Grimdark Magazine Battle-Off: The Mechanikals by John Dodds
The Mechanikals by John Dodds
The shadows lengthened, as though backlit by the big yellow moon riding low above the horizon. The hair on the back of Edwin’s neck stood on end as the owner of the closest shadow appeared: the small boy who had been haunting him. Upon seeing Edwin the boy gave a ghastly grin and stretched out an arm, and pointed in Edwin’s direction with an impossibly long finger.
More half-humans appeared, close upon their own shadows. Men and women, other children, their clothing either ragged and torn, or brand new, depending on their status. Rich or poor, well dressed or in rags, they all had one thing in common: sooty smudges where their eyes had once been. For long seconds The Mechanikals and the half-humans squared up to one another beneath the eerie moonlight. The creatures far outnumbered The Mechanikals. All of them stood with their arms by their sides, but swayed gently from side to side as though to the rhythms of some unheard music.
Edwin couldn’t take his eyes off the small boy. The boy gazed back in return, his mouth half open, his chest rising and falling gently as he breathed. His breath was visible, tiny puffs of black vapour, reminiscent of the trails of steam from a train’s smokestack in the distance. Edwin gave an involuntary whimper of fear; whatever the boy’s colleagues might do, the boy’s target was without doubt Edwin himself.
Before anyone could react to the presence of the unholy army, all Hell broke loose. A group of the creatures sprang at the corrugated iron wall of the nearmost warehouse. They skittered up it unpleasantly, hands and feet seeming to stick to the surface. A squadron of human-shaped spiders. They clambered onto the roof and scampered down it, crouching in a row along the guttering above the quayside.
Without hesitation, The Engineer ran towards them, firing his twin machine pistols at them. Two of them fell immediately, tumbling head over heel to crash into the solid concrete below. Heads and limbs broken, black blood began to seep from their corpses. The other two sprang apart, and a second group of ten or so, men and women both, joined them on the roof. They opened their mouths wide and shrieked in chorus. The sound was loud, but not unpleasant. Indeed it was a sequence of escalating chords, each creature taking one note in the harmonic structure, a musical whistle repeating three chords over and over, each in a higher key than the one before. Warehouse windows cracked and shattered inwards. A dull pressure in Edwin’s ears muffled the sound and increased until something popped. A spike of pain shot through his brain and he fell to his knees in agony.
Vulcania, wincing in pain herself, nevertheless threw out her arms and cast sprays of searing liquid at the singers. The sprays fell short, though, spilling uselessly on the ground but melting the remains of the fallen creatures.
The rest of the army sprang into action. Hundreds of them poured in waves through the alley between the warehouses.
The Architect ran to Vulcania’s side, looking about frantically, perhaps for something he could use as a weapon. The Draughtsman, who was beside Edwin, shouted and pointed to the pier, “Over there, Corin.” Following the indicated direction Edwin saw on the pier furthest away from them wooden drums of ropes and bundles of fishing nets. The Architect turned toward them, held his arms in the air as though in prayer and pulled his balled fists towards his chest. The rope drums tipped onto their sides and rolled chaotically this way and that down the pier. The fishing nets, too, took on a life of their own and unwrapped themselves from their bundles, and snaked along the ground, following the ropes, like animated carpets.
His trick came too late, it seemed. For just as the drums and living fishing nets hurtled toward them, a dark sea of bodies enveloped Vulcania and The Architect.
“No!” Edwin screamed and ran toward the writhing mass heedless of his own safety. He blinked and for an instant the world went black then white, the after image from a photographer’s flash. In that instant he saw through the mass of bodies to the white silhouettes of his fallen friends. The Architect still had his fists clenched and Vulcania held her forearms across her eyes. The creatures kicked and clawed at the two Mechanikals, just as much as in their fury they clawed at one another. It appeared that anything in their way was fair game.
The Engineer meanwhile fired volley after volley of gunfire at the rooftop assailants. Some of them leapt off into space, trying to land on top of him, but he shot off arms and exploded heads before they could do so.
A pair of young creatures, a boy and a girl no more than 10 years of age, had scampered around behind Edwin. The boy leapt onto Edwin’s shoulders, locking his legs around his neck, and toppling him painfully onto his back. And then, screaming, black smoke issuing from her jagged-toothed mouth and sightless eye sockets, pounced as well, clawing his face. She was trying to pluck out his eye....
...No, that wasn’t it at all. Because the claws on his face relaxed suddenly and the palms were placed over his eyes, quite calmly. Like a priest giving a blessing to a newborn baby.
The breath whuffed out of Edwin and he felt overpoweringly sleepy. As his eyes closed, though he saw the face of the girl as she had been before: a freckled cherub with bright red hair and a dazzling smile. A smile that Mr Asphyx and the Selkies had erased forever. A rush of emotion at the tragedy of it and Edwin all at once started to cry.