Clockwork – extract

A dead body that wouldn’t keep still! Imagine that! Stretched out icy-cold on a marble slab, with its right arm lashing and lashing and lashing with no sign that it was ever going to stop.

‘The physician locked the door to keep the servants out, and brought the lamp closer, and bent low to look, and then his eye was caught by something in the clumsy arrangement of the clothes. So, avoiding that lashing right arm, he carefully unfastened the cloak and the fur coat and the under-jacket and the shirt, and laid the prince’s chest bare.

‘And there it was: a gash across his breast just over the heart, crudely sewn up with a dozen stitches. The physician got his scissors and snipped them away, and then he nearly fainted with surprise, because when he opened the wound, there was no heart there. Instead, there was a little piece of clockwork: just a few cogs and springs and a balance wheel, attached in subtle ways to the prince’s veins and tick-tick-ticking away merrily, in perfect time with the lashing of his arm.

‘Well, you can imagine how the physician crossed himself and took a sip of brandy to calm his nerves. Who wouldn’t? Then he carefully cut the attachments and lifted out the clockwork, and as he did so, the arm fell still, just like that.’