Estimated reading time — 9 minutes
I had a knack for fixing things. Trinkets, houses, and buildings, anything that needed fixing in my miniscule town. It wasn’t very ambitious, but at least my parents approved. It made me a modest amount of money that kept me ahead of my bills, but to me it was more than just a way to make a living. Tinkering, making something better with a few twists of my wrench, gave me a satisfaction incomparable to anything else.
Like all young people, I got bored of having it good. My life was broken sink after leaky toilet, and the monotony of it turned my thoughts outward, toward bigger rewards, and the hidden risks that accompanied them.
One Friday in April, 7 years ago, as I dragged myself home, ready for the weekend, something in the mail caught my eye. There was a letter resting on top of the pile, crisp and white. Written on it in looping calligraphy, my name and address.
I raised an eyebrow.
Nobody I knew sent letters anymore, and any family Christmas cards were long overdue. I opened it, and the letter inside perplexed and excited me.
Here at Mentona on Isilad Island, we have heard about your excellent craftsmanship and quality work. The historic Mentona clock tower has been malfunctioning for months. We have called every handyman in the region, but none have the necessary skills, so we have begun reaching out all over the country. If you agree to attempt to fix the tower, we will provide you with a temporary place to stay along with a payment of $10,000. Inside is a check for $5,000 and a plane ticket. You will receive the rest upon fixing the tower.
We will be waiting,
Edward, the Mentona mayor
The check was inside, just as the letter said it would be.
“It must be a scam,” I muttered to myself, but the words tasted bitter in my mouth. Suddenly, the idea of living off a tiny salary for the rest of my days didn’t sound so inviting. Just with five thousand I could do so much: take a vacation to the Caribbean, adopt a dog, maybe buy myself that nice massage chair I had been pining after. With the full amount that was promised to me, the possibilities were endless.
So I packed a change of clothes and headed to the airport to the town of Mentona, following the trail of money like a starved fool.
The first thing I noticed upon arriving was the forcefully cheery atmosphere. The buildings were trim and well kept, plastered with lively child-like paintings on the sides. The people were much the same, overly polite and maintaining constant smiles on their faces.
With the overly enthusiastic help of a few shopkeepers, I headed over to the town hall. There, I was lead to a waiting room, where I sat watching a janitor whistle to himself as he watered a plastic fern.
At last, a stout man with balding grey hair opened an office door and ushered me in. “Welcome to my lovely home town, Mentona.” He grinned. “My name is Edward, the mayor. I am so pleased you decided to visit here in pursuit of fixing the clock tower.” I nodded impatiently, eager to get to the payment options. “How and when will I…be paid?” I attempted to slide in nonchalantly. Edward’s eyebrows raised and he chuckled. “Oh course! If you manage to get the clock running again, you will receive another five grand, as stated in my letter.”
My heart soared. In the back of my mind, I felt a tiny pinch of suspicion tug at me– ten grand, for a clock tower? But my call to riches overpowered it.
“Here is the address of the hotel; it’s not too far, and it’s four star as well. Have a good night’s sleep. I’ll see you working away tomorrow, yes?” He smiled ecstatically, handing me a small piece of paper with his number and the hotel address on it. Frowning, I nodded slowly and exited the building, ready to walk to my hotel.
At last I arrived, checked in, settled down, and fell asleep immediately.
The next morning, I awoke with a small note near my bed. It was the address of the clock tower. Gathering my tools, I exited the hotel and was greeted by a tall, lithe woman with straight black hair hanging stiffly to her shoulders. She wore a long black dress that trailed to the ground, with thick sleeves covering her hands. Confusion blotted my mind; the weather was hot and sunny. A name tag pinned to her chest stated, “Mariyah.” Her eyes seemed to detached from the movement of her body, following me coldly even as the rest of her talked and laughed.
“Thank you for agreeing to do this for us,” she bubbled, her eyes piercing me with their hatred, “we were beginning to lose hope!”
I smiled and hurried to the tower, forcing a small wave over my shoulder and walked out the building as fast as I could. I could feel her stare burning into my neck as I sped away.
When I arrived, I met Edward again and led me inside, wishing me good luck.
“Be careful.” He hesitated, as if he wanted to say more, then smiled grimly and ushered me away. Chilled by the strange behavior of the people, I nervously walked up to inspect the tower gears. The stale air washed over me, the smell was dank and overly metallic. I let out a sigh, already questioning my decision to travel here. Frowning in concentration, I began my work.
I touched the main gear, prepared for the worst. This didn’t stop me from recoiling in disgust when the metal pulsated gently under my fingers. It had been quite a while since I had dealt with something this bad. As I glanced around the rest of the tower, I noticed all the gears were pulsating, deformed, with only a few places being rigid and metallic as metal should be. I couldn’t help but let the unusual mood of the town to get to me- maybe this wasn’t just a wrecked clock tower, that there was more to it. But my logic begged otherwise. It’s just the bad gears, I reasoned. Nothing else to it.
So I struggled through the day, checking gears, oiling, screwing in loose parts and replacing the destroyed.
My experience that day, to say the very least, was a downward spiral of madness. When I pushed any gear at all, a faint wailing noise echoed through the hollow tower. It was piercing, as though something was scratching its nails on a chalkboard. The distressed noises echoed throughout the day until they were desperately blasting in my ears. The sounds swirled around me, every corner of my mentality filled with the horrible cries. My mind was an incomprehensible mess by the end of the day and my ears thrummed with pain. Unable to continue, I raced out the tower, leaving the horrible siren noises behind. I stumbled through the main hall on the bottom floor, the tower around me a blur. Tears blinded me as I slammed the glass doors open, nearly crashing into another person. Breathing frantically, I passed out, faintly recalling black hair brushing my forehead as I cracked my head on the sidewalk.
When I awoke, I was greeted by the strange lady I met at the hotel, still wearing her oversized dress. She ecstatically waved at me.
“Oh good! You are awake.” She cocked her head with an eerie smile. I began to prop myself up onto my elbow, then froze in my spot, nearly choking with my mouth open. Her blank eyes stared into my soul, swirling aimlessly. “I-what happened?” I broke contact with her dead gaze and glanced around the blindingly white hospital room.
With a chirpy laugh, she said, “You passed out in front of me when your work was finished. The nurse deemed it fine that you leave, she said it was just a minor panic attack.” I spotted a flash of grey in the corner of my eye.
“How-I mean, why are you telling me this? Shouldn’t the nurse herself be letting me go?”
Her dead eyes hardened and seethed. “She said its fine. Now go finish your work. We need those gears to get to work again.” Her voice had suddenly changed. It was tinted with a rough screech, becoming demanding and forceful. Panicked, I stumbled off the bed and walked towards the front doors.
“Make sure those awful noises stop.” She called out, the suddenly sweet voice curling around my ears as I raced out the hospital.
When I arrived at the gears again, I tried to work, but the piercing screeches were always there, their mournful wails shaking me to the core.
As the day wore on, I could feel myself losing my sanity. Every time I blinked, I began to see faces in the gears, fighting to be free of the metal. The gears turning felt like quivering muscles of effort. I heard voices, terrified, pleading voices. “Work.” They seemed to say. “Push.”
What was wrong with this place? I thought dazedly to myself, what kind of horror had I let myself into?
Fingers trembling, I dialed up Edward on my phone.
“I-I can’t do this anymore.” I cried. “I won’t be fixing your tower anymore. I have to leave. I’m sorry.”
There was some crackling on the line, then: “Mariyah will be with you momentarily.” Confusion swarmed over the hot mess of emotions clouding my brain. Mariyah? Who was Mariyah?
Then I remembered. It was the woman, the one at the hotel and the hospital.
I dropped my phone and began to lift my hands to cover my ears. The wailing was ever so persistent, so filled with pain…
As I looked at my hands, I noticed were drenched in grey
slime and a red substance. Had I cut myself while working?
The faces, drenched in grey and specks of metal, were constantly appearing and disappearing. I saw them everywhere, always on the top of the gears, accompanied by the wailing, which had gained intensity. Huddled in a corner, I sobbed, my body quivering with every heave.
A mere few minutes passed before I heard the menacing clop of shoes coming to the gear tower. The wailing stopped at once, and the gears began to turn. There was an occasional screech of metal, but for the most part, it ran smoothly.
It was Mariyah. Her long, thin shape stood ominously at the end of the hall, rigid, with one arm behind her back and another holding a bucket of metal scrap. I whimpered, looking into her eyes. They were springing, dashing and swirling with excitement.
“Ah, you got them to work again– it’s been a while since someone’s been able to do it. Ed was right– you truly are special.” She cocked her head, her face devoid of a smile for the first time. She began to walk towards me slowly. I twisted and tripped over the wet floor in my feeble attempts to get away. “Oh, John, why are you afraid? You’re so perfect for this tower…”
“Leave me– I mean, how, I, why…?! What do you want? Please, please just let me leave! I dont underst-wha, whats wrong with this place? What is wrong with you?!” I screamed unintelligently, babbling nonsense. Mariyah’s strange behavior and the horrible situation surrounding had driven me onto the brink of insanity.
Her eyes flamed at my last remark and she snarled, “Wrong with me? I am the foundation of this damned town! This clock keeps us running.” She took a deep breath and twirled around once, gesturing to the straining gears and the ever so prominent faces. “And I keep the gears running.” She breathed shakily, the tone laced with an insane happiness.
“What is that supposed to mean?” I whispered. Oh why, why had I accepted this job?
Mariyah eased closer, her movements stiff and jerk. As I took in her full body, I was terrified by what I saw. She was no longer wearing the lengthy black dress as it was before, rather, the sleeves and most of the bottom had been savagely ripped off. Just like my palms, her legs and visible arm were doused in the strange grey substance. Her bare feet had rough, long scabs of past burns, and her arm was lined with rough bumps and something sold protruded at random location, hidden under the thick sleeves before. Her hair was stiffer than ever, snapping as easily as twigs as she brushed the tangled mess from her face.
She drew out the arm behind her back– what she held was a tool, unlike any other I had seen before. It was s sort of wrench-screwdriver melded combination, with a long, sharp handle and a rigid spiked edge, obviously meant for some serious metal working. My burning eyes streamed with tears again as the horrible stench hit me; the tool was covered in the grey liquid everything else in this damned place was.
I could barely breath as the pounding realization reached me: the giant tool, the metal scraps, the faces melted into the gears…
She watched me taking it in and laughed. “You like it? I made it all by myself.” Her body quivered, and her voice was rushed and cracked.
She smiled and bent down over me. Her eyes burned into me, those wild, crazy spinning eyes, so dark now they were nearly black. My body went stiff as I looked at them, frozen in their trance. Her crooked hand grabbed me with a deathly cold grip and settled the wrench piece of the tool upon my arm.
With a quick flick of her wrist, the tool snapped my arm in half, allowing the blood to spurt around me and the bone to stick out, glowing pale in the darkness of the tower. The pain was unlike any other, it completely overtook all my senses and broke my stare with her lifeless eyes. It was like a stampede of buffalo trampling my entire arm, jabbing their sharp hooves in the same spot over and over. I began to writhe and pound at her back, kicking and screeching fruitlessly. Mariyah wiped a spatter of blood off her face gently, then delicately picked a few pieces of the metal and eased them towards my lifeless arm.
“Someone has to work these gears.”
Now, it’s just darkness. And pain. So much pain. This body isn’t mine anymore, it doesn’t feel the same. I’ve been distorted, changed, no longer fully human, and it hurts, it hurts so badly. My mind is set to only one thing: push. work. Turn the gears.
I hear her now, she’s coming for me.
I can’t believe I didn’t see it earlier. The tower, it was lined with plans. Blue prints. How did I miss it? How was I so ignorant? I ask myself every minute: were all those signs not enough? But it’s too late to care. Just work the gears. Don’t scream. Whatever you do, don’t show your pain.
Someone’s got to do it.
Someone’s got to work the clock.