Missing: Chapter 1

Soft daylight fought its way through the thick, soot-stained London sky to glimmer gently against the damp, lead-lined windows of Twist’s ever-dark attic room. The chilly air still carried the scent of soot, polish, and gaslights. The dark boards still creaked under his feet in the bone-deep stillness. The only light of consequence pooled listlessly around the single candle on the desk, under the feather-soft glow of the window—the thick glass slick with tiny rivers of blackened rain.

Only now, the clocks had all wound down to silence. There was a thin blanket of dust on everything in sight. There were no tools or half-finished projects laid out on the desk. Everything had been carefully stowed long ago. As Twist looked about him, he saw the familiar everywhere, but through the lens of absence, nothing looked quite the same. He couldn’t name exactly how; Twist only knew he had changed. There was no other explanation for the unnerving way that the ghosts of his memories crowded him out of the room.

He blew out the candle, walked down the stairs to the first floor, and found Jonas standing before one of the many framed mirrors that hung on the walls. At the sight of his friend staring intently at his own reflection, Twist’s mood lightened somewhat. Jonas’s black goggles hung around his neck, and Twist saw a gentle purple glow in his eyes. Glancing at the mirror, Twist was surprised to not find the same color in the man’s reflection. The face in the mirror had sea-green eyes: Jonas’s true color.

What are you looking for?” Twist asked.

I’ve never gotten a vision off of a mirror,” Jonas said to his own quizzical expression. “I’ve never even gotten one from someone else’s reflection, either. Is that odd?”

Name one thing about either of us that isn’t odd.”

Jonas opened his mouth, paused, and then closed it again as he gave his reflection a suspicious look.

Besides,” Twist said with a shrug, “I never get visions off of animals.”

You don’t?” Jonas asked, looking to him as his eyes changed to a pale blue.

Twist shook his head. “Not even once, and I have no idea why. It’s the same with plants. Sometimes I think I should have gone into botany.”

Ah!” Jonas said suddenly, pointing a finger at Twist. “We’ve both got the correct number of limbs. And fingers too. That’s something that’s not weird.”

Well spotted,” Twist said with a chuckle and an overly encouraging smile. “You’re a sharp one, I’ve always said.”

Smart-ass,” Jonas spat. “Are you finished winding your clocks, then?” he asked, nodding at the attic.

Twist shook his head. “I decided to leave them as they are. There’s no telling when we’ll leave London again, where we’ll be off to, or how long we’ll be gone. It’s not like any of them are even set to the right time. They may as well remain still.”

Twist felt the meaning behind his words clamber forward no matter how he tried to push it back: he might be standing in his own house, but he was no closer to actually going home. Jonas watched Twist as he spoke, the color in his eyes wandering from pale green to lilac.

Are you all right with that?” he asked, his voice ever-so-subtly softer.

Twist gave him a reassuring smile. Sometimes he wondered why he still tried to hide anything from Jonas. “I’m fine,” Twist answered with certainty and conviction. “I don’t think I really even need this place anymore. But it would be such a hassle to sell it.”

Is that so?” Jonas asked, sounding somewhat impressed now. He reached out to pat Twist on the shoulder. “I’m very proud of you, Twist. You’re becoming a true aeronaut! Letting go of the ground is a telling sign.”

Pride bloomed in Twist’s heart. He knew well that there was no higher compliment in Jonas’s opinion. It would, of course, be impossible for Twist to ever earn the lofty and glorious status that Jonas reserved for the term “pirate.” He saw the first twitch of a smile on his friend’s face and turned away quickly. Twist reached into his pocket for his brass watch.

Oh my, it’s already noon!” he said brightly, keeping his eyes on the watch face. “Didn’t the ladies ask us to meet them at one o’clock?”

You know,” Jonas said, his sly grin thickly shading his voice, “the light on your skin turns bluish when you’re happy or feeling particularly good about yourself.”

Twist’s eyes snapped up to his sharply. “That’s creepy; I’ve told you.”

I can’t help it any more than you can,” Jonas replied, his eyes glowing a bright blue now. “It’s not my fault you can’t take a compliment.”

You have no cause to keep track of the colors,” Twist said quickly, hoping to sidestep Jonas’s point. “Nor to speculate on their…possible meanings.”

Jonas laughed lightly. “And it turns paler when you’re annoyed but not actually angry.”

Oh for heaven’s sake,” Twist sighed, turning his back. He crossed his arms and hunched up his shoulders. “Stop looking at me!” Jonas’s laughter grew.

Twist was about to turn on him with a sharp remark when Jonas reached out from behind, surrounding Twist in a hearty, unceremonious squeeze that trapped both arms to his sides. White, numb, cool fog washed over Twist’s Sight at the touch, carrying a sense of predatory but playful delight along with it.

Ah, Twist, you’re so much fun,” Jonas said from just beside his ear. “Wait, that’s a compliment. I mean, you’re a stuffy little twit! There, is that better?”

Get off me, you damned brigand!” Twist snapped, fighting desperately to hold back the laughter that had crept out of the fog and into his voice.

He made a show of struggling, and Jonas released him. Twist turned on him with the hopes of building up a scowl in time. It didn’t quite work the way he’d hoped. Even after the effect of Jonas’s touch had left his Sight and the white fog had faded completely away, Twist still had difficulty containing his smile. The self-satisfied one on Jonas’s face wasn’t helping.

I’m only a damned brigand if you’re a pompous dandy,” Jonas countered smugly.

Twist lost what control he had managed to scrape together, and his smile broke free. He gave a sigh as he shook his head. It was impossible to fight with Jonas when he was so thoroughly entrenched in a good mood.

So!” he tried again hopefully. “Don’t we have a pair of lovely young ladies waiting for us? Shouldn’t we be off?”

Well…” Jonas said, putting on a hesitant grimace, “I don’t know if it’s a pair of lovely young ladies. How about we call it one lovely young lady and one short-tempered ferret?”

A what?” Twist asked, startled.

Arabel isn’t really all that dangerous, but things can get quite awkward if you make her mad. And she’s rather like a weasel at the best of times.”

A sputtering laugh got away from Twist. “My word, you should be a painter. The images you come up with!”

Yes, that was a good one,” Jonas admitted happily.

Are you going to make me ask a third time, then?”

Right! No, I’m done now,” Jonas said with a smile. “We can go.”

Jonas turned for the door and Twist followed behind. As Twist locked the door, leaving the last ghosts of his old life safe inside the dark little house, a curious sensation washed over him. Relief and freedom sprang suddenly to life in his chest, as the world itself seemed to open before him under the gray London sky.

He glanced up to the clouds, letting the drizzle fall to chill his face and dampen his wild black curls. As dark as it might look from the city streets, Twist knew the truth that hid behind that sky: the endless sea of brilliant blue and blinding white, the clear, clean, chilly air at the top of the sky, and the limitless girth of the whole world stretched out far below. Compared to that, his dark, empty little house was easy to forget.

Are we going?” Jonas asked, calling Twist’s attention back to the present.

Oh, yes, of course,” Twist muttered, somewhat sheepish.

As he and Jonas walked out into the city, Twist’s old home faded farther into the distance and the rest of the unknown world wrapped itself around him. Twist couldn’t keep the smile from his face.

Welcome back to the Clockwork Twist series, lovely.  Want more of this story?  You can read the second chapter right here!

 

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