Short Story Review: “The Dreadful Machine” by Martin James Hunter

4 of 5 stars.

This tale is shockingly horrifying in its slow and subtle build to a numbingly dehumanizing POV. At first, the use of absurdism to describe a routine job deep underground without days off or even breaks for fresh air and socialization contained echoes of Bohumil Hrabal’s Too Loud A Solitude in which an Eastern European paper recycler finds solace and expression in his 35 years of pressing waste into bales under an oppressive Communist regime. In Hunter’s tale, the narrator notes his continuous years without sun, his lack of any familial ties to the world above, and his immunity to the ever-present acrid reek of stale sweat, urine and worse.

Then, he tells of the people that don’t last at the job. They’re the ones that still notice nudity, sexuality, conversation and days off. He’s beyond that. The ones that can’t move beyond that don’t continue, but nor do they truly escape . . .

Mostly, he knows his place with “the machine”–its whirr, its hunger:

I don’t know why we feed the machine, or what the fleshy thing is that huddles beneath the pneumatics. But I do know that it must be fed to keep the city alive. Without flesh it will starve. The machines and electricity and water will cease, and the population will begin to suffer.

I don’t now why, he says, and yet he does his job on cue even when his job is changed from keeping the machine’s heart ticking to feeding its insatiable maw. Feeding it flesh, and not just any flesh, but human flesh. And not just any human flesh, but . . . the details get horrific. This is slaughter and genocide without hatred, like the cattle trough scene at Terminus on the television series The Walking Dead. This tale takes the reader right to that edge–

This tale appears in Whispers of the Abyss 2: The Horrors That Were and Shall Be edited by Kat Rocha. I received this new anthology directly from 01 Publishing through  
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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