Automated Houses

I visited an old acquaintance, a performance poet who had left the city some years before, and moved to the wilds of the north. Our friendship had always been tentative and slightly awkward, in that I had little respect for his work, and he, I knew, felt the same about mine. Still, after many years I had gone to visit him in his new home. We walked the hill paths, where large thistles yawned on the ground around us, amongst rounded clods of light brown earth. As we reached a hill road, shaded by the covering of trees, I noticed stones and thin clay pipes gathered in organised piles on the verge. We stood to examine them for a moment, although whether they had been arranged by children or formed some kind of outsider artwork, my friend couldn’t say.

At the top of the hill, he showed me the automated houses, which resembled old-fashioned steam engines, with their bright green metalwork and the large pistons used to organise the various streets in place. My friend took me inside one of the houses, and I found the interiors quite comfortable, if somewhat sparse. We left into a ramshackle town, where the buildings were all driven by the same technology, the wheels and pistons moving on the brickwork. I made some comment to my friend about whether the same intelligence that had arranged the piles of stones also lay behind the technological advances of this strange town, but he didn’t answer. He led me to a pub, where an automated model of a star system rotated around the garden, although I didn’t recognise any of the planets, and it seemed to be driven by a series of glyphs and mechanisms I couldn’t understand.

Later, I brought a group of friends with me to the town, and we tried to find the pub with the model star system. I found the streets confusing and difficult to navigate, and we ended up in a different pub. The front door led immediately up a staircase, where two men muttered to themselves as we passed them. When I asked them what was wrong, they ignored me; I realised they were twins. ‘Fucking Steven,’ they hissed at each other, their faces contorted with rage over what remained of their drinks. ‘Fucking Steven.’ Deeper inside, my friends and I discovered, as I had already guessed, that the model star system belonged to a pub in a different part of town. As we left, a woman at the entrance tried to charge us money to support the local journal, but I ignored her and walked out into the street, looking for landmark that would point me to the model star system, or back towards the automated houses.

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