It was time to die.
She hadn’t had an idea in the longest while, and so it was definitely time to die.
Plus, the clock had stopped.
It used to tick, she knew that. And she knew it because she’d made it. She’d made a lot of things in her lifetime, too many to count. She even knew, somewhere in the back of her decaying mind, that she’d built something big once. Something so huge that it had taken its toll, and reduced her to the wisp of a memory of what she had once been.
For now, it was hard enough to recall the last thing she’d made, let alone the major thing.
Her wrinkled hand pressed against the cool window pane, as yellow with age as her skin, and her failing eyes squinted to see beyond the dirt. The beach outside used to be purple, not this vague grey mauve weak soup colour. The giant planet on the horizon once sparkled as it reflected the hollow sun back at her tiny lost moon.
They had forgotten it was here. They had forgotten she was here. And she had forgotten that they had forgotten. How she knew she had forgotten this, she’d forgotten.
She’d even forgotten her name.
It might have been Derek.
Somewhere out there, there was a reminder.
That was a new memory.
Or maybe it was an old one that had been mis-filed and handed back to her in a buff folder marked ‘melancholy and nostalgia’ by her mistaken brain clerics.
A tiny spark fizzled and spat for the briefest moment, ejaculating enough energy into a mental dynamo for it to be able to turn a cog with enough torque to break its rusting bonds. The cog clicked around once, moving its mate one notch, kicking the mechanism into life just long enough to shift an idea forward.
It presented itself to her mind with a deferent bow, uncertain that it even merited her attention.
She examined it, forgetting quite where it had come from, but interested in its form, intrigued by its presence, and invigorated by its self-conscious insistence.
It had the pleasing smell of a ‘good idea’.
Whatever that was.
The roar of a wave crashing on the beach bought her attention back to the real world, and she struggled to keep the ‘good idea’ in her mind, even as she looked around the little wooden hut, searching for something she searched for out of habit.
He was in the corner, covered in cobwebs.
His fur was matted and he had small patches of decay that exposed his metallic innards. White spots peppered that wilting fur. His eyes had long since perished.
And yet, he still seemed to look back at her.
She tried to remember how to form words with her mouth.
At first it was just a meaningless croak, before a few throat-clearing coughs unclogged her cords and she managed to speak.
If her ears were working properly, she would have heard a high-pitched whine, a crunch of gears, and several fans rising from their slumber. Forn’s head twitched once and stopped, and the fans picked up speed, making the cobwebs flop about his face and entangle themselves around his big upright ears.
She watched him do nothing for a moment, and then he thrust his rear end upwards, and his ageing servos began to straighten his front legs. He teetered uncertainly for a few seconds as his gyroscopes levelled out, and then with steady feet, he shook the dust away. A cloud of grey enveloped him, and she watched as he trotted forward emerging from the plume of dust like an oiled man at a wrestling event.
Forn approached her, cocked his head, and examined her without any eyes.
‘What happened to you?’ he asked.
‘Looks like you fell asleep in the bath for a month.’
‘We got old,’ she said.
‘I’ll make some tea.’
‘You’ve still got hooves.’
Forn looked down at his trotters.
‘You said you were going to do something about that.’
‘It slipped my mind.’
‘I need to go for a walk. Help me up.’
Forn dipped his head, and she used it to lever her creaking joints into the semblance of an upright stance, though she looked more like a question mark. It took a few unsteady steps to get going, and when she did, she walked with a speed that surprised her. Some life in the old legs yet, even if she was having to use Forn as a crutch.
‘I knew I made you for a reason,’ she said as they waddled towards the rotting wooden door.
‘Only useful thing you ever created.’
She harrumphed, and yanked at the door handle. The door didn’t open. It just disintegrated, leaving two rusting hinges and a small pile of brown dust at her feet. The wind from the ocean lifted it away, and sent it flying back into the hut.
‘That was your fault.’
‘Whatever,’ Form grunted as he helped her out onto the porch and teetered down two steps.
The warm, formerly purple sand pushed through her toes and the crisp morning air whipped a strand of her gray hair across her face. She had to squint against the breeze and the light spill from the planet.
She was on autopilot now, walking with Forn’s help along the beach, not knowing her destination, and having forgotten why she was on the journey in the first place. It was muscle memory that was driving her onwards, leaving footprints in the sand behind her. The rising tide soon erased those prints, and their course adjusted to avoid wet feet.
And then she stopped.
Forn was caught off guard, and trotted one step further on.
She lost her grip, felt dizzy, and let gravity drop her to the ground. In that moment, she was terrified that she would disintegrate just like the door, and it was only the soft sand that cushioned her fall.
Forn’s cold wet snout poked into her head, and she looked up to see the absence of eyes betraying his abundance of concern.
‘That was your fault.’
‘Perhaps you should have put some clothes on.’
‘Not like you can see anything.’
‘No, but it’s me that has to get the sand out of your cracks and crevices.’
‘So we’re here,’ she said, shutting the conversation down. ‘What now?’
‘You bought us here.’
‘I was following you.’
‘We were side by side.’
‘Your nose was out in front.’
‘I’ve got no eyes.’
‘I presumed you were smelling.’
‘Only one of us is smelling.’ Forn’s ears twitched as he listened to the ocean. ‘Which is weird, considering you’ve been in the bath for a month.’
‘We got old.’
‘I’ll make some tea.’
‘Stir it with your hooves will you?’
Forn looked down at his feet. It was a redundant gesture.
‘You promised you were going to do something about those.’
‘I can see that.’
‘No you can’t.’
‘Fat lot of good these things are,’ he scoffed. ‘What do they even do?’
He began to scratch and scrabble in the sand, demonstrating his hooves and their uselessness. She was surprised by just how big a crater he quickly created, and then the sound changed. His trotters scratched against something other than sand, and she saw bright red amongst the dull mauve.
‘What’s what?’ Forn stopped.
‘Oh, you’re funny.’
‘Just smell it.’
Forn dipped his head and his nostrils twitched as his snout searched the crater, quickly homing in on the red thing.
‘S’plastic,’ he sniffed.
She creaked closer, and used her gnarled finger to clear the remaining sand away to reveal a red mushroom of plastic growing from a silver plate of metal with a green tinted glass window on its surface.
‘Looks like a button,’ she said.
‘Wonder what it’s for.’
‘I must have put it here.’
‘Bit weird. Going round putting buttons in stupid places willy nilly. Is it stitched to anything?’
‘It’s a button. Not a button.’
‘How am I supposed to know?’
‘Cos it looks like a button. It most certainly does not look like a button.’
‘So it’s a button. Not a button?’
‘It’s a button.’
She pressed it.
‘The screen lit up with some words.’
‘What did they say?’
‘This is not a button.’
Forn twisted his ears forward, as if looking at her with them.
‘You said it was a button.’
‘It looked like a button.’
‘So why would it say it wasn’t a button?’
‘Maybe it’s a button after all.’
‘It hasn’t got any holes in it.’
‘If you press it again, perhaps it might tell us what it is.’
She pressed it again.
‘What did it say?’ Forn asked.
‘This is not a button.’
‘It seems quite adamant.’
‘It’s doing a very good impression of a button.’
‘Let me try.’
Forn stamped his hoof forward, patting around until it made contact with the red plastic.
‘Feels like a button.’
‘What does hmm mean?’
‘A door just appeared.’
‘Are you sure it’s a door?’
‘Quite sure it’s a door.’
‘You were almost certain it was a button.’
‘Well, it’s a door.’
She looked at it, just standing there in the sand. It had all the qualities of a door, right down to the door parts. The only thing it was missing was a wall to be housed in.
‘Maybe it’s a jar,’ Forn said.
‘I should clout your snout for that.’
‘I suppose we should open it then.’
‘I suppose we should.’
Forn helped her to her feet, and they kicked through the sand. Her hand wrapped around the cold metal knob, as much to check it was real than to turn it.
‘Ready?’ she asked in an effort to delay the inevitable.
She twisted the knob and pushed the door away from her. It swung on its hinges, revealing a void beyond. If nothing had a colour, it would look just like this.
‘What’s in there?’ Forn asked, sniffing without focus.
‘We should go inside then.’
‘How do we go inside nothing?’
‘One foot in front of the other I suppose.’
‘It is time to die.’
With that, she grabbed a handful of Forn’s neck skin, and pulled him forward with her. They stepped into the void, and for a moment, she lost all sense of herself and where she was. Nothing was a palpable feeling of something she couldn’t define.
And then she realised she had her eyes closed.
She let go of Forn’s neck, and felt him wander away, just out of her grasp. Maybe gone forever.
Light prickled behind her eyelids, and she had to summon all her nerve just to open them.
She was back in the wooden hut.
Forn was fussing around, pushing things with his snout across the table top.
She looked down her naked body, confused.
‘We got old.’
‘I’ll make some tea.’ She looked at the front door, hanging firmly on its hinges. That felt odd, but she couldn’t remember why.
Thunk is available on Kindle and in Paperback.