The Machine Of Wester Moorley (§.05)

§.05

Albrecht was confident the statue he spied through the window of the school was that which rested in his coat pocket. He strode up the porch and tried the handle.

Unlocked.

Drawn by curiosity the man pressed within and looked around with slight trepidation.

The school, Albrecht surmised, had formerly been a saloon, for a bar counter yet remained, as if it had been judged too troublesome to warrant removal. The curiosity lay upon the teacher’s desk. A small, wooden statue, seemingly identical to the one that Mal had given him. He took Mal’s carving from his pocket and held it up to the other figurine for comparison. In all attributions, they were the same.

He checked the books.

Every single one concerned botany or the planetary sciences. He looked at the shelves to the left of the desk, and again, all the books were the same. No math. No history. No art.

Albrecht furrowed his brow and pocketed Mal’s gift before turning from the bookshelves and the desk as the mechanical chugging of an autowagon rang-out in consecutive succession beyond the old, peeling walls. He returned the statue to the teacher’s desk, pocketed his own and ventured back out to the street where Otto sat with arms crossed in vexation and a look of impatience upon his sunburnt face.

“The hell you doing in there?”

Albrecht got in the car and gingerly shut the door, “Just looking around.”

“You’re an engineer, not a private eye.”

“School was empty.”

“Its the weekend. Folk round here are liable to get ansy, seeing you poking your nose around where it don’t belong.”

As he spoke Albrecht noticed two old men staring at him from the porch of a house to the immediate left of the town hall. They said nothing but needed no words to express their heightened suspicion.

“Sorry. I didn’t think anything of it.”

They sat in silence for several moments as Otto turned the vehicle towards the edge of town, until Albrecht felt compelled to break the spell.

“Who was that woman?”

“What woman?”

“The one sitting outside of the school when we departed the mayor’s office. A tall man and a little girl were with her.”

“Oh. That’s Ms. Saunders.”

“Yes, we spoke a little, before she left. Introduced herself. I meant, what does she do?”

“Sad story really. Husband died some years back, round the same time Moorley came to town. Husband used to be a mechanic. Even helped fix up the pipelines back before they broke down. So when he died Mal had nothing but the inheritance, and that a pittance. But she’s a way with words—started preaching. An unusual creed. Goes wandering about town spouting it.”

“The people that were with her, they’re her… what, students?”

Otto nodded, his eyes fixed upon the road which swiftly vanished in a blur of reddish dust, like the dessicated blood of an ancient beast.

*

The Machine Of Wester Moorley (§.04)

§.04

Otto went to fill up his rusty autowagon for the drive out to the nowheres, leaving Albrecht by his lonesome outside the dingy lifeless building that served as the townhall. While he waited for Otto, Albrecht thought he might stretch his legs and have a look around town and turned of its porch of the mayoral building and headed across the street to the school, where a woman sat beneath the shade of its porch, surrounded by potted plants hung from the underside of the veranda. She was carving something in her left her hand with a knife of bone, thoroughly absorbed in the endeavour. To her immediate right stood a tall, lanky man, with thick bulbous hands, well-worn and gnarled like the roots of a great tree and rusty brown eyes that shone reddish with the midmorning light. A few feet away from both of the figures, to the left of the saloon-entrance, hunched a young woman, watching, with intense interest, a legion of black ants carrying a magnificent looking beetle, which twitched with vain indignancy, its few remaining legs scratching at the remorseless azure sky.

“Morning, ma’ams. Sir.”

The girl looked up fearfully. The gnarled man nodded slowly, without emotion. The old woman’s visage of worldly-detachment swiftly twisted into a fleshy scowl of suspicion.

“You’re not from around here.”

“No ma’am. Albrecht Brandt,” he extended his hand. The woman’s owlish gaze remained fixed upon his face.

“Mal Saunders.” She gestured to the lanky man and the girl, “This is Eddy and Martha. Eddy don’t be rude, say hello.”

Eddy frowned and tipped his mishappen hat.

“You’re here because of the mayor,” Mal stated, “To build that pipeline. That tower.”

Though the words were not spoken in query, he felt compelled to answer as such.

“Yes, ma’am.”

She nodded, more to herself than to Albrecht. Her look of suspicion transmogrified to one of worry and sadness. A visage that bespoke betrayal.

“Do you enjoy your work?” Eddy queried.

“Oh yes. My father was a bridge builder. When I was very young—but a boy—his business took him to Africa. He brought me and my mother along to see it. Ever since, I’ve been interested in building, just ended up bringing water to people instead of helping them cross it.”

The lanky man looked to the old woman as if to measure her approval and then returned his attentions to Albrecht.

“You don’t have no problem with uprooting the land?”

“Everyone needs water.”

“Theys other ways a gettin it.”

“Not out here there isn’t.”

“Theys always other ways.”

Albrecht was silent a moment, confused by the lanky man’s vexation.

“Well I don’t know what to tell you. I was hired by your mayor. If you’ve an issue with the watertower, take it up with him.”

The lanky man grimaced and spit as the old woman shot him a disapproving glare. He feel silent, as if shamed. The old woman then raised the finished carving and held it up for all to see.

“What do you think?”

The lanky man gazed upon it admiringly.

“Its lovely, Ma.”

The little girl smiled and clapped her hands.

Mal Saunders turned the statue round for Albrecht to observe. The effigy was small, only slightly larger than his own fist and depicted a vaguely humanoid female, bloated and monstrous.

“Halloween come early round these parts?”

“No,” Mal responded, “Not Halloween. Please, take it. A gift to welcome you to our town.”

She held out the effigy with a pleasant expression. Reluctantly, he took it.

*