|Joseph Wright–The Alchemist|
My Unshaped Form
by Laura Libricz
The noticed android walks past a wondering chamber. He stops to peek in through the dirty window. He wipes his muddy hand on the window, to get a better look, only to smear the glass with mud. He tries the brass door knob but it is locked. Turning his head, he presses one lopsided ear to the wooden door then straightens, shaking his head as if he is dissatisfied.
I set the stemmed glass I have polished on the bar and fill it with dry sherry. I try to get a better look at the notice tacked to his back, written in screaming-red ink interjected with exclamation points. Heed! Warning! Expiration Date!
The android shuffles towards the front door, leaving a trail of mud on the wooden floor boards behind him. The other androids from this production are covered in an oven-baked ceramic, but his coating has been chipped away revealing his true nature. Mud-slung golems, all of them.
Wind rattles the window. The sun disappears behind a storm cloud and the room darkens. The front door flies open and bangs against the wall. The master stands in the doorway, removes his hat and apologizes with a nod–he’d lost his grip on the door knob when the wind picked up. The sky behind him and beyond the parking lot has taken on a green glow. We are in for a hurricane. The master struggles against the wind to push the door closed.
I carry the fruity-smelling sherry to the woman at the table. She straightens in her chair as the master approaches her. She has not taken her eyes off the android, who now waits by the front door.
“Get him out of here,” she says. “He is about to expire.”
“He is not yet too far gone,” the master says.
I return to the bar, pour the master his sparkling water, walk back to their table and set his glass along with his newspaper down.
“Libby, you’ve prepared the wondering chambers, haven’t you?” he says.
“Yes, master, all but this one here,” I say. “It is still engaged. They are having trouble freeing their subject.”
“I say we let them go, then.” He indicates with his chin towards the door. “Please allow the noticed android to leave the premises. He’ll be washed away in the storm and then he is no longer my concern.”
“We can’t, master. Their souls will be trapped in the aether for eternity. You said so yourself.”
“Their souls are of no interest to me.”
“I have prepared more serum. We have enough. We can free them all safely.”
“Then why are they having so much trouble freeing this subject, hmm?”
I hang my head and say nothing.
He takes my hand and I look into his face. He fixes me with a slow, clear-blue gaze that freezes my heart. I am still alive because I obey him. He does not have to speak this aloud.
“I say no,” he whispers.
I walk to the front door, turn the knob and peek out into the parking lot. Rain dances in the puddles like ballerinas. The noticed android’s empty eyes mirror the green glow of the sky. One tear forms in his eye and cuts a groove as it streams down his muddy face. He enters an eternal purgatory, he knows.
He takes three steps out into the parking lot and sinks to his knees as the rain liquefies his limbs. A lightning bolt flashes over head, then another, the third striking the android, splitting him in two. What is left of his mudded form melts to the ground. A white puff of smoke curls and sails up to the heavens.
I cover my heart with my hand and whisper an oath, a gesture from my childhood that the master has forbidden me to make. I hear him engaged in a lively conversation with the woman. My closing the door has caused him to turn in his seat; I hear his chair creaking, feel his eyes on my back. I turn to face the two. He stares at me, but speaks to the woman.
“I have managed to incorporate all the villagers into my project,” he says.
“But what if they are true to the old ways?” she asks.
The master laughs. His eyes flash and a chill runs up my spine.
“I kill them without question if I even suspect they are,” he says. “Libby here is the last survivor of her village.”
He turns away from me. “The subjects, Libby. Have you gathered them all together?”
“Yes, master. They are in the holding chamber.”
“Divide them up, then, one per wondering chamber. We will begin shortly. Our fine guest here will be assisting us tonight. She will learn your job.”
“I don’t need any help.” I swallow hard. I take care of the bar, the wondering and holding chambers and I assist him with the execution and preparations for the golems. Young neighbor villagers who still live work down in the ovens, mixing the minerals for the ceramic, molding the android’s joints and overseeing the baking processes. Those who fall in the master’s disfavor and live to tell about it collect clay and earth for the muddening process.
After I bring the subjects, usually men from neighboring villages, to their chambers, I return to the bar. The master stands dressed in his ceremony robes before an ornately-carved wooden sideboard. He unlocks the cabinet, extracts an ancient, thin-bladed dagger and slides it in his belt. He nods to me and I lead the way to the first chamber.
We three enter and I light the candle. A small golem stands in the corner, awaiting the breath of life that the master will blow into it. But here stands no subject to sacrifice his life and soul. I had brought one in here, I am sure!
The master recites his incantations. The woman hands him the silk scarf used for blindfolding the golem. Receiving the breath of life is traumatizing, the master says. He covers the golem’s eyes and draws his dagger, the light of the candle glinting on the razor-sharp edge. He turns to me and fixes me with his icy gaze.
“The subject assures me that she is prepared to give me her life and soul, do you not? In return, I offer you eternal existence. Get on your knees and receive your reward.”