ODD

He wasn’t quite like the other men she had known. He was quite astonishingly handsome, for one thing. And he seemed to move smoothly, as though he were on wheels. He was very interested in her, but he seemed somehow to be learning her by heart. When he touched her, there was something almost forensic about it. He found little flaws: a spot, a mole, a mark on her skirt. His touch called attention to them. When she protested, he said: “I thought you should know”. He wanted her to be perfect. His range of facial expressions was rather limited, and she thought that if only he would smile occasionally, life would be bearable. She wanted him to laugh, but he never would. He tried it once, but it was a hoarse croak.  

Foolishly, carelessly, she became infatuated. Clever and handsome as he was, she felt she had gone up in the world by capturing his interest. His love-making was peculiar, though. He was quiet enough, unnervingly so, and his movements were measured. It was pleasurable (if rather dry), but gradually she became anxious about his silences. She resolved to examine him when he was asleep. 

 

At the dead of night, she drew her torch from under her pillow. She ran the beam over his body. It was muscular and lithe, and warm enough, but she could find no pulse. There was no heart-beat. His eyes opened slightly under the veined lids, but his pupils were invisible. He was not breathing much. She went round to the other side of the bed (he was still rapt away in profound slumber) and found, on the far side, a slit in his side from which a long cable stretched. She followed it, and found that it was plugged into an ordinary socket in the wall. Her torch flickered, dimmed and finally the light went out.

 

She sat back on her heels with shock. She realised that she was in love with a machine: a machine that had tried to learn her, to replicate her feelings. And for what purpose? Did he wish to be like her, or to make her like himself? Neither of these could be permitted. She had a little pair of scissors in her toilet bag. Feeling her way round the wall, she found the plug, pulled it out and cut through the flex. She found the light switch, and put it on. 

 

Things happened pretty quickly after that. A groan, a gust and then an almighty crackle ran through the room. His eyes shot open, but they were no longer blue: they were red. Tinny sounds came from his mouth. And then his skin melted. It was like watching a tree in autumn: the leaves were falling and the skeletal form was revealed at last. Except that this skeleton was made of metal. The steel armature was all that was left: a pile of clanking rods and some greenish effluvia. 

 

Perhaps she might be able to love someone else. But then, coiled in her mind like a secret snake, she found a  surprising fact: she had become a little metallic herself. She was now cold, and felt disinclined to speak. She ought to look for someone soft to nurture her, just as her former lover had done. Someone to feed from. That was what the next one had to be like. 

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© 2020 by Sue Harper

feminist gothic literature | tales of the macabre | fantastic and supernatural | gothic fiction | written by women | gothic literary tradition | gothic fiction | supernatural | fantastic and paranoia | literary female gothic | gothic narrative | stories of transformation and surprise | sue harper | short stories | feminist gothic literature | The Dark Nest | portsmouth university | emeritus professor sue harper | feminist gothic literature | tales of the macabre | fantastic and supernatural | gothic fiction | written by women | gothic literary tradition | gothic fiction | outstanding achievement award | british association of film, theatre and television | professor of film history at portsmouth university | film, media and creative arts | british academy and the arts and humanities research council | stories of transformation and surprise | sue harper | short stories | feminist gothic literature | The Dark Nest |