Clockwork Beckons - C.001
Such a sad state of affairs..

He was a sullen child. He often heard his father speak of him in such a way. Sullen and depressing. He rarely smiled and laughed even less. He never looked a stranger in the eye, nor shook a gentleman's hand.

If that meant he was a sullen child, then Herbert supposed he must be. Though, he found his father to be a boorish old fool, so he thought it a balanced lifestyle.

Robert West was admired and well-respected by his peers. He had aged gracefully, his dark hair just barely beginning to see specks of gray and his clean-shaven face still never knowing a line or wrinkle. He had the distinct honor of serving as judge to their city, and was known, even loved, for his lack of leniency when it came to punishing ne'er-do-wells.

In parenting he was much the same, teaching his young son early on to obey or be punished. Although he never struck Herbert, his punishments often outweighed whatever crime his child had committed, leading Herbert to adopt an almost mechanical existence, doing only so much as he was asked to appease the provider. The natural outcome was a son whom many would later recall as "remarkably well-bred."

Herbert despised it all, and none moreso than his own father.

His mother, however, was his everything. She had his love as no one else did. Unlike the father who dogged his every step and haunted his nightmares, his mother was the sun and the earth, the very air he breathed.

Olivia West was once an actress, though her career ended quickly once she settled down and bore a child. As much a victim to her overbearing husband, she quietly resigned herself to domestic servitude and motherhood. Still, despite it all, she remained ever vibrant, her pale blonde hair and girlish laughter a stark contrast to her husband.

As a child, Herbert would sneak into his parent's bedroom while his father sat in his study, drinking scotch and yapping on the telephone. He lay next to his mother and breathed her lilac perfume as she read him books from all the great authors. Occasionally, she would sing softly, while Herbert hummed along. It was these nights that made him truly happy, and not much else.

"Isn't there anything you can do?"

"I'm sorry."

"What kind of doctor are you!"

Herbert, a mere 16 years old, stood in the hallway and listened to his father argue with the specialist. His mother was ill, and the man his father called to examine her hadn't any idea why.

Only one thing was certain, he had said. If she kept along the same path, she would be dead in a month.

The door to his parent's bedroom swung open and the portly doctor hurried out. Close on his heels was Robert West, his face red with fury.

"Get out! Get out and don't come back!"

His father continued to yell as the two descended the stairs and headed toward the front door. Herbert seized the opportunity to slip into the room. He closed the door gently, unsure if his mother was sleeping or not, and trying hard not to rouse her if she was.

"He has such a temper, doesn't he?"

Olivia tried to giggle at her own joke while she sat up to greet her son, but her cracked throat made the gesture awkward. As Herbert tip-toed toward the bed, he tried to smile, but managed only the shadow of a smirk.

"He always has," he said.

Olivia nodded sagely. "It is what it is. How've you been, angel? I feel as though I don't see you anymore."

Herbert sighed as he sat delicately on the edge of the bed. Looking down at his mother laying like a broken doll, her hair with no luster, her eyes losing their light, he felt as if he could break her simply by staring too hard.

"Father doesn't want me bothering you," he said after a pause. "He says you need to rest."

Olivia waved nonchalantly.

"I'll rest when I'm dead. Until then, I want to see my boy. You're the only baby I've got."

Herbert turned away, his face a light shade of pink. Olivia chuckled.

"No matter how old you get, you'll still be my baby boy," she said.

Herbert shook his head. "It isn't that.."

"Then what, love?"

There was a pregnant pause. Herbert was silent while Olivia stared at the back of his head. Finally, she sighed.

"People don't live forever, angel," she started quietly. "We are all born, and therefore we all must die. I know you're hurting. So is your father. You'll be there for each other when I'm gone."

"He hates me."

Olivia felt her eyes sting and brushed at them with the back of one hand.

"Now you stop that, Herbert," she scolded. "I know you two haven't always seen eye to eye, but he's your father and he loves you."

"You're the only friend I have," he said.

Olivia let her tears fall freely as she leaned forward and put her arms around her son's shoulders.

"I said stop that. Mind me now. You're a smart boy. You'll do just fine. Go to a good school, get a good job, and someday you're going to meet a girl and have your own family. This isn't the end for you."

Herbert put his hand over his mother's, shuddering at the chill he felt in them. He opened his mouth to respond when the door fell open.

"Herbert," Robert said. "Go to your room. I need to speak to your mother."

Herbert turned and looked to Olivia, who smiled wanly as she wiped the tears from her face.

"Go on, angel. I'll see you soon. I promise."

She was gone within a week.

They buried her three days later, on a warm, sunny day. It was the kind of day Olivia had lived for. A day for tending her flowers and gossiping with neighbors. As the service came to an end and the visitors began to depart, Herbert threw a single rose into his mother's grave.

Robert stood beside him, his face set as though carved from stone.

"She put it all in a trust fund for you," he said without emotion. "All that money she saved from that acting stuff she did. Every penny so you can go to college."

Herbert said nothing.

Robert continued. "It's just as well. Law school is expensive, and I'll be damned if I pay for it myself. A real man works for his keep. Luckily you had your mother to fall back on."

"I'm not going to law school," Herbert said without looking up.

"Excuse me?" Robert replied, arching one brow. "Isn't that what we decided?"

"It's what YOU decided. It's not what I want," Herbert said, lifting his eyes to meet his father's. "I don't want to be like you."

Robert's face began to darken. "Is that so? Well then, what do you plan to do then?"

Herbert thought for only a moment.

"I'm going to medical school."

There was a brief silence before Robert laughed unkindly.

"A doctor?" he spat. "You? You don't know anything about medicine."

"I will learn," Herbert replied calmly. "I've been reading material by a man named Dr. Hans Gruber. It's fascinating. He believes death is a disease. Someday, I will help him find the cure."

"You're throwing away your life," Robert said.

"We'll see, father," Herbert stated as he turned from his mother's grave. "We'll see."