A Short Story of the Gremlin Anthology
A clock. Its presence, ticking loudly from her satchel, annoyed Neah as she walked through the busy streets that were flocked by several people in neat suits or dresses on their way to whatever they were up to.
Her current assignment had come from her own best friend, Astra, in her mother’s diner just a week earlier, in her hometown.
The clock was an unusual thing. It was a pocket watch, actually, with a spider’s shape engraved around the frame of the clock, and the legs extending to the underside of the watch. But because it was a big as a disk pendant, it would probably be correct to call it a clock.
“Creepy, isn’t it? How the ticking is really loud?” Astra had laughed as she placed it in front of Neah. “Mother received a guest yesterday, a cousin of ours. He showed it off to us, scared our souls out, too. I sometimes get the feeling that it’s alive. He left it behind accidentally. Sadly, he can’t double back to pick it up, so we’d need someone to send it to him. The Post would damage it, he said, so all that’s left is the Jack-of-all-trades. Do us a favor, yes?”
So she said, and Neah found herself walking through the unfamiliar city called Moorwalk. It’s a massive city built on a small island of buildings, old-fashioned, with stone paths still in good shape after centuries gone. Still, for a small, somewhat isolated island far from the mainland, it was famous.
Oh, and that he might also be a ‘Gremlin’, Astra had added.
Neah grimaced at the thought of ‘Gremlins’. Not that she never heard of them. Gremlins are honorary titles given to ex-assassins, famous throughout the world, skilled, and once highly-paid until they stopped taking services. Not that she hated them; Trick and Eva back at Dial, the handyman company she worked at, were also Gremlins, though now one has picked up the occasional call by a circus to perform and the other took on bandit hunting mostly.
That she would deliver back a clock to a Gremlin made her wonder what the clock’s purpose is to that person.
The only thing that Astra told her she didn’t have was the address to this person, Ethaon Haldeir’s home, so that meant that Neah had to inquire everywhere. Then again, Gremlins are famous, so their identities should be well-known where they live.
“Ethaon Haldeir? ‘Whozzat?” asked the woman managing a stall that sold tea and pancakes in a set on the side street.
“Uh – he apparently lives here? In this city?” Neah said, puzzled. “He could be a Gremlin, too.”
“‘Ain’t heard of this Haldeir man before, little girl. No Gremlin either. Oh, what about the Horologii Gremlin?”
“H-Horologii?” Neah gasped. That was the name of a famous Gremlin. No one in the world won’t know of it, and they said that he worked few bodyguard assignments for famous people before. His trademark had been something like a map of starts projected from some kind of object.
“Sir Horologii is sent here to defend us, but he doesn’t live here. But we ain’t know his face. Them Gremlins are rare, anyway. This Haldeir never heard of. Now how ’bout some pancakes?” As if to emphasize her stall, the woman flapped a fan and the smell of pancakes wafted into Neah’s face.
Giving in to the growling stomach she had been ignoring since her arrival, she bought two and a cup of tea before going on her way.
The next people to whom she asked the questions to, they never knew who Haldeir was, nor if he was a Gremlin, but attibuted their city’s defense to the Horologii Gremlin, just like the pancake seller.
A whole day of getting unanswered questions made her feel exhausted, and she sat down in a bench in the main square to rest.
A rattling sound caught her attention, and gawked at a sight: a wheelbarrow, heaped with possibly hundreds of gears, metal pieces, screams, and two or three wheels possibly torn from a car. The young man pushing the cart along was young and tall, dressed in a white shirt and brown vest, with a pair of goggles on his dark blond hair, and hazel eyes. He was in a rather good mood for someone who caught the attention of several people around him.
Or he was possibly too ignorant.
He passed her as one of the wheels fell off the wheelbarrow and started rolling by. He gave chase and managed to catch it, before passing her again and continuing on along the way he had been going, taking the wheel along.
The wheelbarrow just sat.
“Hey, wait! Your wheelbarrow!” she called, and the young man turned around in surprise. Catching sight of his wheelbarrow, his face contorted into a look of surprise and he ran back to it.
“Thank you! I’m really glad you told me! I always forget it when I get distracted!” the young man said, carrying his wheel back to the wheelbarrow. He topped his things with the wheel again and grabbed onto the handles.
“You forget?” Neah stared at him incredulously.
“Yeah. It’s a bit of a problem. Happens all the time.” The Mechanic – Neah decided to nickname him so, since he looked that part – shrugged. “I have a problem with my short-term memory, so I forget a lot of things.”
“What are all these going to be for?” she asked, looking at the stuff the Mechanic had collected. No doubt he might have forgotten how many screws he had here. “Someone gave them to you?”
“Nope. The town hall clock was being fixed and I asked if I could have the broken parts,” said the Mechanic as he started pushing the wheelbarrow down the street. Neah followed him. “I have a project, see, and I was collecting things to build it. An airship.”
Neah stared. “What for?”
“I was bored, so why not?”
His simple reason was hard to believe. No one normal do something possibly simpler than an airship. But maybe he was one of those scientists who loved building things, or a weirdo. The latter seems most likely.
“Well, then! I better go now! I think I’ll be late for high afternoon tea, and I’m starting to get hungry!” the Mechanic laughed, and he took a firm hold on the wheelbarrow. He was off on a running pace before she could tell him that, no, it’s not even lunch time.
A whole day went spent without finding anyone by the name of Haldeir, and by now, Neah huffed into a park bench in exhaustion. For the first time on all her missions, she was at a loss. Maybe this person really doesn’t live here, but it would be impossible to return to Astra with a report of being unable to find him.
This city, unlike her, was still bustling with much energy, despite it already being dusk. People still walked to and fro around her, and through the part as a shortcut to another road.
She dug into her satchel and pulled out the clock. The only thing it was useful for at the moment was just that it could tell her what time it was rather than looking at the town clock towering above the city. She never really carried around a watch; jewelry made it hard to travel far without being stolen.
Just as she thought of thieves, though a whiff of air passed by her face, and she yelped as she fell back. She also realized that the clock was no longer in her hands. Deja vu, perhaps? Maybe, or maybe not.
“Hey, give it back!” she shouted, and sprang to her feet. Her shouts alerted the people around her as she gave chase after the thief, who hollered with laughter as he ran. He turned down a street, taking a thin, dank alleyway, and she followed him. If she hadn’t faced many thieves through the many other assignments she’d gone through, she possible would have tripped over her own feet.
The thief turned into a corner, kicked down a door, and threw himself in, slamming the door shut. She followed, pushing through the door, only to realize that it was a trap as a cage collapsed around her. Shocked, she squinted out and saw a simply mechanism that had possibly been holding the cage suspended over her, dropping only when she pushed the door open. It was quick to prepare, too, that explained why the thief could avoid getting caught in his own trap when he passed the door earlier.
“Give that watch back! It doesn’t belong to me!” she shouted to the smirking face of the thief before her.
“What do you mean, it doesn’t belong to you?” asked the Thief. “You’re holding it, you’re even worrying about it, so shouldn’t it be yours?”
“It’s a client’s watch! Give it back now!”
That made the Thief smile wider. “Now doesn’t that sound more amusing? You, a civil servant, lost a client’s belonging? That’s funny! How about you skedaddle along back to that client and tell him that you lost his watch? Let’s see what it is.” He dangled the massive pocket watch with its silver case hanging in front of her. “Whoa, it’s the size of a clock! They’re called pocket watches to fit pockets, and this won’t fit any pocket that I know.”
Neah scowled at him. The Thief smiled and clicked the lid open. She watched his face. The inside details were that of an artist, and she knew, having seen many intricate designs before, that the skill of the artist would worth up to hundreds of gold coins. If this Thief, skilled as his fingers were, could tell, he’d be happier.
Instead, she was surprised when his face took on an apprehensive frown.
“T-This watch,” he said, in a somewhat shaky voice. “W-where did you get it?”
As much as smugness and relief filled her lungs at the look on his face, she was equally confused. “What are you talking about?”
“You! You couldn’t have stolen this, could you?”
Aghast, Neah gasped, “What? Thief? I’m not the thief, you are!”
“But this watch is my-“
“ISAIAH!” a voice bellowed outside the building.
“Do me a favor and fall flat on the floor!” yelled the Thief, which she did. There was a beeping sound coming from somewhere, and then the wall collapsed with an explosion as if from a bomb. Neah bit on her lip, covering her head with her arms like the Thief did as he sprawled in front of her cage.
Through the dust and smoke, she saw a shadow walk through what was now a hole in the wall behind where the Thief had been standing. It stretched out through the building, leading towards the street across the alleyway they came from. People began to gather at that moment.
“Isaiah! I leave you at home for an hour, and you go out and cause some kind of mischief again?” thundered the voice of the attacker. When the dust had cleared some, she saw a young man in a dark brown vest over a white shirt, blond hair, and blue eyes, armed with what looks like a mechanical cresent shape over his shoulder. Whatever the cresent thing was, it was definitely the reason of the explosion. It was the Mechanic. “Do you never stop, you little rat!”
“Master! Do you know how much we’re going to have to pay for street damages again?” the Thief yelped, scrambling to his heels.
“I don’t care. Doors are too annoying, so I blasted my way through,” said the Mechanic. Then he saw Neah inside the cage. He turned a glare to Isaiah the Thief. “You’re horrible.”
“No, Master! This girl’s a thief! She stole your watch! Look, see?” Isaiah held up the watch.
“That’s wrong! I was supposed to deliver it to someone!” Neah shouted back. “And you’re the thief!” Then she stopped. “Wait, what? You – you’re the owner? You’re Ethaon Haldeir? Are you Astra Flemming’s cousin?”
A spark of recognition came to the Mechanic’s eye. “So you’re Iphigenia Cross from Dial? Astra did say someone was delivering my watch here. And Violet’s my cousin of twenty years, not Astra.”
Neah stared at him. “When we met earlier, why didn’t you say so?”
“How dare you speak rudely to Master Ethaon? Show some respect! He’s the Horologii Gremlin, after all!” Isaiah hopped to his feet to stare indignantly at Neah.
“You show respect to strangers and bewildered young women, Isaiah!” Ethaon Haldeir smacked a gloved hand lightly across Isaiah’s face. “And did I mention that one of your chores today is to clean up the steam engine for the airship! Instead, you’re out here playing around. Now, apologize to Ms. Cross here before we go. Take the cage off of her, too.”
Isaiah scowled at her. Neah glared back.
Isaiah moved, dragging the cage off her. Then he drooped his head and mumbled, “I-I’m s-sorry.” He practically spat out the last word. Neah glared at him again but passed it off.
“When you go back to Violet, tell her and Astra I said thanks,” said Ethaon, interrupting her.
“Is the watch important?” Neah asked, looking at it in his hand.
In response, he clicked open the lid and it flipped open, revealing the clock inside with the spider motif. The lid’s inside glowed and released a star map with several routes crossed over each other. “It shows me places I’ve been to, the easiest routes to get to those places without much trouble, and hideouts I mapped out for myself.”
“Hideouts? Routes? What do you use it for?”
Ethaon grinned. “Oh – gathering materials for my work. It’s nothing much to anyone, really, but it’s important to me. I connect this with a lot of my suppliers. Or else…without a map, I get really lost.”
“Right. Short-term memory problems.”
“Speaking off, Master, where is your wheelbarrow?” asked Isaiah.
For a moment, Ethaon paused. Then he burst out laughing unabashedly. “Ah, I forgot! I think I left it beside the Pancake Seller when I stopped by her stall earlier!”
“Okay, I’m done,” said Neah abruptly and started to leave.
“Thanks, really! Thanks for returning the watch!” Ethaon called again. He snapped it shut. “Oh, and if you’ve been asking the city’s occupant about a Gremlin by my name, they won’t have know. I’m usually called the Horologii Gremlin, not my real name. Thanks to this watch here.”
For a moment, Neah stared back at him. Ethaon grinned back.
“Horologium means ‘clock’,” he said. “Be careful on the way home, or bandit will be after you. I’ll be looking for my wheelbarrow again. Isaiah, let’s go!”
Neah watched as the two of them left the building before a uniformed group of men confronted them. Then she shook her head. Enough already. There had been a lot of things that happened today, and she hope that was all the excitement to happen to her for now.
She turned and walked out through the alley before the uniformed men noticed her presence.