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The Clockworm Is Here!

As Tonia watched the world slide by, strapped in her seat in the car, she felt another presence always, slightly to the right and behind, almost leaning against her, a pressure, an existence that was intimately reliable. This is good, she would think, and then there’d be an echo, ‘I like it too.’ The other voice always liked motion, and it soothed them both, to be lifted, to be carried, to be rocked, to be bathed.

Tonia eventually called the other voice Vivian. Vivian was the ghost in her head, the sly voice next to her heart.

You find you’re just one of many copies being generated by a 3-D printer, or hear that the earth is the subject of a rather cheerful invasion. Whatever the trouble, you still have to find your way . . .

Playful, sober, profound and profane, the characters in Karen Heuler’s stories may build bridges that no one else wants, or join up with a vengeful doll to fight the evil that men do, or remark upon the incursions of a worm that can change time. No matter what impossible event transpires, they face it. Rise up, they seem to say; rise up and meet the unexpected and the unacceptable, and make them yours.

Contains: ‘Here and There’, ‘Egg Island’, ‘The Stray Curse’, ‘Footsteps’, ‘Alien Corn’, ‘I Am’, ‘The Missy Show’, ‘Give Me Strength’, ‘The Lovely Kisselthwist’, ‘Figaro, Figueroa’, ‘The Completely Rechargeable Man’, ‘The Clockworm’, ‘The Right Chemistry’, ‘The Reordering of Tonia Vivian’, ‘Searching for Penny’, ‘Exile’, ‘The People in the Mirror’, ‘Calling Out’, ‘A Thing of Beauty and Light’.

Cover illustration ‘Twisted Twelve’ by Eric Freitas.


Previous works here and the following pages

Excerpt from Chapter 1:

The boat looked like something out of African Queen, even though it was on the wrong river. It was small and battered and doomed to a bad end. Nevertheless it chugged on, with its sole passenger, a Mr. Forbes, and his mysterious cargo.

Mr. Forbes was dressed in a beige polyester suit and a Panama hat, and he sat in the rear of the boat among his wealth of crate and boxes, looking at the trees, at the water, at the canoes they passed, with silent, meditative vigilance. He was bony and white-haired and he moved as if he had to conserve himself.

"What do you suppose he’s doing, Joachim?" the owner of the boat asked his son, who shrugged elaborately. "He’s American. Maybe a vacation. Something to do with a vacation. With Americans, it’s always vacation."

The owner nodded wisely. "And those boxes must be machines, maybe air conditioning. But me, I like this heat."

Joachim shrugged again, and then bent down to get a bottle of warm Coca-cola. He studied Forbes as he sipped it.

The gringo looked hungrily at the trees, as if they might fatten him up, Joachim thought, but then his gaze would slip and he’d end up looking at his hands. His hands were empty

"If it’s air conditioning," his father continued, "he’s crazy. He may be crazy anyway, they often are. But why would he bring air conditioning to Lago Vendrida? It’s primitive there, not even one electric light. Unless they’re building something." He considered it for a moment or two, then dismissed it. "Only a fool would build at Lago Vendrida. The worst place in the world." He nodded, satisfied. "He must be a missionary. They must be school things, and bibles. Good. They need schools."

"He said it was generators," Joachim reminded him.

"They can say anything to us. If it’s generators, it can’t be vacation."

"He’s American," Joachim said patiently. "Maybe he wants ice on his vacation."

"Ice," his father said with interest. "Ice."

And, with this speculation and that, the boat finally crept into Lago Vendrida, a small, unelectrified town on one of the branches of the interconnected rivers. There was a crude wooden dock and a flotilla of canoes. Stray, brittle dogs yapped in the one dirt street aiming itself at the water.

They were instantly surrounded by most of the younger villagers, and Forbes watched as Joachim got the cargo unloaded, aided by a giggling group of skinny boys.

The gringo’s eyes were on the boys as they yelled and leaped and slapped each other. His mouth quivered a little. He paid no attention to the men; he didn’t even seem to notice how the crates were moved; he just watched the boys. When it was all done, Joachim and his father stood next to him, until finally Joachim said, "We finished it all now," in the English he had learned at school.

Forbes nodded, dragging his eyes back to them and blinking. He said, "I’ll need a translator. Can you recommend one?"

Joachim’s head jerked up. "I am the only one here who speaks English. Not perfect, you know. But English." He suddenly looked very eager, and his father squinted. He knew a little English, too, enough to get a person up or down the river. "Very good," he said shyly. "My son very good." He had heard from others, people who had passed through big towns with stores and hotels, of the money that could be made from tourists. They paid well, they paid often, and usually just to be taken to see the ordinary things, and to look at ordinary people. Everyone he knew talked about tourists, but for him it had always been talk. It would be good if this man was the scout for more tourists; and even better if Joachim became the translator, the guide. He wiped his face to keep from being too eager, and then, recognizing he was a father above all else, he said, "And this you have here? This things? What you are this things?" He gestured to the crates, which now had boys jumping from their tops.

"I have gifts, some gifts for the people," Forbes said slowly. "American products. I want to give it to the people further in. Por los indios," he said carefully, his Spanish quickly exhausted.

Joachim’s father grinned. He understood gifts. And what could gifts be for except to pay the Indians for their help in building a hotel and causing more tourists to come, and with them wealth and American goods? He was sure the generators made sense now, because tourists came to electricity, they found it out, every time.

"My son helps," he said, nodding at his son. "You pay. You pay."

"Of course I’ll pay," Forbes said. He took out American dollars, and selected one carefully. "Every day, he’ll get this."

It was settled.

Joachim got a raft built in Lago Vendrida, logs roped together with vines—Forbes said that was good enough, so long as it could hold all the cargo. Forbes himself went to the one store in town, which had a few dozen food items in addition to some plastic bowls and combs and ponchos. Forbes slowly and carefully chose his selections: a bag of rice and one of sugar, a can each of peas, condensed milk, an unknown stew, and peaches. He hesitated and then added a bag of hard candies. All these were added to a box that held, by Joachim’s standards, a very impressive selection of city-bought foods.

The raft was built and ready to go by early morning of the second day. Joachim watched as Forbes took the two ponchos he’d bought in town and strung them from poles he’d wedged between crates at the very front of the raft. Somehow, he had lost his Panama hat. He sat on a small box underneath the ponchos.

"Where you wish to go?" Joachim asked after Forbes had settled himself.

"Here’s what I want," Forbes said, straining to turn around without losing his seat. "I want to go to a place we can reach in a day from here, where the people sometimes come here, but not too often. That’s the first place. Then I want you to ask them about a place even farther away, a place where they have met my people, but only a few times a year. When we get to that place, I want you to ask them if they know of a village very isolated, very shy, where the people maybe saw a gringo once or twice, and then we’ll find one where they’ve never seen a man like me at all."

Joachim was watching Forbes’ back, so he saw the satisfied nod that went along with this last statement; and he didn’t like the nod at all, for reasons he could not specify even to himself. Joachim had never gone as deeply into the forest as Forbes described, and as a child he had been told vivid stories of the monsters that lurked inside the jungle, monsters that pounced or lured or cajoled you out of your life. And while Joachim was poor by Forbes’ standards, he was used to certain luxuries—rice and bread and Coca-cola, shirts and shoes and antibiotic ointments—that weren’t available in the heart of the forest. And who knows what they did there, deep in the shade of the greatest trees, eating insects and making poisons and—it might be true—sucking your heart out with sharp bamboo pipettes while you slept?