We are thrilled to announce the winners of the Quad 2 Writing Competition in which participants were asked to write a nature-themed piece.
1st place: Harris Watkins – The Clockwork Heart
2nd place: Deniz Hakman – Hidrellez
3rd place: Freya Peers – Buttercup
We now present: The Clockwork Heart by Harris Watkins.
The Clockwork Heart
The rhythmic whirring of the cogs in their mind pierced the tranquillity in the air. Tick, tick, tick. There it was again. Teetering on the edges of obscurity, yet loud and persistent enough to pull them from their trance. Around the room they scanned, but a defect emanating from within was invisible to the oblivious eye. The seeds of uncertainty sat there scattered about the soil, starved, they screamed for sustenance. Yet the seeds had been sown, nonetheless.
“And that’s the key! Buy now, 80% off!” the droning of screens provided rest and respite from thoughts of a restless mind, spewing forth streams of docility to drink from. “The new Transcend™ takes 40% of the old Tradition™ and 30% of the classic Belief™, invigorating it with 60% of an all-new flair of Introspection™, to create an all-new taste that is 100% Humanity™.” Inwards they stared, absorbed into the ever-consuming beast. All natural essence contorted to artificial form within. The electric glow of the FireScreen™ plugged into the corner warmed their feet, which crackled and snapped as a raging storm outside was projected onto the WindowScreen™ above. Wrapped in their own personalized Blanky™, they had all they need. ButterStotch™ and TuttersTotch™ wrappings littered the Tikea™ couch they lay on and the Tunesa™ rug below, remnants of a busy day. These four walls were an artificial oasis of peace and comfort for them in an otherwise restless world outside. A personalized GardenOfEden™, the perfect single unit living space, complete with all the necessary utilities. The doors to the outside world stood there behind them, staring. A barrier to the unknown.
Tick, tick, tick. There it was again, a prelude to catastrophe pollinating the canopies of paradise. The brainwaves of their mind and the screens usually played to a synchronized melody. Yet this mechanical pulse managed to break that rhythm, time and time again. So out of place, yet so oddly familiar, in the ambience of Paradise™. The sound came in different forms, with different pacing and pitch, but always coaxed itself into their awareness, breaking the spell, if not for a moment. Yet they could never place the source. It seemed to emanate from everywhere, yet nowhere at once. Not in the nooks and crannies of the living room’s trunk, nor the foliage of the ceiling. Not in the roots under the tiles of the bathroom, nor the foundation of the building. The ticking ran up and down their spine, pulsating through their chest. Louder and harder it pounded. The pattering of a morning shower now the booming of a midnight storm. The jungle drums played and, though they had never been one for parties, the call of life resonated within them. Towards the doors it drew them. The electric screens buzzed, the hive of artificial submission looming behind them as they faced the portal to the outside world. So long had they spent hibernating there, the beauty of the natural world no longer penetrated the eggshell. It was time for that to change. The doors before them were the final bastion of the all-consuming beast. Just through them to Nature; to truth, and to beauty. There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors.
Tick, tick, tick. No longer could they bear it. The cracks splintered and fractured throughout the eggshell, and with a heave the snake broke free. The door was open, and in poured the transcendent brilliance. Crimson hues played across a cloudless sky, dancing with the azure. Sunlight kissed their skin as they gazed at the verdant fields before them, an endless expanse of carpeted green. Never before had they experienced such resonant warmth. The humming screens behind them could only project counterfeit imitations. Gaia’s embrace enveloped them, resonating a oneness with the lands before them. The whistling winds and the singing streams; the birds in the air and the beasts in the shadows. The orchestra before them played its concerto of magnificence, licking their ears and beckoning them forward. Enclosed within the spectacle stood a single tree, and from it hung a single apple. Its deep richness called to them; a rare red ruby enshrouded in the earth. Fuelled by the newfound ecstasy pumping through them, they propelled themselves forward, lurching towards the deliciousness awaiting them. They could see themselves biting into that juicy orb, could tase its sweet redness seeping into their mouth and feel it trickling down their throat. The ticking was a steady beat, drumming the rhythm of their dance with enlightenment. Absorbed by the natural world’s wonder, they leapt forward with a passion completely absent from the artificial chamber behind them. Yet the ecstasy was suddenly cleaved at its roots as a cold grasp clamped around their neck, wrenching them back inside with violent force.
Seized by a frozen terror, a featureless face gazed down upon them. They struggled for breath as the air was stolen from their lungs. The rising tempo of the ticking synchronized their dance with death. This thing had no form yet radiated such a strong essence of fear. Eyes that did not see bore holes into their skull; a touch that did not feel coiled itself around their quivering body.
“That’s not for you,” a mouthless voice declared. “The butterfly that flies free only ever craves the comfort of the cocoon.” Though there were no eyes to meet, yet a piercing gaze could be felt running up and down their body, surveying it like a vulture tailing a walking carcass.
“You are below even that,” it bellowed, “a maggot playing caterpillar.” The ticking was now a pounding in their chest, beating against the walls of their ribcage.
“How can you expect to open Pandora’s Box like that? Does a toaster believe it can cook rice? Let me show you how you simply weren’t made with the right parts.” With that, the entity tore into their chest and pain surged forth. The ticking and beating broke into the air as black bile and blood burst out. It ripped their heart from their chest, and the hollowness propagated through the rest of their body. Spluttering and sputtering, they stared at their body’s core in its grasp before them. Tick, tick, tick. The cogs turned, constantly feeding themselves into one another through a relay of springs and gears in the pulsating fleshy mass. The mechanical drumming of tick, tick, tick played with instrumental precision as their heart beat in its grip of void, black bile oozing from its orifices.
“Now do you see?” it smiled down at them from above, “you were counterfeit from the very beginning.”