Chapter 6: The Journal

A month had passed since the beginning of summer. Every time Isabelle walked into Hugo's room, she hoped that he would announce that the automaton was finished. To her, it seemed like it was already, but she didn't know that much about machines. Hugo always said something didn't seem right and he would spend the whole day finding it, taking it out without damaging the rest of his work, and fixing it. Eventually, Isabelle just stopped checking his progress, for she knew that Hugo was just being very picky. It would be a while before the automaton was finished in Hugo's eyes. In Isabelle's eyes, it was finished a week ago.

Papa Georges stopped helping Hugo build the automaton one day. He said that it should be Hugo who delivered the final touches.

"It is his father's design, after all," he explained. "The machine rightfully belongs to him, so he should be the one to finish it."

It was a sunny day near the end of July, and Isabelle brought up the subject of the automaton as the two friends walked through the station after making the trip around the clocks.

"Are you ever going to finish that automaton?" she asked.

"Yes," Hugo answered. "I will soon. But something about the notebook is bothering me."

"What is it?"

"A few pages before the outer layer instructions are blank."

"Well, that's just unused paper."

"The inner clockworks have a few spots that seem suspicious, too."

"Really? How so?"

"It seems like… it seems like it isn't complete. There're a few parts that are unnecessary and probably won't be used."

"We'll find out when we finish the automaton."

Hugo looked at Isabelle, looking embarrassed.

"To tell you the truth," Hugo said slowly. "I finished building everything a few weeks ago. It's just this that's been puzzling me."

"What!" Isabelle exclaimed. "But if there aren't any more directions, what good can you do?"

Hugo shrugged.

"I thought I would figure something out," he said. "But I guess not."

"So we could've tried to see if the automaton worked a few weeks ago?" Isabelle asked, slightly exasperated that they had waited for so long just because of some blank pages in a notebook.

"No, there's still the key," Hugo said.

"Oh, right… did you study the keyhole at all?" Isabelle inquired.

"Yes," Hugo answered. "It's basically a circle with an unusual shape sticking out under it."

"Do you think you might've seen it before?" Isabelle said as they arrived at a bench, deciding to sit down for a while.

"No," Hugo sighed. "Even if I did, I can't possibly have it."

Isabelle groaned and slumped down onto the bench, disappointed.

Dinner ended with discussion about Hugo's missing key.

"You're looking for another key?" Mama Jeanne asked, still not quite sure what was going on.

"What looks like a strange shape sticking out at the edge of a circle?" Papa Georges said, stroking his beard thoughtfully.

"It has to be related to your father somehow," Isabelle noted.

Hugo stayed silent, thinking hard about what the key's shape might possible depict.

"Why wouldn't the notes have the actual key drawn?" Isabelle complained.

"He forgot, possibly," Papa Georges said.

"Could it have been at the burnt down museum?" Mama Jeanne suggested.

"The museum!" Hugo said, leaping up. The others jumped, bewildered.

"What is it?" Isabelle asked, excited.

"That night," Hugo said, straining to remember. "The fire- I was at home myself- I was studying some of Father's things… my pocket!"

He ran off to his room. Isabelle followed him quickly, giving her godparents a puzzled glance and shrugging.

Hugo was sifting through a drawer of mechanical junk. The occasional rusty gear would show up, but Isabelle couldn't see anything else clearly. Suddenly, he brought up a small leather bag.

"I put them in my pocket that night when my uncle came to fetch me," Hugo explained breathlessly. "I was looking at them as I waited for my father to come home. I brought them to the station and I saw none of them were heart- shaped, so I put them away."

"Wait, slow down," Isabelle said. "Are those…"

"Keys, yes, they're keys!" Hugo said, opening the bag up to reveal dozens of keys.

"Why are there so many?" Isabelle asked.

"Most of them must be for some of Father's other things, or spare keys," Hugo thought aloud very rapidly. "But one of them- just one of them- might be the key we need."

Papa Georges came into the room with Mama Jeanne.

"Now, now, children," Papa Georges said, chuckling. "We may be older than you are, but we can't resist the excitement. What is going on?"

"Hugo may have just found the key," Isabelle said as Hugo searched around the small bag. He brought up one excitedly, then frowned and dropped it on the bench beside him so that he wouldn't get confused with it again.

After a minute of silence apart from the jingling of keys, Hugo shouted, "I found it!"

He brought up a small golden key. Everyone leaned in close to see the shape.

It was the man on the moon, with a shining rocket flying towards it from below.

"How…" Papa Georges stuttered.

"It's my father's favorite movie," Hugo explained quickly.

"Quick," Papa Georges said to Hugo. "Get a notebook for it to write on." He motioned towards Isabelle. "Fetch some ink!"

After a short time, everything was in place. Hugo placed the key into the heart of the machine and turned slowly.

The clockworks of the automaton gradually ticked to life. Movement spread from the center from the machine to the outer parts. Gears shifted, pulleys were activated, and disks spun around. Hugo and the others watched with fascination as a still machine sprung into life.

The hand holding the pen finally moved, inching towards the ink dish. Then, it moved back and began to write.

December 1929

Hugo visited my workshop a lot this month. I noticed recently that he's been watching me closely. He built several little mechanical creatures, all of which I now display on my workbench.

I discovered a fascinating artifact in the attic of the museum today. I used it as a guideline and started designing an automaton that writes a journal of mine- a journal that you (the reader and discoverer of the designs) are currently reading.

Weather is not so pleasant- a meter of snow has been building up outside the workshop every week and I sometimes have to shovel my way out.

Hugo laughed at his father's humor. The automaton continued to write journal entries like this, in which Hugo's father talked about things his son did (things that he remembered quite fondly and longingly), movies that he'd watched with Hugo recently, the weather, and some mechanical discoveries that he'd made. Most of all, he talked about his progress on the mysterious automaton from the attic of the museum.

Soon, Hugo began to see less of "today's weather was rainy" and more of "we finished a part of the automaton". Monthly entries soon became weekly, and then every other day. The entries were something like:

October 20/21st

The automaton is nearly finished! Mysterious heart- shaped key continues to puzzle us.

Suddenly, near the end of October, the automaton clicked to a stop. It leaned back and it was still. Everyone was confused, and then Hugo realized something.

The fire happened at the end of October.

"Hugo…" Isabelle started, tears forming in her eyes as realization hit her. Papa Georges sat down on the bed and looked at the still automaton wistfully and sorrowfully at the same time. Mama Jeanne sat down with him.

Hugo swallowed painfully.

"It was never finished."