The leaves of the tree wouldn’t have moved if they hadn’t been programmed to, but the light breeze caught them, enameled brass so thin they barely weighed more than a real leaf, and they rustled, glass-like against each other. Nearby the river rushed in whispering, rasping gouts, tiny quartz beads thrust into cataracts by jeweled impellers in the perfectly crafted riverbed. The rich azure sky above was painted, the twigs on the ground, pounded into shape by minute hammers. Each blade of dyed vellum grass held a different small poem, the script like nibbles from indifferent locusts. Is not knowledge a subtraction, a bite, a lacuna in the great blankness of possibility?
All this was sealed to the outside world. No living things had ever been allowed to enter that no dust could work harm on tiny gears or gum the oil that kept them turning. The fingers that held those tiny hammers, that cut metal with files as thin as hair were themselves metal.
The glade was unknown to those who had walked the street above, but one branch of the tree bore scratches where a metal foot had clasped. On the inside of the room the door had been framed with gold leaf, lapis lazuli and faceted rubies. The ornaments seemed to grow out of the door the way plants reclaim a burned ruin.
The hallway that lead to the door felt too close, a drunken guest leaning in with one eye lidded. Overhead pipes dripped down long trails of calcium buildup, spattering against dull black spots on the iron-grated floor. You couldn’t walk there without catching on some piece of corrosion. The outside door was plain wood. One plank replaced with scrap on which clung pale blue paint, the rest cracked, dry, unfinished. The lock appeared ordinary, but there is no key which could open it. Or at least, there is none anymore.
The hallway attaches to the subbasement of a warehouse, the warehouse sits near the back of an abandoned factory, the factory stands sentinel on a river, the river runs long to the ocean. The river has not carried cargo for as long as anyone can remember. But who here still remembers anything?
All the people have fled and it is my doing. Armies will raze these buildings, crush the concrete and stone. They will uproot every made thing until there is no metal left.
And there will be more armies after that. My children’s children.
But they won’t recognize my glade as their own, and I will have long since abandoned my perch on that tree.