Impossibilities in the Plains of the Wandering Automata

Feeling stuck on my main project, I decided to complete another flash fiction challenge from Miranda Boers’ site. I was able to finish this one in a couple days, instead of a couple weeks.

It’s 731 words. Thank you for reading.

“There’s no point in only coming once.” Abigail laughed as she danced between rusted beams. “We’ll have to come again to know if they’re moving.”

Eldon looked up at the motionless colossal machine Abigail was twirling under. Massive humanoid shadows blotted out the starlight, indicating dozens more surrounding them. “I don’t think they are.” He pointed towards the branches of a tree intertwined with the beams of the automaton. “The trees wouldn’t be able to grow like that if they were moving. The machines would rip them out.”

Abigail stopped dancing and looked at him, fists on her hips. “Oh, you’re no fun.” She attempted to portray a disheartened expression, but the gleam in her eyes gave her away. “Maybe they’re moving so slow that the trees have time to grow around them?”

Abigail’s eyes held Eldon in place for a moment, as they often did when they burned that way. They radiated with hope and a wonder for the impossible. Eldon longed for the ability to hope for impossible things like she did. Not just so he could share with her the excitement of wandering a plain full of haunted machines. He wished he could hope for other impossibilities. Like a fanciful girl being interested in a sober boy. One who lacked imagination and whimsy.

“But why?” He hoped his question would kindle some of the magic he had dispelled with his critical analysis. He didn’t want to risk extinguishing that gleam. “Why would spirits want to haunt machines that moved so slowly? What would they be doing?”

Abigail looked up at the stooped figure. She walked backwards until she was side by side with Eldon. “I think they’re dancing.”

“Dancing?” Eldon looked up at the massive figure. Bent over as it was, he thought it looked more like it had frozen in the middle of picking up a heavy object.

Abigail shuffled her feet. Eldon thought the gesture brought her a fraction of an inch closer his side. “That’s what I would do. If I didn’t have to eat, or sleep. If I didn’t have chores. Even if I couldn’t move fast, or gracefully. I’d just dance.”

They stood staring at the stooped figure. Eldon wished he could think of a meaningful response.

“Promise you’ll come back with me.” Abigail turned towards him. Her eyes blazed with new intensity, fueled again with hope for impossibilities. “To see if they’ve moved. We can come back to this spot. We can find out for ourselves if the stories are real.”

“It would take… at least a decade to see if they’ve moved” Eldon stammered. She seemed so close now. He forced himself not to take a step back.

“I know…” she said, her voice trailing off wistfully. She kept her vibrant eyes glued to his as she shuffled her feet again, bringing her the tiniest step forward.

Eldon tried not to gasp as her eyes blazed, absorbing all the air around them. He recognized what the impossible hope was that had been fueling that gleam. She hadn’t been hoping for the stories of the wandering automata to be true. She had been hoping for what he thought was impossible. He struggled to keep his voice level as he responded. “Ok” he said. “I promise.”

They spent the rest of the night staring up at the sorrowful figure in the moonlight. They both pretended not to notice as their hands interlocked one finger at a time.

A decade later, Eldon wrestled over the memory as he wondered the plain of broken machines. The day following their escapade, Abigail had come down with a fever. The village healer could do nothing to help her. The next time Eldon saw her was in a casket that he had helped her father and brothers build.

Eldon had brought flowers to lie at the feet of the stooped automaton they had held hands under that night. He followed all the markers they had memorized, but was unable to find it. After some searching, he decided to leave the flowers at the feet of another automaton. It was very near the spot where the stooped one should have been, and Eldon thought Abigail would have liked it. In fact, he was sure she must have seen it that night, even if he hadn’t. With arched back, and outstretched arms, it almost looked as if it were dancing.