Clank’s Dilemma by Gray Winsler | Art by Eric Joyner

Detained by Eric Joyner

Clank’s Dilemma

By Gray Winsler
Art by Eric Joyner

Published Issue 115, July 2023

“When Benji became sick, all of the playland became sick. For Benji was the Keeper of the Chest, the Boy King, the Great Imaginator. It was his imagination that powered their world, and as the disease dulled his thoughts, their world fell into disrepair. BRIO bridges collapsed, construction of the new LEGO tower halted, robots began to rust. In an instant, a golden age became a depression, and like Benji himself, many toys struggled to survive.” -Chronicles of the Benji’s Playland: Ages 7 to 9

When Clank arrived home it was dark and quiet. The only light was the dim glow of their kitchen clock. 11:47. Another 16-hour day. He sighed and set his toolkit down quietly. Around him he saw a graveyard of happy moments. A toy car crashed through a wall of blocks. Two bowls cleaned of grease. A pile of scrap metal that was just beginning to resemble a dog. All moments he missed.

He walked slowly to his kids’ room and peaked inside. Nut and Bolt lay soundly asleep, their favorite book sitting on the night stand beside them. A part of him wanted to go and wake them up, to steal a moment of sleep so that they may spend some time together, if only a moment. But he knew he’d only feel all the more guilty in the morning. He closed the door quietly and whispered, “Goodnight, boys.” 

When Clank climbed into bed his wife, Machina, turned away from him in her sleep. There was a time she had sympathy for him. He’d come home to find her waiting with dinner, and they’d sit together while she told him of all the adventures her and the boys had that day. But her sympathy had waned, and stories became admonishments. “They’re working you too hard, mi amor.” “You’re not home enough.” “The kids miss you.” Now she said nothing at all, and somehow that felt so much worse to Clank. It made him angry.

He lay awake in bed beside her, stewing in his anger. How could she not understand? This was what he had to do. He’d give anything to be at home with her and the kids, but that just wasn’t the way things worked now that the Boy King was ill. And sure, he hadn’t told her that their rent had gone up, or that the auto shop was under water, or that his customers could barely afford to pay him. He hadn’t told her these things because it was not her burden to bear. It was his. And as he reminded himself of this, his anger fell back upon himself. How could he allow himself to miss so much of their childhood?

It was the mark of any good robot not to dwell on anger, but to transform it into something useful, something practical. And as Clank lay awake staring at the ceiling above, an idea began to take shape in his mind. It started as a silly thought, an impossibility. And yet it stuck, like an earworm repeating itself over and over again, until an absurd plan, an embarrassing plan, an immoral plan formed in his head. Something Clank never thought he’d do. Something he wasn’t sure he wasn’t sure he could do. And yet the more he thought of this plan, the more the pieces seemed to fall into place, the more it started to make sense. 

You see, there was one toy that Benji, the Keeper of the Chest, the Boy King, the Great Imaginator, cherished more than any other. It was a Hot Wheels replica of Evel Knievel’s stunt car given to him by his father. The car more than lived up to its reputation. It could outpace any other Hot Wheel no matter the loops or curves or jumps put before it. The car was legend in Benji’s eyes, and therefore treasured through all of the playland. Even in this time of sickness it was kept under close guard in Benji’s palace, awaiting his return. 

It was the most valuable thing in their world, but were something to happen to the car … Clank thought. Were something to break … something only he could fix … the palace would have to hire him! They had money, they had buckets and buckets of money. And they’d do anything to liven Benji’s spirits … This was the plan that formed in Clank’s mind. It was a plan born from desperation, from a bot who could not bear the idea of his kids growing up without him there. And the more he thought about it, the more he plotted and schemed, the more the plan took on a life on its own.

One week later, Clank found himself sneaking along the outskirts of Benji’s palace at midnight. A pair of velociraptors stalked the grounds before him, bright lights swooping across the field. Clank knew stealth was not one of his strengths. He was big and bulky and in his old age no amount of WD-40 could fix the creaking in his joints. But the truth was most Hot Wheels these days were more digital than physical. He just had to get close enough for the little antenna strapped to his chest to broadcast a signal out to the car.

Slowly he crawled across the castle grounds, creeping closer until his radar dinged. He could sense the car. He kept still, very still, as he began to upload the program he’d spent the last week writing. It was a simple bit of code, something that would force the car to full throttle the next time someone turned it on. A spotlight swept over him as the upload hit 50 percent, and he felt the fan in his chest whirring.

“Did you see that?” One of the raptors asked.

“See what?”

“Something out in the lawn … ”

Come on, come on.

75 percent.

“There! Did you see? Something glimmered out there.”

“Well go check it out then.”

Clank could see one of the raptors stalking toward him. He cursed himself for not stripping off his reflectors. The uploaded ticked up to 95 percent as the raptor drew closer, the spotlight now holding still over his boxy chest. Clank couldn’t decide whether to run or play dead. He was not cut out for this. He shouldn’t be here. Why was he here? How had he let himself get so carried away? But as Clank’s thoughts spiraled, the upload finished. And though he thought he had set the program to wait for ignition, he had actually set it to run instantly upon upload. 

The raptors both spun around, startled by the cacophonous rumbling that had erupted from inside the castle. There was a smattering of crashes and clashes until seconds later the car burst out through the palace’s stone wall flying through the air across the grounds, smoke already pluming from its engine. As the car hurtled forward into the woods, Clank turned and ran. He ran and ran and ran, his thoughts an empty void of panic, until he found himself rounding the corner of his street. He waited for his fan to cool and quiet, then slipped back into his own home, into his own bed.

He lay there in shock, as if it had all just been some terrible dream. His eyes bore into the same specks of ceiling from which his plan had been born. Only this time his thoughts did not race with possibility of triumph but disaster. Had they seen him run into the woods? Did they follow him? He flinched at every creak of their home. He was sure they’d be here for him any minute, to arrest him, to take him away. He did this to spend more time with his children, and now he was going to be taken from them forever. He wondered how he could have been so stupid.

But dawn came without incident. And as much as he wanted to lay there in bed until Machina woke up, to confess everything to her, he knew he had to keep up appearances. He had to get to work. So he put on his jumpsuit and picked up his toolkit and left for the auto shop just as he would any other day. When he arrived, Benji’s prized possession was already there, sitting in a smoking heap in front of his garage. Beside the wreckage was a little green soldier, one of the guards from inside the castle walls.

“Are you Clank?” The soldier asked.

“I am,” Clank said, trying to suppress his nerves.

“Good. I’m told you’re the only person who might be able to fix this.”

Clank glanced at the pile of bent metal and burnt rubber and asked, “What happened?”

The soldier sighed. “We don’t know.”

Clank felt a wave of relief crash over him, until—

“But one of our guards says they saw something in the grass just before the incident. They’re working with the detectives now.”

“Oh … oh, well that’s good.”

There was an awkward silence before the soldier asked, “So, do you think you can fix it?”

Clank knew he could fix it. He could fix anything. But he told the soldier he needed to assess the damage first. The soldier agreed to come back later. And with that, Clank went to work as if it was any other day. Except what others saw as a smoldering wreck, Clank saw as a giant pile of cash, a ticket out of the toil and drudgery his life had become these past months. He catalogued every bit of damage thoroughly, in meticulous detail. And as he focused on his work, the threat of being caught seemed to fade.

Until the soldier returned. 

“Do you have good news for me?” The soldier asked.

“Yes and no,” Clank said. “I can fix it — but it’s not gonna be cheap.”

He handed the soldier the ledger, his golden ticket back home to his family, and the soldier nodded his agreement before handing it back. “Whatever it takes,” he said.

Clank couldn’t believe it. Was it actually working? Was he actually going to get away with this? For a moment he felt light, felt giddy. His stupid, terrible, immoral plan was actually going to work!

Then, just as the soldier was about to leave, he turned and said, “We found who did it, by the way. It was Ratchet. Our guard is certain of it.”

“Oh,” Clank said. “Well good. Glad you caught him.”

The soldier left, leaving Clank to sit in quiet realization. He had been so myopically obsessed with the fear of his own capture, he hadn’t stopped to consider that someone else may take the fall. And not just any someone else, but Ratchet. His neighbor. A bot he used to sit on the porch and drink grease with while their kids played in the yard. Could he just let that happen? He looked back at the ledger in his hand, and the numbers scrawled across it. He could live on this for years … Exhausted by the toll this day had taken on him, Clank decided to head home, to sleep on it.

When Clank arrived home, he could see their living room bathed in the golden evening light. Through the window he saw his kids chasing each other around the couch while his wife tinkered with the tiny scrap dog they were building. It was a magical sight, one he had not seen in too long, one that warmed every circuit board he had. He opened the storm door to step inside and saw a newspaper jammed in there. The headline read: “RATCHET ARRESTED FOR CAUSING TRAUMA TO BENJI.” Clank held it in his hand for a moment, looking at Ratchet in the lineup of suspects. “I’m sorry, neighbor,” he whispered to himself before tossing the paper into the bushes. And then, for the first time in months, Clank went inside to have dinner with his family. 

Gray Winsler is the first ginger to be published in Birdy Magazine, Issue 091. He loved living in Denver despite his allergy to the sun and is now based in Ithaca, NY. He spends his mornings with his dog Indy by his side, writing as much as possible before his 9-to-5. If you’re curious about Normal, IL or why TacoBell is bomb, you can find more on his site.

Eric Joyner is a San Francisco-based artist who specializes in robots and donuts. Learn more about Eric and see more of his work on his site and on Instagram.

Check out Gray’s June’s short story, The Final Countdown, and Eric’s June Index, Plein Air, or head to our Explore section to see more of his work.

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  1. Pingback: Wood of the Wendigo by Gray Winsler | Art by Jonathan Dodd & Peter Glanting - BIRDY MAGAZINE

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