Bewildering Stories

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The Metal Man

by Eric S. Brown

Mark Lakson was not the type of man who frightened easily. He was the sheriff of the quiet little town of Knob Hill. He pretty much ran the town. Everyone looked up to him and came to him with their problems, and that was why he was in the mess he was now.

Of late, Knob Hill hadn’t been so quiet anymore. How could anyone be quiet after having seen what Professor Richard’s had done out at his barn? He had given life to the dead. Well, not the dead, so much as the unliving. He had made a man of metal that moved and plowed his garden for him. The “metal man” ran on steam and did the work of twenty men. It was the talk of the Knob Hill but until today, Mark had never laid eyes on it. It stood waiting above him in the ring.

Of course, Pastor Bryson was in an uproar over the thing and had been since Richard let it out of his barn for the first time. The pastor said that Richard was damned. No man had the right to play god and attempt to create life. He had went to see Richard with a group of his flock. They had been pretty much a lynch mob and had it not been for the “metal man’s” imposing figure and Richard’s loaded rifle that night, they might have hung the old professor. As it was, they had returned to town grumbling.

Not everyone agreed with Pastor Bryson though and Richard had his own crowd of supporters too. It seemed the town was tearing itself apart and Mark could not let that happen, not when it was his job keep the peace. He had called them both to his office to see if there was a way to settle their dispute in a peaceful manner. When the pastor told Mark what he had in mind, Mark had nearly laughed the liver-spotted reverend into the next county. But Sarah was there in the room and he knew she wouldn’t approve of him poking fun at her father no matter how crazy the man was. Pastor Bryson had brought her along as if to remind Mark of his ties to the church. It only took Sarah batting her eyes and pleading on her father’s behalf to force him into accepting. Richard’s didn’t like what the pastor put forth anymore than Mark did but he too was forced to agree. Mark regretted giving his word to Bryson now as he climbed up into the ring. The insides of his gloves slick with sweat despite all the powder he’d just dusted onto his hands. Around him the gathered crowd watched on and he could feel their eyes burning into his back.

Richard stood beside the “metal man” with a wrench, apparently tightening a bolt on the thing’s arm and loosening one here and there. He looked up as he saw Mark watching him. The thing was 6 feet tall and all hulking iron. It looked as if weighed eight hundred pounds. Large steam stacks, not smoke stacks, stretched upwards from its shoulders. On its face, it wore an eternal smile of triangular teeth.

Richard moved toward Mark and asked again. “You sure you want to do this Mark?”

“Too late to back out now if I did, Doc.” Mark grunted. “I know you can’t really control him; it don’t matter though. I just hope I don’t break him up too much.” Mark tried to chuckle.

Pale faced Richard left the ring looking back worriedly at Mark as the bell rang. Richard reached over the ropes and flipped a series of switches inside the thing’s back and slammed the panel that covered them shut. The thing rose taller or at least to Mark’s eyes it appeared to do so. The crowd went berserk with shouts as it lurched at Mark, lumbering slowly towards him.

Mark looked down at his gloves. Their outer layer had been lined with metal to make things more “fair.” No one had argued. Then Mark hurled himself forward and ran at the thing. His fist struck it in the torso dead on and a dull banging echoed beneath the roar of the crowd. Mark became a whirlwind of blows. He jabbed and jabbed, finally pulling his right arm back in a mighty arc and whammed it full force in its grinning teeth. As he backed off the crowd collectively held their breath watching for the machine to topple. But it just took another step forward.

Mark shook his head desperately thinking of something, anything he could do it. He had to do something. Suddenly the thing let out a huge blast of steam over its shoulders and its arm struck out at him. It moved like lightening but Mark was faster, almost. He managed to escape the brunt of the blow but even though it just glanced him he went flying across the ring to land against the opposite side’s ropes. He lay there for moment seeing lights and blackness both flickering. Blood trickled for a newly open gash on his brow. He heard Sarah calling out in concern.

He hauled himself up and ran full out at the thing again. He leapt at it swinging and caught it in mid-step. Both man and machine went down falling to the mat, a jumble of flesh and metal. Mark managed by the grace of God to stay on top on he would have been crushed beneath the thing’s mass. He unleashed all his pent up tension and rage in series of blows that sounded like Blacksmith gone mad as he sat astride it. The “metal man” rocked underneath him, rolling from side to side. Mark realized just like that, he’d won. The thing was betrayed by its own weight and could not get back to its feet. He leapt up as the crowd yelled and cheered, a wall of pounding noise. Mark was grinning knowing at last it was all over.

His eyes scanned the crowd and noticed pastor Bryson’s triumphant, smug face but as he looked to Richard, he saw the old professor yelling at him but couldn’t make out the words. The crowd had lost all control. That is when the “metal man” began really thrashing as its innards cooked and melted themselves as it shut down, but in its thrashing its feet lashed out in one last desperate attempt to right itself. Mark felt the foot go into his back. He stood there for a moment as the crowd’s excitement turned to a hush. A trickle of blood leaked from the edges of his mouth and then fell onto of his opponent.

If you visit Knob Hill today, you can see Mark Lakson’s grave. So fine and splendid of one it stands out among all the others in the graveyard and shines like new though the fight ended ten years ago. But if you look for Professor Richard’s tombstone, you will not find it. Pastor Bryson had him hung that famous day after Richard died and many others died with him to the church’s guns. Progress and God both lost, or so they say. As for the metal man, he was melted down and his body sold as scrap. Who knows what could happened for mankind and the world though, had Mark Lakson not died an early death that day.

Copyright © 2003 by Eric S. Brown

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