‘Ghost in the Machine’: A Short Story

machine gears small


‘Ghost in the Machine’ is an old short story I wrote for class back in 2013, but I forgot about it in the rush of writing. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Ghost in the Machine
by Clinton Nix

“That about does it,” Hendrick said as he shut the latch on a rusted security panel. He was standing next to a colossal machine that towered over him, which had massive arms that could be used to punch holes in just about anything in its way. It was the Hydraulic Arm Unit 3R5.

The HAU-3R5 was one of the last of Immersion Robotics’ oldest drone worker units. It was a particularly sturdy piece of equipment, designed for heavy lifting and transporting of cargo, with the original intention of being a multipurpose military unit. The HAUs were made just before the boom of the new Self Sustaining Units and their advanced artificial intelligence, but production continued for a number of years later, mainly because the low maintenance and durability kept them as a favorable investment. The SSUs needed costly routine maintenance about every four months, but after 10 years of production, their technology was perfected so that maintenance and durability was almost equal to the earlier HAUs.

Hedrick always sought to service the 3R5 without delay, for fear that any slightest possibility of hindrance would cause management to disable the machine. He’d worked with it for 30 years, and it had become a sturdy, steady companion through tough times. People came and went, some were promoted, some fired, and many of the original machines had become re-purposed scrap metal. But Hendrick and the HAU-3R5 were always there, always running the same routine, always ticking in unison. They were the backbone, Hendrick thought, the foundation, and he couldn’t bare to think what he’d do if the machine was disassembled.

Hendrick climbed up the side-ladder of the goliath and hoisted himself into the operator’s seat. A short and portly man approached just after and waved for Hendrick’s attention.

“Hendrick, we’ve got to make room for the new shipment of SAUs—I need this area cleared in three hours,” he shouted.

Hendrick raised his arm and gave a solid thumb up in recognition of the order. The stumpy man waddled back into into his office and Hendrick pulled a giant-knobbed lever. The usual hum emitted from the machine that he often thought of as ‘melodious.’ He paused to soak in the machine-music that his companion was making, when a piercing metallic scream echoed from somewhere within.

“Oh, damn it all. I know they heard that,” he muttered quietly.

Hendrick’s face squeezed in horror as if he were sharing the same pain. He also had pains of his own; he developed a limp after a serious accident last spring when one of the pistons in the hydraulic arm went haywire while he was mounting the machine. The fall left him bedridden for six months, until finally he could muster the strength to come back to work.

Hendrick wiped a bead of sweat that dripped into his right eye and then rested his hand on the lever. What am I going to do now, he thought. The 3R5 was his baby. He’d spent two hours servicing electrical connections that mysteriously fried earlier in the day, so he knew that the clock was ticking, and it wasn’t looking good for his old friend.

“Come on baby, let’s get this job done, and then you can rest. Just a couple of hours.” He sweet talked it, as he found that sometimes it had a magical effect. 3R5 was getting moody in its old age, and sometimes all he could do was try to sooth its stubbornness with sweet words. He gently tugged on the lever but could feel a hint of resistance.

“Just work for me. Come on,” he whispered. He noticed other workers were stopping to glance over in curiosity.

“Just this one time is all, just this once,” he said, and then slammed the lever into place. The machine let out a ghastly, grinding whine that nearly burst Hendrick’s eardrums.

“Dammit, what was I thinking?” He panicked at the sight of the emergency light blinking in steady rhythm in the front panel. He felt for the knob and jiggled it, but there was far too much play. After trying every possible option he could think of, Hendrick admitted defeat and climbed out of the dying beast.

He kept his eyes down towards the dusty concrete floor, took his hat off and wiped the sweat from his brow. He sat for a few moments in silent contemplation, which was broken suddenly by a tap on his shoulder.

“Hendrick, is it?” It was a younger man in his early twenties. Hendrick hadn’t seen him around before.
“I’m Hendrick, yes.”
“I’m Roger Wendel. Please, if I could have a word with you in the office.” The young man turned his back immediately and walked away.

They’re going to put it out of commission for sure, Hendrick thought. He examined the dark stain on the brim of his hat, and then slid it back on his head. Time to face the music, he thought.

“Please, sit down,” Roger said as he pointed at the chair on the opposite side of the desk. He pressed the rim of his glasses up against his nose and eyed a piece of paper. There was a long pause, and Roger twiddled his fingers and then looked straight at Hendrick.
“I’m terrible at this so I’m just going to say it. You’re being terminated,” he said with a cold apathy that hollowed out his eyes.

Hendrick was speechless. All he could think about was servicing 3R5, and of what fate would befall his lifelong companion.

“I know this may come as a shock, but you’re getting old, Hendrick. I have records of several accidents that have left you out of work for months, and upon return, your productivity has decreased significantly. One of these days, it might end up being someone else that is injured, or worse–killed. The company has worked out a severance plan for you, so take a look at this packet. I think it’s rather robust for someone of your position.”

Roger slid a blue folder that had ‘A Happy Ending’ written on it across the table. Hendrick flipped through the papers, but none of the words sunk in.

“What of 3R5?” Hendrick finally had to ask.
“What about it?”
Hendrick paused to form the words in his mind.
“It’s a relic of Immersion Robotics, a piece of history.”
“Oh, it’s a relic alright,” Roger said with a laugh as he leaned back in his chair. “Don’t worry, that metal is precious. The company values the resources that the machine will make for our research and development department.”

Hendrick hung his head, gazing down at the blue folder in disbelief.

After the meeting, Hendrick went immediately to the carcass that remained of 3R5. He took his hat off once more and lowered his head out of respect. He placed his open palm on the side of the beast, and uttered a final goodbye.

“You were too good for them. Too good for me. But I guess it’s time, isn’t it? We had a good go, you and I.”

Hendrick took one last moment of silence, and he could feel the cold stillness of the machine, as if the very soul that made it tick had left.

‘In the Moment’ Poetry, Part Two

poetry-quotes-620x3501

In the Moment Poetry is simply just that: a poem written at a particular moment that is inspired by the present, with little post-editing applied. This post is the second part in my ‘In the Moment’ Poetry series. To see part one, click here.
— 

I

I open the curtains
to watch the sun illuminate
ugly old buildings

II

Sitting here
in this pristine moment

The sound of the stove fire
harmonizing with the wind
to the beat of the ice
plopping in the fridge

The crows make for
good percussion

III

Burnt coffee on the stove top
I let it boil

IV

Birds wash above
a morning shore

The clouds–a grey tide
lined with sea foam

 

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Review

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a cruel society this Gilead is. In a way, ‘The Handmade’s Tale’ could almost be considered a necessary read for those who want to see what not to do — to see the depths to which humanity should not travel. But it is more than that; it deals with many of the struggles that we face today, especially pertaining to how women are treated, even in so-called free and equal societies. We are only a hop and a skip from a group of conceited and disgruntled congressmen or a self-loving president from introducing laws that encroach upon freedoms we took for granted, and it feels this is made all the more relevant with what is happening around the world today.

Atwood’s writing, at the same time, is more personal, more poetic, while dealing with these difficult issues, and the narration takes an intimate look at one handmaid’s experiences in particular. During my read through the book, there was a point where I felt that the story may end up not living up to the ingenious setting and ideas that were created, but the final 50 pages left a big impact on me. In fact, the final chapter had me reflecting on the story in ways that I had not imagined. And some small pacing issues aside, the book is well written, and every quirk and method of style that Atwood uses is deliberate.

I would recommend people to read this book — that is, if they can handle reading some of the more absurd ideas of American society (and society in general) being realized.

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‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ Review

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Harry Potter, #1)Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reading Harry Potter for the first time, I have to say that I was quite disappointed. The book starts off with inspiration and energy, but through the midsection of the book, I found it to be somewhat of a bore. The moments in the school, and many of the events that transpire there, are often sparsely described and lacking in depth. I have found that in many instances, the movie was more detailed and illustrative. Rowling barely spends time at all describing the world and the scenery, failing to take advantage of some of the more interesting and imaginative ideas within the story.

Of course, therein lies the problem with someone like me reading the book. Harry Potter was written for children, and I am an adult reading the book without the early fascination and freshness that would compel a new reader to enjoy the story. That being said, I can only critique the book through my own eyes. I was not that enthralled by the idea of going to a fantastical school where the ordinary rules of life are suspended. I have experienced many stories in this vein to the point where reading such a book becomes quite an ordinary experience.

Well, most of this review sounds negative, so why three stars? ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ ends strongly, and the scene with Dumbledore felt like nice closure to the book, and gave the story a sense of purpose and wisdom that I felt was lacking beforehand.

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‘Four Quartets’ Review

Four QuartetsFour Quartets by T.S. Eliot

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m not much of a poetry reader, but I do enjoy reading an occasional poem. That said, I feel I can say that T.S. Eliot’s ‘Four Quartets’ is a masterwork. It will most definitely require several readings to uncover the meanings, but this is a type of work that I would want to read multiple times. My favorite moments were when he wrote about time – about the past, present and future – and the moments when influence from the ‘Bhagavad Gita’ was most apparent.

That being said, a reader must approach this work with an intent to study a few obscure terms to get the full benefit, but it is well worth the effort.

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‘Cellmates’: A Short Story

stone-stairs

I wrote this a few days ago for a writing group.  Completed it in one day and edited it the next.  ~1000 words.

Cellmates
by Clinton Nix

Two men sat, divided by a row of rusted bars. They stared at the lopsided stone wall that lined the path leading out. There was rubble from broken walls lying about the room, and beams of light dripped in from beyond the pathway. The two men’s bodies were naught but skin and bones, and they wore tattered garbs of gray and brown.

“Aye,” the man in the left cell called out. He was sitting on a flat, splintered board held up by chains mounted to the stone wall of his cell. “Jailer hasn’t been round ‘n ages. Can’t recall what th’devil looks like,” he said. “D’you remember, Rossam?”

He stared into the adjacent cell, waiting for a response. Rossam was sitting on the damp floor of his cell, his thin legs crossed, head hanging.

“I can’t ‘member,” Rossam muttered. “You were always ‘memberin these details better’n me, Gunner. S’pose you could tell me about th’ war once more?”

“Aye,” Gunner said, leaning forward, tipping his bed. His dirty face was painted with a smile. “Was—ah, few years back, an’ I was with sword an’ shield . . . made solid w’gold. On the front lines, alongside th’great genral Hilaman. We were ripe to sack the opposin’ army. We had’em—ours outnumbered their lot, I’d say, ten ‘t one. Ten ‘t one!”

“I thought you told five—ah, five ‘t one. Yea, I ‘member.”

“That’s a pail of nonsense—Aye, it was me on those lines, not you.”

Rossam pressed his frail hand against his forehead.

“I s’pose . . . if you speak it, it oughtta be true.”

“Aye! And I had t’save general Hilaman onna number of occasions—”

Footsteps echoed deep within the pathway outside their cells, interrupting their conversation. They stared anxiously as the sound slowly grew louder.

“Aye, it muss’be that devilman—he’s about due this hour,” Gunner whispered. “Behave yerself.”

A large shadow in the shape of a hooded figure emerged from the light.

“Gunner,” Rossam whispered, “mayhap this be the shadow o’ Death ‘imself, come to claim ar’souls.”

“Aye, you speakin’ none sense again, Rossam. It’s that demon jailer.”

“S’pose so.”

The mysterious figure approached, its head cloaked in deep green, carrying a wooden basket. The stranger pushed the green hood back, revealing long, braided red hair and the soft face of a woman. She looked intently as she stepped toward them.

“It be an angel, come to whisk us to th’heavens,” Rossam said, his voice raising.

“Aye, you can’t be th’devil jailer, he was not a beauty—I remember. He was a devil, with horns’n a tail, that he was.”

“You two,” the woman spoke, “have you forgotten me so soon?”

She let out a sigh, her glazed eyes fixed on Gunner, her mouth frowning. She sat the twined basket down and stuck her hand inside, pulling out a piece of bread with sliced meat.

“Here,” she said with short breath. “Eat.”

Gunner hopped from his wooden bed, nearly falling from his own weight, and grabbed the offering from between bars. He hobbled back to his bed and scarfed without word.

She offered the same meal to Rossam, and he hoisted himself up with what muscle he had left and grabbed the food with his thin fingers, nodding. His eyes were fixed wide open.

“Thank you, angel o’the heavens,” he said, taking a bite without blinking.

“You’ve forgotten again. My name is Wyla . . . Wyla.”

“Wyla th’angel,” Rossam said with a calmed voice.

“Aye, y’better scamper, lady. I dunno who you are. But devilman watches over these cells. He’ll be trouble for a fair lady like yerself.”

Wyla stood silently, looking down at her empty basket, her eyes blinking slowly.

“You’re a pitiful lot. I can let you out . . . do you hear me? I can set you free. There’s no one here,” she said, looking up again at Rossam.

“Aye, we’d soon be mauled by wild dogs. That jailer s’waitin for us to slip up. Tell’er, Rossam, tell’er the truth.”

“What Gunner speaks, s’truth,” Rossam said.

“. . . I can’t force you,” Wyla said, her shoulders sinking.

“Aye, hurry out, lady. We’d best not be seen.”

Wyla picked up her basket and turned to walk away, but she stopped herself. She immediately doubled back to Rossam’s cell. She put her hand on the metal latch, pushed heavily, and the mechanism slid over with a screech.

“Aye woman! What’re you doing?” Gunner nearly fell off his bed.

She pushed the door open, and it creaked as it slowly rotated on hinge. She looked at Rossam with an outstretched hand, and he stared at her with wide-eyed amazement.

“I . . . I . . . whaddo I do?”

“Aye! She’s mad! Close it, before devilman comes! We’ll be strung over coals!”

Gunner got up from his bed and hobbled over to the bars separating their cells, panting, and gripped the bars to keep himself from falling.

“Rossam . . . get to yer . . . get yer door shut . . .”

Rossam pushed the door and leaned all of his weight upon the latch, sliding it over with gasps.

“S’pose you’re . . . an angel that came t’us,” he said. He reached out for Wyla’s hand between the bars, but let his arm fall to his side. “What Gunner speaks s’truth. We can’t go with you.”

“I’ll be back tomorrow,” she said as she turned around and walked away. The two men sat in peace in the dank chamber, staring at her shrinking figure. The sound of her footsteps faded into the distance.

“Aye, Rossam. We’re lucky, we are.”

Gunner crept over to his bed and hoisted himself upon it. Rossam stood near the door to his cell, eyes wide and hands clasped.

“Angel, please come back t’us again.”

‘In the Moment’ Poetry

writing

In the Moment Poetry is simply just that:  a poem written at a particular moment that is inspired by the present, with little to no post-editing applied.

This poem was written on March 16th:

 

Part I

Sitting in a cafe—

listening to M83’s ‘Do It’

defines the moment that I sip a cup

and decide whether to read Catcher in the Rye

or current events on the ‘net.

 

Part II

Kids line up, dividing the room—

I feel like a writer

sitting with my book and computer.

In fact

I place a book on the table

but never read it.

Living the life.