Sunday 26 June 2011


They descend from ashen skies on wings of scrap metal. The blissed few. The wishful dead. The angels. They are the seneschals of the Reincarnatrix: She who sits in the molten clouds in Her palace of fearful hope; She who laughs at the suffering below Her with one face and with another face, smiling, dispenses kisses of joyful oblivion – the amnesia of the gods.

It is rumoured She has a third face which whispers barbed kindnesses in the ears of children, lulling them to sleep with dreams of a painless rebirth; with lies.

Lola studied the angels when she first came to this place, to The Job; when she first became one of the freefolk. The angels watch avidly with their bulging eyes, never missing a moment of toil or ruin. The greater the suffering the more violently their naked teeth chatter until it becomes a horrible applause.

Lola has seen her friends give in to the hardship and turn their eyes to the sky, open their mouths and pray with the only prayer She ever listens to: screams. Ragged, throat-tearing, despair-fuelled screams. And when hands of smelt and ore-smoke reach down to cradle them and carry them away Lola has seen their calmed faces and for the first time in years, their smiles.

She looks for signs in the beings that return, for evidence of identity, but they are changed. Their fleshless skulls all bare the same grin; their bodies flaunt a new collage of flesh and rusted metal. She does not like to imagine what may have become of their souls.

Lola cries constantly. It is no longer from the pain in her torn flesh or the stabbing aches in her back. It is for the faces that are no longer there. She used to think there would be a time she could cry no more, but instead it was her voice that went away. Not a word or whimper or moan escapes her lips as she continues to dig; bare fingers clawing through the junk; dry and scarred skin scratching against ragged metal edges.

Their world is nothing but parts and pieces.

Some time ago she uncovered a complete machine, whole and unbroken. The angels flocked to her then. They took it away in one piece. It was the only time they ever spoke to her. She hadn’t even known they could speak.

These used to do The Job. But they broke down too often, were too costly to replace.

Lola fills her quota. She feeds. She lies in her crib. Sometimes new arrivals, more refugees, speak to her, they ask about The Job, for advice. They soon give up. They soon go away.

At dusk, the angels sing. A strange symphony; a tinny echo that only grows louder; a bitter wind gusting through corroded pipes; a serenade from beyond to before, grating and beautiful.

The angels sing and Lola cries herself to sleep. Dream free.

As she sleeps, the fourth face of the Reincarnatrix reaches down and kisses her forehead tenderly. On Lola’s cheeks their tears mingle.


This is the final flash fiction in Torn Pages, chapter 2 of the Xeroverse. From next Sunday there will be a week of guest posts to celebrate the first anniversary of the Xeroverse. Please pop in, join the celebrations, read and comment. Thank you. =)


Recommended Reading:

Two pieces from the talented Rebecca Bohn.
Princesa: an exquisitely-written zombie flash.
Twelve Horses: A desolate tale of the last, lonely robot on Earth.


  1. The fourth face… hope? Sympathy?

    Chapters? Then this collection of stories forms an arc of sorts? I'll have to go have a look, I guess.

  2. Sorry, FAR. The chapters are more of a means of delineation, a way for me to mark progress in my own head, if nothing else. There is no intended narratological link between pieces except where specified.

    Now I kind of wish there was one... ;)

    I guess the fourth face might be compassion, or pity. That's up to the reader... ;)

  3. I like this. Feels like something deep is stirring.

  4. This reminded me of the video game Bayonetta where heaven is not a pleasant place and the angels are strange, mechanical beasts that should be feared and not revered. It is powerful, startling imagery and I saw that in your piece as well. I'm both chilled by the helplessness of Lola and fascinated by the strange world. Great piece. :)

  5. Wow. Came here via your link--and stuffed full of gratitude, my friend, so thank you for those awesome links--and this just tore at my eyeballs, made them ache. I want to cry, and yet I'm not exactly sure why: For Lola? For the Reincarnatrix? Maybe. This sounds like Hell on earth, another of your exquisite reimaginings, and maybe, a little bit, I know what it feels like to be those who scream a prayer, and maybe I'm afraid that I would be one of those smiling ones.

    One of your very best.

    And again, thanks for such kind words. Coincidentally, I was just discussing you, in an abstract way, with a friend today. About crit, really, and how you could say, "The end of that story was kind of cheesy," and it was necessary and I was glad you did. Anyway. R.S., out!

  6. Hi there John -- I thought this was brilliant. Very well written: a haunting and well-crafted story with some immaculate detail. Felt much longer (in a good way) than it actually was. St.

  7. I really enjoyed this. Some absolutely beautiful imagery on display.

  8. Thanks, guys. =)

    Zaiure, I played the demo, not the full game. Loved the OTT visuals.

    Rebecca, if I see something that I love, and see some little tweak that -might- make it better, I like to mention it. I'm always trying to be better and it's what I would want, if people spot something in my work. And thank you, it's probably one of my favourites, too.

    Stephen, everything just seemed to come together as I wrote it, and the little details all just fell into place. =)

    Icy, thank you. =)