Fiction Friday: The Cycle of the Machine

I’ve been down with the flu so was unable to write this week. That means that I’m having to post something that is not-quite-ready-for-prime-time. The Cycle of the Machine was written several years ago, it is brief and I still like the ideas. It’s currently undergoing a major re-work.

 

The Cycle of the Machine
by Desmond Manny

Confined to the small and dimly lit cell the old man worked his long and slender, age-spotted fingers over the intricate controls of the machine. Gilt in gold and mother-of-pearl, the machine drew all the old man’s attention. The stooped bow of his shoulders and the gnarled knots of his joints had no obvious affect on his dexterity and the old man worked the action of the machine, it’s brass knobs and ivory handles, with movements that were smooth and quick. The old man had performed these functions with a deliberation and intractability that surpassed habit, went beyond ritual, was something ingrained into his very existence.

The work of the day, and the string of days passing on into a dim and long forgotten past held familiarity for him, but his thoughts today did not. Bemused, the old man hardly recognized himself in the air of apprehension, of expectation, that had come over him. Stranger still he found his thoughts turn as they never had before to the door of his cell. That door which had always been present and which he had never opened, whose existence had only registered on him dully over his many long years in servitude to the machine. Servitude?

Surely the door was no great mystery. At some point he admitted he could not remember he must have entered through it, crossed the threshold to take his place upon the stool and begin his work at the machine. If he could not remember this day it made it no less a certainly. Yet still the notion of the door troubled him.

Now that he had acknowledged these things he could not put them out of his mind. Like a tooth that has developed a pain that you cannot help but poke with the tongue he returned to these thoughts about the door. Slowly began to consider what lay beyond it. At the same time he began to notice idiosyncrasies in the machine; a lever which he had pulled a thousand, no a million, times in the past now only moved half the space of its action. A button depressed tens of thousands of times previously now required his ancient digit to produce twice the pressure.

All this the old man observed with a remarkable detachment. It did not make him falter in tending the machine. He thought he might be dying.

The door. His curiosity of what lay beyond the door was like a spider crawling up the back of his neck. Provoking thoughts these were. Incessant, insistent, and annoying. He could not leave the machine could he? Just to open a door?

Still his fingers worked over the levers and switches. He pressed three buttons in rapid succession and the machine clacked, and then somewhere within its works a gear ground angrily.

The old man moved his hand to grasp a lever and found it would not give. The thin muscle in his aged armed wavered and still the lever would not give. His exertions left him breathless and he was anxious now.

In desperation he broke the sequence and went to flip a switch that would cause the machine to beep. Flick! but all was silence.

For the first time in his stewardship the old man knew anger at his failure to make the machine move, to maintain its function and fulfill his purpose. His purpose? Was that all there was to him?….

Already this is tighter than the original. It will likely be longer as well, which is no bad thing as the original was too short to be used for much.

Copyright Desmond Manny 2015

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