Writer in Residence · 09/23/2010

Artifact 1: Artifact One

Composite metals and titanium. Found in the Ruined Land excavation layer.

An object projected by exertion, often a weapon, considered between two instants in time. Sometimes canopied and locked, sometimes open to their wanderings. Often the object of their awe.

Often a weapon, though also a monument, created in commemoration, a functional structure made notable by its age, size and historic significance. Some Sundays surrounded by a ring of children, their hands locked, their heads cocked upward, they stared at the monolith bathed in blue morning light. The echo of a clock through the chamber kept time to their voices chiming in song.

Often the ground shook. Often here, beneath its darkness, they fucked, the sound of their fucking echoing around them.

Sometimes a weapon, they adorned it with ribbons, launched it, and waited for the halo of fire marking its distant descent.

Often he waited for her there in the chamber, the only sound distant howling.

Sometimes they hoped to be locked inside, locked with it through the night with only its aura, and the exposed sky’s blackness darkening them from above.

Often an equation described the behavior of the system, often a particle under an influence, a confluence of bodies bound. Often they crawled in the fine sand around it and pushed their fingers through the grit. With the grains of silica stuck beneath their nails, they would divine the time of day by the length and position of the shadow of the weapon. They would count each grain lodged in the skin of their bare knees, because there they craved slow time.

Often they bathed their backs in the sand still warm from the afternoon sun.

Sometimes he waited on his back, closing his eyes against the glare of the afternoon sun.

Often they leaned their backs against it and tested its heft.

Often they tapped against it and listened.

Often they sang, though when the ground shook for what some thought was the last time and it was time to bury it, they draped it in black, and lowered it gingerly onto a bed of pine needles and the downy fur of fifty white wolves, knowing that it would come back to them.

Here they would hide in the shadow of the shaft and whisper to one another.

Here she would whisper and leave him.

Here they would hide in the shadow and shudder together. They would try to imagine how they might craft a future, but could only see as far as the tip of the weapon arcing across the sky. Here they prayed for something to happen at dusk, when the long shadow of it would fall over them all.

Often they used the weapon, waited for the halo of fire, and waited for their monument to come again from the ground, waited for the milk to ferment and the garlands to grow. Often they waited for celebration.

Often he waited. Often they would stand close to one another in the crowd gathered and the backs of their hands would brush. Often he hoped. Sometimes a finger curled around another finger. Sometimes they would speak.

Often a weapon, a monument, an erection of steel hidden beneath a canopy the shape of the sky. Often an instrument used for the purpose of causing harm or damage, often to people, structures, and animals. Often garlanded and celebrated. They gathered around the locus on tuning days and watched the technicians twist their instruments and take measurement. They gathered together once again in a ring around the weapon, gathered together turning in the sand, again, together their bodies, naked, again, each taking a turn against the cold metal, often their palms pressed against it, often feeling the ground shaking as the weapon once again trembled.

Often they whispered interrupted only by an occasional, pleasing hum, like the sound of closed lips or insects. Once they whispered and waited as the ground shook, waited as a distant cry approached and descended, knowing, despite the loudening, their monument would outlast them.

Matthew Kirkpatrick’s short story collection, Light Without Heat, is forthcoming from FC2. He can be found online at www.mattkirkpatrick.com.

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posted by Amber Sparks