Clockwork Image

So far in Clockwork Image:

Tressa Wimple is dead set on protecting the children of Westwood Orphanage. But to do so, she needs proof of the forced child labor taking place inside. 

In the last chapter, Tressa spoke with Brox atop a bridge. Not willing for the awkward misunderstanding to keep them apart any longer, she kissed him--proving to herself that a lack of words was not always a bad thing.

Tressa crouched low, hidden in the building’s shadow.

 

Someone moved up behind her. “Hello, Tressa.”

 

Tressa turned at the voice. “Jasper!” She kept her voice low, but couldn’t hide her joy. Throwing her arms around him, she hugged her brother close. “I’m so sorry.”

 

He hugged her back. “No, I’m sorry.” He pulled away and pushed a small black box toward her. “I brought enough cameras for us all.”

 

“Not for me, I hope,” Christina said from just behind Jasper. “I don’t think I have the nerves to go in there at night and sneak around.”

 

A tall form strode past the building. Tressa recognized Brox’s stride immediately. “Brox,” she called softly. “Over here.”

 

He glanced up and down the street, checking that no one was watching him, and then ducked into the shadow beside her.

 

“Hello, dear.” His hand rested lightly against the small of her back and he gave her forehead a quick kiss. “Ready?”

 

Tressa nodded, exhilarated by his touch.

 

Jasper grinned mischievously. “Looks like I missed more than I realized.”

 

Brox stretched a hand out toward Jasper. “Welcome back.”

 

They shook and Jasper handed him a camera.

 

“Here’s the plan,” Tressa said. “We three”—she pointed to herself, Brox, and Jasper—“will slip in through the kitchen door. Christina said the new opening is through the first-floor linen closet and it opens into the middle of the hallway. We slip in, take pictures of everything, then get back out again.”

 

Jasper spoke up next. “Lighting is going to be our biggest issue. These cameras weren’t built with cat eyes. I’ve brought a gas lantern, but if anyone is in there now, we can’t light it without being seen.”

 

“We don’t know if the children are being forced to work tonight or not,” Tressa nodded. “So we’ll just have to get inside and work with what we have.”

 

Brox turned his camera over a few times as Jasper quickly explained how to get the best exposure.

 

“You said the three of us. What about Christina?” Brox asked after they were all confident they knew how to use the cameras.

 

Christina shrank against wall behind her. The young woman had spoken up at a time when Tressa couldn’t. Repaying Christina was the least Tressa could do.

 

“She’ll be staying here,” Tressa said, “keeping a look out. If we spook anyone inside and they make a run for it, she’ll be here to snap their picture, and see which direction they head.”

 

Christina gave her a grateful smile as Jasper handed her the last camera.

 

“All right,” Tressa said, looping the camera strap over her head so that it hung against her chest. “Let’s go.”

 

The three of them stood and peered out into the night. There were no streetlamps, as this was not the wealthiest part of town. The area was empty. Only the occasional candle in a drape-drawn window lit the night.

 

As one, they hurried across the street and around the side of Westwood. It was a large building, meant to house two dozen orphans, though it actually had closer to four dozen at the moment.

 

Tressa reached the kitchen door and tested the handle. Bolted. No problem there. Tressa pulled a large wrench out of her back pocket and handed her camera to Jasper. With a firm whack the bolt gave way and they all slipped inside.

 

Westwood was silent. The fire in the hearth was only a pile of red-hot coals. Dishes were washed and put away. No one was in sight.

 

They moved out of the kitchen and down a hall, toward the first level linen closet. Blessedly, no other doors were locked and they moved from one place to the next undetected.

 

The linen closet was small, barely big enough for all three of them. Jasper closed the door behind them and they stood in complete darkness. Silently they listened. Soft voices came from the other side of the wall. Tressa’s heart sank.

 

The children were working tonight.

 

Jasper’s hand took hold of her shoulder and pulled her close. He must have also taken hold of Brox’s shoulder, for she felt him lean in close to her and Jasper.

 

“The hallway will be too dark for the cameras,” Jasper said.

 

Tressa trusted him to know best when it came to taking pictures. “There were always candles in the workroom for the children to see by. Will that be enough light?” She could hear both him and Brox breathing beside her, but she couldn’t see a thing.

 

“I’m hopeful it will be,” Jasper said. “Get as close as you dare, and focus in on those children closest to the light.”

 

“We’ll stay here until the children move into the work room,” Tressa said. “Then we’ll follow a few minutes later.”

The wait was taut with silence and trepidation. A couple of weeks ago, just seeing the door had been enough to bring Tressa to a complete standstill. Was she ready to walk down the hall again?

 

There was a creak and then the patter of children being herded down the hall and into the work room.

 

They stood, motionless, until the noise died off and all was silent once more. Tressa took a small step forward and ran her hands across one of the shelving units. “Christina said one of these swings open.”

 

There was a click and then a gust of wind.

 

“I think I found it,” Brox said.

 

Tressa bumped into Jasper as they both pushed toward the sound of Brox’s voice. With hands out in front of her face, Tressa found the doorway behind some of the linens.

 

And then she was in the hallway again.

 

The chalk images didn’t glow as she remembered, but between the slivers of light coming from under the doors on either end, they did seem to stand out like ghosts against the dark walls.

Some of the images were bright white, possibly drawn only moments ago. Others were faded, nearly wiped away from years of children brushing against the wall as they passed by.

 

Tressa moved several strides down the long hall. This was where she had always stood. The wall was covered with several chalk images she’d never seen before, but behind them, nearly faded out of existence, were the jagged lines she’d seen so many times in her dreams.

 

She’d never drawn pictures or messages like many of the other children. Her rebellion was only ever sawtooth, broken lines of frustration and anger. Tressa rested her hands against the wall; the feel of chalk against her palm set her skin tingling.

 

Brox walked up behind her, slipping his arms around her waist and resting his forehead against hers. “I am so sorry.”

 

Tressa pulled her hand off the wall. It was speckled with chalk. The very chalk she had put on the wall decades ago. “We’re here to end this and save the children. That’s all that matters.”

 

They walked together down the hall and toward the back door. The work room was situated in the center of the large building. There were no windows and no other doors besides this one.

 

Tressa tried the handle, but it wouldn’t twist. “It’s locked,” she whispered. Her large wrench wouldn’t do them any good now. If she tried to bust the door open, those inside would be alerted and there would be no chance to get the photographs they needed.

 

“Here.” Jasper reached past Brox and pushed two narrow, yet stiff wires into her hand.

 

Tressa crouched down, slipping them into the door’s lock.

 

“What are you doing?” Brox asked.

 

“I’m not a dunce. I know how to pick a lock.” Tressa twisted first one wire and then the next as she echoed what Jasper had said the night he’d force-started Brox’s motorcar. “If you’re upset, talk to Jasper. He taught me.”

 

“It was one of the few times you listened to me.” Jasper said with a chuckle.

 

The lock let out a click and the doorknob turned in Tressa’s hand. “Once we’re inside,” she whispered, “spread out. Stay in the shadows and get as many pictures as you can.”

 

Both men nodded their agreement. Tressa inched the door open barely enough for herself to slip through. The room was just as she remembered.

 

Lined with tables and small chairs. Little heads bent low over their work. Some were sewing. Others were washing, their hands rubbed bare and burned by the cheap soap. Shadows hung like thick curtains down all four walls.

 

Tressa stuck close to the wall, moving down it until she was well inside the room. The candles were all burning low, none giving off much light. Tressa moved up closer to one of the tables. Three young girls were sewing shirtwaists as fast as their tiny fingers could move. Tressa could see the shortest of the girls shaking.

 

The one in the middle let out a soft yelp and stuck one of her fingers in her mouth. Then she quickly glanced over her shoulder, fear evident in her eyes. Pulling her finger back out, she gave it a gentle shake and returned to sewing.

 

These poor girls. The urge to leap out of the shadows and pound whoever was forcing them to work all night long grated against her bones. The memory of painful cracking knuckles and palms made Tressa want to rub her own hands. Instead she clenched them tight and they pressed up close around the metal box in her hand. The camera. Right. She was here to help. Tressa raised the camera up to her face.

 

If she could get good pictures of these dears being forced to work in such horrid conditions, she could put an end to this permanently.

 

Tressa pressed the button and the workings inside let off a soft snap. One of the girls glanced up, her brow creased in uncertainty. Then she looked back down at her work and continued to sew on.

Tressa continued on to the next table. More children sewing. More raw hands. One little boy yawned so big, he accidentally dropped what he was working on. A tall figure marched over and boxed the boy’s ear, hitting him so soundly the slap of fist against head echoed in the near-silent room. The boy let out a whimpering apology and quickly picked up the fabric once more.

Tressa’s jaw tightened. She would not sit by and let these poor children suffer a moment longer. A hand rested against her shoulder, keeping her back and in the shadows.

 

Jasper leaned in and whispered low in her ear. “You can either save these children right now, and only for tonight, or you can take pictures and use the pictures to save children for years to come.” He angled his camera toward the young boy and with the press of a button the clock workings inside snapped proof of what was happening.

 

Tressa’s scowl deepened until it threatened to give her a headache. This was so very wrong. These children deserved to be loved and protected, not used. She lifted the camera and snapped another image. At least the click on these were soft enough to go unnoticed.

 

But if the few men standing over these children did anything more brutal—which they most certainly had done when Tressa used to work in this room—she would stop caring about the pictures and start using her fist.

 

Just wait until she got these images to the Constable. Whoever was behind this would pay. She would see to it.

 

One of the overseers approached another and the two whispered together. The second nodded his head and then pulled a whistle from his pocket and placed it in his mouth. The shrill call made more than one child jump.

 

“Line up,” he ordered.

 

Tressa rocked back on her heels. What was going on? There were still several hours before dawn. During her days in the orphanage, never once had they been allowed to end so quickly after starting.

 

The children silently obeyed, blowing out the candles atop their tables and then falling into a line beside the single door. One of the men standing guard over the brood opened the door and out they all filed.

 

Brox, crawling on all four, silently moved up close to Tressa and Jasper. With his head close to hers, he whispered low. “The children seem confused.”

 

Tressa was confused, too. “They never finish this early.”

 

Though the room was quickly quieter as the children left, the soft patter of their feet against the wooden floor was enough to hide Tressa, Jasper, and Brox’s conversation.

 

“Maybe someone tipped them off?” Jasper said. “Maybe they’re expecting—”

 

“Shh,” Tressa clamped a hand on Jasper’s shoulder. The last couple of children slipped out the door and the room was far too quiet.

 

A single adult form, walking several paces behind the last child, reached the door and laid a hand against it.

 

“I am sorry,” he said loudly. Tressa recognized the voice; it was Mr. Clark. Though to whom he spoke, Tressa couldn’t say. “You will be missed.”

 

He moved through the door and shut it soundly behind himself.

 

For a moment, the room was absolutely still. Not a whisper, not a single creak of wood. An icy fear trickled down Tressa’s spine. The room was dark, but it wasn’t just that the space lacked light; it felt dark, like a muggy mist, one she couldn’t see or touch, had enveloped them all.

 

Someone laughed.

 

It came from the opposite side of the room, well away from herself, Brox, and Jasper. It was rich and confident. Tressa slowly stood, fists clenched and feet spread in a defensive stance.

 

“Normally I would say that fighting is futile.” The voice was clearly the same one that had laughed moments ago. It held the same lilt and resonance. “But, tonight, I could use a good workout.” More laughter. But this time, it came from the four corners of the room. They were surrounded.

 

Surrounded and outnumbered. Though by whom, she didn’t know.

 

Tressa eyed the distance between them and the door. It was nearly the full length of the room. If they bolted—

 

Fabric rustled and someone ran up close to her. Tressa pulled a fist back, but before she could let it fly several strands of thin metal wrapped around Tressa’s throat and squeezed. Unable to see what had assailed her, Tressa kicked and punched. She felt her right hook pummel someone’s chest, but the person didn’t so much as shutter.

 

Grunts and scrapes filled the room to either side of her. Jasper and Brox were also fighting. They had to get out of here. They had to show these pictures to the authorities and save the children.

The camera flew away from her chest. Someone, or something, had taken it. There was an unmistakable crunch and pieces of metal, glass, and gears hit the floor in pieces.

 

Tressa wrapped both her hands around the metal against her neck. She wasn’t going to let these people win. She wasn’t going to let Mr. Clark win. Only, it wasn’t metal. She felt the softness of skin beneath her own hands. But the grip was every bit as cold and hard as metal. It tightened yet further and Tressa wheezed.

 

There was only one being who was icy to the touch, could see in the dark, and was this strong.

 

Mr. Clark was not only exploiting the children, he was employing vampires.

 

Spots of light fluttered across her vision and her lungs burned. Was she still standing? Or had this unnatural being lifted her from the floor? She couldn’t feel wood beneath her feet. She couldn’t feel her feet at all.

 

Tressa couldn’t move her legs, but she lashed out with a hand intent on clawing the vampire that held her. She heard the swish of hair and fabric as the being moved out of reach just in time.

 

Her arms felt weighed down and difficult to move, as though she was pushing them through mud.

Tressa strained to hear Brox or Jasper. Was the room truly silent? Or had she simply lost the ability to hear as well? She was so hot, her chest felt like it was on fire.

 

Her arm dropped to her side. She couldn’t move either of them. She couldn’t keep her head upright. Even the tightness of the vampire’s hand around her throat seemed to float away. The darkness pressed against Tressa until it was all she could feel.

Option A Won! Thanks for your vote!