This is the rest of the story. Click here for the beginning
“Whereas you repaired it?” asked the vampire.
“I tried to fix it!” said Kevin, his voice a wail now. I always try to fix things. It never works. I don’t understand why. I don’t want to break things. I want to repair them! To make them better!”
The vampire studied him for a few more moments, then seemed to reach a decision. He lowered Kevin onto a table, and sat in the chair beside it.
That was all the chance Kevin needed. Gremlins were incredibly fast when given an escape route. They had to be! If they weren’t then they wouldn’t survive for very long. He knew he could be off the table, then out of the room through one of the dozen different routes he’d already spotted, and then gone. Even a vampire’s reflexes wouldn’t be fast enough to catch him.
And yet… he stayed put. He wasn’t sure why. The vampire’s face could hardly be described as welcoming, but maybe there was something there… some hint of understanding. Instead of running, Kevin just slumped to sit on the surface of the table.
“I’m Vincent,” said the vampire. “What’s your name?”
“Kevin?” The surprise was evident in the vampire’s voice. “I thought gremlins were called things like crack, tear, shatter, spark. Names like the sounds things make when they break.”
“Kevin,” said Kevin firmly. “Like I said, I don’t want to break things.”
“My sound system isn’t the first thing you’ve tried to repair?”
“No! I’ve tried to repair so many things. It should be easy. I have a natural instinct which tells me exactly how they work and, if I’m honest, which bits to mess with to break them. But that works both ways. I understand what not to do, or what to fix if it is broken.”
“And how many things have you actually managed to repair?”
Kevin mumbled something.
“I didn’t quite catch that,” said Vincent. “And I have excellent hearing!”
“Fine!” snapped Kevin. “None! It’s just not fair. I don’t want to break things. I want to help people. I want to make things better. Think how great you’d have felt if you’d come home and suddenly found the sound system was working exactly as it should. You’re a vampire. I know enough about your kind to know the problem must have been driving you up the wall.”
Vincent smiled at that and nodded.
“I have to admit, I had been considering replacing it with a new system. No one ever seems to be able to repair problems like that. Most humans, most beings, can’t even tell there is a problem.”
“Exactly! I knew and I tried to fix it. I was sure I could this time. But I didn’t. I destroyed it.”
“I may have been a little hard on you. Though, to be fair, I thought you were a run-of-the-mill gremlin. You know as well as I do that once they get started on a house they can wreak absolute havoc. In fact, on that note, could you promise you won’t try and fix anything else without asking my permission first?”
Kevin let out a sigh, and nodded. “I promise. You’re not mad about the sound system?”
“I was thinking of replacing it anyway. And strangely, I find myself believing you when you say you were planning to help.”
“A fat lot of good it did. It’s not even like I can stop trying. Maybe I’d be happier if I just gave up and accepted I can’t fix things, but I can’t do that!”
“Really? Why not? I’m not saying you should give up. I’m just curious.”
“We, that is gremlins in general, don’t do everything we do just to annoy people. There’s a… drive? Hunger? Desire? I don’t know the right words for it. A bit of each of those. Something that pushes us to do wreck things. If I stop trying to repair things it will take over, and I’ll be back to trying to break things again. I figure at least this way I’m trying to do the right thing, and maybe one day I’ll figure out what it is I’m doing wrong.” He sighed. “You wouldn’t understand.”
Victor laughed at that.
“Have you really just told a vampire that he wouldn’t understand having an inner drive he struggled to fight against and wanted nothing to do with?”
Kevin’s eyes went round and he covered his mouth with his hand.
“Oh! I’m so sorry! That was so rude of me!”
“Not at all! It made me laugh. So… you can’t stop trying to repair things because if you did you’d end up deliberately breaking them. But when you try and repair things they end up breaking anyway. There’s only one solution to this.”
“I know. I need to find a way to get completely away from anyone and anything. Wherever I go, I just bring misery.”
“Nonsense! That’s not what I was thinking at all. We just need to work out why you still break things when you try to fix them! If we can solve that, you’ll be happy and everyone you try to help will be too.”
“Just… figure it out? Just like that? I have spent quite a lot of time trying to do that, you know!”
“I’m sure you have. But you haven’t found the answers, and I know some people who might just be able to find them.”
* * *
“So this is… Kevin?” asked the man Vincent had invited over.
“Yes,” said Vincent. “And he needs our help.”
Kevin was still on the table, though now Vincent had made him a makeshift seat out of several books. That was where he was sitting now.
It felt strange to be having such a long conversation with two people who were not gremlins. Even more so that they weren’t screaming at him for what he’d done.
Vincent’s friend, Jake, stank of chemicals. A human wouldn’t have noticed, not much, but to Kevin the odours were unmistakable. And there was something about Jake himself, a slight glint in his eye occasionally, which unsettled Kevin. Not that he thought he was in danger, but he was sure there was more to Jake than met the eye.
“And everything you want to fix, you break?” asked Jake. “Even though you really want to fix it?”
“That’s about it.”
“Hmm. I’m certainly not an expert, but I wonder if it’s partly that drive you feel that gets itself a little mixed up. You might need something to take the edge off slightly. I have just the potion for this. We’ll need to give you a little at a time, so we can work out the right dose, but I think it could work.”
“Just to be clear,” said Vincent. “We’re not talking about the potion, are we?”
“Of course not! You know I would never give that to anyone else.”
“I’m not sure you drinking it is actually that much better.”
“Let’s not have that argument now.” Jake rooted around in a large black bag he’d brought with him. “Right then, this is the one. We need to get you to the point where you’re feeling a little light-headed, but not to the point you can’t carry out the repairs. And to help us test whether the potion has worked, I bought this!”
He reached into the bag and lifted out a battered old toaster, one that had clearly been repaired many times already.
“Still the best toaster I’ve ever had, but it’s really struggling these days. Let’s see if you can fix it.”
“Um,” said Kevin. “If this doesn’t work I probably won’t end up fixing it. Quite the opposite.”
“That’s fine. At the end of the day it’s only a toaster. But this experiment, that’s where the fun is!”
Vincent rolled his eyes, always an impressive sight on a vampire, but he did smile slightly.
“All right,” said Kevin, hoping he wouldn’t regret this. “Let’s give it a go.”
* * *
After taking some of the potion Kevin felt… weird. He was still focused, still knew exactly what he wanted to do, and he was determined to make the toaster work. But at the same time…
He couldn’t put it into words. Things felt… fluffy? No, that was close, but not right. But it didn’t matter. He had a repair to do, and this time he was going to get it right!
Having people watching while he worked, and without trying urgently to stop him working, felt a little strange. Without the potion it would probably have been downright distracting, but having drunk the potion everything was good.
Kevin spent a couple more minutes tinkering with the toaster, then he stepped back and slapped his hands together.
“That’s it! I’m convinced that will work! Let’s give it a go!”
“I’ll plug it in and test it,” said Vincent. “Just in case something does go wrong. The amount of power from a mains socket won’t do more than make my skin tingle.”
Kevin wasn’t bothered by the apparent lack of confidence in his ability. This was going to work! He was sure of it!
Vincent carried the toaster over to a side table. He set it down. Plugged it in. And very carefully turned it on at the wall.
Nothing happened. No sparks. No explosions. Kevin started to grin. Yes! It had worked! The effects of the potion would take some getting used to, but wow! It had worked!
Vincent was smiling too. He reached out, slipped a couple of pieces of bread into the toaster, pressed the lever down to start cooking them… and the toaster exploded.
Exploded. That was the only word that did it justice. It was just as well it was Vincent who had been standing next to it, his vampire reflexes allowed him to get out of the way of the flying pieces of shrapnel.
Kevin stared in horror at the dents it made in Vincent’s pristine wall. And then, even through the effects the potion, his heart dropped. It hadn’t worked. He still hadn’t managed to fix anything. Another damn failure!
“That certainly was spectacular,” said Jake brightly. “You okay over there, Vincent?”
“I’m fine. The walls…” Vincent shrugged. “Well, I can fix those. Don’t worry Kevin, this is far from the only option we had. The next person I want to introduce you to is Jadra. She is… rather persuasive.”
“That’s a good idea,” said Jake. “I’m… I’ll take the pieces of the toaster and give them a burial. It had served me well for a very long time.”
“I’ll give you a hand finding all the pieces,” said Vincent. “There’s quite a lot of them.”
Despite the setback, Kevin found himself smiling. All right, it hadn’t worked, but Vincent seem convinced there were other options. And they weren’t blaming him for causing the destruction. He set to work helping to retrieve the pieces of toaster. It really was the least he could do… seeing as he’d made it explode!
* * *
Jadra was… amazing! The moment she walked into the room Kevin felt her presence like a physical force. When she looked at him, well, he just wanted to do anything he could for her. She was delightfully shy, with a smile that lit up more than just the room. It seemed to light up the entire world.
She sat down, and chatted to Kevin for a few minutes. Not anything to do with his problem, instead talking about places he’d been, things he’d seen, and carefully avoiding asking what things ended up broken whilst he was in those places. Then, finally, she bought out a battered-looking clockwork watch.
“I’ve had this for a while,” she said. “It’s nothing special, I just really like it. I’d love to see it working again. Do you think you could fix it for me?”
Kevin’s heart soared. Of course he could! Of course he would! He wanted to make her happy, and now he could! In moments he had the back off the watch, and was busy tinkering with the insides. He could see what was wrong with it, or more accurately all the things that were wrong with it, but none of them were beyond him. He worked with a smile on his face, all thoughts of failure banished from his mind. He couldn’t possibly fail at this! He could not let her down!
It took twenty minutes. Kevin smiled and placed the back on the watch, then presented it to Jadra. She took it with a smile.
“Well then,” said Vincent. “Let’s see whether the effects of a siren solve the problem.”
Kevin’s eyes went wide. Jadra was a siren? Of course she was! That explained the way he felt. But that didn’t change the fact he was certain the watch would work.
Jadra turned the watch over, smiling down at it, then started to wind it. Kevin waited, slightly anxious now. He was sure he’d done everything right. And the sounds coming from the watch were exactly what they should be. It seemed as if…
There was a ping from inside the watch. That was all. Nothing further. But as Jadra tried to wind it there were no longer the ratcheting sounds of clockwork, and Kevin knew, in his heart, that the watch would never work again.
“Dammit!” he said. “I was sure I’d fixed it.”
“Don’t worry,” said Jadra. “It really wasn’t an important watch, and it’s actually quite nice to find someone who is not completely overwhelmed by my powers. I hope you hang around. Vincent and his friends have always been so welcoming to me. I know they’ll find a way to help you.”
Kevin nodded, but he was disappointed. He’d thought this would be the time they broke through his block.
“Never mind,” said Vincent. “While you were working, Jake sent me a message. He’s found someone else who can help!”
* * *
That someone else was Dr Goranz, and the way he was looking at Kevin made the gremlin feel distinctly uncomfortable. It wasn’t a predatory stare, it was just… he felt like a specimen in a jar.
“Fascinating,” said the doctor. “A gremlin who actually wants to fix things. That’s certainly something new for me. I’ve come across plenty of gremlins, but never one who has wanted to repair things. I wonder if there are any others, or if you’re unique.”
“I’ve certainly never met another gremlin who feels this way,” said Kevin. “Then again, I hardly advertise the way I am. I made that mistake once and had to move a long way away to leave the stink behind.”
“That’s interesting. So the more… natural gremlins feel an aversion to what you want to do. All right then, let me show you what I believe is happening.”
He pulled out a battered-looking laptop, placed it on the desk, and opened it. He pressed the power button. The laptop lit up… and then the hard drive made a horrible grinding noise, lights flashed, and the laptop went dark.
“Damn gremlins!” said the doctor.
“I didn’t touch it!” said Kevin. “I didn’t even try to fix it!”
The doctor chuckled.
“Oh no, I didn’t mean you Kevin. My apologies. I spend a lot of time studying gremlins, you see. Equipment failure is a hazard of the job. No problem, we’ll do this the old-fashioned way.”
He pulled out a pen, but it broke in his hand. He sighed and reached into a drawer on his desk, pulling out a whole pack of pens. When he tried the second one it broke. The third one seemed to have something blocking the ink from flowing. The fourth one… well, it seemed to just disintegrate in his hand. The fifth held together and worked. The doctor seemed quite surprised by that.
“Sometimes I don’t get a working pen till I’ve been through ten or twelve,” he said. “This is a good day!”
Kevin stared at him. Just how much time did the doctor spend around gremlins to take this so easily?
“Now, let me just draw this out,” said the doctor.
Kevin watched as the doctor sketched out a roughly humanoid shape. It could have been a gremlin. Or it could have been a human, a vampire, or one of many other creatures.
“Now then,” said the Doctor. “The way in which brains control bodies can be very interesting. Take humans, for example. They have a strange arrangement where the left side of the brain controls much of the right side of their actions and vice versa. Many human-derived supernatural creatures are the same. Werewolves and the like.”
“What about vampires, doctor?” asked Jake, not able to hide a grin.
“Vampires are a special case,” said the Doctor. “From the very limited study that has been done, at least. They don’t generally make for willing test subjects, and no one forces the issue. Not more than once.”
“That’s a shame.”
“And of course there’s you, Jake. I have no idea what those potions have done to screw around with your internal wiring.”
Vincent snorted at that. For a moment Jake looked offended, then he grinned and shrugged.
“Guilty as charged,” he said.
“Anyway,” said Doctor Goranz. “Gremlins have their own quirks. I have learnt, through extensive study, that their brains control their bodies in a very different way to, say, humans.”
“Hang on,” said Kevin. “What do you mean extensive study?”
“I’m sure he means by putting them into MRI scanners and the like,” said Jake quickly. A little too quickly.
“I doubt that,” said Kevin. “If you put a gremlin in a piece of equipment like that it’d have the machine offline within moments.”
“That’s absolutely right!” said Doctor Goranz. “It was always a real impediment to my studies. No, I couldn’t do that. I went old school. I studied which parts of the body were affected as a result of traumatic brain injuries. Smashed up skulls and the like.”
Kevin leapt to his feet. “You’ve been experimenting on us?” he demanded. “Inflicting damage on our brains?”
“No!” cried the doctor, looking horrified. “Of course not! What do you think I am? Human?”
That took the wind out of Kevin’s sails. he believed the doctor was telling the truth. The man looked sick at the thought of experimenting on gremlins in that way. Kevin took a deep breath and spoke again.
“I’m sorry, Doctor. I must have misunderstood. How did you manage to study gremlins with those sorts of injuries?”
“I would have thought it was obvious. The occupation your kind feels drawn to is hardly a safe one. Gremlins spend their time making things explode, burn, shatter, and otherwise break in all sorts of interesting and creative ways. I know you have fast reflexes, but they’re not always fast enough. Gremlins end up with injuries and most of the time no-one will treat them. So I started to.”
“You treat injured gremlins? You mean you make them better?”
“To the best of my abilities. It’s easiest when they first come to me, when they’re in no state to interfere with my equipment. Unfortunately, even though they know I’m helping them, once they recover beyond a certain point they can’t help themselves. I have to keep them away from the equipment if I don’t want a very large repair and replacement bill. After that point it’s just old school medicine. For them it’s bandages and aspirin.
“For the worst injured, those who have the bad brain injuries, there’s little enough I can do anyway. I make them comfortable. I make sure they don’t suffer. But there’s little more than that which I can do most times. But my time with the gremlins who were that badly off did give me the chance to observe the impacts of those injuries on their personalities and abilities. And that’s why I think I can help you.”
“Go on…” said Kevin, still not comfortable with where the conversation seemed to be heading.
“Well, it turns out gremlin brains aren’t symmetrical. Most of the body, including the legs, the left arm, the head, and the torso, are controlled by the left side of the brain. In physical terms the right side of the brain is only responsible for the right arm.”
“Okay. That’s a bit odd, but how does that help?”
“That’s the fascinating bit! It’s not only control of the right arm which is isolated to the right side of the brain. It’s also the urge gremlins have to break things. Gremlins with severe damage to the right side of their brains no longer have that urge to get hold of everything and stop it from working. They’re able to exist around technology without interfering with it at all. They’re also unable to use their right arms. But the five of them with injuries to that part of the brain who survived seem far happier than any other gremlins I’ve come across, injured or otherwise.”
Kevin stared at the doctor. “They’re happy not breaking things? That’s incredible! But I’m still not sure how it helps me. My problem is wanting to repair things and not being able to. I’m pretty sure after talking to you that you’re not suggesting inflicting brain injury on me. But what do you have in mind? Something like electrodes in my brain?”
The doctor burst out laughing. He kept laughing for nearly a full minute, before he could manage to speak again. At first it annoyed Kevin, but the laugh was so infectious he ended up laughing too… without really knowing why. Finally Doctor Goranz managed to get himself under control.
“Deary me, no! Nothing so difficult! Or so severe! The urge to break things comes from the right side of your brain. One of the things I would have shown you on the laptop, had it been working, was a video Jake took while you were repairing the toaster. It was absolutely fascinating.
“You see, you did everything right to repair that toaster… with your left hand. While you were doing that, your right hand was busy sneakily making adjustments of its own. You didn’t even notice it was doing it. That’s what caused the toaster to fail so catastrophically.”
“So I have to keep trying to watch what my right hand is doing?
“No. I don’t think that would be possible. This is clearly taking place below the level at which you’re able to perceive it. Somehow the right side of your brain prevents you from even knowing what it’s doing to destroy things. No, I have a much simpler solution. We’ll just tie your right arm to your body so it can’t do anything.”
Kevin stared at him for a few moments, certain the doctor was joking, but the face looking back was completely serious.
“Just tie my arm to my body?”
“Yes! Preferably before you get anywhere near the device, as otherwise your right brain may kick in and ensure the knots aren’t quite as good as you’d planned. As long as you do that, I think it will work.”
Kevin stared at him, mind whirring. On one level it was an absolutely preposterous idea. On the other… could it actually work?
* * *
“This is the moment of truth, Doctor,” said Kevin. “If you’re right then your laptop should be working fine now that I’ve finished repairing it. If not… I hope you don’t have anything important on it.”
“There’s only one way to find out if I’m right,” said Doctor Goranz.
He reached out to the laptop, and pressed the power button. Kevin noticed the Doctor was still being careful. For a start, he hadn’t plugged the laptop into the wall which should limit how much damage it could do. Kevin hoped.
The laptop fired into life. Lights flickered and flashed. The hard disk hummed. And as the seconds passed, everything went smoothly. Kevin stood tensely, standing on the table near the laptop. He was certain something was going to go wrong, and soon.
Nothing did. The laptop ran through the boot-up sequence smoothly, started up, and was quickly ready for use. It seemed the thirty minutes Kevin had spent working on the laptop might actually have worked.
It hadn’t been easy. Doing things one-handed was no walk in the park. He’d had to improvise. Some of the time he’d ended up using his feet to hold things while he’d worked. But at that moment it all seemed to have paid off.
Kevin noticed the others in the room slowly starting to breathe normally again, and realised it was almost as important for them as it was for him. That was a strange feeling, but he liked it.
And it really did seem like it had worked this time. He didn’t want to risk getting his hopes up, but with every passing second that the laptop kept working as it should his mind raced more. He could help people! He could fix things!
Several minutes went by with the doctor using the laptop. Not only was it working, it was better than it had ever been, even when new. That brought a cheer from everyone.
Kevin felt a world of possibilities open up ahead of him. He had, for the first time in his life, successfully fixed something. And as he glanced around the room he realised something else. He’d also gained friends who would support him in doing what he wanted. Friends who’d gone a long way to help him reach his first success.
He grinned. Life was going to be very different going forwards. He was no longer going to be Kevin the gremlin. He was going to be… to be… Kevin the fixer! He liked that. Maybe he should get some business cards printed up. Hell… maybe he should build something to print his own business cards! He knew it would work now… as long as he kept his traitorous right arm completely out of whatever he was doing!