The Iron Dwellers Magical Realism

Every night at midnight, the purple clouds came out to dance with the blushing sky. No one knew where the clouds came from, but what a sight to behold. The spectacle would begin with a sudden, inexplicable, dazzling brightness, and the swirls would twist and turn in the most intricate of patterns, beautiful and mesmerising. Each time, the clouds performed a new and unique routine, which left the observers in awe. Sometimes, strangers would fall, screaming and flailing, from the dancing sky. The further they fell, the more their descent slowed, and the smaller they seemed to become, until they came to rest upon the iron ground. Though shaken and a fraction of their original size, they were alive and unharmed. Although, such occurrences didn’t bother the old-timers anywhere near as much as when the heat came. For when the heat came, people died. And they did not go gentle into that not-so-good night.*

Already, Robert could tell that this particular witching hour, with its midnight sun, would prove especially harrowing. His head and heart filled with foreboding, Robert listened to the disturbing musical rumbles, which murmured and susurrated throughout the purple clouds. When these episodes of thunder came, the sky would—eventually—morph from an embarrassed-looking, soft pink blush to the deepest of crimson hues, and the atmosphere would flood his mouth with a nauseating, metallic tang.

Not long after the blood-red tint turned the purple clouds to a funereal and ominous black, the liquid atmosphere would join the sky dance. Gradually, over hours and in tandem with the increasing temperature of their water world, the turbulence would grow ever more violent. Even he, as the oldest survivor, had never been able to decide which was worse … to boil to death or get smashed, repeatedly, against the searing iron horizon, at the mercy of the merciless centrifugal forces at play.

Panicked, Esther roused from sleep and dashed to Robert’s side. Usually, her tousled hair and sleep-creased cheeks would stir more than the atmosphere, but tonight, worry kept all but his heartrate subdued. ‘What is it? What’s happening?’ She clung to his one remaining arm and turned beseeching eyes up at him.

Despite a deep wish to placate and reassure his wife, Robert could not lie to her. ‘I don’t know, my love. I’ve never seen it this bad.’ A solitary tear slipped into one of the creases born from his frown.

‘Is there nothing we can do?’ she asked.

Mute with angst and fear and frustration, Robert shook his head. Esther fell against his side, and he wrapped his arm around her thin frame, which shook and trembled fiercely. Unable to hang on to anything else, they braced one another and waited. Before long, a large crowd had gathered around them, and all gazed skyward.

From way above, a wide, slightly concave bowl appeared. The murky atmosphere parted around it, and bubbles hissed, fizzed, gurgled, and popped around the unidentified flying object. Every once in a while, the storm’s gloomy dimness cleared enough to reveal a long, slender shaft, which appeared to be attached to the top of the bowl. Was it some kind of antenna? Or a controlling device of some sort? For certain, this was no magic he had seen before. Robert’s sense of dark presentiment deepened. As the whirlpool spun ever faster, and the currents and eddies knocked the smaller, lighter folk from their feet, the bowl and its shaft sank lower and lower. The iron dwellers had to duck, dive, and weave to avoid the strange device smacking into them or scooping them up.

From there, matters deteriorated—a phenomenon Robert hadn’t believed possible. The bowl-thingamajig dropped all the way to the ground. It looked like some kind of dull, slow-motion lightning, and scraped at the iron floor, which made it impossible for the throng of terrified people to avoid. And, second by second, the ground and atmosphere grew hotter and hotter. Was tonight the night they would all perish? What precipitated these catastrophes?

In what felt like no time at all, and yet also an eternity simultaneously, all but roughly a dozen folk remained, scattered about the ground and suffering from various degrees of injury. Then the maelstrom took Esther. Ripped her right out of Robert’s grasp and away, out of sight and any hope of help. An anguished cry flew from his lips, and the small bubbles which erupted around his scream appeared minuscule and insignificant next to the massive effervesces that circled within the tempest.

Without thought, and struck near senseless with grief and fury, Robert crouched, sprung upward, and propelled himself through the liquid atmosphere and into the concave bowl on its next sweep toward him. He kicked his legs and pushed himself upward until he reached the shaft, around which he wrapped his one arm and both legs and clung on. Over and over again, the turbulent waves and spinning motion almost unseated him, but Robert managed to keep his hold until he’d regained breath and energy enough to shimmy up and up and up.

And up.

The higher he climbed, the brighter the sky grew. What the radiance illuminated, however, shocked Robert so badly that his fingers relaxed, and he lost his grip and only just managed to grab the shaft at the last second before he would have fallen to a certain death, for the atmospheric heat had risen to un-survivable levels. Anyone left at ground level would perish within the next couple of minutes at most.

For long moments, Robert truly believed he’d lost his mind. But the longer he stared and gaped, and the more his vision clarified, he couldn’t deny that what controlled the long shaft of the bowl was a giant hand. Fat, humongous fingers grasped a thing he now identified as a spoon handle. A metal stirring spoon. What in the world?

Confusion and curiosity overrode his fear and sorrow and lent Robert a fresh surge of adrenaline. He used the flood of energy to thrust himself up and over the fingers, which twitched and spasmed at his touch. All at once, Robert’s head broke the surface. A bright-yellow Mage sphere shed light upon the weirdest of scenes. So, a Mage orb had lit his world, not the sun at midnight, which he could only see once they’d taken the lid off the enormous pot in which the iron folk had dwelled for years, somehow unaware of their situation. After he’d blinked away the last of the liquid atmosphere from his eyes, his vision cleared, and Robert beheld a gathering of Mages, all dressed in lavender, and of differing ages and genders, gathered around a cauldron, within which he trod water in a desperate bid to stay afloat.

Within seconds, his lungs burned and screamed, unable to draw breath from this dry sky. A meaty hand plucked him from the cauldron and lifted him level with a giant man’s face, which studied him with a bemused expression.

‘Air! Quick, now. He needs to breathe.’ A ginormous woman reached out and snatched him from the man’s grasp. The next thing he knew, she’d dropped Robert into a bowl of clear water, which to him was public-bath sized but to these people merely cereal-bowl sized.

About to dry-drown, Robert dunked his head below the surface and sucked in great, heaving lungsful of much-needed H2O. With his body’s immediate requirements met, his mind unclogged further, and he peered up through the clear water and studied his surroundings. For now, the Mages seemed content to stand and watch him. What he and his fellow iron dwellers had taken for purple clouds coming out to dance with a blushing sky, was in fact a violet-hued potion and lamb’s blood, amongst other things. A spell … they were using him and his friends—sacrificing them—for some bloody damn spell.

As Robert gawped, indignant and appalled, one of the Mages took the hand of a woman and offered a kind smile. ‘Are you still willing? We need to replace the one who’s escaped.’

The female nodded. The Mage popped the cork from a vial and offered it to the lady, who accepted the vessel and downed its contents in one quick swallow. Though blurry, due to having to watch through water, Robert most certainly could believe his eyes, for this was magic he’d grown up with. The woman shrank by a quarter, and then the same amount again. In gentle arms, another Mage lifted her and deposited her into the cauldron, where she sank out of sight. Her scream—presumably from the agony of being dropped into boiling liquid—cut off as soon as her head disappeared below the surface.

The question, ‘Are you still willing?’, left Robert reeling more than anything else had done so far. It implied they had all been given a choice before entering the cauldron. But to what end? More quickly now, his brain clarified and cleared and offered him an answer he struggled to process. As well as a shrinking potion, each volunteer also received a memory-wipe spell before entering the potion pot. When the rest of the Mage’s words registered, Robert vomited as guilt weighed heavy. His escape via the stirring spoon had necessitated an urgent replacement. The woman had gone to her death because of him.

As one, the group of Mages turned and stared down at Robert. Their unwavering gazes awakened more of his memories. Decades ago, the damaged world had fallen into chaos. Every day, disasters ravaged the land. One night, at midnight, something unexpected happened. A strange purple cloud appeared and danced with a blushing-pink sky. In awe, people gathered, and the cloud responded to their presence. Once a month, at full-moon midnight, the purple cloud had grown more active and assumed different shapes. Whenever the purple cloud appeared, the disasters lessened.

Soon, the people realised an ancient spirit—dormant for aeons—manifested itself via the night sky. Legends told of a once powerful being which could bring life and peace to the planet. Desperate to find a solution to a self-destructing Earth, and with all scientific efforts proving futile—the very science which had triggered the crisis—the remnants of the world’s population had turned to magic. That ancient, mystical power, long mocked and rejected by those who’d thought themselves more enlightened, had been invoked. The almost obsolete people of Earth scoured the earliest texts and found a way to awaken the spirit and bring it back to its full power. Unfortunately, it required ongoing and willing sacrifice, humility, and compassion.

So simple and elegant, really.

Use the best of human nature to heal mother nature.

One question remained: how long would this have to go on for?


*A reference to ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ by Dylan Thomas.


[Author’s Note: In my early twenties—and we don’t need to delve into how long ago that was, lols! 😂 —I read The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett, in which entire civilisations lived in a carpet. This caught my imagination and has stayed with me all these years. In the wee small hours of this morning, when my muse insisted on being decidedly wide awake to pester me relentlessly, my vague memories of this alternate world inspired my idea for the ‘iron dwellers’ who live inside a cauldron, which they believe to be the whole of existence. Thank you for reading The Iron Dwellers, which I hope you enjoyed. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. I’m extremely grateful for all hearts/likes, comments, subscriptions, and tips/pledges. If you’d like to connect with me on Twitter, you can find me at @harmony_kent. Hugs from Harmony 💕😊]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *