Mechanistry 5

A Steampunk Short Story by Chris Herron

Mechanistry 5

by Chris Herron

 

Nalt has a surefire plan to graduate this time, nothing could possibly go wrong.

Mechanistry 5 was written to celebrate Tall Tale TV’s 6th anniversary! My first-ever Episode featured Nalt and Master Stokes, and I try (somewhat unsuccessfully) to write a new story in the Mechanistry universe every year. It’s a fun little measure to track my progress as a narrator and celebrate the occasion.

You can find the other episodes of Mechanistry here: https://talltaletv.com/?s=mechanistry

 

Screeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-

The terrifying sound of something large being hauled across the tile floors reverberated into the cramped waiting room, causing several students to leap from their seats. They watched the door with wary eyes, when, sure enough, it burst open a moment later and a rail thin man stepped inside, dragging a large, wooden crate behind him.

Screeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-

Nalt ran the back of his hand across his forehead as he continued to struggle with his box. He managed to pull the thing to the closest chair, chasing away the younger student who was occupying it with a wave of his hand and a low growl. Wheezing, he plopped down into it and sucked in a deep breath. He had a good feeling about today. This time, for sure!

They say third time’s the charm, so his ninth attempt would be a guaranteed success! Three compounded three times equaled luck cubed, or eighteen times the luck! Nalt let out an unsteady, manic giggle that quickly turned into a sob. He had reassured himself last year with similar mathematical patitudes, and yet, the senior mechanists had rejected his end of year project, again, denying him his graduation, again! But this year was going to be different! This year he had-

“Nalt, are you okay?”

With the speed of a cracked whip, Nalt’s head snapped ‘round to look woozily, and possibly a touch possessed, up at one of the third years. Dalton, he thought. Marion? He frowned and shook the names from his head. “Excellent! Why do you ask, Byron?” That was the right one!

“Uh, it’s… It’s Trevor.” The boy corrected him before pointing towards the floor. “Well, for one, you’re missing a shoe. And… two, you look like you haven’t slept in a week.”

Brushing off the youth’s concern, Nalt laughed a high, screeching laugh. “Preposterous!” It had been two weeks. “I’m tikityboo! Thanks for asking!”

Trevor scratched at the back of his head, one eyebrow lifting in worry. His mouth formed a line when he looked in at all the doodads in the crate. “Is this… all… yours?”

“It’s my foolproof, master plan to graduate!” Nalt wiggled a skinny finger at he boy, before rapping a knuckle against the wooden box. “Every year, they tell me my inventions are ‘too reactionary’ or ‘too safe’, or ‘too practical-’”

“Oh, you mean like that anti-drowning device that was just a boat strapped to your back?”

“The auto-boat-backpack was a legitimate idea!” Nalt sucked in a deep breath through his nose, forcing himself calm. “I just hadn’t refined it yet. But! As they say, if you can’t beat them, join them. So this year I have prepared a total of 47 new devices, each one more ‘impractical’ than the last! Several of them, even I don’t know what they do!” He let out another unsteady cackle. “It’s GENIUS!”

Trevor, having only come over out of good manners, stood horrified and transfixed on the spot as he watched the, clearly, sleep-deprived man thrust a hand into his box of mystery devices.

Nalt withdrew a length of pale, pink fabric that immediately began to pop and sizzle. “This one here is a blanket that when exposed to oxygen begins to heat up via chemical reaction.”

“Uh… isn’t that-”

“Don’t interrupt!” Nalt dropped the rag back into the box and dived in, fingers fumbling around for another contraption. “Ahah! This one’s a toothbrush that removes plaque by utilizing miniature thermobaric explosions!” With barely a care, he dropped it back in and pointed to a large red object, roughly the size and shape of a breadbox strapped to a rollerskate. “That there’s a rocket propelled robot that walks your dog at record speeds! And there, a rocking chair for cats that does loop-de-loops. Self adhesive clothing…”

The terror in Trevor’s eyes only grew as he watched one deadly thingamajig after another emerge, until something plain and harmless looking caught his attention. “What’s that?” It was a small metal box with one red blinking light on a pull out panel.

Nalt retrieved the gizmo with a perplexed look. “I forgot about this one, it shouldn’t be in here. It’s a device to detect ghosts, but it’s useless.”

“Obviously.” The third year laughed. “Ghosts aren’t real.”

“Oh, they’re very real.” Nalt turned the box over in his hands. “But this only works on space ghosts and they don’t make ladders tall enough for it to function. Ah, well, I suppose 46 devices will be enough.” He glanced around the cramped waiting room, past all the shocked and confused faces, to see a rubbish bin in the far corner. He climbed to his feet and began to make his way towards it.

About seven steps away, he heard a loud WHOOMF, and, for a tense moment, the room glowed brightly before returning to normal. Turning slowly, Nalt could only stare on in horror at the spot his crate had been. Now, there was only a charred pile of ash on the stone floor.

Trevor, now covered in soot, grimaced as he looked up with wide eyes. “The blanket just ignited and I’m pretty sure that set off the toothbrush.”

Nalt couldn’t be totally sure, maybe 90 percent, but he was fairly certain something had snapped inside his head. There was a sound like a rubber band breaking after being pulled too taught, and his left foot began tapping uncontrollably. “I… I…”

The only other door in the room, the one that lead to the panel of senior Mechanists, burst open. The students collectively jumped, one launching his own project into the ceiling, as Master Stokes stepped out. He was an impressive amount of man, enough to make grizzlies look malnourished, with a beard so magnanimous that it put juniper bushes to shame. “Alright! Who’s next?”

Stokes scanned around to see a familiar frame standing in the middle of the room. “Ah! Mr. Knobs! Always a pleasure to see your enthusiasm!” He stepped forward to clap a hand on the man’s shoulder, knocking him sideways. “Ninth times the charm, eh? What have you got there?”

Nalt barely registered the man’s words as he looked down at the shameful device in his hands. He let out a shallow sigh and passed it over, his heart sinking as he did. “It, uh, detects ghosts.” He wilted under the curious look on his mentor’s face. In the tiniest voice, he added, “In… space.”

Beneath the fat fingers that stroked at his mustache, Stokes repeated the word “Hrmm” over and over as he spun the box in his other hand. After a moment he turned his gaze back on his pupil. “This… Mr. Nalt… is exemplary.”

Sure that rubber band that snapped in his head earlier had left a ringing in his brain, Nalt dug a finger into one of his ears and swiveled it around several times. “You… you got my name right, sir.” And then the words hit him. “Wait… exemplary? As in, good?”

Stokes let out a booming laugh at the sight of those eyebrows disappearing into the boy’s crazed hairline. “Better than good! This is absolutely stunning! Perhaps the greatest piece of machinery ever invented! In fact-” He waved a fat hand back into the room behind him, beckoning to the other teachers to join him. “I propose that we elevate you directly to the rank of senior mechanist, effective immediately!”

“HEAR HEAR!” Willicky, the wizened old master in the wheelchair pounded a fist in agreement.

Nalt took a step back, his head spinning. “I-I don’t know what to say!”

“LET’S HEAR IT FOR NALT!” Master Stokes threw his arms out wide, inviting the others of the room to join in.

The doors burst open, and more students began to pour in, all of them chanting his name. And before he knew it, Nalt was hoisted into the air by the pressing mob and they began to march for the door. He giggled, swallowed up by the excitement, and began chanting alongside them. “NALT! NALT! NALT!”

With a curious expression on his face, Stokes watched the medical team haul the gibbering Mr. Knobs out the door, strapped tight to a gurney held between them. He leaned in towards one of the on-campus medical staff that still remained, a deep frown carved on his face. “Why is he chanting his own name?”

The man, dressed in a white frock coat, just shook his head sadly. “No idea. Each one cracks in their own way.”

The imposing teacher sighed, waving the next student forward. Another one for the loony bin. “Kids these days have no mental fortitude.”

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