The Custodian :

A man named Marty Foster was walking. He wasn’t quite sure where to; hadn’t been for some time. He had found that it was shockingly easy to lose his way in a world that only spun in one direction. Sooner or later he always wound up lost, staring at his own back; nipping at his own heels.
He had discovered very few truths in his time, and he guarded them all jealously. He didn’t know why. They weren’t exactly the answers to cosmic mysteries; certainly nothing to write a book about. More like guidelines, a kind of virtual redoubt to fall back to when all else failed. One of them was: no matter where you are, you are there. This was comforting, and damning. One might say it was his cross as well as his crutch. Right then, he was in a city, a big one, with a big-sounding name that he either didn’t know or had forgotten. Another truth was: anywhere you are, there’s a thousand places you aren’t.
There was a river through the middle of the city, a head-to-toe bisecting stripe of nature. Its form was strikingly fluid against the hard gray of the city’s steely flesh. Marty Foster walked along next to it, and his reflection rippled on the water’s surface, keeping pace with him. Stepping on his heels. He couldn’t outrun his shadow. Yet another truth.
Reflected in the water also were the twinkling lights of a thousand billboards, crowning his watery self with a neon halo. The billboards loomed everywhere, bombarding their rapt flock with promises of salvation through discounted brain surgery, buy-one-get-one-free mammograms, instant wealth with such-and-such a program, call now, no obligation. They clamored for attention, a flock of gaudy, idiot children. Where are your parents, thought Marty Foster. You are orphans.
He walked on, his tennis-shoed feet marching to the beat of some unheard drum. Now visible were the dirty backsides of the neon messiahs, the grit and grime and steel of their unseen half now seen by Marty Foster. He ignored them. Another truth: if it stinks bad enough, dogs will come to lie in it.
He looked out across the river and saw a man treading water in the middle. Charon had fallen out of his boat. Another truth: gravity only works in your favor when you’re sleeping.
Marty Foster laid no claim to wisdom. Wisdom was for prophets and politicians. If someone were to ask him for advice, he would tell them to take a walk, and walk with their eyes open and their feet on the ground. It worked for him. He wouldn’t say he was a pilgrim either. Yes, he was walking, but he had no final destination, no promised land or heavenly kingdom, no long-dead hunk of space rock.
Marty Foster had no god. He did not believe this made him evil. It was just a fact. No god had made himself known to Marty Foster, so he saw no reason to make himself known to god. He did not believe himself to be anybody’s son but his father’s. The most profound form of self aggrandizement, in his mind, was to say you were a child of a god. God had no children. If he had, they would have killed him and taken his power.
Yes, he was walking, and yes, he’d stepped on his own heels more than once. But no, he was not searching for something. He was no prodigal son, he was no pilgrim, seeking to lick an unknown father’s boots. His only desire was to see. He had seen nothing, so he kept walking.
He had met a woman once, with a tattoo on the back of her hand. It was a golden cog wreathed in ivy. It was beautiful. She was not. They had talked about god. She had said: “You know what I think?”
No, Marty had said, I don’t. She was wearing a loose black tank top, and he had his hand up it.
“I think that if god were to just show up one day, on the street, in your church, anywhere, no one would recognize him. He’d be just another face, you know?”
Yeah, Marty had said. I know.
“The only reason people like god so much is because they don’t know what he looks like. See, religion’s kinda like sex. Not everyone has it, but everyone talks about it, you know? No one’s ever seen god, but everyone talks about him. Some people even talk to him, if you can believe that.”
Nope, Marty had said. I don’t.
“Damn straight you don’t. See, people don’t worship what they can see, they never have. Even the indians who believed in plants and rocks and birds and war, they couldn’t just sit back and enjoy it, you know? They had to go and push credit on something for it, something had to have made everything.”
Yeah, Marty had said. I know.
“See, as long as there’s that image in the mind, that unattainable ideal, there’s gonna be a god, or some other poor bastard like him. See, when people move past that, they can see what it is they’re struggling for. When that happens, god becomes obsolete. People become their own gods.”
Marty asked her what it was people were struggling for.
“Ask god,” she said, and rolled over.
Yeah, Marty had said. Me neither.
And now he was in the big, nameless city. Walking. Still walking. The sidewalk had veered away from the river, taking him deeper into the city. He found himself now in a business district, a neighborhood where twenty-first-century snake-oil salesmen plied their trade.
Marty saw an electronics store with TVs in its display window. Some of them were on and showing the news. On one channel they were showing footage of a woman in a sari being stripped and beaten in a public square. On the screen, a man spat on her. Behind him people cheered. The window was barred. Marty didn’t know whether it was to keep people out or the news in. Above the TVs was a sign declaring loudly, “40% OFF!!!” It was hand-written on a hot pink piece of construction paper and held up with a length of scotch-tape.
It was an amazing invention, television. It was life condensed to a palatable hash, all the good parts all the time. It was the highlight reel of the world. If you didn’t like what you were seeing, you could just turn it off and ignore it. It offered the experience of power without all the tricky decision-making that came with it. It was the closest man had come to godhood, allowing him to watch the world from afar while laying down judgment from on high.
Marty Foster had met a guy once who said he was the king of the world. His subjects were elves that lived in a glass box in his living room. He controlled the elves’ world. You’re nothing, he would shriek at them. You’re puny, you’re ants. And then he would switch off the sun. Then would come the muttered apologies, the soft sobbing of unbearable guilt, and then the sun would come back, and the elves would dance.
Marty Foster slowed his pace slightly as he became aware of footsteps behind him. He cast a glance back, and saw three men in medium cold-weather gear, hoods pulled over their faces. He took a left through an alleyway, trying not to betray his sudden urgency. He could see the city lights at the end of it, the children calling out to him. The footsteps behind him quickened, and then one of them was in front of him, blocking his way.
Marty Foster stopped walking. “Excuse me, sir,” Thing One said. Things Two and Three came up behind him. He was trapped. Thing One’s breath came out from under the drawn hood in a gray cloud, and Marty thought of a ghost wearing clothes. “Might I have your attention for a moment?”
“I don’t have any money,” Marty Foster said. He saw a flash of teeth under the hood as Thing One smiled.
“Now, you expect me to believe that?” Thing One asked. “How am I supposed to trust you, a total stranger, on money matters? Do I look like I was born yesterday?” He moved closer. “Now take out your wallet. Slowly. There’s no need to rush; we have all the time in the world.” Another truth: Time is immortal, and he makes slaves of us all.
“I don’t have a wallet,” Marty Foster said.
“Well,” said Thing One, “They never do, do they. What a shame. To think, we could’ve been friends.” He raised his fist. Marty Foster closed his eyes.
When he opened them, he was on his butt on the ground, cold soaked through his jeans and into his bones. His back was up against the decaying, once-red brick of the alley. His feet were cold. He looked down, and saw that they had taken his shoes. He hadn’t been lying when he said he had no money. Now at least they believed him.
He looked at his hands, saw they were covered in blood. His blood. He touched his face, and it felt like a bag of hot, wet sand. His nose leaked a drizzle of mucus and coagulating blood. He found that he didn’t particularly care. Another truth: the only wound that doesn’t heal is the one that kills you.
They could take his shoes. They could take his blood. They could take whatever they wanted. Those things were secondary. He didn’t carry the things that mattered in his pocket. They floated, nebulous, a string of firing neurons in the galaxy of his mind. His truths were the only things that were really important, and no one could have them. That was how he had survived. He simply didn’t have anything that people wanted. If he did, it would’ve been taken from him long ago.
He pulled his legs in toward his body, willing his blood into them. He stood up slowly, realizing that he was almost completely numb. He turned toward where the light had been coming from, and came face to face with a man in a long black overcoat, and a stovepipe hat. His breath steamed out and up, curling around the top of the hat, giving the impression that it was actually smoking. He had his hands deep in his pockets, and he was not looking at Marty Foster.
The man in the stovepipe hat had his attention directed skyward, like he was trying to look into heaven. He had a small smile playing about his lips. He was tall, very tall, maybe six-six. And he was old, much older than Marty, probably seventy. He had a short, thick, old-testament beard colored the same gray as the city. He looked like a tall, white Buddha, with that expression on his face. He looked serene. His eyes were half closed. Beneath the lids Marty saw dark, dark irises, so brown they were almost black. They were old eyes, eyes that had seen many things. In them, Marty saw the rise and fall of men and empires.
“I don’t have any money,” Marty Foster said, and wiped at the blood and snot leaking out of his broken face.
The man in the stovepipe hat did not look at him. He inhaled deeply, through his nose, and said, “Do you hear it?” His voice was rich, full, the voice of a king- or a god. As he spoke, his expression stayed the same. “It’s beautiful.”
Marty Foster cocked an ear, listening- heard only his wheezy breathing. “No,” he said, “I don’t hear anything. You wouldn’t happen to have a tissue, would you?”
With out lowering his gaze, the man in the stovepipe hat removed a hand from one of the deep pockets, and offered it to Marty. In the hand was a kerchief, clean and white, with a golden cog wreathed in ivy emblazoned in one corner. It was beautiful. He felt almost guilty wiping his filth on it, but the other man had not seemed to notice the mess that was his face.
He mopped his swollen face, and looked up to find that the man in the stovepipe hat was staring at him. No, not at him, into him, through him, as though he could see the very thoughts in Marty’s bruised head. He had a moment of paranoid fear that the man was going to take his truths.
“It’s beautiful,” he repeated. “It’s a shame you can’t hear it.”
Marty’s face was beginning to hurt. His teeth felt loose. Another truth: pain stops, the world doesn’t. “Hear what?” he asked. He dabbed gingerly at his nose again, and went to crumple the now-soiled tissue and throw it away. But the man in the stovepipe hat held his hand out for it. Marty Foster placed the feculent rag in the open palm. The other man stuffed it back into his pocket. As it went in it left a trail of human sludge down the front of the jacket.
“The music,” said the man in the stovepipe hat. “It’s the sound of harmony. What I hear, and what you don’t, is the tranquility of a machine in perfect synchronicity with itself. I hear the sound of a great drum, beating across the universe. What do you hear, Marty Foster?”
Marty was not entirely surprised to hear his name from this patriarchal stranger. He wondered what else the man knew. “I don’t hear anything. Should I?”
The man in the stovepipe hat shrugged. “It is the lullaby that sang you to sleep in the womb. You have all heard it once. Whether you listened is up to you. Sometimes, you do hear it, ever so faintly. You know what it looks like when this happens. Those moments in crowded rooms where all the occupants grow quiet at the same time. They’re all hearing the music, and it gives them pause.”
Marty Foster, the unflappable, was flapped. “I don’t understand,” he said. “Why can’t I hear it?”
The man in the stovepipe hat said, “You stopped listening. That is the problem. Listening is the hardest thing for you to do. You cling to your truths like a raft adrift on the open ocean, so afraid to look down, into the depths.” Marty Foster was shocked. This stranger had seen.
“Mr. Foster,” said the man in the stovepipe hat, “How would you like to go for a walk?” That subtle smile was showing through more, white teeth crowned with pink gums. Marty wondered what he was king of. Another truth: there are two sharp teeth in the friendliest smiles.
Marty looked down. His shoeless feet lay inert at the ends of his legs, dangling like fleshy pendulums. His wool socks were holey and wet. His toes showed through one. They were turning purple. He looked up. “Sure,” he said. “Where to?”
The other man’s smile grew. Lots of teeth. “Why, to the control room, of course,” he said. He raised his arms up, as if delivering a sermon. “To see. And hear. That is what you want, is it not, Marty Foster?” He turned and began to walk out of the alley, toward the idiots.
Marty regarded the man in the stovepipe hat. “First,” he said, “Tell me your name. You know mine, it’s only fair.”
The man in the stovepipe hat paused, and turned. “My name?” he said. He looked confused, as if he didn’t understand the request. Then his face resolved and he said, “You may call me Consilius, if you must.”
Marty Foster nodded, and Consilius turned once again towards the mouth of the alley. Marty Foster and his dumb feet followed him into the light.
They made a strange pair as they walked along the street. To a passerby, they may have resembled a monarch and his jester: Marty Foster in his bloody, shoeless getup trailing beside and slightly behind a man whose name may or may not have been Consilius.
“So,” Marty Foster said, “Who are you? Are you supposed to be god or something?” The man called Consilius laughed loudly. It sounded rough, painful almost.
“No,” he said, “No, Mr. Foster, I am not god. God gave up a long time ago.”
“I don’t believe in god,” said Marty Foster.
“God doesn’t believe in you, either,” said Consilius.
Marty Foster stayed silent for a time. The city spoke for him. It had many voices, each shriller than the last. They all said the same thing. Marty’s feet hurt. “I need shoes,” he said.
“Not where we’re going, Mr. Foster,” Consilius said. “And besides, we’ve not got much further to go. I wouldn’t think you’d mind walking; after all, you’ve been walking for a long time, haven’t you, Mr. Foster?”
Marty conceded the truth in this. “Fine,” he said. “You still haven’t answered my question, though. Who are you?”
Consilius slowed slightly. He was considering. Then he sped back up, and said, “Patience, Mr. Foster. Please.”
This straw broke Marty’s aching back. “You know what?” he said, stopping. “No. I’m done with this. I mean, what am I doing here? I have no shoes, no money, I’m tailing a blissed-out psychopath who thinks he’s god’s nephew. This whole situation is fully and completely fucked.”
Consilius stopped abruptly and spun around to face Marty. “Fine,” he said, “Goodbye, Mr. Foster. Just remember, it was you who agreed to follow me. I did not force you into anything. It was your, what do you call it, free will that led you to where you are standing right now. If you must know who I am, then know you shall. But not here, in the street, like animals.”
He turned to go, and Marty Foster watched him depart. He had several seconds of doubt about many things. Where was this erudite stranger leading him, and what would happen if he followed? He wondered for one of those seconds whether he was dead and this gray city was some kind of new-age purgatory, maybe this Consilius was some gentlemanly reaper, come for a soul he did not believe he had. Marty wanted his secrets. Marty suddenly stopped doubting and jogged after the man in the stovepipe hat.
From a distance, the city had the appearance of a great gray brow, crowned with skyscraper spikes jutting out above a circlet of fog and industrial soot. Somewhere above that crown was the sun, the red, unblinking eye of the universe whose light burned as well as succored.
Long ago, in a land made of heat and dust, a man had given the sun a name, and in doing so, given it power. When the sun went away, people killed themselves to bring it back. The sun did not object. It always came back.
Somewhere below that crown, two men were walking. One of them had a broken nose and no shoes. The other had secrets. His shoes were black leather. They shined like mirrors.
The man called Consilius and Marty Foster were walking now, side by side. The sidewalk had ended, and they now walked on gravel. Marty’s feet hurt. “Where are we going?” he asked.
“The same place we’ve been going. Why so curious, Marty Foster? Don’t you trust me?”
Marty looked at him and said, “No. Not at all.”
Consilius smiled. “Wisdom is truth. Truth is perfection. Perfection is beauty. Therefore, wisdom is beautiful.”
Marty said nothing. No, he did not trust this man whom he was following seemingly to the ends of the earth. Another truth: a turd painted gold was still a turd.
They were now among a fleet of warehouses moored in a sea of gravel. Marty’s feet had stopped hurting. Consilius had slowed and appeared to be searching for something. Marty slowed too and watched the other search. After a time he stopped and stood in front of a door. Above it was stenciled a cog wreathed in ivy.
Consilius turned slowly to Marty Foster. “Well,” he said, “Here we are. Home, sweet home.” That smile again, toothy and white.
“You live in a warehouse?” Marty asked.
“In a manner of speaking, yes, yes I do,” said Consilius. “All of creation is a warehouse; the storage bin of the cosmos. You live in it too, Mr. Foster.” He turned back toward the door and reached for the handle.
“Wait,” said Marty. “What’s inside?”
Consilius paused, and said, without turning, “Perfection, Mr. Foster. Perpetuity.”
And with that, they went inside.
For a moment, as Marty crossed the threshold, he felt a yawning abyss open up below him. Then he was inside the door, and the gray light of the city’s dawn glinted dully somewhere far behind him. They were now in a small room. Against one wall was a bench, simple and wooden. Across from them was another door. Above the door was a sign that read MAINTENANCE in bold black lettering.
“This is the antechamber,” Consilius said. “Are you ready for what lies on the other side, Mr. Foster?”
“I don’t know,” Marty answered. He was being truthful. He was very quickly coming to the realization that he didn’t know much of anything at all.
“Steel yourself,” Consilius said.
And he opened the door.
Inside the door was the most profound darkness Marty Foster had ever experienced. He could feel it weighing him down, a blanket woven from dark matter sheep’s wool; it was suffocating him. He flailed his arms wildly, panicking, scrambling for something to touch, something to tell him he was still planted on the ground. He was suddenly horrified that he was drifting away, a man-shaped balloon that some careless child had let go of to make room for something shinier, prettier.
Behind him he heard a click, and the darkness burned away and Marty fell back to earth.
They stood inside a gigantic clock. City-sized cogs turned, turned, turned, grinding into eternity. They stretched to the ends of time and space on all sides, an endless, gilded wasteland. The clockwork desert gleamed with an incredible light that shone from somewhere far, far above them. The sound Marty heard was an indescribably beautiful hum, a thousand low voices buzzing, buzzing. In that multilayered drone Marty heard the intermingled songs of life and death, destruction and creation, damnation and salvation. They shook Marty’s bones, dissolving him and dropping him to his knees. The siren song of the god-machine resonated to the very core of his being. His heart stopped and started again, beating now to the rhythmic pounding of a great unheard drum. A man named Marty Foster was shattered, broken, reforged, rebuilt, human scrap metal.
He wept silently, tears running in unnoticed tracks down his face. Beside him Consilius was saying: “You wanted to know who I am. Still do, I think. Listen, then: this is the exquisite machinery of existence, the engine of creation. Vita ex machina; life from the machine. Do you have any concept of what this means, Marty Foster?”
Marty shook his head slowly. His feet had stopped hurting again. He was numb.
“This is perfection on a cosmic scale. Every facet of this machine was built with one specific purpose: to spin for eternity, in perfect cohesion with every other piece. If one piece falls out of sync, everything ends. And that is why I am here. That is who I am. I am what god left behind; a custodian, groundskeeper for the most valuable property in existence.
“Now tell me, Marty Foster, do you hear it? The music?” Consilius looked down at the broken man next to him. Marty nodded.
“Yes,” he hissed, “Yes, I do, I hear it. It’s beautiful.”
Consilius closed his eyes, and said quietly, “Isn’t it just…” The two men stood in silence, letting the music wash over them. It was like standing in the shallows at the beach, when the sun was high in the sky and the water was warm all the way down to your toes and the waves swelled up and over you. Marty hadn’t been to the beach for a very long time. He hadn’t liked it when he had. It was too big, too deep, and he couldn’t see. Who knew what was down there, hidden in all that blue. Not him. Not anyone, at least no one he knew.
What Marty Foster was feeling now was what hypothermia was supposed to feel like, after you had lost feeling and your brain knew it was dying so it made you feel warm and good, not like freezing at all. Marty Foster was content, at least for the time being.
“Would you like to stand up now, Mr. Foster?” Consilius asked, and Marty nodded. Consilius held out his hand, and Marty grasped it, and Consilius pulled him to his feet. His ascension.
He stood, wavering slightly, awash in the golden light that came from everywhere at once. There was a gentle breeze blowing, some stale, artificial wind that cooled his puffy face. Consilius was watching him.
“I have questions,” Marty said. He realized now that they stood on a balcony overlooking the mechanisms that moved, moved, moved, in total ignorance of the awe they inspired. On one side was a rusted maintenance ladder, the kind you see on the sides of apartment complexes. The top was covered in an iron-barred enclosure that looked like a birdcage.
He looked over the edge, and immediately regretted it; there was a thin, spectral mist floating very far down at the bottom. If there was a bottom. The mist concealed the machines’ roots from view, lending to them a strangely celestial quality so that they appeared to be floating in space, gleaming, cylindrical planets.
“I have no doubt of that,” Consilius said, turning his gaze to the landscape before them. “I’m not sure how many of them I can answer. But I shall try.”
“I guess that’s good enough.” Marty looked down at his hands. They were raw looking, cuts of cheap pork that some lazy inventor had mashed on with paperclips and hot glue. “First,” he said, “Why me?”
Consilius turned those eyes on him again as he considered. “That’s a fair question,” he said. “At least, in your mind it is. It’s amusing to me; you spend your whole lives trumpeting your own uniqueness, obsessing over what makes you special, and then you end up here, and you ask, “Why me?” as if I can tell you. How the hell should I know? Do you think there’s a plan? Some great ledger in the sky with all the events that have shaped your world over the millennia just written out, like a lunch menu? I just work here. When it all comes down to roles, I’m still just a janitor. I clean up other peoples’ messes. You wish to know why things are the way they are? Read a bible. Read a coyote story. Ask the ancient Egyptians about how Osiris masturbated the world into existence. Things happen because other things happen first. Cause and effect, Mr. Foster, cause and effect.”
Marty was silenced again; he was becoming used to this by now. After a few moments he asked, “Well, if there’s no plan, then why is this here? This… machine?”
Consilius said, “This machine is here because it needs to be. If it weren’t, you could be damn sure you wouldn’t be either. I told you, this is the engine. Life is its fuel.”
“And what about you?” asked Marty Foster. “Would you be here?”
Consilius blinked slowly. “I do not know. Maybe, and maybe not.”
Marty grimaced. “I’m getting sick of maybes,” he said.
“Well, that’s too bad, because they’re all I can offer you,” Consilius said. “I’m getting old, Mr. Foster. I have a long memory, but some of it is beyond my grasp. I don’t remember how it all started. I don’t remember why. All I can give you is this, and it is only speculation: you exist because the machine exists. Cause and effect. At the beginning, there was this machine, this clock, and when the cogs began to turn, something was needed to grease the wheels. Life came about so it could die and fuel the fires of existence.”
Marty listened to Consilius’ words, and imagined a great coal scuttle filled with the wasted corpses of billions of years’ worth of organisms; the great intermingled with the small, men holding hands with rats.
“That’s bleak,” Marty said tiredly.
“No, it isn’t,” said Consilius. “It’s beautiful. The perfect system. Everyone ends up a martyr, no matter how they die, because they’ve served their purpose to the machine, and in so doing, made way for the next generation.”
“So you’re saying that the only reason life exists is so it can die,” said Marty Foster.
“Am I saying that?” said Consilius. “I am. But I am not saying it’s true, am I?”
“Not outright,” Marty said. “But you’re suggesting it pretty strongly.”
“Would it be so bad if it were true, Mr. Foster?” Consilius asked innocently. “If it were, everyone would have a purpose. Death would not be in vain. Just… what if, Mr. Foster? What if?”
“Yeah,” Marty said. “What if.” He looked back out across the living mechaniscape unfolding before him. “I want to know why you brought me here, and not some other poor jackass.”
Consilius laughed again, that same choking hack that seemed so out of place coming out of a man like him. Maybe it was asbestos. He said, “I brought you here because I saw you first. I saw those men beating you, and I didn’t stop them because it was a cause. I didn’t know whether the effect would be your death or not. So I waited. And listened. And now you’re here. That was the effect. It just so happened that you were also a pilgrim. Oh, I know, you tell yourself you’re not searching for anything, but here you seem to have found something anyways. Poor you. As to whether this is punishment, well, that’s up to you. Do you feel punished, or rewarded?”
Marty thought for a moment. “I don’t know what I feel,” he said.
Consilius winked at him. “I think you’re beginning to understand, my friend.”
“I suppose I should feel enlightened or something, right? I don’t feel enlightened,” Marty said.
“I am not a purveyor of enlightenment, Mr. Foster. I leave that to monks.”
“Then what was the purpose of bringing me here?” Marty asked.
Consilius shrugged. “Boredom, I guess. Restlessness. It’s a shame you only have room for seven wonders in your world. There is so much more than that.”
Marty was angry now. “You’re telling me that you gave me the secrets of existence because you were bored? Because you wanted to shake things up a little?”
“I told you it was all speculation on my part. For all intents and purposes I’m little more than a mechanic lifting the hood on an automobile. I haven’t really told you anything, let alone the secrets of the universe. No one knows them, that’s why they’re secrets.”
Marty felt betrayed; this took him by surprise. “You don’t know anything then.”
Consilius gave him a look. “Are you disappointed, Mr. Foster?”
“Yeah,” Marty said. “I guess you could say that.”
“Well, don’t blame me,” Consilius said. “I never promised you anything. Remember, you came here of your own accord.”
“If you’ll follow me, Mr. Foster,” Consilius said, and turned toward the door. Marty followed him. Consilius led him back out of the warehouse, through the little white mud room. Then they were outside.
“So, what now?” Marty Foster asked. “Do I just… Move on?”
“Yes,” said Consilius.
“How?” asked Marty.
“That is up to you,” Consilius said. And closed the door in Marty’s face.
Marty pounded his fists uselessly against the door. You can’t do this to me, he said. You can’t, you bastard. You can’t. What is left for me to do, he screamed. His hands hurt. How can I live with this. He slumped against the door. He was defeated. Then the door fell open behind him and he was back in the warehouse. It was empty. He smelled dust and desiccated rat feces, could see piles of dirt scattered across the floor, a bed made of cardboard shoehorned into a gap between one wall and a lone shelf. Empty. Barren.
Another truth: sleeping dogs only lie when you let them.


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