The Clockwork Dragon

Image of the Trans-Mongolian Railway station found at

“Bored, bored, bored.” Atlan manipulated the energy projecting into the boiler, cooling the steam. His partner Narangerel stood behind him in the locomotive’s cabin dilating time and slowing matter as they approached Sükhbaatar’s Trans-Mongolian station.

The eighteen-year-old girl looked at the back of her lover’s head. “You always say that, Atlan, but we are still apprentice elemental guides learning our craft.”

“I know.” The water cooled, he turned to her. “I’d just like a little excitement.”

As Narangerel released time and fixed the wheels of the stopped train, she looked out and up. “Atlan!”

From over the Russian border it appeared in the air, lit by the first rays of the sun. It was a man on a dragon, but the wings were made from massive brass rods and gears.

Atlan stared over Narangerel’s shoulder as the gleaming clockwork dragon and the dead engineer began the greatest adventure of their lives.

It wrote this wee missive for the What Pegman Saw challenge. The idea is to use the photograph/location presented by the Pegman as the prompt for crafting a tale no more than 150 words long. My word count is 150.

Today, the Pegman takes us to Sükhbaatar, Mongolia.

I admit that it’s been a long time since I participated in one of these challenges. Truth to tell, the steam has run out of me. I’ve encountered a number of personal and professional reverses and it’s left me tired and bored.

It’s true that so far in 2019, eleven of my short stories have been chosen for publication, but as the deadline looms for several more, I feel empty.

The story above is set in the universe I’d like to write my next story in (though it never occurred to me to set it in Mongolia) where people can naturally manipulate the elements as that world’s form of technology. The “clockwork dragon” and his dead (resurrected) rider, the engineer, are actually the beginning of the story, but I don’t have the heart to dive in.

So I created my 150 word introduction, if you will, as an attempt to jump start my creativity. So far it’s not working.

To read other stories based on the prompt, visit InLinkz.

45 thoughts on “The Clockwork Dragon

  1. hi. don’t know how you feel about typos but i noticed one and i know you can delete this comment so i thought i’d just mention it: “It wrote this wee missive…”


  2. Nonetheless, it’s a pleasure reading even these small bits of your storytelling, James. I’ve missed your entertaining epics. In this bit, however, while slowing matter is what occurs anytime a locomotive approaches a stop, I couldn’t perceive any benefit to dilating time. That would only increase the boredom as it would seem to take that much longer to slow down and come to a stop. Also, cooling the steam is fine as part of an engine shutdown procedure after coming to a halt, but during the braking process one would still wish the available steam energy to be fully effective as power for that process which decelerates the locomotive rather than its alternative use to accelerate it. So even if you use magical technology to manipulate matter and energy, if you’re going to resort to steam-punk scenarios you should pay a little more attention to the corresponding engineering. Your heart really wasn’t in this, was it? You usually pay better attention to such details, which allow the story to flow without disrupting the attention of engineering types like myself. [:)]

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had a conversation like this with a fourth-grade teacher when a five-question test meant getting one question “wrong” earned a B instead if an A. There was a question as to whether or not friction is good for roller skating. What kind of a question is that for true/false? She thought it was fine — since everyone was graded the same way. My son did an extra credit paper based on three books. He is the one who ended up getting the most technical degree (double degree plus and now a masters) when graduating from university like twelve years later. Of course, James is just tired.


      • I agree with you, Marleen, that this is not the best question for a T/F answer, because it really requires consideration of how much friction and where applied –though of course a total lack of friction would leave a skater with no means to move in any direction or to control such movement. I’m not sure whether the fourth graders in this case were expected to recognize that, but such a question could be thought provoking.


      • My son and I enjoyed picking out the needed books — two of a child-like sort with pictures and one at a higher level. And he didn’t mind, at all, working on the paper.

        There was only one other time that I followed up on mistaken grading during his schooling, before he was eighteen. It was when he was in high school and had taken a second or third year of drafting.


      • You’re far too self-deprecating, my friend. And we’ve previously discussed the shortcomings of these challenges to brevity-in-writing which discourage the thoughtfulness required for thoroughness, so we needn’t take up that matter again. Since my previous post, I’ve given a bit more thought to the notion of “slowing matter”, which previously I addressed only on that macro level of the motion of the entire mass of the locomotive rolling along on its tracks. Actually slowing the motion of all its atoms would also result in lowering its temperature, which would also affect the steam in the boiler. Hence the use of magical technologies capable of addressing such matter directly would require great care in which atoms or molecules were to be affected and in which directions or types of motion, not to neglect their motion relative to the entire space-time frame. As C.S.Lewis pointed out in his “Perelandra” story, his “eldils”, who were not constrained by the inertial movements of planets or their gravitational fields, had to adjust their “movements” continuously to keep up with the rushing changes associated with the rotational spinning and orbital progression of a planet on which they wished to appear to be located in a “stationary” fashion. If they were to merely “stand still”, in their absolute celestial reference frame, they would quickly drop behind and appear to fall away from any given position on the surface of a planet, much like the difference between someone riding a merry-go-round and someone standing or running alongside it. This perspective would apply also to motions in the dimension that we recognize as the flow of time. Magical technology that could affect this motion in order to “dilate” or stretch the time dimension would have to consider its breadth of operating field and its interface-boundary effects with objects inside and outside such boundaries, especially if the field itself represents a finite “bubble” moving along within the spatial dimensions.

        I doubt that anyone could really address such complexities within the space of a 150-word story, and even describing it above was enough to make my head hurt as I could picture its implications. [:(]

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Great to see you James! Sorry to hear you’re feeling uninspired, but congrats on your recent writing successes. Love the concepts you’ve introduced in this tantalizing teaser. I’m glad you’ve taken them for a spin in Mongolia with Pegman. I could see it all!


      • Those who can, publish 11 stories. Those who can’t, become critics.

        It’s much easier to be a critic, to find fault, to inventory flaws when all art is subjective.

        Me, I’d rather read stories.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I like reading too, Karen. However, there’s something inside me that compels me to write, well…at least up until recently. By the way, my rejection list is much, much longer than my acceptance list.


      • I’m with you. I would rather write, and read, and do the work, rather than fall into being a Critic. Perfectionism and criticism are great enemies of creativity.

        I don’t imagine there is a writer out there whose rejection list isn’t longer than their acceptance list. So you’re in very good company.


      • And there are some, Karen, who write things other than stories for popular publication, such as philosophical articles, academic treatises, and technical analyses — and some are editors who keep the story-writers honest by trying to inject a degree of objectivity into the subjective world of “art”. Of course, the editors are often also the gatekeepers who limit the publication scores of writers, even the academics, philosophers and techies, but that’s life I’m afraid [;)].


      • What? Now you wanna be the gatekeeper who excludes somebody else? How undemocratic! Shouldn’t thoughtful opinions and observations always be welcomed in a venue like this one, regardless of their intellectual challenges?


      • Now where do you perceive bullying, Karen? Intellectual honesty admits to give and take in discussions, and I’ve never known James to be anything other than that. In fact, he has in this blog often inveighed against the lack of same in some social media.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m having trouble divining the context of the conversation between you and PL, but in all the years I’ve (virtually) known him, while he can be blunt at times, he is also scrupulously honest and above board. He’s probably also one of the single most intelligent and well-educated people I know, and I’ve met some smart cookies in my time.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s great to see you back, James! I know what you mean about having periods where you’re feeling too tired to get up the gumption for more writing. This piece seems like a great (re) start, though! The world-building is really interesting, and I was especially amused by a character who takes such amazing magical feats for granted so much that he’s bored.

    Congratulations on getting so many stories published this year — color me super impressed! Good luck getting yourself back into the mood for making more.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. James! How lovely to have you back again! I love the imagery of that story with its whimsical blend of steam-punk and relativity – not to mention a dead engineer! It stands very well on its own, but it would make a cracking start to a longer piece.


  6. We’ve all got a long list of rejections, James, and like you, my rejection list is much longer than my acceptance list. And we all have times when we’re too tired or low to be creative, when we need time away from stories, to recharge. Hopefully, this is all that’s happening for you at the moment. A well written story and terrifically inventive world building


  7. Great story! Thanks for the inspire… I was looking for something to go with “build” for inktober…now, I’ve got to “build” this wing in ink… 🙂 ❤ Have a great week, James!


  8. For all of you who have hoped I’d expand on this story, I finally found inspiration this morning, took some notes during the day, and have written three pages this evening. Now I’ve got a week to finish it.


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