by Joachim Heijndermans
It was in the year of our Lord 1889, in the bountiful valley of Little Eden, Colorado. Just a bit off the commonly traveled roads, with plenty of game and the most fertile soil on that side of Appalachia, there stood the log cabin of Tom Gilmore, his wife Marybelle Gilmore, and their three children Thomas Junior, Sarah, and little Pip, still a babe.
Little Eden was a place of blissful isolation, away from the harshness of the towns and the cities. In the valley, the Gilmores toiled away on their little hog farm, occasionally harvesting just enough potatoes to sell their surplus at the market, if God was in a giving mood that was. Yes, the Gilmores were a poor family with only several dollars to their name, just enough land to work it for crops, and a ten-year old automotive diesel plow.
Yet despite their impoverished disposition in life, the family was happy with their lot. The elder Gilmore’s old lives long behind them, it was now the health and the future of their children that was paramount, and its rewards so much sweeter than the sinful ways of the cities. A Union soldier during the war, Tom Gilmore had seen his fair share of the evils of men, and even more in the years after. Those were the times he did not speak about. Days to be wiped from the pages of history and scrapped into the bin. Now there was only the quiet life on the farm.
Thus, all the greater the surprise when the stranger came to the valley that late summer day.
“Pa!” cried Junior, doing his best to be heard over the rattling of the old automaton. It took the boy four tries before Tom finally noticed his son’s attempts to draw his attention.
He grunted and bit his lip, as Marybelle forbade harsh language. Annoyed, as he’d already spent the time and diesel to activate it in the first place, he shut the mechanical plow off. “What is it, son?” Tom asked.
“Stranger’s coming down the path. Headed here.”
“Stranger? Where? Point ‘im out boy,” Tom asked, lowering to his son’s shoulder to follow the pointed finger. He damned his eyes, which had once been sharp enough to hit a blackbird in the beak when hunting, but had now become likely to blur at even the shortest distances. And he wouldn’t have seen the stranger either, were it not that the figure on the horse shone as bright as the sun’s light itself. “What in the hell?” Tom muttered.
“He’s on a horse. Black one.”
“Junior, be my eyes. What’s he look like? Why does he shine like that?”
“I don’t know pa. He looks…he looks like he made of gold, pa. A golden man.”
“He armed?” Tom asked.
Junior peered into the distance for a bit, then turned to his pa and said; “Yes’m.”
“All right. We best head back to the house, then,” Tom grunted, abandoning his diesel plow in the middle of the potato field.
“So who is he, pa?”
“A stranger. So until we know for certain, that makes him dangerous,” Tom grunted, his hands aching for a proper means to defend his homestead with. Deep within him, a man that had been long gone began to re-emerge.
“Is he a law-man, pa?” Junior asked. “Like the Star Man from Carson city who shot Bill Dalton?”
“This ain’t a story, son. Now go on. Git moving.”
“Why’s he here, pa?”
To that, Tom Gilmore didn’t have an answer. What he did have, was that gut feeling that had saved his hide on many occasions. But this time, he had more to worry about than is own skin. “Go to ma, boy. Tell ‘er to get the Winchester and load it, but don’t leave it in sight.”
“Winchester? But pa, we ain’t got a —,”
“Do as I say. Now go!” Tom snapped. His son, startled by the expression on his father’s face, one alien to him as it exhumed a certain darkness that his father had never expressed in his presence before, did as told and ran toward the cabin. While Tom couldn’t see it clearly, he could hear Marybelle call their daughter Sarah indoors, the babe Pip babbling along with her. Now, only he was still out and exposed in the open. His fingers ached for a gun, specifically the one currently hidden in the pantry. As he did not have access to that revolver, he opted for a different strategy; he walked toward the stranger.
The two, one a farmer, the other a shining figure on a dark steed, approach one another. As Tom came closer, he heard the neighing and the hoof steps more clearly. Then, a second sound came as well. A ticking sound, accompanied by a backdrop of spinning gears and metallic creaks. He stopped his approach when the horse did, then looked up at the rider. He didn’t know what he had expected to see, but a mechanical man this far out west was very low on the list of what he had imagined the stranger to be.
“Tom Gilmore?” the shining figure asked, his voice flat and creaking as gears spun from within him.
“Yes’m. Now, who might you be?”
“A weary traveler from out east, looking to find you. I’m afraid I have come bearing bad news. Might I impose on you and yours for a rest for my horse and a dab of diesel? If you have some to spare, which I’ll happily repay you for.”
Tom gave the automaton a good look over. His ‘skin’ was a set of golden plates, decorated with bronze shapes of horses and knights, while by his joints to move he noticed dark iron cogs and bolts. His body was draped in a long duster coat, the tan color hidden under a layer of red mountain dirt, but bereft of the usual smells that lingered around human folks. No sweat or the faint scent of booze. Tom tried to meet the eyes of the man before him, thinking they were concealed by the black hat on his crown. They were not. In fact, eyes, a nose, a mouth, and any other body parts that usually came with every face, were completely absent. In a golden sheen, Tom Gilmore saw himself reflected.
“You a lawman?”
“Oh, once in a blue moon, out in El Paso. Didn’t have the heart for it. But then again, folks of my disposition rarely do,” the machine-man laughed heartily at his own joke, as he tapped his fist against a mostly hollow chest.
“Bounty hunter, then?”
The laughter stopped. The faceless man turned to Tom and looked at him with cold intensity. “Interesting you should say that.”
“How’s that,” Tom asked. He readied himself to give the signal, praying Marybelle was at the ready with the rifle.
“I am here on commission. Paid to seek you out in this little patch of heaven. And we have much to discuss, which I’m hoping we could do over drinks? Diesel for me, whiskey for you? Like I said, I’m more than able to reimburse you.”
Tom nodded, although he hadn’t allowed himself the taste of whiskey in a dog’s age, the closest being a sip from the cider bottle on special occasions. Wouldn’t have any even if the option were available, as he’d felt he needed his wits on him dealing with this man-machine.
“You’re welcome to any diesel we have to spare, and I will gladly take your money as payment, mister. But before you come on in, I’m going to have to ask you to leave your guns outside. For the children and the missus’s sakes, of course.”
The automaton laughed, tipping the brim of his hat to the hog farmer. “Very wise of you. Can’t be too careful. But I’m afraid I don’t carry the guns to give you, mister Gilmore.”
Tom was about to speak, carefully trying to find a tactful way so to not call him a liar, when the movement of the man-machine’s third arm revealed the truth. This machine, although built into the form of man, was in fact equipped with a second set of arms placed by his torso, giving him the appearance of a golden insect in a duster. Tom closed his eyes and chuckled, realizing his son’s mistake when he’d asked if the stranger was ‘armed’ or not.
“Shall we proceed?” the golden man asked.
“Huh?” Tom muttered, having missed the question.
The machine imitated a chuckle. “I apologize if I startled you. I know I am an ornery sight to new folks,” said the automaton.
“Can’t say we see many of your kind in these parts, no,” Tom said, feigning a smile. “So, no guns, huh?”
“Were you expecting any?”
“Yes… well, I don’t know what to expect from a —,” Tom said, but he stopped himself again.
“You figgered me for one o’ them pistol-slingers like the ones they built out at Abilene.”
“Beg pardon, sir. But as you might’ve realized, we don’t get many visitors here at Little Eden. You hear them stories of the mechanical gunmen. Can’t be too careful.”
“No, you cannot,” the machine-man replied.
Tom hesitated, his reservations returning with a vengeance. “You say you have news for me? What business could we possibly have, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“I do not mind, sir. I’ve come in regards to your aunt, mister Gilmore.”
“My aunt?” Tom asked.
“Yessir. Mrs. Gwendoline Stuttart-Gilmore of Philadelphia. It is my sad duty to inform you that she’s passed. I have come to relay not only the news of her passing, but to also deliver the inheritance that she has bequeathed you.”
“The hell you say,” Tom gasped, his composure breaking along with his voice from the shock. He recomposed himself quickly, but was still tempted too strongly to not to ask; “How…what kind of inheritance are we talking about?”
The machine reached into his saddlebag and revealed an exquisite piece of ironware of a falcon, with a clock nestled within its chest. “This here clock, for starters,” the machine said. As he cradled the time-teller in his one set of arms, he reached in the other bag with his other arms to reveal a small box and a sealed envelope. “Then there’s a small set of antique spoons of German origin. And lastly, this here cheque, valued at about twelve hundred dollars.”
“Twe-!” Tom nearly shouted, but again he regained his composure in time. “Well then, stranger, why don’t we sit down and talk this over.”
“You can confirm that you are Tom Gilmore, born 1826 to Lewelyn and Ingrid Gilmore of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, can’t you?”
“That I can, stranger. If you can confirm all this inheritance talk is the God’s honest truth.”
The automaton let out another laugh. “Oh, you will find all my documentation in order. How’s about we go over it all inside your lovely little home? I recall there was talk of fresh diesel?”
Tom clicked his tongue for a bit, then nodded in approval. “All right then. You may park your horse by the toolshed, mister. You need me to take your saddle?”
“No need, mister Gilmore. I won’t be staying long. My business with you and yours should be settled quick and right, if’m you follow me.”
“Then you’re welcome here, stranger.”
“Please, sir, call me Pázmánd. John Wolfe Pázmánd.”
“Do many of y’all have names now?” Tom asked, motioning at Pázmánd’s body.
“Indeed we do. It integrates us machine-folk better, and it makes the signing of documents easier by a stitch.” Pázmánd the machine-man dismounted from his horse and walked alongside Tom. While knowing the machine had no gun or rifle brought a sense of ease, he still felt that itch in his right hand. The one that pushed him to reach out for the phantom of the pistol that once dangled from his belt. Still, it wasn’t as if he was completely at the machine’s mercy. Not if he was right about the glistening of the sun’s rays that came from the farm’s window being Marybelle’s Winchester.
“Darlin’,” he cried out. “We got ourselves a guest. Set a place at the table.”
“Well, this all looks in order,” said Pázmánd as he returned the embossed identification plaque to Tom. “Congratulations. You are a very wealthy man today.”
As Tom took his metal documentation back to the coffee can for storage, his children stared intently at their guest. Tom found some small delight in it, as the three had never even seen such an advanced automated man before. They were blessed to live in this current modern age, as he remembered the older types. Copper skeletons with loud gears speaking in broken sentences and creaking with every move. This one was almost a real man, were it not for the golden skin.
“How come you ain’t got no face,” Sarah asked.
“Manners, Sarah-child,” her mother chimed in. “Don’t you bother that man with foolish questions.”
“But he ain’t got no face. The machine at Swallow Gulch’s general store got himself eyes and a nose. And the girl at the dancin’ hall by the old mine got’s both eyes and a mouth. He’s got none at all.”
“Hush, child. Don’t be —,”
“I don’t mind a bit, ma’am,” said Pázmánd. He turned to the girl, allowing her a good view of his shining head. “You see here, little miss, I was a chessboard player in my days long past. A performer on the road, dueling players in the towns. Us early automatons were more simple in their build and had to have their faces painted on by their makers.”
“Why?” Sarah asked.
“Sarah!” her mother snapped at her in a hushed tone.
“Oh, that’s simple dear. Same reason we didn’t have no trains in the old days, or guns that carry more than just the one bullet. The makers didn’t know how to put all them cogs and gears into a head that small. They figgered that ‘hey, the arms move, so that should be plenty. Just paint the thing on’, they said.”
“But you ain’t even got a painted face,” Junior chimed in. “It’s all bare and shiny.”
“Well spotted, sonny. And that is purely the result of one simple flaw in my personhood; I am as lazy as a hog in a puddle,” Pázmánd said, slapping his knee, which let out a loud hefty clank, not too dissimilar with when the plow struck iron that one September. “My old face had been painted with a most fragile material, which has faded over time. I ain’t ever taken the time to make myself a new one, so that’s how I ended up without a face. Them’s the works.”
Sarah laid her head on the table, nestled in her arms. “You real shiny.”
“It took time for me to look like this. Many upgrades over the years. For a bit I only had just the one arm, if you can believe it.”
“So why change it?” Tom asked, motioning at the extra set of appendages. “Why add more?”
Pázmánd shrugged. “Heard some fool amputee from Mississippi say two hands were still better than one. Decided that doubling that would be even better. Hasn’t let me down yet.”
“Hmn,” Tom grunted.
Marybelle walked over and refilled their metal guest’s cup with another helping of diesel. “Thank you kindly,” said Pázmánd, as a grateful ping like that of a cashier register box chimed from him. “I say, this is a most delightful brew. Welcome to a weary traveler such as myself.”
“Much obliged,” said Marybelle. “Was your journey from Philadelphia that rough, mister Wolfe?”
“No rougher than travel anywhere through this most beautiful of lands, ma’am. But diesel becomes a might scarce the further you go from civilization. Had to haggle and trade hides on occasion.”
“But no trouble along the way? I mean, I can imagine outlaws might have you picked as a wealthy target, giving your fancy looks and all that. You made the trek all without a pistol?”
“Ma’am, you honor me with your concern. But I had nary a thing to worry about. I make it my business to know which routes to travel. The reason I ride on horseback, it is. Most thieves and outlaws go for the trains and the automotive mobiles these days. An automatic man on a horse just looks like slim pickin’s to them.”
“You seen an auto?” Junior chimed in.
“My boy, the cities are filled with auto’s now. Their exhausts cloud the skies and their horns are the only sounds heard anymore.”
“That don’t sound very nice,” Sarah said mournfully.
“It ain’t, sweet child. But there’s good with the bad. Cities are the only place where y’all can get a helping of that iced cream stuff all the children are going wild about. And there’s the flicker shows. Seen many boys and girls young as you in lines for the early shows.”
“Can’t there be the good without the bad?” Sarah asked.
“I don’t know, sweet child. That kind of thinking goes beyond me. But that’s the way of the world. Ask your folks, and they’ll tell you the cities weren’t much of a place of quality even in their day.”
“I wouldn’t know much about city life,” Tom muttered.
The machine Pázmánd turned to Tom, staring in silence as a wheel within his head spun loudly, then shrugged. “No need to. Not when you live in such a beautiful place like this here Little Eden valley. You’ve got everything you could ever need.”
“Not everything,” Tom said, looking at the envelope in Pázmánd’s hands expectantly.
Pázmánd took notice, then slapped his top set of hands onto the table. “Oh me, oh my, where are my manners? You want to settle our business. And right you are. It is high time we conclude this and part our ways. All that’s needed is for you to sign this here proof of acceptance for me to take on back to the officiator’s office out east. Y’all need to bring this cheque to the bank in town. They’ll have the money wired to you within the day.” The machine handed the slip, a yellowish paper that had strange stains on the edges, to Tom. “The lower line, please.”
“All right,” Tom muttered.
“So what now? You leavin’?” Junior asked Pázmánd.
“My business is done. Y’all signed the paper, and y’all get to keep your great-auntie’s stuff.”
“I like the clock,” Sarah added, running her finger over the patterns in the metal.
“So do I. She’s a chatty one, she is.”
“Who is?” Tom asked, as he slowly finished writing the ‘m’ in ‘Gilmore’.
“This here clock, mister Gilmore.”
“She talks?” Junior gasped.
Their father laughed. “He’s fooling you, kids. It’s just a clock.”
Pázmánd the machine-man looked up, holding the moment in complete silence until he took the clock and placed his head against it. “Not at all. Every machine after a certain year speaks in its own way. This clock here is a vocal learned gal, even if her spins are a bit old-fashioned. Listen! You can hear her now, talking about… about —”
“About what?” Junior asked, teetering on the edge of his seat in excitement.
“About how the horse stunk to high heaven,” Pázmánd answered.
The two elder children laughed, while the babe in the chair clapped along as small children do, just happy to participate. Even their father smirked a bit. But his attention was quickly drawn by Marybelle, who beckoned him into the kitchen area with a slight tilt of her head.
“Beggin’ your pardon, but I’m having a look to see if’m the wife needs a hand.”
“No worries on my part,” Pázmánd said. “Your children are delightful company. I will be more than entertained.”
Tom slithered away as the children asked more questions of the machine man. He did his best to slink out of sight, pressing his wife and himself against the cabinet.
“It done?” she asked.
“And it’s legit?”
“Don’t seem like a trap.”
“I don’t trust it,” Marybelle whispered. “It’s… too convenient, s’all.”
“It might be… but it also might just be what it is. Ain’t like the bounty is on no more.”
Marybelle looked Tom in the eye. “Gun’s under the table,” she mouthed, referring to the small compartment Tom had built into it years prior, before Junior was born. Her husband nodded, took out the hidden bottle of cider and their can of diesel, then re-entered the living quarters to find the machine and his children playing, of all things, a game of chess.
“Where’d that come from?” Tom asked.
“Don’t go nowhere without it, mister,” Pázmánd said. “Old habits, and all.”
“You played the carnivals?”
“I sure did, before I became my own agent. Did the chess games, then the arm wrasslin’ circuit. When I got the money for it, I bought my legs and went on to full wrasslin’, then the bullfightin’, until I finally moved onto being the bare-handed lawman of El Paso.”
“Wow,” Junior cried out. “Y’all sure are strong, mister.”
“Like you wouldn’t believe, kid. I can’t even wrassle people no more, on account I could hurt them something fierce.”
“How strong are you?” Sarah asked.
“Y’all got a melon I could crush?”
“We got pumpkins, but you ain’t squishing nothing if you aren’t gonna eat it,” Marybelle said sternly, a light laugh escaping her as the machine mimed disappointment. “So, what is your job now? Don’t hear much about machine-folk jobs other than labor.”
“Well, I’m a free automaton, ma’am. I picked my own work, and when the entertainin’ grew tiresome, I rode off and let the wind guide me wherever I could do work. Done it all, including a drove from Austin to Salt Lake. Then came the pony express, which is where I got myself working as a messenger, which led me to the job that led me on the path to meet you folks right here.”
“So, if you don’t mind me askin’, how did you find us all the way out here? Y’all must’ve searched high and low for us,” Marybelle said. “Ain’t like we registered in a book or nothin’.”
“Oh, no. I had found you long before that.”
“Pardon?” Tom said.
“Long before your dear departed aunt left this mortal coil. It was actually about a year past, when I first came upon your name, mister Tom Gilmore. I remembered it well, as you had come to Durango to retrieve an order of corn for seeding. I wouldn’t have meant nothing, if it weren’t for your face.”
The machine-man continued undeterred, practically ignoring Tom. “I asked ’round, and sure enough I was given your name. Well, the name stuck with me, as I knew of a Gilmore branch out east. A proud line of third-generation Americans. You see, they had a Tom Gilmore in their family tree. Several of them, including one who went to war and fought the Johnny Rebs for the great state of Pennsylvania.”
“That I did,” Tom said, instinctively grasping his leg and rubbing the spot where the bullet struck him.
“You did fight, yessir. Fought good too, from what your aunt said. When she felt her time coming, she begged me to find you. It led me to a path of further investigation. Funny thing is, on most folk’s accord, Tom Gilmore met his end in that war. A Gatling shredded him to pieces, they say.”
Silence fell over the table. The children looked to their father, awaiting his response. Marybelle moved back, inching bit by bit towards the Winchester, hidden behind the kitchen cupboard.
“There might be many Tom Gilmores who died back then,” Tom muttered.
“Perhaps. But it is a funny thing about this Tom Gilmore. Whether he died or not, he did manage to vanish from sight for about… oh, fifteen years or so. Wrote his last letter to his ma and pa before he marched that day. Talkin’ about glory and doing the family proud, and how he had his good friend by his side. Fellow named Rand.”
Tom froze, as did Marybelle. They tried instantly to act as if the name meant nothing to them, but their pause may have betrayed too much already.
“You wouldn’t happen to know anyone with a name like that, would you Tom?”
“Don’t ring a bell to me. Might’ve once. Met many folks since the war.”
“True. All too true. Can’t remember every face, can we?”
“No, you cannot.”
“Only machines do that. But y’all ain’t machines, are ya?” Pázmánd said, playfully nudging at Sarah’s side. She giggled loudly, completely unaware of the tense aura. “I’ve met lots of folks all over myself, playing chess on the high roads and the gaming halls all over this fine nation. Pray tell, what did you do in those years after the war? How come y’all never went back home if you didn’t die?”
Without skipping a beat, Tom answered, “War changes men. I… I wasn’t right with myself. Home wouldn’t be home no more.”
“Hmn… fair enough,” the machine said, imitating a sigh by spinning some of its internal cogs loudly. “But it is funny. Funny that, in those days that you weren’t around, another man with a face much like yours roamed ’round the west. An outlaw. A degenerate killer of men, women, children, and early automatons. A rustler of cattle and robber of the stagecoach, with a body count higher than the fingers I’ve got. A man who, interestingly enough, went by the name Rand Girrson. Don’t that sound familiar? Could almost be the same man mentioned in Gilmore’s letters, couldn’t it.”
Tom shrugged, feigning disinterest. He forced his hand not to tremble.
Pázmánd continued. “Peculiar, isn’t it? That Tom Gilmore vanishes after the war, only for a man with a similar face and a name mentioned in his correspondence to roam around doing all sorts of misdeeds. And then that man goes up and vanishes, only for Tom Gilmore to come right ’round and set up a life in this here valley.”
Tom Gilmore said nothing, breaking his eyes away from the man-machine only to steal a glance at his wife. Her face was cold, miming to her husband that she was going for the rifle.
Pázmánd continued; “Having confirmed you are Tom Gilmore, formerly of the 11th infantry of the state of Pennsylvania, I feel my personal theory that Tom Gilmore and Rand Girsson being one and the same is most definitely the truth. On some level, that is.”
Tom shrugged. “Your theory, mister Wolfe. Your theory.”
“It would be, were it not for your face, mister Gilmore. Because I’ve seen it before.”
“You said that. You saw me in town.”
“Yes, I did. The second time. First time I saw it, you was Rand Girsson.”
His first instinct was to call the machine a liar. But Tom Gilmore knew that the machine had him dead to rights. That iron-clad memory wasn’t one to be argued with. But how did this collection of gears know him? He had no recollection of ever seeing a machine like this before. How did Pázmánd know his face?
“So in the end, I am curious; were you Tom Gilmore once, becoming Rand Girsson after the war, only to go back to being Tom Gilmore? Or did Tom Gilmore really die on that battlefield, and a man of ill-repute called Rand Girsson took his name the moment it became convenient to do so fifteen years later?” Pázmánd asked.
Silence fell over them, with only the cooing of little baby Pip to offer any direct sound. Outside, a hog squealed. Out of the machine’s eye-line, Marybelle slowly picked up the Winchester and took aim. Despite the possibility that this conversation would be made moot by a bullet at any moment, Tom felt the urge to answer regardless.
“You know, at this point it don’t matter either way, does it?” Tom asked.
“I suppose not,” the machine-man said, letting a cog whirr loudly as if he’d whistled. “’Specially on account that, whatever scenario is true and all, don’t change the matter of what went down at Summer Creek in any which way.”
Silence, more uncomfortable than the last, fell over the dining table. Marybelle shot her husband a confused look, unsure of what the significance of Summer Creek was. Tom was all too aware of his days in that little hole of a town, days that came to an abrupt end with a shooting.
“I may have been a tad deceitful, but this is on account I wasn’t too sure until just now. I needed to be absolutely certain. But we have met before, mister Gilmore. We met when you still was Rand Girsson. We met that day in Summer Creek, few miles west from Tucumcari, when you shot Ellis Forsythe dead. You and your friend, Earl Chester, that is. Pumped ten bullets into his body over a hand of cards and a bottle of whiskey.”
His eyes squinted, Tom inched his fingers towards the Colt nestled under the table. He’d heard plenty of stories in his day to know where this one was going. “And who might that be?”
“My maker. Built me out of clocks and an old mannequin. Taught me how to play the board,” Pázmánd said.
“Son of a bitch,” Tom muttered.
“Daddy cussed!” Sarah chimed in, giggling until her mother shushed her with a sharp hiss.
Undeterred, Tom continued. “You. You were the tinker-toy of his. The carny attraction.”
“I’m honored you remember me,” Pázmánd said. “Didn’t think you would, but I can understand on account I, like your girl here said, don’t have my face no more. But I sure as hell remember you, sir. I didn’t get the name at first. For years, all I had to go on was a face. And even then, I wasn’t able to find a trail on you ’til about a year and a half ago, when I found the whorehouse that Girsson spent seven months as a regular patron at. He seemed to have been sweet on a painted cat that worked there, a miss Rose Bordeaux if I remember correctly. The two vanished that seventh month, murderin’ the madam and her husband, whilst making off with the contents of their safe and a Winchester rifle. A bounty got put on ’em both, but it weren’t none too high on account of them not murdering anyone important. ‘Sides, the bounty hunter days petered out not too long after with the closin’ of the frontier. Gone with the wind, they were.”
“Until now then, I suppose,” Tom muttered.
“’Til now,” said Pázmánd.
“Then I take it you’re here to get your revenge for me and Earl shooting that maker of yours,” Tom Gilmore said through gritted teeth, his hand clenching his pistol tighter.
Pázmánd stared at Tom for a good while, with only the sound of his spinning wheels killing the silence. Then he laughed. Loudly. “Oh me, oh my. Heavens to Cogwell, no. If I say so myself, he was a mean son-of-a-bitch that deserved every bullet you and your friend blasted into body of his. For murdering Forsythe, I wish to shake your hand.”
Tom sat there, startled by this response. “Wait, you ain’t foolin’ me?”
“No, mister Gilmore, I ain’t. He was a mean boss, a worse man, and a downright drunk. With those shots, you made me a free machine. The world is richer being a life like his poorer,” Pázmánd said, his hand extended and eager to shake Tom’s.
Astonished, Tom Gilmore sat there. It took a while before he realized his mouth had been open, staring wide-eyed at his guest’s golden hand. Tom chuckled, as he finally took the machine’s hand and shook it with gleeful vigor. “He was a cheat at the cards too, I don’t mind saying.”
“A cheat? Worse than that. No sir, I fault you not for blowing that bastard straight to the pit.”
Tom and Marybelle laughed loudly, joined by their children as Pip clapped along. Mrs. Gilmore laid her rifle down, shaking her head with embarrassment. Tom blew out the air in his lungs as he finally allowed himself to relax.
“You know, I must confess you had me a might scared,” Tom said, revealing the pistol to his guest as he placed it on the table.
“I see that. And I must say, I hope sincerely that y’all didn’t think me here to avenge that ol’ bastard.”
“I’ll be frank, for a moment there, I kind of did,” Tom laughed. “I’m hopin’ we didn’t offend you with our guns?” he chuckled, as he laid the revolver to his side.
“Not in the slightest. I apologize for giving you such a fright.” Pázmánd took his cup and raised it. “Cheers to a well aimed shot,” he said.
“Cheers,” Tom said, as he shot a happy grin at his wife. He leaned back and kicked his drink of cider back.
Marybelle sat down with them, the rifle placed back against the wall. “You gave us a scare there, mister,” she said.
“Yeah, I have that effect,” Pázmánd said, reaching into his pocket. “But I ain’t here for any killing just to avenge some fleshy bastard’s death, no sir.” He placed the contents of his hand, a golden pocket watch with a dent and cracked glass, open on the table. A melancholy tune began to play.
“It’s pretty,” Sarah said.
“What’s that song, mister Wolfe,” Marybelle asked, as she took a glass with cider of her own in hand. “It’s beautiful.”
“It’s an Italian song. ‘C’era una volta in Spagna’. A love song. One of two songs she still plays,” Pázmánd said, his tone much lower than before. And just as he had answered, the song began to break. Notes skipped, while the gears within the watch moved erratically. The song began to falter, until it just stopped outright.
“It don’t work too good, does it?” Junior asked.
“No. She does not. Used to sing beautifully. Kept me company in the loneliest hours. Sang me to rest. Brought me to peace in the darkest moments. She was my one friend.” Pázmánd leaned back into his chair, his third arm caressing the watch. “Tom. You two shot eleven bullets into Forsythe’s body, that day in Summer Creek. The twelfth, you shot in this here watch.”
Tom Gilmore shook his head and took another drink, when suddenly, the machine-man’s mood began to dawn on him. “Wait… is —?” he began, not bothering to finish. Pázmánd nodded slowly, his head tilted low as his fingers glided over the watch. Marybelle and the children looked to their patriarch with confused expressions, clueless as to why the mood turned so dark. “You came here… you came to avenge this watch?”
“She don’t talk like she used to. Or sing. She don’t sing her songs too good no more, mister Gilmore. Or do you prefer mister Girsson?”
Tom leaned back, glancing at the pistol that, while not too far out of range, now felt like it was on the other side of the world on that table. “That… that don’t make no sense. You’re here over a watch?”
The machine man removed his hand from the golden pocket watch, with now all four of his palms on the table. “I swore I’d get the ones who did this. I got Earl. Now’s just you.” The machine-man then took the watch in hand, cranked the gear on top, and laid it back on the table. A second, more morose song began to play. “This one’s called ‘the Sunset’, if I remember correctly. It don’t last too long, but plays a bit better than the other.”
A bead of sweat trickled down Tom Gilmore’s face. He ran it through his head. Pázmánd would crush him with his hands like a mallet could obliterate a fresh melon. But if he could grab the Colt, he’d have a shot. He looked to Marybelle, who traded glances between her husband and the Winchester. The children backed away from the table, motioned to skedaddle by their mother’s hand. The machine-man sat there motionless. Silently, husband and wife agreed on a battle plan. Regardless of whom the automaton would grab first, the other would blow the golden bastard to hell. Their eyes shot to their respective guns, each other, the faceless machine, then back to the guns.
Then, in a heartbeat, they reached out.
Pázmánd’s hands fell from his wrists. Deafening shots blasted through the cabin. Bullets flew. The Gilmores fell to the ground instantly. Only baby Pip still made a sound, with gasping cries of fear echoing in their small home.
The machine man rose from his seat, ejecting the empty casings from the guns mounted within his arms. Tom Gilmore, twitching in a puddle of blood, looked up at the faceless man, and finally understood at that moment that the machine had not lied. He carried no guns. He was the gun. Then darkness took him.
The automaton walked on, reattaching two of his hands onto his arms. With his foot he turned Marybelle Gilmore’s body over, her lifeless eyes devoid of their former color. With no more threats, the machine took the watch from the table, then made his way to the children.
“Ah, hell and damnation,” he groaned, as he saw Tom Junior sprawled out on the floor, choking on the blood from the wound that flooded his throat. It didn’t take long before the boy stopped struggling as well and the warmth from his face faded. Pázmánd then turned to Sarah, who held baby Pip tightly in her arms. She sat there, wide eyes and shivering, her face stained with blood that wasn’t her own. It took the shadow of the machine-man to fall over her for her to react, meeting his eye-less visage.
“It… well, it wasn’t my intent for your brother to bite it. Or your mother, though I prepared myself for the possibility. For that, I’m sorry,” he said, a gear in his chest ticking slowly as he reattached his third hand to its wrist. “It’s late, so I suggest y’all stay here for the night, then take the road to the nearest town come morning. Bring that envelope there with y’all. Y’all gonna need it.”
Pázmánd walked to the door, his spurs singing with every step. He opened the door, bathing himself in light that caused his golden plated body to shine like the sun itself. “If you two are still raw about all this when y’all are bigger, y’all know to find me. I’ve been known to stand out.”
And with that, the Golden Man from Summer Creek claimed his revenge, tainting the soil of New Eden valley with blood and gunpowder.
Joachim Heijndermans is a writer, artist, and SFWA member from the Netherlands. His work has been featured in a great number of publications, websites, podcasts and been adapted to television.
If you like HyphenPunk, consider making a donation to keep the magazine running.
Make a monthly donation
Make a yearly donation
Choose an amount
Or enter a custom amount
Your contribution is appreciated.
Your contribution is appreciated.
Your contribution is appreciated.DonateDonateDonate