World-moulder – Part III

An Espresso Tale

By

Accipiter G. Goshawk

The story continues from where we left it in Part II

They awoke to a ticking sound. It wasn’t the melodious dancing of their own pocket watch but a harsh snapping of a much larger instrument.

Slowly they rose from the small grey cot. Around them, the dark universe remained silent, letting only the hidden clock echo through the bleak corridors of this forlorn construction.

Teal shivered and then cringed as something gaunt and leathery scrambled past the open door of their small room. They waited a moment, straining to make out any noise other than the incessant ticking.

After a moment they rose, quickly straightened out their jacket – which had inexplicably turned grey – and pulled their hair into a ponytail.

“This is starting to become embarrassing,” they muttered to themself. With a sudden flourish, they stepped, meaning to exit this horrid universe and put it forever out of their mind.

The step only led to another dreary hallway. On their left, they could see a small window looking out on to a courtyard of dead grass. Between the buildings, they could scarcely make out an ashy horizon and a handful of pale suns, floating behind an eternal curtain of shadow.

Teal groaned theatrically and this time snapped their fingers, aiming for the borders of the universe.

They appeared on another dead planet. This time, endless lines of people shuffled aimlessly over a cooled lava flow, each dragging a small rune-covered rock with them.

“Now please remember everyone: you are your rock and your rock is your safety. Don’t forget or lose your rock: it is the only thing between you and oblivion.”

The squeaky up-beat voice slithered out of a small cluster of loud-speakers and was punctuated by a dull pulsing of the runes adorning each rock.

“What in…?” Teal hissed as they watched a woman succumb under the weight of her burden. The people slogging steadily beside her ignored her and simply marched on, their feet grinding the volcanic spew as they passed.

Disregarding the risks and forgetting that they didn’t belong to this place, Teal scrambled to the woman’s side and helped her up.

“Are you all right?”

She stared at him confusedly. Then, she grabbed her rock and feverishly began to read it, her bony fingers tracing one rune at a time.

“I’m nice…I’m mistrustful of strangers. I am a hard worker, I love my children but I dislike cats. I am fixed and all is well.”

The slow stream of incessant babbling continued as she staggered further along the lava flow. As her words broke the silence, more people turned to peer urgently at their stone. Soon a chaotic litany of broken voices filled the air, each reciting their existence in an effort to fix it.

In an effort to fit into the mad desperation.

Teal’s eyes widened in horror and in that second, they lost all aloofness. They felt their existence anchoring to this terrible place, the memory of the Inner Workings evaporating from their mind.

“No…I…I don’t belong here…I need to succeed.”

A dark weight pushed down on their hand. They looked down with increasingly dulled eyes, their mind locking on to the shape of their own stone and the delicate scrawl of runes that adorned it.

“I am ambitious,” they began to read. “I am a good person. I am responsible. I listen to the opinion of others and negotiate the best solution. I am an altruist. I am less important than those around me. I am only validated by what others think of me. I am fixed and all is well.”

The ghostly line moved forward another inch and Teal moved with it, another cog of a well-defined, well-catalogued, orderly mechanism.-

The story continues in Part IV

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