Author’s Note: this short story was written for a writing challenge, to include the words smudge, potato and dropout.
Doctor Errol had gone to university to study literature. He’d studied for years, the works of long- dead poets. Metaphors and similes, Shakespeare and Wordsworth. Useless, he’d said then. His thoughts on the matter hadn’t changed. He wouldn’t have gone at all, but his parents had insisted he study something. He’d wanted to study engineering. His father had called it tinkering, but there was more to it than that.
After he’d found the smudged marks on the chalkboard of the classroom, he realised he had no choice but to drop out. He had no idea who had left those marks there. A fellow student? A professor? It didn’t matter. But he knew what the marks meant. He knew what he could do with them.
Tinkering, he scoffed. There was so much more to it than that. So much more. How could he study literature, after seeing those marks on the board?
He smiled. His work was finally finished. His machine. Well, not his, really. He had to give credit to the mysterious person who’d left their marks for him to find. His mysterious benefactor.
He pulled a lever, and the machine responded with a grinding of gears. A whirring sound. Then a slow, steady ticking rhythm. Like clockwork. A hydraulic hiss as the machine moved its arms, flexed its fingers, and came to life.
Its voice came out as a tinny monotone. “Hungry,” said the machine.
The doctor laughed in delight. He clapped his hands. Wonderful, he thought. Absolutely incredible.
“Here,” he said, pushing a plate of roast beef, Yorkshire puddings, and mashed potatoes toward the creature.
Incredible, that the chicken scratch upon the chalkboard of a classroom where English literature was taught by stuffy professors, would include the detailed instructions for the engineering of a metal creature, which could speak, think, and eat, like a real human being.
“No,” said the machine. “That is not what I hunger for.”
A fussy machine, thought Dr. Errol. He hadn’t anticipated it would be so particular about what it wanted to eat.
“Alright,” he said. “What is it that you hunger for?”
There was the unnerving sound of clockwork moving, as the machine’s face contorted, its mouth spreading into a smile that was disturbingly human.
“Yes?” said Dr. Errol. He asked the question again.
The machine moved closer to the doctor. Its answer came out in a whisper. “Human flesh,” said the machine. “I hunger for human flesh.”