I Dreamt of Rust - 1: Set Fire to the Rain . But there's a side to you / That I never knew, never knew, all the things you'd say / They were never true, never true - Adele .
Thornley stared into the bottomless depths of his typewriter. Just a few more sentences, and he would be done for the day. But his mind had hit a wall, and he couldn't think of any words that could break through.
"This is the worst," he thought.
A knock on the door. It was the editor, Mr. Shelley. His face was tinged red and dotted with sweat, as usual.
"Thornley!" he barked, as usual.
Thornley ignored him, as usual.
Mr. Shelley walked in, as usual.
Mr. Shelley stopped and gaped at the piles of paper strewn across the floor, as usual. Thornley pretended not to see him, as usual.
He was still trying to break his mental wall, as - no, this was unusual. Conclusions were usually easy for him.
Mr. Shelley turned his red face toward Thornley.
"You better clean this mess up soon, son," he said. "I could get fired for your unsanitary conditions."
"The company performs routine office inspections per Olympian regulations the first Tuesday of every month," Thornley replied. "Today's Monday, and the first Tuesday was last week. I'll clean it up later."
Mr. Shelley growled, but he couldn't think of a response.
He went for the door.
"Hurry up and finish that article," Mr. Shelley said. "You're behind."
"Actually, I-" Thornley started.
"Don't want to hear it".
Mr. Shelley marched out into the hallway. He'd been in charge of the paper for ten years, and as much as he hated to admit it, Thornley was one of the best writers he had ever had. He heard the writer's muffled voice floating through the walls.
"I'm only two behind," he was saying. "That's three less than usual!"
Mr. Shelley didn't hear the crash in Thornley's office seconds later. It was followed by an angry shout and Thornley's door swinging wide open.
Thornley stuck his head out into the hallway. Mr. Shelley was nowhere to be seen.
This was the perfect opportunity. He strolled to the office next to his.
"Hey, hey Lana!" he called, knocking. "Can I come in?"
"Who is it?"
"Oh. Fine, come in."
Thornley opened the door and walked in. Lana didn't look up.
"What do you want?" she asked.
"Well, I was wondering-"
"Did you check the bulletin board?" Lana interrupted.
"We have a bulletin board?" he asked.
"Yes, we have a bulletin board. It's outside."
Thornley turned around. He could see it through the door window. Sort of.
He turned back to Lana, scratching his head.
"Actually, Lana - well here's the thing."
Lana held up her hand. Thornley froze.
"First of all, if you're here to flirt, I've told you already: you suck at it," Lana said. "Second of all, I'm already working overtime and if I don't finish these two articles tonight, Shelley's going to kill me. So if you're here for anything other than strictly business, then leave, unless you have a plan that doesn't end with me dead in the morning. Oh, and close the door behind you."
"Do you have a mop?" Thornley blurted out. "I spilled something in my office."
Lana glared at him. Thornley felt his skin breaking into sweat from the fire flying from her eyes.
"You're kidding me," she said.
"No, really - I need a mop," Thornley said lamely.
"Have you asked the custodian, Thornley?" Lana asked.
"The custodian! Right."
There was more sweat on his skin than skin now. Lana pointed toward the door.
Thornley scurried out, like a mouse escaping from a cat. He closed the door gently behind him. He stood for a moment outside Lana's office.
"Shelley's not actually going to kill you," he muttered.
Lana used to be different. Ever since two or three years ago, she apparently forgot he existed. She didn't know him as Thornley anymore. She knew him as the person in the next office. Maybe one of these days, Thornley thought, she would let him get close enough to ask what was going on, why the sudden hostility. Maybe one of these days.
The door was ajar when he got back to his apartment. He sighed. It was the landlord, no doubt, here to reprimand him over his garden. Thornley took a deep breath, then walked bravely in.
Sure enough, his landlord was standing in front of his garden, frowning.
"Thornley, how many times do I have to tell you," he said.
He turned around and waved his arms wildly at Thornley.
"These plants and...and weeds! They have to go!" he exclaimed.
Thornley leaned back to avoid getting hit by the man's flailing arms.
"They're not weeds. And where else can they go?"
"I don't know, not here! This apartment doesn't belong to you," the landlord said. "You can't infest this building, my building, with these things!"
The landlord shouldered past Thornley and put his hand on the door. He looked back.
"This is your last warning, Thornley," he said. "I can't rent this place to you any longer if you don't do something about those plants."
With that, he was gone. The door clicked shut. The latch hummed as it locked itself. Thornley shook his head and went upstairs. Nobody seemed to be their best self today. Then again, they were usually like this. Maybe this was their best self.
He sat down at his desk. He dipped his quill in ink, but instead of writing, he held his pen in the air, staring at the wall. A drop of ink crept down the tip and fell onto his desk. It grazed the edge of his paper before losing interest and seeping into the wood. Thornley looked down. Another drop joined the first one on his desk. A black pond began forming as more drops fell. It was just as every single day was absorbed by the last. Nothing stood out. It was just a puddle of murky memories. Monday became Tuesday, Tuesday became Wednesday - what were days even for, anyway? If days had to be unique, then the whole year could be one day. Thornley shook his head and blinked. He climbed out of his mental slump and moved his pen toward happier thoughts.
It was a normal day today...
* * * *
Asbestos Jones drummed his fingers on his new desk. He had expected more out of his position. Nothing had happened for the last hour and a half. Then he heard footsteps outside his door. Did they signal something for him to finally do? His eyes opened in anticipation.
One of the guards outside said something. The door opened. One of Asbestos' new ministers walked in. He couldn't remember which ministry this one was from, nor did he care.
"Mayor Jones!" the man said. "The first of your programs have gone smoothly thus far. It appears they are succeeding!"
"Good," Asbestos replied.
His fingers drummed a little faster. If he wanted an update, he would have called.
"What ministry are you again?" he asked. The apathy was more obvious than he liked.
"The Ministry of Human Development and Popular Health, Mayor."
"What on earth? Who came up with that?"
"You did, sir."
Asbestos Jones furrowed his eyebrows. So he had.
"Well then. Is there anything else, minister?" he asked.
The minister nodded.
"Yes. There was a fire in one of the slums. Hundreds of people, perhaps more, are homeless."
"And?" Asbestos asked.
"And? They need a place to live!" the man replied, indignant.
"My Quality of Life Program will cover them, will it not?"
"Yes sir, it will," the minister replied.
"Then what's the problem?"
"The place we want to put them is a large area of old growth forest half a mile from the fire. The environmental lobby could cause some...trouble, if it is cleared."
"Thank you, minister. I will find a solution to this problem."
"Thank you, mayor."
The minister bowed and walked away.
Asbestos Jones picked up his phone. It was one of the only ones in Olympia. Most everyone was still on the telegraph.
"Hello? Yes, this is the mayor speaking. Yes, I am. Thank you. Good morning to you too. I'm fine, thank you. Listen, I need you to create a poll for me, alright? Find out how many people would be for and against chopping down that forest - what? Yes, that one, I think. Find out how many people would be for chopping it down to make way for new houses. You already did? I see. Thank you, sir. That will be all."
Asbestos Jones turned the dial on the phone to a different number and waited again.
"Hello? Yes, this is the mayor. Do you know the forest outside the city? What do you mean which one? Tell me. No, no, no...yes, that one. That one, I think. There was a fire nearby earlier? Yes, then that's the one."
Asbestos Jones paused. He loved this pet. The anticipation, his next line hanging like a dagger he would drop. He looked away from the phone, clearing his throat. He said some words to himself. Finally, his voice ready and his words chosen, he turned back to the phone.
"Cut it down."