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The Urban Mechanism

by Rudi Dornemann

The mechanism was running down. It had no moving parts. Its gears were graffiti runes painted on walls and rooftops on a dozen buildings throughout the city. One of them must have slipped, and there was an aetheric grinding where there should have been smooth turning in time with the tides, the days, the moons, the seasons. No one noticed when it worked; everyone knew when it didn't.

The mage-engineers couldn't agree on a cure. Three days of chanting might do it. Or goat's blood spattered on street corners. Or using nothing but wooden coins for money. Or four days of rain, during which we'd all have to dance everywhere we went. Nothing sounded practical.

The lake receded. Prices rose in the malls, fell in the stock market. Sparks were seen in corners of the twilight sky by those who knew how to look. It was getting serious.

All the mage-engineers tried all their cures. All the cures failed. A flock of three-winged pigeons nested on the cathedral dome. Throngs of finger-sized lizards spilled up through the storm drains. A greenish haze curdled on the sidewalks and clung around our ankles.

The evacuation began. One suitcase each. Residents of odd-numbered houses got the streets in odd-numbered hours, then it was the evens' turn.

A numb quiet hung in the air and the echoes of our footsteps didn't come back right. When we crossed the bridge, we saw the river burning with ghostly flames just below the surface.

That's when the vigilante-magi made their attempt, with perfect coordination of rituals in a dozen neighborhoods. The sky rang like a china teacup struck with a spoon. It turned out they'd done the wrong thing -- who knows how badly things could have gone if they hadn't done it so well.

The city was gone. Where the streets had been, lines of evacuees through fields. We walked toward the hills. Every bead of dew hanging from the grass reflected the buildings, plazas, avenues, shops -- the home -- we'd lost.

Even now that we've begun rebuilding, every puddle, soup bowl, and bathtub reflects what we barely remember anymore. We found the mechanism's runes patterned in flowers here and there across the fields. We've made those places garden parks which we leave alone except for the occasional watering and the even rarer, very careful weeding.

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