The Land of Wires
by Jonathan Pickering
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
It took Asmund a few hours of wandering the bizarre landscape to build up the courage to check inside one of the buildings. The place he finally decided to investigate was in the middle of a particularly busy area. The smaller building was low to the ground and had a cover under which rested a series of upright rectangles.
Asmund used his knife to tear away the web of metal on the building, here, there, in several places, until he found not stone, but glass.
Smashing through the window, he hoped that the wires hadn’t been able to find their way inside. To his dismay, everything: every shelf, overhang, counter, even each individual item was interlaced with the same attention as the outside world.
The young initiate had no idea where he might find his second trophy, the gift of knowledge. He began searching blindly. He uncovered many objects: a tin with a few yellow letters on it that seemed to contain some kind of square animal flesh, an oddly shaped bottle that held a pungent tasting blue liquid that made Asmund spit, a cylinder of very thin cloth, an oddly shaped basin with several levers. Dozens of useless objects that got the teenager no closer to his goal and only confused him.
Frustrated, he left by way of the broken window through which he had entered. Looking down the road, the young initiate noticed it swooped up to a large structure at the top of the hill. It seemed as good a destination as any, and perhaps, he could get on the roof and catch some kind of sign as to where his final trophy might be hidden.
Calmer now, since the quiet, empty area appeared to have no immediate danger, Asmund strolled up the avenue. He came to a yard with several strange objects that he took for pieces of art. He crossed the yard and found a set of stairs. After ascending the stairs, he hacked through a net of wires to reveal a door. With a push from his shoulder, the teenager entered the building.
He immediately felt trapped as he walked down several corridors in the maze-like place. Asmund passed dozens of tiny cabinets. He noticed numbers on them where the wire didn’t cover. These were intermittently broken up by doors with different numbers.
The teenager picked a door at random. Once he’d cleared away the wire and made his way through, he began searching the large room’s many desks and tables for his second trophy. All he discovered entangled in the unremitting bed of metal was a handful of what might have been either cooking supplies or equipment for mixing medicine: glass containers of several shapes and sizes, a few scales, and a number of odd rectangles with plates on top that had additionally perplexing knobs and dials.
When he was about to give up on the room, a low, scratching noise caught Asmund’s attention. He went to the far end of the room and shoved aside a cabinet to get at the source of the noise. The young initiate recoiled at what he saw.
Stuck to the wall by a stitch of wires, a jawless skull and spine feebly stirred against its metal prison. Attached to the skull and spine were bits of skin that oozed the sticky, black substance that Asmund knew somehow fueled the beasts of flesh and metal. But this insult to life was no beast. The skull and spine were distinctly human.
The worst feature, one that made the teenager turn away in disgust, was the jawless skull, which contained a single eye. Warped with some kind of optical enhancement, the eye glowed yellow and zoomed in and out on a tiny cord of intricate metal.
Asmund peaked back at the construct. He grimaced and drew his bow, watching the leering, scanning eye peer into him as if searching for an answer to some terrible truth.
Asmund grabbed one end of his bow and swung at the atrocity with all he was able. The bow smashed the bones and metal to pieces until there was scarcely anything left clinging to the wall. The young initiate caught his breath and watched as the glowing yellow eye went dark.
Flicking the black ooze and brain matter off his bow, Asmund swallowed hard. He returned the bow to his back, spit once, then turned and left the room.
Back in the corridor, he thought of fleeing, but remembered his original intent and proceeded onward, shaking the encounter from his thoughts so he could find his second trophy and leave this awful place behind as his ancestors had.
When Asmund reached a wide set of stairs, he followed them up several levels to another door. As he tore away the threads, a distant thud crept into his ears. Asmund placed his head against the door. It vibrated. Perplexed but unfazed, Asmund made his way through and moved onto the roof to witness the source of the thudding.
A great distance away, trudging with its fantastic plodding steps, a behemoth was making its way along the horizon. Cast mainly in shadowy profile, the massive, 50-foot-tall creature swung its elongated arms while peacefully shuffling its short legs. Its hide was a menagerie of wild metal points and curves. Its relatively tiny, brow-heavy face seemed to look off in no particular direction.
The titanic beast stopped for a moment. It scratched its meaty belly while getting its bearings. The behemoth changed direction and soon disappeared into the distance after a few more heavy steps.
Asmund was stunned. He hadn’t realized he’d gone to the edge of the building until the behemoth was gone and he looked down. The teenager hopped back and shook his head with a grin. His smile dropped a moment later when he heard the unforgettable whirring noise start up behind him.
Asmund spun around, spear before him. The pair of ravagers he’d scared off days earlier were ready to attack. The teenager noticed it was the same beasts, because bits of gallop were still mashed into their hide. He understood the clever creatures had been tracking him and now had found their chance to strike. With little time to devise a plan, Asmund knew only one way he could escape.
“Come on!” he hollered and jabbed at the air in front of the ravagers.
The beasts charged. Asmund dropped his spear and flung himself over the edge of the building, clinging to the wires on the opposite edge.
One of the ravagers followed him and launched itself off the roof. The beast’s spinning blades just missed the young initiate as it plummeted to the earth, its body smashing onto the ground below.
When Asmund looked back up, the last ravager was peeking its head over the side of the roof, its electric, yellow eye pulsing. The ravager began to spin its skull, nearing its blades toward Asmund.
The teenager began to climb down the coils that entangled the building. He made it far enough away to avoid the blades, but instead of slicing their intended victim, they cut the tops of the wires.
Asmund fell, but only briefly; the wires snagged where they were still attached to the building. Holding strong, he went crashing through a new set of wires and glass and found himself inside once again.
When he regained himself, the teenager saw that he was badly cut below the knee on his right leg. He watched the blood run down his flayed appendage.
There was a scuffling on the roof. Taking this as a signal to get moving, Asmund managed to get to his feet.
He tried to remain calm, looking for a way out, but the young initiate’s attention fell on a shelf across the room. The teenager hobbled over and began tearing away the wires. Asmund shook his head and grinned as he revealed his second trophy.
The ironic joy of finding what he was searching for was short-lived; that familiar, sick whirring filled his ears. The ravager was at the door and had begun cutting through the wire and wood.
Asmund unsheathed his knife. He stepped up to the only exit and the beast just beyond. “If my story ends here,” the teenager whispered, “so be it.”
It took the ravager time to mangle its way through the door. An earthy smell from the splintering wood entered the room. The odor triggered an eccentric memory from deep in Asmund's past.
He was very young. Asmund and his father were in their garden on a beautiful summer afternoon, checking to see how the celery and tomato stalks were faring against the click beetles. Bodil picked out a piece of celery and handed it to his boy. “Try it,” Bodil insisted.
Asmund bit into the fresh vegetable.
“Very,” said Asmund and he offered it to his father.
Bodil took a bite, but quickly spit it out.
“Nothing,” said Bodil, removing bits of celery from his tongue. “I’ve just remembered I hate celery. Tastes like wood, don’t you think?”
Asmund smiled. The ravager broke through the door and leapt for his kill.
* * *
“You must eat, Bodil,” said a vidar as he held out a bowl of porridge in front of the weary father.
Ten days into his vigil, Bodil was three days past the permitted length of time he was allowed to fast and wait for Asmund’s return. Yet, despite the other vidar’s pleading, he remained, leaning on his spear, watching the tree line for his son.
“I taught him well,” Bodil muttered, his eyes fluttering as he swayed and struggled to stand upright.
The other vidar relented and placed the food at Bodil’s feet alongside a host of other meals, leaving the lonely father to wait for as long as he was able.
Bodil reached for his water skin. He brought it to his lips and squeezed. The water overflowed his mouth and ran down his spear hand. The older vidar’s grip slipped just slightly, but it was enough to upset his balance, and he slumped to the ground.
Bodil attempted to right himself but found he was too weak. He worked a hand up his chest and found his necklaces. The older vidar caressed the bones and began to slip into unconsciousness.
Just as his senses were leaving him, he was tugged to his feet. When the tired father managed to see who it was that was helping him, he grinned as he stared into the unflinching features of his boy.
“Sorry I’m late,” Asmund rasped, his body covered in a multitude of bloody abrasions that were crudely patched together with the thin cloth he had found in the first store he searched.
The pair took a few steps forward in unison before collapsing. Both forced out a weak chuckle and took the others’ hand.
Several villagers came to Bodil and Asmund’s aid. Father and son were hurried into a nearby cabin and doctors were summoned.
In the chaos of Asmund’s return, one vidar noticed the young initiate’s rucksack had fallen. The vidar scooped it up and looked inside. There was Asmund’s second trophies: a stack of all manner of books — texts on history, science, mathematics — a trove of information that was more than any initiate had ever returned with.
The vidar tied up the rucksack and followed the others to where Bodil and Asmund would recover to share the wonderful news. He was excited to begin deciphering The Stories that Asmund had retrieved from the Land of Wires — to understand; to survive.
Barely awake, as a doctor began to better tend his wounds, Asmund looked over at Bodil.
Bodil turned his head away from a villager that was feeding him and looked at Asmund.
“I’m ready to tell you my story and what I’ve learned.”
Copyright © 2017 by Jonathan Pickering