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He sleeps in a makeshift bed composed of two large wooden crates, two pillows piled on top of each other, and a lone blanket. The room is small, barely fitting his makeshift bed, another crate that serves as a chair, and a small worktable in the corner covered in clockwork machine parts. The only window is small and high on the wall, near the ceiling. The only entrance and exit is lacking a door. He wakes and finds himself staring blankly at the ceiling.

He listens.

Outside, the strange many-winged birds are warbling. The ones with more than one head were singing duets with themselves in some language even the natives didn't know.

When he'd first come here, he'd asked about their names, their breeds and species and received general blank looks all around. 'They're birds,' he'd been told. 'What more do you need?'

He listens past them to the honking, chattering, glopping, glorping, buzzing, hrnking, trumpeting and hissing that made up most of the local communication. Through means he didn't understand but had long since stopped questioning, he understood the sounds, and so caught scraps of conversation.

"Ethlegrablarg varnosh gzzrat annngnnnd so I sez to Mabel, you wanna know what I sez to her? I sez me and Claudia don't like your tone anymore! Well then she drzzzn thlrrgh vrshnaggrin. . "

"Baaught maaaawmaaa I daaaaaunt waaaahnt taaaaah. . ."

"Graawwaahaawr the doctor! I need to see the doctor!"

He rolls over in bed and pulls the covers over his head. He doesn't want to deal with this world today. The covers do little to block out the noise, but they do seem to amplify one small nearby sound in particular, but maybe it's just his imagination.

Tic tic tic

Hoof-beats are coming towards his room. Someone raps on the doorway, then comes in without waiting for permission.

"Doctor!" they say in a voice composed of a thousand tinier voices screaming in synch with one another. "Doctor, we need your help!"

"Go away," he says.

Tic tic tic tic

He's shaken by one set of arms while another tears off his blanket.

"Doctor," the legionous voice says again. "Doctor, wake up. The bridge is broken and you must fix it!"

"I'm not asleep," he says "Go away. They can fix it themselves."

The creature trying to drag him out of bed is vaguely centaur-ish, if centaurs were bright green with only three zebra-striped legs, and had four arms sticking from their sides. Instead of its head being humanoid, it is the elongated and reptilian face of a lizard.

It doesn't have a name. Not one that it recognizes. Nobody here does. It doesn't matter. The ones he talk directly to don't need it, and if he talks about someone, everyone knows instinctively who he means without explanation.

"Doctor, please!"

It tears the blanket away, exposing him to the cool air.

"Fine!" he snarls, sitting up. "Fine."

He groans and complains, but he grabs his tool bag and allows himself to be dragged outside by the wrist.

Outside, the sun is shining. The green-blue grass is particularly bright looking. The pine trees around them are disproportionately large and look like something out of a child's drawing. And the citizens are all awake.

Some are ostrich-like and have bright pink feathers and have the heads of snakes with beaks. Others are like giant blobbish blocks of thick purple fur. Some are noodle shape with too many eyes, some don't have eyes at all but navigate fairly well anyways. Most are asymmetrical, one way or another, with three arms on one side and only one on the other. All of them have a distinctly cartoonish feel to them. One brilliant yellow eel-like creature with monkey feet on it's back curls itself up and rolls around like a wheel.

He still hears the small ticking sound, but it's almost drowned out by their noise. Almost.

He rubs his temples. He can feel a headache coming on.

The citizens wave to him with what appendages they have as he passes. The ones with mouths chatter and grunt and make any noise they can, while the sounds rearrange themselves in his head into greetings.

Hello doctor!
Did you sleep well, doctor?
Doctor, the bridge! Have you heard about the bridge?
Doctor. . .

He smiles weakly and waves at them all. He isn't a doctor. He'd never even made it past middle school. They called him doctor here because it's the only word they knew for someone who fixes things. People, bridges, roofs, watches- anything broken was fixed by a doctor.

Despite the many creatures running around, there are no houses. No shops, no buildings of any kind. His hut is the only building he's seen in this world of eye-aching color. He'd made it himself when he'd first arrived.

He follows the green centaur-like creature to the bridge.

The ground ends abruptly into a cliff with a ninety-degree cut off. The canyon goes down- maybe for miles. It's hard to say, because after a good couple hundred feet, white-blue mist hides the bottom. The bridge rests on the very edge of the cliff. The arm seemingly branches out into oblivion, as after a few hundred feet that way, across the chasm, it too disappears into white-blue mist.

And it isn't really a bridge. It's a tall tower made of clockwork. The arm extending off into the unknown is composed solely of large gears and cogs miscellaneous scraps of metal. Normally, when the bridge is working, all the gears are active. They churn along at varying speeds, the tiny thumb sized ones whirring fast enough to sound like bees and the big, truck-sized ones clanking along at five miles an hour, tops, and all the others going at their own rate.

There's only one way to cross the bridge: climbing up the side of the tower (because there's no way to go inside, it's solid clockwork) and then climbing onto the branch. Then walking across, hopping the gears and hoping you don't fall off. Only a handful of people have tried it. None of them have made it back.

When they reach the bridge's tower, he sees that they've gathered an audience. He isn't surprised: the bridge breaking is one of the very few things of interest to happen in these parts. They crowd around to watch him work, and so he ignores them.

The problem is immediately obvious to him. A gear near the top of the tower glows bright red for his eyes only. He's asked the others before; they can't see it when the gears flash red. Only a doctor can.

He can see everything that's broken, on the few days there is something broken. They come to him with broken toys that he never sees them play with and has no idea where they keep hidden. Torn clothes that need mending that he swears they never wear. Things get awkward when somebody is sick, because then he can see flashing red things inside them that, depending on the person, can give him nausea or nightmares.

So he climbs up the tower. His loose clothes catch on the metal and make for slow going. His fingers hurt after awhile form dealing with the sharp edges. By the time he reaches the problem, his palms are bleeding a little. Now that he's surrounded by silent machinery, he can clearly hear the small ticking.

Tic tic tic

But he ignores it. There's something stuck in the machine. It's bright blue and jammed in tight. Carefully, he takes out a chisel and hits the blue thing hard enough for it to crack. Once it's broken, it's small enough for the gears to squash completely and continue on. He quickly falls back from the tower, not wanting to get caught in the now-waking gears.

He lands on his back in the grass and is immediately surrounded by the creatures.

"Didja fix it?" one asks.

He can't speak.

. . .

He sits up, unable to breathe, and unbuttons the front of his shirt. There's a hole in his chest the size of an apple where his heart should be, and the hole is covered only by a delicate glass door with a tiny latch. There's clockwork inside. Quickly, he digs his fingers in and fiddles around until things start to work again. His heart tics steadily on. He sags in relief, and once he's satisfied that it's still working properly, gets up and buttons up his shirt.

The tower shudders and a loud screech fills the air.

"Didja fix it?" one asks again, apparently unconcerned that his heart had stopped a second ago.

"Think so," he says.

Something small and bright blue comes rocketing out from the middle of the tower, spat out by the gears. It lands in the grass a few feet away. They all get up and go to examine it.

It's a ridiculously fluffy blob creature with four cat-like ears and chicken claws. it looks up at them with wide, wide eyes. It opens it's mouth and a growl comes out, but in his head, he hears it ask, "Where am I?"

"Welcome to hell," he says tiredly. "You get your accordion at the gate."

None of them pay him any attention: they are used to the doctor saying odd things.

"You're here," says an orange and pink thing with too many arms and not enough legs.

The little blue creature thinks about this for a second, then smiles, revealing needle-like teeth.

"That's good, then." And it waddles off with the rest of the group, back to what he can't help but think of as 'town'.

"Anything else you were worried about?" he says to the green centaur-thing.

"Nope!" It cheerfully trots off, having apparently lost interest in him.

"Great," he says, heading back to his hut. "Don't bug me again. I'm going to sleep."

Tic tic tic

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