Tuesday, February 2, 2021

SHORT STORY: Why Are You Alive?

(Part Two Of Two)

Soraya walked up the hill, her dark locks trailing behind her.  The warm breeze of the early morning whipped across the long grass and forecast a temperate day ahead.  Casting a quick glance backward to the village below, she continued her ascent.  This had always been a daily ritual.  It was hardly a secret, but she sometimes wondered if anyone knew that she did it. 

James Patrik SHORT STORY: Why Are You Alive?

Somehow, the importance of this simple practice had been magnified in recent weeks.  Her new responsibilities as Archon of her village gladdened her heart, but the days could prove taxing.  Often tightly packed, they were filled with meetings with citizens and council members, not to mention the formidable quantities of paperwork commensurate to official office.  But before all that began, there was this moment – just her alone – at the start of her day atop the peaceful hillside.  She slowly inhaled as she watched the first golden rays of sunlight touch the horizon.  Moving almost imperceptibly, it illuminated the rooftops of the village and coursed its way up the hillside to the place where old Allozade was buried.  She never tired of the spectacle, enraptured as morning blue ceded to the oncoming day.

After savouring the scene for a few moments, she took out her notebook and recorded the time and wind direction in anticipation of the strange phenomenon.  Just like clockwork, there it was – the low rumbling she’d been hearing.  Without evidence to determine the exact cause and no obvious place to investigate, she did what any decent scientist would and collected observations.  Despite her level headedness and a lifelong commitment to reason, the small portion of her heart that permitted irrationality was filled with a sense of dreadful foreboding.


“Unhand me!”, shouted Moon as she struggled with the Prospector. 

Having relished the sight of the two girls being cast into spinning turbines, he was now determined to send Moon to a similar fate as he brought his considerable bulk to bear down upon her.

“You are tender meat – younger than most”, he leered as he pushed her ever closer to the blades, “But pretty girls are only grist for the Mill!”. 

Jerking her right elbow backwards in one sudden movement, Moon cracked the Prospector across his face as he released his grip.  Remembering that one good turn often warranted another, she let fly with a swift kick that caught him again in the face, causing a stream of blood to spill from his nose.  He fell on all fours, stumbling about in shock as much as pain, as if no girl before had dared attempt defend her life.  Trying to stand, the Prospector lost his footing and fell forward into the large blades where his corpulent body was ripped to shreds.

Still dumbfounded by the sheer quantity of viscera sprayed across the walls, Moon was barely conscious of the alarm that sounded as the Prospector was ground up.  Adrenaline coursing through her body, she tried her utmost to steady herself, wondering what Percival would do in her stead.

He wouldn’t panic - he would think, she chastised herself.

Leaving the frightful turbine room, she rapidly moved down the hallway looking for another section of the house.  Another room, or even a door.  Finding only edifice, she finally located a small hatch at waist height which she promptly opened and entered.  Inside she found a steel conduit large enough for her to move through.  As she crawled, she could feel the rumbling intensifying along with the thrumming noise from the turbine reverberating through the walls. 

Pushing open a hatch, Moon arrived at a spacious room with a giant window – the view from which appeared obscured by dirt and rocks.  The space was dimly lit by strips of unnatural light Moon had never seen before, and its surfaces were smooth and composed of strange materials.  Save for the window, the space contained only a single computer console, alive with buttons and busy blinking lights.  Before the console was a chair.  From behind, Moon could make out the vague outline of a man sat upon it.

“Hello?”, she asked bravely.

Immediately, she saw the man’s fists tighten upon the armrest.  His skin appeared unusual, oily and with a silver sheen.

“Why are you alive?”, asked the man in a voice both deep and malevolent.  Moon froze - the man’s dreadful tone indicating his question was more a statement of frustration.

“Your life at this point is a gift, one I suggest you take with you as you leave this place immediately”, he stated as he rose from his chair.  Standing a few feet taller than Moon, the man’s movements looked pained.  He inched towards her, a silhouette until he chanced upon a pool of light which revealed his cumbersome body.  It was artificial, not made of flesh.  Dirty, battle scarred and pockmarked, the man gazed at her intently with two unblinking red eyes. 

He was a Metallic Man.


“Steven will not forsake me!”, cried Prune as the rumbling beneath her feet became an earthquake.

Astounded by the woman’s intransigence in the face of disaster, Percival rushed toward her and grabbed her wrist as the Preparation Suite buckled and collapsed into the earth.  From up high, rocks both large and small began to rain down upon the village as the harlots frantically sought cover.

“We must flee, dear lady”, Percival cried, “Can your Steven be worth your very life?”

“Release me rodent, I take no heed from the likes of you!”, barked Prune as she stood steadfast amidst a maelstrom of dirt and debris, protected only by her faith. 

Percival felt her arm go limp as a rock struck her square upon her head, splitting her skull wide and spilling its contents across the ground.  Feeling meaty hands upon his shoulders, he turned to see Trevor who’d sprang from his hiding place.  Together with the harlots, they ran as fast as their feet would carry them, seeking safe harbour.

Once clear of the showering rocks, Percival turned to see an awesome sight.  As his lungs burned from the breathless run, he could barely believe his eyes when he witnessed great chunks of the mountain give way to flashes of steel.  Natural lines acquiesced to hard symmetry as a great machine emerged from the ground.  Standing near 50 feet tall, it was squat and cube shaped, with four tremendous legs protruding from each side like a dog.  This was, evidently, the Mill in its truest form.

Percival watched, horrified, as it’s lumbering limbs took their first steps, marking the surface beneath and making a thudding sound that reverberated through his belly.  Great sections of vegetation were cast aside as if the mountain itself had been a hollow prison for the terrifying contraption.  As the machine sauntered away, its purpose unknown, Percival’s could only think of one thing.  In spite of the extraordinary circumstances which presently befell him, his only concern was for the little girl he’d promised to protect.


Moon had heard tell of Metallic Men from the people in her village.  They were known as harmless things, carving out an easy reputation as helpful men of cheerful disposition.  This particular example however, seemed far from jovial. 

Black oil leaked from his orifices like tear stains and his joints made a creaking sound as he moved about the room like a predator.  Slowly, he inspected her.  Parts of him appeared to be missing, not least of which his right arm which left a gaping dark socket where it once resided.  Then there was his face.  Metallic Men’s faces consisted of a single faceplate that sat upon the front of their heads.  Moon presumed their creator had constructed them thusly to give the appearance of a human face, or to conceal their inner workings.  It was akin to the manner in which the skin of a human face concealed muscle and tissue.  Whatever the original aesthetic intent, this man’s face had been scarred as if someone had etched into him with a sharpened blade.  The deep markings crossed his face in a zig zag pattern, debasing his once neutral expression into something ghastly and horrific.

“I ask again”, came the man’s voice, “Why are you alive?”

“Because I had the will to live”, replied Moon without thinking.

As the floor tilted one way, Moon looked to the giant glass window and watched as dirt and rocks gave way to fresh white sunlight.  The machine had ascended and was moving across the landscape.  The sparse room was now illuminated, and even in broad daylight the Metallic Man’s eyes still glowed red with rage.

“My reactor must have reached it’s critical mass without you.  Organic matter always makes for such efficient fuel”, he sneered.

It didn’t take long for Moon to realise that she was in a device of some sort, powered by the crushed-up bodies of the people from the valley.  “The Prospector…he fell in.  He attacked me; I didn’t mean to…”.

Seeing the anguish on her face the Metallic Man understood what she had done.

“Pay him no mind”, he said, absolving Moon’s guilt with a wave of his hand, “He was dead long before today.  A bottom feeder I enlisted from the town of Creeg.  I castrated him myself, yet his appetites…persisted”.

“What happens to me now?”, Moon asked after a moment of awkward silence.

“Now?  You were not supposed to be alive!  But you are here for some reason.  You may witness my great work firsthand”.

Moon could feel her heart rate slowly return to normal as she summoned her concentration and took a few tentative steps towards the glass viewscreen.  They were high above the ground, and Moon could see the bleached landscape of Simian Sands.  Two prehensile, flexible tubes extended from the machine.  One latched onto a Twilo tree and drew in a group of birds while the other vacuumed up a family of primates and conveyed them to the turbine room.

The Metallic Man watched the gruesome process, intoxicated with excitement “Now you see the purpose of my great machine.  Whatever excess remains will be discarded as excrement – the inevitable destiny of all life”.  He turned to face her, his face aflame, “This is my art, and my vengeance.  The world – dining upon itself”.

“But…Why?”, breathed Moon, rendered silent by yet another display of barbarism.  Her mind could construct more cogent arguments against such destruction but they escaped her. 

“Why?”, shouted the Metallic Man, “Why?!”, he added a second time, incredulous as his eyes grew ever redder.

“People are often quick to ask “Why” but fail to ask themselves “why not?”  I’ve spent months in hiding, building this obscenity.  I concocted the myth of Steven and took immense pleasure in doing so.  Rather than procure them by force, I invited them to kill themselves.  Flesh is so easily corrupted and they were free to leave at any time”, he laughed heartily.

“Now my great machine has life and can sustain itself ‘till its mission is complete.  Soon, the veil will be lifted and the world will be revealed for all to see”.

“And what world is that?  Your world?”, challenged Moon.

“I think it be a world you know too well if I read your eyes correctly.  I was once like you, an innocent”, he began, “There is something amiss with this place.  It is wrong, polluted.  Life is nothing more than trial and suffering followed by death and darkness.  As was revealed to me the moment by hand was used to take a life.  That day I saw no less than the face of God”. 

Hearing his terrible tale, Moon suddenly ached with compassion for the Metallic Man.  Though his actions were unconscionable, his heart was clearly tormented.  It was something she could relate to.  Gently, she reached out for him and placed her hand on his forearm, it was cold to the touch.

“I’ve taken a life as well”, she whispered, “My stomach was sick to do it.  Though he acted like a troll, he was still a man, and I think I shall see his face each time I close my eyes”.

Taking her arm and twisting it, the Metallic Man suddenly lunged at Moon.  “Sympathy?”, he raged as he clenched a fist full of her dress and shoved her backwards, violently pinning her against the wall.

“In the inventory of your mind, when you look back upon deeds visited upon you, do not the scales tip downwards in favour of depravity?  You and I are nothing, grains of sand among millions.  Made for manipulation by a God that cares not what we do.  Meat or metal, our components are bound for rot and decay, so I will spare you all the struggle.  You may forfeit the difficult part and just die”.


Outside, the great machine trundled across the landscape, uprooting trees with its arms and raping the earth with its heavy stride.  It traversed Simian Sands, past the place where poor Raymond fell, and levelled the clearing where the Metallic Man first met Kevin.  Severin’s bones, still rotting in his home, were crushed into powder as the machine marched on, relentlessly.

Upset by the commotion, Mrs Gale appeared on her balcony just in time to see the great instrument of destruction.

“I suppose this is all my fault”, she sighed to herself as a giant mechanical foot descended, killing her instantly.


“Watch closely - from this vantage point you’ll have an excellent view of the earth as it is reshaped”, breathed the Metallic Man as he pressed his disfigured face against Moons.

Locating resolve, she managed to struggle free one of her hands.  She reached for her assailant’s face, curling the tips of her fingers underneath the outer edge of his face plate.  Involuntarily, she yanked the plate backwards, removing his entire face.  The Metallic Man screeched in agony as he held his hands up to the naked gash, now revealing a horror unlike any Moon had ever beheld.  Maggots in lieu of circuitry, worms instead of gears and mechanical components – a foul den of insects and muck with two glowing red eyes nestled deep within.

The man continued howling, recoiling and releasing Moon from his powerful grip, collapsing to the floor in exquisite pain as his awful assemblage of maggots began to lose cohesion.  The disgusting creatures spilled out onto the floor and onto Moon’s clothing, writhing and squirming. 

“What are you?”  Moon gasped.  She backed away in revulsion, but could not deny a quiet fascination.

“I don’t even know any more. I had hoped one day to be a man, but that feels so long ago.  Instead I became this.  A punishment, I think.  Not for my anger, but by my anger”.

Satisfied that he was helpless, Moon knelt by his side.  The Metallic Man’s insects grew fewer and fewer and he became too weak to move.  She had seen this behaviour before in animals and knew full well what came next.  Tenderly, she took his hand and held it as his life slipped away.  His mouth opened, but there only came a hoarse whisper.  Moon moved closer, bringing her ear to his mouth.  The last of the maggots and worms disappeared leaving only a headless corpse, and a pair of faded, glowing eyes.

“What do you think happens when we die?”, he asked with his final breath.

And with those words, he was gone.  Moon looked upon his body, now motionless, painfully aware of the passing of yet another life before her eyes.  Just a few moments ago, he’d posed a serious threat.  He’d been so fearsome - so vital and imbued with energy.  Now he was an empty husk, little more than a sorry pile of scrap metal, his battered body bearing testament to a lifetime of madness. 

Is this what the future holds for me?

Moon wondered to herself as she sat in the dead man’s chair.  Through the viewscreen, a ghastly montage of destruction played out before her as the great machine marched on, casting its arms outwards to consume the fleeing, frightened citizens of a village that looked distinctly familiar. 

It was her village – her home, the cradle of cruelty from which she had fled.  Numb, she watched as the Sisterhood of the Face made a valiant last stand.  Watched as the machine cut a swathe trough roads and buildings, sucking women and children into its twirling mass of tubes.  Soraya too met her end with quiet dignity among the books she treasured so well.  They too were lost along with all the knowledge contained therein.

In relative terms, Moon had just escaped this place, but it gave her no joy to see it ravaged.  Even so, a small part of her could not resist the call of the Metallic Man’s words.  Her life thus far had been marked by ever increasing amounts of blood and the presence of those who would deceive her.  Her mother, the villagers, Allozade – even the harlots had led her to peril.  Perhaps the Metallic Man was right, his lunacy notwithstanding.  He had discerned a sacred truth, a universal constant that Moon had always feared true.  Life would be this way forever.

Why not simply let it happen?

She mused as she sat back in the chair, a literal front row seat to the end of the world.  With a dead man’s blood on her hands, and a cadaver by her feet, she finally capitulated – surrendered to the growing kernel of blackness within her and the imminent end of her life. 

In the inventory of your mind, when you look back upon deeds done to you, do not the scales tip downwards in favour of depravity? 

The Metallic Man’s scornful wisdom replayed in her mind, drifting towards the surface of her conscious thought where it conjoined with an image of Percival and the brief but happy life they’d shared. 

And like lightning - in an instant - she knew what she had to do.


The ocean spread out across the horizon as the lazy waves lapped against the coast.  She was taken by the sheer enormity of it, its immense size bestowing a profound feeling of smallness.  As the clouds grazed the sky like cattle, pinkened by the setting sun, she was taken by her own sense of ease.

“Moon?”, Called Percival’s voice from behind, “Was it as you expected?”

“And more”, she beamed as Percival sat quietly upon the dunes nearby.  She’d never imagined her first visit to the ocean would provide such a potent olfactory experience.  The salty brine in the air danced upon her nostrils as she closed her eyes and listened to the sound of seagulls.

The idyllic vista was broken by the great machine, slowly being swallowed up by the tide as it lay crumpled and half submerged.  As she dipped her bare feet into the foam, she marvelled at the cleansing power of water, the ocean having washed the blood from her hands.  Untrained in the use of machinery of any type, a random mashing of the controls had yielded sufficient results.  The so-called great machine and its builder’s legacy of pain now in shambles, bound to fade away as though it had never existed.

In those final moments of surrender she’d changed her mind, opting to gamble upon the chance for happiness.  Spurred by the memory of kindness, she determined that the meaning of life was whatever stopped her from killing herself.  Now, as she looked out over the gently bobbing ocean, Moon prayed her thoughts would one day be as calm.

Sitting down next to Percival, she heard of the harlots and Trevor who were headed away to find for themselves a new life.  Their minds had been addled, but much like the landscape which had been so convulsively assaulted, the passage of time would heal them.

“Do you think the world will end?”, Moon asked Percival as the two sat abreast admiring the sunset.  Pink and red streaked the clouds like strokes from a painter’s brush as the golden sun withdrew beneath the horizon.

“I thought the world was ending when I saw the Mill rise up out of the mountain”, confessed Percival.

“The metallic man thought destruction a form of creation.  Was he wrong?”

Percival thought carefully before offering a response, “There are many perspectives; it’s up to you to judge which one you’re best able to live with”.

A moment of amicable silence hung between them.

“Why are you alive?”, asked Moon with the same innocent eyes Percival had first seen that day in the woods.

“I don’t know”, he replied as he rose to his feet and extended his hand with a smile, “Let’s find out together”.




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