The Prim Derive
Editor's Note: This piece was previously published in Danse Macabre online.
The man in the pea coat never works past the hour of twelve. His days and nights were inseparable, indistinguishable. Along the cream tinged walls were a series of clocks––all analog and non-ticking. They had no hands. The faces were marked by the numerals I-XII. Their round, wooden cases revealed sprawled out decorative patterns of vine and liana, which were carved into them by force, with little wood shavings jutted out of the gorged crevices.
The man in the pea coat rose from his desk, gathered the models from his small desk, and exited the room. Standing in the hallway, he opened a door and began to descend a darkened staircase.
“Why is there no light?” he asked.
“So-ory,” came a broken voice in the dark. “we we-re wor-king on ge-ing it wor-king.”
“What is it with the lights in this place?”
“That’s enti-ly your call, sir.”
“I’m aware of that,” said the man in the pea coat. “but why DOES it have to be this way? Why can’t things just work the way we want them to?”
“Sir, if I ma-ay, do you remember when we were discussing fatalism and fr-ee will?”
“And do you remember the iss-ues with the two?”
“With reg-ard to our sit-ation?”
“Yes, I do.” answered the man in the pea coat.
“Something about the wiring. We don’t have the wiring for it.”
The man in the pea coat stood on the fourth step down into the slate, clenching the rail with his right hand. He could feel his knuckles turning white as they created valleys at each in-between.
“And what else?” the voice replied.
The man in the pea coat paused for a moment.
“Do I have to say it?” asked the man in the pea coat.
“It wo-dn’t hurt.” answered the voice.
“Couldn’t you install a switch?”
“I co-ld. The absence of a switch makes it quite dark again, and for quite a while,” the voice answered.
“Very well,” the man in the pea coat replied. “Let the light flood the room and constrict your pupils.”
A zipping sound filled the void of the basement and then there was laid cement, wired electrical outlets, beaming florescent bulbs, and a series of model towns laid out on long tables that stretched back a distance one could not gauge with eyes alone. The lights came on in a series, revealing the vast stretches of the basement, with each set of lights coming on revealing another table with another model city. Each was clearly marked with a tiny flag and a crest.
“All of this in that amount of time?” the man in the pea coat asked.
“In what time?” answered the voice.
“It just seems like a lot of work since I was last here.” Said the man in the pea coat.
“In what time?”
He pulled the sides of his coat inward to his chest and buttoned it while walking alongside the table where the first model sat. Its red and yellow and blue and green buildings were lined on the shore of a lake in blue. Hundreds of these little homes dotted the landscape. As the light passed through his eyes, revealing the plateaus and tundras and plains and ranges of mountains, he cast a shadow upon it all. No matter where he stood, his head and shoulders were visible in the face of the lake and all which surrounded it. His chin and ears and hair waved in the water as the lake churned, the closeness of his breath made the water gyrate. His eyes did not meet his own in the reflection.
“And what is the name of this one?” said the man in the pea coat.
“I do-n’t think it’s necess-ary to name it, sir.” The voice answered.
The man in the pea coat chuckled.
“That always seems to be taken care of first. Let us tend to the children, the gathering of lumber, the harvesting of exotic fruit. Nay, never mind, they say; it needs a name!”
“Yessir,” replied the voice with a laugh.
The man in the pea coat’s lip curled and bent upwards. He held his hands behind his back and once again walked around the entire model, careful to avoid re-forming his shadow.
“They spend much time in darkness, sir,” said the voice.
“Yes.” Said the man in the pea coat.
For a few moments, the man in the pea coat stood in silence. The lights were still continuing to flood the basement.
“He’s here, isn’t it?” Asked the man in the pea coat.
“Yes,” replied the voice.
“I hate the harness,” said the man in the pea coat.
“At the very least it co-uld bring you clo-ser to solving the issue,” said the voice.
“The harness and chains. He trusts a man only in a harness and chains.”
“Pro-ximity.” Said the voice.
“Sharing a room in the dark with someone isn’t really sharing. It really isn’t a room without light. You can’t be sure of anything in a room with no light.”
“You will be clo-ser to solving the iss-ue.” Said the voice.
“And the manhole cover? That was not listed as a feature of the house when I bought it.”
“Pro-ximity.” Said the voice.
A house is a vessel of secrets. Some secrets you will show to your friends, your brother maybe. Like how a floorboard can be lifted to reveal a small storage space perfect for coins or that brick which houses a crevice deep enough for a golf club. Others are kept hidden. And when you hand over the keys to the man who has assumed custodial duties, you pass them along: not the secrets themselves, but the hunch, that exploratory notion to find things not listed in the documentation. In the form of a nod and a grin. You have to resist the urge to tell all. You become part of the vessel.
“At the very least it cou-ld.”
“And again, the chains aren’t really necessary, I think,” interrupted the man in the pea coat.
“Rea-dy when you are.”
“Chains really aren’t ever used out of necessity. There’s almost always a less boisterous substitute.”
“Does th-at imply that cha-ins ne-ed to be substituted?”
“It means their purpose is best served elsewhere. Or that the usage of chains is done more out of convenience.”
“He only trusts a man in a harness and chains.”
The man in the pea coat stepped into the harness and pulled it up over his shoulders and buckled it. Its faded grey straps hugged the man in the pea coat’s body. He stood still near the manhole.
The man in the pea coat’s body dropped, the chains clinking in the air around him rhythmically, suspending him in free fall. It was not long until they snapped into a vertical position with the man in the pea coat below, clenching his body harness, sucking at the air around him—thin air—devoid of any of the tangible dampness of the basement. The light from above spilled into the chamber below and scattered into the dark. The man in the pea coat cocked his head to and fro, squinting and rubbing his eyes. He could feel the temperature decline in increments, slow and short at first but gaining in intensity, as if the floor had dropped in the chamber, unknown to him, to a depth best measured in fathoms.
In the stillness of the dark there was a click, and an echo. The reverberation filled the chamber—swelling far—until it died out along its walls. There was a series of scratches and scribbles filling the chamber. The man in the pea coat looked down and saw a cloaked figure sitting at a desk. A small light, the source of the noise, illuminated a desk cluttered with dozens of papers. The figure sat with a pen in its hand. The figure scribbled rapidly on the paper, but the man in the pea coat could not make out the words, or if they were even words. He was suspended some twenty feet above the figure and the desk, the harness beginning to dig into his lower torso.
“You couldn’t get chains that would allow me to be lower to the ground?” Asked the man in the pea coat.
The figure continued to write.
“It would be easier to assume the decision to do so was warranted,” said the cloaked figure a few moments later.
“Warranted by what?”
“It was warranted by the principal source of my motivation.”
“Time?” Asked the man in the pea coat.
“I’m not motivated by time,” said the figure.
“Yet you seem to be wasting the whole lot of it here. Heeding even.”
The figure said nothing.
“Is it fear?” The man in the pea coat persisted.
“The fear of what?” Said the figure.
“The fear of growth,” said the man in the pea coat. “And you think it will become a legend.”
“No,” said the figure. “Legends don’t reference other legends. Otherwise they aren’t legends.”
“What you just said is a lie,” said the man in the pea coat.
“What you just heard is a lie,” said the figure.
“When did I hear a lie?”
“I don’t understand?”
“At what point in time, recently, did I hear a lie?
“You know we must speak like this. Why do you keep bringing it up?”
“I know why. But, to which were you referring? The subject of language or the subject of time?”
“You cannot measure a moment. The moment you try to measure a moment, the moment is gone.”
“You use moment in that context to refer to two different moments, yes?”
“You think it’s unwise to use the term given to us to demonstrate something as such?”
“As such what?”
“What I mean, is, we use that capital-t Term, a borrowed term,”
“Adopted. You mean adopted.”
“…an adopted term, which is relative to an era and to a people. People who speak the given tongue in which the Term is derivative.”
“Even if such a thing presents an impossibility.”
“Do you think if seasons were a noticeable phenomenon they would not create such a system on their own?”
“They still would. The sun rises and sets. Carrions feast in the north only at certain points in the year. They die. All of them, and not all at once. Lower my chains.”
“No, the system needs to be created by us first. These concepts don’t just float around for us to catch.”
“We cannot do this. We cannot do this.”
“Why? Wh-at is happen-ng?”
The man in the pea coat lifted a finger to his lip. His eyes now bulging forward, their sockets radiant and fully defined, he stared straight ahead of him and said: there is no