Fandom: The Etched City (KJ Bishop)
Prompt: Raule and a heart in a box
Rating: idek, but there's a disembodied heart?
Summary: Raule receives a strange gift from an unnamed sender.


The thing ticked with each beat like a clock.

Raule stared down at the open box on table. Though not without aesthetic sensibility, it had the look of a thing pieced together from scraps. It was made of dark, unpolished wood inlaid with metal. On each of the box's four sides were rows of three plain copper discs each, and upon its lid was a latticework of silver and copper, surrounding a larger copper disc crudely embossed with a spiral. Within the spiral were small symbols: a cup, a knife, a bird, an eye, what might have been a door, and other things Raule could not identify. The lid, once removed, was mostly forgotten; for the interior was filled with a tangled mass of copper tubing and gears, all inexplicable as to their function, and nestled in the center, as if upon a silken pillow, lay a single human heart.

The heart was still beating.

The gears turned slowly, notch by notch, beat by beat, the apparent source of the ticking. It was unclear what propelled them. The heart? It seemed so. But how? The macabre centerpiece fed into the bevy of copper tubes, and from there each tube took its twisted, branching course. Those tubes which did not feed back on each other fed into the sides of the box at each copper disc, as though the intent had been for them to feed into some greater apparatus; but of course, there was none.

The heart was the most perplexing thing. She could not even begin to explain the heart.

The machine ticked softly, almost soothingly, keeping time to itself - although its time, unlike a clock's, was most imperfect. Dependent upon the heart's contractions, it sped and slowed, stretched and even stuttered. A clock, at least, would merely wind down over time.

The box had been delivered by a courier late at night, no sender name attached. A small note was tucked between the edge of the box and the copper tubes, written in a looping, spidery scrawl. It read simply, "For your consideration." Raule was glad she had waited to open it until she was alone. She had supposed some sort of trick, though she could think of no one capable of such a bizarre hoax, nor any reason such a hoax should be sent to her.

But if it was a trick, it was one too clever for her understanding.

She had considered removing the heart from the strange machinery, but decided against it. Instead she had simply sliced open the muscle as it continued to beat, hoping to gain some insight as to its workings. She found none. Within the organ, she found, in fact, nothing at all. It was devoid of either blood or stranger substances; there seemed no purpose to its beating whatsoever. Although she supposed there would be nowhere for such a substance to flow, after all; the pathways of the tubes ended at the boundaries of the box.

It was otherwise to all appearances an entirely normal human heart. She slipped her fingers between the tubes and beneath the organ, finding nothing there but the rough wood grain on the bottom of the box. There was nothing here to compel the thing to beat.

Furthermore, the cutting seemed no impediment to the organ's continued function. It continued to beat steadily all throughout her investigations, speeding slightly whenever her scalpel cut through flesh, making her wonder whether the contraption could somehow feel pain or fear. She had sewn up the bloodless wound and closed the box, able to form no clear conclusions.

After a few fitful hours of sleep, she returned to find all traces of her tampering gone, the stitches vanished. She laid her hand upon the thing and felt them, subsumed beneath the surface. The thing jumped coldly beneath her palm.

Briefly, she considered burning it.

Instead, she simply replaced the lid and placed the box upon her shelf of monstrosities. A different sort of monster, this one, made with intent, but a monster all the same. It ticked softly at the edge of her consciousness whenever she was in the room.

A few weeks later, the heart began to fail, slowing and stuttering until it ceased to beat entirely. Perhaps her tampering had damaged it after all; or perhaps it had simply been consigned to a very limited life from the beginning.

The smell alerted her to its slow decomposition. She threw the whole machine into the river, relief mingling with disappointment.

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lim⋅i⋅nal ho⋅ri⋅zon

–noun
a place only seen through a green door.

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