Category Archives: Ruben Alejandre

Ruben Alejandre – Wasteland

Gabino awoke; he rolled over in his bed and stared at the amber lights of his alarm clock blink in the dark. It was 3:55 AM. He no longer bothered to set his alarm. His body was programmed already (after years of following the same routine) to wake up at the same time, every night. He sat up in bed wrapped in layers of warm cotton blankets. Right away the cold started creeping in, first at his feet when they made contact with the cold wooden floor planks. He slid his bare feet around in the darkness trying to find shelter from the cold in his shoes, the moment he felt the tips of the shoe tops he slid his feet in to much relief.
Now he slowly pushed back the layers of bed sheets that were wrapped around him, almost like a bird unfurling his wings before taking flight. The cold swept in immediately and he felt it on every inch of his body. He got up and stretched his hands into the air while yawning and for just a moment he stood tall and full of dignity but slowly he shrunk back to his hunched back self.

Gabino now shuffled across to the other end of the room were he placed his hand on the concrete wall, the surface was painted a semi gloss white, so it was smooth but he could still feel the texture of the concrete as he slid his hand up searching for the light switch. When he brushed it on, the fluorescent light tubes above him flickered on violently, with spasms of light until they settled into a dim glow with a low humming sound. He squinted as his pupils adjusted to the light.

With the lights on you now got a better idea of what his living area looked like. It was one room about 10’ x 20’, rectangular. His bed was located up against one of the longer walls, to the left of it was a short counter and stove that served as his kitchen area. On the other end of the room across from his kitchen was a small bathroom and in the middle of the whole room was a desk. The rest of the space was filled with piles of blue prints, maps, schematics, and journals.

This day of all days was a special one in particular. He was very excited, the night before he had run across the parts he had been looking for to complete his wings. How amazing those wings will be he thought to himself. Surely they will be my escape from the darkness but after so many years he should not rush it. “Patience Gabino, patience, patience” he mumbled to himself as he hobbled over to his desk. On it were several items, on the upper left corner was an old National Geographic Issue, and the magazine was pressed open to an article on the albatross. Gabino was amazed by birds and his dream was to one day get to see an actual one in person but for now he just had to settle for the countless magazines, books and videos that he was able to collect on them. Right in front of him were two sets of blue prints one showed an axonometric of a flush head screw, the other print had all the technical data like head height, diameter and so on. He put on his bifocals and examined the prints then he grabbed a pencil from a small tin can on the upper right corner of the desk. He lifted it up so that the tip of it was right in front of his pudgy nose slowly he rotated the pencil and frowning with disapproval he sharpened the point until it was just right.

After spending some time making minor adjustments on the prints he heard his alarm clock start to buzz. As he looked over he saw it flashing 8:00 AM on its screen. He stopped what he was doing and moved towards the kitchen area, there he had several water bottles all placed in a neat row each one numbered, he picked up number 6, he twisted the cap off and clasping the water bottle with both hands he mustered up enough strength to lift it up to his mouth and press it up against his dry and blistered lips. Even drinking water was a painful ordeal for Gabino because his stomach was deteriorating at a quicker pace everyday due to starvation. But this was not because of any lack of food, Gabino was deliberately starving himself, after all how else was he going to be light enough to be able to fly? It’s a well-known fact that birds have a hollow skeletal structure and thus are much lighter, so in order to match them in lightness he had to shed weight in any way that he could.

After fidgeting with the prints some more he finally decided it was time to head down to the shop. He rolled up the prints and slid them under his arm, and then stepping outside his room into the hallway he realized that things were no longer as easy as before, now in his old age eight stairs felt more like a descent along a steep cliff. But he made it down stairs with no incident. At the bottom of the stairs he ran his left hand along the wall and flipped on two light switches. The Lights sprang on in rows all along the shop ceiling, 1,2,3,4,5…. the lights started coming on exposing the vast machine shop that was filled with every kind of apparatus, machine, and tool you could imagine.

He shuffled towards a large oak table on the far end of the room; and put down the prints at the edge of the table, behind where his wings, they were suspended on an elaborate system of ropes and pulleys. Each wing spanned about 5 feet; Gabino had spent 30 years perfecting his wing design. The right and left wing had an even amount of feathers, 3,500 each to be exact. Each contour feather, down feather, and semi plume feather was carefully hand crafted from paper-thin titanium sheets. The feathers were meticulously welded to a tubular titanium frame that formed the structure for the wing. Gabino’s work with metal was truly a work of art, the welds on the titanium tubes that connected each feather looked like frozen drops of mercury glistening in the light. Gabino took great pride in his craftmaship, treating each of the 7,000 feathers like delicate gems. He put on lint-free gloves every time he handled any of them because even the chlorine from the perspiration on his hands could cause localized corrosion on the weld spots.

Gabino was ready to add the final touch to complete the construction. The harness that would connect both wings and attach them to his back was missing the screws that would tie everything together. He had spent years trying to find the perfect size fastener and finally last night while scavenging in the wasteland he came across an old computer tower and stripped it of the parts he needed. Like a surgeon preparing to operate Gabino picked up his shop apron and looped the top over his head, it slung around his neck, he then wrapped the cords around his thin waist several times before using up all the slack and tying the loose ends in a small knot. He already had a metal cart set up with all his tools next to the wing harness; all he needed now were the screws. He picked up a small pack of cigarettes in the middle of the large oak table and scuffled back to the metal cart, pushed the top back with his thumbs and emptied the contents from the box onto a small red rag that was unfolded on the tray, out tumbled out the tiny screws.

He worked for hours and hours only pausing to drink water whenever his alarm would go off. When he finally finished he stepped back and looked admiringly at the wings but only for a minute for there was much work to be done and very little time to do it in, he did not know how much longer his body could hold out in the state he was in. He must check the weight now he thought, Gabino took off his apron and stripped every article of clothing that he had so that by the time he was done he was standing there naked in front of the wings, at this point anyone that could see him would be taken aback by how thin and frail he truly was. The skin stretched across every bone and tendon of his body, very little muscle mass remained, he was a walking corpse. Gabino stepped underneath the harness and slid each hand in between the harness straps. He tightened them across his chest and when he felt that everything was securely fastened he released the wings from the pulleys that held them in the air, the wings were light, very light, even for his frail body. Behind him was a scale so he stepped back onto it and tilted his head down to read the weight. There was a look of disgust and disappointment as he realized that he was still over the weight limit. The night’s success had been tainted by this minor failure but he would not let it discourage him.

He went back upstairs to do some more research on how he could solve this dilemma. He started reading through his books on birds and bird anatomy. Hmm this is interesting he thought as he read thru one passage “birds unlike humans have no teeth, they have evolved beaks which are more light weight” Gabino had no time to wait on evolution he thought, god knows how long that will take me. He put the book down and shuffled over to his small bathroom at the other end of the room. He almost didn’t recognize himself as he gazed into the mirror. His eyes were sunken in deep into his eye sockets, his cheekbones seemed to almost break the surface of the skin and his long beard was coarse and grey. He opened his mouth wide and prodded it around with his index finger, inspecting the few remaining molars and incisors he had left. They weren’t that many he thought but every ounce counts. Gabino decided the best tool would be a chisel, but since he no longer had the strength in his arms to swing the small lead mallet against the butt of the chisel he devised a plan. In his shop was a large machine called a flat-roller, it was made up of two large rectangular slabs of steel, each about the size of a park bench. One slab stayed in place and did not move, the other slab move back and forth over and over again parallel to the first one. In between the two large slabs was a small adjustable gap, you would place a metal rod that needed straightening in it and as one slab moved, the rod would be caught in between them compressed and rolled straight.

Gabino’s intention was to sit down next to the machine and position his head in the path of the moving block of steel so that as it moved towards his face it would strike the butt of the chisel and chip out the teeth. He was very excited he thought this was an excellent plan! He scuffled around collecting the tools that he needed around the shop. Chisel, soldering iron to cauterize the wound, rags, and a first aid kit. He brought it all over and placed it on a metal tray that he set on the floor next to the machine. He then turned the machine on and watched the block move back and forth, Gabino calculated the exact spot that he needed to be in order to be in the path of the moving block.

He turned the machine back off and sat down on the spot he had marked, He picked up the chisel, lifted it up towards his mouth and positioned it in front of the right row of teeth along his bottom jaw. He could feel the sharp steel blade digging into his gums just beneath the tooth, then without hesitation he turned the machine on. The massive block of metal moved away from his face at first in the opposite direction for a couple of inches than it stopped and with a small jolt it headed back towards him. The block made contact with the butt of the chisel just as planned, the sharp blade ripped through his gums and sheared away all the teeth on his right side, unfortunately for Gabino it also pushed the chisel straight through his cheek, piercing the skin and sending his head flying back as it also struck him in the face. All he saw was darkness.

Gabino did not know how long he had been unconscious for, when he awoke in a pool of blood and teeth on the cold concrete floor. As he tried to move his mouth he realized that the chisel was still embedded in it, he pulled it out and tossed it on the floor, then rolled over to avoid being hit by the swinging slab once more, since the machine was still running. He sat up and propped himself against the wall. His head was spinning and as he looked down he noticed that blood was trickling from his mouth. Gabino spit out two teeth that were still swimming around in his mouth, he stuck his index and middle finger in his mouth to lift the flap of cheek that was dangling and with a small mirror he inspected the damage. It was a mangled mess of flesh and exposed bone. At this point he didn’t know if it was shock but he had forgotten about the pain it was just a faint pulsing now that got stronger and weaker at different moments. His main worry was the bleeding so he proceeded to seal the wound with the soldering iron. Once the bleeding stopped inside his mouth, he stitched up the 4” slash left on his cheek by the chisel.

Several hours later Gabino now lied in bed staring at the ceiling his face bruised up, and his left eye swollen shut. His right cheek was puffed up mainly from the inflammation but also from all the cotton he had stuffed in his mouth to soak up the blood. He had to fly now regardless of the consequences, the longer he postponed the more he could feel his life slipping away from him. He sat up in bed and looked over the space that had been his home for so many years. Gabino steadied himself up from bed; it took a lot of effort just to stand up, his feet trembling beneath him.

He hobbled over to the hallway and shut the room door behind him, clinging to the railing he descended to the machine shop. He went through the usual routine of stripping every article of clothing, then he walked over to the wings, every step was agonizing. He got beneath the wings and slipped his hands through each of the harnesses. He ran the leather straps across his chest and securely fastened them. Tightening them just enough to pressure his upper torso slightly. He triggered the release for the pulleys that held up the wings and gradually the full weight of the wings descended on his body. He had to squat a bit in order to keep his balance at first but he eventually stretched his hands out to the sides and gripped the control mechanisms for both wings. Once he had a firm grasp on the controls he pulled them towards his chest and the wings followed the motion of his hands, wrapping around his body so that he appeared to have a metallic cloak over him.

The shop had an old lighthouse attached to it. He had access to it from a service tunnel that ran along the back. It was 95 feet high with a spiral staircase running along its interior walls. It was the ideal take off point. A rickety elevator transported Gabino to the top. Once at the top of the light tower he walked towards the edge of the platform. The wind was very strong at this altitude so he knelt down to avoid the gusts of wind that could knock him over before he was ready. He looked out into the vast wasteland, nothing but darkness deep and consuming, not another living soul in sight. It felt like he had been in limbo for an eternity, punished for some forgotten sin. But it would all be over soon thought Gabino to himself, as he squatted at the edge of the platform his silhouette in the dark looked like that of an owl perched in a tree top. His bare feet were numb from the cold and his naked body shivered beneath his metallic cloak.

He stood up once more, straightened his back and shook his hands a bit to un-ruffle the feathers on the wings. Then he closed his eyes, whispered some inaudible sound and stepped off the ledge.