By Joe Markell
Where there once was darkness, there was light.
A human dressed in a uniform grabbed Bottle out of a container and lifted him into the light.
Bottle squinted as he was carried toward rows of different bottles stacked neatly together in a grid. The human set him in front of a row of bottles with a similar label, spun him around and clasped a metal coil in front of him to hold him in place.
Bottle watched the human swing a large clear door to enclose the space. A moment later a motor hummed and cool air poured in from above. Lights flickered on and Bottle had the feeling that he was right at home.
Outside, the human closed a container labeled “Vending” and wheeled it away.
Days passed and all day long Bottle watched thousands of humans walk by. Some would stop and peer inside the clear door at them. Sometimes they would even look directly at him, squinting with a question on their faces.
Most times when the big faces would come to look inside, they would use their big hands to tap something on the outside which would trigger a series of events: An engine would whir to life and a coil in front of one of the rows would spin. one of his fellow bottles would cheer as they’d be pushed forward. Then, the bottle would fall to the bottom of the machine where a hand would reach down, grab hold of the fallen bottle and carry it away.
Occasionally, the human in the uniform would return to open the clear door and replace some of the bottles that had been taken away. The human in the uniform would look at each row and write notes. As he’d look at Bottle, he’d shake his head and frown. And as the human would close the door again, Bottle would feel ashamed.
He wasn’t the only one.
He felt the others behind him in the row growing restless, fizzing at him and every once in a while bumping him.
He was becoming sad.
One day, a little girl human pointed up at him. By that point he had learned not to trust hoping that he would ever be carried away, but there was something about the way the little girl stomped and jabbed her finger defiantly to her mother that seemed different.
He watched with an eagerness he’d never known, despite himself.
The little girl wailed. The mother sighed and reached into her pocket and tapped some buttons.
It’s happening. It’s Happening! The engine whirred and finally, Bottle felt the coil tickle his mid-bottle and with a gasp, he plunged into the darkness, smacking violently around the bottom. A compartment opened and the small hand gripped Bottle and pulled him out into the warm air.
“Thanks mommy!” the little human girl and held up Bottle to show her mother, “Open it, open it.”
“What do we say honey?” the mom asked.
“That’s right, honey,” the mother took Bottle and twisted his cap open.
Ahhhh! Bottle thought. It wasn’t pain exactly, just something was very different.
The little girl took Bottle in her hands and together they walked briskly across the subway platform. The girl held Bottle’s open top to her mouth and drank some of the bubbles. She laughed and Bottle felt happy.
“Oh crap! Hurry honey, we gotta make this train,” her mother urged.
Suddenly they were running and the liquid sloshed everywhere, fizzing and splashing.
A roar from the tunnel and a wind erupted across the platform as a long line of giant metal subway cars filled with humans whizzed by on a track. It sent a flurry of rusty, dusty wind coiling through the crowd on the platform, fluffing their head threads. Once it stopped, doors opened and humans poured out. After a moment, the human traffic reversed directions and the little girl carried Bottle inside one of the cars behind her mommy.
Other humans shifted and one bumped the mother, who then bumped the little girl. Suddenly the girls grip was gone and Bottle was falling through the air. He saw knees, calves, pants, socks and then with a loud crack he saw the floor.
He lay on his side helpless, the rest of the fizzy liquid pouring out.
People noticed and stepped away, “ewww,” he heard someone say.
The girl was on the verge of crying and reached down to try to pick him up again.
“No, honey” the mother stopped her, “it’s disgusting now, leave it alone. You don’t want to get a disease.”
The girl cried.
Bottle was soaked and empty and scared. He lay on his back looking up the length of a silver pole that rose the ceiling. People looked down at him, with big concerned eyes.
The train slowed dramatically and suddenly he was rolling forward, hitting feet and poles as he careened down the subway car. The crowd murmured and he could feel everyone watching. But they weren’t trying to help him, they were trying to avoid him.
Finally, the subway stopped and he rocked helplessly back and forth as the mother and girl left the train and a crowd of people came on. Bottle would have reached out, he would have yelled to come back, he would have tried anything, but it was too late and he was alone with strangers.
As people crowded in, they positioned themselves like fleshy puzzle pieces, and each one looked at their feet as their shoes smacked in his spilled liquid. They frowned at him, made noises of disgust, some shook their heads, and others went so far as to ignore him.
He didn’t understand why people thought he was so disgusting, and he felt ashamed that he couldn’t do anything but roll and watch. All he wanted was to be picked up.
He noticed that a teenage boy human was looking at him. The boy didn’t look angry like everyone else. Instead he pointed at Bottle and smiled while talking to a teenage girl standing by a pole. They laughed to one another and then looked at him.
Despite himself again, he found himself hoping.
At the next station, the teenagers stood up to leave. As the boy walked toward him, he abruptly kicked Bottle, spinning him out of the subway car, knocking him against the yellow punctuated strip at the edge of the platform, where he bounced and slipped into the crack between the subway car and the platform. He bounced as he hit the cover of the 3rd rail, and rolled beside the tracks.
And there he lay.
Time passed by. Hours turned into days, days into weeks, and weeks into years. The racing subway cars blurred into streaks of light, and the murmuring crowds blended into a quiet static.
At some point the lights went off and darkness filled the world.
Eventually the water crept in, rising up the tunnels, lifting Bottle above the platform. He drifted in that bracken underground sea, bobbing in the darkness until one day the water rose to where he touched the ceiling and was pushed along an incline all the way outside to the daylight above.
There, he bobbed in the streets, beside bent light poles, abandoned storefronts, walls of decay and climbing vines. He drifted past rusted automobiles with weeds and trees sprouting through their windows. He floated in canyons of hollowed buildings, beneath cliffs of stone, steel and concrete.
One evening he floated across a street filled with a golden flare of light that poured between the endless walls of the ancient megacity. He basked in the warm light and he rocked gently in the calm evening. But suddenly, talons gripped him and he was lifted into the air.
He watched feathers flutter as the Falcon carried him high into the sky up to the top of one of the soaring concrete cliffs. There, the talons released him into a nest of paper, sticks, and plastic bags. Once he was set there, the falcon waddled sideways, cocked her head down and looked at him with a big knowing black eye.
A gust of wind howled and the falcon gripped the nest for support. The wind pushed Bottle but the Falcon nudged him back into place with her beak.
The falcon laid eggs beside Bottle and sat on them for weeks. She would look at Bottle, peck him lightly and nudge him occasionally. Bottle watched the chicks hatch and would have smiled if he could have, listening to them quork at him as they hopped back and forth around him.
He watched the chicks learn about the world beside him. When the snow fell, they’d brush him off with a flutter of their wings and nuzzle up to him.
He grew to love Falcon and her chicks. Every once in a while, he’d feel a pang of sadness as he was reminded of a little girl who carried him. But she was gone. All of it in the long past. Overgrown and faded by the constant march of time.
Eventually, the chicks became adults and flew away to build their own nests. The mother Falcon remained with him. And she cuddled up to him until the very end, when she died and lay feet up in the nest beside him.
Days to weeks, weeks to months, months to years. The nest disintegrated and he rolled to a ledge, which also disintegrated and he fell through the air to the wet rubbled ground below, bouncing and splashing in the debris. Resting again, year after year.
As time continued, moments passed quickly. The wind and water eroded the world around him, then dried into dust and sand.
The bright sun became bigger and hotter. Sand to glass, glass to molten, seas to steam, sky to space.
At some point, a question tickled Bottle, gnawing on him as though it had been there since the beginning. “What was the point?” he asked himself.
And with a disappointing sigh and an unceremonious poof, all was gone.
“That was the longest, stupidest story I’ve ever heard.” The girl said to her boyfriend and frowned, “I don’t get it.” She rocked back and forth while holding the pole of the A train. “What was the point?”
“It’s a story about subways,” the teenage boy returned, with a hesitant sense of pride.
“No it’s not,” she shook her head, “It was a story about a bottle that was on the subway for like a minute. Then a bunch of random things about the future and bird love.”
He looked at her, searching for some sort of validation, but eventually he looked down at the ground. After a moment he noticed a bottle rolling on the floor.
“Look,” he said and pointed.
Her eyes tracked to the bottle and then she looked at him and smirked, “Could it be…The Bottle?”
The A train decelerated and she smiled at him, “Why don’t you kick it in the crack and see what happens?”
As the subway doors opened, the teenage boy stepped up to the empty bottle and kicked it out of the door. It hit the edge of the platform, spun around and disappeared into the darkness.