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The Boy With the Clockwork Heart

This is the story of how Edward received a clockwork heart and how he met the Shadow three times.


Part 1


Edward watched as the mechanical carriage rolled backwards and forwards across the floor of the cotton mill.


Edward was a doffer and it was his responsibility to remove the spools filled by the spinning machine and replace them with empty ones. Doffering was a difficult job; it required quick spurts of fast energetic work, spaced with long periods of inactivity. How Edward hated this task. Not only had he to climb upon the machines, in order to change the higher spools, but he also had to do it barefooted, in order to be quick and agile. Often a misplaced foot or a hesitant hand had been the cause of the tragic passing of many a young worker. It was common to see a new face working in the textile mills, after the body of a previous child had been removed from the innards of the moving machinery. People often said that the Shadow was always busy in the cotton mills, taking the souls of those who had departed, to their final home in the heavens. Edward was determined that he should not wane in his chores for he did not want to see the Shadow just yet.


Mr. Grimes had told him, “Time is money and money is cotton!”



Edward was unsure what Mr. Grimes meant but, since the repetition of this chant was accompanied by the slap of a hand around the back of his head, the young boy kept his mind focused upon the spools of the machine and carefully minded them with great care, so that the bobbins would not falter.


The air of the mill was shrouded with countless particles of dust and lint from the cotton of the clanking machines. Edward’s eyes reddened, partly due to the dry fibres floating in the air and partly due to the incessant rubbing from the back of his sleeve. It was then that he noticed the threads from one spool becoming full and so he clambered up onto the frame of the massive mechanical brute, to attend to his work.


Had he not have rubbed his eyes so severely he might have seen the thick layer of cotton dust that had amassed beneath his foot. Tragically, for Edward, he was tired for the want of rest and he was weakened for the lack of nourishment. His foot slipped as the belts of the machine stretched and pulled. Instantly, Edward felt the cruel bite of metal upon his flesh, as his shirt became entangled within the workings of the spinning machine.


He shrieked out in agony but it was too late. His life was expendable but the profits of the mill were not. It was then that Edward met the Shadow for the first time.


As Edward lay with his body twisted in the machinery, a vision appeared within his head: he thought he saw a dark hazy figure, without form, approach him and speak to him. It was the turn of Edward to meet the Shadow.


“I am the Shadow,” explained a voice within Edward’s head, “but do not worry, your time to come with me is not yet. You will not fly with me today, young child. I will stay with you for just a while but I must leave you soon. Your time upon this earth is not yet spent.”


Another voice boomed and its noise drowned out the quiet whisper of the Shadow. The Shadow faded into the light and Edward’s limp body was tugged from the machinery.


“Damned careless child,” cursed one worker harshly. “Should’ve watched what ‘e was a’doin’.”


The rough hand of an adult briskly pulled the lifeless carcass of the boy from the machine and the spinning continued as before.


“Time is money and money is cotton! Get another doffer and get him quick,” shouted a voice from across the floor of the mill, “and get the body of that child sorted too!”


An adult picked up the limp corpse of the boy and carried it away from the mill floor, towards a courtyard at the rear of the factory. A lone figure stood there waiting, as if expecting a gruesome delivery of some sort.


“Five shillings for the body?” the figure enquired, “I’ll take it and save you the hassle of a pauper’s burial.”


The worker looked up, to see the sharp penetrating gaze of a clean-shaven face staring down at the dead boy. Five shillings was a substantial amount of money for a common worker and he needed no prompting, other than a quick glance around the courtyard to check that no one else was eavesdropping on the muted conversation. He held out his hand and beckoned for the coins. The deal was done. Within seconds the lone figure had left the courtyard with his gruesome trophy, the worker strolled back into the factory jangling five small coins in his pocket and all thoughts of the passing of an innocent child were lost from the minds of those who slaved the impoverished conditions in the cotton mill.

Part 2


“Lay the body here and be quick about it,” snapped Doctor Eaton. “We’re got to be quick before we lose the child completely!”


The lifeless body of the young boy was laid upon the operating table of the theatre and eager hands stretched forward, cutting the shirt from Edward’s chest. Upon the walls of the operating theatre hung rows of mechanical limbs: arms and legs, hands and feet, heads and torsos of all shapes and sizes. Mechanical surgery was in its infancy and the surgeons were keen to practise their newly learnt skills on any worthless pauper or urchin. If they could perfect the surgical repair of damaged limbs using mechanical replacements, they would gain a formidable reputation as being the forerunners of a new branch of medical science.


“Such a small tyke,” exclaimed one surgeon, “This is going to need a very steady hand.”


“What would you recommend for such a devastating chest injury?” enquired another. “The trauma to the thorax is quite acute.”


Doctor Eaton reached across to the rows of organs and took a small mechanical pod, the size of a clenched fist, from its place and laid it alongside the child’s chest.



“This is going to be a first for us,” he exclaimed, “but this small tyke is going to have our only clockwork heart!”


Deep within the small boy’s head there resided the remains of a dream. In that dream, Edward was holding the hand of the Shadow.


“I will leave you soon,” explained the Shadow. “You will not come with me today. Your time upon this earth is not done, there are plenty more adventures that you will have and many good deeds that you will need to perform. Be true to yourself, young Edward, and always remember to shine your goodness to those who are in need.”


With that, the Shadow left Edward’s side and floated away into the sky above the small boy. All around the injured child, medics laboured and continued with their work. Within an hour the task had been completed. The surgeons darned their last stitch in the chest of the boy and, deep within his torso, a small mechanical heart began to beat, replenishing life to the recovering patient. A small brass clockwork key could be seen protruding from Edward’s chest.

Part 3


Edward laid upon the bed and groaned softly. There were throbbing rhythmic pains running deep within his chest. A nurse walked across the ward, checking her notes as she walked. She arrived at the foot of Edward’s bed and Edward whimpered again.


“Time to sleep, boy,” she said softly, “You need to build up your strength.”


She gently patted Edward’s forehead and gently stroked his hand.



“You’ve been involved in a small incident at the mill,” she explained, “but you are all right now. You’ll soon be on your feet and back to normal again. Just give it a little time and take plenty of rest.”


Edward felt too weak to reply. The memory of what had happened in the mill had disappeared from his mind. He laid in the bed, confused at was happening around him. He tried to open his mouth to ask for clarity but the effort required too much energy: he was unable to muster sufficient strength. His body fell limp and Edward relaxed completely within the security of his bed. He had fallen into a deep sleep.


The nurse smiled as she turned a small brass key upon the chest of the boy. Then she walked towards the exit of the room. She made one final glance across her shoulder, to check that all was well, and then she headed out through the door. A single click echoed quietly across the ward, as a lock turned, and the child was imprisoned inside the hospital ward. The nurse knew that there would be no chance for him to escape: the staff still had a great deal of experimentation to conduct, to assess the effectiveness of the world’s first clockwork heart. This child was far too valuable to be allowed to escape from the institution.

Part 4


Day by day Edward grew stronger. Within weeks he was able to walk around the ward, under strict supervision, and undertake simple physical chores. His memory of the cotton mill incident and his meeting with the Shadow remained a distant thought. He remained focused on his recovery and the return to full health. He was told about his operation and his need for a clockwork heart; there was no way that this fact could be hidden from him. However, even Edward agreed that the addition of a clockwork heart and the daily chore of keeping it wound was a small price to pay for the continuation of his life. Almost immediately, Edward became proficient at winding his heart up himself, achieving the correct level of tension within the springs of the clockwork device. Very soon he insisted in attending to this chore himself. One major worry that everyone had was the safety of the key. It was decided that it should remain protruding from Edward’s chest. He would feel its reassuring presence upon his flesh and he would have comfort in knowing that it was always ready to hand.


Edward soon became strong enough to skip and race around his hospital ward and the doctors that attended to his care would always encourage him to be as active as possible so that they could monitor the effectiveness of their handiwork. He was, as the surgeon had said, the very first patient ever to receive this form of operation and it was essential for medical science to find out how effective this new mechanical device was.


“Can I go outside today,” Edward would always ask, “and play in the hospital gardens?”


“Not today,” came a typical reply. “We don’t want you to become ill or regress in your treatment. It’s best that we wait for a few weeks.”


Sadly, after those few weeks had passed, the response would be the same.


“Perhaps you might go outside in another few weeks,” the doctors and nurses explained, before they left the ward and locked the door behind them.


Although he had never been to school, Edward was by no means stupid. He very quickly realised that he was trapped in a medical prison. He was nothing more than a disposable experiment for this new clockwork heart. Young children had very few personal rights and homeless factory urchins had even less. There would be no one who would petition on his behalf or treat Edward with the respect that he craved. The young boy watched the hospital door swing open and closed each time the doctors and nurses entered his ward and he dreamt of what freedom might lay upon the other side.


As he gazed at the opening and closing of the ward door, some distance memory began to ferment in his mind. He began to recollect the backwards and forwards motion of the great spinning machines of the cotton mills and, piece by piece, some distant memories began to seep back into the far recesses of his memory.


He began to recall how he once was a doffer in a cotton mill and how he would dart in and out of the oscillating spinning machines, changing cotton spools. He began to ponder in his imagination that, if he could slip between the heaving masses of metal spinning machines in a dirty grimy factory, surely he could slip out of something as simple as a hospital door.


He recalled how he would remove his shoes, in order to improve his agility, and so he decided that he would employ the same tactic within his hospital prison. Small beads of nervous sweat began to form upon Edward’s forehead as he slipped off his hospital slippers and crept towards the side of the locked door. It wouldn’t be long before the next shift of staff visited to monitor the progress of his clockwork heart. He touched the small brass key for reassurance and he waited by the door, his clockwork heart clicking and whirring madly within his chest.



Footsteps sounded from the far end of the corridor and, quietly, Edward waited.


The sound of a bolt turning in the lock quietly echoed across the room and, quietly, Edward waited.


The door was slowly pushed open and, quietly, Edward still waited.


Then, as one foot appeared from behind the door, Edward gave a shout of defiance and pushed past the figure and strode off into the corridor as quickly as he was able. He heard the shouts of anger from behind but still he ran, though a pair of double swing doors and into the hustle of the street. He heard the cries of alarm from familiar voices but still he ran, along the crowded street and into a darkened alleyway. The voices from behind grew less and less distinct but Edward continued to run. His clockwork heart clicked and whirred madly within his chest.


Through narrow alleyways and shadowy lanes, Edward sprinted quickly.


Over stone clad bridges and into leafy country lanes Edward darted briskly.


Through wooded vales and across cow-covered pastures, Edward raced swiftly.


Soon the town was nothing more than a distant speck upon the far horizon and the frightened boy took refuge in a deserted barn in some obsolete cluster of rural buildings. He was determined that he would get as far away as possible from the awful history that he once knew. He would make a new start far away from the grime of the cotton mill and the repressive environment of the hospital that had once been his prison.

Part 5


The following day, Edward awoke with a start. Around him the air was filled with the sounds of singing birds but strangely, in the distance, he could hear the pitiful call of some animal in distress. He cautiously edged towards the half-opened barn door and peered into the bright morning sunshine with a squint. The sound of the distressed animal was louder and clearer than before. Edward glanced around to make sure that the coast was clear and, upon seeing nothing that gave him concern, he made his way to the source of the sound: a nearby thicket.


As he approached the undergrowth, his attention was drawn to an abnormal sway of a dense tangle of tall grass. His clockwork heart pounded with a powerful mechanical whir, deep within his chest, as he stealthily drew closer and closer. There in the bushes a small fox cub whined miserably, as it struggled to free itself from a wired snare. Edward purred soothingly and he bent down to the trapped creature, to reassure it. Carefully, he stroked the body of the cub with one hand and muttered some soft words of reassurance at the same time.


“Don’t you worry, my little fellow,” he uttered gently. “Just be still for a moment and I’ll soon have you free.”


He pulled back the snare and eased the wire loose. Then, with one hand supporting the cub’s trapped paw, he gently worked the loop of wire away from the limb. Within seconds the cub was free. It pulled away from Edward’s soft grip, bounded away to refuge and disappeared into the shadows of the thicket. Edward smiled.


However, his delight was not to last for long as he felt the sharp pain of a heavy clout across the back of his head and the roar of anger bellowed into his ears.



“What do you think you’re doing?” yelled an angry voice from behind.


Edward had been so engrossed in the freeing of the fox cub that he had not noticed the approach of a stranger from the rear. He turned his throbbing head, now reddening from the heavy hand that had struck, and looked up to see the livid face of the looming adult figure that towered above him.


“It was trapped,” the frightened boy began, “and I was …”


“You insolent fool!” shrieked the stranger. “That fox was nothing more than vermin. It deserved to die!”


The irate stranger raised one hand into the air, in order to deliver a second blow, but this time the small boy was ready for the blow that was expected. He scampered to his feet and darted off as quickly as he was able. Ahead of him laid a gate and beyond that was a narrow road. Edward didn’t need to think twice about his exit route. He raced through the gate and along the lane as fast as he could. Behind him, the stranger could do little more than to call out a barrage of threats and taunts to the escaping child.


“Don’t think about coming back, you runt!” roared the man, “If I ever see you again, you’ll get more than a thick ear from me!”


Edward didn’t even grace the caller with a glance over his shoulder. He just kept on running as fast as he was able, with his clockwork heart clicking within his chest.


Soon he approached the outskirts of an unknown town. He was sure that he had travelled a great distance because the homes were built differently to the ones that he had known from his past. Here, the architecture and style of the buildings was alien to what he had known from his time in the cotton mills. In the streets, figures paced back and forth, going about to their daily grind and attending to their chores.


Edward saw a solitary figure, sitting by a spinning wheel in front of one home. He decided to approach and ask for information. As he stepped forward, he saw that it was an elderly woman, deeply engrossed in her work. Despite her age, her fingers were nimble and she sat deep in concentration, working the yarn of her spinning. One spool of thread lay on the ground, some distance from her labours. Tentatively, Edward made his way forward and lent forward to retrieve the spool of thread, in a gesture of goodwill.


“I think you may have dropped this,” he whispered quietly, as he held the spool aloft.



“You little thief!” shrieked the old lady brusquely. “Take your thieving hands off my property!”


The frightened boy drew back immediately.


“I caught you red-handed stealing my things!” yelled the old woman with a piercing voice. “Did you think you could outsmart me?”


“Oh no,” Edward began defensively, “I was just trying to help. You had dropped the spool on the ground.”


“So, you’re a liar as well as a thief!” the woman replied with a snarl, standing from her stool. “I’ll have the Law onto you!”


The angry lady stepped forward but Edward did not wish to stay any longer, to protest. It was clear that she would not believe his words of innocence. He turned and ran deep into the maze of alleyways and back streets that made up the town. He decided that there must be somewhere safe where he could rest and that there must be other people in this town who were friendlier.


Edward ran through the network of streets and lanes of the town. He spied a narrow alleyway that led to a dark enclosure and he decided that it might be a safe place in which to hide and rest. Against the far wall, he noticed a large bunker of coal and so he slipped to the side of the structure, to gain a brief respite from the trauma of his earlier two encounters. He crouched in the shadows and he thought about the antics of the day. Was everyone in this town as nasty as the first two people that he had met? Perhaps it was just a cruel twist of fate that had led him to meet two awful inhabitants before any others.


As he squatted by the coal bunker to think, Edward heard the soft sound of approaching footsteps and a muffled sound of sobbing. He peered up from behind his hiding place, to see a small tearful girl approaching. The child looked lost and confused.



“Not everyone in this town can be as cruel as the first two encounters,” Edward thought to himself, “and I can’t sit here while someone is in distress and might need my help.”


Edward stood up and gave a weak smile to the approaching tearful figure.


“Don’t be afraid,” he muttered to the girl. “What’s the matter?”


The girl stopped her sobbing and looked up to the source of the voice.


“Perhaps I can help,” suggested Edward, with genuine sense of charity. “There’s no need to cry.”


The girl continued to look at the boy who now stood before her. She was unsure of what to expect or what might happen next. Edward noticed that her tears had halted and that she didn’t look quite as lost as she once did, just a few seconds before.


“I’m Edward,” he said with a smile. “What’s your name?”


The young girl wiped her eyes with the back of the hand and gave a small smile. However, before she could answer, a loud voice boomed from behind.


“Call the police!” a woman screamed aloud, “Someone’s trying to kidnap my daughter!”



The woman darted forward quickly and reached a stiff hand out, in an attempt to grab Edward’s arm. However, she stumbled slightly upon the cobbles of the courtyard and this slight distraction was all that Edward needed to make good his escape. He raced beyond the small girl and brushed past the large woman, dashing to the exit of the courtyard. It was clear that he wouldn’t be safe in this town: every encounter that he had made had resulted in anger or resentment from the very people to whom he had shown kindness and respect.

Part 6


The boy with the clockwork heart ran away from the courtyard. He sprinted down the cobbled streets of the town. He hurried beyond the boundary and back into the sanctuary of the countryside on the far side. However, he did not stop. He continued to race until the town could be no longer seen. Only then did he pause for a break, in the shadows of a ditch. Deep in the gloom of the trench, he curled into a tight ball and thought about the mishaps of the day. Multiple beads of sweat fell from his forehead and his shirt clung to the dampness of sweat from his back. Deep within his chest his heart pounded the inside of his body, from both exertion and anger.


Why had people responded so poorly from his attempts at kindness? The small boy curled up tight and he thought.


“Everyone is so nasty,” muttered the small boy in frustration, “but, even still, I won’t ever stop trying to be kind. Even if I never meet another kind soul in my life, I’ll never stop trying to be the best that I can!”



He bit his lip in frustration and felt his heart pound inside his chest. It was then that he realised something very peculiar, something that he had not noticed before: his heart was pounding!


“Surely, that can’t be right,” he thought to himself. “My heart doesn’t pound. My heart clicks and whirs.”


He lowered his head to his chest and tentatively he drew his fingers up to the buttons of his shirt. With trepidation, he fumbled with the upper buttons of his shirt and unfastened the upper portion so that he could ease the fabric back and inspect his torso. Slowly and carefully, with nervous anticipation, he looked down at the upper part of his chest, where the clockwork key was embedded in the bone of his sternum. What he saw filled his racing mind with confusion and bewilderment. The clockwork key no longer turned. How could this be? What was happening to his heart? He was sure that he could feel the rhythmic pulse of his beating heart within him but the key that controlled his clockwork heart was no longer rotating.


Edward was confused. He was tired and confused. He was exhausted, tired and confused. Although his heart was beating in his chest, the clockwork key that controlled its motion was no longer turning.


With nervous trembling fingers of fear and trepidation, Edward fumbled his hands to his chest and curled his quivering fingers around the clockwork key. Then, with one sharp jerk, he tugged the key from his chest and threw it onto the bottom of the ditch. His heart still remained beating.


How could this be so? Why was his heart beating without a clockwork key? What was happening to him?


So many questions filled his weary mind and Edward was unable to make sense of it all. He curled his exhausted body into a tight mesh of skin and bones, falling into a deep and dream-filled sleep.


As he slept, the day passed into night and the slender crescent of the moon rose into the darkened sky. A myriad of stars twinkled in the inky night sky and the body of a small and frightened boy remained curled as a tight ball, in the sanctuary of the ditch.


That night, as Edward dreamt, he met the Shadow once again.


“Have you come to take me home?” Edward asked tentatively.


The Shadow smiled and pointed a hazy finger back into the town.


“It’s not your time yet,” the Shadow explained. “You won’t see me again for many years to come. That is your home now and I’ll not take you from this world yet.”



“But,” stammered the frightened boy, “I can’t. The people there are so cruel and unkind.”


“Keep on trying and keep on showing kindness to those that you meet,” continued the Shadow, “for you have nothing but goodness and love within your beating heart.”


“I don’t understand,” explained the small child, “What has happened to my clockwork heart?”


“You once had a clockwork heart,” explained the Shadow, “but it grew into a real heart when you showed love and kindness to all those around you. You are a kind boy, Edward, and so you must continue to show love to everyone. If you do this, your heart will continue to grow and it will become stronger too.”


The Shadow pointed to the nighttime sky.


“That is why your time to come with me is not now,” said the Shadow. “I shall return to my home and leave you be. You’ll not see me again for many years and, when I call again, it will be my last visit to you. Be strong and be good. You will have a rich life ahead of you.”


With that the Shadow bowed a hazy head towards the small boy and then He gently rose into the heavens, leaving the boy with a real heart alone in the ditch.

Part 7


True to his word, Edward did indeed have a rich and fulfilled life. The boy (with a real heart) returned to the town and continued to shine his goodness to everyone that he met. Likewise, the Shadow remained true to His promise and it was not until another seventy years passed that He made his last call upon Edward. When the Shadow finally called upon Edward, He found him laying upon a soft cottoned bed surrounded by an elderly wife and four grieving children. Edward was holding the hand of his wife when the Shadow made His last call, whilst the four children huddled around his bedstead.


“It’s time now for you to come home, Edward,” smiled the Shadow.


Edward nodded gently and closed his eyes for a final time.


Then the old man (with a real heart) gently slipped his fingers out from the hand of his beloved wife and eased them into the firm grip of the Shadow. Together the two of them, Edward and the Shadow, left the bounds of earth and flew skyward home, towards the heavens.


“You’ve had a very good life,” said the Shadow.


“Indeed,” Edward replied.


Below them, life in the town went on.

(Thank you to the help and assistance of many different creators and residents within Second Life. Without their input, this publication would not exist.)

The Boy With the Clockwork Heart

Edward had a particularly hard upbringing. Despite being a young child, he had to work long hours in Mr. Grime’s dreadful cotton mill. It was a very hard life and, so very often, tragic accidents would occur within the exposed machinery. The other mill workers would tell tales of how the Shadow would frequently visit the factory, to take away the poor souls of the many fatalities that met their fate there. How Edward wished that he might never ever meet the Shadow. Sadly, Edward’s wish never came true. In this story, he was to meet the Shadow a total of three times. This is the tragic tale of how Edward met the Shadow so many times and how he came to be the first ever child to receive a clockwork heart. (Author’s note: This is a beautifully illustrated story for both older children and adults alike. However, due to the triple appearance of death in this story, in the form of the Shadow, it is recommended that this story is not suitable for young children. Although the Shadow has been portrayed sensitively, as always, adults are recommended to use their discretion in the choice of this eBook for their children.)

  • ISBN: 9781370436132
  • Author: Maxwell Grantly
  • Published: 2016-07-28 16:10:09
  • Words: 4901
The Boy With the Clockwork Heart The Boy With the Clockwork Heart