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The Clockwork Man by Zachary A. Pieper

by Caitlyn Noelle 4 months ago in Horror

A Short Story

"It's working doctor. The cogs are moving blood through the reservoir, just like a water wheel."

"Splendid. Stitch the man up, it wouldn't do to wake up to a hole in one's chest."

"Okay. But I really think I oughta say again how."

"Rubert, I have had enough of your small-minded objections, stitch the man up, or I shall find an assistant who will."

"Yes, Doctor Ebert." I said in resignation, but I promptly mumbled "not that anyone else would do this devil's work." If the doc heard me, he ignored me. So I went about stitching the poor soul up, while silently begging for God's forgiveness. The doc and I found this man on the side of the road when we were riding into town two days ago. Some outlaw went and gave 'em a bullet, for what we did not know. His heart stopped shortly after we started looking at him, there was no saving him by conventional means. But Doc said he had a device at his lab that might be ready. He said we might be able to save him. Next thing I know, I'm breaking ribs so the doc can install what he calls a 'clockwork heart.'

I still don't know much about the doc, he rolled into town on his wagon a few months ago. Bought the old general store and turned it into a medical clinic. One day I came in to have a weird rash looked at, and I made the mistake of asking about the help wanted sign in the window. Been doin' Devil's work ever since.

Now don't take me wrong, Doc is a fine sort, it's just the things he's doing in this lab….they just ain't natural.

I finished setting bones and stitching, and the doc came back in with bandages and this miracle ointment he uses for damn near everything under the sun. Cleared my rash in all but an instant that's for damn sure. Doc won't tell me what's in it, he's worried I'll steal the recipe.

We set to bandaging the man, and not just his chest, but the new mechanical arm Doc gave him. Nothing wrong with his old left arm, but Doc said that some of the machinery for the heart wouldn't fit in the chest. Had to put in the heart and run wires and tubes and such down into other stuff in the arm. Hell of a deal, a devil's deal. I've never been much of a man of God, but the experiments the doc does… I remember one time we found a dead coyote outside of Tombstone on our way back to the lab. It had been dead so long it stank. But when we got back, the doc ran a bunch of tubes into it, filled with liquids of various colors and consistencies, he gave that thing a clockwork heart, too. I thought he was batshit crazy, but after about an hour of being on the lab table, that damn coyote woke up. It immediately went crazy and started trying to get loose. When it tore out a few of the tubes, it almost immediately went still again. Now we had a man on the table, no tubes full of gunk, but he's got that damn heart in his chest. And who knew what he would do when he came to. It didn't take long after the bandages were all on before the man started coming to. First, his eyes started flittering, then he groaned like he was aching real bad.

"Quick, some water," the doc said. I hurried over and got a canteen full of distilled water from the workbench. Doc put it to the man's lips and gently poured, "This is water, you need to drink, you lost a lot of blood. That's it my friend, good, good." The doc said. He helped the man take small sips for over two minutes before he handed me the canteen.

"Where am I?" The man croaked. He was starting to twitch and flex his muscles. The man was tall, tan, and built like a rail-splitter. I hoped he would stay calm. Cause if he lost his top, neither I nor the doc was gonna be able to stop him.

"You are in my clinic, in a small town called Anglis, we're a few hours ride north of Tombstone. Do you remember how you got here?"

"Nah," The man says gradually coming to.

"My assistant and I found you on the road, you had been shot in the heart. We brought you back here and saved your life. Do you remember anything? Your name? Where you are from?"

"Names Thomas Thatch, I mine silver down in Tombstone, I…I don't remember how I got this far north…"

"That's fine Mr. Thatch, just relax, you might still be foggy for a while longer, you were after all. Dead for quite some time." That seemed to get Thomas' attention. He immediately looked concerned and confused.

"Whatcha mean I was dead? That don't make no sense," He protested.

"In the medical profession, when a patient's heart has stopped, we say they are technically dead until their heart restarts Mr. Thatch." Thomas was getting agitated; he broke out in a sweat.

"Doc Ebert, I think something's wrong." I noticed Thomas's muscles began flexing and twitching randomly. The gears and hydraulic cylinders in the arm began working, some of them made a hissing sound, like a startled rattler. Others made a whirring sound like a child's pinwheel goin' a mile a minute in the wind. The man noticed the noise and looked down, when he saw his arm, he looked like he had seen the devil himself.

"Nonsense Rubert, our friend is just…" The doc began.

"What the hell y'all done to me!?" The man shouted, cutting Doc off.

"Doc!" I said with urgent concern, but either to his credit or because the man is actually out of his goddamn mind, the doc remained calm and unaffected.

"Mr. Thatch, I understand you may be feeling agitated and panicked. I assure you that is merely a side effect of the procedure. If you calm down, I will explain everything,"

"Like hell! You've turned me into some kind of freak? You some kind of circus man? You adding me to your freakshow?!"

"Mr. Thatch don't be ridiculous, I only wish to help…"

"Like hell! Get out of my way!" Thomas burst up from the table, and with a sweep of that mechanical arm, he swatted the doc aside like a fly. Some might call me a coward, I like to think I just have good sense. I got the hell outta the way. Thomas looked around and ran for the door, out in the storefront I heard him rummaging around. No doubt looking for some clothes. I went to check on the doc and help him up. By the time we made it out of the back room where we operate, Thomas was gone.

"Listen here Rubert…" the doc said turning to me, "Until his injuries fully heal he is a danger to himself and others, we have to get him back. I'm going to mix up a sedative, go get the labor suits." I nodded and ran for another back room, which had a trap door leading to the cellar. It's where Doc kept all the really strange and valuable stuff, like the labor suits. Digging graves and wrestling wild animals is hard and dangerous. So the Doc made us suits that wrap around our real limbs and make us stronger. Just looking at 'em, it looks like a mess of random gears and wires, with a few cylinders and vials of green and purple liquid placed randomly for good measure. But when you put em on, you can do some mighty unbelievable things. One time Doc needed a bear for an experiment. We didn't take guns, we just wore the suits. Poor bear never stood a chance.

By the time I haul the heavy sons a' bitches out of the cellar, Doc is yelling at me to hurry up cause he's got the sedative mixed up. He designed his own gun to shoot vials of the stuff. It's darn neat. I'm helping the doc into his labor suit when the local sheriff runs into the clinic.

"Doc Ebert I thought I told you no more of this crazy horse shit in my town! I got a half-naked sombitch with an arm that looks like the inside of a watch out here raising hell! Now you tell me what the blazes is going on!"

"You remember the dead man we wheeled into town two days ago sheriff?" Doc says.

"What about him?" Sheriff says, the doc just stares at the sheriff with a slightly raised eyebrow.

"Ahh hell," the sheriff mumbled kneading his brow. "You really fucked up this time Doc, the townspeople catch wind of this, we'll have a lynching on our hands, they find out some English man is going raising the dead. This will not blow over well."

"Then I suppose discretion is in everyone's best interest sheriff." The doc replies.

"When this is sorted out," sheriff points a stern finger at the doc. "I want you out of my town, for good."

"Sheriff I own land here you cannot simply…"

"Then sell it goddamn it!" The sheriff said storming out. Me and the doc traded a worried glance as we helped each other into the suits. "You hear all that commotion?" I asked, "I am afraid I most certainly do Rubert."

We finally got suited and went outside to try to round this feller up. The sheriff was standing outside, along with a small posse that had formed from angry townsfolk. They had Thomas surrounded, my eyes shot over to a nearby storefront that was all smashed up. Wager that was Thomas. Two of the sheriff's boys were on horseback. Another three had him surrounded, all keeping their distance. Everyone was shouting, yelling at the top of their lungs. The doc told me to tell the posse to get clear so he had a clear shot. But when I approached, Thomas saw me, and he didn't like what he saw.

It was like someone poured oil on an already almost out-of-control fire. The situation went from bad to worse in an instant. Soon as he saw me, he bolted for the nearest member of the posse, hit him so hard with that clockwork arm it's amazing the unlucky bastard lived. The rest of the posse tried to draw on him and put him down, but he was moving so damn fast no one could aim before Thomas got 'em. Boy was moving like the devil himself was nipping at his heels. You'd think Doc gave him two new legs if you'da seen it.

One of the horses panicked and reared, Thomas, ran up and punched it knocking it all the way over onto its back crushing its rider, he took a hoof to the face for his trouble, but if he noticed, I couldn't tell. Doc watched with serious but detached interest like this was one of his experiments. I almost wonder if he was even trying to get a shot for the first few moments. But finally, Doc took a shot here and there. Sadly doc wasn't much of a shot to put it kindly. Missed by a mile if he missed at all. Before anyone knew what the hell happened, Thomas fought his way clear and ran off between two nearby buildings.

Me and the doc went to help the guys unlucky enough to take a hit. We spent the next hour setting a man's jaw, splinting an arm, and handing out pain meds. Once everyone was treated Sheriff pulled me and the doc aside.

"Just what the hell did you do to that boy?"

"His heart was destroyed by a gunshot, so I gave him an artificial one. Clearly, it has had some…unforeseen side effects."

"Doc I am sick and tired of your wise ass fancy talk. What you gone and done is created a monster. And me and the boys are gonna track him down and put him down. And when we do, your gonna leave him dead ya hear?"

"Sheriff, I understand you, you're upset, and justly so, but please be reasonable. This man is recovering from death, he is experiencing a surge in adrenaline due to his new heart, which I take full responsibility for. He is not to blame, we must approach this situation wi…"

"Doc if you say, compassion, or empathy, or some other lily-livered horse shit, I will shoot you."

Doc obviously shut up, and the sheriff turned around to round up a posse and hunt down Thomas.


"yes, Doc?"

"Bring the wagon around."

I did as the doc asked, and we wasted no time. My Pa taught me a thing or two about tracking game, so I applied what skills I had and was able to pick up Thomas's foot trail. He rabbited out of town, dodging between buildings before running off towards Mt Glenn. "Why would he run away from Tombstone?" I wondered aloud.

"He is not thinking clearly, he may be totally unaware of where he is going frankly."

Being that we were on a wagon and Thomas was on foot, it did not take us long to catch up. "We must hurry, if the Sheriff arrives before we subdue him, they will surely kill him." I nodded in acknowledgment, when I saw Doc reach for his gun I grabbed it out of his hands. "You steer, you can't shoot for shit,"

"You know I do not care for coarse language Rubert," He said, but he traded me the gun for the reigns as he did. I had to ask about a few of the functions of the damn thing, but it wasn't too much different from Pa's old Hall breach loader, Doc confirmed he used one as the base for his gun.

"You're sounding like a whiny limey again, Doc," I said taking aim.

"I will have you know I never had the pleasure of serving in the royal navy,"

"You prefer the term Dandy then?"

"Bloody insufferable yanks," I heard Doc Ebert mutter. I lined up the shot, and waited for us to get in range, I ain't no sharpshooter, if it's out past hundred yards. I usually miss. "If we get any closer, he will notice us," Doc protested.

"No one is hitting the target at this range Doc," I saw him scowl in the corner of my eye, but he flicked the reigns and we sped up. It was about this time I heard the sheriff's posse off in the distance. "Damn," I said.

"Do not give up Rubert, if we can subdue him before they catch him, I am sure they will let him live. The Sheriff is a hard man, but he wouldn't murder someone in cold blood," I tilted my head to the side and said "hope your right Doc," as I took aim again. The sheriff was gaining quick, faster than we was gaining on Thomas. It was looking like this was gonna be a damn close shave.

I had a shot lined up. I was about to squeeze the trigger, when we hit a rock about the size of my head. "Goddammit, Doc!" I screamed in surprise.

"Sorry!" He said in his stupid limey accent.

I lined up my shot again, but it was too late. The sheriff's boys caught up to us and surrounded the wagon.

"Turn 'round Doc, this is outta your hands now." The sheriff shouted over the noise of the posse's charge. We were getting awful close now, Thomas was surely going to notice us any second if he hadn't already.

"Sheriff please, if we can just shoot him with this sedative, he'll be down and harmless. No one needs to die today!" Doc pleaded. I don't know if it was the desperation in Doc's voice, or if Sheriff was more reluctant to kill a man than I thought. But, "you got five minutes to hit yer mark," were Sheriff's next words. He signaled the posse to fall back, and they gave us some breathing room.

"Quick Rubert, take the shot!"

"Don't rush me!" I shouted in reply as I lined up again. I looked down the barrel, and wouldn't ya know it, but that's when Thomas turned his head over his shoulder and spotted us.

Now a sane man, a smart man, likely woulda started ziggin' an' zaggin' and what not to try to avoid getting hit. Maybe find a rock or a ditch and hide.

Thomas turned and charged straight at us.

"Bloody yanks," I heard Doc whisper in disbelieving shock. I could hardly believe what I was seeing, but one thing was nice about Thomas's course of action. Made for an easy shot I tell ya what. The gunshot rang out like a thunder crack. A silver-gray smoke rose from the rifle obscuring my view. When I waved it away, I caught the tail end of Thomas falling on his face. Doc pulled the reigns and barely got the horses stopped before we trampled the man. The sheriff ran up a few short seconds later.

"Well, I'll be damned, ya pulled it off. Rope! Tie this crazy asshole up. Doc, can you do something about that arm? Make it so he can't move it."


"Well, what are ya waiting for?"

"I need the tools in my laboratory."

Sheriff did not look amused as he kneaded his brow, "Fine let's make tracks, boys, toss the bastard in Doc's wagon." They picked Thomas up and tossed him in the wagon with all the care you give a bag of sand. We wasted no time turning around and hauling ass back into town.

The situation in town was a whole lot worse than when we left. An angry mob had formed outside of the clinic, if we hadn't had the sheriff with us, they might have strung me and Doc up right there. They were shouting all kinds of awful things, calling us madmen, devil worshippers, all the things scared townies yell at people they wanna string up. Sheriff pulled his pistol and fired once into the air to get everyone's attention.

"Y'all shut yer mouths and listen. Me and the doc have come to an understanding, I told him this town is sick of his crazy experiments, and he graciously agreed to pack up and leave town, now y'all get outta here and leave the man in peace, this don't concern y'all." That seemed to calm the mob a bit, but they didn't immediately disperse, the sheriff fired another shot. "Get!" he shouted, and folks, having some degree of common sense, cleared out.

"Sheriff I told you I…" Doc began.

The sheriff walked his horse over closer to the wagon and leaned into the doc close as he could without falling out the saddle. And in a harsh cold tone, barely above a whisper Sheriff said: "If yer still here in twenty-four hours, I'll come with a warrant, and string ya up myself." He leaned back into his saddle and wasted no time turning around and riding off. His posse followed him with smug smirks and taunting remarks. "Safe travels Doc," being the most polite of the bunch.

Me and Doc both shook our heads but wasted no time getting Thomas into the lab. Damn mob came inside and tore it up. Not one shelf was left standing, Doc's books, and medical supplies were all over the damn place. After we scoured the lab for the tools we needed, Doc disabled his arm and gave him another heavy shot of sedative. "It ain't right, running ya outta town like this. After all the folks you've helped."

The Doc shrugged as he carefully went about disconnecting wires and removing cogs. "This is not the first time this has happened, I imagine it won't be the last." He said, and suddenly I thought I had a theory about why he left his own country.

I spent the next ten or so hours helping Doc clean up, and load his life's work into the wagon, and put the canvas on. Towards the tail end of the work, Doc approached me, "Rubert, it has been a unique, and mostly enjoyable experience knowing you. I haven't time to sell the clinic, and I know not where I will end up. Here," Doc handed me the keys and the deed. "Please keep the money from the sale, and use it to start a new life somewhere."

I could hardly believe it, me and Doc were on good terms, but this kind of gesture was not something I would have expected. "Doc, I can't keep the money for the clinic! That's more than I'd earn in a year workin' for ya."

"Do you remember when we went bear hunting and it almost ripped your head off?"

"Well, yea but I don't…"

"Do you remember when we exhumed Mr. Erlackier's corpse and I made you do all the digging?"

"Well, the labor suit made that really easy…"

"Do you remember when I made you sift through Miss's Smiths dogs' feces because it swallowed her wedding band?"

"Please don't remind me Doc, when I think about it the smell comes back."

Doc smiled and placed a hand on my shoulder, holding the items out to me. "You've earned it Rubert." I thought about it for a second, and it was hard to argue with that kinda logic. And Pa always said never look a gift horse in the mouth. So I shut my trap, shook Doc's hand, and took the deed.

Not long after we had Doc all loaded up and ready to go. The sun was setting, and even though things basically worked out okay, it still left a sour taste in my mouth. We stepped out front and walked to the wagon, Doc turned to me and shook my hand. "Thank you for your services Rubert, and if I may be so bold, your friendship." I'm not usually one for sentiment, but that bit got to me.

"Ah hell Doc," I said and pulled him into a hug.

"You damn yanks and your constant impropriety," he said, but he hugged me back with a chuckle.

We parted and I grabbed his shoulder for emphasis, "Now you stay out of trouble ya limey git." I said in my best impersonation of his accent. To my surprise, that got me a solid belly laugh, I can count the times I made Doc laugh on one hand.

"I shall try friend, I hope someday we meet again."

"Same here Doc," and without further ado, he climbed onto the wagon bench, checked Thomas's restraints, and rode south out of town. He said his plan was to try to get Thomas back where he belonged. I never got word if Thomas made it back home, or what became of the doc.

The townsfolk were all too eager to see me gone too, so someone gave me the asking price for the clinic. I decided I'd had enough of Arizona, or as I lovingly call it 'gods ashtray,' and I headed north.

It's been ten years since I last saw the doc. And I'm writing this story, and sending it to papers all over our great nation in hopes I can find him. Doctor Ebert Addington; if you see this, It's me, your old lab assistant Rubert Pieper. My son is real sick, and the local doc can't fix him. I'm in Dodge City Kansas. And if you know the Doc, please share this story with him, I'm not sure how long my son has.

God Bless y'all.


Caitlyn Noelle

I am a ghost writer of sixteen years, turned author. Now doing my best to help other learn how to uninterrupt their own creativity, in order to make themselves more compelling storytellers, by sharing formulas, motivation, and stories.

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