0167B: Horse-Drawn Mechanism (Flash Fiction Challenge 10/04)

I'm already too late for this particular Flash Fiction challenge from the other week, but it still seemed like a good idea to pursue the story. Besides, it's always fun to roll dice.

So this challenge from Chuck Wendig had me rolling a D10 to determine the title for my story. Thus the result of Horse-Drawn + Mechanism. This is going to be a little weird, but definitely outside my comfort zone. And that's probably a good thing.

It wasn't working.

Despite my best efforts, the Aetheric Engine was again a failure, as clearly evidenced by the noxious fumes now filling my workshop. As much as failure is a natural part of the scientific process, even I had to admit that my patience was wearing thing. What had gone wrong this time?

At least it hadn't exploded this time – the last prototype had taking a good chunk of the lab with it once it had surged past critical temperature levels. Things had been going so well with that model up until the pistons started melting into the main assembly. Then there was the green smoke and the smell of sulfur followed by the blinding flash of the explosion.

As much as my sponsors were becoming increasingly doubtful of my ability to deliver on my promises, I still believed that this could be done. There had to be a way to power a device using the Aetheric properties of the air all around should be feasible. It could mean a limitless power source that would propel humanity forward in leaps and bounds. The first man to master the Aetheric Engine would go down in history as one of the greatest minds to have ever lived!

I had to be that man!


I had barely washed off the worst of the soot and grime I had picked up salvaging the last prototype when the was a rather insistent knocking sound coming from the direction of the front door. Given the time of night, visitors weren’t exactly typical, even for a scientist of my stature. But I suppose it could not be helped – such are the demands of fame and fortune.

What I had not been expecting to greet me once I had opened that door was essentially my entire group of financial backers. They did not look happy at all.

“Dr. Braddock” began one, whose name slipped my mind at that precise moment. “We would have words with you.”

They didn't even wait for a formal invitation. They immediately started walking rather tersely into my humble home – a single line of unhappy gentlemen in top hats. It was truly a pity that I did not have a maid of some sort to help entertain during such situations. I hastily followed them in and found them all finding seats for themselves in the parlor. No one had even bothered to ask me to take their coats and such. It was quite unsettling.

“Dr. Braddock…” the same one began, “it has come to our attention that your latest prototype has failed anew. Do not try to deny this – we have been keeping closer tabs on you given how your past few progress reports have been quite disappointing given their lack of true results. This concerns us very greatly given you had committed to have a working engine at least two months ago. Two months, Braddock.”

“It has also come to our attention,” responded a taller man who seemed to loom over the others like some vulture, “that your credentials as a scientist may have not been quite as authentic as we expected them to be. The fact that you are not even a formal doctor of the aetheric sciences as you claimed you were when you first approached us with your proposal.”

“To be fair Braddock,” another interrupted before I could form a proper response, “we are reasonable men who can appreciate who some inventions come from the most unlikely places. We can believe that a man of more common education could quite possibly create something that will change the world. We are just uncertain if you are that man.” He chuckled as he said this, as if enjoying a little joke that  no one else seemed to have picked up on.

“So perhaps you can give us a more detailed report on your latest experiments and just how far away you are from developing the Aetheric Engine. Please choose your words wisely – we are not scientifically-included gentlemen, if you catch my understanding.” The rather portly man, who had also been the first to address him, then settled back into my favorite chair while lighting up a pipe.

“I see, well, um…”

There were just about the only words that I could mumble as I tried to stall for time while my brain came up with a wide variety of possible answers to try on them. Somehow, I think my usual mix of scientific jargon and classic Victorian wisdom were not going to work this time.

“We figured it would be more of the same, given how you are made speechless by your own ineptitude. Thus we have an alternate guarantee for our investment.” He motioned to a rather tall and well-built man in a suit that had stayed by the door.

“Mr. Black will oversee your efforts at your laboratory for the rest of the week. He’s quite the motivator and I do believe that he shall help you remain focused on achieving the results we desire. Should you fail to accomplish what you have been paid quite a hefty some to do by the end of the week, well, I fear Mr. Black will ensure alternate payment is secured. Good evening to you, Mr. Braddock.”


The week went by a lot quicker than I had expected. Having Mr. Black being all menacing in the corner of my workshop this whole time had not helped things along one bit. I suppose also time flies when you’re fearing for your life.

The new engine was the biggest one yet – almost the size of a carriage. It had taken a horse to bring the entire device outside the workshop where he had set up the modest stage. “Here it is now, my dear friends, the mechanism that is first being led to the stage by a horse but will soon be able to draw the horse even further forward than you can imagine!” There was some degree of polite applause from the group as they studied the metal monstrosity making its way forward.

But then the cart it was resting on snagged on a random stone that had had been in the path of the right wheel. The slight jostle had somehow triggered the device, leaving the card to wheel forward a few more inches.

But now the horse was gone, somehow consumed by the Aetheric Engine itself.