Recently the famous writer Clive Barker held a Halloween writing challenge. The challenge was to interpret one of his paintings as a short story. Here’s my interpretation. Thanks Clive, it was lots of fun.
Men of the city.
“Our species once numbered in the thousands, now there is only a handful of us left.” Darwin Steinbeck said to the room filled with residents.
“Something has to change, we can’t continue the way we have or our species is destined for extinction.” Darwin had said these same words to these same people on so many occasions that it made his face feel numb to repeat them once more.
Mayor Percival Lynch wasn’t happy. He screeched “But I have a successful business. What you are proposing would destroy my business and the businesses of most of the people in this room.”
Darwin desperately tried to speak over the crowd who cheered and clapped the Mayors comment.
“If something does not change there will be no businesses to thrive…” It was no use; Darwin knew that he had lost the crowd. With his shoulders slumped he yielded the microphone to another and crept from the stage.
Darwin returned to his small apartment on the third floor. “What’s wrong with these people?” He spat his words into the empty room. “They are going to destroy us all with their greed and their stupidity.”
After grabbing himself a drink from the mini-bar Darwin sat at a small desk by the window. He looked out across the dry, dusty landscape and sighed. He could see one Skyscraper where once there would have been hundreds. Darwin remembered his childhood and how green and full of life the valley had been. He watched as the Skyscraper took a few listless steps and then sat down, an exhausted look upon his face.
The Skyscrapers were great creatures that towered into the air. They carried sometimes many thousands of residents above their eyes. With long awkward arms and legs the Skyscrapers moved slowly under the weight of their enormous foreheads. But they only moved when the residents within voted. They only walked when the residents told them where to walk.
Food in the valley was almost depleted. A whole city once flourished in this valley where the skyscrapers had lived for centuries. If the Skyscrapers did not eat, then there was no food for the people who lived inside of the Skyscrapers.
“We need to leave the valley and find food elsewhere.” Darwin mumbled into his freshly filled glass.
The sad giant picked in the dirt for a morsel to eat. This Skyscraper was fairly small, perhaps only twenty stories. The larger Skyscrapers had been the first to die, their appetites were large and they had thousands of residents to feed.
A red light flashed on the wall of Darwin’s apartment. The residents meeting was over and it was time for Darwin to vote. He hadn’t voted in days, after all, there was never anything worthwhile to vote on.
A series of multiple-choice questions came onto a screen that was mounted into the wall.
Should the Skyscraper feed in the southern part of the valley? Yes or no?
Should the skyscraper forage or should it hunt? Hunt or forage?
Why did they bother? The answer was always forage. The larger game had disappeared years ago.
It made Darwin angry, he looked to see if the questions he had put forward at the residents meeting were there; but of course they were not.
A Skyscraper could only do what the residents voted on and even though most of the Skyscrapers had perished, the residents still wouldn’t jeopardise their position within the building for anything, even survival.
Within this symbiotic relationship the Skyscrapers were trapped in a cruel trick of evolution. They could only respond to the majority collective vote. They were forced to follow the status quo.
He couldn’t blame the residents for not listening to his ideas; after all he was only a third floor resident. Unlike the Mayor, who subsisted in the entire top floor penthouse. Any wonder he didn’t want change. His food rations were proportional to the size of his apartment.
Darwin’s parents had once lived in the penthouse, but they saw the starvation coming and the more they voiced their opinions the further down the skyscraper they seemed to fall. After his parents passed away, Darwin continued his parent’s fight, his subversive views causing him to plummet down the Skyscraper to the very lowest floors.
A sharp cracking noise forced Darwin to turn his attention out of the window. The Skyscraper he had been watching earlier pitching forward into the dry earth. As its face hit the ground shards of stone and rubble shattered into the air. The noise was like an explosion and enough to rattle the windows of Darwin’s apartment. A bloom of dust and smoke soon completely engulfed the Skyscraper as its body continued to crumple into the ground.
A wave of dust billowed into the air and a red cloud replaced the blue sky. Darwin walked over to the window with his mouth ajar. All of those people. He thought. Probably as many as eight hundred residents and they would all be dead. The residents needed the Skyscrapers as much as the Skyscrapers needed the residents. When the dust finally cleared there was only a pile of debris.
A tear ran down Darwin’s cheek. He knew that it was just a matter of time before the Skyscraper he lived in died too. What was wrong with the residents? How could they be so blind?
Darwin refilled his drink and stared at the rubble of the recently fallen Skyscraper. His head filled with images of his parents desperate pleas to the other residents. His eloquent Mother being shouted down by the ignorant mob. His proud father trying to quiet the crowd. That was the day they had been evicted from the penthouse. He remembered his mother carefully unpacking her beautiful dinner plates and exhibiting them on the cabinet he still had in his small living room. It was one of the only possessions he still had of his parents and several times he had come close to selling it just to feed himself. But instead he went hungry. He looked at the plates and thought how lucky he was to not sell them. The food would long ago have been eaten and he would now have nothing.
Darwin had emptied the best part of a whole bottle when there was a loud knock at the door. The only time he had knocks at the door seemed to be when he was being relocated to another floor. After his insistence that they leave the valley he presumed that he was about to be moved down to the second floor. He didn’t mind so much, he had become quite accustomed to the smaller rooms of the lower levels. Each floor having slightly smaller apartments than those on the floor above.
Again, there was a loud wrap on the door.
“OK, OK.” He said as he stood to answer the door. He staggered a little as he made his way to the door and steadied himself for a second to clear his head.
As Darwin opened the door the Mayor nearly fell into his apartment trying to knock on a door that was no longer there.
“Mayor Lynch! I do apologize. Come in, come in.” Darwin stammered to the Mayor, who was already in.
While Darwin fussed about trying to pull up a chair for the Mayor, the Mayor took in his apartment in one quick glance and grimaced.
“Darwin my boy. I don’t get down to the lower floors very often… It’s quaint, yes very quaint.” The Mayor said as though he had eaten something that tasted dreadful. “Darwin, you have been like a son to me. And as you know I was very close to your parents.” Neither of these things were even remotely true. In fact the Mayor had almost single handedly been responsible for the demise of Darwin’s parents.
The Mayor plonked down in the chair Darwin had found and he waved away the two very large men who were standing in Darwin’s doorway.
“My boy, once again you have disappointed with your nonsense about leaving the valley.” The Mayor shook his head as though Darwin was a naughty puppy who had pooped on the carpet.
“You’re such a bright young man Darwin. Why do you insist on trying to make me look bad?” Darwin went to speak but was cut off. “I could use a man like you in my team. You see, I am thinking of leading our Skyscraper and our residents… never mind, I was wondering what information you have to back up your ramblings. Do you have any evidence that anything exists outside of our valley?” The Mayor asked.
Darwin had wanted to tell someone about this for years but no one had ever wanted to listen before. He almost jumped out of his skin to tell the Mayor everything he knew. “In the ancient scrolls or the ‘Title Deeds’ as they were called there is a suggestion that the Skyscrapers may have moved into the valley from another land. Indeed there is a possibility that outside of our valley there are vast areas of land and perhaps even other valleys. Also indicated on the Deeds are directions that lead to these other lands… My parents were sure that these distant lands do exist.” Darwin said.
“Good, good my boy. And where would I get my hands on these Deeds as you call them?” The Mayor said.
“I have them all.” Darwin said. “It will take me the best part of the day to find them but I can have them for you by tonight.” He said.
“Good, I’ll have my men pay you a visit this evening.” The Mayor said as he stood to leave. He turned his back to Darwin, a sneer on his face. “Goodbye my boy. You have been most helpful.”
Then Darwin’s apartment was quiet and Darwin was left with only the sounds of his own thoughts. Like an often spanked puppy, he was happy to finally have some love and attention. Though there was something not quite right about the Mayors sudden interest, Darwin was still very happy to finally have the chance to prove to everybody that his theories were right.
Darwin’s parents had devoted their lifetimes to collecting information on the subject of possible life outside of the valley. He spent the rest of the day finding everything he could, maps, mythology and even a recount from an old man who said that his Skyscraper had once ventured outside of the valley.
Finally they were listening to him, Darwin was as happy as he could ever remember being.
When the door exploded open Darwin was asleep in his chair. “Where’s the information?” A gorilla of a man shouted as he lurched at Darwin striking him with a heavy piece of wood.
Before Darwin could say anything he was hit repeatedly.
“Where’s the stuff? We were told you’d have maps and stuff.” Again the gorilla hit Darwin.
With blood pooling into his eye, Darwin could only point to a table where the Deed, maps and every piece of information he had collected waited neatly for the Mayor’s return.
Once the gorillas realized that what they had come for was neatly stacked on the table, they turned their attention back to Darwin. The man with the stick took two steps towards Darwin and brought it down brutally onto Darwin’s skull. But before he could deliver a second blow, one that would probably have killed Darwin, the room shook and the gorilla lost his balance.
Darwin felt the apartment shift and tilt to one side. His mother’s dinner plates fell from the cabinet where they had been on exhibition and smashed onto the floor. The last thing Darwin saw before his Skyscraper collapsed and everything ended was the red light flashing over the resident voting board.
He smiled at the question.
Should our skyscraper leave the valley in search of food? Yes or no?