|Table of Contents|
Dee didn't know what she was looking at, and she didn't want to get any closer to it until she did. Whatever it was, wasn't moving or making any sounds. It may have been a statue or a rock formation for all she knew. But she didn't think so. And she wasn't going to find out in the dark.
Treach stopped barking, but held his position and continued to whine as Dee backed toward the campfire. The scarecrow was circling around instead of approaching the thing directly. Dee saw him slip into a patch of darkness beneath a cluster of trees. She didn't see him come out.
Dee retrieved her flashlight and turned it on the shape.
Not a rock.
"What the hell?" said Dee as she approached the figure once more.
The light revealed a vaguely human shape. Two arms, two legs, and what could have been a head... but it wasn't human. It wasn't even alive.
It was a machine. Dee ran her flashlight's beam over the outline. Patches of steel glinted back at her.
"Farm machinery?" That almost made sense. The fields were just a day's walk away... but they weren't here. What would farm machinery be doing in the middle of the woods?
The thing stood about nine feet tall, perched atop massive legs that ended in thick, triangular feet. The feet had sunk into the ground under the figure's enormous weight, and it had been stood in place so long that vines had grown over (and into) the machine, both obscuring it and giving it an oddly organic appearance when seen from a distance.
The torso was made of several curved pieces of metal that reminded Dee of medieval plate. Incredibly oversized arms hung from the shoulders. The shoulders were like oil drums, the forearms like cannons. The comically thick limbs ended in large hands that bore three fingers, one set opposite the other two. Each of the digits was thicker than Dee's wrist. Dee imagined the thing could easily crush her skull if it wanted to.
Dee peered between the torso plates and saw gears.... not the delicate gears of a watch, but huge, ponderous wheels with sharp cogs that reminded Dee of teeth. There were other shapes as well. Chains, cones, screws bolts... things that Dee couldn't name, but which nevertheless fit together in the heart of the dizzyingly complex machine. The vines that covered the machine had woven their way deep into the mechanism, where they had sprouted vein-like tendrils that reached even deeper. Clearly they couldn't have done so if the machine had been moving, but nevertheless, Dee got the impression that the thick vines were holding the gears in place.
Dee aimed her flashlight higher.
The 'head' was a squat, armored dome resting between the shoulders. Dee saw what she thought were a pair of rectangular eye-holes, but upon closer inspection she realized they were just ports. A series of them ran around the circumference of the head. Exhaust ports? What powered this thing? What WAS this thing?
Dee heard the scarecrow moving through the woods behind the machine, coming up from the rear.
She found his face with his flashlight.
"Hey... Any idea what this thing is?"
He frowned at her.
"Ok so... you telling me you DIDN'T see this thing standing her when you set up camp?"
The frown changed from annoyance to concern. Dee thought she knew why.
"Or maybe you did see it and just... forgot? Are you forgetting things?"
He shrugged. Dee didn't like the look of that shrug any more than she liked the huge metal monster overlooking their campsite.
There was no reason to be afraid of it; she didn't even know what it was. She had assumed it was farm machinery, but... maybe not. She tried to search the chassis for emblems or insignia. The steel was well-used, but the dents and scratches were only minor surface damage. Much of the surface was hidden beneath the blanket of vines, however.
Dee tugged at one of the vines. Part of it snapped off in her hand with a dry sound.
"Hmph..." Dee pulled off a few more pieces. Some of the vines were dead and dried out, these came away easily, but others still had life in them. Dee used her knife on those, cutting them free until she'd exposed more of the machine's chest plate. It was bare.
Dee returned her attention to the interior of the machine. The gears and parts must have serial numbers or manufacturer's logos... but again, the vines thwarted her. Again, she began pulling and slicing them away, exposing more of strange mechanism to her flashlight-
She'd just pulled out one of the larger vines, when something...
Treach barked once. Just once. Then he whined and backed away.
He'd heard it, too.
Something clamped down on Dee's arm.
She screamed before realizing that it was the scarecrow. He'd grabbed her by the bicep and was pulling her back... forcefully.
"Hey!" She protested.
He yanked her back away from the machine, almost pulling her off her feet.
The sound came from the machine. It wasn't a metal sound, though... it was wooden. It was the sound of something wooden giving way.
Something moved. Dee saw a thick length of vine drop to the ground. The end was crushed, as if it had been chewed by massive teeth.
Now there came another sound. A low hum... so low that it almost wasn't a sound at all. Dee FELT it as much as she heard it.
It was getting louder.
That wasn't a vine. It was a spark! A very loud, very bright spark from somewhere within the metal giant. It briefly bathed the area around the machine in an eerie green light.
Simultaneously, the low humming sound changed. It was louder and higher now. It reminded Dee of shifting gears in a car's transmission. But nothing was moving. Was there?
The scarecrow's hand disappeared from Dee's arm. He slipped in front of her, and Dee saw that he had a knife in one hand. The other hand waved her back.
More vines fell away.
Treach erupted into barks and growls. He darted in front of Dee... in front of the scarecrow... and planted himself protectively in front of them both.
Another spark. This time the sound was joined by a buzzing sound from within the machine. The low hum began to warble, rhythmically rising and lowering in pitch, as if in time with a slow, ponderous heartbeat.