Friday, May 4, 2012

Gremlins in the Machine

Two scant figures, not much taller than ten-year-olds, scampered outside Hallervord's Druckerei. If one had paid them attention, one would have noticed the stubble on their chins, the wizened crevices scarring their cheeks, and the bulbous bloodshot nose that drooped over their mouth like the belly of a pregnant lady. But those who walked past the print shop gave the figures no mind.

The passersby had lost their sense of wonder to the daily toll of everyday. Instead of remembering tales of Robin Goodfellow or the fantastic fairytales their nurse maids had used to try to encourage good behavior, they let the soft chatter of work carry on dead conversations. The few who did look around, like a man winking at a lady clutching the bag holding her new ballgown, didn't notice the youths.

Those who passed didn't realize they were older than the wind nor did they notice them creep into an alley. Pukje, that merry wanderer of the night, climbed onto the shoulders of Hob, his head just peeking over the edge of the windowsill. Inside Hallervord's Druckerei, dull brown light shone through windows smeared with ink and dust that provided no more than a hint of the tympan stretched taut beneath platen filled with lead, tin, and antimony alloyed type.

Pukje felt a whisper of power from the press. A whisper of the words stealing his natural immortality transferring it to the wooden words on dead paper. Pukje leaned backwards, falling away from the sill when his foot slipped off Hob's back.

"Is this the right place?" Hob asked.

"Don't matter." Pukje sidled towards a side door. His fingers trembled and he magicked an iron key into existence. Sweat ran down his brow and even his nose had paled to a dull gray.

"Course it matters. If they aren't publishing the brothers' lies, it's not going to save Titania."

"Hob, you're so naïve. It doesn't matter whether this druckerei is the right one or not. If we do find the right one, Wilhelm will just find another printer willing to accept his coin."

"But each printed copy --"

"I know," Pukje said. "Shut up. We're wasting time."

The side door creaked open. A gentleman emerged wearing a ruffled shirt that rolled over the edges of his unbuttoned overcoat, squeezed tight over his frail bones. He withdrew a pipe from his pocket and orange flames lit the tobacco. The door thumped behind him.

Pukje balanced on his tip toes. "Herr Hallervord --"

Hob thumped Pukje knocking him off his tip toes and stumbling over a stack of wooden pallets. His foot got stuck.

Hob whispered, "You'll scare him. We're not supposed to know his name."

"Scare me?" Hallervord's voice rumbled. "Well, I'll say. You don't look quite natural. Since when did Robin Goodfellow and," Hallervord stared hard at Hob, but shook his head, "and whoever you might be start caring about pesky mortals?"

Pukje preened, his thumbs tucked underneath his suspenders, and without looking, yanked his foot out of the pallets.

"We are not merry wanderers," Hob said. "We're just two children who need to get inside. Could you open the door and most importantly invite us in."

"You look a little older than children."

"Never mind that. We've just got an odd disease. We're really good workers."

"I don't need more laborers."

Pukje took two long steps towards Hob and jumped on his back, climbing onto his shoulders and then balancing there, blowing a handful of dust into Hallervord's face. "You could replace two of your workers with us and we'll work for free."

Hob backed away from the man, causing Pukje to teeter and roll to the ground. Hob shook his head at his brother. "Stop that. The dust will hurt him."

"So. If Titania dies, I don't care about any mortal."

"He hasn't opened the door yet."

The pipe slipped out of Hallervord's hands. His heart froze, the last twitch of his hand opening the door a crack.

"See. I told you not to use the dust. His heart is too old to experience wonder."

"But, I got the door open."

Hob tentatively extended a finger towards the open door but jerked it back and shouted with pain. "We haven't been invited in yet."

A boy came to the door. His fingers twitching. "Who's out there? Herr Hallervord?"

Pukje kicked the old man. A wiggle of the fingers sent the dead druckerei owner rolling into a corner of the alley where wisps of fog hid the body.

"If you wouldn't mind, could you invite us wee folk in?"

"I suppose it couldn't hurt. Come on in. You haven't seen Herr Hallervord have you?"

As soon as the boy said the words of invitation, Pukje and Hob streaked past him, towards the printing press. They swung on the windlass, cutting the lines, releasing the weights and leading the platen crashed against the table and break the tray underneath.

Too bad youth no longer believed. Or, perhaps that is a good thing for Titania.

Hob grabbed a pamphlet, twisting in his grasp, squinting at the typeface. "This is no fairy tale."

"I told you we'd have to break all the presses." Pukje wiped the dust off his clothes. "We should head to the next one. We're going to have a busy night."


  1. I find this story intriguing. It feels like part of a bigger tale. What's going on with Titania and Wilhelm?

    Are you planning to write more or just teasing us?

    And I'm siding with the roguish, murderous wanderers, which is a worry!

    1. I feel guilty for being a tease. I may see if other stand-alone scenes work. I'm working on one on Titania now.

  2. I think it's a superb idea, that with every printing of a story some of the power is stolen from the subjects. It would explain why we don't see so much of the Folk these days.

    If only it worked the same way for celebrities... what a different world we would live in.

    1. It would change politics as well. Hmmm... that seems like fun.

  3. Some fun turns of phrase in this, like "older than the wind." And I'd never seen the word "windlass" before, so I'm learning!

    1. I hope it wasn't too cryptic. I usually try to keep people from actually having to dig up the dictionary, but I fear I may have gone too far here.

  4. Always enjoy reading examples that hearken back to "classic" Germanic folklore.

    1. It was fun trying to get a flavor of 18th century German as well.

  5. Oh, I like these two characters. Although I believe them to be truly dangerous, they are mischievous and impish, and probably take great delight in exposing each other's flaws.

    1. You've got a good eye for friends. Some of my best friends have been dangerous ;)

  6. Aidan -- Another good one - bad luck for the gremlins as those fairy tales did survive after all.

  7. And the moral of the story: stamping out new ideas is impossible, especially when there's money behind it. If I squint a little, I can see the gremlins as traditional publishers and Herr Hallervord as one of the new paradigm: they might destroy some of them, but it won't be enough to save themselves for their friends. :-)

    Nicely done!

  8. These are cheeky characters which deserve more time - hope you write some more.

  9. Hi there Aidan -- you've got a really good feel going here of a world with events in motion and new rules coming into play. Loved the devilish Pukje and Hob, and an attempt to destroy the onset of printing an interesting idea. Magic dust a heart attack risk far more interesting in having it cloud his mind :) St.

  10. Did Rupert Murdoch hire them? Excellent premise for a longer work.

  11. I enjoyed the interesting ideas used for the basis of the story. It is different to think of words and stories stealing power from non-mortals.

  12. This is a fun piece Aidan.. I fell right into this world and didn't want to leave..Your characterisations are superb. write write write.. more more more!