To celebrate my debut novel, Metropolitan Dreams, I will be posting free stories over the period of the campaign.
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The story below was published in the FlashDogs anthology Time.
I hope you enjoy it.
The Abattoir of Broken Dreams
By Mark A. King
Bluebottle works in the Abattoir of Broken Dreams.
I met him in the future. I met him in the past.
This is how things come to be.
His hair is thinning; a few spiky strands of black-green grow at haphazard angles, like clumps of stubborn grass on a battered sand dune. He wears those eye-implants that multiply his field of vision, over a hundred different views of the world—of course Bluebottle being Bluebottle, he forgot to buy the upgrade—much of what he sees is mirrored blur and misprocessed confusion.
He preens the plastic scales of his iridescent coat. He does this when he is nervous about something. “How you feeling, Shakes?” he asks me.
“I’m glorious,” I tell him, more out of instinct than truth.
“Sames. Sames,” he replies, but conviction is lacking in his tone.
He’s the only one that still calls me Shakes. That incident happened so long ago that I barely remember it. They say I got withdrawal, cold turkey, when I gave up the Flash. Something tells me it was because of another incident, but I can’t remember it. Most of the time they call me Teacher, Head, or Principal—at least that’s what the kids call me to my face.
This abattoir has been here longer than anyone can remember. Of course, there are newer ones. The newest, Hope, is full of people and souls, even though it’s only half built. It reaches far above the cityscape—beyond the clouds, minarets, turrets and spires—far above the ambulance chasers; only the pregnant behemoth airships can see its scaffold summit. They say someone once took down an airship, a sky-whale, with nothing more than a well-aimed gunpowder spear. I say be careful what you believe.
The Abattoir of Broken Dreams rests beneath the latest tower, like an unwanted shadow, a blemish on a tourist map. On the exterior of the building, the jutting pistons are variegated with rust and corrosion. The manifolds unkempt. The clockwork cogs worn with the erosion of alkaline rain. The once-white steam, now grey, rises arthritically in complaint.
Inside we harvest the broken dreams of yesteryear, of today, of tomorrow. We splice, crush, mix and blend, using the methods given to us by people of the past and the methods stolen from people of the future.
There are always dreams we cannot use, always products we can’t break into constituent parts and recycle. In the centre, the quicksilver flues feed the brick chimneys. This is where the afterbirth of dreams are sent into the air—the microscopic ash sent to choke the city and those that dare breathe the atmosphere without a decent mask-filter.
In the centre of the abattoir is the Watch. They say it was found in a deep pit beneath the ocean. Others have said that it was unloved, unwanted—discarded like bric-a-brac in a charity-shop window, exchanged in favour of a newer model, a smartwatch, but how smart is a watch that can only tell the time and not control it?
The truth is, I don’t know. We don’t even know how our ancestors came to arrive here. Truth is a luxury for fools and daydreamers. I am neither. I tell the children the stories we are supposed to give.
“Hey Bluebottle, I should be calling you Shakes. Look at the state of you,” I say to him. Bluebottle is preening so fast now his scales are vibrating. “What’s up?”
“Today is the day,” he says, barely looking at me with all his eyes.
Of course it is. It has been so long now that I barely remember. It is hard to tell when they change.
Bluebottle will spend time near the Watch and when he returns, he will look the same, but he will have a confused and terrified look in his bubble-eyes. The body will be the same, but it will be him from another time, another place. Sometimes they come and they don’t know how to use this new body—perhaps they were in a child’s body before, or an aged body, or one compromised by illness.
I’m not allowed to leave this city. I will never know what it is like on the other layers. They say that time and space are infinite and if this is true then the mathematics of the improbable becomes redundant. Sooner or later, there will be another world like ours, sooner or later there will be another us.
We are attracted to people like us. Across the layers another Bluebottle may not work in the abattoir, he might operate an airship, or chase the carts of the ambulances through the cataract mists—perhaps he is in worlds where there are no pistons, where they have harnessed the sparks from the rocks or sky, where they don’t need to splice the broken dreams from other times.
Bluebottle tells me that when he arrives at work, he doesn’t know how he got there, when he meets his many lovers he doesn’t remember parts of the night.
“This is not familiarity, my friend, this is indentation and this is where you are closest to the other layers,” I remind him. “When your time is up, you must break through. The Watch breaks you through. Your time is now.”
He doesn’t think to question me, for he knows the consequences. “Does it hurt?” he asks. Like they always ask. Like he has asked me a thousand times before, I realise.
“No,” I tell him. I hear the hiss and rumble of the mole-engines beneath the city. I know no more if my words are true than the moles can understand the stars. “No, it doesn’t hurt. You go on to a better place.”
Sometime later he returns. He is no longer preening. He is silent. He is scared.
Seeing this, I realise I am shaking.
I remember how I got my name.