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The Sampo

By Evan Marcroft All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Fantasy

Part 1

The moment John realized he was in control was the moment he was to die.

It is like X-ray vision. Like in the comic books from when he was ten. John blinks the rain out of his eyes, and suddenly he can see through the mugger, through his shellacking of wet muscle and scaffolding of bone to the chasis beneath, to the gears and flywheels that make him move and point the knife at him, and understands it all. John reaches through a yielding mist of sinew and makes key refurbishments, so that the knife is aimed at the mugger’s own throat. He unscrews the man’s skull and with an easy tinkering makes him the saddest he’s ever been, plugs bright blaring red thoughts into his head. A moment later he steps over the body and splashes across the parking lot, trembling giddily. He can’t remember where he left his car, and the city is dark. Instead he auditions the cars lined up on either side of him until he finds one that is better than his own, and makes it his. It is unlocked when he tries the handle, and when it snarls to life (with just his touch) his favorite song is playing on the radio. The traffic lights are all green on the drive home. The police are all at other crimes as the speedometer needle roars past sixty.


That night John makes love to his wife Naomi with a ferocity he didn’t have before. She claws his back and coos that he is the best any woman could ever have. She has never said anything like that before. He can’t tell her yet what has changed. Any phrasing sounds insane. That night, John dreams dreams of concrete, wires, and riveted steel.

The next morning John awakes, his mind boiling with ideas.

Hair combed, tie straight, watered with coffee, he walks into the office and sits in the company president’s big black leather chair, and when the president comes in John tells him that he his fired and grins as the fat fuck begs for his miserable job before sending him away in tears. For a long ten minutes he sits at his mile-long desk, drumming his fingers, before realizing that he is thinking small, and leaves in the president’s double-digitly-thousand dollar convertible, which is now his. Back at home he turns on the television and stares at the news until suddenly the pretty blonde newspuppet is excitedly announcing that this just in the winner of the city lottery is him, with the numbers one two three four on a ticket he never bought. He can feel first-hand the truth swimming against time and causality, salmon-like, tweaking the screws of the universe to fit him more snugly. All the proper official lottery people abruptly agree with the news lady, and always had agreed, and were scrambling to come right now with a giant movie cheque, and he now has all the money he’ll ever need forever.

John reclines in his chair to bask in the comfort of infinite wealth. But, still, that itching discontent. Same problem. Same spot itched. Then he thinks of the vehicle parked in his driveway, worth more than this house, how some clerk somewhere is now putting his name on its registration without really knowing why, and understands. He is in control now. What does he need money for? Dollars are how you ask for things.

You don’t ask for what is already yours.

After a week of experimentation, John concludes that he isn’t a god.

There are boundaries to what he can do. The principle one is distance. John discovers quickly that everything outside city limits is outside of him. He becomes people on the highway to the next county over, to see how far his dominion extends, and counts the miles it takes them to go dark. Neither can he make miracles, in the biblical definition. He can’t wish diamonds into his pockets in a puff of pixie dust. His impulses actualize only as quickly as the city’s millions can manage. He can pile coincidences together like bricks and stress probability, but unless he pushes very hard, his inquisitive, innocent little wishes must still come true within the logic of the city, slowed by bureaucracy and faulty infrastructure and simple human error. Yet John is not as disappointed by all of this as he thought he would be. The city feels enough for him. More than he thought he’d get, certainly. And tripping over the coffee table one morning, he is relieved to know he can still bleed.

John is doing anything he ever wanted to do.

He wins tickets to every concert that tours through. He is the guest at every movie premier, sitting right up front between the tuxedo’d stars. He has that pretty barrista at the starbucks by his old office give him head behind the counter just like he’s always fantasized, but thinks of Naomi afterwards, and doesn’t have her do any more. Feeling guilty, he drives Naomi up to the hills and parks her in a mansion overlooking his city, one with a shiny new butler waiting to be switched on and more pool than they know what to do with. He fills every room with the latest everything. Every day she wonders, agog, how all of this could happen, and with a laugh, John flicks the question from her head like a gob of lint. Bewildered, but happy, she lives on his arm. There is something he has been keeping to his chest, a dinner at the most glamorous restaurant in the city. There, with gemstones winking in her ears, smiling brightly across her neck, she tells him that she loves him. And for the first time, John knows absolutely that it is true.

As weeks evolve into months, and John wears a groove in his throne, he begins to question.

Why? How?

He spends more and more of his infinite time exploring the city that is inexplicably his, in ways only he can. Video games and automobiles have slowly lost their shine. They are things anyone can enjoy. Only he is privy to reality of reality, to the architecture fundamental to the architecture. He knows now what forces draw pigeons to shit on statues. He can see the conveyer belts that all men and women are born onto, how every step of their lives is denoted on a blueprint of galactic complexity. It is all very mathematic. Very designed. Down to the dust that crusts on a car’s windshield, everything is, under the skin, a gear biting into a quintillion more gears, a subatomic speck of one great machine. When John wants for something, he spins the right gear and the whole city revolves- clanging, swearing, hissing smoke- in kind to bring his wish to him. Each towering postmodern tooth of the skyline is a puzzle of pistons and quarkical cogwheels, and John knows what each of them does.

So what is he then? A god, like he used to think? Is this heaven? Has he somehow tumbled off his own set of tracks and seen that the scenery is painted plywood, to be shuffled about as he deems good? Is he something that no words fit? Anything is possible, John is learning. He has found many impossible things in the city already. There is space folded under space by some nuance of physics as of yet unnamed. There are strange creatures living strange lives just below the human spectrum of perceptions. They scavenge on lost time and confusion, and each other. In the city’s dank cracks John uncovers cultures alien to anything on Earth, of men and not-exactly-men. He observes them perform what he is tempted to call magic, but can’t quite. They are aware of him, too, in a small way; some run from his panopticon’s gaze, or hide in futility. Others worship him through obscene displays of liturgy. They make him wonder if he has inherited these powers, this city, or if he has been elected into them through some unknowably cyphered vote. Perhaps before his reign there was another city-king, now dead. Indeed, sometimes he detects in the scaffolding of his demesne hints of artifice- lingering echoes of craftsmanship not his own. But these hypotheses only beget more unanswerable questions, ones that John does not like to dwell on for long.

John leaves the strange things be. He doesn’t care to understand them. If he was not cognizant of them before, he needn’t be now. And they are still only more subjects.

Every now and then John attempts- always in vain- to expand the borders of his city. But, inevitably, these sudden public works projects all collapse for various contrived reasons outside of his influence. Perhaps with sustained effort, he thinks, but can’t commit to finding out how long that would take. Or perhaps he isn’t as strong as he will be, in time. This last notion satisfies him. He sleeps with a contented smile, certain that there will be no end of things to do. But sometimes it niggles at him, that chance that there were others like him… or that there still are. A treasonous part of him reasons that if he exists, it could be that others exist as well. A king for every city, with power where he has none.

Is that why he can’t move outwards?

Is someone keeping him in?

John has only sparingly left the city, and his desire to do so shrivels almost overnight. He busies himself with sex and games. When Naomi pesters him to take a vacation somewhere balmy, or wintry if he likes, he snatches the idea from her and throws it away. She cries for a while without knowing why, until John takes pity, and makes her sunny again.


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