Sunday, November 7, 2010

A selection from "Tin" by Barry Napier

by Barry Napier

e watched her as she slept, being careful not to make a sound.
His joints had been making the occasional odd noise ever since
he had started walking again and at times, he felt as if his legs weren’t his own.  So he knelt there, his old knees against the ground, watching the sleeping girl.
Her dog lay curled beside her.  Its ear had twitched for a moment as he had approached and there was a panicked moment where he feared the dog had heard him.  But the mongrel had settled down and remained asleep by the girl’s side.
He watched the girl breathing—in and out, simple yet somehow so complicated.  He admired her for her anatomy and the way her mind worked.  She was rather daft at times but there was a brilliance about her that he did not understand.
After all, he was not made of flesh.  He was pretty sure he used to be, but that had been a very long time ago.
The closest thing to human anatomy he possessed were his hands.  The joints were flawless and moved like the human girl’s.   When he had been created, much detail had gone into his hands.  At one time, they had been his most imperative feature.
But not now.  Now he was old, decrepit and of little use.
Or so everyone thought.
He grinned.  His face made a slight sound as his mouth moved but it was so miniscule that not even the dog heard it.
He watched them a bit longer—the girl from a place called Kansas and her annoying little pet—as he tested the reflexes of his hands. 
He tested them by squeezing the handle of the axe he held.  His axe, just like his tin body, reflected the moonlight in a peculiar shade of white.
He could do it now, if he wanted.  He could just plunge the axe into the girl’s chest.  He could squash the dog into a bloody mess with his heavy foot.  It would be over in a matter of seconds.
He peered back over his shoulder, his neck making another of those slight rusted sounds.  The Scarecrow was several yards behind them, snoring and oblivious.  By the time that imbecile got to his shaky feet and rushed to the girl’s rescue, it would be done.
His shoulders seemed to flinch in anticipation of raising the axe into the air and driving it into the girl’s body.
But something inside of him told him to wait.
He looked away from the Scarecrow and focused on the copse of trees that they had selected to camp behind.  He could see the magnificent yellow glow of the road through the trees.  He wondered if the bricks of gold that comprised the road were speaking to him, telling him to wait and to properly fulfill his destiny.
Looking at the road made him feel sick.  He may not have a heart, but he knew pain.  And to him, the Yellow Brick Road was nothing but pain and suffering.
He looked back to the girl and her dog.  He clenched the axe one final time and then relaxed his grip.
In time, it would be done.  But not just yet.

Hundreds of years ago, when Munchkinland had been nothing more than a bald spot within the forest, there had been plans to unify Oz.  According to the Wizard of that time—a beloved man by the name of Rondolpho—and his council, it was illogical for such a diverse scope of citizens living in such seclusion from one another.  For Oz to truly be great, it was believed that everyone in the land should live as one rather than as individual societies.
It was also believed that witches, Munchkins, common folk and all races in between should be able to live in a harmony that was befitting of the Land of Oz.  There had been talk of clearing out much of the forests and connecting the villages and small towns with the rest of Oz.  For Munchkins that needed to travel to the Emerald City, there was no sense in having to hike for eight days through the grueling and terrifying forests.  There should be an easier way, a way for everyone to share the same conveniences of travel.
The Tin Woodsmen had been hired to work with transportation personnel from the Emerald City.  Together, over a very tiresome period of four years, a great portion of Oz’s woodland was knocked down.  As the Tin Woodsmen chopped down the trees, Emerald City employees followed behind them, leveling the earth and laying down brick.  When work was not going as fast as planned, mill workers and magicians from the Emerald City worked overtime to create new Tin Woodsmen.
It was a gruesome process, one that required actual human woodsmen to be transformed.  The legs and arms were magically altered into large chunks of tin, molded to resemble something akin to human appendages.  Most of the real work had gone into the eyes and hands—the finest detail ever created by the wizards within Oz.
And that was how he had been made.
Formerly a man named (rather aptly) Nick Chopper, he remembered very little of his human life.  With his transformation into a Tin Woodsmen, he had easily forsaken his mortal memories for a life of immortality.  But his was a life that hadn’t been worth remembering. 
His shrew of a wife had broken his heart and left him with nothing.  So when the Wizard’s men came calling, he gladly accepted the task.  It gave him purpose and made him feel important for the first time in his life.  And from what he could tell, the majority of the other Tin Woodsmen were there for the same reason—to escape a life that had been less than hospitable to them.
Of course, when the offer had been extended to Nick and the hundreds of other participants, they’d had no idea that they were agreeing to participate in a life of servitude.
The first glimpse of this life of slavery came two and a half years into the construction of the Yellow Brick Road.  The crew at that time consisted of just over eight hundred Tin Woodsmen and three hundred employees from Emerald City.  They had come to a clearing in the woods that, according to the topographers and mapmakers of Emerald City, had never been discovered.
The clearing was specked with small huts and shanties and was populated by a race of Munchkins that Nick had never seen.  They were actually a bit smaller than typical Munchkins and looked rather like trolls.  As the Tin Woodsmen awaited instruction, Nick heard murmurs from those around him.
“I’ve seen these creatures before,” said a Tin Woodsmen named Alzo.  “Several years ago in the village of Yull.  There were perhaps a dozen of these creatures living among the people.  They are called Woodkins.”
“Are they creatures of magic?” another Woodsman asked.
Their answer came from behind them.  One of the Emerald City employees was peering into an odd ocular device and studying the Woodkins.  “No, they have no magic.  We simply believed them to have gone extinct.”
There were whispers behind the Tin Woodsmen as the Emerald City men discussed their plans of action.  Nick and the other Woodsmen stared out to the little creatures and it was in that moment that Nick Chopper felt the last surge of dread that his heart would ever endure.
He knew even before the command came what they would be asked to do.  And even as his heart sank at the thought, he found his strong hands wrapped around the axe handle, ready to obey.
Then the command came from behind them. 
“Level it.  Leave no one alive.
There was only a moment’s hesitation before the forest was alive with the clinking of eight hundred Tin Woodsmen tearing into the clearing, the makeshift armor of their bodies shining dully in the sunlight that crept through the treetops.  They entered the clearing with their axes raised. The first blows had fallen before the Woodkin people could fully grasp what was happening.
Nick remembered very little of the event.  He had swung his axe in a blind frenzy at anything that moved.  His head and dwindling heart had been very aware of the hollow sounds of skulls crunching under his feet and blood splattering against his chest and arms.  The Woodkins had only rocks, crude clubs and spears to defend themselves with and they fought with little enthusiasm; they knew the battle had been lost before it had even begun.
The battled ended rather quickly.  The forest had been filled with the childlike squealing of the Woodkin people as they were massacred.  But even those horrendous sounds had been so brief that it had scarcely disturbed the birds and other woodland creatures nearby.
There were exactly eight hundred and six Tin Woodsmen that surged into the Woodkin camp that day.  The Woodkin population, they found after the melee was over, had been only one hundred and thirty.
Once the camp had been cleared, construction on the Yellow Brick Road continued.  As they made progress, they buried the tiny bodies of the Woodkin people in shallow holes that were then covered by shining bricks of gold.