They watched the souls drift up from the lake; they dreamt that the old men and women of Westeria were alive, alive, so they could sing their old songs again. Alive, so little Amelia could let her mother tuck her in and not complain. Alive, so Mr. Fantastic could serve food on a silver tray once more, down in the old home, down, down where the men once chauffeured the women to parties and balls and high school graduations. He touched the hem of Amelia’s dress, hoping she would look away from the scene, away from the broken memories, away away as far away as his machine heart could guide her.
“Are you with me?” he buzzed.
Amelia watched her mother’s soul drift up. An orb of light in the sun. A speck out of a dusty earth. A drop of sea in the ocean, out of the lake that was once her home. Covered in ocean, she thought. Covered in ocean.
Mr. Fantastic stood to his pegs. “Turn your radio on,” he buzzed.
Amelia looked down at the little red box at her feet. Dirt was matted around the knobs and there were little chip marks where she had dropped it in the ditch miles back in what was left of Notown. Not an accident. She had thrown it there so the static could no longer haunt her.
“Turn it on,” he buzzed.
She rotated the gritty knob and listened for the voice of God. Static, cold empty static. “Nothing,” she whispered, still looking to the brightest speck of dust a mile down in the valley floating towards heaven. “Nothing ever.”
Mr. Fantastic reached his cold machine hand down to examine the box. As though it were his child, he handled it carefully. Pulled out the antenna and adjusted it to the west. “West,” he buzzed. “Clearer there. We should go there.”
“You should go there,” said Amelia. “My feet hurt.”
“Can I help you Miss?”
“How can you help me?”
“I can carry you west.”
“I want to stay here,” she said.
Mr. Fantastic returned to the dirt with her. He folded his metal legs up and wrapped his arms around them, imitating the girl’s motions. Her feelings, somehow, he expected would expire. Somehow, he thought, somehow, somehow a little girl must learn to forget. If he could forget, she could forget. Once he’d asked her why she was sorry for leaving home, and she’d told him there was no explanation. That he would never understand because he does not have a heart.
“But it’s made of gold,” he had told her.
“It may be made of gold but it’s not made for anything else.”
Mr. Fantastic had tried to comfort Amelia, to be more like her and love her and understand love. But on the top side of this flooded valley he could not comprehend what love meant. That one must be miserable, that one must remember old things and be sad and cry and never forget.
For a hundred miles they had walked. His diodes had shed power and her body had shed blood and sweat and weight. Amelia wondered what her mother would say if she saw her in this state. “You’ll dry up and blow away,” she’d say. “Dry up and blow away.”
Mr. Fantastic turned the radio off and on. Static, no static. “The antenna will lead the way,” he buzzed. A broken record. Sometimes when there was nothing to say he told her about the antenna. About how it would save their lives and get them out of the desert. That somewhere there was a place with no crater and no giant gray men looking for little girls to eat. They’d hidden for days in the worst of garbage.
“Safety,” Amelia muttered. The ghost of her mother kissed her cheek, she knew it wasn’t real. The dust in the valley disappeared. The sunlight was covered, all the little souls escaping their fates became transparent. Afraid of the living, afraid of what Amelia was capable of. Survival. If she could find the station.
“Not here,” buzzed Mr. Fantastic, “Not here. Not here.”
“Turn it off,” said Amelia. “I want to rest before leaving.”
“You want to leave?”
“To the west like you said. There’s nothing here. You were right. No point in keeping it.”
“No point at all,” repeated the machine. “Just like I said, no point at all.”
He held her in his machine arms that night, when the sun was long gone and the moon was covered in thick clouds of ash. There was always thunder, but never rain. Amelia had so often heard the crack that she had forgotten what it sounded like. She felt Mr. Fantastic’s arms around her, the cool of his chest like the backside of a pillow. Down, down in the valley bottom in her room with the television flickering but silent. No one had told her to turn it off, no one had told her to sleep. But her mother had kissed her forehead, said goodnight and I love you. Hummed her to sleep, though she was already dreaming. Hummed her to bed, some song that she would never hear because she was always so fast asleep. Sometimes she dreamt of the song, but when she would wake and remember it, Amelia would believe only that it was a dream and nothing more.
Mr. Fantastic played ocean sounds with his silver mouth. It helped him to rest. Amelia breathed heavily, she in the machine’s arms, the radio in her own. The antenna stretched to an abstract direction somewhere towards the mountains and the moon and Atlantis. If she had not been asleep, if the radio had been turned on, they would have heard the clearest rendition of Sweet Home Alabama.
© Garrett Ashley
Garrett Ashley studies English at The University of Southern Mississippi. His works have appeared in more than a dozen publications including Brain Harvest, Bloody Bridge Review, M-Brane SF, and The Smoking Poet. He is also the editor at www.widowmoonpress.webs.com.
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