The Colossus Stops

- First published in Daily Science Fiction, 2019
- Reprinted in The Best of British Fantasy 2019

When the Colossus stops moving, the silence hits the island like a thunderclap. The creak and screech of its enormous limbs have been a constant companion to each of us since birth, a lovingly cooed lullaby, now so suddenly, so violently, absent.

As far back as anyone can remember, the Colossus has patrolled the waters around our island, hurling boulders the size of houses at menacing pirates and invading fleets, never tiring, never stopping, until the day before yesterday it slowed, making two rounds instead of its usual three, and then, a day later, grinding ponderously to a halt.


We gather on the cliffs and, biting our lips and wringing our hands, watch for any signs of movement from the metal giant.

"Perhaps it's resting," one of us says. "It will wake up soon, well refreshed, and everything will be back to normal."

We murmur in agreement, none of us wanting to curse its waking by speaking our fears aloud.


Three days pass, and the Colossus remains motionless, the nooks of its helm cacophonous now with baying gulls, who have already begun to populate its body, mistaking it for a sea stack.

We send some men in boats to inspect it, and they return with grim faces. The Colossus is not sleeping. The great gears of its heart turn no more.


Panic burns the island like a fever. "Who will protect us now that the Colossus is gone? How will we defend ourselves with only hoes and paring knives?" Soon enough, scaffold is erected around the giant, and piece by piece they tear away its shining flesh.

The metal brought back in the boats is unlike bronze or iron, stronger by far than both, yet so light a child could lift it; the swords forged can cleave a shield in two as if it were butter, the spearheads pierce armour like a weasel's tooth popping an egg. There is talk of reviving the army, after all these centuries. There are whispers of taking the boats and these new arms and raiding the nearby islands. "We should attack them before they attack us" is the logic wielded by the men holding the unblockable swords, the unstoppable spearheads. "We should strike now, before they realise we're vulnerable."

The Colossus, its bones bare to the sea wind, a carcass, picked clean by scavengers, looms over our island still. Its eyes, two giant orbs the colour of the sun, look down at the surface of the ocean, as if unable to meet our gaze, as if it cannot bear to see us like this.


The army gathers on the shore, bands of men bearing sun-coloured swords; they prepare the ships, raise flags emblazoned with a metal giant, grimacing as the Colossus never did. "We will bring back riches," they say. "Each of you shall have a house of gold and a retinue of captives to do your bidding."

When we say we are happy with our houses of stone and are quite capable of living without slaves to wait on us, fattening our bodies with food and our souls with guilt, they say instead: "We do not do this because we want to; we do this because we must, to keep you safe."

As they turn from us to hoist their sails, the wind wails through the shell of the Colossus, howling for the dead the swords made from its flesh will create.


When the last of the ships disappears over the horizon, we who remain on the shore take action of our own. We will not be a part of this betrayal; we will not have it done in our name.

The boats have all gone, but the strongest swimmers among us swim to what remains of those giant legs, as thick once as a cluster of trees, now withered and ravaged by termites. They climb its trunk, their hands finding holds in the wounds made for sword-metal, and lash the strongest of our ropes around the pocked torso.

We pull, and we pull, and down it falls with a crash that sends the waves halfway up the cliffs. Its bones as light as poplar wood, the Colossus floats.


We clamber aboard, making our bunks in its body, taking refuge from the wind behind its ribs or in the hand-shaped bowls of its hips.

Its eyes no longer look at the sea; now they point upwards at the sky, as if to say, I will guide you, my children, by the stars to better lands.