Hidebound Hump Day — #WritingPrompt! The Guardian

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

#GetCaughtReading!  May is Get Caught Reading Month.  Artie is coming back to Jazz Age Wednesdays!

Artie sketch thinking color steampunk

Artie, courtesy of Chris Graham

Get Caught Reading is a nationwide (USA) campaign to promote the fun of reading books for all ages.  Chris Graham, the one and only Story Reading Ape, will be a story telling ape.  We’re getting together again for a short story in support of this initiative.  It will be here next Wednesday.

Now to Hidebound Hump Day

Be warned… I’m just dashing this off quickly.  It is so hard to resist the prompts from Diana Wallace Peach.  Then I read Rob Goldstein’s story (click here), and I simply had to join the fun.

Steampunk black man Brigitte Werner_Pixabay

Brigitte Werner, Pixaby

You’ve probably heard me bemoan my unfinished novel, the second book for the alchemist, Cornelis Drebbel.  It includes one of my favorite “unfinished novel characters,” Jack.  Since the steampunk story is so fitting for Diana’s gorgeous image prompt, Jack hopped into my head.

In my “Cornelis-verse,” the second novel happens in a parallel place where Cornelis crash-lands.  There, Copper is not a little girl, but a quirky young woman.  She grew up with Jack as her only companion.  The vignette inspired by Dianna’s prompt takes place there.

The Guardian

Jackalope Superstition Mountains

Image by Teagan Geneviene

Jack didn’t understand why no one seemed to heed his warnings.  He even created a probability chart when they would not listen.  Being ignored when he presented data agitated him.

“The risk is far too great!” Jack insisted.

“I’m perfectly capable of handling any ack ruffians who try to bother me,” Copper told him in a tone that Jack thought meant disdain.

“We can’t stay here forever, old boy,” the Alchemist added.

“I understood what you both have said,” Jack replied.  “However, a guardian is required.  I propose that you at least hire a guard to protect you.”

The Alchemist chuckled.  Miss Copper gave Jack the long-suffering look that meant she thought he was being what she called a mother hen.

“My grandfather was my guardian after my parents left.  I’ve done just fine without a guardian since he disappeared.”

“Jack, my chuckaboo, we would still have to go into town to hire a guard,” the Alchemist reasoned.

Small Cornelis steampunk man dreamstime_xxl_87472463


Jack admitted Cornelis Drebbel had a point, but it was no less dangerous.  In frustration he hopped into one of the mine cars Miss Copper had automated several years before.

He went up to the surface, and out the hidden door of the mine.  There he checked his weather instruments.  He didn’t really know why, but whenever Jack felt uncertain or conflicted, he monitored the weather.  Tracking the weather readings had been his very first job.  When he worked with the data, an out of balance world seemed more comprehensible.

Jack paused.  He detected a strong atmospheric gravity current in the area below his high observation point.

“A storm,” he muttered, instantly focused on his work.

The air pressure fluctuated.  His aneroid barometer vibrated.  Jack sat back on his haunches and then stretched to look at the device.  It reminded him of the day the Alchemist appeared.

Barograph_Analogue barometer Wikimedia

A stacked analogue recording barograph aneroid barometer

Jack’s first encounter with the Alchemist had altered him.  He became more than a clockwork jackalope.  He had fur and a bunny shape.  His antennae took the appearance of antelope horns.

The gears in his head whirred as Jack remembered that day.  Then they suddenly stopped, clicked into place.

Jack jumped back into the mine car, and went to the store room where Miss Copper kept her projects and inventions.  She was becoming as skilled as the Inventor, her grandfather.

Miss Copper didn’t like Jack to catalogue her projects.  However, she didn’t specifically forbid it, so he made an inventory when she was otherwise occupied.

“As long as she hasn’t moved anything, that one should be back here,” he muttered as he hopped to the back of the long storage room.

It was too big for Jack to move.  Carefully he hopped from shelf to shelf so he could reach the switch at the back of the thing’s head.

Gears hummed.  A tall clockwork man stiffly moved away from the wall.  It took a few steps.  However, with a screech of metal parts, it stopped.

Jack stopped too, when he heard Miss Copper behind him, clearing her throat.

Copper crop 1

Copper, Dreamstime

“Jackalope, what are you doing?” she asked in a too calm voice.

Jack’s horn shaped antennae twisted and tilted as he considered how to respond before turning.

“Oh, what have we here?” the Alchemist chortled.  “Were you making yourself a friend, Copper?  My, he’s a big one!”

Copper swatted Cornelis Drebbel, and the Alchemist popped away from her.  An instant later he appeared across the room, beside Jack.

Jack held out a vial of glowing purple goo.

“Alchemist, you can finish this clockwork creature.  I kept this sample from the pool that was created the night you gave me life,” Jack said.  “Then he would be able to protect Miss Copper and you if you insist on leaving the mountain.”

Copper’s face relaxed.  She looked at Jack in the soft way that made him feel balanced.

“Dear boy,” the Alchemist began then cleared his throat.  “Your transformation… well, you see, it was a side-effect of uncontrollable events.”

“Do you mean I was an accident?” Jack asked, causing Cornelis to blush.

“Well accents happen no matter how careful a parent might be,” Cornelis murmured as if to himself and smirked.  “Plus, there’s that mysterious device in your chest.  Copper won’t let me take it apart so I can unravel how it works.”

Cogs and gears made soft sounds.  Jack’s antennae twisted so that one pointed to Copper and the other to Cornelis.

“He means the heart my grandfather made,” Copper told him.  “Before the things that happened that night, the heart already made you more than an ordinary clockwork creature.  We don’t have another one.”

heart-red blue Pixaby


“Then you should remove the heart and use it in this one,” Jack declared, pointing to the huge clockwork man.  “I’m not big enough to provide adequate protection.”

“No!” Copper exclaimed.

“I’m afraid it wouldn’t work out the same way,” the Alchemist told him.  “I wouldn’t really dismantle you.  Besides, Copper and I would have a huge collie shangle if I tried.”

Jack was assailed by an over-abundance of what he termed emotional data.  He struggled to process so much at once.  Mutely he again moved the vial of glowing goo toward the Alchemist.

“Well, I suppose we could try,” Cornelis Drebbel muttered.

The Alchemist found a bit of chalk and drew a circle around the clockwork man.  He added various symbols.  Jack only recognized a few of them.  As he drew, Cornelis murmured in a language that Jack thought was a combination of Latin and an archaic West Germanic language.

The symbols and the Alchemist took on a green glow.  Cornelis poured the purple contents of the vile along the circle.

Nothing happened.

The Alchemist looked crestfallen.

Abruptly, blinding light filled the storage room.  When the light subsided, Jack saw the clockwork creature had changed.

“It wasn’t enough,” the Alchemist muttered.

When Jack was transformed, he was completely covered with flesh and fur and became sentient.  However, the clockwork man had random patches of exposed metal and machinery.  As Jack looked into his eyes, they seemed… unfinished.

“I don’t think he’s fully processed,” Jack commented.  “Perhaps it will take some time.

The clockwork man turned to Copper.  He dropped to one knee.

Steampunk black man Brigitte Werner_Pixabay

Brigitte Werner, Pixaby

Haec protegimus,” he said in a rusty sounding voice.

“Blast it all, Cornelis Drebbel!  Why did you have to use Latin in that spell,” Copper complained.

“It means this we guard,” the Alchemist explained in a voice that combined awe and self-satisfaction.

“The Guardian!” Jack exclaimed in delight.

The end.

This story was written for Diana Peach’s monthly write photo prompt. You can play along  at her May Speculative Fiction #Writingprompt.

If you haven’t been part of my new serial, Brother Love here are links to the first two episodes.  Chapter 3 will go live on Saturday at midnight Eastern.  I’ll meet you at the crossroads!

Chapter 1.   Chapter 2.



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This is a work of fiction.  Characters, names, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, locales, or events is entirely coincidental.

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