The air was heavy with the smell of sweat, smoke and tuna sandwiches. The space was lit by an orange-yellow glow streaming in from high windows. The light spilled down haphazardly upon stacks of boxes that stood floor to ceiling between me and the noises coming from the other side of the room.
“Where are you?” I half yelled into the ceiling, hoping my words would find the right ricochet to his ears.
“I’m over here .. past the pile of old maps,” came the tired reply.
I stood for a moment, staring at the maze of boxed pillars. I leaned left then right, trying to see if there might be some clue as to the entrance to his maze but there was none, so I took the most direct route ahead. There were more twists and turns than I had possibly imagined, the boxes were almost new but they were packed full, some overflowing with notes and most with the label “OS” scratched in black felt pen on the side.
I ran my hand along the pillars as I walked for what seemed miles until I found the heap of old maps, only they weren’t that old. I thumbed through them quickly, noticing the dates on each were just days apart but the land mass changed drastically map to map. They would have played like a flip book cartoon showing the evolution of the world if I could have held them to do so, but something seemed wrong.
Just then, I heard his voice much closer than before, “Don’t bother with those, they will be destroyed with the rest of these once I get to them.” I looked up and saw him, a small figure hunched over an incinerator. His shirt sleeves were rolled carelessly around his sinewy arms that lifted and emptied each box expertly in almost a machine like fashion. Each time he emptied a box, a small puff of smoke escaped from the top of the black iron box and he waited for it to dissipate before lifting the next.
He didn’t stop when I approached.
“What are you doing?” I asked, but he didn’t stop to answer. He paused only long enough to wipe the sweat from his wrinkled brow then bent again quickly to empty the next box.
I turned around and looked again at the pillars of white boxes. They seemed to be marching toward us …”Into the valley of death rode the six hundred …”.
A puff of smoke found its way into my lungs, and I coughed almost uncontrollably, caught off guard by the thick black soot. “Oh, I’m sorry about that,” he said, “some of them flash burn and belch out a nasty ash – I’m almost afraid I’m going to blow this place up one night with one of those.”
“One of those what?” I sputtered.
“It’s usually the artist colonies that create the most ash, but lucky for me most of the others were merely homesteads – which is where the name came from by the way. Anyway, those homesteads barely make this old iron box breathe hard,” he replied without breaking the pace of his movement.
I had been drawn to a box overflowing with notes as he spoke, and I stopped and looked up to read one that tempted me.
“We regret to inform you that we have been forced to abandon our island due to pricing changes. At this time, we do not have recommendations for moving, as many of our friends and neighbors are facing the same circumstances. We thank you for making our lives rich, and we wish you the best of luck.
Respectfully yours …“
I yanked the note out of the box and held it out toward him, “This is what you are burning, notes from homesteaders?”
“Notes, assets, terrain files, basically everything and anything associated with that establishment,” he grunted under the strain of what must have been another artist colony since the iron box groaned, then roared, then belched.
“But, why?” I asked, wiping my eyes with my sleeve.
He finally stood up, as much as he could in his state of constant hunch, and faced me. He didn’t look at all like the man I’d met three years before. His hair was thin and dark, a far cry from the boyish blond locks that once framed his face, and his eyes had turned from aquatic pools into cold steel traps, and they narrowed just before he spoke.
“Look, having this stuff around just makes people uneasy and there’s no sense in keeping it all – can’t you see it’s just cluttering up the place? My job is to keep the books neat and tidy and these, these monstrosities are making that nearly impossible for me. Historical records are for historians, not a forward looking business group.”
“Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to finish this out soon so I can clean up the stability and quality data warehouses. I trust you can find your way out.”
Inspired by OpenSpaces everywhere ~ Aera by Alia Baroque pictured