Jump to content

Iron Quill - The Price of Progress - The Wink


Recommended Posts

"The Wink"


The constant thrum and whirl of the machinery made it hard to hear.  Belts and gears, all moving in perfect rhythm; the flesh and bones of the factory keeping its pulse, drowning out the shuffling of cards and impeding the chatter that would accompany.


“They’re what?  Living butchers?  What’s so special about that?” Ben asked, straining his ears.


“Bushes!  Living bushes!” One-Eyed Bill shouted back, thrusting his arms skyward like a madman.  “Mean ones, too!  That’s what the ol’ man claimed, anyway.  Said they were the only kinda Neverborn he’d ever seen ‘round here.  Called ‘em walt geests, said its like German for tree monster or somethin’ like that.  Says they got thorns that grow like claws and teeth to tear your middle out, an’ glowing eyes like the devil.”  Realizing that his patch has shifted in his exclamation, he adjusted it back to its normal spot.


“Sounds terrifying,” Ben replied, his eyes glancing to the moving shadows cast by the factory.  “Hope I never have a run in with one of those.”


“Will you two just shut it and play already,” Carter groaned impatiently, then took a short sip on the amber rotgut the foreman had supplied.  He glanced towards the foreman, and his tone lost its edge, “Bet’s to you, boss man.”


“I’m all in, boys.  Might as well fold ‘em, else I’ll be ownin’ yer overtime too.”  The foreman pushed his chips to the center of the table, and leaned back far in his chair, smiling a devil’s grin around the stub of a cigar he’d been smoking.  He took a drag, adding an ominous red glow to the complete the hellish image.


Ben glanced at his cards as one by one, the others all folded.  The table showed queen-king-jack-seven-deuce and all four suits, only Rams duplicated.  He’d heard about this move from the others; the boss liked to play the big dog, but didn’t always have the cards to back it.  But still, there was a full week’s pay in the middle of the table.


“All down to you an’ me, Benny-boy.  You got the cards?  Hell, you got the stones to find out?”


Ben gulped nervously, and checked his cards again.  Still the same King of Masks and Two of Masks.  He closed his eyes, put down the cards, and gave his chips a shove.  “Call”.  The words barely escaped his lips, completely drowned out by the constant thrum and whirl of the machinery.


The table went silent as the men waited, eyes darting from facedown card to facedown card, as if they would up end themselves in a dramatic fashion.  Neither Ben nor the foreman reached for his cards.  Ben opened his eyes to find himself face-to-face with the foreman, no longer reclined but now hunched over the table, the glow of his cigar continuing to demonize his visage.


Ears from all sides strained with anticipation to hear what would be said between the challengers, as an eternity slipped by.  Finally, the foreman shattered the silence in the thundering room by uttering “Show ‘em, boy,”


Despite the roar, Ben saw, heard and felt the words hit him.  He felt it in his eyes, on his face, in his stomach; the latter of which had tied its previously tied knots into all new knots.  His hand betrayed him with a slight tremor as he reached for the cards.  He slowly flipped them, not looking at them, but glancing around the table for reactions before coming to a stop on the foreman’s face.  As the second card came face up, the foreman’s grin died.


“T-t-two pairs, Kings and twos,” Ben managed to push past his quivering lip.


The foreman picked up his cards, as if to flip them down, and flung them as hard as he could towards Ben, who ducked as if they would cut him. “Piece o’ shit cards!  Dammit to hell!”   One card flew into the machinery, the other through a down a chute that dumped parts to the lower level of the factory.  He kicked his chair as he rose to his feet and stormed off towards his office.


The table remained deafeningly silent amidst the constant thrum and whirl of the machinery, until broken by the slamming of the foreman’s door.  Starting on one side of his face, as if an involuntary tic, and working its way across, Ben began to smile.  He reached out with both hands and started to scoop the chips towards himself, neat stacks cascading down into a massive pile.  One by one, the other men started to move.  Carter poured the remains of his drink down the hatch, and refreshed his glass to the brim.  One-Eyed Bill grinned and flashed his hollow socket to one of the others, who gagged at the sight.  The largest man at the table, a bald-headed giant with the all-too-typical nickname of ‘Tiny”, remarked “I guess we done, seein’ as how there ain’t enough cards no more.”  He pulled out the cashbox and started changing chips for scrip.  The dark cloud of defeat had left the table, and once more, the camaraderie of the workers was in full force.


A bottle and a half of cheap whiskey later, the six men poured forth from the factory.  Only the foreman remained, long since passed out in his office after finding his peace at the bottom of a glass.  Ben stumbled off the steps and into the streets, his pockets lined with more scrip than he’d usually make in a month.  ‘What to do with it all?’ he pondered.  ‘He could move out of the run-down poorhouse that Mrs Murphy ran, and into a real apartment.  No more cold nights with the breeze sneakin’ through cracks in the walls, no more night-to-nighters tryn’ to break into his room to steal his meager wage, an’  best of all, no more Mrs Murphy!’


His thoughts turned to things he’d often dreamed of:  hot meals, cold drinks and soft, beautiful women in soft, beautiful beds.  As he dreamed, he walked.  He’d not realized it, of course, but he had strayed from his usual path back to the boarding house, and was nearing the outskirts of the city.


His dreams were cut short by a cold, hard slap in the face.  He stumbled, fumbling at the small creature which had so rudely brought reality to him.  As it flitted to the ground, he succeeded at snatching it, but lost his footing at the same time.  He came crashing to the ground, but had captured it: a torn playing card, a Jack of Masks, mostly intact, but one end chewed up a bit and missing a small strip in the middle;  his dream-shattering villain.  He examined the card more closely.  It looked familiar.  Was it possible that this was one of the foreman’s cards, thrown in anger into the machinery at the factory?  The crushing on the end could have been done by the gears, and piece in the middle, right along poor jack’s gut, could have been caused by…


The bush was staring at him.  The bush, with its glowing eyes, was staring at him.  The bush, with its glowing eyes, and branch-like limbs that ended in razor sharp thorny claws, was staring at him.


Through the hole in the card, he could see it, staring at him.  Ben froze and One-Eyed Bill’s stories from earlier in the night came flooding back into his mind.  A walt-geest!  It was standing near the edge of the road, in front of the office that he hadn’t cared was there a moment ago.  Its eyes glowed a hellish red, illuminating its sharp, leaf-like teeth that jutted out of its maw.  The bush monster shifted its stance slightly as a strong wind pushed by, but never broke its gaze.


He could not move, not even to put the card down.  He was done for.  This thing was going to tear him open, with its razor sharp thorn claws and teeth, eat its fill, and leave him in the street, pockets overflowing with scrip he’d never get to spend.  He dared to look again.  It had barely moved, but it still had its glowing red eyes locked on him.


He had to make a move.  This beast wouldn’t be content to sit and stare forever.  He called upon all of the courage he held within him, pushing his terror down, and making the most daring play he could.

Ben pulled the card away from his face.  The beast stared at him.  He’d used all of his courage on that move.  He was done for.  Why wasn’t it doing anything?  Why was it tormenting him so?  Why was it… wait, it winked?  Did it just wink?


The beast had just winked at him with its left eye, and resumed staring at him.  A new level of fright overcame any shreds of courage Ben may have had as his mind raced with new thoughts of the true intelligence and malevolence of this beastly bush, taunting him as he lay terrified in the street.  How much longer would it wait before it pounced?


Ben felt a swelling of confidence in his gut, which entered his lungs as a huge breath in, and exited his body in the form of a terrifying shout.  “JUST DO IT ALREADY YOU MONSTER!”  Ben startled himself with his sudden outburst, but had he provoked a response from the…


The walt-geest’s right eye flew away, up towards the office that it had been sitting in front of.  The right eye also took flight, towards the curious man who had fallen down, and yelled at the bush it had been sitting it.  Ben’s eyes crossed and dimmed as the firefly landed square on the end of his nose, winked and nodded at him.


Story Elements:
Character: Sheep in Wolf's Clothing
Location: The Industrial Zone
Item: An Incomplete Deck of Cards

Word count: 1631


First time writing in quite a while, hope you enjoyed it and thanks for reading!

  • Like 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Very nice -- one of my favorites, to be sure. A few minor typos (with which I too am well familiar  ;) ), but nothing critical. I particularly like the resolution at the end -- had me chortling, then backing up to re-read the last several paragraphs, then chortling again:lol:


Very nice, indeed!


- Nikko 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...

Important Information