A Problem in the Tool Shed

It was the middle of the night, and I was bored out of my fucking mind. I’d been clawing at sleep for hours, it eluding me like a glittering memory that’s just slightly out of focus. I could never quite reach it even as it tugged and pulled at my eyelids.

Windy rain was crashing hard against the house. Droplets the size of small ammunition rounds pelting the window next to my bed and rifling through my eardrums. “No sleep for you, fuckhead!” one of them screamed, smashing down mid-doze and reawakening me just in time to realize I should have taken some melatonin.

Even that wouldn’t have helped. I’ve developed a tolerance. You could drop an elephant with it before it dragged me under.

Sleeping alone during a rainstorm can be comforting. I like to take the entire blanket and wrap it around me, like I’m a mummy, trapped and alone in my own little coffin. Nobody can find me in here, not even the strongest shelling of rain can penetrate these pillowy walls.

Unfortunately, it was hot as hell. Summer was on the way, and it’d hit eighty degrees today just before the clouds rolled in. Hot, humid suck had welled up inside the house and I didn’t have the foresight necessary to drag my trusty Emerson room fan out of storage and set it up by the bed.

I gave up and tossed the covers aside, rolling out of bed. Bare, sweaty feet touched down on the wooden floor and I stood, moving to the window. I took a few steps before I realized I was completely naked.

When did that happen? I never sleep naked. And the fact that I was sweltering hot made no sense either. I didn’t feel sick. It was probably just the humidity of the day getting trapped up in this room, and it made me clammy, and I was half-dozing when I stripped off my sweats.

Not that it mattered. I have no neighbors, so nobody got a peepshow when I walked over to stare out at the woods behind my house, through the downpour and the cloudy, moonlit sky.

I scratched at my balls as I peered out, began to take everything in. The backyard was a total mess. One massive mudslide. I could barely make out the tool shed which stood flush with the edge of the forest, its white finish almost imperceptable through the rain.

The door of the shed was banging against its exterior hanging in the wind, I could see that much. Which didn’t make sense. The door is always shut tight and locked unless I’m doing yardwork.

Bang, bang, bang.

I realized that I was staring out the window, stark naked.

When your fiance of four years leaves you high and dry, you end up losing a little control of a bunch of small shit, including caring about propriety. Which brings me to another point: that door hadn’t been unlocked since before she left a few months ago, and I’m one-hundred percent positivo that the thing was secured.

I squinted, trying to make out the door latch, but I couldn’t see. The rain began to pick up, even stronger, and I stepped back from the window to grab my boxers off the floor. I pulled them on, and then my sweats.

4:01 AM.

I’d be at work in about three hours which meant that there was no point in trying to climb back into that steambath of a bed. Better to get the day started now and get tired by tonight, so that I could finally get some god damned sleep.

But life is funny. Things never go as planned.

I walked downstairs and threw in a Keurig cup, turning on the house lights. I could hear the shed door again, and reminded myself that I’d have to close it before I left for the day. Even though I’m pretty isolated up here in the woods, and I’ve got ten acres of nothing but trees and streams surrounding me, a man can’t be too careful when it comes to protecting his tools, right?

The Keurig finished brewing as I flipped open my Mac and began to surf. I’m in advertising. I do technical writing for websites and big companies who need to polish their public content. Really, though, I chose this career path because I could live where I want, work when I wanted to work, and keep my free time to myself.

I read a bunch of industry feeds every day to keep up on things, and so I started in with my routine.

My ex left me because I was so wrapped up in work. Or at least that was the numero uno reason she’d given me. I felt it was more about the lack of sex drive on my part, or my obsession with writing science fiction that would never see the light of day in a million years. But the one thing she’d instilled in me was a reinforcement to follow my dream, to be a writer, and to do work that made me better at that.

I still dream about her, even after all this time.

Something carnal, a tearing, roaring sound screamed through the morning air and I jumped, spilling coffee over the counter top and scalding my hand. I set the cup down and turned to the sound, in the back yard.

The shed door had wrenched completely free.

It was lying shattered and twisted against the trunk of a massive oak tree over thirty feet away from the white shed.

Deep rends were cussed into its metal frame, severe gashes which ran in parallel to one another in scores of five.

The banging had stopped, replaced with something far more menacing.

Light was beginning to peak through the clouds and began to glint off of the now door-less tool shed.

I felt a sudden urge to call the police, thinking that I might have been the subject of some wild, early morning vandalism, but I thought of how silly this would all sound.

“Hey, it’s been a rough couple of months.” our small town sheriff would say.

“Yeah, you’re right Evan. I know. I can’t get her out of my head. It’s the damned wind and rain keeping me up, and of course I’m still finding her hair on my clothes and in carpeted corners. Let’s grab a pint next week.” I’d say.

“Sounds good. Hang in there. And get that door fixed.” Evan would reply.

“You bet. First thing, chief.” I’d say.

And that would be that. And that sounded like a waste of everyone’s time. Looking at the shed now, I noticed something new. Something I hadn’t observed before.

Without the door, the white of the shed resembled a bleached-bone skull, with miniature eye socket windows spaced evenly about the top, and a gaping maw recessed into pitch black where the door used to be. That dark space itself seemed to pull at me. A kind of magnetism one might feel when a vault door is opened after a period of time so long that the people who put things in it are long gone, and nobody remembers what the contents were.

The rain slowed, I began to breathe normally again.

And then I saw it.

Almost invisible to my paltry human eye, a little red speck, deep within the shed, radiated a warm light like a Christmas bulb tucked up inside the branches of a tightly packed pine.

Was I going crazy? Well, yes. My therapist would most definitely concur. But… that red dot wasn’t moving. It was very stable. Like a laser, I thought.

Until it moved.

Subtle, at first, and in a gyrating fashion. Soon it was spinning fast, dancing about in a figure eight pattern with precise, high-speed revolutions. Another red dot joined in, and then another. Before I’d taken five breaths there were seven of them twirling in unison about one another, never crossing but instead counterbalancing each other.

There was a weight about it, a kind of gravity.

The rain became small pattering, which turned into a drizzle as I stood mesmerized looking out at the shed. The light show was now in full effect, tiny red specks moving in and out of view, interspersed with the darkness of the shed.

Within a fraction of a millisecond the specks converged, together, to form a single, larger speck. This speck in turn grew much brighter and cast a sullen red light about the contents of the shed.

Including the thing projecting the light.

Shadow outlines in reddish hue showed what could only be described as a “Metal Man” of some sort. A massive, twisted thing that looked human and not human at the same time, the red beam pulsing from its midsection. Barely a silhouette in the dusk and black and grey residue of the misty morning.

It shook for a moment and then began to lumber forward. As it stepped into the light, it began to expand and extend, to heighten. Bristling blackened steel plates cut at the sides of the shed as it emerged, further ripping and tearing the structure apart. At last it stood full, spindly and armored, the garnet hole in its chest seeming less pronounced now that it was exposed to the early light.

I was transfixed, immobile.

At least twenty feet tall, maybe more, I thought as it began to step forward toward the house. Actually, it didn’t step; it slithered. On a million nail-like tendrils that cut away at the ground like a rake. It wasn’t moving fast.

Massive arms, six of them, detached from its sides and fanned out. Dense, thick claws protruded from its forearm casings.

Its head, man. Its head was the freakshow. You know those Egyptian bird-daemon paintings you saw as a kid? Yeah, that. Like a hawk, but more human, as though a slip of black rubber was pulled over an enormous human skull with a hawk-like beak.

Metal Man was stuck in a constant state of rictus, he had no lips to cover his teeth, which almost exactly resembled a human jaw. Only much larger.

A ribcage was belted together with thick black shells of steel, descending south where it intersected with the leg structure, which in itself was intricate as hell. Intertwining gunmetal cables spun towards the ground like a beanstalk, thousands of them, and each of them had thousands of those nail-like tendrils which looked sharp enough to puncture a tire.

Or shred a shed door.

It stood still for a moment as though it were surveying, its ghastly head shifting side to side, eyeless sockets taking it all in.

I stepped back from the window and my motion must’ve alerted it because it immediately turned its gaze in my direction, swiftly pivoting its torso to face me. The pulsing garnet light in the center of its chest immediately blinded me, as a laser would, and for a moment I was stunned. My gut was telling me to tuck tail and get the fuck out of the kitchen, the house, take the Mini and drive.

I didn’t. I was frozen. In the end, I think that’s what saved me. I think standing perfectly still until the blackened skull turned away from me might have allowed me to live on.

Moving lithe as a rattlesnake through sagebrush, the Metal Man rotated further away and began hewing a path into the woods, thick trees falling as though cut down by a master ax-man, some of them teetering for a few seconds before tumbling down.

Within moments it disappeared entirely, sinking into the dark of the forest beyond.

A Problem in the Tool Shed