by Mary E. Lowd
A Deep Sky Anchor Original, December 2021
Warm buttery crumbs flaked off the toasting bread and sprinkled down to the diminutive city built on the metal tray below. Gooey cheese dripped off the sides of the horizontal toast. Metallic creatures — ant-like with their half-dozen legs and expressive antennae, but tiny, so tiny, ant-sized to an ant — scurried back to their minuscule buildings, seeking refuge from the reeking rain. Later when the fallen scraps had cooled, foragers would gather them up and the city would feast on bread and cheese.
One lone Arvelli with her metal carapace wrapped in heat-resistant robes stayed outside, braving the searing warmth, the biting heat in the air, from the red-glowing coils that daily baked their city. The Time of Toasting varied from day to day — five days in a row it arrived precisely at 7:35am, but on the sixth and seventh day, the Toasting began as late as 2pm, 3pm… Or sometimes, on those days, it didn’t come at all. Those were cold, hungry, desolate days. Days when the Arvelli ate only scraps and huddled inside their buildings, waiting for the searing warmth of the first five days to come again and recharge the heat reservoirs that powered their city.
Today, though, the one brave Arvelli wrapped in her robes had a message to send to their gods. Iyke scaled the vertical wall that formed one quarter of the border of their universe using grappling hooks and climbing gear of her own design. Three walls were metal; she had chosen the third to climb — the glass wall, the one that swung open to let the slices of bread in. The transparent material didn’t heat up as drastically, making it the safest choice. Yet the visions beyond the glass were dizzying, distracting, and threatened to mesmerize Iyke into forgetting her mission.
Two white-ringed pools on either side of a mountain, all above a pink-rimmed cavern — some said those pools were the eyes of their god, and the cavern was the maw that ate their daily slices. Others said it was all simply an illusion of the void beyond the fourth wall. Either way, Iyke felt those pools staring into her as she climbed. She knew she was too small to register to such a Being, yet she froze, static against the glass, as the eyes gazed beyond her to the slice of bread, toasting.
When the god’s eyes withdrew, Iyke began her climb again. As she climbed, she counted the slices in the loaf of bread she could see beyond the glass wall on the illusory counter. The waning and waxing of the loaf over the course of a week fascinated Iyke. Most days, a single slice was toasted in their world, and yet many days three or four slices disappeared from the loaf. Where did they go?
Today, the loaf was nearly full. Thirteen slices.
When Iyke reached the height of the toasting bread, she swung a grappling hook out. It took three tries, but the hook caught the toasty dough and sank into it. Iyke tested the line, but it held firm. She let herself swing away from the vertical glass wall on her line and scaled the rope up to the horizontal slice of bread, carefully avoiding the metal grid that the slice rested upon. The bread itself was stiflingly hot, but in a comfortable, cozy way. The metal gridlines would be deadly.
At her final destination, Iyke set to work. She was an artist. She wanted to be a perfectionist, but she knew her time was limited — the red coils would stop glowing soon, and then the slice of bread would be taken away. So, she worked fast, chipping at the bread with her chisels, carving her predetermined pattern into its doughy grain.
It would be her greatest work of art — a portrait of the Bread God on the God’s Own Bread. None of her own people would see it; the slice would be removed from their world before they emerged to gather the fallen crumbs. (More today, due to Iyke’s chiseling.)
But her God would see it.
Iyke hoped it would please the God.
The coils darkened. The heat abated. Iyke collapsed, overcome by her exertions, dying from deadly heatstroke, her internal circuitry melting. But before she lost consciousness, her metallic body immobilized permanently, she felt the toasted slice — the palette for her grand masterwork — lifted, removed from the four bordering walls of her world.
Iyke felt the cool air of the uber-universe beyond the walls of the toaster oven wash over her metal carapace. She turned her face upward and saw those white-ringed pools, the Eyes of the Bread God, looking down at her work in surprise. The pink-rimmed cavern in the Bread God’s face quirked into a curve. Iyke died satisfied.