's 2014 Horror Write-off:

"Like Clockwork"

Submitted by DNotA (Andrew Howard)(Also Greater Monkolian)

Things in this town are pretty much stuck on schedule. Every day, I wake up, eat breakfast, go to work at the office (As coffee boy, no less. Hey, first job, what am I gonna do?), come home, hang out with the family, then go to bed. Then, everything cycles back around again. There are occasional breaks from the cycle, like going to see friends at the park, or our neighbors moving out, but it's still pretty monotonous. I'll miss those guys... No one has moved in to fill their house. Other than those events, however, this town is always cycling through the same set of events, just like clockwork.

Recently though, our schedual was... shall we say, interupted. Before we cover that, however, I might as well introduce myself. My name is Robort Anderson. Yes, that's "Robort", with two Os. My parents tried to give me a name that was unique, and creative. Well, you could say they hit the mark, but it didn't work out too well for me. It's supposed to be pronounced exactly like "Robert", but naturally, everybody and their goldfish says it like "Robot". Some of my friends even call me Robo-Boy. I suppose I don't mind that much. Better than being called Bob, at least. I live in this town, Karelton, with my parents and two sisters. There's Lynia, my older sister, and Kyrenia, my younger sister. They're both pretty cool, although Kyrenia does get screechy every once in a while. They both also have strange names that our dad gave us. His name, fittingly enough, actually is just Bob. He says he gave us our names so we didn't have to live with having a boring, uncreative name like his, and I can't say I don't appreciate the sentiment, but I think he went just a smidge too far. There's also my mom, Amanda. At the time of this writing, she's seven months pregnant with another child, a girl too. Guess I'll be expecting another little sister. I jokingly told dad that Athenia would be a great name. He sincerely thinks it's fantastic. My stupid mouth. Oh yeah, and we have five friggin cats, too. Ralof, Baggins, Keke, Thomas, and Washington. Each (Human) member of the family named one. I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader who named who.

Anyway though, I'm going on and on and on about my family, when I'm supposed to be recounting a tale of mysterious happenstance. Sorry. As I was saying, our schedual was recently interupted. There was an advertisement about some kind of traveling performance caravan, which was going to be making a stop in our area. Kyrenia saw it on TV, she told Lynia, Lynia thought it would be cool. So Lynia tells me about it, and also tells mom. Personally I thought the idea was pretty cool. Mom naturally tells dad, and he thinks it would be great to go see the show. So, investigations lead to discovery, and mom and dad figure out it's going to be held in a nearby park in town. In about two days. We all adjusted our scheduals to fit the event in.

The day after, one day away from the show, I'm hanging out at the park with a few of my friends. My best bud Joseph Canter is there with me. Or I'm with him, however you want to put it. He's a bit of a troublemaker. Not like robbing stores or selling drugs or crazy stuff like that. He's more of a joker; playing practical jokes on everybody in sight, making bad puns, generally causing comical chaos wherever he sets foot. He's a fun guy to be around, if you don't mind getting ice cubes down the back of your shirt whenever he thinks it's funny. Also there is Julia Solari. She's laid back and intelligent, but she's also a physical powerhouse. Back in high school she was a boxer, and now that we're all going to college, she's... Well, still a boxer, but college league. So, uh, not much change. Also, confession time: I kinda have a crush on her. She's bigger, stronger, and at least half a foot taller than me, but that's part of what I like about her. We're good friends, have been since first grade, but I've never told her how I feel, and she hasn't said anything to me either. I just don't know. She and Joey are also good friends... Whenever he isn't pulling jokes on her and whenever she isn't threatening to break his legs. We're a kind of ""I hate your face." "I love you too! ~<3"" group of friends.

So we're at the park around sunset, watching a bunch of people setting up some kind of gigantic stage, probably for the show. It almost looks like they're building an entire theater house. You'd think it would take much longer than just two days to get it all up and running, but surprisingly enough, they have most of it finished. They set up an entire building in a little over a day. That's incredible. The building itself looks pretty awesome, and looks like it's made of some kinda copper-y bronze-y metal. It's decorated with red felt, and has an extravagant roof, like a cathedral. "That's so cool..." I mumble to myself. Joey overhears me, and responds with "Yehe, yeah. How do you think they did it so fast?" "Almost too fast." Julia muses. A comment like that really should have clued me in, but I just sort of brushed it off as Julia being witty. Not sure why, it wasn't really witty in the slightest. But, I just brushed it off anyway. I dunno, I brush a lot of things off. "So, you guys gonna come see the show?" Joey asks. "I'm going with my family to see it." I tell him. "Yeah, same for me." Julia says. Joeys face lights up. "Hey hey! You guys wanna meet up at the show?" He asks. "Sure, why not?" Julia answers. "I'll see what I can do." I say. "Alright, great! This'll be fun!" Joey says. He looks slightly to his left, and says "Whoa, what the hell is that?" Julia and I look over that direction, trying to see what he noticed. I can't believe we fell for it. Suddenly, in about an instant... Well, I'll just say it: Joey undid Julia's bra. Her boobs just kinda jiggled forward (I'm such a perv), and her eyes widened. Her head snapped in Joeys direction, while I just kinda stared. Joey probably had a look on his face that I would guess was a grin from ear to ear. Julia probably had a look on her face that would kill a weaker person. "I'm giving you five fuckin' seconds. Use 'em." Julia growled. I heard Joey running madly, laughing the whole way. "Hahahahahaha, see you guys tomorrow! Eheeheeheehee!"

Julia released her breath and sighed. "Why do we hang out with him again?" I was still staring like an idiot. "Hey, Robort?" My head jolted in any direction except at her chest. "Whoa, hey, what?" I stammered, blood pooling into my cheeks. Julia smirked, reaching behind her back to re-fasten her bra. "Impressed, eh?" She jokingly cooed. I just awkwardly backed up like an idiot, not able to speak in anything resembling words. I honestly thought she was gonna wring my neck. To my surprise, she just walked on past, putting her hand on my head and ruffling up my hair. "See ya tomorrow, Robo-Boy!" She called back as she walked off. Naturally, my condition only got worse. Did she just ruffle my hair? I... What just happened? I decided to walk on home, grinning like an idiot the entire way.

The blush had subsided by the time I got back home, but I still felt light headed. As I walked into the back door and entered the kitchen (Don't ask. Our house is weird.), I saw Lynia sitting at the table. She had her feet propped up in another chair, and was reading a book. She liked stories, high fantasy stuff like "The Lord of the Rings" and such. She got me into them too, but I still prefer video games. She looked over when she heard the door open. "Hey, Robort. Where ya been?" She asked. I answered "At the park with some friends. We were watching them set up the stuff for the show tomorrow." "Coolio." She responded. She looked back at her book for a moment before looking back at me. She said "Say, you look a bit flustered. Tell me, one of those friends wouldn't happen to be that Julia Solari girl, would they?" I froze. "What? Well, yeah, but..." I tried to pass it off as nothing special, but I knew I was cornered. Lynia had me right where she wanted me. "Whoowee, what happened? Get your first kiss? I always knew you liked Amazon ladies." I just kept my mouth shut, and walked down the hall. Lynia chuckled, and returned to her story. It's an awkward enough topic as it is, I don't need people teasing me over it. Geeze. I walked upstairs to my bed, hopped into some pajamas, and crawled under the covers. Thomas waltzed into my room and hopped on the bed, meowing at me and purring. I always liked Thomas. Her silvery blue coat (Yes, her. Don't ask.) shimmering in the moonlight. She lied down on my chest, purring at me. I stroked her back, happy to have a companion to sleep with.

Tomorrow came, as it always does. At 11:45, we left the house and drove over to the park, and arrived at roughly 12:00. The crowds were pretty spectacular, with at least half the town crammed into one tiny park. Well, it's not really tiny, it's about 94 acres in size, but everyone was crammed as close as they could get to the building, so it sure felt a lot smaller. I talked with mom and pop real quick about going to find Julia and Joey, before they give me the okay and I go off to find them. It was easier than I thought it would be. I found the two of them somwhere towards the back of the massive congregation, behind the crowds, standing in some bleachers that had been set up for the event. They waved me over, and I made my way to their location. I hugged the both of them, (I'm a huggy kind of person.) then asked what was goin' on. "Nothin' unusual." Julia replied, "Just waiting for the show to start. Also, I broke Joey's face." I looked over to Joey, and sure enough, he had a bandage on his left cheek. "Ow." He said. Yeah, I'll bet. She must have been going easy on him. I've seen her knock out men twice my size without breaking a sweat. Without warning, we suddenly heard a noise from across the crowds, clear as day despite its impressive distance. It sounded like a massive church bell chiming, and a quick look inside the stage they had built proved it was exactly that: A church bell about as big as an elephant, made of bronze or something, heavily decorated in engravings. Out onto the stage strode a figure. As the figure got closer to the edge, I could suddenly make out everthing about her, as if I was only five feet away.

She was wearing a warm crimson suit, buttoned up to the middle of her chest, with a white button up shirt and a red tie underneath. The suit itself was decorated with all sorts of fancy patterns and embroideries, sewn with a coppery looking fabric. She was wearing very fancy looking black boots, also embroidered with the copper colored thread. They went up to her knees, and her suit pants were tucked into them. Resting upon her head was a well fitting top hat, red with a black band, and even more fancy copper embroideries. She also wore bright white gloves on her hands, tucked into the cufflinks on her suit. You couldn't see any skin lower than her neck. She herself looked as much the part as her clothing. She had bright, shiny hair that was a sort of hazel color, almost like- -wait for it- -copper. It was styled so that it hung down to her shoulders, perfectly straight, and her bangs were swept away from her face like hanging curtains. Her face was sort of rounded, with a soft, gentle curvature, like a doll. Her skin was flush, almost pink in color, and very clean, although not inhumanly so. Her eyes- -and this is the part that got me suspicious- -had bright, cherry red irises, like something you'd see in an anime. She had a confident expression. Further down, she could be described as... Curvy. She had something of an hourglass figure. Not like the ridiculous stuff you see in photoshopped fashion magazines, but something that could actually hold organs. In fact, it wasn't really that her waist was narrow- -she was actually kinda chubby, not to say that's a bad thing- -but that her hips and... Aheheh, bust, we're so wide. God, I'm a perv... They were pretty big, though. Geeze, I'm sorry... Anyway!

She stood on the stage with that confident smile on her face, looking over the crowd. Without warning, she spun around, and when she was back to facing us, she was holding a microphone with the same style as the rest of the show. She spoke into it with a peppy yet refined voice. "Hey, how ya doin', everybody?" The crowd let loose a wild cheer, and the lady responded with "Fantastic! Well, everybody, let me introduce myself! My name's Caroline Clockenspiel! You can call me Carrie." She bowed, catching her hat as it fell off her head, and popping it back on. "But I suppose you're not here for me," She winked when she said this line "but for the show! Give it UP, everybody, for the Clockwork Caravan!" She threw her hands into the air, along with the microphone, apparently, because I never saw it again.

She walked to the back of the stage just as two things walked forward and just as calliope music started playing. The things looked like robots. They were built out of bronze, like you would probably guess by now, and were very beautiful, not bland and blocky like you might expect a robot to be. They had more of a Victorian apperance, like some sort of seventeenth century machine with many gears. With their long arms, short legs, and heavy torsos, they reminded me of gorillas. They walked in perfect unison and stopped that way as well, halting on the stage almost perfectly. They turned towards each other with a surprising realism, and back up a few feet. Then, from the back of the stage, a large number of red balls flew into view, and without missing a beat, the robot gorillas started juggling them. Back and forth, up and down, red fountains of juggling, they kept going. Suddenly, two bronze towers extended from the back of the stage, moving along through grooves in the floor by some unseen machinery. Bronze cables spanned the gap between the poles and the back of the stage, and on them hung more machines. These ones were, as far as I could tell, tiny Capuchin monkeys, or possibly lemurs. They hung from the cables by their little mechanical legs and swung back and forth in perfect unison, clapping every second cycle. The gorillas, meanwhile, had been joined by two more of their kind, and were engaged in a four way juggling act. Without pause, a shower of red spheres flowed across the stage in increasingly complex directions. More mechanical animals slowly but surely joined into the act: Bronzed giraffes carted clockwork gazelles across their backs, automaton elephants strode gracefully across the stage, an entire zoo of clockwork creatures. From the back of the stage came the ringleader herself, skillfully dancing into the middle of it all, before coming to a stop behind the gorillas. They shifted their juggling act so that the two away from Caroline were juggling, and said two moved away from eachother, still juggling. The two behind them put out their hands into a hammock shape, and Miss Clockenspiel stepped into the cup. Without delay, the gorillas flung her upwards and to the left, hurtling towards the cable on the side of the stage. She landed on a pin point and bounced off, flying over to the other side of the stage and landing on the other cable. This is a stage big enough to hold elephants, mind you. She flung herself one more time, landing right on top of the trunks of two elephants who had converged on center stage whilst I wasn't looking. Poised perfectly on the bridge of bronze, everything stopped.

There was thunderous applause, and well deserved, too. I was in shock, honestly. That was incredible! Caroline bowwed and then the elephants lowered her down to the stage, where she walked to the very front. "Thank you very much, everyone for coming out today! We'll be having an intermission now, but don't forget to come back for the second act!" With that, she bowed again, and walked back to the back, along with all her mechanical creatures. She kinda had a sort of hip swivel go- -Damn it! I gotta stop that. I heard Julie talking behind me. Well, not talking, more like exclaiming. "Holy shit." Yeah, that about sums it up. "I didn't know that was a thing. It's a thing, guys, it's a thing." Was all Joey could muster.

Caroline wasn't kidding about that second act, though. In fact, there were five of them total, each more extravagant than the last. I could sit here describing those for four more paragraphs, but I think you've got a good enough idea. Although one of them really stuck out in my mind: It was somewhat different from the others in that it had a format more like a play. I wont go into detail, but it involved the ringleader herself fighting a dragon and saving a prince. It was, at least in my mind, even more beautiful than the others. The performance was so captivating, that at the very end of the show, I looked up and it was night. We had literally sat there the entire day, entranced in the show. Afterwards, while everyone was leaving, Joey had a bright idea. "Hey, you two wanna spend the night at my place?" It was a thing we did almost every weekend, just Joey, Julia and I going to Joey's house and hanging out. Playing games and being goofy, ususally. "Sure, why not?" I replied. "I just need to ask my parents." "Yeah, I'll come too." Julia said. Her parents always trusted that she was taking care of herself. I wish my parents were like that. Don't get me wrong, I love them to death, but they are kinda clingy. I went of to find my family, and Julia decided to come along to make sure I was safe. Eventually, we found my parents and asked their permission. Also, Kyrenia asked Julia for a piggy back ride. It was pretty funny to watch. Anyway, long story short, while we were walking to Joey's house, the guy himself turned around to us with that stupid smile on his face. I had a bad feeling. "So, who wants to go to the caravan?" He asked. Julia wheeled around and started walking the other way, saying "Yooooooou are an idiot, and I'm going home." "Lame." Joey replied. He turned to me with that dumb expression stuck on his face, asking "You wanna come? C'mon, you wouldn't disappoint your buddy, would ya?" Now here's the thing: I don't have much in the way of Willpower. More accurately, I'm really prone to being guilt tripped. I didn't want to disappoint him, as dumb a descision as that was, and I also didn't want him to go alone. I said "Alright, I'll come..." Without missing a beat, Julia wheeled back around and very quickly walked to our position. "Damn it, Joey. If he goes, I have to go. Who knows what trouble you two idiots might get into." Joey snickered, and questioned "You sure you don't juat wanna keep him company?" Julia looked Joey in the eyes and snarled "Move it, maggot, before I break your legs."

Very soon, we were back in the park. "I can't believe I'm going through with this." Julia muttered. I silently shrunk away and kept following Joey. We had already hopped the fence, and were very close to the building. The whole place looked about as shut down as it could be, and all the lights were off. Nothing living in sight. As we neared the theater house, Joey looked around trying to find something. I guess he found what he was looking for, because he beckoned us over to him. He whispered to us "Found a back door." Julia sighed, asking "Why are we tresspassing on private property again?" Joey answered with "I dunno why YOU are, considering you're so against it, but I'm looking to see what goes on in here. Hey, it's open." Whilst Joey opened the door, Julia snapped back at him "Hey! I'm only hear because you fucking guilt tripped Robort into it, and if I let him get hurt, or arrested, I'd never forgive myself. You, on the other hand, can go hop off the Sears Tower." I admit I felt kinda warm at that part. Not the "hop off the Sears Tower" part, the "If I let him get hurt" part. As we walked inside, Joey replied with "Oh, come on, you don't really feel that way ab-"

I woke up in some sort of room after that. Everything just went dark. There was no noise, no pain, no screaming. Just suddenly darkness. The room I was in was rather bare bones. The floor was made of, surprisingly enough, porcelain tiles. The walls were made of some kind of gray bricks, possibly cinder blocks, and the ceiling was made of concrete. There was one light poking out of the ceiling, and it wasn't much of a light at all. Very dim. I was lying on a cot near the back of the room, and I say back because on the other side was something more definitive: Cell bars. Made of bronze. I wasn't sure if I wanted to cry or laugh. I'd been thrown into some dank prison cell by I don't even know. Regardless, I heard someone or something walking down the hall outside my cell. I didn't know whether to try and hide, or stay in sight, and I don't think I ever made the choice, because I just slinked back to the cot and sat down. The sound got closer and closer, and then: Exactly what I expected, and exactly what I feared: A robot. Made of the usual bronze, and resembling a suit of armor mixed with a toy soldier, it marched into view in a very life-like manner. In its hands it held a rifle, but with a massive barrel. If you've ever heard of an elephant gun, it was somewhat like that. It stopped directly in front of my cell and turned its head to face me. Turns out that toy soldier comparison wasn't far off the mark: With the spherical head and the little bronze mustache, and now that I looked at it, it had one of those hats too. (Shakos I think they're called?) The glassy black eyes were kinda creepy, though. After looking at me, it turned its head back to forward and kept marching. I got back up and walked over to the bars, and looked to where it was going. Just more hallway going downwards, with a pathetic little light every couple feet. Same story going the other way. And so, I simply sat in the jail cell until I eventually wasted away and died.

What, you didn't really think it was gonna end like that, did you? I'm still here to tell the story. Come on, get your head together. I eventually noticed something rather odd about the door to my cell. To try and confirm my theory, I pushed on the door. Without even resisting, it slowly swung open. The door didn't have a latch. What idiot designs a prison door without a latch? I wasn't sticking around to find out. I bolted out of the bars and went right, away from the clockwork soldier I saw earlier. Farther down this seemingly endless hall, after I had been sprinting at the top of my lung capacity, I eventually came to a stop and started wheezing. I'm not built for running that fast that long. No stamina. I bet Julia could do it... Julia! And Joey, too. Where were they? The thought popped into my mind and quickly started to gnaw at my brain. This entire time I had been running down the hallway in some deranged fit of fight or flight, I didn't see a single jail cell besides my own. Did I go the wrong way? Were they back in the other direction, where that soldier was? I wanted to make sure they were safe, but I really didn't want to go back to where that soldier was. That was a big gun. Reminded me of Grandma's old african hunting rifle. Anyway, after catching my breath, I decided to keep going the direction I was going. Eventually, I came upon a door at the very end of the hall. Bronze, of course, with a single view port in the center. I looked into it, getting up on my toes in order to actually reach the door, seeing as it was a somewhat tall view port, and looked inside. In there was what looked like a small lounge, with a few sofas made from red felt and bronze frames, and some spruce colored coffee tables. I tested the handle on the door, and sure enough, it was unlocked too. Whoever was in charge of this place was not exactly brilliant. Stepping inside, the first thing I noticed was the smell: A faint, yet pleasant scent of strawberries. Weird. I wonder if robots can smell air freshener? The room was empty except for myself. There were three doors leading out, all solid bronze with only one having a port hole. I checked two of them and they were locked, surprisingly, but the one with the window opened right up.

What I found inside was surprising. Catwalks. Bronze catwalks filling a rather large room. Left to right, the room was about the size of a gymnasium, but it seemingly went up and down forever. The catwalks went up and down in spirals, with bridges leading from one side of the path to the other. A model of DNA is a good comparision. On every level, there were more doors leading off the pseudo-staircase. The room itself never really got dark no matter how far up or down you looked, and always had a warm glow to it, like a fireplace. I decided to start climbing upwards. As I rose the bronze staircase, I started checking the doors as I passed by them, looking inside. They looked like viewing decks poised over massive factory rooms, each producing a massive multitude of identical parts. Well, each room was producing different parts, but all the parts in one room were the same. I could recognize some of them, but not being much good at robotics, most of them were unfamiliar. It's like any entire factory producing parts, but why? I Guess I'd find out.

After climbing the stair case for way too many levels upwards, I came across the top of the stairway. There were four doors of various sizes leading off from here. One of them, a pair of double doors significantly larger than the other three, like overly exotic church doors, made of ornately patterned bronze. I decided to open the smallest door first. Inside, I found what I thought was just a generic hallway, but then I looked a little closer. At the end of the hall was the exit door that the three of us had entered with. As much as I wanted to run for my life and get out of this place, I remembered Joey and Julia and decided to stay. I checked the second smallest door and found it to be locked. Why are the doors in this place locked so randomly? Whatever. I tried the next size up, and found something I kinda wish I hadn't.

Inside the door was yet another massive room, this time so large I couldn't see the other side of it. There seemed to be a multitude of chutes extending out of the ceiling at an angle, and below those, absolutely massive... Things. They kinda looked like giant waffle irons, held up on relatively spindly mechanical arms. As I came in the room and approached the railing, I heard a loud clonging sound, and looked at the chute closest to the deck I was on. As the sound got louder, I eventually saw something unnerving. Out of the chute slid a gorilla. Where it came from and how they got it here, I have no idea, but it flew out of the chute like a ragdoll, and directly into the giant waffle iron, which quickly snapped it up with a resounding clang. There was a low humming sound for about ten seconds, and then the giant waffle iron (I don't know why I keep calling it that.) Opened back up again. The gorilla was nowhere to be found. I felt sick to my stomach, for some reason.

I decided I should best leave that room, only to turn around and see something I wasn't too happy about. A clockwork soldier had walked down to my position on the observation deck while I wasn't looking, and was currently staring me down. This one was female, or at least kinda similar to one. It had metal breasts and lacked the mustache, but other than that it was identical to first model I ran across. It made a small clicking sound, then it spoke to me in a voice that sounded like Missus Claus over an old radio. "HELLO. YOU ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HERE, LITTLE ONE. PLEASE, COME WITH ME. I'LL TAKE YOU BACK TO YOUR ROOM. HOOHOO." I don't know why, but there was a voice in my head that was absolutely screaming at me to run for my life, and I took its advice. I bolted towards the door and slammed into it, pushing it open with all my weight. I charged out the door only to find that outside was no better. A clockwork soldier had already been positioned in front of the exit door. The clockwork soldier came out of the room I was in, and leveled its massive rifle at me as it spoke. "NOW NOW, LITTLE BOY. NO NEED TO BE SCARED. I'LL JUST TAKE YOU BACK TO YOUR ROOM. I WON'T HURT YOU IF I DON'T HAVE TO." The rifle aimed at my chest didn't convince me of its statement, so I did the only thing I could think to do and bolted down the stairway. The soldier gave chase, moving at a surprising speed despite its heavy mechanical body. I just kept running down the stairs, not caring. I heard a whining sound from behind me, like feedback from a phone, and soon enough an alarm started blaring from I don't even know where. I heard more doors slamming open, and looked back to confirm my fears: More clockwork soldiers, armed with rifles, chasing me down. The door in front of me opened, and out came another soldier. I grinded to a stop, and then started panicking. I looked behind me and saw the small army of soldiers behind me. The first one in line got to being parallel with me, and leveled its gun at my chest. Without anything else to do, I ducked, and it seems I had good timing on it, because after the resounding blast and the shattering of metal, I looked behind me to see that the clockwork soldier blocking my path had been shot in the gut. Well, I don't know if they have guts, but the area where those would be. Not caring about whether robots had guts or not, I pushed it over and jumped over its twitching corpse, still running.

Running farther down the stairway, still being shot at by soldiers who couldn't aim, or at least couldn't lead their target, I eventually decided that I'd duck into one of the rooms and see if I couldn't hide somewhere. After gaining enough of a lead on the soldiers, I ducked into one of the doors on the stairwell and looked around. I figured out at this point that the door directly below any door that led to an observation deck would instead lead onto the factor floor. It looked like this room was producing armor plates, although they looked too large for any sort of humanoid machine. Elephant thigh plates, maybe? Whatever. I tried to find a place to hide, quickly settling for a large crate in the room. I heard the door open again, and then quickly close. Looked like the cost was clear. As I turned around, I saw something directly in front of my face, which spooked the hell out of me and then proceeded to knock the lights out of me.

I woke up with a bit of a headache, but with some relief, too. Crouching over me was Joey. "Shit, man, are you okay? I kinda knocked you out before figuring out that you were you." He chuckled a little, clearly feeling guilty for his mistake. "I'm good. You spooked me too." I replied. "Glad to see you're okay, Joey." Joey smiled a bit, and chuckled. "Well, I wouldn't say entirely okay." Wondering what he was talking about, I looked him up and down. Down was the part where I found the problem. Joey's legs had been turned to clockwork. "What the hell?" I asked him. "Yeah, they kinda did this to me. I remember that they sorta dipped me into this weird liquid metal, and when they pulled me back up, my feet were like this. They did it a few more times before I managed to make my escape, but by that point it had spread all the way to my thighs." Joey chuckled. "At least they didn't get my nuts!" "Didn't need to know that." I said. "Liquid metal? Did it hurt?" Before answering my question, Joey helped me back onto my feet. "Actually, no. It wasn't, like, molten metal, it was just liquid. Like that stuff... What's it called?" He asked. "Mercury." I answered. "Yeah! That stuff! Except it was kinda bronze colored. Really weird." Joey seemed perfectly fine except for having clockwork legs. "You seem awfully okay with this." I pointed out. Joey just shrugged his shoulders. "I dunno, man, I don't think it's a bad deal. They feel just as good as my old legs. Maybe better! Oh, and speaking of feel, kick me in the shin!" "What?" I asked, befuddled. "Kick me! Do it!" He commanded. "Okay, whatever you say..." I reared back my foot and kicked him in the leg. Geeze! You ever stubbed your toe on a table leg or something? It was significantly worse than that. I yelled and grabbed my foot, and Joey grabbed his shin. "Y-yeah! Owowowowow, I can still feel stuff with it! Man, you kick harder than I thought you could!" He told me with such excitement. "Why the hell did you ask me to kick you if you could still feel it, dumbass?" I asked him in disbelief. "I dunno. I thought it would be funny." He told me. Not the smartest kid in class, Joey.

After establishing the whole situation, Joey and I set out into the complex to see if we could find Julia. We weren't really sure how we might ge about it, since the complex was absolutely massive, and I managed to find Joey by pure dumb luck. All of the clockwork soldiers had gone back to... Where ever it is that they go. I wasn't really sure, considering they usually just showed up at the worst times. They never seemed to actually be anywhere, or maybe we were just not seeing them. Regardless, Joey and I decided to go about it systematically. I had to explain to him what the word systematic meant. We checked all the rooms one by one, seeing if anything of importance was inside. After scaling at least sixty stories upwards, reaching the top of the stairwell, and then going back down, we realized that we had no way of keeping track of which doors we had and hadn't checked. So we went all the way back up the stairs, and started checking them one by one going down. Eventually, I just kinda lost my breath and had to stop. All this stair walking might be good for cardio, but when you're a loser like me, all this stair walking wears on you real fast. Joey didn't seem affected, but as someone who regularly runs for his life (Usually from Julia, occasionally angry shop keepers), he could put up with more stress. After letting me catch my breath, we were about to keep searching, when something unusual happened.

I heard a small clicking sound coming from up the stairwell, and looked to see what it was. From up the stairwell, seemingly climbing on the walls with no apparent way to grab them, was a clockwork... Spider. Not exactly a spider, but it's the closest comparison I can draw. It had only four gangly limbs of equal length, all attached to a single central body sphere, and if we're still going by the spider comparison, no abdomen in sight. It had a single cycloptic lense-eye on its front, off to the left side, like a daddy long legs. Or a harvestman if you prefer. It was also wearing a shako. I had to try my hardest not to giggle at the sight. After a few quick moments of clicking from its tiny robot face, there was a small burst of steam, and the entire thing split in half from front to back. From inside popped out... Another elephant gun. You know where this is going. Joey and I decided, quite naturally, to book it down the stairs. Both of us bolted down the catwalks, with the spider thing following us down and occasionally firing a shot at us, which always missed. Still can't lead targets. After charging down I don't know how many levels in an adenaline fueled panic, a door opened in front of me, and I ran face first into it.

After waking back up from being knocked unconcious for the second time today, I was really wondering who did it this time. I was in another manufacturing room, lying on the floor again. Standing over me was Joey and Julia... Julia! She had a worried look on her face, whilst Joey observed "Oh, look, he's up and about." "You okay, Robort?" Julia asked me. I replied with "Y-yeah, good. Not the first time I've been slammed in the face today." Julia chuckled sheepishly, and then pulled me up off the floor. "Sorry, Robo-Boy." After she picked me up, I noticed something odd about Julia. Strapped sround her chest was an entire bandolier of cartridges from the clockwork soldiers, and in her hand was one of their rifles. "Whoa. When did you get your hand on that?" I asked her, pointing to it. "Oh, this? I snuck up on one and ripped the gun out of its hands, then shot it in the face with it. Turns out they keep a whole lotta bullets inside little compartments in their bellies." The idea of Julia doing something like that is pretty badass, you gotta admit. I knew she was strong, but that was amazing. "Robort? Hey, you there?" I heard Joey ask me, and I suddenly snapped back to reality. "Huh? I'm here, I'm good." I told him. "You kinda phazed out for a moment there. You sure I didn't hit your head too hard?" Julia asked me. Joey moved closer to her ear and started whispering into it. Julia's face donned a shocked expression, and she quickly punched Joey in the gut. "Piss off, punk. Why is that something you care about?" She growled at him. I have no idea what he said. I kinda wanna know.

After that, we decided to climb back up the catwalk stairwell and maybe get the hell out of this crazy place. After climbing who knows how many stairways, with Julia shooting the occasional spider bot in the face, its metallic corpse plunging into the stairwell below. I still have no idea how far down that goes. Just as we could finally see that top of the stairwell again, yet another thing happened that delayed our escape. There was a loud, blaring alarm, and a large square chunk of the ceiling in the main room jumped out of place, downwards. After making a sound like a bunch of steam escaping somehwere, it quickly dropped down so that it perfectly blocked the stairway. Then it kept going. The bronze catwalks were simply bent, crushed, and pushed downwards by the massive piston, and the same thing would happen to us if we didn't go the other way. "Are you fucking serious?" Julia yelled at the top of her lungs as she turn around. The three of us started running down the stairs, again. Joey tried to open one of the rooms and get us all inside, but the door was locked. It hadn't been locked before. The next one down was locked. The one after that too. They were all locked. "Shit." Joey muttered under his breath. The three of us kept running down the stairs, dodging the occasional piece of scrap metal launched our direction. We kept it up for I don't even know how many stories, until I managed to slip up. One chunk of bronze rocketed down the stairwell directly into my right calf, slicing it open. I collapsed and tumbed down the stairs until I hit the next corner. "Ah shit, Robort!" I heard Julia yell. The two of them rushed down the stairs to my location, with Julia crouching down to me. "Here, take this." She said as she handed the rifle to Joey. "What? Hey, this thing is heavy!" Joey complained. Julia responded with "Would you rather carry HIM?" Lifting me up into her arms, she kept running down the stairs, and Joey followed.

After running for a seemingly endless time, we finally found what we thought was the bottom of the stairwell. It was a massive room filled with what seemed to be an ocean of scrap metal and junk. Julia and Joey hopped off the stairs and into the room below, and right after, the massive block of bronze crashed into the floor of scrap, sendind a wave of broken, busted metal outwards into the cavernous junkyard. After the tide subsided, we looked around to see what, if anything worthwhile was in this room. It was like an endless sea of garbage, extending outwards with no edges. "Well, fuck. How are we gonna escape this place?" Julia asked. "Sorry, honey, but I don't think that's on the schedule." A rather familiar voice spoke out.

There was a small purring sound, like a small engine operating something, and sure enough, a small hole opened up in the ceiling. Something dropped out of it, hitting the junk and sending a few small particles flying our way. Sure enough, it was Caroline Clockenspiel. "So you're the ones causing a ruckus down here, huh? Well, I can't let such obstructive behavior continue." She looked at us with a scowl and slowly walked towards our location. She was carrying a cane with her and, if I wasn't mistaken, she had a holster strapped to her pants. I also realized something about her as she got closer: She was tall. Really tall. Ridiculously tall. Taller then Julia tall. SEVEN FEET tall. I never noticed that before. As she stepped closer to us, she towered over Julia and Joey, with a rather menacing look on her face. Julia put me down into the junk and turned to Joey. "Give me the gun, please." She asked him. He replied with "Yeah, okay, sure." Handing her the rifle, he slowly backed away from Ms. Clockenspiel. "Uh, you ain't gonna like, kill us or anything, are you?" He asked sheepishly. "Well, if you come with me now and don't cause any more ruckus, I'll make sure they take good care of ya." She replied. I heard a clicking sound, and Julia asked Caroline "What the hell do you mean 'they'? Who's they?" Julia leveled the rifle at her as well. Ms. Clockenspiel replied with "Oh, they. The conversion specialists. You kids are being added to our troup, don't you know? Now, put down the gun." I kinda cringed at this point, and I'm sure Julia and Joey felt the same. Julia yelled at her "Fat chance!" and fired the elephant gun.

The report was massive, and I'm surprised it didn't blow out my ears. Ms. Clockenspiel, without missing a beat, dodged the shot. She leaped out of the way unnaturally quick, spinning on one foot and balancing with her cane. "You sure you know how to use that thing, baby doll? Give it here, before you get hurt." Julia stared in disbelief for a second before breaking open the rifle to load another shot. As soon as she slipped the first empty shell out of the chamber, Caroline dashed over to her like she was quick-stepping through space, and stuck her finger right in the chamber. Julia flinched in surprise, and Caroline grabbed the gun and tossed it away. She spun backwards like some kind of ballet dancer and posed with her arms in a shrug. "If you're going to put up a fight, honey girl, at least try out some good old fashioned fisticuffs." With that, she assumed a combat stance. Julia quickly started guarding herself, and started throwing questions her way. "Why the hell do you want us? Look, we're sorry we snuck in and trashed the place, but you gotta enslave us for that?" The smile on Caroline's face was supplanted by a small frown. "Nothing personal, dear. If it were my choice, I'd just let you go after a quick lecture and a wash, but I'm not the one in charge here." Julia asked "Wait, you're not? Well, if you're not, who is?" Caroline chuckled and responded back with "Ringmaster would rather stay anonymous. Now, enough talk, let's brawl!" With that, she super dashed over to julia, appearing right in her face. Julia jumped back and made a quick jab, but Caroline had already moved behind her. She kicked backwards, knocking Julia into a roll, which she jumped out of facing towards Caroline. Julia dashed towards Caroline and went for a low jab, but Caroline caught her hand and started twisting her arm. Julia spun around in order to not have her arm broken, and Ms. Clockenspiel took the opportunity to kick her in the back again, sending her into another tumble. Julia got up as quickly as she could, and tried to approach Caroline from the left side. She went for a solid slug in the jaw, but Caroline effortlessly moved out of the way and caught her arm, then proceeded to flip Julia over her shoulder. Julia landed in the scrap and laid there for a couple seconds. "You could just surrender. I'm not much for beating up children." Ms. Clockenspiel said to her. Julia got back up on her feet and rolled her arm. "Not something I can do, fancy pants." She responded. Caroline frowned, and without a word, windmill kicked Julia in the face faster than she could react. Julia flew back into the scrap again, and this time stayed there.

"Now, where are the other two brats? Ah, there's one of them." Ms. Clockenspiel said as she walked towards me. I didn't even try to crawl away. I thought it was hopeless. She just knocked out Julia without breaking a sweat. I honestly gave up at that point. Caroline was standing over me with her hands on her hips. "You're not gonna try to fight me too, are you baby honey? Oh, look at your leg. Poor thing. Well, don't you worry, we'll make you a new one! It'll be harder, better, faster, st-" Before she could finish the line however, there was a massive crack, and something went careening into her back. She paused for a moment, with a shocked look on her face, before turning around. Looking at her from my prone position on the floor, it looked like she had been hit with an elephant gun bullet. It pierced straight through her jacket... Directly into the gears underneath. I should have known, really. She was a clockwork just like her soldiers. Meanwhile, some distance away, I could see someone having collapsed on the ground. Besides Julia. It was Joey. Caroline, without missing a beat, quick dashed over to him, pick him up by the scruff of his neck, and brought him back to my position just as quickly. His teeth were clinched, and his forehead was slowly leaking blood. Joey had hit himself in the face with the recoil from the elephant gun. Somehow Joey being a goofball didn't comfort me in the slightest. In fact, I felt very sick and dizzy. I should probably mention I'm hemophobic. Blood makes me queasy, really. I passed out at the sight of it. Which is weird, because somehow I didn't notice all the blood from my leg getting sliced open...

I woke up for the forth time that day in yet another room I didn't recognize. This time around, I seemed to be in a large bronze cage in what appeared to be a massive auditorium, with loud caliope music playing. The cage I was in was on a stage, almost as big as the one outside. The room was well lit, like an opera house. I stood up slowly, trying to see anything else of note. Then I realized I could stand up. Oh dear god. I lifted up the right leg of my pants, and sure enough, It was clockwork. Oddly enough, it was only clockwork on the one section of my leg that got sliced open. The rest of it was still fleshy. I looked out of my big bronze cage again and tried looking around the stage I was on. The first thing I saw almost made me want to pass out again. It was a massive pool of liquid bronze, just like Joey had told me about. What was going on with it was even worse. There she was, Caroline Clockenspiel, standing sternly over the pool as two clockwork soldiers dipped someone in. I looked over to the other side of the pool and saw Julia, looking on with a face somewhere between curious and horrified. It was, as you might guess, Joey. At this point they had him dipped up to his armpits. I felt utterly hopeless at this point, and slinked to the back of my cage, just trying to ignore the inevitable. That's when I noticed that the bars of my cage were spaced far enough apart that I could slip between them. I guess they never planned for a person my size to be captured in here. I carefully slipped between the bars of my cage, very gently lowering myself to the floor. I looked back over and saw Julia staring at me. I gave her the "Shhh" signal, and she grinned a little and nodded. It looked like everybody else had missed me. I tried slowly sneaking away back stage when I noticed something else of interest.

Directly behind the stage, seemingly watching the event just like everybody else here, was... A thing, I guess. There was a preposterously massive cage, shaped like a bird cage, with pipes traveling into its base at four even intervals. Inside the cage was something I didn't really recognize. It was almost like a massive column of smoke, black like tar and billowing upwards from the bottom of its container. Like if the Wizard of Oz fell in a tar pit and also had no face. Directly behind the massive caged smoke plume was what looked to be a giant metal box. This one looked like it was made of solid steel, rather than the usual bronze that littered this place. It was covered with hundreds of tiny lights and knobs and such, and there was a small square slot on the side about as large as a propane tank. The entire steel contraption was hooked up to the cage by a dozen or so small steel pipes. Directly near by the metal box was a large quantity of tanks. Probably propane and propane accessories. Heh. I quietly walked over there without causing too much sound, and look around. I tried picking up one of the tanks, and couldn't really tell if it was full or not. I adjusted the little valve on the side of the neck, and got a small blast of what I assume to be propane. I closed that back up real quick, and then looked around some more. Nearby, I found a welding torch and a set of... What do you cll them? Ignition tongs? The things where you squeeze the handles and it makes a spark... Those things. As all the stuff came together in my mind, a plan popped into my head. I can't say I didn't grin a little. I just hoped it would work against whatever the hell this thing is.

I brought the propane tanks over beside the cage one by one, setting them down. I tried to pick up one of the tansk, open the main flow, and then gently drop it into the basin. I lost my grip, and it landed with a clang. I recoiled and looked around. Nobody noticed over the music. Well, how nice. I started grabbing more tanks, opening them, and tossing them in. After I had done that with about twenty or so, I grabbed the torch and the tongs. "Hey! What the hell are you doing?" I heard Caroline Clockenspiel yell out over the music. Suddenly a thousand metal heads turned my direction, staring at me. The torch lit, and I decided there was no time to lose. "Uh... I'm about to light your boss on fire." I said, not really sure of any cool one liners I could say. Yeah, I'm a loser. Anyway, after that, I backed up a couple feet and chucked the torch into the cage.

The blast was absolutely massive. I died.

Just kidding. When the smoke cleared, Caroline had lifted me up by the front of my shirt, but there was something wrong. Her face was expressionless, and without much fuss, she dropped me. It looked like the fire inside the smoke plume's cage was still raging, and the heat was getting intense. I an over to Julia's cage, and unlocked the deadbolt, letting her free. She hugged me, and then put me down. "Thanks, Robort, now let's get the hell out of here!" She yelled. "Wait! Where's Joey?" I yelled back. "Oh, right, him. He should be... Oh fuck." I looked over to where she was looking, and saw something that made my heart drop. It was Joey. He was a clockwork. "Oh no." I said, feeling a bit doomed. "Uh, maybe we can fix him. But for now, let's get the hell out of this place before it explodes." Julia said as she ran over and grabbed Joey. He didn't seem to react. I looked around, and saw a whole lot of clockworks, none of them moving. Past them I saw a massive pair of double doors at the back of the auditorium. Julia and I both ran for it, charging through the piles of robots. We briefly worried about hauling the doors open before I found a lever and pulled it, and the doors slowly opened. Outside, it was back to the main room. Without waiting, we both ran for the exit door, and outside.

It was still night outside when we ran for our lives out of the bronze carnival, and it seems we made it with time to spare. We managed to clear a distance of two football fields before the caravan finally detonated. The blast was even more massive, a great mighty fireball. When the smoke cleared, I noticed two things. One: Julia was curled around me, protecting me from the blast. Two: The building was gone. More than gone. There was no debris or scrap or anything. It was like it was never there. Julia stood back up, and we both looked at where it had been. Now, I'm not entirely sure, but I think I saw something floating away from the place. A great black cloud, almost swimming through the air like some sort of serpent. I don't think Julia saw it. "Holy shit." Julia said, exhausted. "Did that just happen? Robort, can you confirm for me that I didn't just imagine all that?" "Imagine what?" I teasingly said. Julia put her hand on my head and ruffled my hair again. "Oh, come on, don't fuck with me like that." She said warmly. "Hey. Thanks again. We would probably be in a much worse situation if not for you." I smiled, and maybe blushed a little. "I wonder if this is going to be on the news?" I asked. Julia chuckled and said "I don't know. I wonder if anyone even noticed. I haven't heard any sort of activity. No dogs barking, or car alarms going off." She had a point. "So wait, how's Joey?" I asked, as I looked over to him. Then I saw something I wasn't expecting.

Joey was perfectly fine. He wasn't a robot. Julia laid him down on the grass and looked him over. "Okay, maybe we imagined this after all. Pretty sure Joey was a robot for a bit there." Amazed at this, I pulled up my pants leg and looked at my own leg. Sure enough, the metal was gone. I looked over to Julia, and noticed something that might convince us that it really happened. "Julia, you're still wearing the bandolier." I point out. Julia looked down and saw the bullet belt wrapped around her chest. "Oh, wow, I am. Wait. They didn't confiscate these? Seriously?" "They didn't lock my cell either." I said. Julia laughed, saying "Ahaha! They did the same thing to me! Wow, not the brightest bunch, huh?" I chuckled and nodded. Julia sighed and said "Well, this has been fun. Let's get over to Joey's house before anyone spots us. Also, help me hide these bullets." So thenJulia drove us to Joey's house. Joey woke up on the way there, and we explained the whole situation to him. I've never seen anyone jump for joy so much. Inside a corvette, no less. His parents were waiting for us when we got there, and we tried to make up some hokey excuse for why we were out until three thirty in the morning. Julia managed to get the "stuck in traffic" excuse to work. We went to bed soon after that. When we woke up in the morning, everything was just fine. Apparently the Clockwork Caravan was reported as having packed up and left town. There were also reports of stray groillas, elephants, gazelles, and other savanna animals running loose, with no explanation of where they came from. I grinned when I read that. They didn't know, but I knew. Julia also gave me one of the bullets as a souvineer, and I put it on my dresser.

So, it seems like my story has finally come to an end. Everything went back to normal, mostly, and the schedules resumed. Every day, I wake up, eat breakfast, go to work at the office, come home, hang out with the family, then go to bed. Then, everything cycles back around again. Well, it was mostly like that. But, a week after the whole event went down, we got a new neighbor. Mom and Dad decided it's be nice to welcome them into the neighborhood. We went over as a whole family, and brought a pie that Dad made. Mom knocked on the door, and it opened I saw someone I didn't expect to see inside.

The person who opened the door was no other than Caroline Clockenspiel. Well, it certainly looked that way. She was just as tall, had the same skin tone and hair color, and had a similar figure, albiet with a more natural looking waistline, but one thing stuck out to me. Her eyes weren't bright cherry red, but instead more of a light, almost lavender color. She was wearing a loose t-shirt and jeans. "Hi! How can I help you?" She said as she looked us over. "We just came to say hello to our new neighbor! We're the Andersons. I'm Bob." Dad said. "Amanda." Mom said. "Yo, I'm Lynia, what's up?" Lynia said. "R-robort." I said, still slightly shocked. "You're tall!" Kyrenia said. Caroline giggled, and looked down at her. "Hehe, is that your name? Oh, it's nothing. Just a minor case of gigantism I had when I was a kid. They put me under surgery to stop the growth, but the high-ness sorta stuck, you might say." "Well, that explains it." Dad said. "We made you a pie. Say, what's your name?" She responded with "Oop, silly me! I'm Karen Jones. Nice to meet you! Thanks for the pie!" Dad gave her the pie and we all waved goodbye. As we were walking back to the house, I heard Karen call out "Hey, Robort!" I turned around, honestly kinda scared about what was about to happen. I walked over to her and said "Yes?" Karen got down and one knee and put a hand on my shoulder. She said "Hey. I don't know if you remember, but thank you for what you did. It's nice to be me again." I responded with "Wait, so you really are her?" Karen chuckled. "Well, it's more like she's me. It's a long story, I'll tell you some other time, but again, thank you for what you've done." I asked her "Uh... Just one question. Are you still... You know?" She tilted her head a bit before suddenly understanding what I was asking. She poked her slightly chubby belly and said "Not anymore. And you're the one to thank. Well, you and your friends. Tell them thanks for me too, okay? And see you later!"

So now, it's over. Karen is still our neighbor, and we actually do stuff together a lot. It's gotten a little less monotonous, but I'll admit I can appreciate a schedule a little more after this whole experience. She also told me the entire story about how she came to join the Clockwork Caravan. I'll let you imagine that one for yourself. The world doesn't stop moving, I suppose. Always working and grinding away, just like clockwork.