Short Story: Machine Man

How do you reclaim your humanity when it has been taken from you? Perhaps only when someone finds it and gives it back.

I didn’t give it much thought. She looked like Elizabeth, and the goons in this part of town don’t go easy on young girls when they think they can get away with it.

It was dark in the alley, but that’s not a problem for me.

They were bigger than I am, but that’s not an issue either.

When they were gone, one clutching his broken arm, the other his ribs, the girl was sobbing against the wall and I didn’t want to make a bad situation worse by scaring her, so I huddled opposite.

How do you react when a dirty vagrant saves you from two rich thugs in designer sportswear? I couldn’t even give her my jacket to help against the cold, given how it smelled.

“Thank you,” she said, before she ran away.

Fair enough.


She found me a few days later. I hadn’t expected to see her again. I was caught unprepared.

Now it was my turn to be afraid.

Had she come alone? What did she want? What did she know?

In the end, she hadn’t pieced any of it together. She was just being kind, or overcoming some misplaced guilt at being saved by a vagrant, returning the favour.

She’d brought me food. A sandwich and cake. The sugar and protein were helpful.

Would she have been so kind if she had known?

I didn’t trust myself to speak to her, so I listened to her kindnesses and hid my eyes under the dirty cap that kept my greasy hair away from my face.

“I’ll come back tomorrow,” she said.

Did she think she was taming something feral? Did she see something worth saving? How relentless the naivete of the young.


I took the time to go to one of my better hiding spots that night. I hadn’t opened the small tin box in six months, but the nylon pouch was still there, its contents intact.

They were old, but the contacts still had a good few weeks in them. I used them only when I had to.

When she returned, I was able to look back at her. To meet her gaze. Show her I wasn’t as far lost as she thought.

She’d brought more food.

“Thank you.”

At least this time I managed to speak to her.

“I’m glad you’re talking to me,” she said.

“I’m grateful, but you shouldn’t come back. It’s not safe here.”

“I won’t, if you come with me.”

I couldn’t. Wanting at all costs not to lie to her, I couldn’t tell her why not.

I didn’t want her to come back to this neighborhood, but the sight of this girl, who treated me with such kindness, who looked so familiar, was a rare ray of sunshine in a washed-out world. A deeply selfish part of me hoped terribly she would ignore my suggestion and return anyway.


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