His eyes drudged on back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Rock slab. Hammer down. Pick up crumbs. Throw away. Repeat. Rock slab. Hammer down. Pick up crumbs. Throw away. Repeat. His life was a broken record player, skipping and playing back the same old 43 seconds endlessly. It was a futile task to clean a city that no longer existed, for people that no longer breathed, for a nation that no longer cared. He was Polish. Now he is a Machine. Funny what this world can do to people.
War turns machines of us all. Planes fly over head making people wish they could soar away from the bullets. Tanks crush bodies, and people no longer wish to be composed of weak calcium bones. With his face covered in white, ghostly chalk from the rock slabs, it didn’t matter what the machine was made from anymore. No one considered him human, only an industrial machine. When someone moves back and forth, back and forth without a word, it is hard to think anything less. To him, it didn’t matter. He just shrugged. What can be expected when dignity and cavalier are the first things thrown out the window of destruction along with white phosphorus?
The machine used to wonder whether his bosses ever drank together. His old president, who had a knack to splurge, and now his new boss, who had a knack to kill. They’d make an odd photo together, if there ever was one. But now he knows they do. They have to. Where else would all the booze go? He hasn’t drunk a true pint of booze in years. In fact, 2 slices of black bread and a sip from the toilet are all he knows. Every time such delicacies are slobbered into his hands, and he is shoveled off for his fifteen-minute break during the fourteen-hour shift, he couldn’t be happier. Even his blue and white zebra skin tingle with excitement. Even the smoke looks less black, less forsaken, less like an offering to God.
He wasn’t always happy though. Not many people could claim to be, unless of course, God was on their side. Most people wondered whose side God was on now-a-days. Some, however, decided worship was to be respected. Tradition was where God could be found. They prostrated themselves, mumbling under their breath an ancient language that seemed to lick the edges of everyone’s ears with a tantalizing moan. Unshakeable words. Concrete beliefs. Each word echoed a verse well known to all of them. To the machine, shuddering underneath nature’s frozen breath, he couldn’t listen to the words. His mind was racing. The only thing he could think about was thatt it was odd that some star’s light only reach earth long after they have fallen apart.
He tried to remember what had fallen apart for him and still shines. One idea fed the light of his only reoccurring memory, one which he had struggled to remember. It played out like this. He would pile into a car – he’d forget what kind it was – and drive and drive. He wasn’t sure where’d he go, but he thought there were green hills, or something. He was certain there was a lake. He’d swim. He’d laugh. He would play games with a small little boy he called “son”. He’d hold some woman’s hand and then he’d go home, he thinks.
One different machine, before he was confiscated, must’ve remembered more than everyone else. He screamed out in the few moments of lucidity that describe a world filled with insanity, “Whoever destroys a single life is as guilty as though he had destroyed the entire world”. It was one of those prophetic words uttered long ago. This man used to be a human once. Now he was just a malfunctioning machine. To deal with such machines, only the most inhuman treatment was warranted. It was necessary. It was just. So, his tongue was cut, his eyes were gorged, and he was left to die in a room alone. It was a fair death. Some had it worse though. At least his ashes were sprinkled in the bathroom amongst the wretched stench of fecund.
A sign of remembrance.
Some machines still functioned properly, despite it all. The white-slabbing-hammer-pounding-mind-racing unit still did. In fact, he functioned so well he knew where God was. He was told while defecating on some other machine’s ashes. Before revealing their secret to him, the ashes whispered, “Everything burns, even beliefs. The world is nothing but a fireplace and God is holding the poker. There. Look. Outside.” Excitedly, the machine crawled with his flimsy drawers between his legs and with his poo dangling like an umbilical cord to meet his creator. It was only appropriate for the one who gave him life.
God was different than he expected. God was bearded. He grinned a smile carved straight from hell. Gott Mit Uns, his belt read. He was German. He had a holy scepter in his hand. He blessed the machine with it until the machine’s pants wiggled themselves onto a fleshy frame of paper-thin hips. Talk about a miracle.
This God, very much like the God of the holy books, was able to find out what how much people could submit themselves to. In doing so, this God found out the exact amount of evil which can be imposed on a people to turn them into something else entirely. As it turned out, these particular machines could endure a lot. Certainly they were more than a regular pillar of salt. The machine picked up his pants and went to finish his toiletry. He was bleeding.
Other humanoids, those of who still flickered signs of life, whose hearts still fluttered to the rhythm of their conscience, not to the sound of the hammer, tried to fight against the God. They resisted with either words or blows, or with both. Most were put out of them are commission. Most comprised the billowing tower of smoke that cloaks the night sky and the morning’s cherry smile.
One day, the machine stopped his hammering for a bit to look up to that column of never ending smoke. It faded from gold to yellow, and a rush of watery memories filled his mind. He was reminded of a goldfish he called Orange. The sky changed colours again, this time from orange to black. Now he was reminded of a charcoal being burned on a hungry fire. Orange was there in the middle of the charcoal and some little infant was there as well. He could not recognize the face. He did not know the child’s name. He just remembered as its legs dangled out amidst a pile of dark flakes. The machine was thinking that the child was too close to the flames and the child knew this too because it looked at him and smiled. It jumped into them.
Next thing he saw was the leftover black char. “We”, his words mouth, “are nothing but coal.” Maybe though, he thought, with enough pressure, he could turn into a diamond. Maybe that’s where the infant was. Diamond hunting.
And as the memory passed, the world tried to see if that would happen to the machine. Each day got heavier than the last. The gravity of the world increased ten fold as the machines bones began to fail with another second stolen away from an already shortened breath. The weight of the world was crushing him. So on another lonely night, with his knuckles painted red, with a face that has forgotten how to twitch during screams of mercy, he stepped from his rusted bed. It creaked an orchestra of broken springs. He creaked a crescendo of emaciated muscles. The rotten floorboard creaked under it all. He remembered God existed somewhere and so he went outside at night and kneeled on the ground that had looked as if it was fed up from being pounded on and looked up to the sky filled with black smoke from the never satisfied chimneys and said, “God, if you are there, send me lightning and kill me now.”
God didn’t. To the machine, there is nothing sadder than a prayer that does not get answered. His eyes thought it would be a funny ruse to become wet without rain. The water crept from his eye down to the soil, battling against gravity to stay on an unrecognizable face. It fell down to the ground eventually as all things do, and was whisked away from the world forever. The machine stood up from the grey ground, and laid on the floor of his bunker without even brushing himself off. He was kicked awake in the morning and whipped ten times for being out of bed. The machine moved a total of 51243 stones in the next three years. In those three years, his muscles were so tight than he could no longer open his fingers. He forgot how to laugh. He was now colour blind. The green hills that he remembered once were lost somewhere between the first stone and the last one. After he placed the 51243 stone, he stopped, sat down on it with hammer in his worn hand, and looked tiredly around. Whiteness enveloped him. His life had always been a blinding white light, at least, he always remembered it as such. It was the tunnel at the end, for his death was his life before that last stone. Now he was finally going to begin living. Hopefully he’d be living in blackness, he hoped. He swallowed, and from his throat, a laugh croaked.
He died two minutes later with a smile etched on his face. His eyes were closed, a fleshy shield from the white around him.