by James Cato
Martha Diesattheend roused herself and crawled to stare out at Window World. The bulbs had just turned on. Today was the day that everyone would be released onto the street.
Everyone was waiting for it.
Edur already stood in his window across the pavement. He gave Martha Diesattheend the daily threatening glance and she cowed accordingly, bowing and averting her eyes. She didn't want trouble. Soon she would meet him on asphalt.
Martha's side of Window World began to stir. Psychotic Dog ran to piss on his window, barking insanely. Watch-Face wound his gears with cheer. Zymurgy-Nevil bobbed, as always. She cowed to everyone. Everyone cowed to Edur, except Psychotic Dog.
Martha was afraid for Psychotic Dog, afraid for when he would finally meet Edur on the street.
The other side of Window World came-to as well, Edur's side. T-Handle Barn Beam Auger Drill stretched out on his cot, a being with two arms and no legs. He grinned at Edur. Edur grinned back. The two of them tended to grin at each other.
Speaker grumbled to life. "You'll be released now! Remember, Martha. What I told you." Speaker was a voice that lived through perforations in her cube and was even more familiar to her than Watch-Face. Speaker taught her words and gave her directions.
Just like that, the panes of Window World slid away and became ramps that led to the street below. Psychotic Dog brayed and charged to the asphalt, sprinting in circles before bounding up towards Martha, tongue whipping.
Martha found kindness in his stare. "Our alliance stands, Psychotic Dog," she said with formality. Psychotic Dog seemed to grin before bounding away. Martha followed, spotting Watch-Face descending to her left. She saluted and he saluted back with a smile.
"It will be a pleasure to hear your voice at last," he said.
"Thank you!" she blushed.
She noticed Eyes affixed in the joints of Window World swiveling to follow the movements of the occupants. One followed Martha as she left the comfort of her shag rug, her fuzzy cot and her padded toilet.
Across from Watch-Face, T-Handle slid on his hands toward the street below. "Why did she barter my moosely boy?" he yelled.
Speaker had once asked Martha Diesattheend questions about T-Handle and Edur.
"What do you think of Edur?" he'd inquired.
"He makes me feel terrible when he sends glares over to my side. But we look very much alike." She considered Edur's long strides, bald face and twin legs that matched her own in the glass reflection.
"How about T-Handle Barn Beam Auger Drill? Do you two look very much alike?"
"Oh, no! He rolls around without legs! I'm much more similar to Watch-Face, Zymurgy-Nevil and the shorter fellow on my side of Window World than T-Handle."
"Hmm," Speaker had muttered. "So you're more similar to a psychotic dog than an amputee? Your social schematic really does warp. Interesting, interesting."
Martha Diesattheend did not know what he'd meant but at least she had learned the name of Psychotic Dog.
Edur stomped down his ramp. Just opposite of him, Zymurgy-Nevil slid to the street on whirring wheels, bobbing and clicking, with a rubber tail extending from her rear to an outlet in her cube. She continued to kowtow to Edur, meeting him in the middle.
Martha noticed that Psychotic Dog had charged away, down the road and out of sight.
Without pause, Edur grasped Zymurgy-Nevil'srubber tail and pulled it hard.
Zymurgy-Nevil whined but kept bowing.
Edur tugged again, mightily. The tail broke free from the wall with a flash and Zymurgy-Nevilflopped to the floor, still as a brick.
"You mustn't!" Martha cried. "What's happened to her?"
"Speaker said that's what I must do," said Edur. "I'm to rest each of you."
His voice is thinner than I expected, Martha Diesattheend thought. And he has a Speaker too!
She recalled what her Speaker had said before the windows fell away: "It's all a sick experiment, Martha. I'm not supposed to tell you that, even if you don't understand. But…be careful of Edur. I don't know what they're telling him to do."
Edur sent a chilling stare at Martha, forcing her to cow out of habit, and pulled a knife out and began cutting at Watch-Face's wrists, spraying a red water fountain over his own head. "This is how Speaker said to rest you and Martha."
Rest? My Speaker never taught me that word.
"Eef!" Watch-Face exclaimed. "I find this quite unpleasant."
The Eyes blinked and swiveled.
"Why did she barter my moosely boy?" exclaimed T-Handle.
"Perhaps we could wait to rest," Martha whispered. "Besides, mustn't we find Psychotic Dog?"
Edur paused with the blade squished deep in Watch-Face's arm. "I suppose," he mused. He exchanged a leery look with T-Handle.
"Why did she barter my moosely boy?" the creature gnashed.
They strode down the road, Watch-Face cooing with displeasure at his gushing wrists.
Zymurgy-Nevil was left to lie silently.
Martha gasped at the sensations. The hard tar beneath her toes left them raw and beautiful. The bulbs glimmered along the smooth dome of the sky. A bright green carpet lined the curb on either side, taller than Martha, and rippled to the far wall of the dome.
She smiled at Watch-Face and he reciprocated, filling her heart with joy. She reached out for his arm as they walked. "Ooh!" he ticked. "Please avoid the red part that Edur touched. I don't fancy that red part anymore."
She agreed but grinned.
She had always wanted to touch one of her friends.
"Turn back!" said a familiar voice.
"Who's that?" Edur called, dragging T-Handle along the road by his arm. Unsurprisingly, they had formed an alliance.
"Uh, me," said the sewer grate, flapping up and down in the center of the road.
"Are you Speaker?" Martha Diesattheend called. It really did sound like him.
"No!" the sewer snapped defensively. "Turn back."
"Do you know where Psychotic Dog went?" Martha asked.
"Psychotic Dog?" Watch-Face mused. "You mean that yellow fellow with the wagging butt-leg? What an odd name, Psychotic Dog is."
"Yes, Watch-Face," said Martha seriously.
"No idea," said the sewer grate.
"What are you?" Edur demanded.
Martha turned, realization dawning. "Don't you see?" she cried. "There are two kinds of voices. There are us, those who walk, and there are the surfaces, like Speaker and the sewer grate!"
"Interesting, interesting," muttered the sewer grate.
Back at Window World, Edur finished ‘resting' Watch-Face.
Only after Watch-Face shrieked and struggled did Martha recall Speaker's warning about Edur. She vowed to avoid resting. She ran into the tall green carpet when Edur went to rub the red water off of his knife on T-Handle's cot.
"Why did she barter my moosely boy?" T-Handle called in farewell.
In the carpet, Martha happened across Psychotic Dog, running. She followed him. He seemed stoic. Martha also noticed that he seemed to have trouble telling jokes from the truth because he never laughed at her attempts. He did sneeze once.
Still, Martha Diesattheend felt that Psychotic Dog knew some secret. He wagged his tail and his eyes told a story of wild affection when he glanced back. Soon, they arrived at their destination: a cube by the wall with only one tiny window.
Psychotic Dog peed on it and sprinted away.
Martha peered into the mystery cube. Inside sat three strangers who looked very much like her and Edur. They all wore white robes and gazed at even tinier windows that blinked from the perspective of the Eyes in Window World. On one window screen she could just make out Edur stomping around T-Handle, waving absurdly.
On another screen she saw Watch-Face resting.
"So we can count out Passive Subject and that automaton," said one of the strangers. "I'm telling you, Disagreeable Subject is the prevailing model for survival."
"Disagreeable even managed to recruit Isolation," quipped another.
"We'll see," grumbled the third, a red-haired male with Speaker's voice. "Prosocial is still out there with the dog."
"I didn't know better; I'd say you're picking favorites."
The walls of the cube were plastered in images of Window World. Martha marveled at the paper mountains and blinking stars and novel faces inside. Of course, she knew it wasn't real—Speaker lived in her wall, and the Eyes couldn't link to faraway windows—but Psychotic Dog had delivered her to this dream for a reason.
"It's hot," said fake Speaker. He reached for a tail which extended from a round-faced being on a counter that Martha had not previously noticed. He inserted the tail into a trio of holes in the wall.
The round-faced being began to swivel, blowing on the strangers to cool them.
She was to be the master of Window World.
"I told you to stay!" Edur hissed upon her return. "I need to rest you."
Martha glanced at Watch-Face's marbling body, which rested beside Zymurgy-Nevil.
Edur took a step forward, black eyes flashing. "Let me see your arms."
Psychotic Dog sauntered behind Martha, growling. Edur recanted his advance.
Martha lifted Zymurgy-Nevil's tail above her head.
Edur shot her his coldest sneer.
"I will not rest!" she yelled. Edur strode forward, kicking Psychotic Dog out of the way, and Martha ran into Zymurgy-Nevil's cube, tracing the tail, until she found the end near the holes. As Edur raised the blade, she stuffed her friend's tail into the outlet.
A familiar whirring revved to life and Zymurgy-Nevil bowed and nodded. Edur's face turned white and the knife clattered to the ground. Martha Diesattheend grinned. Zymurgy-Nevil wheeled up the ramp into her cube to greet them.
Edur backed into the corner.
"Perhaps Edur needs to rest?" Martha asked Zymurgy.
Zymurgy continued nodding.
Speaker grumbled to life and cheered after it was done. "Martha! My hypothesis was correct!"
"It's been the strangest time!" Martha gushed to him. "Do you know how to wake Watch-Face? He doesn't have a tail."
"Alright," barked another Speaker in the wall. "You win, buddy. Let's lesion and euthanize for collection."
"Why did she barter my moosely boy?" sang T-Handle.
James Cato studies creative writing and the environment in Northeast Ohio. He is writing a novel with his lifelong friend.