by Tonya R. Moore

A clock-work doll sits atop a wobbly mountain of rubble. He has dry, empty sockets where his eyes should be. His smile is wide and full of teeth. A fat tear hangs in suspended animation, mid-dribble down one dirty cheek. The aging sun is going down on the distant horizon, while casting its purple gaze across the broken remains of a barren metropolis. There's a tentative click, then the sound of slowly grinding gears.

A sharp melody explodes into the air—a relentless, one-man merry-go-round of a carnival. It's that kind of song; the kind of song that spins you round and around in your nightmares before grabbing you by the throat and squeezing the breath out of your lungs.

How many times has he played this tune? He has no one left to applaud his remarkable musical wit. No comrades. No culture.

The ones who built and broke this continent have long since been forgotten by the insects that buzz here. Even the scum clawing its way up out of the ocean knows little of its sordid origin. Nothing animal moves in this derelict town without first, listening intently for the distant sound of thunder.

Time has taught all creatures here, that a certain rumbling in the sky always precedes the flapping of gargantuan wings. They arrive, hawkish cries drowning out the mechanical man's tune. A seething cloud of arcuated eyes and rapacious beaks, they darken the sky.

They descend in droves, adopting the military precision of the freight-trains and torpedoes of an era, long gone. In the heat of the hunt, they stir up chunks of history mingled with gritty particles from bones their kind already picked clean a hundred years ago.

One majestic crow swoops down to perch upon a crumbling spire. His menacing gaze fixes upon the blind harlequin, the jerky motions of its wiry hands; the pneumatic, spinning mechanism lodged in its skeletal chest. His head tilts, one black eye reflecting the rising moon and the stirring stars. The crow contemplates the faint, alien sound threaded into the cacophony of winged beasts. It spreads its massive arms and dives down into the rising dark for the kill.

The earth shakes. The music stops. It takes flight once again. The doll's iron bones stick in the crow's craw. The red wetness raining from the sky goes unseen. Darkness has swallowed up the whole, wide world. The great beast plummets awkwardly to the stony ground, a multitude of bones cracking.

The winged emperor now knows he will not live to see another ghostly dawn. He utters one long, mournful cry. The eager swarm hovers overhead, a pulsating mess of gleaming eyes and snapping beaks. They know no remorse, the voracious giants feasting on the flesh of their kin. They have not changed, since they first dominated the earth, millions of years ago.

This world was made for these birds. They've known that since the dawn of time.