Orville's Contraption

There was something of the manner of antiquity about Orville’s contraption.

As far as I can recall it was fairly large, being about two feet high. Its shape was somewhat akin to a vertical extended polyhedron. The outer frame was of bronze, skeletal, allowing access to glass panes that could each be removed. Each glass pane was a slightly different tint, very light, very clear, very pretty. The inner workings were clearly visible consisting of an amazing symphony of light bulbs, each array upon some sort of brass cog or wheel, interrelated somehow, all moving, but following no logical sequence I could follow. Indeed, the box like structure looked very much like that of a complicated clock. Two pistons drove the heart of it, spitting and hissing small bursts of steam at intervals. Oddly shaped fans twirled over sophisticated and slightly luminescent circuitry. Slowly revolving appendages could be observed here and there. And wires, hundreds of wires.

As machinery goes it was all rather extreme. A real dazzle. Twizzle sticks.

The contraption sat sedately upon a large wooden table, happily blinking and turning in a curiously odd way, as if it had a sparkling mind of its own. It burped now and then, sometimes a small whistle. Every few seconds it would begin to tick or tock. Digital readouts spun in lines of tiny cylinders spinning alien countdowns.

“Sort of maritime don’t you think?” asked Orville, looking supremely smug with himself.

“Well,” I said, “Yes, I suppose so.”

“Actually it’s stellar marine, but difference is cosmetic.”

Orville reclined in his armchair and lit his pipe. Puffs of green smoke ascended to the ceiling.

“Creation is its own reward, “ he went on. “It chimes you know.”

Orville alighted and gently tapped the outer framework at various points with a pencil. The contraption issued forth a fine sequence of highly pleasing harmonics. The music was, dare I say, adorable, and lingered for some considerable time before fading away.

“Fabulous, “ I said.

“Oh quite,” said Orville. “You know it has purpose as well as form, as you will see I hope.”

“It’s more than a work of art then?”

“Oh yes. Most Certainly. But it is, to be sure, most certainly a work of art. Ah yes, most certainly.”

We were sitting in the window room overlooking the bay. The night was clear. A large imperfect moon shed cool light upon the water. A light breeze, refreshing after the long hot day, flowed in through the large open window, and, above and beyond us, also from Orville’s open skylight that Orville had lovingly installed earlier in the season. A myriad of stars shone across the heavens. Pixie dust.

“I must check my charts,” said Orville.

He moved to the far side of the room and switched on his reading lamp. Another table was braced before the wall. Earlier in the evening I had already noted his spread of astrological maps and star charts. There was even a slide ruler, a calculator and an iPad. Data streams scrolled across a screen on the wall. Orville typed a few statistics from his notepad, chewed the end of his pencil, drew several mathematical formulas and returned to his armchair and sighed. Deeply.

“Well,” he said, “It’s tonight or never.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

Orville turned his iPad upside down, shook it, magnified a few solutions with his finger. He scratched his head, looked absently out the window, and scratched his moustache.

“Well,” he said, “I’m not quite sure, you know, the moon and the stars so to speak. What I’ve done, I think, though I’m not entire sure, well, basically, you see, basically, I’ve requested a rainbow.”

“A rainbow?” I said, “At night?”

“That’s it,” he said.

He turned his large head and watched the bay. A fishing boat chugged toward the harbour entrance and a pod of narwhales breached, their mermaid tusks catching glints on the moonlight. I smoked. Skull and crossbones smoke rings floated out the window. I like Orville’s place. Time went by for a while, apparently unperceived. A seagull raced past the window, screeching. A couple of bats flew in and fed from Orville’s hand. Bloody and satisfied they left after a few brief moments.

The breeze dropped off and we had to cease smoking. Wisps of ghost cloud partly obscured the moon, but they were fast and only lingered for a moment. An aeroplane could be heard passing overhead, two lights flashing toward the horizon.

Then, suddenly, the contraption, after issuing a series of stunning light dances, began, slowly at first, but then with a deliberation it had not employed before, to tick.

Loudly. There was actually an echo.

“Good,” said Orville. “There will be, I think, a few moments to explain. Some time ago my friend I became aware, through careful observation and comparative analysis from the internet, of several new stars. One in particular. I show you it here on the chart on the iPad. I have thus had the opportunity to test some of my theories. The details would be almost impossible to explain. Basically the creation of these new stars is parallel to observations of various cretaceous species here on the bay, particularly new behaviours. I have recorded new sounds they are making, as well as new radio waves from the new stars. There is no doubt. They are syncronized. It’s probably the most wonderful thing I have heard or observed since I learnt to talk to birds. The sequences of this new language I sequenced into my machine in great detail. I am about to test my theory against the moment we are rapidly approaching, when next the phenomena is predicted to occur. It is my belief that we are all akin to the stars, all cosmic creatures under the wing of the universal eye, so to speak, all a part of a great design. The truth of this my belief has affected me with increasing clarity. I do not seek material gain or notoriety. In scientific circles I am already thought of as a fool. I merely desire confirmation of my beliefs, a chance to further love the world, and my fellow man. You, my friend, will be my witness, although, of course, I have several recording devices for this night, the iPad in particular. Yes, witness indeed. My climax you see, our brotherhood with the stars, the rehabilitation of my credibility. We are almost upon the hour. Please observe the constellation immediately before us.”

I felt distinctly uncomfortable. But excited. As crackpots go Orville was a doozy.

The contraption continued to tick, though louder, faster, with more insistence.

Then in the sky directly before us a small distant star that had previously been insignificant began slowly to brighten. This bizarre phenomena, along with the by now rapid drumroll of the contraption, grew in quick progressive stages until the star was easily the brightest in the sky.

It pulsed. It was intermittently glowing red.

I badly wanted to take a picture with my camera phone, but Orville slapped my hand as I reached for my pocket.

Then came the strangest darn thing I have ever seen.

The contraption was a bouncing fever of hisses and whistles and end of the world countdowns.

Then it suddenly stopped.

Then, from the star itself, a thin concentrated beam of light issued forth and struck the contraption.

It exploded.

A huge pall of smoke.

Both Orville and I rose from our respective armchairs, covered in soot and looking very much the cartoon villains of a slapstick comedy. The beam had gone, the window was hanging from its frame, cracked. Papers descended like so much confetti. The contraption was an apocalyptic mini bar, smoke rising from its scattered innards. I noticed the iPad was a charred chip. The wall screen was a skew test pattern with a smudge of various error messages. I took out my iPod iPhone but found it had melted into the shape of a rotten banana.

“Damn,” said Orville, “Now I’ll have to build another one.”

Robert Ellery Phillips
Hot-dogging somewhere in the 1990s.
Re-wired in 2012.
Thankyou for your attention.
Have a nice day.

Orville's Contraption


Claremont, Australia

  • Artist

Artist's Description

My attempt at HG Wells. Thankyou for reading. Originally more antique.

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