Robbie and I had talked about "the shop" for years. Everyone did. It had stood there, empty, since before I was born. At least, I think it had. Robbie thinks it might have closed down just a few years ago, when we were still in grade school. And he says that he might have seen the inside once when it was still open. He remembers there being lots of people wearing hard hats and goggles, moving big pieces of metal around, sparks flying from welding rigs, and a lot of cursing and music. He remembers seeing a picture of a naked woman tacked to the peg board on someone's workbench, and his dad pulling him away before he could get a really good look.
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We were in the hole. It's what we called the stairwell on the far side of the gym, on the visitor's side.
The gym hadn't originally been a gym, but was supposed to be a swimming pool. When the funding for the school's swimming program was cut, there were last minute changes to the design. The result was a basketball court with high walls on either side, and seating high up. It made for a funny looking gym, and it created four stairwells that were essentially little rooms without ceilings. The hole was one of these.
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Today's bit of flash fiction has a steampunk flavor! Enjoy.
It was looking at me.
It was standing in the center of a ring of junk, no face that I could see, and I couldn't see any eyes at all. But I could feel it looking at me.
Grandpa's shed has always been my favorite place. Whenever I stayed with him, this was where I'd end up, connecting bits of pipe and wire and old electronics into ... something. I was never sure what I was building. I didn't have a plan. I was just tinkering.
Until the day it worked.
I had the last bit, a piece of an old radio, pulled free of its casing. It was a small circuit board with a bunch of stuff on it. I used a screwdriver to turn a few things that had slots. I pried a couple of things off of the board. I wrapped wire through holes and around metal legs that were soldered to the board. I had nothing in mind. No idea what I was building.
And then it worked.
There was a flash, blue and bright, and then the hum of something from under the pile. The air smelled weird, a sort of burnt smell, and I felt like a million ants had just walked over my whole body. I was tingling.
The pile moved, and stuff started shifting and falling away. I jumped back to avoid getting hit, and looked as the pile opened up, some of it sinking downward.
And then it stood up. Or walked out. Or something. I wasn't exactly sure. It was just sort of there.
It looked kind of like a man wearing a suit, like those old-timey clothes you see on TV and in the movies. He had on a suit, and under the coat was a vest and a tie that bulged from the top. But his head wasn't human. It looked more like an upside down bowl, with a bunch of slits cut in it. The bowl rotated all the way around until it was back to where it started, and light started coming from the slits.
I didn't know what to do. I stood there.
"Hello," it said.
"Hi," I said, still not sure if I should run and hide.
It looked around the scrap heap, and put a finger on the gadget I'd built. It sort of ran its finger along one of the pipes, then stuck it up in front of the upside down bowl, in front of one of the slits, as if it was looking at it closer. "Well that's impressive," it said. "An accidental one. You made an accidental portam."
"Uh ... I did?"
"You did. And that shows promise. Mister ...?"
"I'm Parker," I said.
"No, I'm not a mister. I'm just sixteen."
The man stood still for a moment, and I got the impression that it was smiling. "Parker Sixteen. Well, Parker, that's quite a feat. And one to be proud of. How'd you do it? Just cobbled stuff together?"
"I ... yes, I think so."
"Remarkable. Well then, I'll have to keep an eye on you." He reached into a pocket and took something out, then walked up to me, reaching out his hand.
I reached back, not even sure why. Like shaking hands. Automatic.
He gripped my hand, and then let go. He turned and walked back to the circle of junk, and touched his wrist, where he was wearing something I couldn't see. As he turned to face me, the blue light and the burning smell came back. "Parker Sixteen, it has been a pleasure. You will do some amazing things. I'm happy to have been the first to meet you! Keep cobbling. We will meet again!"
And then he was gone. The light dropped away, the smell drifted, and I was alone in Grandpa's shed, with the junk and my gadget.
I looked at my hand and saw that I was holding small, round gear with a pin soldered to its back. It was about the size of a quarter, and it had a flat metal band across its middle with a small hole in the center. On that cross-piece was the word "Factorem." I had no idea what it meant, but it felt important. It felt big. It felt like seeing the future.
I pinned it to my shirt, and then pulled the door shut on Grandpa's shed before running inside. I could already smell supper. The day was ending, and a new one would start in the morning. I couldn't wait to see it.