Oliver Sanswicky is a man whose life consists of living every day nearly the same. Under the sharp eyes of various Gods, he reminisces about the choices he’s made that have led him to piloting the world’s largest known death machine and comes to a very grave realization…
Oliver has never experienced a true freedom. Despite hardship after hardship, his choices have brought him to the single-most conclusion:
We all fall down.
The thing about things was that things never stayed the same. If anything his life was a test to that statement. He knew it by now. He knew that anytime he thought he had a solid routine built for himself plans would go awry. Things would change.
Everything was moving, everything was different. Today was different…
But this time he chose for it to be different. Today was his choice and today was the first time he felt peace.
It wasn’t always like that. It was never like that for him.
The thing about him was that he was sort of like a bird, but not quite. He could pass his hand through the extensions on his head where most would have hair and his were mostly feathers now. Black. Like a raven.
Or a Crow. Thoughts that weren’t his would finish the sentence for him. He shivered because he hated that about as much as he hated the way the cold stabbed little needles into his face and hands and the way the wind made his eyes water. Sometimes he called himself a bird when he hated himself enough that day.
He hated birds. He always feared them a little bit.
He cringed, his hands reaching up to the back of his neck and touching puckered skin that still sometimes felt sensitive. He wasn’t sure if it was because he would never be able to wash the memory of its creation from his mind or because he had taken a habit to picking at it but either way it hurt.
It hurt about as much as his literal metal heart did. He laughed to himself because the only humour he had these days was dark. His heart didn’t feel. He convinced himself that it didn’t feel anymore. He convinced himself that anything he did feel at the beginning had already been felt and had already been used away.
He was nothing but a shell now, a bird with hollow bones filled with memories that haunted him so clearly, clear as a Viola’s song.
Viola… or violin?
He stared down from his tall tall perch to the peace below while the deep hum of a song rung through his ears, his core, his hollow bones like he was the instrument himself. He shut his eyes and remembered.
Someone used to call him Violins.
But all he could really remember was a yellow eye.
In his mind’s eye, yellow eyes became the eyes of a god he knew too well now—not a god. gods didn’t exist, only horrible shades of terror—
She is a god.
He could feel his breath catch in his throat and his hands were already tearing at the mark on the back of his neck. His thoughts were his. She had no say in his mind. He had to make his thoughts his own, they had to be his…
He lay back against the cool metal beneath him, pitching and falling and pitching again. He could feel the wind snake its way through his clothing, feel the freezing grip of ice metal seep into his clothes. Into his feathers, into his head.
He practiced, drawing his mind blank, blank, blank, and he stared.
He tried not to think of the sounds of people screaming in the distances below him. He couldn’t hear them, he liked to tell himself it was just his imagination, that nothing he was hearing was real, that the sounds he heard were conjured by his mind.
It wasn’t wrong what he was doing.
He stared at the sky, stared past the clouds into a space he sometimes got to see when he let himself see it. When he felt too weak to punish himself.
It wasn’t wrong what he was doing.
He built a massive contraption, a machine, he had initially intended its purpose to be innocent. Sometimes, however, he questioned if his plan had ever been to turn it into the Thing that it had become.
It wasn’t wrong what he was doing.
But it sure felt wrong. It felt wrong that behind him, he knew, were burning homes and bodies of innocent lives crushed by his own feet. His great machine’s feet. An extension of himself, powered by his own magical force. He was the heart of the Thing while the Things took his heart away from him.
He sat staring at the sky because it was a neutral grey and this neutral let him see himself for what he was.
Standing up for justice.
He grit his teeth hard and it was times like this he wished he had a voice to scream with. He supposed it would have felt good in this moment. Instead he picked at his feathers and at the scar on his neck until his fingers burned and burned and burned. He supposed they felt like…
He shut his eyes and forced his mind to stop thinking so that she could stop making him think.
Sometimes he could hear her laugh like she was right next to him.
He pulled himself up then, first sitting then standing, then nearly toppling over from making himself dizzy. He stopped for a moment, staring out at what he could see of the world ahead of him, only glancing for a second at the world he left behind him.
Black like disease spreading with red flowers of fire. He grimaced and then made his way inside because the cold was eating him alive in the way his guilt used to.
Or still did, he wasn’t sure what he was feeling anymore. He just knew he felt numb now.
Inside he could pretend he was turning a blind eye to it all. To the destruction he was wreaking, the havoc he was causing, inside he could pretend that the sway of his great machine was a memory from his past where his mother was rocking him to sleep…
Even if the memory of her face was a blur sometimes.
Even if his great machine might have crushed her by now.
He was holding onto some sort of piping and trying to breathe and trying not to send his mind in a panic and trying not to vomit… mostly the latter.
Inside there wasn’t much room despite what the Machine looked like on the outside. There was a small ledge by the door he entered in, enough for him to shut said door behind him and, to hang his coat if he wanted to.
It was too cold, even inside, for him to want to.
Beyond the little ledge was a hole, a long way down from so high up. Sometimes he avoided looking down because it gave him an extreme feeling of vertigo. He was feeling dizzy but thought he would chance the vertigo, sitting down with his feet hanging over the small ledge.
Below he could see the carousel with bug-eyed horses trapped in an instance of fear.
He could also see the way different sorts of crow-bars and fire pokers stuck out ready for him to impale himself. He was thinking of it now before—
There were also old boots. Old tires from locomotives he couldn’t drive, though he had once anticipated learning some day before everything turned to death at his fingertips. He supposed he could have taken the job of some god of death…
Sometimes he laughed because he thought it was funny how he referenced gods and myths he never really believed in anyway. He thought it was stupid.
But it wasn’t because gods walked among them like people did—
Some folks liked to call themselves gods but weren’t—
But she was… he knew she was—
Because he was made to believe it—
He was gasping for air now and pressing his head between his knees, fingers digging into his puckered skin like he was determined to break the seal with his own bare fingers that burned and burned and burned and burned.
The bird stopped, heaving shaky breaths and resorting to ripping feathers out just at the base of his skull. They were smallest there because nobody would notice if he did anything to them.
Not, he supposed, that anyone would care very much anymore anyway.
He was staring down at the sharp, pointed poker and the sharp-enough crowbar and though he supposed his suffering would end if he killed himself at any point now, he could never bring himself to do it. He could entertain the idea for days on end… he would never do it.
He was too afraid. Far too afraid.
Even though everyone else would benefit from it—
What he was doing wasn’t wrong.
Some days, staying inside didn’t stop his mind from spinning at all.
He found himself crawling over to his bed, gingerly making his way over to the other side of the space through his dizziness. The bird was curled up in his bed. Remember, he called himself this sometimes because his bones were hollow and his hair was actually black black feathers the same black as death.
He called himself this when he hated himself the most.
The bird was curled up in his bed. He could only barely stretch out his legs if he ever wanted to in this space. He was staring up through small gaps between awkward piping in his great big machine, between the plates of poorly shaped metal and awkward bolts that held everything together.
His magic was the true glue holding this huge bucket of bolts together. He knew that. He was definitely and constantly aware of that.
Right now, he didn’t really care about it. He had gotten so used to powering the Machine he could hardly remember a time he hadn’t been…
He decided not to think about that anymore. He listened as the wind made horrible sounds whistling through the holes of his great machine. It terrified him the first few nights. He didn’t sleep for a while until his body gave him no choice but to pass out entirely.
He was staring at the stars tonight, though. Whatever stars he could see through the holes in his great machine. Sometimes he wished he could see more of them. For a while, when he was a little bit younger, he found solace in observing constellations. He thought they were ridiculous sometimes, but he supposed now he could have used any form of distraction.
He sighed and rolled himself over and forced his mind to sleep.
There… truly wasn’t very much that was interesting most days. All his machine ever did was walk and walk and walk and walk. It wasn’t particularly engaging, there were no secret pistols and weapons to pull out of hiding, there were no bombs or massive reserves of destructive magic in his wake.
He would sometimes try to map out the world. He would pretend like he was one of the oldest explorers who was still ignorant to all that was made here. The ones who first created maps and compasses.
He would pull up a sheet of paper he pinned to a board and he would start doodling awkwardly. Thick leather gloves made it hard to maneuver the pencil very well. Sometimes he dropped it and well, then he was shit out of luck until he could locate another one.
He was feeling particularly brave about it today. He sketched his map, pushed his glasses up on his face and tried to pretend the horrors weren’t real.
And then Vi showed up and he supposed he was proud of himself for not even flinching when he could feel her presence getting closer and closer as she climbed his great machine. He could smell blood on her before he even saw her these days. He didn’t look up this time. He was tired of doing it.
“Hey… little bird.” She was doing that a lot lately, making her voice soft and speaking in a tongue he still didn’t know the name of. He wasn’t particularly fond of it but he supposed it was better than her previous habits. She was once far too fond of touching him and grabbing him and making contact he never really enjoyed. She still, now, sat down beside him, much too close. She leaned her cheek on his shoulder and asked him, “What are you working on.”
The bird didn’t answer and made a point of demonstrating that his hands were full which was why he couldn’t answer. He could only imagine the look she was giving him now, imagine because he only resumed doodling his map without giving her a glance.
She said, “Don’t be smart with me.” And it was her weirdly docile tone in this statement that he finally stopped to look at her. He shifted away so she was forced to lift her head, her expression was weird and shifting, kind of sad… she was sad and he couldn’t understand why.
Or why she wanted him to know.
She turned away and stared out at the horizon.
Then she said, “Maybe… you weren’t wrong.”