Today's Reading

Leaning on his crutch, Theodore limped toward the anomaly. Nails pinned a torn sheet of parchment to the sun-bleached door, bearing seven words clumsily scrawled in black ink.

Drosselmeyer and Son, Unique Clocks and Dreams.

Theodore traced his finger across the last word. Dreams too often darkened to nightmares. Why, then, was this shop's name so appealing? Probably because this ramshackle place was likely the only one to give him a chance to make some sort of life for himself.

With his free hand, Theodore swung open the door and hobbled inside, trading brilliant sunshine for the homey glow of gaslight. A ragtag army of clocks pitched camp on every square inch of space, tick-tick-tocking in uniform rhythm. He stopped in the middle of the uninhabited room, mouth agape. The clockwork regiment heralded the new hour with an enthusiastic hurrah of gongs, chimes, dings, and cuckoos, as if to extend him a friendly welcome. A greeting that stirred the very windings of his soul.

One wounded soldier limped to join its brothers, sounding a metallic ping at two minutes past. Hmmm...the regulation needed adjusting. If he could regulate the clock's movement, it might induce the proprietor to consider him for hire. Theodore approached the east wall's cluttered shelves in search of the tardy timepiece, only to be distracted by a captivating cuckoo. A graceful ballerina twirled in place of the expected bird. Never in all his days had he beheld finer craftsmanship. Not even amongst the timepieces he'd taken apart as a boy and reassembled gear by gear at Kingsley Court.

His mind recoiled too late. The jaws of wretched memory clamped down hard and fast, piercing him once more with Father's words. "If you were going to besmirch the family honor so spectacularly, you might've at least had the decency to die."

The memory spit Theodore from its maw, and he caved upon his crutch, trembling inside and out. Coming here was a mistake. A shop of dreams was no place to escape one's nightmares.

As he turned to make his escape, an insect landed on his shoulder. He brushed it off, but the persistent pest buzzed round and settled on his crutch hand. Bothersome gnats. Ready with a well-aimed smack, his free hand stilled over a tiny butterfly. Switching the prop to his unoccupied hand, he raised the bug to eye level. By jove, it was a machine!

Superbly crafted from tarnished brass, the automaton resembled a life-size speckled wooden butterfly, complete with white enamel spots inlaid along the edge of each delicate wing. The butterfly's antennae twitched and wings undulated, readying to take flight with the aid of an intricate clockwork movement, the likes of which he'd never seen.

"My inventions have always been able to recognize other clockmakers." A male voice chuckled behind him, and the butterfly alighted, as if beckoned by the sound.

Theodore whirled round to find an elderly man with bright eyes topped by feathery brows of wizened white. The clockwork butterfly joined a flutter of others nestled in the man's receding hair and unkempt mustache. A bemused grin creased the fellow's face as he studied Theodore. "Who'd you apprentice for, lad?"

Tremors be hanged. He couldn't afford to pass up interest from a potential employer. "I've trained under clockmakers in Switzerland, Austria, Germany, France, Italy, and even as far off as Egypt and India. None of my previous employers are notable beyond the borders of their respective countries, but each are skilled and talented craftsmen. I learned a great deal from them, one and all. Although I didn't stay in any one place long enough to receive proper references, I give you my word that I'm a hard worker. Knowledgeable and willing to learn more still. I can prove as much, if you're willing to give me a chance, sir."

The man shuffled over, leaving open the door to what must be his workshop. He extended a hand, weathered but steady. "C. E. Drosselmeyer at your service."

Accepting the handshake, Theodore smiled. "What's the C. E. stand for?"

"An old family name with more letters than is decent. Folks just call me Drosselmeyer. Much simpler. Rolls off the tongue like that drivel called poetry. And you are?"

"Name's Arthur." He'd said it often enough, it almost felt true.


"Just Arthur." A name chosen at random, a name without shame or shadows. "Much simpler." Theodore winked. Respond with minimal information and misdirection. Worked like a debutante's charm...if only it weren't becoming so dratted hard to pull off. Five long years of stuffing traumatic memories and overwhelming emotion deep inside had stressed the hinges of the casing he'd built to confine them.

Drosselmeyer twirled his downy mustache. "From where do you hail, young man?"

"As my unwritten reference suggests, I've lived here, there, and everywhere in between."

"No, son. I mean, where are you from? Where is home?"

This excerpt ends on page 19 of the paperback edition.

Monday we begin the book Between You and Us by Kendra Broekhuis.

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