The Waking Engine(2)

By: David Edison



“I’m so sorry,” she said to the circle as she embellished it with more empty spaces, twirling blank lines into the dust with her toes like a broken ballerina. “I am so sorry, stranger, to cause this thing to be done to you. You deserve a better Tuesday.”

And as she moved, the worlds moved; or rather, something moved through the worlds. The strings were invisible and the call inaudible but somewhere, somehow, a thing moved in an impossible way. Not a thing, Alouette reminded herself, deliberating on that descriptor; it’s a human being that moves. As Alouette spun almost drunkenly, someone moved from here to there. Someone ignorant and innocent and, now, someone lost.

The lost were Alouette’s specialty. They were province, her provenance, and on awful days like this—her creation. Her byproduct.

She held the lost things of the worlds closest to her heart: lost men and women, lost kingdoms, worlds, and civilizations—lost ribbons and empty rooms. She held back the tide of loss and losing that described the arc of the metaverse in all its tragic iterations, on tiny scales and on scopes for which only gods and powers could grieve. In the foreign sharpness of her mind, the being who called herself Alouette saw that this forgotten room cried ropes of snot and salt for her occasional betrayals. The walls wept for the circle she danced into the dusty emptiness. The walls bawled because she never, would never cause a thing to become lost. Loss was her defining hate, her passion, sacrifice, her ruin.

She never intended loss.

Except on Tuesday.





1


My braying heart continues in spite of itself: I am. I am. I am. I do not know why I am here, but it is clearly not to Die. I see them, the Dying people, spiritually aged, faces bleached of all color by worlds of weekdays; I see them stumbling through the cathedral forest beneath the Dome. My God, I think they are like birds. Piloted by instinct.

I’ll spend hours birdwatching there, watching them Die—their bodies evaporate like smoke and the last look on their faces is peace, the first true peace they have known in dozens or hundreds or thousands of lives. Peace comes like a broken clock.

I hate them for that, the idiot birds who get to Die. If it were within my power to deny the Dying their Deaths, I would. Why should they find peace while I find none?

—Sylvia Plath, Empty Skies & Dying Arts




Cooper opened his eyes to see a spirit shaped like a woman, who cradled his head in her hands, her hair a halo of pink light that fell over his face. Angel eyes the color of wet straw looked down on him, and she smelled of parchment and old leather. As his eyes adjusted to the light, he saw that her freckled skin was tan, nearly brown, and for a long moment Cooper waited for her to speak. This is heaven, she would say. You will find peace here, and oblivion. We will heal your hurts, friend. Welcome home, she would say. You have been away too long. Cooper would smile, and submit, and she would guide him somewhere radiant.

He did not expect the slap to his cheek. Nor the second that followed, stinging.

He did not expect the angel to drop his head onto the hard ground and declaim, “I can do nothing with this turd.”

“My friend was not wrong, Sesstri,” a man said, cursing. “That is what makes him my friend and not my dinner.”

The woman pulled away and light came pouring over Cooper’s eyes, almost as blinding as before. Struggling, he could see that it wasn’t the light of heaven needling through his pupils—the sky above was jaundiced and cloud-dappled, and he lay in the rain on an odd little hillock that bristled with yellow grass. Above him, the two strangers just stood there, glaring down at his body.

And suddenly his body was all Cooper could feel: lit up with pain, scalded. How had he thought himself dead, let alone at peace? His bones ached and his bowels shuddered, and an abrupt crack of lightning overhead seemed to pierce his skull and live there, screeching agony between his temples. He tried to sit up but couldn’t. He couldn’t even roll onto his side, and when Cooper opened his mouth no words came out—he jawed like a fish in air, and flopped as helplessly. Flocks of birds pinwheeled across the sky. Bells rang and rang.

What happened? Cooper scrambled inside his head to reassemble some kind of continuity of experience. The last thing he could recall was drifting through a borderless sleep into a half-dream of lightless depths. He recalled sensing bodies in motion, masses larger than planets drifting through the murk below his dream-self. He could not see them, but somehow—he knew them. And maybe then he had passed beyond shadows. Maybe then he’d seen a city. . . .

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