Paul Landers couldn't for the life of him figure out what was in front of him inside his band-mate's open chest.
Scratch scratch. Chin turning red from all the scratching. Focused expression.
Whirr... whirr. Click.
Cogs turning in Paul’s head. They could just as well have been turning in the mechanical heart before him.
If the parts of the mechanical heart could be compared to cogs, that is.
Whirr. Whirr. Click.
"How is it looking?" Came a question asked by a gentle voice. Careful, as if not to disturb.
Paul looked up, one hand balled and pressed to his mouth and star-chisel in the other.
“Well, Flake, I tell you, I’ve seen some shit-” Paul huffed “but none of that shit leaves me as puzzled at this.” He looked back down at the small vault in Flake’s chest.
Paul had moved past his initial shock upon finding out his young friend apparently lacked a normal, fleshy human heart in his chest and didn’t need lungs to breathe.
A glance back up at Flake’s throat, where the blonde hair didn’t yet reach.
What Paul had thought were slim scars creeping from his jawline to his collarbones could apparently open, expand across the entirety of Flake’s neck and suck in a breath. According to Flake as they stumbled away from the truck, holding his hand pressed flat to his chest and spitting his life story out through gritted teeth, at least.
Paul looked back down again.
, he thought.
Fucking guy doesn’t even breathe every day
“Well, you were the only one available who knows mechanics-” Flake started to say, irritated, but Paul quickly shushed him and placed his hand on Flake’s shoulder.
“Try not to get upset. It gets your heart spinning too fast… I think.”
Paul reached his star-chisel to the top of Flake’s heart and was about to poke the machinery when Flake swatted his hand away.
“Don’t do that! It’ll get stuck, and you’ll lose a chisel and I’ll lose my heart!” He said angrily as he released Paul’s wrist, and to his immediate concern, had to push Paul’s hand away yet again.
“Paul! Look! Just listen-” swat, slap. Whirr, whirr, click, click, spin.
“Flake, you weird fuck, your heart is going fucking insane! Let me just- Flake, for fuck’s sake, I know what I’m doing! I’ve handled small machinery before! Now, if you’d just-”
Paul nearly shouted as the fight for the tool escalated and before either of the two could realize it, they’d begun falling over from where they had sat amid their screaming-fighting match and landed on the grass more or less intertwined by the limbs.
Paul was quick on his feet, dragging his elbows through the wet grass and mud to steady himself.
He got up on his fours and crawled, searching for his chisel, and was pleased to find Flake was disarmed and groaning. His hands were empty.
Now I can finally fucking check out his heart , Paul thought as he reached for his tool. Stick this right in and-
“Paul.” Came a weak groan. He looked down, distracted but impatient.
Flake laid in the grass, white shirt spread across the grass, his chest completely exposed- breathing.
With his mouth.
“Wait.” He said, eyes pleading, not making a single effort to stand up and cover his chest again.
Vulnerable. He didn’t protect himself.
Paul waited, growing both confused and focused by each second of silence. Silence. Wait, what the fuck-? he thought, where did the sounds go?
“Don’t tell me- no.”The realisation dawned upon Paul like a heavy block falling from the sky. Flake’s heart wasn’t spinning.
What should I-? God, what is happening?
“Don’t you fucking die on me!” He yelled, panicked and lost, holding Flake by the collar and screaming in his face.
“Paul, my neck- breathe- I need to- breathe- collar-” Flake huffed. Paul understood.
He let go of Flake’s collar and more or less threw himself off his lap where he’d been sitting since he got up from the ground.
“Do you need to sit up? No? Yes? Do you want help up? Okay, okay, okay- alright, come here. Come here.” Questions, words, unintelligible sounds came rolling out of Paul’s mouth. Rapidly, like a machine gun, rapidly like a guitar solo- holy fuck, Paul thought, I’m so looking forward to playing the concert once this is all over.
“No.” Flake pushed Paul away once he’d gotten up sitting and motioned for him to look the other direction, and when Paul started pestering him about why, he interrupted with only a few grunts;
“Hurts. ‘S not pretty.”
Paul begrudgingly turned his head away. He’d seen some shit, yes, but whatever Flake did to breathe was not anything he’d want on that list.
Flake sat on the grass in the small clearing, clothes dirty, hair tousled- he closed his eyes as the skin on his neck began opening up and put his fist in his mouth.
He was really, really glad he didn’t need to breathe often, as the process of one’s neck opening up wide and the physical sensation of muscles and skin being scrunched up, pushed, into positions the human never evolved to experience- was excruciating.
Rip. Tearrrrrrrrrrr… Rip. Flake stifled a scream.
Rip, rip, fold, tear. Every time it happened, Flake tried to breathe deeper, so as to push breathing again as far into the future as possible.
Rip. Tear, rip, rip. Crunch.
What the fuck-? Flake thought, was that my spine or my jaw?
Beneath the pale skin of Flake's throat were metal wires, steely tubes, springs working as joints. And every single piece of those metals opened wide and a horrific sound emerged- like something being sucked underwater and screeching for its life.
Paul pressed his palms to his ears to block out the noise and buried his head on his knees to block out the sight. He’d shot a quick look in Flake’s direction and regretted it immediately.
Finally. It’s breathing in.
Flake pressed his lips together- clenching his jaw and keeping his eyes forcefully shut- and let the machinery suck in as much of the fresh air as possible. The pain gradually toned down, the screeching of air being sucked in went quiet.
Flake reached a hand onto his neck- closed. No more wires.
Whirr, whirr, whirr, whirr, whirr… whirr. Whirr, whirr.
Not a single click. Not a single halt in the machinery.
“Is it safe to look now?” Paul asked.
“Yeah-” Flake said, voice breathy, and put his head in his hands.
“Dude, what was that noise? It sounded like you were dying over there.” Said Paul, still shook from what had just taken place- he hoped his tone suggested his normal self was on its way back.
Because it wasn’t. Paul was still too shocked to have a concrete sense of self.
“It’s the sound of a deep breath.” Flake groaned. He’d lifted his head and was now sitting with his hands wrapped around his knees and leaning backwards, so his chest was completely exposed.
To the trailer park, to the world. To the midday sun breaking through the trees, as if to say; sun, warm me. Heal me.
“The sound of the loch ness having an orgasm, you mean.” Came the quick remark. Maybe Paul was returning to himself.
“Paul, stop.” Flake blinked a few times as he looked over at his bandmate tiredly.
Paul was dirty- a few blonde hair strands having gained dirt clumps, the white t-shirt underneath his black vest muddy at the hems. Knees green, calves brown.
Wouldn’t be too bad of a look on stage, Flake thought, we’re both all dirty, we look like we’ve been fighting. Quite punk rock.
That was however not how the crowd was gonna interpret the band member’s absence and their dirty clothes. The crowd would creep out of their trailers and walk down to the stage in the truck, taking a seat and sharing joints.
They’d spread rumors and talk amongst themselves- ‘hey, I saw Landers with that keyboarder guy earlier,’ or, ‘My buddy said they came out of the bush together, I think they were fucking.
But that didn’t bother Paul nor Flake. People will think whatever the fuck they’ll think.
Silent. The wind sung, the trees sang along, the birds chirped in harmony.
Words and the sound of doors being slammed shut came from the trailers down below- yet the little clearing where Paul and Flake sat was quiet.
“Hey, Paul, could you help me close the hatch to my heart again? It’s quite too hot for it out here.” Flake said, breaking the silence, and pointing at Paul’s chest then back to his own. Come fix me.
Paul looked down, confused, and touched his vest pocket with the palm of his hand.
There it was- his chisel. Orange handle familiar as always in his hand.
“Okay. Come here.” Paul said. Flake dragged himself over and pulled his shirt further open.
Whirr, whirr, whirr. Whirrrr.. whirr.
Paul didn’t notice Flake’s spinning heart. He didn’t notice the sounds from the stage, where the sound checks of the mic had ensued. Where the band’s singer was hyping up the crowd, but not loud enough to potentially get any bypasser’s attention.
That could get the police involved. And no underground musicians would like the police their concert, where everybody was high as fuck and anybody could ben taken.
Paul could only focus on his work, and wasn’t satisfied until he was done, until it was perfect.
One hand carefully twisting the star chisel, the other gently sat with it’s fingers hovering on Flake’s chest.
Twist, turn, twist. The metal plate across Flake’s chest sat in place again and Paul could look back at it with pride.
“There you go,” Paul beamed “no need to thank me.” He said as his toothy smile turned into a smug grin. Landers, the master mechanic, strikes again!
“Now that I’ve patched you back up, and we figured out what was wrong- you could live forever! Or maybe not. I don’t know how your heart and shit like that works.”
Flake looked to the side and scratched his neck. He wanted to thank Paul, really really thank him for saving his ass. I can’t put the plate back on myself, and I wouldn’t want to be standing on stage with my mechanical parts exposed, he thought, some idiot probably would have lodged something in there and killed me.
“I wouldn’t want to live forever if you aren’t there.” He finally said.
Paul sat silent for a few seconds. He was taken aback, flattered even.
He brushed it off.
“Don’t get too sappy over your new personal mechanic, Flake. I’m sure even you will die one day.”
Flake looked down at the ground. Felt melancholic.
His heart had stopped clunking and clicking, something he considered a miracle- and although it was the lack of air that caused the disruptance, Flake couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if he was alone when it happened and his anxiety had gotten to him.
Paul, you’re not just a mechanic.
”M-hm.” Flake mumbled. That was all he could get out.
“Come on, boy, it’s time to play now. It’s time to get drunk!” Paul exclaimed as he jumped up from his sitting position, cracking his knees on the way up and taking a moment to take in his surroundings.
He hesitated for a second before he reached out his hand to Flake and helped pull him up. Their hands stayed intertwined.
“Ah. Of course,” Flake said bitterly “-getting drunk, playing, getting drunker, throwing up. The easy life of Feeling B.”
“The best life of all! Long live Feeling B!”
The sun shone, the trees sang. The crowd was hyped, and Flake held Paul’s hand as they trotted down the hill.
A perfect day of summer 1988.