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The days passed, slowly and rhythmically like the clockwork that the sole resident of the House was made of. Though time was not an idea the resident of the House fully understood. In fact, the resident didn’t know much about anything, as he had never left. He had no wish to leave, he enjoyed his solitary existence.
He hadn’t always been alone, this machine-man of clockwork. There had been a Man, a Man who was not made of metal nor driven by mechanics, but something that He said was not certain. The Man had spoken often, and the machine-man discovered that he himself could speak.
The machine-man didn’t speak much now that He had left. He had tried talking, but gave up the venture when nothing responded.
The Man had taught the machine-man everything the clockwork creation knew. This knowledge is a small amount when compared with an eight-year-old child, in terms of arithmetic and science. The machine-man was also less of a burden than a child, as the machine-man didn’t require food to live.
All he needed was to be wound with a special key everyday. Before He had vanished, He had taught the machine-man how to wind the clockwork within him. The machine-man did so every morning, everyday.
After he wound himself the machine-man placed the key in a special compartment in his forearm. He would then read a few pages from one of the many books in the library. If he had been able to smell, it would have smelled like the knowledge of wise old men, rich and musty. The machine-man read so sparingly because if he didn’t, he would have read all the books in the library ten times over. His way was slow, but allowed for more time to digest the literature and process what he had read. Many things he didn’t understand, such as books about a place where the ground was made of soil, not wood like in the House, and where the ceiling was unimaginably vast and changed color.
The machine-man regarded this as nonsense. Perhaps you who are reading this think that the metal contraption is wrong, for you may have felt or seen such things. But the machine-man has not, at least, not quite yet. He was made in this House, by Him, and knows of nothing but wood paneling and the dull ceiling. The machine-man’s world consists of this simple House; he does not yearn for a large Earth to tread upon, or an unfathomable sky, for he does not know of them. The world you may see, feel, smell, hear, and taste the sky, the earth, and everything that grows from them doesn’t exist to him. You may argue that they do, but do they truly?
If you present a clod of dirt to the sole resident of this repetitive existence and say, “Smell that, this is earth, this is proof of a world beyond this House,” the machine-man would respond with, “I cannot smell. Or feel or taste. I can only see this clod of Earth. If I can’t experience it, like you can, does it truly exist to me?”
Think of this for a moment. Because the machine-man has not experienced the entirety of your world, does that mean it is completely real? Not in the physical sense, but the idea and principle behind it. For something to be real, you must believe in it. If one does not believe because they cannot, is it truly real in all it’s being?
There is also the fact that the machine-man doesn’t have specific definitions for senses, and that might stop the argument then and there.
After reading the machine-man would go to the mirror in the library to make sure no gears where wearing down or out of place. He did this not because he knew how to repair himself (there was no need, nothing had ever broken) but because if something did break, he wanted to know for the sake of his well-being. One of the things He had talked about was the soul, and how all living things had them. The machine-man had asked if he had a soul, since this place of Heaven was a good sounding place. The machine-man remembered the He had taken a while to answer. The Man had finally said that He just didn’t know, and that the only way to find out was to die.
The machine-man knew what death was, The Man had taught him, and he assumed that He had died and that’s why He wasn’t here anymore. The Man must have gone through the door to die. The machine-man came to the conclusion that the door must lead to Heaven. The machine-man felt no great loss or sorrow; he didn’t know what those feelings were, in the strictest sense. The Man had never taught him what they were.
The machine-man checked himself in the mirror everyday to see if he was dying. He didn’t know how many gears would have to stop moving until he finally stopped ticking, and he didn’t care to know. The machine-man was afraid of death, He had been different, He had said that God had created Him and His people, and God granted them souls. The machine-man didn’t know if this God could give a soul to a creature made of metal, and neither did He.
The machine-man was a complex creation of bronze gears and gold cogs. Metal plating of the same colors covered the areas between his joints. He checked the plates first, to see that no welding had broken and that no bolts had loosened. The machine-man took a great sense of pride in his appearance. He spent a good deal of time in the morning polishing any smudges or grit from his body, buffing himself until his plating shimmered like a flawless golden pool. He looked at the gears that made his feet next, moving upward to his ankles, knees, hips, and then the hole in his chest. This was where he wound himself every morning. This hole was large, and in it could be seen countless gears, the clinking of their teeth never ending (so he hoped). Splattered messily across the plates of his chest was the word, “KArL,” the name he had given to himself years ago, with only the ‘r’ being lowercase. It was difficult to refer to himself as Karl, as there was nothing in the House that could speak to him.
After that were his shoulders, elbows, and hands. Or clamp and hand to be more exact. His right hand ended with a jumbling of gears with two large claws he could clamp together. His left hand was a complex structure of densely packed gears that moved his five fingers. His head was last, he would rub his glass eyes clean of dust with a soft cloth and make sure he could still move his jaw, even if he didn’t speak much. His face was traced with many small, delicate lines where the metal plates could shape themselves into expressions. He would also look at the small gears that stuck out the left side of his head. When all was checked and he was satisfied, the machine-man would sit in the chair next to the door, and think. He would do that for the rest of the day, until the lights went out. That was when he slept. And dreamed.
The machine-man liked the door because it was the only thing left that had any sort of special connection with Him. The machine-man assumed that He had left through that door. The machine-man wanted to follow him, but He had always told the machine-man to never go through that door, or else bad things would happen and the machine-man would die. Fearing death, and the uncertainty of his own soul, the machine-man obeyed Him.
Whoever is reading these words right now might still think of this as some sort of hell. But this was the world as the machine-man knew it, and as far as he was concerned, it was perfect. There was no work, there was no global strife, and there were no problems, the machine-man knew nothing of hell. Not yet at least. So, is this a place of misery? Perhaps to you. To the machine-man, it was Eden, a paradise where everything was faultless. Though perfection is often sought after by those who would wish to destroy it. Sometimes they succeed. Sometimes they fail and the small pockets of peace in a world of chaos wait for the next evil.
Sometimes, those who mean well destroy perfection.
The world that the machine-man knew about was a lot larger than he thought, and he was about to discover this very soon. But before the major disturbance of his life there would come a minor one.
It was during his meditation, and he was thinking about a book he had just started reading. It had been about a group of creatures called birds, things that could fly through the air, and laid eggs. The machine-man had also read a book about evolution, and wondered how a bird would evolve. If a large world existed, how would such a creature evolve over time? By throwing itself out of a tree over and over again? Then it couldn’t have possibly survived. Therefore, it must be pure conjecture, the birds some sort of mythical beast.
The lights went out, and the machine-man closed his eyes and began to dream. He usually dreamed of whatever he had been thinking about, in this case the birds. In his mind, the drawings on the page came to life, and the sketches began to fly and leap around the room. More and more birds flew off the pages and swarmed around the door. They began to sing in a chorus of high chirping notes. The music flowed out of their mouths and took shape. This blanket of sound shone with a bright radiance, enveloping the room, a rainbow of colors that swirled and flowed with joy.
It was the most vivid and beautiful dream the machine-man ever had. It made him believe in the birds, whose songs bring hope. In a world where a great golden globe lights the world with caressing rays of soft color. In a world where the sweet smelling Earth holds together seas of green trees.
It made him believe that he just might have a soul.
He saw all these visions with clarity he never knew. The objects of his readings sprung into life around him, the House vanishing. The machine-man wondered where this world might be. He turned to the door. The door must lead to Heaven, the birds were leading the way. As the machine-man reached out for the handle, the edges of the door became framed by a black light. He paid no attention, to focused on seeing what lay beyond and blinded by his bliss.
The handle turned and the machine-man opened the door. The black light burst through the frame and began to tear the rainbow apart. Vines and creepers tore up the Earth and strangled the trees. Hawks flew with the light, creatures of claws and hooked beaks. They sped into the House and tore the small birds to pieces.
The machine-man cried out in shock. What kind of world lies beyond? The books weren’t telling any truth, they were fantasies of a world that never existed, a place that He must have wished for and dreamt about.
His shouting seemed to attract the intruders. They turned on him and attacked. The hawks scratched his eyes, the vines tore off his legs, and the black light covered him like a blanket, blinding him even more than the hawks.
A scream ripped itself from his throat and the machine-man woke up. His eyes darted around the room, an expression of terror etched into his face. The machine-man glanced at the door, afraid that it would burst and the creatures of his nightmare would come pouring through.
While the major change in his life was yet to come, this was certainly worth noting. This was the machine-man’s first nightmare. He was terrified to say the least, the terror almost blinding, he had never felt such an emotion before, and that terror lingered for the rest of the day. The machine-man had no father or mother, no one to console him, to tell him there was no reason to be afraid. The machine-man wished more than ever now for Him to return.
He stayed awake until the lights came back on, and started the cycle of his day once more. The machine-man hadn’t finished the book about birds, and he didn’t think he could. The machine-man was also scared to look in the mirror, afraid that he would see a broken and torn figure, with vines hanging from shattered limbs.
His reflection was just as flawless as ever, and the machine-man felt relief. He went to the library to pick a new book, careful to avoid looking at the one about birds. It was a thick volume, one he hadn’t read in a while. He pulled it down from the shelf and began to read. It was titled, History of the Nation. He didn’t know what the Nation was, but the stories in it were interesting.
It was a passage about a bustling trade city that had enjoyed many years of prosperity and peace. But a plague came, a terrible infection that drained its host of all life and continued on to the next victim. The people were saved by a mage who cast a spell that put the virus into hibernation, rendering it harmless. The mage gave his life to help the people of this city. They could not leave, for that would spread the disease, but they were alive. But the King did not know this, and he had ordered the army to go in with protective spells and exterminate all in the city. The people fought back to protect their homes and defeated the army, driving them away.
The people were alive and were able to pull a life together out of disorder. But the problems began to grow more daunting, and the people separated into two factions and began to fight, a fight that the book said went on for seventy-three years before the city was empty.
These pages did nothing to calm the machine-man. He had read of suffering before, but had, like many other things, never fully understood it. Perhaps the people of this city had done some wrong and deserved punishment. He scrutinized the passage a second time. Then a third. He saw no reason for these people’s suffering. And they turned to each other’s throats the moment things grew difficult, when they could just as easily work together.
The machine-man stopped reading. He remembered all the books he had read about hate, malice, cruelty, and suffering. All the words came flooding back to him in a tidal wave of grief. He feared he would go mad as the words drummed relentlessly upon his mind.
He was scared. His world as he knew it had been torn down around him, the blank white truth smeared into violent mixture of grey. Truth hung heavy on his shoulders, pulling him even deeper into a state of melancholy.
The machine-man stayed like this for perhaps a week, he had lost track of everything around him. The days were full of sadness and the night’s terror. Whenever he slept, the nightmares returned.
On the seventh day, he had finally collapsed from exhaustion. Not from lack of winding or in the physical sense, his mind needed to rest. He sank into a deep state of semi-consciousness, falling to the floor. He opened his eyes. There was the door, standing there, a dark monolith of false prophecies.
He fell asleep. He dreamed of his nightmare again. The machine-man screamed towards the blackened sky as the creepers snaked into his body.
“Why do you torment me so?” he shrieked, “What wrong have I done to deserve your wrath? I have lived in peace for so long, why can’t you leave me to my solitude?”
“Open the door,” he heard a voice respond.
The machine-man stood in silence. He looked to the door.
The machine-man awoke to find himself standing, facing the gate to the other side. The voice wasn’t from the sky, the sky had vanished. He was back in the House, his universe, his reality, his once flawless existence.
And the voice continued to speak from behind the door.
“Trib, get the powder and open this door. When need to hurry before Molodov gets here.”
The machine-man wondered if his nightmares were real, and if they were about to finally come through that accursed door.
“Alright, the powder’s in place Pan. Stand back.”
There was silence for a moment, and then a great noise filled the room. The door was blown to pieces, and a brown cloud filled the air.
The machine-man cowered in shock. He expected the Hawks to fly in at any moment, the creepers to wrap themselves around him and shred his body to pieces.
What he saw was very different. Two figures came out of the dust. They stopped when they saw him crouching in the middle of the floor, their eyes wide, mouths open.
They looked similar in construction and being as Him, but only just. One was small and reedy, with yellow hair and black powder smudges on his fingertips. The other was very large and muscular, with a head of dense brown curls and a beard.
The machine-man stood and faced them.
The stillness persisted. When the dust had cleared, the muscular man spoke. His voice was low and deep, heavy and rich, almost gravelly, but kind. He spoke slowly, but with great confidence.
“So…Karl,” he began, reading the paint on the machine-man’s chest, “Have you been here awhile?”
The machine-man took a moment before speaking, “Enough to read the library ten times over.”
“Have you?” the second man said. The machine-man looked at him. He wasn’t even a man, he looked young, his voice bright and cheery, flowing from his mouth with casual speed.
“No,” the machine-man said.
The muscular man approached Karl. The man reached his hand out towards the machine-man’s shoulder, “May I?”
“May I?” the machine-man responded with uncertainty. He had no idea what the man wanted.
“Nevermind then,” the muscular man said. He withdrew his hand. He turned to the doorway, “Listen, we need to leave soon. Is there anything here besides books?”
“Yes,” the machine-man said. The reedy man seemed to get excited for a moment, “The mirror and my chair. And His room, but it is empty.”
The muscular man sighed, “Alright, well…” he looked at the reedy man, then back at Karl, “Do you want to stay down here?”
“Yeah, this whole place in below ground, a fair bit too. Do you want to stay down here or come to the surface?”
The machine-man thought for a moment, “Up where the trees and sky are? They are real?”
“Yes,” the muscular man said, “They are, have you ever left?”
“No, I have not, but…wait here please,” the machine-man looked around at his universe. The wooden walls, the ceiling, the floor, all having once been the absolute bounds of the machine-man’s existence. The lamps turning on and off in perfect cycles. His chair, where he thought and dreamed. He walked into the library, so many books he hadn’t read, but so many he had. The desk, where he put the books he was reading or finished with. He looked at himself in the mirror. He was covered in a fine layer of dust, but otherwise looked the same, though he felt quite different. He took one last look around and his gaze settled on a book. It was about a mythical creature that couldn’t possibly exist, an evolutionary anomaly. He picked it up and walked back to the two men.
“I’m ready,” Karl said.
The muscular man gestured for the machine-man to follow him, and the three of them passed through the door. The machine-man looked around him. He was in a long narrow hallway, the only light from lamps that hung on the walls. The machine-man touched the walls and bits of it crumbled in his hands, falling to the floor.
The books were right. They had always been right. He looked ahead and saw a tiny pinprick of light far away. As they walked, the dot grew larger, until the machine-man could see that it was blue.
They arrived at the threshold that led underground. The two men walked on, but the machine-man stopped. He saw the sky, speckled with wispy clouds, and the tips of green towers in the distance, the earth beneath his feet.
He looked at the book in his hand. Then took a step forward.