THE SKYLINE EXPRESS
& THE CLOCK-MAKERS CURSE
( Part 2 of my other story for this challenge—“The Skyline Express and the Disappearing Witch Adventure,” told from a different point of view. https://vocal.media/fiction/the-skyline-express-vr3koc0r8v )
The loud screech of steel pressed wheels as the train rounded another sharp turn sent Corlus Deidrick reeling; his feet struggled to grasp the polished floor as he fought to steady himself.
The last thing Corlus remembered was falling asleep at an airport terminal. When he awoke he was in a private sleeper cabin cruising through tree-lined hills, tightly hugging the side of a steep overpass—and what a sight it was. Corlus could almost taste the frigid mountain air that clouded against the windows—obscuring any outward views of the dew-stained forest.
Branches swarmed around the sides of the train as they passed by at lightning speeds. He adjusted his glasses, looking around for a call-button or a menu, nothing of the sort could be found.
Strange, very strange—Corlus Deidrick muttered to himself, chewing his lower lip nervously. It had to be nearing a half-past twelve and he was growing hungrier by the minute; without his clocks he felt naked, confused, and downright lost. It wasn’t enough knowing he had misplaced his bags somewhere between the airport and the train, he now realized his ticket was also gone…
Well…actually, the airport lost Corlus Deidrick’s bags—maybe on purpose, but whatever had happened was rather convenient if you ask me. After all, the airport had been the ones who requested Corlus stow his bags in the first place and it wasn’t exactly a deal—not even enough money to buy lunch and surely not enough to buy a train ticket. He wondered how exactly he had gotten here…lost and penniless.
Of course, Corlus Deidrick surmised these things had much more to do with how he looked more than anything, that’s just how this sort of world was. He’d grown accustomed to it with the kind of work he did, but regardless, it was QUITE a task going about traveling the proper way. He couldn’t understand why people chose this sort of transportation—it wasn’t very interesting, and besides, it didn’t look the least bit safe; he trusted his clocks and time-travel more than he did any of these winged-man-powered apparatuses.
Passerby’s and travelers had given Corlus strange and funny looks all morning, taking his picture and whispering as he passed. It had made him a nervous wreck and being that he was unable to use magic of any kind—not even in the bathroom—made his travels all the more unpleasant.
Not to mention, you should know—the bathrooms themselves were crowded beyond belief, Corlus Deidrick was sure someone would report him if peculiar colored sparks flew about or an errant blast of light were to “accidentally” catch something on fire, he simply couldn’t risk it; not with all the non-magic types around, news would definitely find its way back to the Magistrate before he even had a chance to blink.
Of course, now that he thought about it—maybe his winter robes were the cause of the stir. Corlus Deidrick didn’t do anything half-way so you could expect him to dress to the nines whenever he stepped out, especially to travel. His velveteen winter robes in all their rain resistant glory would have surely caught the attention of everyone around—they were after all, sulky, black and majestic, just like him. Or maybe it was his satchel—which had barely made its way through customs—a large, expensive grandfather clock face he had acquired during more extensive travels near the back-end of London. It had become one of Corlus Deidrick’s favorite possessions, and everyone in the wizarding world of Grommsworth knew of this magical clock, it was all people talked about, and remarkably, after hundreds of years it still worked. Chiming on the dot as the roaming hands passed eight and twelve; all that without any fixation charms or magic—the real magic of course was in Corlus Deidrick himself; he was the clock-maker after-all.
He tried telling the agents at the airport what he did for a living but it didn’t matter—they weren’t seeing past the ticking noise his satchel made, instead, they set about in a huff trying to take it from him—practically banning him at the terminal. Corlus finally relented allowing them to board his most prized possession below with the rest of the luggage. Of course, now that he sat on the train he realized he should have just used a portaling orb—it would have been far less obvious and he wouldn’t have had to go through all the mess of being frisked, searched, wanded and patted down.
Obviously none of that mattered now as Corlus Deidrick’s most current traveling arrangements were much better and way less cramped than the inside of the plane had been—no nosy neighbors or screaming babies sitting by him and the train was fully furnished with darkly painted paneled slats and cushioned bench seats. There was even a wall sized window with a cozy reading nook—he could get used to this life, the life of leisure…
According to the folded paper lying to the left of him—a whole day had come and gone and Corlus Deidrick was nowhere closer to knowing where he was. Come to think of it, Corlus couldn’t remember a single thing. He flipped through the pages; all of them were for the Skyline Express. He’d never heard of such a train—must be one of those newfangled contraptions that travel electronically—he mused.
A sharply dressed man in all black popped his head into Corlus Deidrick’s compartment—the man was quite portly with a curly walrus beard and a large bowl hat that he kept under his arm as he walked in, looking more like an oversized penguin than a train-inspector.
“Ticket,” the man demanded in a harsh drawling grunt that barely escaped the top of his throat.
Corlus Deidrick’s eyes widened as panic filled his chest, “I don’t have it with me, sir,” he whispered, not bothering to check his robes.
“You see, it’s rather strange, I don’t remember buying a ticket…” Corlus Deidrick hadn’t even finished his sentence when the train-inspector interrupted.
“I don’t doubt it,” the train-inspector murmured, an edge of contempt in his voice as he adjusted the buttons on his vest, clearly in no mood for small talk—“I seem to be running into that excuse a lot today. Just know I will be back around shortly…maybe you should look around a bit harder, like under the bench,” he added, tapping the edge of the seat with his wand as he blindly checked the rest of the manifest, muttering about free-loading passengers and tricky magic.
There was one thing Corlus Deidrick did best, read people—and if he didn’t know better he would think the train-inspector had given a little smile, a wink, a hint...
Once the train-inspector left his room Corlus wasted no time moseying about—hesitating briefly before daring to stick his arm into the pitch black oblivion that was “under the bench”.
Sure enough, there it was— a crisp, brand new train ticket tucked neatly inside his faded passport.
It’s impossible, downright impossible—Corlus whispered knowing full well he had left his passport in his luggage. He eyed the ticket; flipping it over in his hands a few times to test the weight of the paper, there were no dates printed anywhere… this was no normal train ticket.
Corlus Deidrick’s thoughts were quickly disrupted by the sounds of a rolling cart being heaved along the narrow hall outside his compartment. He found two men fighting furiously to keep the cart afloat, their heads barely touching the top of the handles as trunks and other assorted luggage threatened to squash them. Another man sat on top of the luggage like a bucking bull holding tightly to the reigns as he was flung around.
“Don’t let it roll us over, we’re on a down-swing, hold her steady,” the shorter of the two men yelled out as they pushed their weight against the pushcart as the train plummeted back down another set of hills.
“Put your back in it,” the other man shouted, “dig your feet and push,” the men were clearly struggling. Corlus slid the sliding door of his compartment open, grabbing the luggage cart by the lever.
“You know these things have brakes, right…” Corlus queried before quickly recognizing the polished frame of his emerald colored trunk—a tattered thing that was full of stamps and stickers pasted all along the outside, worn from years of being dragged and pulled and pushed and prodded along cobblestones or slammed into the back of car trunks by haphazard taxi drivers.
The men sniveled angrily, “I told you,” the taller one howled before slamming the brake lever. The wheels locked in place as the tail-end of the cart shifted from side to side against the hallway walls, the luggage teetering dangerously with each nerve-wrecking sway.
Corlus’s two other bags were strapped on top of his traveling trunk. “Thank goodness you found them…” he whispered, relieved to finally lay eyes on his things.
“Don’t touch…we have to secure them…” one of the men barked as they set about pushing the trunk across the floor to the bench seats on the other side. Corlus watched as they strapped them in.
He checked his pockets for any lose change, but they were bare.
“Sorry—I don’t have anything to give you,” Corlus whispered, a pained grimace spread across his face and he proceeded to chew more vigorously on his bottom cheek.
“…I seemed to have also misplaced my wallet…”
There was an awkward pause. “Tips included in the ticket,” the shorter man muttered indifferently as he made his way back to the cart. Corlus Deidrick felt the budding twinge of curiosity growing inside—“wait; if you don’t mind me asking, where’d you find my things…”
The men shrugged, “just doing our jobs,” the one man answered as he set about unlocking the cart which by now had begun to bang loudly against the walls once the weight of Corlus’s bags had been removed.
Corlus watched the men as they pushed against the movement of the train—no doubt on their way to deliver luggage to the next set of passengers, their jolly grunt filled whistling fading as they disappeared behind the car door.
Corlus Deidrick pulled the passport from his outer coat pocket and looked more closely at the last bit of stamps. It seemed he had acquired quite a few new ones, four to be exact— Grommsworth Main Terminal, Lemswarry Commons, Grierknelts Station, and finally—The Sky Line Express in route to Hilwins Preparatory: Magical School of Enchantments and Wizardry Abound. But how could that be, when could he have had the time to travel to this many places? Surely he’d remember using magic…right? He was no closer to any answers when a soft tap drummed on the door.
A young woman sauntered in, her heavy footsteps masked by the inky black skirt that graced the ground in long sweeping motions. Her plain features were not missed; her beauty enchanting. She kept her glowing hair pinned around her head in a crown-like fashion.
“I hope you find your room acceptable,” the woman inquired before sitting across from Corlus on the opposite bench. Corlus watched as her fingers dawdled quietly down a silvery chain, resting on the hollow shell of an ornate time piece that hung gingerly around her neck.
She hesitated, eyeing him like a cat from across the room. Corlus quickly looked away waiting for her to begin.
“Professor Deidrick…Corlus, you have to understand, this was the only way we could get you here on summons from the Magistrate,” she began, handing a stuffed envelope to Corlus who met her half-way.
“We are in dire need of your services…and you weren’t exactly easy to find…”
Not surprisingly Corlus Deidrick took a few seconds before taking the large leather bound book out from under the confines of the official High-Courts letterhead. He knew he would never be able to go back now.
“You’re the girl from the airport, the stewardess who directed me to my next plane...I recognized your timepiece…” Corlus began, stopping briefly—“you see, I’m a collector of clocks. I never forget one, never…”
The woman paused, dropping the timepiece as it fell down to her waist.
“I know…I knew you would catch on eventually…” the woman smiled, “My name is Professor Albina Treeville and I work alongside the Headmistress at Hilwin’s Preparatory, you’ve probably heard of it—it’s one of the leading schools for magic. Many a witch and wizard attend—both young and old…”
“I saw the stamps on my passport, I’m not looking to teach again…nor am I in need of attending classes…” Corlus Deidrick began, heading off any attempt Professor Albina Treeville might have at luring him into a teaching position. “Besides, what else was there for me to learn…?”
“That’s just it…we don’t need a teacher, we need your help…” Professor Treeville whispered, there was a bit of pleading desire behind her words, the unmistakable sounds of desperation.
With that, Corlus Deidrick looked around, waiting for the other shoe to drop; it was clear she hadn’t told him everything. “Okay, but you should know, there are several skills I possess, which of those will you be needing…” he answered, a sly smile building on his face.
Professor Treeville didn’t find this amusing—not in the slightest. “It’s not that simple, you will know when it’s time and Corlus, don’t go roaming the halls or peeking into any rooms…” she paused, checking her timepiece, clearly bothered by what it said— “I’m late, I will come get you for dinner, and be warned—you are NOT to use magic unless you absolutely have to; Magistrate orders.”
With that Professor Treeville left Corlus Deidrick alone.
Unpacking his trunk was quite the task without magic. There were rows of built-ins on the side wall with just enough room to house his growing collection of mixtures for more complex spells—Bitterwood Berry Serum, Tickled dogbane chips, Ambarlic roots, and Grove Horns—that were neatly organized in cloth lined boxes, things could get out of hand if any two were to mix—most of these were for enhancing spoken charms, curses, and spells… the whole lot; purely ordinary things to have lying around, nothing illegal or dangerous. Besides, Corlus was sure they thoroughly checked his things before letting him have them back.
Corlus Deidrick’s wands on the other hand were a whole other story. He was known for his odd collections—his wands being one of them. They were assorted by size and color, one for every robe he packed. Some blue, some green, one orange and another purple. On the top drawer was where he stacked his clocks—which—suffice to say had grown to an exorbitant amount, there were hundreds and each of them was for a different place in time. Some were cursed and some weren’t; each of them special.
The rest of the night was a blur. The clocks all chimed eight when Professor Treeville knocked on Corlus’s dark compartment door—the musical whistles and melodic bells could be heard down the hall as they passed through several train cars.
“Students are escorted three times a day to a separate dining car for their meals. They are not to interact or be interacted with. Make sure to keep an eye on anything suspicious and report to me immediately…” Professor Treeville warned as she led Corlus to his seat—which wasn’t exactly out of place—a stuffy-stiff-lined fabric chair with large bowing arm-rests
He wondered how he was supposed to report anything if they kept him locked away in his room—how’d they expect him to get any work done, how’d they expect him to defend or protect anyone? He practically pushed himself into the edge of the table as he tried adjusting his seat—it was uncomfortably rigid, unforgivingly so—as though it was meant to keep him there indefinitely.
Corlus Deidrick felt the familiar twinge of panic well up in his stomach as sweat began to dot his forehead and roll down the sides of his face as the domed shaped wood pressed tight against his chest, sharply digging into his skin.
Thankfully the rest of dinner was as uneventful and ordinary—likely procured on behalf of Professor Treeville. The formal dining car was reminiscent of a jewel-covered birdcage with plates of food appearing on the dinner table like clockwork, each morsel replaced until Corlus Deidrick’s stomach overflowed with half-digested food and he thought he would surely explode.
Before long, a few hours passed and he was back in the confines of his tiny compartment fast asleep—he couldn’t remember making the walk back, come-to think of it, he couldn’t remember anything—and just like before it was all very, very strange. Corlus was lying in a makeshift bed nearest to where the bench used to be. The sound of his clocks ticked by and he was sure, grateful even that they had successfully managed to lull half the train to sleep.
The fluttering of wings brushed against the outside of Corlus Diedrick’s compartment door—not once but three times; he lay there listening, waiting for it to pass again but heard nothing. Just as his heavy eyes were slipping shut something stirred ever so slightly from the corner. Yes, that’s it…there was something breathing on the other side of the room. Corlus slowly opened his eyes, half expecting to see an owl perched on the bench—but alas, there was an older woman sitting in its place.
“Corlus…I don’t mean to startle you but we must get down to the meat of things…” the woman began; her pearlescent robes shimmering in the moonlight as she tried setting her crooked glasses upon the curved part of her pointy nose—no doubt the cause of all the commotion out in the hall at such a late hour.
“It was a task sniffing you out, I must have flown past nearly a dozen doors trying to find yours and it doesn’t help they don’t make these trains like they used to—the halls are much tinier now and I think I hit a wall back there—just about smashed my glasses right in two…”
The woman was about to use her wand—“No! No! Here, let me take a look at those…“ Corlus Deidrick had managed to grab them from her at just the right moment, not a second too soon. Surely there would be no unnecessary magic coming out of his room at this time of night.
“Well…if you insist…” she replied rather dryly as Corlus set about putting the mangled pieces of metal back together.
“I swear it’s been ages, at least a few hundred years since I last saw you Miriam… it’s so good to see you, hope business is treating you well. How is Bill doing, saw the news…”
“Yeah…” the older woman began—her words sharp and to the point, “Busy as always. Bill’s doing much better, he’s at home resting. I’ve been going around trying to get things tidied up…you know, the usual Magistrate affairs and all. Always cleaning up, such a big mess…”
She paused, drifting off to look around before quickly changing subjects—“seems to me they changed the décor since I last visited…” she nervously held onto the knees of her robes as she bore into Corlus Deidrick with her hawk-like eyes.
“I really want to know how you have been. You know, with the clock making thing, collecting clocks, repairing them, hexing them…whatever it is you actually do. I know you have a shop back in town, in Grommsworth that is rather successful and from what I understand it’s been a ‘family’ business for hundreds of years….” She mused, tactfully working her way around to the subject at hand…”I see you do business with both magic and non-magical types…”
“Why yes…does that bother you,” Corlus began not waiting for her to answer as she silently shrugged, “Either way I am quite good with clocks,” Corlus continued ignoring her growing impatience, “it’s my greatest passion, you’d be surprised what they can do…” he paused, wondering what all this clock talk had to do with being on this train and being visited by a member of Magistrate.
“I’m actually retired…” the old woman responded, smiling as though she could read Corlus’s mind. Corlus had only just managed to take his eyes from his soldering tools when he felt the woman relax a little, as though there was more she wanted to discuss. Her head cocked slightly to the side as she studied his every move.
“Unfortunately Albina wasn’t able to talk to you more on what’s expected of you—so I decided to take the liberty. We desperately need your abilities as a clock-maker, well, it’s more than that, we really just need you to slow time down enough to change the course of this train…just enough to go back a little…before…before…well, Albina will explain all that when train-inspector Finchley gets you. We need you ready, we need your whole head in the game…this is absolutely the biggest role of your life…” the cryptic words hit Corlus in short syrupy pauses. Of course this was a task easier said than done. Corlus Deidrick knew he could do it but it wasn’t that easy, it never was; altering time was quite a difficult task, not to mention—deadly dangerous.
He was halfway through his nervous stammering and had yet to formulate a response when the old woman started—“Wait until the first clock strikes signaling morning and you will know. Surely you’ve done all this before, after all, that’s why your satchel is so important…that’s why you are here,” she only just let the words fall from her lips when the loud clamoring of bells and jangles sounded from atop Corlus’s drawer signaling the witching hour—as it was so lovingly called—had begun.
Over the minute long array of bells Corlus Deidrick tried his best to explain—“of course you of all people HAVE to know this isn’t the same thing…that was a mistake and I paid dearly for it…I lost everything. How do you expect me to alter everyone’s time, I can’t just put a spell on the whole train…it doesn’t work like that…” he hissed, begging her to listen, to change her mind, to reason with him but it was no use—“you don’t know what you are asking me to do. I could kill someone, these sorts of things are meant for one person, you realize I could be banished…I could be killed…or worse, I could get locked up for this. Mark my words, someone WILL get hurt. The science is dodgy at best and I can’t expect everyone to follow my instructions, besides, there are just too many variables. Not to mention—someone could accidentally be let in…”
The older woman smiled, clearly not bothering to listen—“We can handle that…think of it as though its life or death, and besides, you don’t have any choice in the matter, so consider it done…”and with that she grabbed her glasses from Corlus’s tightly clenched hands, practically breaking them again as she disappeared in a tidy swirling motion into the night; a solitary feather floated to the floor in her wake.
Corlus spent the rest of the evening into the early morning pacing around his quarters certain he would burrow through the floor if he kept going. He would much rather disappear into the tracks than face what he was about to do. “They are absolutely mad if they think they are going to trick me into being the fall guy for this…for this…for this…” he was at a loss for words, still not quite sure what was even going on.
The compartment door slid open and Professor Treeville looked about as rigid as the stiffly uncomfortable dining room chair he had sat in for dinner the night before. Her face was a gray shade of pale and her eyes full of worry.
“What’s happened…” he questioned nervously, unsure of whether or not he wanted to know.
“We have a problem...there was an accident with a student or something and we can’t wake her, think she’s been hexed. Nurse Abbott and Train-Inspector Finchley are working on a counter-curse now but we need your help…”
She looked down at her clock, “you have to stop the train, stop the time…they are descending on us now, closing in as we speak…”
Professor Treeville hadn’t time to finish when the clocks on Corlus Deidrick’s shelf chimed for the eight-o’clock hour. Deafening silence overtook them all as the sounds of melodic chimes and spine-curdling whistles sent haunting echoes down the train halls.
Professor Treeville let out a shrill squeal before darting out of the room; the smell of rotting waste came billowing into his compartment as he stuck his head out. Something was definitely going on. The train was deadly silent and yet there was an undercurrent roaring beneath their feet, cutting into the tension like fire.
Within minutes Corlus Deidrick felt the sounds—like an explosion. Bursts of air sucked out of the room as the walls crashed down around him and the wails of metal and stone met in sparking bouts of violence. It had begun—but what—Corlus had no idea, he dusted himself off, grabbing his clocks as he set about trying to figure out how to wind-back time to just the right moment.
It was all a blur. Corlus sat amidst the rubble, fallen metal and splintered bits of wood as he buried himself in time. He couldn’t figure out another way, so instead, he decided he would use a melding curse—it came in handy during times like these—he could retrace steps of almost anyone around him and he used it to bind to Professor Treeville—considering she had the most access on the train.
He wound back to the previous day, all the way through to when she entered her last stop of the night—right when the owl of Miriam appeared in his room. It was an overwhelmingly uncomfortable feeling binding to someone else—you feel sort of sticky and foggy. It took a second for him to adjust, just as Professor Treeville slid into the compartment of student—Clara Langley’s room. At first nothing seemed out of the ordinary until he noticed it, a slight movement. As Professor Treeville turned to shut the door he clicked the dial on the clock before jumping over to Clara, hovering slightly above her as she whispered the words—“Exspiriant Occasium.”
He had no time to counter act, he had just melded to a ghost. This could be bad, real bad…this was exactly the sort of thing he worried about happening.
Another strange feeling took over him as he split in two. Corlus Deidrick held tightly to the clock in his hand as he felt himself pulling outward, his soul was literally ripping itself out of his body. This had never happened before; he had to think fast…he pushed the dial to the clock again, giving it a slight turn forward. Within seconds he was sitting in the middle of chaos—there were cloaked figures floating overhead as bright zaps of light flashed by and he heard the courageous voice of Professor Treeville fighting to keep the students alive long enough to get to safe grounds.
He was no longer in Clara’s ghost but standing behind her as he watched a separate cloaked black figure slink slowly down, covering her from view as though trying to suck her into their orb.
The icy feeling of dread flooded him as he pushed the dial inward with enough force to crack the clock.
Sand slipped between his fingers as the glass cut deep into his hands and he whispered—“Insomdre Expellimoro,”
Insomdre Expellimoro,”—he whispered again, his voice cracking with each exertion. Insomdre Expellimoro,” he shouted over the roar of the train as it was engulfed in darkness. He sank to the ground as water rushed around him and his stomach lurched forward as he along with the train and all its inhabitants were rocketed upwards into the sky.
In all his years of clock-making he had never purposefully broken a clock. He had no idea what he had done, all he knew is they were now soaring hundreds of feet above, gently coasting along the clouds. He was unsure of how he had gotten to the front of the train but he had somehow left his clocks a broken-shambled mess in his room, and as he looked around he realized the dark shadowy invaders had all but disappeared—vanishing without a trace, leaving them all to lick their wounds. It would seem for now he had done it…he had saved them…for now...
About the Creator
Writing my escape, my future…if you like what you read—leave a comment, an encouraging tip, or a heart—I’m always looking to improve, let me know if there is anything I can do better.
& above all—thank you for your time
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Original narrative & well developed characters
Expert insights and opinions
Arguments were carefully researched and presented
Niche topic & fresh perspectives
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions
On-point and relevant
Writing reflected the title & theme
Omg! Omggggg! This was super fantastic! I just couldn't stop reading!. Thank you so mucj for sharing this 💖 Will there be a part 3?