Cerebus by Matthew Holden

“I don’t like this.”
“Arthur, we need to calibrate your arm or else you won’t be able to move it.”
“I don’t like it. It itches.”
A moment of silence follows.
“Did you have that dream again? The one with the voice?”
Arthur doesn’t answer. He stares down at the arm of brass and gears that is connected to
him. The mechanic works to reconfigure one of the gears, the one he had been picking at.
“Do you think what she says is true? About the pasture?”
“Who knows?” She pats the brass part of his face, and his mechanical eye winces a second too
late. Her carved mechanical eyes focus in on his metallic face as she replays the scene in her head. After she is sure that the wince was off by a fraction of a second, she sighs and forces his head to turn so she can make repairs to the base of the mechanical eye. She turns back to her tools and pulls out a screw driver. “Besides, how would you live without me? You would lose one of your gears within a week.”
Arthur says nothing but stares down at his brass arm. The mechanic works on his face as
he slowly moves each of his fingers and the gears whirl in response to his thoughts. It still hurt, the screws, and the brass itches terribly. He goes to itch and the mechanic whacks his hand.
“This is why we keep having to recalibrate! Stop messing with the equipment or it is
going to fail.”
“I’m sorry.”
“You should be.”

The school is filled with the clanking of metal on tile. Arthur looks around at the other
children who have brass faces, brass lips, brass hearts. It is a walking metal shop and they all stare at his half human, half brass face. The way they stare at him makes him uncomfortable and he goes to itch at his brass arm. His hand stops halfway there and slowly falls to his side.
His teacher, a man of silver plating with cuts in his mask to be able to fake emotions with
ease, stands at the door of his class handing out assignments to a perfect line of students. Arthur joins the line and waits patiently as the line begins to move. Same line, same assignment, same greeting day in and day out.
“Morning, lovely day isn’t it?” the teacher says as Arthur moves toward the door.
“Morning.” the girl in front of him says politely. The teacher says nothing more as the
girl takes the assignment and enters the room.
“Morning, lovely day isn’t it?” the teacher says. Arthur stands there a second before
taking his assignment and continuing into the room without replying.

“How was school today?” his mother asks as she cooks with inhuman accuracy. Her face,
a sheet of brass, is well decorated today with intricate designs carved into her cheeks and her head.
“It was okay,” he says. From the window outside he can see the tall menacing wall that
surrounds the city on all sides. The sky is coated in the black clouds sent up by the coal factories and blocks the sun. A wind rattles the window pane; a storm is coming.
Lost in his own thoughts, he reaches up and begins to scratch at his face. His mother
turns and sees him scratching at it. He immediately stops as he sees her mechanical eyes focus on his hand. A frown comes onto her carved face as she walks over to him.
“I taught you better than to scratch at your face. One gear lost and you will lose function
of your face. Do you want that?” she asks as she pulls his hand away. “I thought the mechanic was trying to fix that bad habit of yours.”
“She is, but it just itches so badly,” he complains, but his mother will hear none of it.
“I think we need to talk with your father, it is about time that we get the rest of your face
covered.” Arthur pales at the prospect.
“No please, I hate it. Please, don’t…”
“Arthur, it is the best thing for you. Everyone else has already gone through the
procedure, and it will help you.”
“No ‘buts’. It is about time we fixed you.”
Arthur falls silent and his eyes gaze at the homework on the table. He slowly, reluctantly,
packs up his stuff and takes it to his room. He has no intention of doing it now, it won’t matter in a few days anyway. He laid in his bed and fell asleep to the sound of silence. A smooth mechanical silence.

The weekend passes slowly like cold syrup from the bottle. Frustratingly slow and not at
all worth the effort. Acid rain fell all of Saturday and the beginning of Sunday, all of which Arthur had spent reading a few of the college textbooks that sit on his shelf as he stares outside at the murky clouds that rain the poisonous water onto the ground.
The homework he should have completed last night sits halfway out of his bag like a
reminder of how he fails as a human being. His mechanical eye stares at it almost to remind him of what should be his priority, but his mind is far from his homework, far from his house. In his mind he was in the pasture again listening to the wind talk to him.
A wind batters the glass panes of his window causing the acid rain to drip onto the
window sill in its brown murky glory. In the few flashes of heat lightning Arthur can see the massive silhouette of the wall outside. the wall stands near a hundred feet tall, and has barbed wire hair tumbling from its head. To get over would be an impossible feat. To expect such a thing from him was ludicrous.
That is when the brass of his arm catches his eye. He stares at it. Slowly he reaches over
and begins to itch at it. It is uncomfortable that it is near impossible to wear, but it doesn’t seem to give anyone else any trouble. How could they deal with this? It itches, itches, itches, but no matter how you scratch, scratch, scratch you can’t ever be rid of…
His hand slips and claws off one of the gears. His eyes widen in dismay as the gear
bounces once on the ground and rolls under his desk. His arm is now useless. Stupid, Stupid, Stupid! His family is always telling him to be careful so how could he do something so stupid?
He leans down to pick up the gear when a knock comes at his door. His human eye grows
wide and he swivels around to face the book in front of him.
“Arthur, I have some good news!” his mother says as soon as she enters the room.
“Really?” He says without turning to look at her.
“Yes,” she sat down on his bed, but he doesn’t turn to her. His mechanical arm sits
useless on the desk. “Me and your father talked. He has decided to schedule the procedure in a week. I am so happy they could get a time scheduled so soon.”
Arthur says nothing.
“Oh, honey. Don’t be nervous. It truly is painless. It is just like falling asleep and then
when you wake up you can’t ever be hurt again.” She gets up and presses the cold lips of the mask against his head.
As she starts to leave the room she sees the gear on the floor. “What’s this?” She turns
back to Arthur and he looks up from the college textbook as if just noticing it. “Did you lose this?”
“Hmm, maybe it came off a mouse.” With that she stalks down the stairs wondering
about the gear.
Arthur gets up slowly and quietly reaches out to close the door. He needed to see the
mechanic again. If he didn’t he wouldn’t be able to use his arm for the rest of the week. As his mind, deep in thought, whirls in a torrent of possibilities, a flash of metal draws his eyes to his outstretched brass hand moving to grasp the door knob.

“Did you have the dream again?”
“Same girl, same pasture… but this time she wanted me to hurry.”
“Well at least it is changing. Maybe soon it will disappear.”
Arthur sits silently as the mechanic tries fixing the brass arm. He avoids looking at her as
he reaches his human hand up to touch his human face. He tries to memorize the feeling of what skin feels like because soon he won’t be able to feel anything.
“My parents want to finish the process.”
“Good, it is about time.”
There is a pause.
“I don’t want to.”
Seconds tick by.
“Because… what if the girl is real? What if there is a place I could be… me?”
“Well, as far as I can see it. They want to help you succeed in life and you are refusing on
a dream and childish stubbornness. I seriously think getting the procedure is the best thing for you.” The mechanic pats his metal mask again and nods as he winces in perfect synch. “When are you getting the procedure?”
“In a week.”
“No… No that won’t do at all. I’ll pull some strings and reach out to my contacts in the
government. In two days we can put this dream and other nonsense behind us.” Arthur almost opens his mouth to protest, but catches himself. Instead he stares in a mute disbelief at the mechanic as she starts to write a letter.

School is abuzz with the metal clanking as kids walk, and talk, and stare, and point.
Arthur didn’t want to go to school, but his parents made him. He didn’t want his last day with his real eye to be spent staring at metal walls. Yet they didn’t care. They already were getting our family gathered in celebration of the procedure.
Arthur wonders how heavy his movements will be when he is covered in brass. Maybe he will ask for a different metal like aluminum, maybe then he will be able to move easier, but no matter how Arther debated it he knew that it was inevitable.
““Morning, lovely day isn’t it?”” his teacher says like a broken record as Arthur
“No, it really isn’t.”
Three seconds of silence follow.
His teacher turns his silver-plated face toward Arthur.
“Morning, lovely day isn’t it?”
Arthur feels his gut clench as he takes his assignment and continues into class.

A feeling of dread settles on Arthur. The school day passes in a haze and as it ends as it
always does he finds himself wandering the streets. The black cloud of ash from the coal
factories hangs in the sky and blocks out the sun. Metal man after metal man passes Arthur on the streets and he continues to wander. He doesn’t have any idea where he wants to go, but he listens to his instincts and they eventually draw him to the edge of the city. Outside the gate is a pasture, the pasture, but it is beyond an impassable wall.
As he reaches the gate he expects to be turned away or stopped fiercely, but no one comes out this far. He presses his hand to the door and it swings open effortlessly. Arthur steps out into the pasture and walks several miles in a straight direction. The sun begins to set as he comes to the place where his dream starts.
“You actually came.”
Arthur turns to see a girl, the same girl from his dream, a beautiful specimen of the
angelic quality. Her skin; unblemished by any metal or enhancements.
“Why do you keep coming to me in dreams?”
“Because you are different. You are like me, perfect as you are made. You know this too,
so why do you feel like you need the metal to protect yourself.”
“I don’t know.”
“Then take it off.”
“Why not?”
“Because… Because…”
“Have you ever even tried?”
Arthur’s hand falls to the metal plated arm. He slowly, painfully pulls each piece out with
a cry of pain. His hand finds his way to his eye as well and he pulls the metal from his face.
Blood begins to pour from the spots where the screws had held the metal in place. He looks up and covers his face with his hand.
The girl strides forward and gently removes his hand from his face. “There… you are
finally human.” She turns and begins to walk away with only a small gesture for him to follow her. He stares a moment before starting to walk with her.

Arthur opens his eyes and looks up at the carved smiling faces of his family. He should
smile too, but he doesn’t feel anything. He reaches up to touch his face and a mechanical clank sounds as his brass fingers resonate off his brass face. He could almost cry at the sound, but he doesn’t. He can’t feel anything now, not warmth nor cold, not wind nor hand. He could no longer feel anything.
But it still itches terribly.


A writer, reader, and lover of good literature (and good coffee), Grant Patterson, who writes under the name Matthew Holden, grew up in a Christian family but had a hard time with his own faith in Christ. He scoured for answers and found his faith, his passion, and his purpose all at once. During his freshman year of high school, he found Christ’s calling for him in his writing and decided to dedicate his life to God and to write beautiful things that reflect His glory.
A world-traveler and all-around geek, Grant loves sitting down with a good book and a boiling mug of coffee in the mornings. If you can’t find him writing or reading then you either just can’t find him or he’ll be playing board games with his friends. He hopes to one day become a full-time author who travels the world spreading the word and glory of God everywhere he goes.

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