's 2020 Horror Write-off:


Submitted by DandelionSteph


Two green bell peppers, perfectly chopped. Two green bell peppers, utterly whole.

One 16-year-old standing straight, staring at her right arm.

The cut on the underside of Sarah's arm was gently oozing. Little white pieces were nestled snugly in the threads of flesh. They gears, Sarah thought in the back of her mind.

The pop music playing at the radio faded away. Time seemed to slow even more as Sarah carefully prodded one little piece within the...within the gash. No sensation. Not the slightest tingle or zap. As her fingers brushed against the rim of the gash, but for a millisecond it felt normal again, like it was just her fingers touching a normal wound.


It has to go. I got to get rid of it. All of them.

I got to...I got to....

Sarah's left hand reached to pinch out the gear.

Crazy talk. Just crazy talk, came the words from the back of her mind. And still her hand came closer.

The gears were slowly moving.

The music became louder. The floor was hard. Sarah's breath went in and out, faster and faster, smacking her in the ears. And the gears only moved faster.


Her bed. Soft. It was dark. Quiet.

The clinic's cream stung. The stitches itched.

An old memory came unbidden....

She was about eight.

"Hearts go "cla-cleck"!" she had said.

Cla-cleck, cla-cleck...

"No, that's silly! They go ba-bump! Ba-bump!" said a classmate...said the other classmates. Said the teacher.

No matter how quiet the room, no matter how quiet her breathing, no matter how much she strained her ears...the 'ba-bump' didn't come.


It was hard at day, but even harder at night.

That faint click and whir, that sporadic oily burble...please let it be just blood. Please...but...but even if it were just blood...the...

Cla-cleck. Cla-cleck.

Her parents couldn't hear it, not even when each pressed an ear to her chest.

I...I don't know. Maybe....they say they can't, even though they do. Because they love me.

It didn't matter. She still couldn't sleep. It was even louder as she laid in bed, staring up at the ceiling, wishing she could slip into unconsciousness.

If I could remove it...the noise would stop. I could sleep.

Sarah stood up in bed.

I could live.


The room felt too big. Too quiet. Too empty.

The couch was gray and firm. The room had a few bookshelves, stuffed with books.

Probably just for show. Does she even read them? Are they wallpaper? Does she order them online, as props? What real books are they impersonating? What real books---

Sarah glanced at her now thoroughly-bandaged arm. Again, she felt an ache suffuse through her whole body, and she looked away.

“Why do you want to remove that thing?” the therapist asked.

“Because it doesn’t belong.” Sarah idly scratched at her bandaged arm.

“Why doesn’t it belong?”

Cla-cleck. Cla-cleck.

The therapist couldn't hear it. How?

She heard it get louder.

“It’s a gear. That’s something that belongs in a robot, not a human.” Sarah couldn't meet the therapist's gaze.

The therapist wrote something down on her clipboard.

"And this thing, which you say doesn't belong...can you clarify why it causes you so much distress?"

Sarah was quiet. “Because...because if I have gears, that means I’m just a robot.”

"And why is that bad?"

"Robots aren't like people. They...can't think." She unfurled her hands and stared at them absently. "Or feel."

“Do you think? Do you feel?”

"I..I think so..?" Sarah closed her eyes. "I do."

“If real people think and feel, and you think and feel, then you’re a person. Robot or not, gears or not. You’re a real person.”


"Thank you for your time, Dr. Kurkowski. It's been very hard on her, with her de---"

Sarah's mother chattered on to the therapist at the threshold. Sarah sat down on a hard metal chair in the lobby. Her mother's words had become fainter and fainter, until it was only a murmur in the distance. But it was simply a matter of distance, distance and walls.

Sarah looked up at the building's skylight. Pigeons strutted on top of the glass panels.

It was a few still seconds, of just sunlight in the blue sky, and that freshly-washed building smell, and pigeons cooing and fluttering and spinning.

Wings. Wings, and beak. Wings, and beak, and feet...

Sarah sighed. She looked at her bandaged arm and stroked its underside.

Wings and beak and feet.

Arms and legs and...and...gears.

Sarah sighed again. The sadness wouldn't burn up in the sunlight. The slight tightness in her throat wouldn't ease.

But the clicks...

Sarah blinked.

The clicks had stopped. The whirring. The burbling. All gone.

Sarah clenched her bandaged arm with an unfamiliar expression. She bobbed it up and down. Twitched her fingers.

I'm a real person.

And maybe I always was.

"Mom?" Her mother still hadn't shown up. Sarah went back to the clinic room.

In front of her was her mother, chattering away with a phone at her ear, looking at nothing. Something was strained in her voice.

"Just because it's small with little square bits doesn't make it a gear. I mean, that's ridiculous. It's just bones. Bones look like that."