The Machine

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Two Birds, One Stone

"And one thing we know is real: horror. It is so real, in fact, that we cannot be sure it could not exist without us. Yes, it needs our imagination and our consciousness, but it does not ask or require our consent to use them."

-Thomas Ligotti


There was a man outside.

Max thought he had seen him before, but this time he was sure of it. It was an undercover cop, and he had just witnessed Max bringing a new person in for punishment.

He couldn’t let him see this.

After his most recent execution was done, he watched for the policeman. He wouldn’t let him stay. He wouldn’t let him see.

The police officer was good, but stupid. He came alone.

Grampa had been very worried about him these past few weeks. Apparently he was “enjoying his job too much” and “shouldn’t be excited about killing people”. But they were bad people. Bad people needed to be punished. Why shouldn’t he at least have a little fun doing the right thing? At least, that’s just what he thought. And Grampa couldn’t stop him, really. Grampa wouldn’t stop him, would he?

The man followed him slowly but surely, watching his surroundings the whole time. Apparently not well enough, as the officer was suddenly whacked unconscious by a bat.

“Two of them?”

“Two, sir,” Max agreed.

Grampa looked at the bodies, then at the rapist. He shrugged. "First woman we've had here in about a week. Interesting."

They dragged the bodies into the machine and waited for them to awake. Upon awaking, the two inside the machine stared at each other’s eyes, and then backed away quickly.

Grampa wasn’t letting him use the lever anymore. He didn’t like the laughing. He wanted to be all “serious”. Seriousness was no fun, but Grampa said so, so he let him do his job.

“Good evening,” his Grampa started. “Do you know why you’re here?”

The two looked startled. The officer looked the most horrified, it seemed. Hopefully, he wouldn’t say anything stupid. Grampa knew people said stupid things when they were scared. He was just scared. Yes, that’s what he’d say.

“I followed the kid,” the cop said.

Max almost breathed a sigh of relief. That didn’t come off too good-guy-ish.

“Dang right,” Grampa agreed. “And you know why you did. You know what they do to people who think rotten thoughts about kids?”

The woman started crawling back. The officer just looked confused and a bit horrified.

“Not too much,” Grampa continued. “But me, on the other hand…” He pulled the lever. “…I do some stuff.”

The walls began closing in.

“You’d better start looking for a switch.”

The rapist searched around frantically, but the officer smirked.

Max gulped.

“You got the wrong guy, Harry.”

Grampa stopped what he was doing. He stopped the machine.

“Jack Edwards. But you’re a cop. How could you?”

“I didn’t do anything. I followed your grandkid to see what was going on.” He looked around the room. Max had never before realized how creepy it was. It was really, really creepy. There were bloodstains on one of the tubes. There were red handprints on the cement walls.

“Is this what you do?” Edwards asked.

Grampa stopped, his hands shaking on the lever. He had never looked so old as he did now. He looked feeble, scrawny almost.

“Is this what you’ve been doing all this time?”

Grampa looked around him, observing all the things that Mr. Edwards was seeing. He stared wide-eyed as his mouth trembled so that he could not speak. He tried, but only a grunt came out of his mouth.

He finally looked back at Max. His eyebrows were nearly at the top of his forehead. His face was odd, like it was losing color quickly. Was it red? Green? Max couldn’t say for sure. He was trying to say something.

“L…L…”

Then a word came.

“Lies.”

Max backed up slowly. “No, sir, I swear…”

“You lied. There was one. Just one.”

Max searched for something to defend himself. He’d never seen Grampa like this, not even when he’d laughed at the dying rapist. “Jack’s a bad man! Bad!”

“He was doing his job!”

“He wanted to hurt me, Grampa!” He felt behind him. He was near a wall. There must be something, he thought – a pipe, a bat, rope…

“No, he didn’t. I know Jack. Jack’s not that person, Max. You’re losing it.”

He found it. Rope. There was rope behind him. He rushed forward toward the lever. His father had taught him something once, a knot that would only get stronger as it was pulled more. He wrapped it around the lever and pulled hard.

The walls began to close in. Edwards and the rapist searched around frantically for a way out.

“I know Harry,” Jack claimed. “He’s got an escape route somewhere; another lever, something.”

They searched around as Grampa tried to free the knot. But Max had tied it tight. Grampa tried to move it frantically, then looked to Jack.

“I’m so sorry!” he said, almost sobbing.

“Tell me where the lever is!” Jack yelled.

“If you live, so does she!” he said, pointing to the rapist. “She can’t know!”

Jack looked back at the rapist, then to Harry. He nodded. Soon afterwards, the walls crushed them both. Blood ran through one tube as toys flew through the other. The lever swung back and the walls returned to their original place.

Grampa looked to Max, a solitary tear running down his face.

“He was innocent.”

“He would have told!” Max said, a tremor in his voice. “He would’ve ratted! Maybe even shot you!”

“Maybe,” Grampa said, “But I would have been fine with that. I’ve lived a good life.” Grampa looked away. “He was my friend, and you killed him. I’m sorry, Max. You can’t stick around here any more. You’re nuts, kid.”

Max began shaking with fear. “No, Grampa. Please don’t.”

“You’re a killer, kid; a young one, but a killer. I messed up.” He spread his arms wide and walked towards Max. “You’ve got to go.”

Max tried to run, but Grampa grabbed him by the throat and began walking him towards the machine’s entrance. Max kicked and struggled all the way as Grampa cried for his grandson.

As they came close to the machine, Max got an idea. As Grampa almost threw him in, Max grabbed him by the hand and bit deep, drawing blood. Grampa yelled in an inhuman cry of pain as Max jumped from his grasp. He ran behind his grandfather and tripped him into the machine. He rushed back towards the lever, pushing it to its fastest speed. His Grampa, suddenly realizing what was happening, rushed around and eventually found the lever’s spot. Then he yelled in frustration.

“Looking for this?” Max asked. He held part of the lever in his hand. He had removed it a few days ago when Grampa wasn’t looking. Nobody had ever found it anyway.

Grampa was crushed under the walls.

Max was silent for a long moment. The lever returned to its regular spot. The walls went up. Blood leaked down its tube as usual, and some toys flew over to their regular spot.

Then Max saw. He saw that his Grampa really was no more. He chuckled, and then snorted. And then he laughed.

He laughed till he was crying, and then did both. Laughter and anguish broke from his tiny body as he fell to his knees. In a moment of clarity, he realized that Grampa was right.

He was crazy.

This was crazy.

All of it was crazy.

He heard a voice in his head. “Rise,” it said in a whisper, “My new servant. Bring me blood as your grandfather did before you. Remove the guilty. Protect the innocent like he never could. Continue the cycle, and may it never break.”

He imagined Grampa had heard it himself once, that voice. He remembered their talk in the car. But no, he shook his head. He couldn’t.

“No,” Max replied. “No, sir, I won’t.”

He pulled the lever.

The whisper turned to a demented screech. “What are you doing?”

Max walked silently towards the entrance of the machine. He watched as the walls came in. He turned his back to the entrance and folded his arms.

“I’m breaking the cycle.”

He fell backwards.

Blood flew through one tube, and a single toy through another. The glass shattered behind the toy as it flew, so that it was completely destroyed by the time the toy reached the box. The gears fell to the ground and the walls crumbled. All was still.

Anyone who ventures down to that basement now will only find a broken machine, and a box full of toys. There are some dolls, a few police badges, and two toys unlike the other – an old man and a young boy laying next to one another.


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