His face was set in a deep frown.

It was all wrong. He wasn’t supposed to be frowning. It looked so unnatural, and he felt a twinge of- of- something. But it was unpleasant. No matter how much he strained to force up the corners of his mouth, they just sagged back into place. He didn’t like the way this made his reflection look, which didn’t make things much better.

Problems seemed to plague his life lately. His visuals were off, for one thing. One never really counts how many times they blink within a given amount of time, but he was certain he wasn’t blinking as much as he used to. The colors, too, weren’t at one-hundred percent. Going through old cards of memory revealed a similar problem, with past memories on the verge of monochrome display.

His battery wasn’t charging the way it was supposed to- it was never full, and it drained quickly. Motor skills were utterly shoddy. These were all complications that worried him, but for some reason the frown had to be the absolute worst. With the frown, he was ugly. He couldn’t recall the last time he’d went outside- he couldn’t stand for others to see him this way.

But he needed help.

He tried to charge his battery to a good eighty percent to prepare for his leave of the house, but the best he could get was forty-five, and so he spent a fair amount of time struggling to pull on decent clothes.

A slowed hand raked through his hair before he deemed it decent, and moved on to his teeth. The circular brush motions were lagged, and he was sure he’d gone long past the recommended two minutes, which called to attention another problem- his warped perception of time. Time was almost intentionally moving ahead of him, determined to leave behind a man too exhausted to catch up.

He spit, and checked his face for any potential toothpaste residue, which got him looking at the frown he hated so much. In the depths of his head, something clicked for a faint second, and he felt his chest tightening, his feet speeding towards the front door.

He skipped breakfast, he realized, already a block away. But then he couldn’t remember being particularly hungry either, so he continued.

***

The Parlor was open 24/7, and appointments weren’t required. He felt himself hesitate before that soft, prodding click sounded again, and he was standing inside.

The Mechanic greeted him with a wary wave, and gestured for him to sit. He complied.

“Now, what seems to be the problem, sir?” he asked gently.

“I… don’t know. I just don’t feel… very like myself. Can you take a look and see what the problem is?”

The Mechanic nodded sharply, and withdrew an array of tools and set them down in a line. With practiced timeliness, he selected the exact type of screwdriver out of the set of twenty and set to work on the man’s scalp. After eight screws were on the table, he used delicate fingers to gingerly lift up the man’s scalp, and he set it on the table just as gently. Complex tangles of wires spilled out like mechanical spaghetti, and motherboards blinked- an army of fireflies.

A quick look over with the penlight revealed a myriad of complications. Wires were frayed, and circuits sputtered and sparked. The damage was intensive. “Not good…” the professional muttered.

“What’s wrong with me?” the man asked fearfully.

The Mechanic denied him an answer, instead clicking his tongue and poking around to see the full extent of the damage. “Ugh… ‘ll need to make adjustments… that’s gone… replace… Ooh- that’s broken… where did those come from…“ his rambles went.

The man sat in discomfort while the Mechanic fiddled with his head and made disconcerting comments in bated breaths. Again, time would not console him. The clock hands now swung in distorted blurs, and though he was certain a half-hour had passed, the Mechanic’s digital watch- which his eyes settled on when the man came to face him again- proclaimed a five-minute transpiration. He found himself in a daze, eyes fixed on the consistent blinks of the colon on his watch. Fifty-seven. Fifty-eight. Fifty-nine. Sixty. Six minutes since he’d first come in.

It felt like years.

The Mechanic, a sturdy man of sage, gently nudged his patient so he could give his diagnosis. The man forced his head, brain still exposed, to rise so he could attempt to focus on his illness. “You’re in terrible condition…” he started, but the man already knew that. Wanting to be spared from technical jargon he’d never be able to process, he got straight to the point.

“Can you fix me?”

His voice sounded warbled and deep, perhaps due to an audio malfunction, but the Mechanic understood, and gave another of his anxious nods before moving to fetch more tools. When he returned, the man relaxed in his chair. He found it far too easy to relax, and hated how it felt he could sleep and never wake up if he wasn’t careful, yet he spent many hours tossing and turning in his bed, failing to charge because of some battery issue. Despite this, he closed his eyes while the Mechanic approached with a box of parts.

“First, I’m going to fix your Tear Ducts,” the Mechanic explained. That made sense. If they’d been working properly, they wouldn’t have leaked, and he wouldn’t have used so many tissues to mop up the salty damp messes. He was asked to open his eyes, and he winced as the Mechanic tugged at the clear tubes lying just beneath the surface of his skin. With miniscule needle and thread, he stitched up the rips. The puffiness in his eyes lessened, for which the man was glad.

When given the all-clear, he closed his eyes again, wanting to imagine the process as something pleasant, instead of the correction of his human flaws.

The Mechanic moved behind him again, listing off the things he’d need to repair. The man nodded, not entirely listening. There were so many issues… Hopefully the Mechanic could address them all without taking too long. Not that he’d know. For some reason, he felt impatient just sitting while the Mechanic went through standard procedures for cases like this. He just wanted to be better, goddamnit. He couldn’t stand the suffering. The lag. The frown. Fortunately, the Mechanic mumbled a fleeting, “Alright then,” and started getting into the down of it.

The man felt a strange sensation- a warm, tingly buzz as the Mechanic went into his head, poking and prodding. For the first time in ages, he felt a flicker of feeling. Unsure of what it was, but unwilling to let it go, he sat in the chair, feeling both out of place and like a miniscule segment of something bigger- though he’d forgotten what that something was.

There was a tug. A large, sudden, rattling tug. Again, his heavy eyelids flew open.

The Mechanic grunted, and carefully extracted a small, misshapen piece of metal. “I found this in that mess. It’s a stray cog that was obstructing your brain mechanics. Do you want me to remove the others, or leave ‘em?” He shrugged. “I’m tellin ya now, nothing good will come out of keeping them in that cranium of yours.”

“Let me see,” the man whispered, and held out a trembling hand. When the Mechanic handed the metal piece to him, it felt hot against his palm. He winced. Something in the depths of his brain rearranged for just a second, allowing access to an old memory card. He was having a shouting match with someone… a woman? His tear ducts had opened, blurring the visuals. He called after her. He called, but…

The woman was gone.

He could feel his tear ducts prepare to open. He willed them not to, and shoved the troublesome cog back into the burly hands of the Mechanic. “Get rid of it,” he said. “And any others like it. Now.” The Mechanic exited, and re entered the room with a shallow dish.

“‘s to collect the cogs,” he explained. “Don’t worry. I’ll have them melted down later. You’ll never see ‘em again.” The man thought it odd that the Mechanic included the last part. Obviously he wasn’t going to see the cogs again, so what was the point in assurance? Unease coiled in his stomach. But then again, there was something off with the Appetite Function, made evident by his skipped breakfast. “Don’t worry,” the Mechanic repeated.

Beyond his control, he loosened his tense limbs and surrendered to the operation.

The removal of each cog felt, to him, like a deep digging sensation, like scratching really hard at one itch in particular. It took a bit of working to free the misery-soaked metal, but when the Mechanic proved successful, he never had to say it. The results showed themselves with the small *pop* that came with every freed cog. There were many, it seemed, enough for the Mechanic to go through the movements in a set rhythm.

The Mechanic pulled out a small device akin to a cell phone, and informed him of its function: to perform a quick hardware scan of his brain to make sure there weren’t any cogs still jammed in the works. He waved it over the man’s head, and his integrity was proven by an affirmative chirp from the device, which notified that he’d gotten them all.

It felt like a weight off his shoulders- but it wasn’t enough. The Mechanic also knew that his job was far from finished, and the man heard the rattles and clinks of of other assorted tools being prepared for use. He felt the extraction of a wire- an important one. As the plastic-wire cord was freed from his brain, the world itself crackled and died. Opening his eyes wouldn’t produce any imagery. An oppressive emotion choked him, forcing itself down his throat. He knew it too well, and it was much stronger in this place. He was floating in an abyss of morbid nihilism, and nothing and no one could prevent him from-

The replacement was put in.

The world rebooted, clicking back to life, and though things weren’t much better than when he’d first come in the Parlor ages ago, it was better than whatever the hell he’d just experienced. A chill crept down his spine, a notification from his half-functioning brain that whatever had just happened to him wasn’t anything pleasurable.

“Sorry,” muttered the Mechanic. “I should’ve warned you first.” No kidding! That was awful… The man debated which was worse: his condition, or that he had to rely on this man who was incompetent when it came to the preservation of human feeling. Even so, his options were few. There was no outburst, no disrespectful smacking tools from the Mechanic’s hand, nor even a disobedient struggle in the strapless chair. He supposed if he really wanted to get better, he would have to endure the exposure of painful emotions, as well as the Mechanic’s rough style- “tough love,” it was called? Despite his quiet nature, he gave off that impression, but it could have also been the man overreacting.   

He was given a rushed warning before each frayed wire was removed and replaced with a new one, cutting off and reattaching various parts of his personality, his very being. His Tear Ducts were under immense pressure, and he blinked the fastest he ever had in the past… well, he wasn’t sure. But it was the fastest he’d blinked in a while, and all to keep the Tear Ducts from bursting and flowing forth salty exhaust. The Mechanic had just fixed them, after all.

The Mechanic noticed his distraught expression. “You alright, sir?” The man gritted his teeth and nodded. Wary and uncertain, the Mechanic continued with the treatment, no longer with the confidence he’d had when he first saw the unfortunate soul walk into his parlor. Regardless, he had a job to do, an obligation to this poor man. For the first time, the Mechanic questioned his tools.

For the first time, His hands trembled as he worked.

The case was serious, and both were aware of this. One burdened with all manner of negative feelings, and the other burdened with repairing it all. Simultaneously, they glanced at the clock. It had only been an hour and a half, yet the remainder of the appointment stretched beyond, a long struggle to a far off dream.

“Geez, it’s kinda hot in here, isn’t it?” the Mechanic muttered, trying to break the gloom that was gradually setting in.

“I don’t particularly feel it,” the man curtly replied, and both were silent. The Parlor walls echoed with soft clinks and other such noises, which stuck with the two men.

The gravity of his tasks became ever more evident to the Mechanic. So many things… all repairs. Fixing his Motor Function, changing out the fluid referred to as “the mortal’s muse”- he’d need to do that, along with increasing the Exposure Tolerance, which had nosedived, and so on…

The Mechanic felt a heaviness in his Tear ducts. Never had he faced such a terrible case. Practically everything was wrong with this man, and he depended on him to… it was too much, and he found himself struggling to handle this responsibility. How long had he held it? Not even two hours, and yet…

He’d done things like this for years, so why was it so difficult now?

Sensing the Mechanic’s drop in confidence, the man offered dull reassurance. “If you’re not feeling up to it, you don’t have to-”

“But I do,” the Mechanic cut in. “I have to…” And he felt obligated to complete the task, no matter how much it was getting to him. No matter how much it forced him to wonder how any human could be this damaged and still continue without pushing the power button. It would’ve been cruel to put him back into the unforgiving world when there were still so many wires to replace, so many settings to readjust, so many bits of hardware to patch up. Steadying his hands, he gripped his tools and put his hands through the motions, both prepared and unprepared to heal this man.        

He took a few deep breaths, and prayed that his methods would come naturally to him once more. Again placing his fingers in unfamiliar territory, he tempered his psyche, willing himself to complete the job. Complete the job. Complete the job. Complete the job.

His hands dug around in the hardware, toying with settings and taking grim examination of the more damaged areas. His hands flew for more tools, more parts, more, more, more. The Mechanic was breathing hard.

Only when did the drops present themselves as small beads on his hands did he realize his Tear Ducts had opened. One arm was deep inside the brain mechanics, making improvisions, while the other was constantly wiping at his face so he could see what he was doing- he didn’t want to worsen things.

The man wanted to look up, but that would interrupt the Mechanic’s work. The best he could manage was shifting his eyes to look at him. He had to wonder why his sleeve was so fervently swabbing his face. Now he felt concerned for the Mechanic, as well as himself. Was his deteriorated mental state too much for him to handle?  

“It’s all right,” the Mechanic whispered. “I can do this.” The words were for the both of them now.

“Of course you can,” the man replied. “Of course.” He sighed, and the Mechanic continued about his business. What first? The Mechanic reasoned that getting the more difficult jobs out of the way would make tending to the man gradually easier. He listed in his mind what order to make repairs in.

Exposure Tolerance.

Though the man had endured the outside world to get himself here, the meter displayed low settings- a weak will to be out in the open and interact with others. He changed out the oil, adding more and more Tolerance, bit by bit… When the tank was full, he nodded, satisfied with his work. The man could be around others again. He had the choice to do so.

Motivation.

The Mechanic had had difficulty locating it at first- it was shriveled and small, nearly nonexistent. It took a fair amount of prodding, but it eventually swelled to its original girth, giving way for desires of creating, of doing a multitude of things, be they whatever. The man blinked in surprise when this function was restored. The Mechanic detected a glint of something in the man’s eyes- a severe need to be productive, which showed with the slight squirming in his chair. The Mechanic smiled at this.

Negative Thoughts.

They skittered and crawled about, like little wind-up insects, and the more severe ones chose a more troublesome form- gunk impeding the processors. With a specialized magnetic tool, he collected the surface bugs and placed them in the same dish as the cogs, still wriggling about. For the more extensive Negative Thoughts, several brushes scrubbed at the sticky material, growing finer and finer, in order to leave not a single particle of Thoughts behind. The most miniscule of particles were done away with by a simple rag, and soon the man was free of self-depreciation, of dark contemplations, of morbid questionings. The man’s breathing became less labored.

Lethargy.

It required fixing up the battery a bit, but batteries were simple- energy storage. The storage itself was due to damage via overcharging- a simple job. Within minutes, a new battery replaced the old one- a functional one. A smile crept on the man’s lips as this change was implemented- somehow, he knew he would be good and tired the coming night.

Appetite.

The Appetite Function had become less of a priority in the mental upkeep of the hapless gentleman, and with its neglect came complications. Fortunately, these were reversed easily, given the more severe issues had already been addressed. As the mechanic reset the Function things practically fixed themselves, he noted. The man’s stomach rumbled loudly, breaking the quiet noises of the Parlor. The Mechanic chuckled at this, in spite of himself. A last minor issue remained.

Visuals.

When the man’s troubles began, the mental strain- the weight on the intricate hardware- didn’t sit with him well. When the man’s troubles began, his mind declined, slowly tearing itself apart without his knowledge. When the man’s troubles began, the struggle through life increased. Inversely, the quality in Visuals decreased. A mundanely significant piece of his entire being, and when the man’s troubles began, the color faded.

The Mechanic, faintly aware of this, gave the man the greatest gift of all, and returned his sight to him. To the Mechanic, it was a few adjustments to the programs running his sight, and a quick cleaning of the lenses. To the man, it was everything.

With a sigh, the Mechanic lifted the man’s scalp and returned it to its proper place. A particular screwdriver was wielded. Eight screws were off the table. The man was restored.

He sat up slowly, unsure whether he was genuinely fixed. But when he looked out the Parlor window, the sun shone brightly, and people walking by wore vibrant hues. More so vibrant, were their smiles.

Placing an uncertain hand on the lower half of his face, he felt it.

Lips, tugged upward.

It was beautiful, and he was beautiful.

He returned to his feet, and unsteady legs wobbled. Regardless, he smiled. None of the fatigue plaguing him earlier felt present, and the colors… He checked the clock. Three hours had gone by, and though some gut feeling told him it was so, something else hinted at the otherwise. Regardless, he smiled.

“Thank you,” he whispered to the Mechanic. The Mechanic, still in his chair of profession, gazed on at him, Tear Ducts flowing freely. After a few terse moments, the man’s did the same. “Thank you,” he repeated, and embraced the Mechanic.

“You’re welcome.”

Once more, the Mechanic nodded, but this one was sure and certain. A twinge of some strange feeling bothered him- he was reluctant to see the man go, though his appointment was over.

The man would never forget this- it would be present somewhere in his mind at all times the recollection of the man who’d fixed him. However, his mind was flooded with other things- a tidal wave of potential and motivation. He’d need to pick up something, since he’d skipped breakfast, and was ravenous now. Then it came to him- he’d enjoyed sketching on some occasions, hadn’t he? He’d need to start that again, certainly. There was so much he needed to do, and see, and…

He muttered a soft goodbye to the Mechanic, and left the Parlor, though perhaps not for the final time. As he stepped out onto the street and rejoined everything, the reborn man was overcome with a growing sense of optimism.  


Claudia Renee Winters

Currently a high school junior looking to profit from doing what I love. Horror is the preferred genre, but depression gives me a glimpse into the more elegiac moments and scenarios, and I'm not without the fantastical worlds where human limitations are nil. I'm glad to collaborate and learn on where to improve myself for future works. My favorite kind of books are horror anthologies, and my favorite authors are Ray Bradbury, Edgar Allan Poe, Roald Dahl, Neal Shusterman, David Lubar, and Robert D. San Souci. I hope to join the greats on library bookshelves one day. While I understand the appeal in digital reading, nothing quite beats the feeling of holding that paperback in your hands. My sense of accomplishment will be truly realized when a book full of my words can be found in the hands of a satisfied reader. I currently live in South Texas, and am aware there's no better way of beating the heat than by having chills run down your spine. Well, that and a good air conditioning system. The name "Claudia Winters" is a pseudonym. As a transgender individual, I'll have the legal name changed to something else when I'm an adult. As an LGBT+ or QUILTBAG writer, I don't mind having characters under that demographic. However, I won't write stories where the plot centers around this; I find it a bit redundant to detail struggles stemming from this state of being when this is my life already. Maybe I'll save it for some autobiography in the distant future, but right now, monsters, gore, and psychological horror are the main priorities.