Clockwork Image

So far in Clockwork Image:

Tressa--along with her brother, Jasper, and the man she loves, Brox--sneaked into Westwood Orphanage to photograph the children being forced to work through the night. To bring those responsible for the atrocity to justice, Tressa felt they needed hard proof, which these pictures will provide.

While they were secretly snapping pictures, the children were unexpectedly ordered from the room. Before Tressa, Jasper, and Brox could follow they were set upon by a gang of vampires. Tressa was choked into unconsciousness during the fight. 

Tressa hurt. Everything from her shoulders to her legs to her feet and hands ached. Her head was pounding, like someone was beating against it with a wrench. Her neck especially hurt—her neck, and her lungs.

 

She tried to lift a hand to rub her neck, but it wouldn’t move. Where was she? She was lying down—against something hard—and there was the drip-drip-drop of water somewhere in the distance.

 

With a moan, Tressa tried to open her eyes. They responded, but slowly. Sharp jolts of pain tore across her forehead. Gads. What had the vampires done to her? Had they injected her? Was this what transforming into a vampire felt like?

 

Tressa would rather kill herself than become one of them. She turned her head to the side, intent on sitting up. But her wrists refused to leave the hard surface they were resting against. Tressa tried again.

 

She was tied down. With a grunt, she rested back. They had tied her down to whatever she was lying on. Something pressed painfully against her lower back. It seemed the vampires had not thought to take her large wrench away. If her hands ever got free, she’d see to it they regretted that oversight.

 

Tressa glanced around. Pre-dawn light filtered through a grate above her head. The ceiling curved, meeting seamlessly with the walls. Water flowed somewhere not far away.

It was as though she were inside a massive tube, a . . .

 

The sewers. They were inside the sewers.

 

Another groan. Tressa twisted her head toward the sound. Jasper, and past him Brox, lay atop metal tables, their wrists and ankles tied down with wide straps.

 

Tressa tugged against the straps, letting out a cry of frustration.

 

“I must say.” A chilling voice echoed around them. “You were rather a disappointment.” A woman floated close to Tressa. Her face was ghostly white, her eyes wide and dark. “After all I had heard about you, I had expected more.”

 

Tressa studied the vampire’s face. She was ghastly, frightening, awful. But there was something else. Tressa recognized her. It had been over two decades since they had last been in the same room together, and never had they spoken. But, Tressa knew her.

 

“You’re Mrs. Clark.” The words came out muddled. “But, you’re dead.”

 

“Believed to be dead, bumpkin. Big difference.”

 

Did Mr. Clark know? Then she thought back to what Mr. Clark had said before he left the work room. Of course he knew. He knew and he was going along with it.

 

How awful for him, to have a wife injected and turned. How awful for her, to be forced to become a monster. “I’m so sorry,” Tressa said. Her words were clearer, but no stronger.

 

Mrs. Clark—Tressa could hardly think of her in such bland and um-impressive terms—only laughed. Tressa was certain she would hear that laugh over and over in her nightmares until the day she died.

 

Which very well could be in only a few minutes.

 

“Don’t be. I’m no victim. I never have been.” She leaned down low, her icy breath brushing against Tressa’s cheek and neck. “I always come out on top, no matter what others try to do to me. I believe we are the same in that way.”

 

Tressa clamped her jaw tight to keep from visibly shivering. “Is that what you’re going to do to me? Turn me into a monster like you?”

 

The woman trailed a finger down the side of Tressa’s neck. “Do you want me to? I could use another soldier as dedicated to her cause as you.”

 

Tressa pulled away from the touch.

 

The woman let out a long sigh, full of feigned sadness. “Very well, then. My soldiers are hungry, after all. And I can’t have you running to the police with your little pictures and demanding Westwood stop using children as free labor.”

 

Brox called out. “Why do you care?” His words were forceful. No doubt he was speaking through a blinding headache same as Tressa.

 

The woman’s brow creased. Her china doll features seemed nearly delicate enough to crack under the subtle movement. She glided around Tressa’s head, past the table with Jasper strapped to it, and slipped up daintily next to Brox.

 

Tressa twisted and squirmed, but she couldn’t lift her head high enough to see fully.

 

“My dear Mr. Broxholme.” Her voice was colored with something different this time—something that sounded almost like a caress. Tressa’s hands tightened into fists.

 

The woman stood up straight and Tressa could once more see her. She turned and looked across the room.

 

“Why didn’t you tell me one of them was Mr. Broxholme?” she demanded.

 

There was the sound of fabric shifting about. Ah, lud. There were more of them.

 

Mrs. Clark bent low over Brox, her voice curling at the tips and going soft once more. “If I had known you would be joining us, I would have made your stay more comfortable.”

 

Tressa was done. If they were going to kill her then they might as well get on with it. If they were going to change her—well, she’d find a way to make sure that didn’t happen.

 

She strained against the bindings around her right wrist. If she could only get the pipe cutter out of her pocket—after all, a good mechanic never went anywhere without at least a few tools. She could feel the chunky block of metal against her thigh. She just needed to ease it out and into her palm.

 

The woman vampire was still crooning over Brox. Though it set Tressa’s teeth on edge, it was also a blessing. Tressa snaked the pipe cutter up closer to her waste with two fingers. She only needed a couple more minutes of being left unobserved.

 

The pipe cutter slid out of her pocket and Tressa caught hold of it between her middle and ring finger before it could clatter to the ground. The pipe cutter was a square block of metal, with a C-shaped opening in the center. And in that center were three tiny blades.

 

After years of experience, it only took Tressa a few seconds to flip the cutter around so that the leather strap holding her wrist was caught up inside the ‘C’. She began sawing through it. The leather cut easily. Must have been cheaply made. Tressa certainly never would have used such poor quality leather herself.

 

Tressa glanced around her. She still couldn’t see much and she didn’t dare lift her head higher than she had before cutting the strap. No use notifying all the vampires that she had one arm loose before it was necessary.

 

She could just barely make out several forms in the shadows, past her feet. How many vampires were there? Tressa wasn’t sure, but it seemed all eyes were trained on their leader, Mrs. Clark.

Mrs. Clark had become the general over a vampire gang. Gads, who could have seen that one coming?

 

Moving slowly, praying all the soldiers were too focused on their leader flirting with dinner to notice her, Tressa lifted her hand holding the cutter, slid it across her stomach and dropped the cutter into her left palm. She then quickly rested her right hand back against the table.

 

Cutting the leather with her left hand was harder than doing so with her right, but she finally got it. Lying flat against the hard table, Tressa wriggled her left hand until the straps fell away and she was sure she was free.

 

This next step was going to be far harder. There was no way to cut the bindings around her ankles without sitting up. Doing so would never go unnoticed. There was a good chance she wouldn’t be able to get even halfway through the straps before being jumped and forced back down.

 

Brox was speaking, and his voice took on that tone he used whenever he wished to commandeer a room—the deep timbre that caught one’s ear and drew one in.

 

Tressa twisted to the side a few inches, then paused to see if her movement had been noticed.

All the vampires were still focused on Brox.

 

She glanced Brox’s direction and willed him to read her mind: Keep them occupied.

 

Holding to one side of the table, Tressa swung her torso over the edge and angled her arm down toward her ankles. The weight of more than half her body pulled on her arm and the corner of the table bit against the inside of her fingers.

 

But if she could manage without sitting upright, it might buy her a few extra minutes. She stretched the pipe cutter forward and reached for the thick strap around her ankles. The cutter brushed against the leather but didn’t hook it.

 

Her arm sagged lower. Already her muscles cried out at the awkward reach and strain. She didn’t have time to fail over and over again. Brox still seemed to hold the vampires’ attention, but for how long?

 

Tressa reached out a second time and the cutter’s open mouth hooked around the leather. Tressa jammed down on the tool, hard. It sliced through the leather.

 

Her legs no longer restrained, Tressa nearly toppled off the table and onto the floor, but she righted herself just in time. Lying back on the table, she listened.

 

Mrs. Clark was speaking. “Oh, but I do so love the things it buys me. I may not be human anymore, but I do still enjoy my creature comforts.”

 

It sounded like Brox had brought the conversation back around to why they forced the children into labor. And to think, this woman was depriving children—children—of food and warmth and sleep solely so she could enjoy those very things, despite no longer needing to eat, stay warm, or rest herself. Tressa felt bile rise up in her mouth. This woman was the worst kind of despicable.

 

It was time someone ended her.

Tressa, glancing around one last time to be sure no one was looking her way, slipped noiselessly off the table and to the floor. She hit the floor with a soft splash. Slow moving water flowed up to her ankles.

 

Brox’s voice stopped and Tressa tucked herself up close to Jasper’s table. If they glanced around and noticed her not stretched out as part of their buffet, she would be caught before any of them could escape.

 

Mrs. Clark spoke. “It’s just the fish, darling. You needn’t fear them. They don’t bite.”

 

“Your ancestors established Westwood,” Brox said. “Why would you hurt the children they worked so hard to save?”

 

Tressa breathed out silently. So far, so good. She turned and faced Jasper.

 

His head rocked back and forth. Though his mouth moved, no words came out. He must just be coming to.

 

“Stay silent,” Tressa whispered to him.

 

He started at her voice and struggled against the straps, growing more panicked when he couldn’t move.

 

“Cut it out, Jasper,” she hissed.

 

He calmed a bit, but his gaze jumped from ceiling to walls to all those around them.

 

“Don’t move,” she said. “I’ll cut you free.”

 

Though, how she was going to get to Brox before being caught, she had no idea. The cutter sliced easily, first through the leather around one of Jasper’s wrists and then through the strip near his ankles.

 

Tressa kept herself tucked up close to the table. Jasper only had one strap left, but she couldn’t get to it without moving around to the other side of the table. If she were over there, Mrs. Clark would most certainly spot her.

 

No matter what, Tressa had to protect the people she loved.

 

She slipped the cutter into Jasper’s palm. “Give me a minute, then cut yourself and Brox loose and get out of here.”

 

Jasper swore softly.

 

“Hush. She’ll hear you.” No doubt more than one objection sat on his tongue, eager to jump off. He was awake enough to understand the need to be silent, wasn’t he?

 

Tressa slipped farther down the large sewer pipe, past the table she used to be strapped to, and deep into the shadows, her back toward Brox and Jasper. Each swish of her leg through the sewer water sent chills up her back. At any moment, they would hear her and give chase.

 

But they didn’t. She made it ten strides away, then twenty. Brox’s barrister trance truly was magical.

Tressa put a hand against the sewer wall and felt her way farther down. If she was to be chased, she would normally bless the darkness. But it would only hinder her and not her assailants this time.

 

The wall against Tressa’s hand gave way to a side pipe and she paused at the intersection. Tressa glanced over her shoulder. She could barely see Jasper and Brox, laid out on their tables.

 

This was it.

Tressa banged, purposely, against the sewer wall and stomped several times. Water splashed up against her legs, making her yet colder. The sound echoed down the pipe.

 

Mrs. Clark’s head snapped up, her gaze falling on the empty table where Tressa had once been. She let out a cry. The slithering suspense of being prey fingered its way up Tressa’s spine.

 

Even as several vampires charged her way, Tressa watched a moment more, just long enough to see Jasper sit up, cut his last binding and hurry over to Brox. Good. If the two men ran the other direction they had a good chance of getting away.

 

Tressa stepped into the smaller, secondary pipe and hurried forward. The water was shallower here and she was able to move quicker.

 

After hiking several yards, she found yet another intersection and crawled into a third pipe. Gears above, one could get lost for days down here.

 

This pipe was half the size of the last one, only big enough for Tressa to crawl through. She backed away from the intersection and paused to listen. If she stayed completely silent, her assailants just might pass her by.

 

Echoing shouts reverberated around her. It was too hard to tell exactly where they came from, but they didn’t sound close. That was a good thing, right?

 

Oh, how she hoped Jasper and Brox had gotten away. She closed her eyes momentarily and prayed that they’d had the good sense to run away instead of trying to chase after her with all the vampires.

The shouts seemed to be congregating from one general direction, the cries mixed with the sounds of metal bagging against metal. Hang those two men. If they chose to stay and fight after she purposely led the vampires away she would personally strangle them both.

 

The pipe around her shuttered. Tressa pressed a hand on the metal. It vibrated again, and this time it didn’t stop. A roar, far too deep and loud to be made by man or vampire, drowned out all other noises. The deafening sound filled the space around Tressa until she could hear nothing else.

 

Freezing water rushed in, enveloping her. Within moments, Tressa was submerged and swept down the pipe.

 

She kicked against the bottom of the pipe and felt herself rising even as she was dragged with the rushing current. The back of her head smacked against the top of the pipe. Tressa clawed at it. She couldn’t grab anything.

 

Worse yet, there was no air. The pipe was filled to bursting with the rolling tidal wave. Spreading her hands wide, Tressa felt for anything she might hold on to.

 

Gears above, the pipe walls were corrugated, but none of the small ridges provided ample purchase. Her lungs burned. Something smacked against her palm and she wrapped her hand around it.

 

Tressa focused all her remaining energy on keeping a tight hold. The water dragged at her, like lifeless claws bent on seeing her escorted to the devil himself. Tressa reached out with her second hand, fighting against the current’s pull, and wrapped it around the same metal pole.

 

The tide felt like it was lessening. Either that, or she was losing consciousness again. She couldn’t lose consciousness now. If she did, she’d drown for sure.

 

Tressa pulled on the pipe and felt herself shift toward it. At least it was strong enough to withstand her weight. She shimmied one hand further up and felt it bump against a rung.

 

A ladder then?

The rush of water eased just slightly, enough that Tressa’s feet dragged against the bottom of the pipe. Tressa took a risk, let go with one hand, and threw her weight toward the pole, reaching for a higher grip.

 

Her hand broke through the surface of the water, the cool air tickling her skin.

 

Reinvigorated by sheer survival instinct, Tressa kicked off from the bottom and angled her head back. Her mouth and nose nearly froze at the sudden rush of air and she breathed in deeply. Water got in her mouth and Tressa gagged. But at least now she was taking in air with the water.

 

She wrapped her body fully around the ladder and clung tight as the last of the water moved out of the pipe.

 

Oh, blessed air.

 

Tressa breathed. And breathed. And breathed.

 

Her head sagged backward, her whole body twice as heavy as usual. She shook her head slowly back and forth; she couldn’t stop now. She couldn’t just let herself sag into a heap and pray not to be found. Ladders usually went somewhere. That was their purpose. And down in sewers, that somewhere was usually the surface above.

 

Tressa repositioned herself in front of the ladder and began climbing. Her movement was muddled and uncoordinated and her grip was loose, but she made it up and finally pushed open the manhole that had been above her head.

 

She was in the middle of a deserted street. At first glance, she didn’t recognize the place. There was an old, dilapidated building to her left and the fence of a factory to her right.

 

Tressa pulled herself halfway out, laid down on the gravel road, and then rolled the rest of the way. Laying on her back, she continued to breathe deeply and peered up at the starless sky.

 

Were Jasper and Brox all right? Had they survived the rush of water? If Brox had still been strapped down when it hit . . . She didn’t want to think about that. Jasper had been cutting him loose. She’d waited long enough to be sure.

 

Had they created the flood? If anyone was going to come up with some random, off-beat solution to being surrounded by vampires it would be her younger brother. Either way, she needed to find them.

 

There was always the sewers. She could head back down, retrace her steps, and see if they were still down there. But the vampires were likely down there too.

 

Tressa rolled onto her stomach and forced herself to stand. She teetered a bit to one side and then straightened. A glance down into the sewers told her which direction she had come from. Staying above ground she hurried toward the area where they had been held captive.

 

While she was strapped down, she had noticed a grate above her head. She was certain she’d seen one. That would be the best place to start.

 

It seemed the pipe lead directly under the dilapidated old building. She’d have to go around and do her best to guess where to go next. Come to think of it, she had no idea how far she’d been washed down the pipe. At what point should she turn and try to follow the bigger pipes she’d been in before? Tressa hurried down a wide road and then a side alley.

 

Voices made her pull up short.

 

“That was wild!”

 

Jasper. Tressa felt her whole form relax and she had to stretch a hand out and rest it against the nearby building to keep from toppling over.

 

Another voice responded to Jasper. It was too quiet for her to understand the words, but she knew Brox’s timbre.

 

Tressa stumbled further down the alley as quickly as she could. Turning down the side of the building she saw the two unmistakable forms of Jasper and Brox. They were both dripping wet and bent over from exhaustion. Jasper’s dreadlocks had broken free of their strip of fabric and hung about his face. Brox slapped Jasper on the back and muttered something Tressa still couldn’t hear.

 

From the shadows, between her and them, Mrs. Clark floated forward. Tressa stopped and held her breath before the vampire noticed her presence.

 

“Come, men, do you really think I could be washed away so easily?” she said, her tone far less playful than before.

 

Tressa’s hand silently moved behind her, wrapping around the large wrench, still stuck firmly in her pocket.

 

The vampire continued to inch up closer to Jasper and Brox. “Sacrificing your friend to secure your own escape? I had not thought either of you so heartless.”

 

Tressa pulled her wrench out and stalked up toward the vampire, not bothering to keep her steps silent. “If I’m dead, then consider this your greeting from beyond.”

 

The vampire turned, her eyes flashing with surprise, seconds before Tressa’s trusty wrench struck Mrs. Clark square across the forehead. The ring echoed down the street. Her eyes rolled back into her head and she collapsed.

 

“There,” Tressa said with a nod. “That should do the trick.”

Thanks for Your Vote!

The survey is now closed. Below are the options which were available. 

In Chapter 14,  where does Brox propose?

Option A) At Westwood, where they will share their future?

Option B) On the bridge, where they shared their first kiss?