Lying Down Machines
'We'll make lying down machines.' the father said.
His lips leaked a fluid and the lids of his eyes stuttered back and forth. He was drunk on cedar alcohol and survived most days solely on the bilberry mixture he chewed for his gallbladder. He held his arms away from his body when he spoke like this. 'We'll make Lying Down Machines so we can buy food.'
The father had had a religious dream. The pins in the son's shoulders ached. The boy wept behind his Leather Mask. The boy trembled within his Sheet.
They moved into the deep of the Taiga in a molded caravan.
The father and the son built the machines from boards they gathered on the Taiga. It took two months to build the first Lying Down Machine. They made black pine pitch in a fire hut and gathered Widow's Teeth from within the granite crevices. After their first they built one Lying Down Machine each week. The small room they called the kitchen stayed dark. Each night they ate in there, the two of them, without speaking. There was a liquid made from the boiled skins of black agarics with which they coated the boards of the machine. It was a sticky, dripping oil. They poured it from wide mouthed jugs and rubbed it into the seams and grain of the boards, the Taiga boards. To the twine they applied a wax produced from the backs and glands of the feral cats they killed while foraging. The smell of this was high and sweet.
The sun would go down most days but it hardly ever got any lighter or darker. During the day the sun filtered thin through the clouds, those clouds that hung like an unstirred oilslick overhead, clouds which seemed to be held up only by the corpses of the thousands of charred trees, by all that was left of the vast forests. At night the coal fires from the cities reflected off this layer of clouds.
With the machines they returned to the cities. They first tested the machines on discarded pieces of horsemeat (after the dust had settled they ate it, sweet and grainy, an extravagance). Later they tested the lying down machines on children found wandering outside the city gates or women with eyes that were blue throughout. The spindles would turn up and spin and blood would go everywhere. The twine would bob back and forth—yes, like the trees of the Taiga in a sudden wind, just like them—lengths of twine turning and returning, the gamboling hart of twine passed between the boy's fingers and cut the air like a brush soaked in black salve. The twine was the son's lover. In his fingers he could coax out a simple sound, like the rustling of doves' feathers.
They sold the Lying Down Machines in the travelers' ghettos. Here the damage they caused was swallowed up into the people's steady-state wallowing. Here broken bones and severed skin were considered a normal part of functioning, where the price paid the price. The buildings here were all the same. Just one window, if that, and each one a naked square. White paste, one story. Boxes, all of them. The white of the buildings like the white of bird shit, painted in bird shit, painted and painted with their own bird shit. Few birds lived there too. The townspeople, the same red and brown women who came to buy the Lying Down Machines, hunted them, even the smallest ones, picking the little bits of greasy flesh from between their bones for hours on end. These people needed the Lying Down Machines very badly.
Here they sold them, the boy and his father, sold the Lying Down Machines. When he went out to sell the Lying Down Machines the man kept his son locked in the caravan. When he sold them, a layer of low clouds would always be out—a layer of smeared hatred overhead— and a caustic wind always blew. Old women came up and touched the Lying Down Machines, knocked on the Taiga boards, plucked seriously the twine with their wan, wavy fingers wiping the excess pitch onto their dirty robes. When he would mention the price they would turn and walk away. The man would scream at them, berate them, curse their families and their flocks. The abuse would make the old women return. Often, after the exchange of money, they would wail at him. They would say,
'All this money spent, all that money gone. What am I supposed to do with this pile of Taiga boards, twine and pine spindles?'
He would scream at them again, scream until they left. The first bout of screaming was always coherent. Words, strung together, one after the other, for the purpose of calling them to him. The second time there were still words, but strung together in such a way (and not randomly, by no means was this ever random) as to frighten them off. Many times he even used the same words both times, the exact same words in each tirade, only varying the order in which they were combined so as to affect the customer's approach or retreat.
The machines hurt people. The spindles split tendons, right down the middle. The chains in the son's chest were taut to burning with this knowledge. They not only split small tendons but large ones as well, tendons of the femurs and vertebrae. With his hands the father adjusted the twines and the spindles. Covered them in the black pine pitch. The adjusted twines pulled off nails and ripped hair. It was a disaster but they pressed on.
After all the old women stopped coming he would return to the caravan. He would say to his son,
'We've made these Lying Down Machines so as to buy food!'
When they ran out of Taiga boards they built the Lying Down Machines out of charred trash. They paid lepers to bring poles and dull razors. They paid children to bring bits of rubber. They built these new machines in a windowless room. Each Lying Down Machine was built to hold a saint. Formed around a martyr's relief impression.
The man pulled the son from bed one morning. It had been raining for days and the boy had fallen sick from the damp and the cold in the caravan. There was a thick liquid gathered around the edges of his eyes, his body kept pulling away from him, the skin of the caravan seemed pierced with thick curling hairs. The man had drunk a bad batch of cedar alcohol and wordlessly threw the boy out into the open. The boy's feet sank into the mud, up to the shin. He flailed, the fever pushed him, the inner heat pushed him. The man locked the caravan door and ignored the son's broken wailing. To keep warm, until the sun rose and he could get back into the caravan the boy walked, the mud sucking up at his thin shod legs. The field where the caravan had been parked was stripped dead and bordered the town's shit field. Soon he was wading through the town's collected excrement, drops of it hitting his arms and chest. Sticking there. The drops spread like paste on the lapel, the center sparse, the edges dense and round as they dried.
He had come into the town holding none of their brittle clay currency. Had received none through selling the Lying Down Machines, and even now asking for one, just one, of their coins (coins which were made surely from material pulled out of the shit fields, this then compacted together with ash and lye and dried out in the lifeless steppe to the east) seemed to the townspeople like a great audacity. Hunger came to him like a spiteful healer.
The churches here were wide, round rooms. Lightless with wet-heavy air. A leather- clad priest sat in the middle of the single room, runnels spreading radially from his station. In order to atone their sins—their rules obscure, confused and as hateful as their pitiful lives—the townspeople would bring blood gifts to him. The priest would open these animals up, still flailing, on the floor and inspect their entrails for signs and signals. The room was filled with the pushed aside carcasses. The drains perpetually held what came from the rent bodies, streams of effluvia and decay liquid that spread out to a circular gutter. Here it was lapped up by diseased children, the malformed children, the thoughtless, speechless children who had been abandoned by the townspeople. There were dozens of them at the gutter at all times, pushed aside like Taiga boards by the incoming townspeople. They drank perpetually, trying to pull every bit of thin nutrition from the liquid.
The blood offerings were a disconnected system, an unspoken payment for the townspeople's disregarded youth. They brought their offerings without guilt, ignoring the famished bodies which might very well be their own tossed-aside offspring.
The son watched all this from the door of the church, still shit stained, still half frozen from the coming winter. He stepped up to the gutter, to share in the blood liquid with the children. They bit at him with filed-down teeth, their sore soaked fingers clawing at his sheet, pulling at the leather mask. He retreated to the church's entrance, his tongue passing through the leather mask to lick what small traces of blood offering stuck to the scabbed nubs of his fingers. The priest continued his rituals without paying the boy any notice.
The son could not contain his disgust for this place. The fever and the cold and the stench of the shit field moved him to the town's central square, with its broken cobbles and sputtering fountain. He began to fever preach to them there, to preach the religion of hate that he held in his heart. It was the one thing he had learned from the man his father: how to preach the hate, how to spread the hate of the Lying Down Machines to the unbelievers. He saw their faces behind the window frames. It was still before their waking time, before their church bells (the only thing of value that they could afford, those nauseating bells of antimony). When they rang at the sun's coming they muddled together with his voice, forming an agony of feedback in the square, the tones beating each other, all the low drones evaporated and only the constant high squeal of the metal's very edges bouncing between the white washed concrete of the square, bouncing and bounding back and back and back. The son could see the townspeople diving for their dirt floors, the mothers covering their children's ears, losing their minds to the sound and hating, hating, hating, hearing the message of his sermon and feeling the urge to obey him, and obeying against their will.
You could say the son was broken. You could say he had a disfigured form or an awful mind, you could say that building the Lying Down Machines—going off every day for months into the Taiga and gathering the boards—had broken him. And yes the sheet hid his flesh of yellow folds and mismatched convexities, and yes the leather mask held his worst part, the very worst part of him, but the son's voice was still intact and bled through these two, and though it was high and creening, it still did what it was meant to do, which was instill in the world his endless hatred. And even after the bells were meant to be finished ringing the heiromonks continued to pull their clacking tongues in order to drown out the boy, to try and fend off the words of his mouth. That whole day. The bells feeding off of his voice, his voice feeding off the fever, the fever feeding off the vomit-wet clouds and the pitch dripping Taiga boards.
As the sun set the fever came out of him as a small insect: black, reflectant with oil, half paralyzed. It fell out of his mouth and spun on the flagstones of the town center. Fell on its side and swam in a puddle of the son's sweat and body condensation before winding down dead. The gears inside it were impossibly small, nearly invisible. Written within their teeth were words greater than God, words holding the world's truth. And it was only the boy's eyes, hidden behind the leather mask, protected by years of darkness, which could see these words. They were only the boy's blackened eyes that could read them well enough.