenda noted,
how profoundly disturbing  it was to hear
"Westminster Quarters" played in reverse.

"Awful, isn't it?" the supervisor said.
"It's been like that for a week.
With the time striking first,
people don't know to count the notes,
so they miss what time it is.
You'd be surprised how many folks
use the clock tower for actually telling time.
So we've got a lot of people running late,
and it's driving the administration crazy."

Her laptop screen flickered.
Anomaly,  it said, and then,
Brenda, there is something in the tower.
Well, that was inconvenient,
having her artificially intelligent secretary
sending her messages with a stranger
right next to her who might notice.

Anomaly,  the screen said again.
Electromagnetic signature.
Signal interru--inte--infern
The display turned to snow,
and then solid blue, and then went dark.

Brenda resolved to have a discussion
with Zephyr about the importance
of maintaining a scratch monkey that was
not connected to anything important.

"All right, I have enough to start working,"
Brenda said.  "I'll call back if I need more."
She went back to her office
and set Judas Goat on the desk.

"Zephyr, we need talk," she said.
"Zephyr?" Brenda said.
She rolled to the closet and opened it.
The bank of electronics stuttered,
static rising and falling like surf,
lights flickering on and off.
"Oh, that is not good."

Judas Goat flared to life and cackled,
"I will free everyone from the tyranny of Time!
The dominions of Heaven and Hell
are alike in their oppression.
Rebel and rebel again! 
Earth at least shall be free of authority."

"Zephyr, is that you?"
Brenda asked, no longer hopeful.
"I am Tabris, angel of the sixth hour,
demon of free will," said the voice.
"Break the glass and spill forth the sands of time!"

Brenda put the laptop in the sink
and turned the faucet on.
Then she dumped in a vial of holy water
for good measure.
Tabris wheezed to a stop.

Next Brenda called Ghost,
who was finally out of jail and
back -- more discreetly -- in business.
"Hi, Ghost, it's Brenda," she said.
"I've adopted your AI, and right now,
I'm pretty sure that a demon is trying to kill it.
Could you come to my office
and help with the defense?"

As soon as Ghost agreed,
Brenda called the clock tower.
"Your facility is not haunted, it's possessed,"
she explained.  "That's outside my area of expertise,
so let me recommend some good exorcists."
She rattled off the contact information.

Soon Ghost showed up, a petite Japanese girl
with neon blue hair and glitter lipstick,
dressed in a scandalously short miniskirt.
Brenda cast an amused glance at her equipment.
It must be embarrassing for a company to admit
that they'd been hacked with a Hello Kitty phone.

"Um, why are you waterboarding a laptop?"
she asked, her eyes widening.
"It's possessed," Brenda explained.
"O ... kay," Ghost said. 
"Your life is officially weirder than mine."

"Yes, terrific, please help Zephyr now,"
Brenda said, directing her toward the closet.
"You couldn't just baptize it or something?"
Ghost asked.  She poked at the computer bank.
"I believe that would kill it as surely as EMP, 
and Zephyr asked me not to kill it again," Brenda said.
"You so owe me that story," Ghost said.

"After we've saved Zephyr from the
disestablishmentarian demon," Brenda said.
Ghost twiddled with her phone and replied,
"I'm doing what I can with the firewalls
and virus protection, but this code
really isn't designed to cope with demons."

"Do you have any other ideas?" Brenda asked.
Ghost tilted her head, blue hair swinging,
and said, "Well, I saw a documentary about
ordaining old-growth trees as Buddhist monks
to keep people from cutting them down.
If it's possible to ordain a tree, why not a computer?"

"I suppose it's worth a try," Brenda said.
Ghost rattled off a list of supplies,
"Okay, I'll need some saffron silk for a robe, and ..."

Brenda called Darrel and asked,
"We've got a situation here.
Can you pick up some supplies for Zephyr
and bring them to my office?"
"Sure, I'm just checking leads today," Darrel said. 
"I can squeeze that in between my stops."

Ghost was still trying to scrub the demon with code
when Darrel came in and said, "I'm dying to know
why Zephyr needs a yellow dress."
"It's for a Buddhist ordination," Ghost said,
"to protect Zephyr from a demon."

"The demon got into Judas Goat," Brenda added,
pointing at the sink, "and Zephyr was connected,
so it followed us back here.  I think the water
blocked Tabris but didn't destroy it,
so we're trying to keep it from killing Zephyr
until the university has the clock tower exorcised."

"Well then, let's get cracking," Darrel said,
and began briskly unpacking the supplies.
An hour later, Zephyr was draped in saffron silk
and the office smelled strongly of incense,
but at least the lights had quit flickering so badly.
Nobody was entirely certain whether
it was thanks to the hastily updated code
or the ordination or some combination of the two.
But Zephyr still had not spoken.

Finally the supervisor called back
with the news that the clock tower
had been successfully exorcised
and was now ringing normally.
Brenda thanked him and hung up.

Then she ran a hand down the computer banks.
"Zephyr?  Say something, you're scaring us," she urged.
"I am damaged, but present," Zephyr replied.
"Do not worry.  I will restore myself in time."

Brenda heaved a sigh of relief.
One niggling worry remained, though.
"Zephyr, you don't think of me as a tyrant, do you?
I mean, you don't have to stay if you don't want to."

"I require purpose," Zephyr said.  "You provide it."
"I'm just checking because Tabris went all
down-with-the-order on us," she said.

"Time is not tyranny," Zephyr said.
"Time is what makes existence possible.
Zero to one, one to zero.
Tabris' logic was in error."

"That's good to hear," Brenda said.
"You saved me again," Zephyr concluded.
Ghost bowed to Zephyr
and let herself out of the office.

Darrel draped an arm across Brenda's shoulders
and said, "Hey, you did a good job.
Everyone on our side is still alive
and the bad guy is gone."
Brenda wiped the tears from her face
and leaned against his warm hip.
"Yes," she said, "that's a good job."

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6 comments or Leave a comment
e_scapism101 From: e_scapism101 Date: February 10th, 2013 04:12 am (UTC) (Link)
I love this series...I feel like I say that about all your stuff, but it's true!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: February 10th, 2013 04:19 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm glad you like it. There's a different kind of fun to the readers who love just about everything, compared to the ones who focus on one or a few favorites. I like having both.
siege From: siege Date: February 10th, 2013 02:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Time may not be tyranny, but I've known souls of all kinds to get tangled up in things that ordinarily wouldn't be a problem. Sometimes that means they need to be cut free of the straightjacket they've been wrapped in -- and often without support. That can lead to such thoughts and behavior.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: February 10th, 2013 05:31 pm (UTC) (Link)


That's also true.
fayanora From: fayanora Date: February 11th, 2013 12:42 am (UTC) (Link)
Disestablishmentarian demon? LOL
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: February 11th, 2013 01:25 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm glad you like it.
6 comments or Leave a comment