Friday, July 27, 2012

Story of the Week: Gears, Grease, and a Little Bit of Magic

Clockwork Universe
by Tim Wetherell.
H. A. Titus's "Gears, Grease, and a Little Bit of Magic" in the July issue of Residential Aliens is a bit of steampunk flash about a repairwoman with a problem. A customer arrives at her shop one morning with a broken gadget. He never tells her what it is and she's too afraid or proud to ask.

It looked like an over-sized pocket-watch—round, with two carved metal disks covering the inner gears, whatnots, and whoozamacallits that made up the inner workings of the thing. The disks were carved in concentric circles all the way around. A brass knob set at one end of the disks looked like the button you push to open a pocket-watch.

The man wants her to fix it and despite all the other work around her shop and against her better judgement, she agrees to take the job. And he's leaving the next morning on an "airship cruise," giving her one night to fix whatever it is. The man leaves and disappears in the crowded street. For the rest of the day, she does everything except work on the mystery gadget. As she shutters her shop, she prepares for a long night at her work desk. When she finally opens it, she finds its innards as impenetrable as the outside.

The inside was filled with gears, wires, and more brass, all folded into a strange pattern that I couldn’t even begin to recognize. I leaned my elbows on the desk and stared at it.

She wakes to a familiar form silhouetted against her shutters pounding on her shop door.

Titus does very well building a sense of suspense and mystery. What is the gadget and how will she fix it in time. I think she lets her character off a bit easy in the end. I would like to see some repercussions enacted for the method she uses to find the problem. Some sort of trade off would heighten the tension. What I liked most about this story was the atmosphere that Titus evokes. Consider the following:

I poked my head out of the doorway and saw the lamplighters moving along the streets, their lighters clicking and sparking away.

And this:

Pulling the shades, I turned on the gaslights, and sat down at my desk, sweeping clear all the half-finished personal projects and loose bits that had piled up over the last couple of weeks. The disk sat alone on the dark wood, gleaming in the light.

I love stories with a strong sense of place and Titus delivers it. I wish this story was longer so I could extend my visit.

To learn more about H. A. Titus and her writing, check out her blog at

Photo Attribution: OpheliaO (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons.


  1. I popped by to congratulate you on reaching your W1S1 goals for July (congratulations!), never imagining that by visiting you I was going to become intrigued enough to go read a short story on another website. I've spent the morning reading slush for Niteblade, so it's a real compliment to you that you've inspired me to want to read more short fiction on my computer screen just now ;)

    ~ Rhonda Parrish

  2. Thanks, Rhonda. Hope you enjoyed the story.

  3. Congrats on reaching your July W1S1 goals, Jeff. Lovely review, too :)

  4. Congrats on your W1S1 goals, Jeff. And thanks for the words of encouragement over on my blog. I'm getting that story ready for re-submission today.