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The Destiny Machine

The destiny machine


Estimated reading time — 17 minutes

When my mother was buried, I watched as every single shovel of dirt was tossed into her grave. Once the two groundskeepers had finished, I stepped onto the soft soil and spit on her headstone.

I was glad that she was dead. The whole reason that I had attended her funeral was to see with my own eyes that she really was.

I don’t give a shit if that makes me sound like a bad son, or spiteful, or maybe simply petty. My mother deserves every ounce of venom that is in me.

It’s because of her that I grew up without my father. Unlike her, he was a good person, the kind that seems to be missing in today’s world. In the spring he would take me to see baseball games, and in the fall it was football. He didn’t do it out of any love of sports. He did it because he knew that I was obsessed with them in a way that only children can be, and he wanted to spend time with me while encouraging my interests. Nothing came before his family. Not his work, not his own desires, nothing. To this day I’ve never met his equal.

It’s because of my mother that my twin sister is gone. If you’re not a twin yourself you won’t understand this, not fully, but losing one is like having part of yourself ripped away. It creates this… this hole that’s never filled. More than that, though, she was incredible. Smarter than me, and more talented at most things. Although she surpassed me in so many ways, I was never jealous of her. It wasn’t her and me. It was us. I lost the best part of me when she died.

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to… I just need a moment.

My mother had everything she could ever have wanted. Wealth. Power. A husband that placed her on a pedestal above all others, and children that wanted nothing more than to please her. And yet she wanted more. More and more and more. If nothing else, my mother was a woman of excess.

Having everything worldly, she instead turned her attention towards the otherworldly. I’m sure that it doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone here that there are items and objects that defy our limited understanding of science and the world around us. Some people call these things magical, and others call them haunted. Some even say that they’re cursed. No matter what you believe them to be, we all know that they’re out there.

The greatest of these objects is the Fatum Machina.

In Latin, it means the Destiny Machine. From the front, it just looks like an old human skull that is missing the jawbone. The bone is brown from age, and carved along the surface are hundreds of small symbols that join together to form a whole that looks like a map drawn by a madman. Legend has it that the skull belonged to Adam, the first of God’s human creations as well as the first man to have sinned. I don’t know if that’s true or not.

It’s the back of the skull where things get strange. Instead of being solid bone, it’s constructed of a highly intricate clockwork-like metal device. Tiny gears can be manipulated using a series of dials and levers, which in turn cause plates and rods to change positions. There are millions, if not billions, of possible combinations. I sure someone can work out the exact number, but it really doesn’t matter.

What matters is that the Fatum Machina is a key that unlocks reality. It creates openings between places in our world, and gateways leading to others. Imagine being able to stand up from your chair and simply take a step forward to be in the middle of Nepal. You could take an instantaneous trip to Bermuda, or if colder weather is more to your preference, visit an outpost in Antarctica.

How about stepping foot on a world countless lightyears away from this speck of dust we call Earth? Maybe journey to an alternate reality where up is down and down is up? If you could appear before whatever creator you believe in and speak to them, would you?

That’s what the Fatum Machina does. It presents you with endless possibilities.

There’s a catch, of course. It seems like there always is. To open a doorway, you have to find the right combination. You have to adjust the various dials and levers to the correct positions. Each door has a different combination. There’s no way to know what combination unlocks what door except for trial and error.

There aren’t many stories about the Fatum Machina, as it’s been a closely guarded secret by everyone that has possessed it. Everyone that has heard about the device knows one particular legend, though, and I suspect that the reason that you’re here is because of that legend.

The Fatum Machina is supposed to be the only key in existence that can open the way to the Garden of Eden. If you’re not caught up on your basic Sunday School, the Garden of Eden is, according to the Bible, the place where all life on Earth began. It is home to many wonders, with two in particular standing out from the rest. Two trees grow in the Garden, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life.

Eating the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil bestows you with the collected wisdom of the world. You essentially gain the knowledge and understanding of everything that has, will, and can happen. It’s as close to omniscience as a mortal being can come.

The Tree of Life… that’s the real prize, isn’t it? One bite of its fruit grants you everlasting life. Not just immortality, either. It gives you eternal youth at your absolute best. You’re immune to poisons and toxins and every affliction. You will live a perfect unending life until our universe is a distant memory.

If you ate from both trees, is there really a difference between what you would become and a god?

It was the legend of the Tree of Life that drove my mother’s obsession with the Fatum Machina. All of her wealth and possessions would mean nothing if she died just like everybody else. She refused to believe that there was an obstacle that even she couldn’t overcome.

I’m not surprised that she managed to obtain it. When my mother wanted something, there was nothing that could stand in her way. She was a force of nature. I don’t know exactly how she came to possess it, but I wouldn’t put anything past her. I imagine that there’s at least one body buried in an unmarked grave somewhere due to her actions.

From the moment her assistant put the black box containing the Fatum Machina in her hands, nothing else mattered to her. She locked herself in her study for days at a time as she tried combination after combination, carefully logging each attempt in a leatherbound journal. The only time that anyone saw her was when she emerged to eat or, on rare occasions, go to sleep for short periods of time.

My father tried his best to coax her out of her obsession. I’ve never understood why, but he really did love her. My sister and I said that we did, and I think that there was some kind of connection there, but he actually felt that way about her. He was concerned for her well-being and did everything that he could to distract her from her work. Ultimately his efforts were in vain.

I don’t know how many successful configurations my mother discovered during this time. The vast majority of combinations don’t do anything; only specific ones will unlock doorways. She might have failed to open any, or maybe did find some and simply didn’t share them with us. For five months she worked in solitude while the rest of us had no idea what she was doing.

On a cold fall night in late October, however, there’s no doubt that she successfully unlocked a doorway to another world.

I had no way of knowing most of what I’ve told you up to this point when it was actually happening. I was only twelve, and I had never even heard of the Fatum Machina. I’ve learned most of this from reading her journals and through putting together pieces myself. All that I knew on that particular night was that I was suddenly sitting up awake in my bed in the middle of the night in a pitch-black bedroom.

My room had never been that dark before. There was always at least some light that managed to make it through my curtains during the night. Sometimes it wasn’t very much, but there was still something. On this particular evening, though, I was surrounded by pure blackness.

I’m not sure how long I sat there staring into nothingness before I noticed the voices. They were extremely faint, barely qualifying as whispers, and there seemed to be dozens of them. I strained my ears in an attempt to figure out what they were saying.

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make out the words. Or maybe I could and I just didn’t understand what they meant. Even though I didn’t comprehend the words themselves, somehow the messages they were conveying were clear. I’m not sure how to explain it. On some level I just knew what the voices were telling me to do. They put thoughts into my head that never would have come to me under normal circumstances.

I felt a powerful urge to listen to those whispers and do as they instructed. What they were saying made so much sense. Life was hard, and lonely, and full of disappointments. Trying to continue on with it was pointless. The only thing that made sense was to not play along with such a bad cosmic joke, to tie my bedsheet around my neck in the way that the voices were directing me to and put a stop to the endless cycle of pain and disappointment.

I think that if I was any older I would have done just that. At my age, though, some of the concepts the voices were communicating to me were things that I couldn’t fully comprehend yet, and it was that confusion that kept me from totally accepting what I was being told to do. The whispers changed their tone as they became frustrated with my disobedience.

The sounds suddenly stopped, filling the darkness with silence. For the first time since I had woken up and probably for the first time in my entire life, I felt fear. Real, palpable fear. There was something in the room with me. I couldn’t see it or hear it, but it was there. It was this kind of… this kind of pressure that was coming from behind me. It loomed over me and gave off this sense of total malice. It was angry, and it was going to take that anger out on me.

Without even realizing what I was doing, I jumped out of bed and blindly ran in the direction I thought that my bedroom door was in. I was fully in the grip of panic, and that panic continued to rise as I kept running. And running. I ran much farther than I should have been able to in the small bedroom. Long after I should have reached a wall, I slammed hard into something solid. I had finally gotten to the door. I twisted the knob and flung it open, hurrying into the hallway before closing it behind me.

Before I even had a chance to turn away from the door, I noticed that the hallway was much colder than my bedroom had been. The change was a shock, and my skin immediately began to prickle. There was an odd burning sensation in my feet. I looked down and found that it wasn’t being caused by something hot. Instead, I was standing in at least an inch of snow.

I turned around and looked up towards the hallway ceiling. Thick white flakes of snow were falling from it. Forgetting my fear for a moment, I stared up at the indoor snowstorm in wonder.

Eventually I shivered as the cold snapped me out of it. I looked around the hallway. All of the lights were turned on, but instead of their normal warm white, they glowed a dim blue. The walls were covered in sheets of ice. Jutting out of the walls near the top were long thick protrusions that tapered out to sharp points towards the middle of the walkway. They were nearly as white as the falling snow.

My eyes fell on a section of wall near me. There was something behind the ice, something that unnerved me even though I couldn’t immediately identify it. I stepped closer to get a better look. It was a growth that spread across the majority of the wood, a pinkish flesh-like mass that resembled raw flesh. I looked back up at the protrusions. I was standing inside of a giant frozen ribcage.

I hurried down the hallway with my arms wrapped around my chest in a futile attempt to stay warm. My bedroom was in a different section of the house than the others. When my sister and I had turned eight, we had been given a choice as to which unused bedrooms we wanted. We had chosen ones on opposite sides of the house, with hers being located near my parents’ room. We had always been close, but we had both agreed that we needed some space between us or we would drive each other crazy.

The hall led into the entry. This section of the house was in a completely different state than the frozen hallway. It was much warmer, and there was no snow or ice. The lights were also their usual color. There were, however, more bone growths. They weren’t ribs, but were instead four-foot-tall teeth. They were cracked in many places, and many were covered in brownish stains. They stuck out of both the floor and ceiling at random intervals.

The floor itself felt soft as I slowly walked across it. It didn’t look any different than it usually did, but the texture had the consistency of a firm yet wet sponge. Each step was disgusting. I started to get a bit queasy.

I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned my head towards the tall staircase leading up to the second floor. A scream welled up in me, the pressure of it so strong that I thought it would make my chest burst, but it remained trapped inside of me. At the top of the stairs, surrounded by the same pink growth that I had seen in the hallway, was a giant eye.

It was so large that it took up the entirety of the second floor landing. Its iris was black, and blood-red veins stretched across its milky surface. It rolled around wildly as if it was in the throws of madness.

I involuntarily took a step back. As I did so, the eye swung downward in its fleshy socket so that it was staring directly at me. Its gaze was so intense that it locked me in place. I felt so small, so weak as it examined me intently.

Something began to drip from the eye’s iris. At first I thought that it was some sort of fluid. When one of the drops pushed itself up off the floor on thin spindly legs, however, I knew that wasn’t the case. Small creatures were falling from inside the eye. Each looked vaguely like a centipede with wispy tentacle-like appendages extending from their black-shelled bodies. They swarmed down the stairs towards me.

The eye’s spell was broken. I hurried towards the long corridor that contained my sister and parents’ bedrooms. The creatures began to make chittering noises as they reached the bottom of the stairs and skittered after me. I made it into the hallway and struggled to close the heavy wooden door that separated it from the entryway. I barely managed to get it shut in time. The creatures continued to make odd sounds on the other side of the door, but they made no attempt to break through.

Everything that I had been through collapsed in on me, and I started to cry. I was still a kid, after all, and no kid is prepared to go through something so horrific. Hell, most adults aren’t, either. I slumped down to the floor and held myself as my sobs robbed me of my breath.

It took some time, but I eventually got control of myself. I wiped the tears from my eyes and stood back up, feeling more exhausted than I ever had. I still needed to find my family.

This hallway looked the same as it always did. I wondered if whatever had taken over the rest of the house hadn’t reached here yet. Whatever the case, I was just glad that I was safe for the moment. My parents’ room was the closest, so I hurried over to the door and opened it.

There are two images that will always be burned into my memory. No matter how many years pass, I can always see them in perfect clarity. They’ll be with me until I die. This was the first of those images.

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The bedroom was bleeding. Thick blood was running down the walls and pouring off the ceiling like crimson waterfalls. The floor of the room was submerged in it, and it washed through the open door and out into the hallway as it covered my feet up to my ankles.

In the center of the room, sitting on his knees with the blood flowing down around him, was my father. He was dressed in his pajamas and robe. His hands were stretched out to his sides with the palms upward like he was holding two invisible objects. He was moaning, and his eyes were wide with fear.

Standing behind him was a figure in a black robe. Its body was completely covered, and a ragged hood made it impossible to see its face. Paying no attention to me, the figure reached out its right arm. The robe slid away from the fingers slightly, and I saw that they weren’t fingers at all and were instead three delicate needles.

Slowly, the needles pushed into and through the skin of my father’s neck. My father gasped but remained still. The figure tugged the needles back, and a small sliver of skin peeled away from the neck while still remaining attached by a tiny flap. Using both hands, it pulled on the sliver over and over again.

The skin began to unravel from my father’s body. I don’t know of a better way to put it. It came off like a pulled string unwinding a ball of yarn. My father didn’t move, but the look in his eyes and the few sounds that escaped from his open mouth conveyed the immense pain that he was feeling.

When roughly half the skin had been removed from his face, he finally saw me standing in the doorway. He tried to speak, but no sound came out. I got the message, though. I could see it in his eyes just as much as I could read it on his lips.

Go.

I did as I was told. I slammed the door shut and quickly backed away from it. I was a scared child. What could I have possibly done to save him?

Logically, I know the answer to that is nothing. That thing that was killing him ever-so-slowly couldn’t be stopped by a mere twelve-year-old boy.

That’s the logical answer. Logic isn’t much comfort on the nights that I lie awake in bed remembering how I left him to die alone.

Directly across the hallway was the door to my sister’s bedroom. I stared at it without making a move towards it, my shirt and sweatpants soaked with water, sweat, and blood. I didn’t want to go inside. Something bad was waiting for me in her bedroom. I was sure of it. It was something that I had been feeling since I left my own room but hadn’t been able to focus on because of everything that had happened.

I don’t know if I believe the stories about twins having some sort of psychic connection. As one myself, I was never able to finish my sister’s sentences or know what she was thinking. I didn’t know when she was in distress or hurt when I wasn’t around. Maybe some twins have that kind of connection. We didn’t.

What I do know is that there’s a kind of bond that I’ve never had with another person. I didn’t even realize that bond existed, not consciously, until that night. The only reason I noticed it then was because it was gone.

My sister was dead. I couldn’t explain how I knew that, but I did.

I refused to believe what I knew, however. I felt this deep need to prove myself wrong, to show myself that she was alive and well. Putting aside all my other feelings, I clung to that stubborn need to not accept the truth and marched over to her bedroom door. I hesitated for just a heartbeat before I opened it.

I couldn’t enter the room. A few feet inside of the doorway was a translucent red substance that filled the entire chamber from floor to ceiling. My first thought was that the room had been filled with some sort of liquid, but it didn’t drain out through the now-open door. It instead remained still.

While it wasn’t completely transparent, it was clear enough that I could see my sister suspended inside of the substance. She was floating just above her bed, her arms and legs stretched out to the sides. Her eyes were open and staring off into nothingness.

That is the second image that I will never forget.

I couldn’t look away. I tried, but my eyes remained locked on her. Even when her limbs began to slowly separate from her body and move off in opposite directions, I just kept watching. It wasn’t until after the pieces had broken apart and completely dissolved that I closed the door and stepped away from it in a daze.

There was one more door in this part of the house. It was at the far end of the hallway. I turned my head towards it. It led to my mother’s study.

I started to walk towards it. It wasn’t a conscious decision that I made. I think I put one foot in front of the other out of a need to put some distance between me and the bedrooms. I didn’t want to be anywhere near them, and it would be some time before I was willing to really examine what I had lost.

I had reached the halfway point when I heard a noise behind me. I turned and found that the door leading into the entryway had been opened. Stepping into the hallway was something that I couldn’t comprehend.

I need you to understand what I mean by that. When I say that I couldn’t comprehend it, I’m not saying that it was frightening or that I wasn’t sure what I was looking at. I mean that it was impossible for my mind, or the human mind in general, to process and understand the being that was in front of me.

It was large enough to fill the world, but at the same time small enough to interact with the tiniest of particles. It had both presence and the absence of existence. The entirety of the being was a contradiction that somehow created harmony.

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Out of everything that I had seen that night or ever would in my life, this being terrified me the most. It was like I had known on a primal level that it existed my entire life. This was Death, and I was nothing before it.

It didn’t make a move towards me. I couldn’t even be sure that it was paying attention to me. Why would it? A single mortal life wasn’t worth the attention of the end of all things.

Not sure what else to do, I continued towards my mother’s study. After every few steps I would look back over my shoulder, but the cosmic entity remained still. I reached the door and hurried inside.

The study was large, one of the largest rooms in the house. Bookcases lined the walls, and display cases containing rare items were scattered throughout. In the center of the room was a wide oak desk.

Sitting in a tall leather chair behind the desk was my mother. Her long hair was disheveled, and she looked older than I had ever seen her. She didn’t look up as I approached. Instead, her eyes remained locked on the object she was holding.

The Fatum Machina.

It was operating. There was a white glow coming from inside of the skull’s eye sockets, and I could hear the whirring of gears inside of the machinery. I could feel a pulsating pressure emanating from it.

My mother looked up at me and our eyes locked. It was in that moment that I understood that she had done this. It was her fault that my father and sister were dead. I also knew that, while she hadn’t wanted them to die, she also didn’t regret the decisions that she had made to bring us to this point.

The manifestation of Death entered the study behind me. I didn’t turn around to look. It wasn’t there for me.

It went around the desk and seemed to regard my mother closely. She hadn’t moved an inch, and she didn’t even flinch when it reached out and touched her on the forehead. She gasped but otherwise didn’t respond.

It could have ended her right there. There would have been no effort needed to snuff out a single candle when it was used to extinguishing entire stars. It chose not to, however. It simply tapped her lightly on the head.

With that done, it turned and flipped a lever on the Fatum Machina. The glow faded from the device’s eyes and the whirring of the machine stopped. The Death manifestation disappeared, and the world inside of the house returned to normal. The night of horrors was over, and all that was left for me was a lifetime of unforgotten trauma.

The bodies of my father and sister were never recovered. They disappeared along with everything else. They are still officially declared missing by the authorities. Most people believe that my father simply took my sister and left with her.

Until recently, my mother had been living in a mental hospital. Death’s touch hadn’t killed her, but the touch of such a being isn’t meant to be experienced by a human. It drove her mad. She spent the remainder of her days ranting and raving in a private room, locked away from the rest of the world. It was a strangely fitting fate given that she caused everything because she searched for something to set her apart from everyone else.

I haven’t been able to forget what happened. God knows that I’ve tried. No matter how many bottles of alcohol I drink or syringes of questionable drugs I inject into myself, the memories remain. I lost everything that mattered in a single night in the worst way imaginable. There’s nothing that can comfort someone when they’ve witnessed something like that.

A month ago, my mother died. It wasn’t peaceful. The doctors told me that she choked on her own tongue during one of her fits. I can’t pretend that I was upset about it.

Everything that she had and owned became mine. The house that’s fallen into a state of disrepair, the various properties that she had purchased over the years, stacks of boxes filled with trinkets and heirlooms… everything. Those boxes include a small black one containing an old skull with clockwork-like machinery attached to it.

So, that’s what you folks are bidding on this evening. The Fatum Machina, the key to unlocking universes beyond imagination and realms pulled straight from the depths of nightmares. I can’t say for sure which you’ll unlock, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that, one way or another, it will change your life. Just be prepared for the possibility that something may come through to you instead of you going to it.

I also have a second item available to the person who wins this item. Sealed inside of this envelope is the exact configuration that my mother used the night that she unknowingly sentenced my family to death. It is for sale to the auction winner for five million dollars.

I know that’s a steep price. I also know what you’re thinking to yourself right now. Given the staggeringly high number of possible configurations, it’s almost impossible that you’ll stumble across the same combination that my mother did. Why pay so much money when you can take such a microscopic risk instead?

That’s not the right question to be asking yourself, though. What you should be asking yourself instead is what you would give to keep Hell off your doorstep. Answer that question, and then we’ll talk.

Let’s get the auction started. I’m going to pass things back to Mr. Pembrook, your auctioneer this evening. Good luck to you all, and you can’t say that I didn’t warn you.

Credit: Tim Sprague

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