Story number #0554 (2010)
- Cavalier Literary Couture (Magazine) (2010)
- Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction (n.38) (Magazine) (October 1, 2011)
- The Lunar Tickle (Dog Horn Publishing) (Paperback) (2014)
Someone must have been telling the truth about Franz K., for one morning he found himself transformed into a literary giant. He was seated at his desk and when he lifted his head he could see his immense reputation stretching into the future ahead of him, lying on its back and waving its limbs in the air. But in fact he was prevented from looking.
I am a man of great wealth and dubious taste; I commissioned a special copy of K.’s Complete Works in one volume, with pages like bedsheets and letters the size of human ears. Then I went into the maze and pretended to read it. At the very centre.
While I was there I used my mobile telephone to call an ambulance. “My name is Thornton Excelsior,” I said.
“There’s nothing we can do about that, sir.”
“I’m having a heart attack!” I cried.
“Stay calm. Help is on its way. Where are you?”
“The maze. Hurry. Ugh!”
Imagine the fuss as they tried to reach me in there, rushing through the entrance without a map, for maps of the maze are a closely-guarded secret, all in a group, two men holding a stretcher, the others with medical equipment of various kinds, defibrillators and similar machines, stethoscopes swinging from necks! At first they stayed together: then one man went the wrong way, broke off from the mass, lost himself down the branching conduits of a confusion transmuted from the abstract into the real. First one man, then more.
I listened to the muffled, diverging shouts.
Occasionally two separated voices would approach each other, seem to come together and merge; but in reality they were passing along parallel paths, destined never to meet but to split apart again. I chuckled to myself and slowly opened the cover of the vast book on the ground where I had placed it. No one may gain easy admittance to the centre of the maze and yet it is there for everyone. It exists for you.
I had flirted with the idea of combusting spontaneously. But then it would be firemen who came to my futile rescue instead of medics; and their hoses would show them the way out again, like the ball of string that every wise man takes with him into a labyrinth. Plus I had no clue how to combust in that manner.
Footsteps around the corner. Someone had found the correct route by chance alone. I hopped inside the book and lay flat: a space had been excavated within, like one of those books that hide whisky bottles. I closed the lid of my literary coffin just as my rescuers reached the centre of the maze. Two voices above the humming.
“There’s no one here! Mr Excelsior, where are you?”
I grimaced as the other voice said, “Why is this gigantic book vibrating? Open it and look inside!”
The first did so. “Like a dog,” he said.
“No, not like that. Much more like a condemned prisoner.”
“Yes, in a penal settlement.”
The letters were the size of human ears but the tails of some of them were tipped with needles. The text of my punishment was etched on my body, a new tale. I still quivered but I was already dead. So how am I able to write anything now? Because this story is the fatal text. One death sentence after another. My book was a special copy indeed, a remarkable piece of apocryphal apparatus.