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About the Book

Karl Gruber, a world-famous builder of automated clocks, has reached the pinnacle of his art in Ernst—a man constructed entirely of clockwork.

Educated and raised in the Gruber household to be a gentle, caring soul, Ernst begins to discover a profound love for his master’s daughter, Giselle. Just as their relationship becomes intimate, however, tragedy strikes and the family falls apart. Abandoned, knowing no other life but the one he has led, Ernst allows himself to wind down in a kind of suicide.

Over one hundred years later, he awakens in a strange new land, the world he’s known long gone. Along with his mentor and guide, a well-meaning if slightly unstable homeless man, Ernst attempts to piece together the events that brought him to his new home—and to let go of the century-old tragedy that still haunts him.

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About the Author

William Jablonsky is originally from Rock Falls, Illinois, and is a graduate of Bowling Green State University’s creative writing program. His first book, a collection of short fiction titled The Indestructible Man, was published by Livingston Press in 2005. His stories have appeared in many nationally distributed literary journals, including the Beloit Fiction Journal, the Florida Review, the Southern Humanities Review, and Phoebe. After a seven-year stint in the Milwaukee area, he now lives in Iowa with his wife and three cats and teaches fiction writing at Loras College.

Praise for the book

“I highly recommend this book. It is a quick read that will draw you in until you cannot wait to find out what will happen next.”
Urban Bachelorette (July 2010)

“The story is a charming variation on a classic theme, and both the pacing and use of language are perfect for the plot development.”
~ Frieda Murray, Booklist (August 2010)

“. . . The Clockwork Man is a remarkably original tale. Filled with pathos, insight, and intrigue. . . .”
~ Ed Pichon, (August 17, 2010)

“I got more than I bargained for here in The Clockwork Man. Here I get to read about a guy made of clock parts, and he brings upon me some serious introspective questions. . . .”
~ Giovanni Gelati, Gelati’s Scoop (September 2010)

The Clockwork Man is a unique tale that we will remember long after the last page is turned.”
~ Debby, Single Titles (July 2010)

The Clockwork Man is an engaging read that will draw readers in with its complexity.”
~ Ramona Szczerba, Rain Taxi 

Excerpt from The Clockwork Man


Just over two years ago, an antique clockwork man was reported stolen from the window of Linnhoffer’s Department Store in downtown Milwaukee.  To this day it has never been recovered.  Yet, ever since the early morning of July 14, 2005, strange occurrences have been reported throughout the Milwaukee area. These stories are almost always second-hand, but all follow the same pattern: an apartment complex catches fire; a school bus stalls on the railroad tracks; a pedestrian out for a late-night stroll is accosted by thieves.  Then, a towering figure emerges from nowhere to help the unfortunate victim.  Some, in the dizzied moments afterward, have reported hearing a faint mechanical whine, a sound like the ticking of a clock; a few even claim to have seen a pair of shimmering blue eyes reflecting the moonlight, and a face that is not quite human.  Sketchy sightings have placed a wild man in his company, with bright, wide eyes like an animal and a voice like the crunching of bones.  But there can be no corroboration of these stories, as the shadowy figures disappear into the night, leaving witnesses to wonder if what they saw was but a strange hallucination.

You will never hear of this in the newspaper, of course.   Journalistic integrity demands that these outlandish rumors be dismissed as the fabrications of the lonely or the mentally ill.  But everyone who lives here has heard some variation of this story.  The young people refer to such tales as urban legends, and the term is magnificently appropriate in this case.  I am sure some believe the stories; others, particularly those living outside the city, think of this legend as just another local quirk, a mass delusion brought on by alcohol—so prevalent in this region.  But many more, I think, desperately want to believe.  Milwaukee, for those unfamiliar, is dwarfed by its image in the public mind: a city of beer, cheese, cream puffs, and little else.  It is not a place where people go to live their dreams, except perhaps for the beer tasters at the Miller Brewery.  The ships that dock in the harbor no longer arouse interest.  People pass by the old buildings and historic landmarks nearly without notice, without wonder; even her own people believe there is no magic here anymore.

But perhaps there still is.

The pages you now hold in your hands are the recorded thoughts of a man made of clockwork, built over a century ago by a man named Karl Gruber, perhaps the greatest clockmaker who has ever lived.  It was said that this automated man, named Ernst after Gruber’s paternal grandfather, was not a simple piece of machinery but a man—one made of cogs and wheels and nickel, instead of flesh and blood.   I suspect even Gruber was unaware of what he had created, until later in his life.  In his time, Ernst was called a miracle, a masterpiece of automation, an abomination, a fraud, even a murderer by a few overly imaginative souls.  And then, for reasons no one truly knew until now, he disappeared, resurfacing in a museum some sixty years later, and then, in the hands of a Milwaukee businessman.

Of course you cannot believe this.  No one in his right mind could.

But I have seen him.

When this diary first came into my hands, I did not think to release it; I was simply its caretaker, which was honor enough.  Then came the sightings in and around the city and the myths and the questions, and I felt the time was right for the public to see it.  I believe it was what he intended, though you may read his comments and judge for yourself.  For good or ill, I have released these pages uncensored—the reader will encounter sensitive passages from time to time, and while I wish no one’s reputation to be sullied (particularly those of the deceased, who can no longer defend themselves), I feel this can only further the understanding of the author’s true nature.

Doubtless, certain readers will take this as a fabrication, the product of senility, or a desire for attention.  Until and unless this man of clockwork decides to reveal himself to the world, I can only offer my most solemn word that the record in your hands is legitimate and true, and that I have not inflated it for personal gain.  But on that day, even the most cynical eyes will stare in wonder.

Felix R. Lentz
Kenosha, Wisconsin, August 2007


An Imitation of Life

11 October 1893

1:38 a.m.

Dear Professor Wellesley,

I greatly enjoyed your recent visit from Oxford, and thank you immensely for the fine leather-bound tome in which I now write these lines.  I am still uncertain as to why the academic community might be interested in the diary of one such as I, but as both you and the Master believe the exercise to be of value, I will honor your request.  For your convenience, I am transcribing these notes in English, however inartfully.

Upon your suggestion, I offer a brief introduction to those in the academic community who might one day read this volume.

My name is Ernst, and I am the product of over twenty years of painstaking research and construction—the creation and property of Karl Gruber, easily the greatest clockmaker in all of Germany, if not the world, a man credited with designing magnificent automated clocks in Frankfurt, London, Prague, and Vienna, among many other cities.  My “birth”—the moment at which I was first wound and became aware of the world—occurred on 11 July 1887.  I remember the moment with clarity and fondness: the Master’s face hovering above my own, a single tear running from his left eye. Smiling broadly, he said, “Happy Birthday, Ernst.”  (To answer your question from our recent correspondence, at the time I did not know his face, nor understand his words, but as I acquired language and began to observe and learn from human behavior, my unique faculties of recall have allowed me to understand the moment for what it was.)  Since that day I have resided in Herr Gruber’s home in the Sachsenhausen District of Frankfurt, where I remain a faithful servant to him and his two children.

To my amazement, the European scientific community has deemed me something of a marvel.  I certainly appreciate the full measure of Herr Gruber’s genius, owing my life to it as I do, but at times I find it difficult to understand why I am the object of such curiosity.  Foreign dignitaries, scientists, and even heads of state have come to the Master’s home to study me, or simply to see for themselves this “clockwork man” the Master has created, who walks and talks on his own.  With some pride I can announce that, on this date last year, I even shook the hand of the Kaiser himself on a trip to Berlin.  Yet such special attention often confounds me as, beyond the peculiarities of my being, I do not consider myself worthy of it.

Some who have come to study me are under the mistaken impression that I am simply a mindless automaton cleverly designed to exhibit certain pleasing behaviors like the Master’s other creations.  A reporter from Prague once addressed me as “Herr Robot,” a name the Master later explained translates into slave.  I rather resent the term, for it casts a dim light upon Herr Gruber; I am neither exploited nor abused.  Several scholars have also applied the term automaton to me, but this, too, seems inaccurate; despite my construction, I am quite capable of rational thought and, if I might be so bold, stimulating conversation.  Others, particularly those of deep religious conviction, have called me an abomination—Frankenstein’s monster made real.  This wounds me; I have read Frau Shelley’s book, and strongly recoil at that creature’s destructive impulses.  The Master says wanton violence is the currency of thugs and miscreants, and I will not be convinced otherwise.  It is my hope that these notes, once made available to the academy, will help to dispel those grave misjudgments of my character.

You will doubtless note that I have yet to offer an explanation of my physical makeup and the mechanisms behind my inner workings—a frequent question from the Master’s guests, though I was most grateful that, during your last visit, it was one you did not ask.  Unfortunately, I can offer little in that vein: this is partly due to caution (the Master wishes me to remain unique, and should too much of my design be revealed, he says that special quality would be spoiled), and partly to my own ignorance.  While I have done extensive study of his work, my design is infinitely more sophisticated than his municipal clocks, and it will take time for me to learn its intricacies.  The master says there is no shame in this; those who minister to the human body require many years of education, and there are still areas of human anatomy, such as the brain, that confound even the most advanced researchers.  However, he has begun to give me a basic understanding of my composition in preparation for the day he will no longer be here to maintain me.  As my understanding progresses, I will share as much as his desires and my need for privacy will allow.

As per your request, however, I shall attempt in this first entry to articulate not only what, but who I am.  It is a difficult question to answer, one  worthy of as distinguished a professor of philosophy as you.  After much thought, I have come to realize I am many things, beyond being the Master’s magnum opus and a representative for his sublime art: I am his trusted assistant and traveling companion, having accompanied him on many an expedition to plan and build his great clocks; I am steward, protector, occasional chaperone, and friend to his two children, Giselle and Jakob, as well as his housekeeper and nanny, Fräulein Gruenwald.

While the Master has spent a good deal of time on my education, he has also recently cleared out a private alcove in his library for me, where, after he and the children have retired for the evening, I may further my own knowledge on any subject that piques my interest.  I am, when time permits, a student of ancient history, mathematics, and languages.  I am fluent in Latin and Greek (the indispensable languages of science), as well as Italian and English.  I have found these useful in our travels, though when speaking the latter I retain an irritatingly thick Prussian accent.  The source of this imperfection is still unclear, as I possess no real mouth to bend to a particular way of speaking.  Though many experts have examined me to remedy the problem, Giselle believes I should simply take joy in the mystery of it.  The only language I am forbidden is French; Herr Gruber is a great patriot, and as such, is quite fond of pointing out flaws in the French national character.  As a young man he served in the military and was wounded during the siege of Paris in our nation’s last, victorious campaign, and he will not have their tongue spoken in his home, nor will he entertain guests of that persuasion.  Nonetheless, Giselle, who is very adept at language despite her youth, has taught me a handful of conversational phrases in French should an occasion demand it, with the understanding that I am not to repeat them in front of her father.

In your most recent correspondence you inquired as to whether I could be truly “happy,” which, up to that point, no one had ever asked me.  I found your concern most moving, if unwarranted.  An Italian engineer once compared me to the fabled Pinocchio, the puppet come to life, who embarked on a quest to become a flesh-and-blood child.  I cannot imagine a more fruitless pursuit.  I accept my state without reservation: an approximation of life, the creation of a brilliant man meant to live out my days in a shell of tin and bleached suede.  Whatever satisfaction I derive from my existence must be had within that framework.  But I have no complaints; mine is a full life, replete with admirers, conversation, and travel.

And there are always new and often unexpected experiences to be had: for instance, I have recently begun to study the art of ballroom dancing.  Giselle’s first ball is to take place in six days—a formal affair between her girls’ school and the military academy just across the Main River—and she has conscripted me to be her practice partner so she might make a good impression on the cadets.  As we waltz across the Master’s dining hall, shoes sliding gently on the hardwood floor, her soft hand in mine, I often study the serenity on her face, the simple joy in her movement, and I begin to understand what it means to be alive.

But these are trivial things of little interest to a community of learned men.  Henceforth, I will do my best to record more meaningful thoughts, which I hope will be more worthy of you and your colleagues.  I do not know what insights you might glean from them, but I hope they will prove worthy of your attention.