The Woven Man
In the hills of Russia, the people may come and go with the clouds, and shift with the phases of the werewolf moon. But tales stay the same, passing from mouth to ear, from the linen-padded lap of old babushka to the stone grey floors where children stared, starry-eyed in rapture as the woven tapestry of collective lore was spun from old women's lips. And iit was from one such old woman, with the face of an aged sage and the hands of a pianist, that I heard this one.
Once upon a time, there was a tailor of well-repute, who resided in a cottage some distance from the town square. He was known to be the best at his art, and his fingers moved like rippling water, manipulating even the finest of fibre and thread into intricate lines of motion that, so the story goes, could bring tapestry to life. Now, we know little truth in that fact. but the thing everyone agrees on is that one day, the tailor sighed.
For he had grown old over the years, and his hands were no longer the systematic swift swirling of small ripples, but the choppy churning of deep lakes. As always, his finshed products were magnificent in detail and his commissions rolled in, but there lacked the spark, the swift preciseness that was his hallmark and pride and joy in his early days.
So the master tailor decided to search for an apprentice. Notices were put up, word was spread, and soon hopeful pupils by the coachload were hiking up the path to the master tailor's cottage, which was secluded so as to aid his concentration on his work. But the tailor welcomed his candidates with open arms, and directed them each to a private room where they were shown a needle and as much as they required of the tailor's finest thread, thinner than a horsehair and flimsier than rotten flax but shining silver and seemed to animate in the cold winter light. The task was to weave a single sheet of shimmering, moving silver, which could not be broken by human means. The tailor could accomplish this with ease, and even demonstrated it in front of the rapt students-to-be.
Naturally, many forfeited after testing the thread, and though there were some who came close, with a twist and a snap, their hard work would come undone by the stern-faced tailor. You have failed, he would say for the hundredth time that day, and the candidate would sigh, pack up and go.
Now this continued for a week, but among the many hopefuls, none were able to replicate what the tailor had taken years to learn and even longer to master. As he showed another dejected candidate through the door, he thought to himself. "I can weave shimmering dragons, flying through the moving tapestry sky; I can weave live fire-flies with their glowing dances onto impossible textures of coats. If I cannot find a man worthy enough to be my student, I shall weave one myself! For nothing knows the fine flow of needle and thread better than one made of needle and thread himself."
The next day, the tailor locked his gate and blocked out his windows. Taking a bundle of fine white cotton, he began to weave. In and out, through holes imposible to find and even harder to thread, into three dimensions he constructed a matrix of interwoven thread, and with a final tuck completed a solid bone out of impossibly locked cotton. More and more he sewed, until a complete man's frame was formed. Then he bounded to the frame, by way of hooks and needles, countless numbers of springy red fibres, dyed with the blood of goats and bewitched by an old gypsy he once met in his earlier days. Slowly, the woven muscles twisted and snaked round one another until they stretched taut on the white cotton bone, and twitched with excited tension. But the tailor pressed his hand to the jumpy threads and said, "Lie still. It's not time yet."
With thin catgut he sewed infitissemal compartments, until the structure resembled a human lung, and he placed it in the open quivering ribcage. In several swift movements of his needle he connected dripping red thread to fleshy catgut and woven bone, and painfully but surely the muscles contracted. His creation took a shuddering, shallow first breath.
For the veins and arteries he threaded numerous hollow yarns through the strands of interwoven red tendons, into linen bone and within breathing chest, and at the center of it all placed a little sewing-machine mechanism, driven by clockwork held fast with craftsman's glue and a live starpiece. Feeding silk through the heart, he wound up the pulsing starpiece, starting off the mechanism with a muted titter-tatter. Through the hollow veins life's silk coursed, bringing movement and vigour to the limbs. But there was yet no mind to control it, and the creation did not rise.
Using a sheet of smooth pink silk, he stitched skin to muscle, covering the exposed rawness with a layer of thread so warm and smooth to the touch one could have mistaken it for a real person. With embellishements crafted from marble he slid fingernails into raw pulsing nailbeds, and teeth into dry gums. The hair was spun with the finest gold thread the tailor could afford, falling over clear glass eyes filled with bella-donna dew for sight. He left a small opening at the base of the skull, for he had not yet thought of how to weave a sentient soul.
Finally, among his vaults of disused material he discovered a strange colourless spool of thread which somehow shmmered with light more than even his most delicate silver. It was fine, but somehow not too thin, and so strong that he needed a carving-knife to sever it, but felt in his hands and needle that in all his years of practice and self-training, this thread was spun for his talented fingers alone.
In the pale moonlight he began to cast the thread into a single piece of textile. But the more he spun, the more he deviated and the needle twisted and turned. forwards and backwards into ways not even he could comprehend. It was as if the thread was compelling him, forcing his fingers into complex loops and maneuvres until he lost track of everything and all that remained was an indeterminate bundle in his hands, chaotic yet somehow orderly, which seemed to change its shape depending on from which angle he looked at it. His needle was also warped and bent double into a smooth curve, although he could not remember it doing so while he was sewing.
Carefully, gingerly, he lowered the strange dreamy bundle into the cavity of the skull, and stitched up the hole with a single movement. The glass eyes grew a little less opaque, and the tick-tick-tick of the clockwork heart quickened, and the woven man came to life.
That was the story he told the townsfolk, as he brought the woven man to the market the next day. Silk pulsing through threaded veins, it spoke and breathed and acted like a human being. In fact, so engrossed was the master tailor at his project that he did not realise he had created the woven man entirely in his own image. The townsfolk were amazed, and expressed joy at the tailor having another hand to help about in the never-ending work and commisions.
The days went by, and soon enough the woven man grew to be as proficient as the master tailor was in his prime. The master tailor, on the other hand, slowed and declined, and instead preferred to spend his evenings at the local barhouse with a few friends, a deck of cards and a mug of vodka while his creation toiled away and practiced. One night in a drunken rage, he threw down his cards and exclaimed, "I should never have made that blasted woven monster in the first place! Why, I would have trained a respectable born-and-bred man instead, one smart enough not to overtake his master at hs own art!"
Late in the night, the town sentry recalled hearing a scuffle in the tailor's cottage. By the next morning, only one man was seen at the market, carrying his own wares. "What happened to the woven man?" they asked.
"He tried to kill me in my bed with a pair of sewing scissors," replied the master tailor.
"Where is he now?".
The tailor turned to them. "I killed him. Torn him apart. Strung his sinews into a bonfire, then set him alight with his burning bones."
The townsfolk asked little about that fateful night. The master tailor was apparently driven by the death of his doppelganger, and proceeded to generate tapestries the likes of which no one had ever seen before.
But no man is immortal, and even the master tailor's rippling fingers could not save him from Death. Now this is where the story gets strange, for when they cremated his body in the town square, his body burned like dry cotton on a summer day, and at the bottom of his ashes was a single clockwork sewing-machine mechanism, winding down to the tune of a dead starpiece.