Author : Alex Grover
Hessy ventured down the railroad mound when he saw the glint.
The desert was a cruel place: for the little lizards that scurried in the shadows, for the sparse yucca plants and tall grasses that sprigged in the dust, for the humans that toiled in the godless heat. The desert was a decree against life. Hessy had known it too well over the past few months. He was a bony boy no more than seventeen, wearing orange and cuffs around his swollen ankles. The Billingswood Continental, owned by Roland Corporation, ensured that Hessy would be no delinquent, no fool in the streets. Mr. Ofsprin, with his broad beard and wide-brimmed hat, was a stout former colonel in Lincoln’s war and managed the Fenton Center for Learning Juveniles. He watched Hessy and the other boys who were there on that 1869 speck of a Western dream.
The large hammer fell to Hessy’s side as he rushed bull-like to the glimmer in the sand.
Hessy dropped to his knees and gently sieved the sand with his fingers. The glint became metallic, rounder, more perfect, more strange. It was a thick-rimmed monocle. Hessy noticed it didn’t have a chain, but an ear-piece, something like a half-frame to a full pair of glasses, but a construct that wrapped underneath the lobe. Ankles forgotten, Hessy picked up the monocle. It was heavier when he held it, for sure, but on further inspection Hessy noticed the misleading thickness of the rim. Uncovered from the dust, the monocle showed an extra, slim band within two uncanny shades of tealish-gray. The band displayed a numerical range from 10 to 30; along one of the outside rims was a black arrow pointing inward.
With blistered fingers and uncommon stupor, Hessy instinctively clicked the band around its circumference to the middle, at the 20.
“Hestian Phelps?” Mr. Ofsprin called.
Hessy had already put the monocle on, the frame fitting snugly on his right eye. Without sound and, for some reason, without fear, but respect, Hessy looked upon the large mound that would carry the Billingswood Continental into miles beyond. Instead of sand, the railroad lay in place. A fantastical, sleek-looking train with a “Billingswood” decal. It was a train Hessy had never seen.
“Hestian Phelps, get back to the rails, boy.”
He looked up the mound. Mr. Ofsprin glared from above. The other workers were supposed to continue, but many of them slid their glances to Hessy, hammers held like torches to their chests.
When Hessy saw Mr. Ofsprin and the workers with his right eye, he saw grand and torturing differences. The boys had become men; their faces, some already scarred, were now dignified with subtle wrinkles. They looked stronger. Their chests were pronounced—they stood taller. Mr. Ofsprin appeared like an ancient. His back was arched; his face was a leathery bag; his beard was long; his eyes were weary and dark.
“I tell you, boy, get up here and avoid a beatin’.”
Hessy instead moved the numbered band without looking to 22. Giant buildings he could have never fathomed materialized before a second could pass. They formed a grid that crafted a behemoth shadow, soaring from the base of the tower-like structures like a terrible, terrible sea. A large sign for “Roland Corporation” was fizzling and shining on one of the towers, joined by a yellow-skinned, black-haired gnome who was the caricature of a man long dead. There were people there, underneath the buildings, walking with posh bags and alien clothes, silent, all silent except for the desert breeze; the railroad was gone, covered by a bizarre new railway of zooming glass carriages; Ofsprin and the workers had vanished.
Yet, Hessy’s left eye still saw the railroad, the workers, and the warden, who trampled down the dune with a small black club. Mr. Ofsprin did not resist; he began beating down the teenage world of Hestian Phelps. The mother of his history cried somewhere. But Hessy continued to shift the band of the monocle.
When he clicked the 30 to the black arrow, the buildings had returned to desert as if nothing, all had returned to desert as if nothing, the desert, oh the desert, oh the dust.
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