Monday, 25 March 2013

The Installation

(a writing prompt from Write on Edge)


A metal hammer struck a metal chime.    A silvered-steel ball cranked up an incline toward the highest point.    Around it in the cabinet balls that had made the journey before were rolling and spinning and cascading.   It never stopped.  Never.    The silvered-steel ball reached the high point, paused for a second as it had done countless times before and then dropped, beginning the next stage of its journey.
Mister Hermann was not the machine’s inventor, though he had designed it and commissioned its creation, and he stood by with pride in his eyes and watched it work.    The visitors to the gallery often paused to watch the little spheres on their journeys, occasionally exchanged a few words with Mister Hermann, joked about it being a fair imitation of perpetual motion and then passed on.   He’d chuckle in response and say that not even a skilled craftsman could break the laws of physics.


He’d broken plenty of laws in his time, but his time was a long time ago and he’d settled a bit since then.  Mostly.   Approaching chatter and one angry voice in particular drew his attention suddenly.  School children.

“You’re such a sissy, Cooper,” one unpleasant red haired boy said, “always whining.  Always fussing.  I didn’t shove you, you’re just clumsy.”   He gave another shove with the flat of his hand as if to demonstrate the difference.

The boy he was addressing did not retort, just shrank back from the larger child and drew himself together like curtains closing at the end of a bad day.    Mister Hermann glanced from the red haired boy to the teacher in charge who was studiously not noticing the incident.    


The boys and girls clustered round the cabinet and watched the intricate mechanisms inside; the turning wheels and ratcheted inclines, the slopes and circled drains and tubes, and of course the endless rolling and running and climbing spheres in many different colours.

“It’s beautiful,” said the boy, Cooper, in a voice that was as quiet as Mister Hermann expected it would have been.   But not quiet enough.

“So so beautiful,” mocked the red haired boy in a high voice, “Cooper you are such a sissy.”
The teacher was standing nearby but did not hear, or seemed not to.  Mister Hermann heard and he walked closer and past the red haired boy and stood just to one side of the machine.    The child that had been mocked looked like he was about to cry but barely held it in.
“Fussing again?” sneered red-hair, then he saw Mr Hermann looking at him.   And smiling broadly.

Cooper shivered and stepped back as though he’d missed a step though he wasn’t actually moving.  He felt... better and did not know why.   He looked around at his schoolmates.  They were all there, all enthralled by the wonderful device just as he had been.   There was no child with red hair among them... but why had he thought there should be?


The school party moved away after the teacher did a quick head count.   He counted the right number of pupils of course, though that right number was not perhaps what it had been when they had set out that morning.  

When they had gone Mister Hermann crouched down by the side of the cabinet and looked in.    There at the base of the steep mechanical upward incline was a ball of steel, tinted a dull red colour.   Perhaps it was the working of the mechanism beneath it that made it quiver in place for a few seconds after it had rolled into its position.   Perhaps.

“Oh come now,” whispered Mister Hermann in a voice too low and words too unknown for human ears to comprehend, “don’t make such a sissy fuss.”
The ball began the first of its upward journeys, up toward the very top, at the start of its endless progression.