The Beauty of Machinery
By Hayden Seay
Crisp air soared over the bay’s
turquoise waters. Standing on a cliff’s edge, I watched sailboats float by.
Fishers on small boats taught their kids how to catch bream. On another
peninsula across the bay, a young couple strolled along the shoreline.
Everything felt right on this perfect November day. I thought about everything:
Life, love, the incredible breeze. I reflected on my past, and daydreamed about
what the future might hold. As shadows grew and the horizon swallowed the sun,
my soul felt cleansed. My mind pressured me to stay as the day faded away, my
conscience gliding across the rippled bay to a happier place.
The sudden roar of a boat snapped
mind back to reality. My friends are
waiting for me, I thought. Stepping away from the cliff, a brisk walk led
me off the beaten path to an almost hidden treasure: A tiny beach. Carefully
stepping down the hill, I heard the cheerful laughs of my friends and smelled
the sweet smoke of a fire. I crouched to avoid branches and measured my steps
on labyrinthine roots. Emerging from the forest, my gaze settled on an island
across the bay. The arrowhead-shaped isle contained the ruins of old homes, and
I wondered about the folk who used to live there. As I pondered, I noticed a
figure moving across the island’s shore: It seemed… Cold and inhuman, yet
“Dan, you finally made it!”
“You were daydreaming at the
again, weren’t you?” Holly teased.
“I couldn’t help myself,
y’all know I
love this place,” I laughed.
nothing, man. There’s all kinds of weirdos up this way, and the island always
looks creepy. Put the two together and you’ve got a recipe for freaking out
over absolutely nothing.
Sitting down on a log, I grabbed a
cheap beer. I cracked the can open and chugged.
“Whoa, we’ve only got
twenty of those
for the three of us, so slow down a bit,” Mark said.
“I’m sorry, I needed that,”
“Are you alright?” Holly
never drink like that.”
“I’m just fine, don’t
worry,” I lied,
still thinking about the figure.
“Hey, remember the last time
here?” Mark butted in. “It must’ve been July, and we had more people here, but
we told some spooky-ass stories around this same spot. Let’s do that again.”
“Hell, why not?” I said.
Anything to take my mind off of what I saw.
Across the bay, layers of yellow,
orange, and blue illuminated the horizon. As Holly told her story about a
sunken house, boats raced to the shore before darkness enveloped the bay. Those
same guys, who know the ins-and-outs of the Tennessee River by heart, say if
you dawdle on the bay too long after dark, a ghostly house will appear on the
shore. While waiting in your boat, you start hearing things. Maybe your mom
calls you for supper, or your long-departed ancestors want to meet you. So, you
dock on the shore and stumble up the house’s rickety stairs to meet your doom.
“Holly, you’ve told this
million times,” Mark said. “It’s good, but we need something a bit more scary.”
“Let’s hear what you have
Holly replied while opening another beer. “I live for terrifying stories.”
“Yeah, I want something that’ll
me cry myself to sleep later tonight,” I said. Why do I say these things?
“Alright, we love this park
but it has a tragic past,” Mark started. “Years and years ago, there was a
researcher in Chattanooga who got sick and tired of getting covered in ticks
when he came up this way. Normally, you’d just deal with these things. Bug
spray, permethrin, or whatever. This guy? The neurotic bastard reached out to
the park rangers and spun a beautiful web of lies and pitched an idea: How
about I build a robot to help take care of wolves and shit?”
robot? My mind replayed the image of the figure on the island. Every
movement looked unnatural, yet fascinating. I’ve watched countless drunks
stumble around, but none ever seemed as strange as this.
“So, the head ranger brings
it up with
the right people, and the bigwigs thought it would be worth a try, saying ‘What
could go wrong?’” Mark continued while the fire crackled. “The researcher
started his work, and he eventually ended up with this sleek robot with a
carbon steel blade he forged himself. Apparently it was a gorgeous machine with
hues of black and silver, built too far ahead of its time. After hauling it up,
he offered to do some kind of demonstration for the rangers and park visitors.
Before he could even flip a switch… Fourteen people died in less than 30
seconds, the inventor included. Within hours, the Feds locked everything down.”
“Holy hell,” Holly muttered.
happened to the robot?”
“No one really knows if this
happened, but my grandpa told me this story numerous times. He always
emphasized how alluring the robot was.”
The moon hung high above the bay,
illuminating its cold waters. A gentle, chilly breeze rolled over the beach.
Branches swayed and leaves swirled as they danced into the darkness. All of us
sat silently, sipping our drinks and reflecting on Mark’s tale. If it really
happened, surely the tiniest of
inklings of information would have escaped to the outside world?
“I’ve never told anyone,”
“But I saw the robot, on the other side of the park.”
“No way,” Holly said with
“Yeah, it’s been a few
years, but I
could’ve sworn I caught a glimpse of the thing watching me during a late-night
hike. I walked up the big hill about a mile away, but I kept feeling like
looking over my shoulder. It’s like those urges you get from time-to-time. You
just have to do it.”
“But you shouldn’t give
in to such
whims,” I interrupted.
“Well, I did. When I stopped
looked, I saw the machine for a second,” Mark said. “Its movements were creepy,
but the steel looked so beautiful in the moonlight.”
“Did you ever tell your grandpa?”
“I never said a word, but I
should go on a little hunt tonight.”
“Forget about it, let’s
enjoy the night,” I said.
“You’re such a wimp, Dan,”
laughed. “You wanted a scary story, so let’s take a walk.”
From the beach, the trail snaked
around the bay’s rugged shoreline. The rocky path gave way to softer ground
layered with pine cones and needles. The waves on the bay intensified as the
moon ascended. The icy gusts chilled our inebriated bodies and souls. An
unspoken tension choked us from our usual banter. Armed with only three
200-lumen flashlights, our trash, and whatever we might have in our backpacks,
we pushed deeper into the woods.
“We’ve got a few minutes
or so before
we reach the spot,” Mark slurred. “I doubt we’ll see anything, but we should be
ready to bolt if anything terrifying happens.”
“So, how do we ‘bolt’
from a robot
with a penchant for killing?” Holly asked.
“I’m with Holly, if we
see this damned
thing, we’re fucked,” I said.
“Do y’all hear that?”
the sounds of a rusted robot moving. “It’s really coming for us.”
“Mark, stop right now,”
The two started bickering, and I
delved into the deepest corners of my mind. Happy
things, Dan. I closed my eyes and felt the sweet breeze again. All the
angry words and shrill voices transformed into the sounds of ring-billed gulls
squawking, wood burning, leaves crunching, branches snapping, and rusty metal
creaking. My eyes opened and I checked my surroundings. I saw trees, bushes,
and Mark groaning on the ground while Holly kicked dirt at his face.
“Holly, we’ve got to go,”
“While y’all fought, I heard something metallic moving.”
“I’m not done with him
yet, I can’t
believe we let him drag us out here,” Holly retorted.
“It’s real, and it’s
coming for us,” I
screamed. “I hear the metal in the grass, the trees, it’s all around us!”
“Are you for real?” Holly
“Just run with me, we need to
We started running away while Mark
struggled to pull himself off the ground. Realizing he wasn’t following us, I
shined my flashlight towards where we left him. Covered in dust and debris, he
stood still with a smile on his face.
With less than two miles left, the
trail flattened. Although muddy in the winter and spring, the dry ground
provided an easy escape from the park. We’ll reach the exit, leave this hell,
and never return.
“Dan, did we do the right thing?”
Holly asked. “Leaving Mark behind?”
“I’m not sure beating
him up was
right, but neither of us need to deal with any of this,” I replied. “I just
don’t understand why he brought us out here.”
“It’s just a sick game,
there’s no way
something like that could’ve happened.”
“I saw something strange before I arrived at the bonfire,”
“What do you mean?”
“Before you guys noticed me,
the island across the bay for a moment. Something creeped along the shoreline,
almost like a robot.”
“Do you think Mark’s tale
“I don’t want to believe
it, but I
felt tempted by the figure.”
Everything felt wrong. We could’ve
just drank and left a bit after dark like we planned. But here we are, scared
out of our minds in the woods on this bitter night. Mark’s still out there.
Maybe he’s dead, or alive and still smiling. Holly and I ran away, scared for
our lives. A death machine lurched across the forest floor. After everything
that’s happened, I felt weak.
“I need to rest, Holly, just
moment,” I said, gasping for air. “I just can’t take anymore of this.”
“I’m scared too, Dan,”
she said. “But
we can take a moment to breathe.”
Both of us rested, sipping on water
and catching our breaths. My feet burned with fiery pain, so I trotted in a
circle until I bumped into something on the ground. Looking down, I discovered
a human skull. As I screamed, a song of infinite metal creaks emanated from the
forest. The pain felt unreal to my ears, unlike anything I’ve heard before.
Falling to the ground, I writhed as I begged for the noise to stop.
The noise dissipated, and I struggled to pull myself back
together. Frantically shining my light while stumbling to my feet, my gaze
settled on the glorious robot in a thicket. After all this terror, I felt…
respect. Sporting a sleek silver and black design, I admired its perfection.
Something so refined shouldn’t have existed back then. But the gorgeous machine
stood before us, in all its glory.
“Holly,” I uttered. “Look
beautiful it is.”
“We’ve been running from this robot, but I want to wrap my
arms around it,” she said while walking closer.
The robot staggered past us, going
back to where we left Mark. Feeling the urge to follow, I gave in and followed
in its path.
“We should go back to the beach,”
words spilled from my mouth with no resistance.
On the beach, we found Mark sitting
beside the rekindled fire.
“Welcome back,” he told
us. “I don’t
appreciate the mild beating, but I’m glad you guys came to your senses.”
“I drank a bit too much,”
“But I’m glad we’re back together.”
I felt at peace, everything unified
harmony once again.
We’re safe now.
Nothing can hurt us, anymore.
Gazing into the bay’s abyss,
the frigid metal embrace me.