Automaton by Mathew Gostelow (Lucent Dreaming Issue 12)

In the knee-graze days of bikes and black ant tickles, my mum gave me a comfort snuggle hug. That’s when I heard a click-tick sound inside her, where her boomy-womby heart once thumped its beat.
The furniture at home was on the ceiling now. This change made me cry and she wrapped me in that clicking, ticking cuddle. She softly told me this was how our house would be, with furniture on the ceiling. I should get used to it, she said.
At that moment, a bombastic, brassy, one-man band boomed through the room, crash-stamping loud confusing sound. His face – a squeaky red balloon with smile scrawled on in pen. He smelled of strangers.
Mum said the one-man band lived with us now. “Isn’t his music nice?” She smiled, clicking and ticking in time. The honking, bashing din scared me, but I agreed because it seemed to make her happy.
I struggled to sleep that night, with my bed on the ceiling and the constant oom-pah, crash-bang racket he made. Mum was blissfully deaf to the frantic din. She didn’t come to tuck me in.
As days went by my mother changed. Her hair was new red wire and smelled like sickly squirts of spray can oil. She moved in jerks with wringing hands. Her shiny face was frozen fibreglass apologetic smiles.
All the time, the one-man band was there, in every room at once, dotted lines of black ants creepy crawling in his wake. He loudly sang aggressive, thumping drums to make me dance and skip. The big red happy smile balloon had smudged into a snarling ugly smear.
The house got smaller, daily, folding inward like a paper fortune teller. Room by stranger-smelling room it disappeared.
My mother shone translucent now, clockworks on display through flimsy shell. Her eyes were blinkered glassy beads, unseeing my exhaustion as I jigged along to please the one-man band.
Soon, her language jumbled unfamiliar, the tumble-tongue automaton. I struggled making sense as her voice boomed strange words, deep, like plastic drainpipe echoing man shouts.
The house was fortune-teller folded to a single room. The furniture rained heavy from above, tables splinter-crunching to the floor, scattering the ants that swarmed and crawled. The automaton was faded out to static fuzz, the blizzard of a detuned radio.
New wires and rods grew from the parping knees and crashing elbows of the one-man band. They moved the mother’s hands and feet in time. His honking, barking voice went through a tube into her mouth. He blared and spat glass shards out through her cheeks.
That night I dreamed of mother waving at me from the shore. I swam and swam but currents dragged her deep and far until she disappeared.
I woke to find my home was gone. The ticking sound and oom-pah crash, no more. Just a folded fortune teller on the ground where it once stood. I picked it up to find my future out.

Mathew Gostelow (he/him) is a dad, husband and fledgling writer in Birmingham, UK. Some days he wakes early and writes strange tales, which have been published by The Ghastling, Ellipsis, Stanchion, Cutbow, and others. He has won prizes from Bag of Bones, Bear Creek Gazette, and Beagle North.
T: @MatGost

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