Its mouth is a grotesque mixture of purple gums and whirring metal teeth. Two dozen blades as sharp as knives. It is small, two-feet tall, and fast. Quick moving prosthetic arms and legs overlap its swollen flesh. Death. The creature reeks of rot. A dead thing with artificially programmed robot parts. And it is getting closer.
I stagger away, and get in a swift kick to its jaw before falling down. It grabs my leg. Its teeth clamp down on my thigh, ripping flesh and muscles as I scream. The pain is unbearable; my pants stained crimson ... I black out. I wake in a cold sweat. The creature has haunted my nightmares for years.
The creature of Mr. Tinker.
Mr. Tinker was always a nice man. I remember him being fifty or sixty years old, with light grey hair and saddened eyes. As a kid, I would ride my bike to his workshop to see what kooky trinkets he had assembled that day. His real name was Paul Williams, but he didn't mind the nickname.
He'd smile and say, "Mr Tinker ... that's beginning to grow on me.”
Mr. Tinker had a tragic past. He had lost his wife and child when his wife’s labor went horribly wrong. Every year on the anniversary of their deaths, Mr. Tinker would close his shop and hang a sign: CLOSED: WORKING ON IMPORTANT PROJECT. I wouldn't see him for days afterwards.
Around the time I was sixteen years old. I grew accustomed to the anniversary signs. So imagine my wonder when I traveled by his shop one day, and was greeted with an entirely different message: AARON, I AM IN THE BACK ROOM. MEET ME THERE. I entered the shop, and was greeted with the usual clicking of small bronze birds and frogs croaking through tinny voice boxes.
I knew where the entrance to the back was, so I strolled past the counter and pushed open the heavy metal doors. There he was, Mr. Tinker. He lay in a corner crying, and clutched what looked like a baby doll. At first, I could barely make out the words he was muttering. But as I moved closer they started to make sense.
"I'm sorry, Martha. I couldn't do it. I've failed you, my love." I started tearing up. I knew how much his wife and child had meant to him. I started to kneel beside him, to comfort him. But then I saw what he was cradling.
A baby. A horrifyingly disfigured baby. It had a metal gear replacing its left eye and long spider-like arms. The most disturbing part was the other eye. It looked like a human eye, but it spun in place. No veins seemed to be attached. Mr. Tinker sat up. He wiped snot and tears from his face and smiled. "Aaron, meet my son … Eric. He's coming along nicely, don't you think?"
Eric twitched to the ground and crawled unnaturally toward me. Its limbs were twisted in a nightmarish fashion. When I backed away it crawled faster. I screamed, and ran back to the supply room. Behind me, I heard Mr. Tinker laugh – filled with malice and bloodlust, nothing like the friendly laugh I'd come to enjoy. I passed rows of human body parts fused with metal prosthetics. Failed experiments, I guessed. I heard the sound of metal legs scurrying across the stone floor. I looked back to see the baby scuttling quickly toward me. I ran faster, past shelves of random trinkets, and to the farther side of the warehouse. Eric was right behind me, he never seemed to get tired. I came to the end, but there was no door, no magical portal to the outside. I was trapped. Dead end.
"Damn it," I breathed heavily.
I turned around, and my gaze met the evil stare of Mr. Tinker’s creature – a look of pure death that sucked away all my fight and energy. It scooted closer to me, and I couldn’t move. I was paralyzed.
"I'm going to kill you,” Eric hissed, “but you're going to die when I want you to." He reached me, grabbed my thigh... and bit into it, ripping flesh and hitting bone. The pain brought me back to reality.
I screamed and kicked him with my good leg. I looked around for something – anything – to defend myself with. On a shelf to my right was a heavy, red toolbox. With a shout I grabbed Eric by the head, wrenched him from my leg, and flung him into the warehouse. I scrambled to my feet and limped toward the toolbox. Eric shrieked, and I heard him scurrying back for me. I faced the mutilated baby, and waited until he was close enough.
"One … two … three!" I pushed the box off the shelf. Bullseye! The toolbox crushed Eric’s body with a thwack. I looked around. At the opposite end of the warehouse was a door labeled Exit. I limped my way toward it, and out of the shop. Then I got into my car and drove to the hospital, where they treated my wound.
Five years have passed since that day. Mr. Tinker was arrested, and I moved to California. I now live happily with my girlfriend, Sarah. We're actually expecting a baby soon.
- * * *
I came home from work and found a letter on the doorstep. I picked it up and carried it inside. The envelop was stained, it carried no return address. Just my name, boldly printed in the middle. I opened it. Inside was a plain sheet of paper. I unfolded it. Scrawled in the middle with childlike handwriting. It read: The mother of your child will pay for what you have done.
When I finished, I heard a thump in the next room – my girlfriend hitting the floor – and the sound of metal feet scurrying across tile.