"For heaven's sake, will you please hurry with that door," Olivia whined, stamping her heel on the worn cobblestone for emphasis, "I'm about to catch my death, and this lantern is beginning to get unbearably heavy!"

"Shush!" Greta replied as she moved on to the next key on the heavy iron ring. The thick key slid noisily into the rusty lock, but wouldn't turn, and the old oaken door continued to mock the two young women with its' steadfastness.

"Ohhhhh!" Olivia moaned, "We're going to be here all night!"

"And look," the American added, lifting the satin hem of her dress and gesturing to the muddied leather of her laced, ankle-high shoes, "I just bought these in Italy, and now look at them!"

"Will you please hold the lantern still?" Greta cried, frustrated as much with her friend as with the failure of the next key on the heavy door's lock.

"This was your idea, yes?" the Bavarian reminded her American friend in heavily accented English.

Olivia only sighed reluctantly by way of a reply and steadied the oil lamp's beam on the old door.

"We should be shopping for your costume right now, instead of trying to get into some old clock shop," Greta chastised.

"The masquerade is only three days away, and, unless you are intending to dress as Lady Godiva again this year, you will have nothing to wear!" the German girl went on, fumbling at the sturdy lock with yet another key.

Olivia responded by taking her free hand and brushing aside a lock of curly red hair that had escaped from her chapeau. She fixed her friend with a practiced and pouty expression, which, although useless in the dark, was an affectation that had proved it's worth on more than one occasion, especially when dealing with the opposite sex.

"Well, your English has certainly improved since you last came to visit me in New York," the American girl retorted sourly, "but that does not change the fact that it's cold, it's dark, and this fog is so terribly thick that it's soaking me through right to the bone!"

"We are in the Black Forest, " Greta replied curtly as she tried another key in the lock, "they would not call it the Black Forest if it was not dark and foggy, and, perhaps, if you had dressed more warmly, you would not be so cold now, yes?" Greta's accent was heavy and rich, and she unconsciously turned the phrase over in the air with a tone very much like her mother's when she was still alive and scolded young Greta for eating too many chocolates before the evening meal.

"A true lady prefers form over function when she dresses," Olivia huffed back, adjusting her fitted bodice with a delicate and practiced gesture.

"Well then, you can always go back to the carriage and wait with the coachman," Greta offered as she jingled and jangled her way through the remaining keys on the ring.

"And miss the adventure...?" Olivia answered back, "Besides, did you notice that our coachman has a lazy eye? "

"It's quite disconcerting, I can assure you."

"Helmut has been my father's coachman for decades, and....Ahhhh!" Greta cried with a smile as the next key shot home in the lock of the door and turned with a loud clack.

Cautiously, Greta grabbed the twisted, wrought iron drake that served as the door's handle and pushed until the rusty creak of the door's neglected hinges was shattered by the raspy ring of an old, hanging bell mounted on the other side of the jamb to call the shopkeeper's attention to new customers.

Both young women took a step back, startled by the bell's chime as the door struck it.

Then, giggling at her own skittishness, Olivia grabbed her friend by the elbow.

"Hurry Greta...let's go inside!" she whispered eagerly.

The young German girl was still more than a little scared..."Why must you always be so impetuous?" she hissed. "One day, you will get yourself into trouble, and I will do nothing to help you out of it!"

"You're my best friend, and I expect you'll always be there to get me out of trouble." Olivia laughed.

"Now come then," the American whispered, "let's go is your Uncle's shop, after all."

"Yes, and now my uncle is dead," Greta replied haltingly now that she was suddenly facing the black maw of the open door.

"And so now it belongs to your father, his only living relative" Olivia added, "which means that it's practically let's go in!"

And with that, Olivia tightened her grip on her friend's arm and nudged past her, dragging Greta into the darkened shop.

"I cannot believe you convinced me to steal my father's keys, and come to this tiny village..." Greta began.

But now, it was Olivia's turn to demand quiet.

"Listen!" she whispered.

And there, in a darkness that was broken only by the sweeping beam of the small oil lantern, arose the sounds of ticking...a multitude of ticking sounds...a small cacophony of ticking sounds, each one running over the others so that the tiny shop was awash in low noises piled one upon other. And as Olivia ran the small lantern beam over the dark wood paneling of the room, the source of the noises soon became apparent.

Almost every square inch of the walls of the shop were covered, from the floor to the ceiling, with clocks of all shapes and sizes.

"There must be dozens of them!" Olivia said as she sent the beam dancing about the shop.

"Hundreds," Greta corrected "and look at how beautiful they all are!"

Slowly, amid all the ticking, the girls walked up to the shop's oaken counter and hunched down to peer at the polished wooden boxes that sat behind the glass windows of the display shelves.

"Music boxes!" Olivia exclaimed with delight at the objects on the shelves.

"Let's open one!"

Greta took a sharp intake of breath between her teeth and paused with second thoughts.

"He was mad, you know," she said solemnly.

"What?" Olivia asked curtly, her attention wrapped up in the deep varnish promises of the musical toys that were waiting for her on the other side of the counter's glass.

" Uncle was mad as his patron was," Greta added.

"Yes, I know, you've already told me," Olivia reminded her, "and now he is as dead as Ludwig the Second is too...both of them killed by their own hands!"

"That's what makes it all so exciting!" she grinned.

"King Ludwig was murdered, drowned by his enemies, and my Uncle followed him to the grave, slitting his own wrists as soon as he heard of his king's death..." Greta said haltingly.

"You Bavarians are so superstitious!" the American chastised.

"Greta, it's almost the twentieth century...don't tell me you're still a little girl who's afraid of mad ghosts!" Olivia added, knowing the effect the taunting would have on her friend.

Straightening herself with effort, Greta strode purposefully behind the counter. "I am not afraid!", she said, rather too loudly.

Opening the door of the display case, Greta pulled one of the varnished boxes from the shelves and banged it down upon the dusty counter.

Olivia placed the lantern nearby, its' light reflected like smoldering embers on the box's rich, red finish, and her fingers jumped to turn the small key at the rear of the musical toy.

"Now let's open it...." Olivia whispered, her eyes growing wide.

Slowly, Greta reached out her hands towards the edge of the box, her fingers inching their way towards the finished wood... when suddenly a cuckoo bird sprang from out of its' clockwork home somewhere in the darkness around them, shattering the still air of the room with its song.

At the sound of the cuckoo, Greta started for the door with a yelp, not caring whether or not her friend might laugh at her, but before she could reach the outside, she was stopped by soft music winding its' way around the dying cries of the noisy clock. She turned to see Olivia, framed in the lantern's light, standing in front of the open music box on the counter, which plucked away a melody of delicate beauty that rose slowly into the air until it had banished all of the shop's ticking like a sun peeking its' way through rain clouds.

Greta walked towards the open music box.

"It's beautiful," the German girl whispered with awe in the lamplight.

"And look," Olivia cooed, gesturing to the inside of the lid with a devilish grin.

Following her friend's finger in the dim light, Greta's eyes slowly moved over a pair of small tin figures wrought in relief on the inside of the box's ornate lid.

Set against a background of painted flowers and made of enameled brass, finished with exquisite detail, was a tiny mechanical couple attached to hidden springs. The smiling woman, dressed only in a corset, lay on her side with her legs spread apart so that her equally small and lecherous partner, wearing only a painted waistcoat, could be seen taking advantage of her from behind while his hands eagerly cupped the woman's exposed breasts.

Greta felt a tiny tingle race through her fingertips, as her hands gingerly brushed along one dusty corner of the box.

With every other note of music, the tiny couple rutted with one another in mechanical bliss, and the German girl pulled back her hand and blushed despite herself at the tiny and lascivious pair, who ignored her with painted indifference and continued to frolic over the turning brass wheel of the music box as it slowly released its' melody with plucking, metal fingers.

"Oh, I simply must have it," Olivia giggled.

Greta grimaced, as much at her own reaction to the libidinous music box as to her friends desire to take it and spoil the sanctity of her dead uncle's shop.

"Please?" the American asked.

But before her friend could answer, Olivia had already closed the lid of the box and was exploring the rest of the shop, forcing Greta to follow her or be lost in the darkness.

"I can hardly believe my eyes...just look at this place!" Olivia exclaimed as they explored the shop. Each nook and cranny of the clockmaker's store seemed to provide a new assortment of wind-up wonders, and the pair of girls crept their way through the shop, over and under, around and between, devices and timepieces of every size and shape.

And finally, when it seemed they had found out every hiding place in the small, overstuffed shop, the girls stood in front of an exquisite grandfather clock made of deep and shiny mahogany that chimed the hour with a melancholy tone from within its' tall alcove. Upon its' face, a small, naked man and woman chased one another in a circle around the dial with each stroke of the hour...the little man holding his own oversized and rigid sex in his hand, while the woman clasped her own tiny nipples between painted fingers in expectation. With each chime of the clock, one tiny enameled figure would run down the other, until they joined for one brief moment before the race began again.

Greta's eyes were locked upon the tiny figures, as they copulated for that one instant of the chase, before she forced her attention back upon her friend.

The American girl took the lantern beam from the stately timepiece and sent it splashing lazily around the cramped building, revisiting all the places in the shop the young ladies had explored during the night.

"Well, it looks as if we've seen everything," Olivia stated disappointedly.

"No, wait," Greta halted, "look at the lantern."

There in the darkness, the flame flickered wildly from its small glass prison in Olivia's gloved hand.

Greta took the lamp from her friend and ran it along the sides of the grandfather clock, watching as the flame sputtered from an unseen draft.

Putting the lantern on the ground, Greta grabbed an edge of the clock.

"Help me pull!" she told her friend.

Placing her hands below her friends', Olivia tugged at the clock until, with a groan, the tall timepiece slid forward and opened towards the girls on its oiled base like a door, exposing hidden darkness behind it.

Greta smiled.

"We Bayrisch are full of surprises, yes?"

"Oh, how exciting," Olivia exclaimed as she picked the lantern up from the floor and lead the way into the chamber.

Stealthily, as if they were intruding on some strange and sacred place, the girls tiptoed into the secret room, where the lantern picked up a dizzying array of shelf after shelf of gears, springs, wheels, cogs, and other mechanisms. And propped up against the shelves, wooden mannequins, covered in brass ornaments, stood watch over a large worktable strewn with well-used tools and plans drawn on crinkled paper.

"Just look at this place!" Olivia whispered, barely able to contain her excitement. Suddenly, the American felt her friend's hand grab hers tightly and aim the beam of the small lantern to a wooden crate that huddled in a corner of the room.

"What...?" Olivia exclaimed.

"Look, there, on the box!" Greta called out.

Squinting her eyes in the lamplight, Olivia saw the silhouette of a swan stenciled on the side of the crate.

"It's a swan," she said, nonplussed.

"Yes, a swan," Greta admonished, "the symbol of King Ludwig the Second himself!"

"Do you suppose?" Greta asked tentatively, looking for the eyes of her friend.

But Olivia was already making her way to the box in the corner, and soon both girls were kneeling in front of the crate, the dust on their fine skirts forgotten in the excitement of this new find.

"Shall we?" Olivia asked with a wry smile.

"What does it matter if I say no..." Greta asked, "you will open it anyway, yes?"

And with that, Olivia slid the top off of the crate, exposing its contents to the lamplight.

Nestled inside a bed of excelsior, a square, brass faceplate accented with tiny, embossed swans of gold peeked up at the girls from under a folded piece of parchment sealed by a signet impression in wax.

Ignoring the cries of her friend, Olivia broke the seal and opened the stiff parchment, which coughed up a piece of metal that rang noisily upon the floor.

As Greta searched for the parchment's contents somewhere near her feet in the darkness, Olivia read the letter aloud.

"It says simply, Fur Mein Koenig."

With a cry of excitement, Greta held up the piece of metal that had fallen on the floor to the lamplight.

It was a large winding key that barely fit within her fist.

Both girls looked from the key to the brass faceplate in the box, and Greta placed the winding device in the notch at the plate's center.

She gave the key several hard turns, and they waited for whatever might happen.

But nothing did.

"Humph, it must be broken," Olivia said, disgruntled.

She began to dig through the shavings of excelsior.

"Maybe we should..." Olivia began, and then suddenly grew silent

Gingerly, she unraveled first one supple garment sleeve of calfskin, bleached to a pristine white and accented in polished brass and precious gold, from out of the packing material...and then another.

"What is it? What is it?!" Greta demanded.

Digging further through the boxes' shredded packing, Olivia pulled something dark and long from the box.

"Greta, bring the lantern closer!" she whispered excitedly.

The German girl did as she was told and hunched down so that the light of the lantern fell squarely in a mellow glow upon the object in Olivia's hand.

It was a high boot of exquisite black leather with a pointed toe and a narrow heel that gracefully tapered from the sole to several inches.

Using her teeth, Olivia pulled off one of her gloves so that she could run her naked hand over the soft leather, its folded edges lined with finely wrought grommets, through which heavy laces were woven.

"Greta," the American girl told her friend as her fingers traced over the leather with a lover's touch, "go get that lazy eyed coachman of yours right away to help put this box upon the carriage...I think I may have just found my costume for your father's masquerade this year!"


Three days later, Greta found herself locked outside yet another door.

"Will you be so kind as to hurry, please?" the Bavarian shouted through to the guestroom, over the laughter and music that drifted up the broad staircase from the ballroom below.

"They are almost ready to pass out the trifles for the first dance!" she added impatiently.

There was no response from the other side of the door.

Fidgeting in frustration, Greta stopped addressing the locked door and arranged her cleavage a bit, silently appraising herself and her choice of costume once more. Her father's masquerade balls were always hallmarks of the fall season, and she hoped her decision to go as Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, might bring her luck in snaring one of the available young men in attendance...even if ancient Greece was a long way away from nineteenth century Bayern.

With a swish of her diaphanous gown, Greta adjusted the golden cord knotted about her waist and pressed her ear up against the door of Olivia's room, where she could hear the muffled cries of her American friend as she addressed the house servants, in German, who were helping her with her costume, "Tighter...tighter still! Ow! But be careful, please!"

Frustrated, Greta pounded on the door rhythmically with one small fist.


"Coming...!" Olivia yelled from behind the door.

"Gott en Himmel, I wish we had never found...." Greta began to herself, when the door suddenly opened, and....

And Greta could only stand there gawking, dumbfounded by the sight of her friend framed within the doorway.

Olivia replied with a knowing smile of painted ruby lips that contrasted sharply with her powdered skin as her eyes laughed out silently in charcoal lined, iridescent blue from the holes of the polished, white leather mask that shaped itself snugly around her face, allowing her hair to spill out of the back only in a red pony tail, so that her tresses looked like a trail of fire erupting from a narrow fissure of gleaming marble.

Open from her nose down, the hood wrapped around her neck and was laced at the front, exposing the delicate skin of her throat beneath a weaving of fine, black leather ties wrapped in an ornate bow beneath the curve of her jaw.

And from the shoulders of her leather costume, arose a high, stiff collar of more white leather, with turned lapels of black, edged in orange and trimmed with a lattice work of delicate brass molding. The collar plunged down in a deep neckline that reached beneath Olivia's cinched, pale corset, exposing the curved edges of the powdered perfection of her breasts, which were pushed out by the restrictive leather cinching, only to be contained again by a pair of golden swans, lined in the softest padded kidskin, which cupped each globe of flesh...their heads covering the pink aureole of Olivia's femininity while allowing provocative glimpses of flesh from out of the teasing twists of their golden necks.

Tightly cinched at the front to painful slimness, the white leather corset of the swan costume seemed lacquered onto a supple, second skin that laced itself around almost every inch of Olivia's lithe form. Exposing teasing glimpses of the flesh of her arms and legs from beneath a crisscross of black lacing, the suit shaped itself around her body until it was covered by the corset, a pair of elbow length, white calf skin gloves which buttoned at the wrists, and a pair of thigh-high boots made of soft, polished black leather, which, like the corset, were laced at the front until they molded themselves around every ebb and flow of her body's curves.

And just above and between those tightly laced boot tops, the swan motif of Olivia's costume punctuated itself in the golden visage of the head of a bird, crafted meticulously of flexible and iridescent gold feathers, whose smooth, gilded bill curved along the front of Olivia's crotch beneath shimmering eyes of polished jet.

And everywhere, radiating over the white leather like a golden spider's web, where metal accents of gold and brass which ran along Olivia's body to find their culmination at the ornate, raised metal plate, which had originally caught the girl's attention in the clock maker's shop, sewn within the back of the costume. But now, the plate was hidden by a fountain of long and downy white feathers some of which fell from the costume in a graceful arc, their tips almost touching the floor in an elegant imitation of a swan's tail, while others rose up from behind so that Olivia's head would be framed by a fan of feathers which bobbed and waved with each step she took.

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