In the darkness at the top of the world is a cave. Inside this cave, beneath the billowing snow, a series of spidering corridors slope miles down into the earth. Follow them down, avoiding the dead ends and hidden gaps that drop off into sudden bottomless darkness, and you arrive in a huge vaulted chamber. A long line of hewn steps lead upwards to the far wall. There, in frozen silence, lies something entombed in the ice. Something long dormant. As you watch, it opens its eyes.
Franklin awoke in a sweat. He shook his head, rubbed his face, and went to take a shower. Soon he was seated in a coffee shop with a large mug, an open notebook, and a pencil in his hand. His mouth had bunched at one corner and his tongue peeked out as he worked.
“That’s not bad. What is it?” Franklin looked up and found the owner of the voice. She wore glasses, had pale white skin and long red hair. She was pretty, but what attracted his attention were her eyes. Curious and alert and green as salad leaves.
“It’s a face from a dream I keep having.” He showed her the notepad. There was a sunken, skeletal face on the page, done in pencil. She studied it for a moment, tugging at her hair.
“It scares me,” she said.
“Me too,” said Franklin.
“Why are the eyes the only bits with color?”
“Because that’s how it is.” There was a pause. “I like your eyes, they’re like salad greens.” She looked at him for a minute, weighing that comment. Finally she stuck out her hand.
“My name’s Abigail.” He took it.
“Nice to meet you, Abigail. I’m Franklin.”
“Well Franklin, it’s been weird. I’ll be seeing you.”
“I’ll be seeing you, Abigail.”
There was blood in the cave. In the chamber below, where once had been sheer wall, now was a cracked and empty fissure. On the floor of the cave lay a fox. Crouched over it sat the creature, looking up, squinting. The animal whimpered, and the creature bent back to its ripping. Blood dripped from the fox and ran to collect in a pool on the floor. Outside the cave, great drifts of snow shifted and fell. Outside the cave, the wind sounded like screaming.
“I thought I might find you here.” Franklin looked up from his seat at the coffee shop and saw Abigail. “Still drawing?” He looked down at the pad.
She took a seat and pulled the notebook from his hands. He let it go without protest. Flipping through the pages, her eyes narrowed. “You’re obsessed. This isn’t healthy.”
He took the notebook back and closed it. “What do you do, Abigail?”
“I’m a sort of permanent temp. Answering phones, word processing, filing, that sort of stuff. It’s terrible.”
“That’s not what I meant. In a perfect world, if you could do anything, what would you do?”
She thought about that for a while. “You know, I don’t know. I always wanted to be rich. Being rich means I don’t have to do anything. I guess that’s it, I would do nothing.” She laughed. “What about you?”
Franklin met her gaze. “I would do something great. Something perfect.”
“Something great, huh. Like what? Like composing a masterpiece?”
“Like saving the world?”
“Some people say Hitler was great. Not good, you know, but when you look at what he did, all the people he killed, all that power. Great.”
“Yes, that’s a kind of greatness.”
Abigail looked at him. “You’re weird, Franklin. Did I say that yet?”
“Yes, a couple of times.”
“Well, I gotta go. Good luck with greatness.”
“Thanks. Good luck with nothing.”
She gave him a wry look. “Yeah. Thanks, dick.”
“I’ll be seeing you, Abigail.”
The creature was working. Bones littered the floor of the cave, and a layer of frozen blood lay black on the ground like a carpet. The creature sat on its haunches, fashioning something of the bones, binding them together with strips of sinew and tendon. As each segment was completed it was jointed to the others. In the endless night that was this place, something began to take form in the darkness.
“Put that down, I want to show you something.” Franklin closed his notebook and stood up. Abigail took his hand and led him from the coffee shop. They walked a few blocks in silence, hand in hand. Then Abigail stopped. “There.”
Franklin followed her gaze and saw the pillared facade of a famous hotel. He gave her a quizzical look. “Inside,” she said. She tugged him in through the swinging doors. The lobby was massive, with marble floors and a large fountain in the middle. She pulled him through and past the fountain, and there before them was a grand piano.
“They let me play sometimes, when nobody is using it.” She let go his hand and went and sat on the bench. Holding her hands up before her, she wiggled her fingers. “Ready?”
“Ready,” Franklin said. She closed her eyes and began to play. It was beautiful. She played like one born to it, effortlessly, years of practice dissolving before his eyes. Time slowed and distorted, he had no idea how long she played for. When it was over a warm sadness washed over him. “That was beautiful, Abigail.”
“Thank you. Now take me home.”
She smiled. “Because I want to see yours.”
The creature sat on a throne of frozen bones. The storm outside howled and lightning lit the sky. Tremors rocked the earth as the ground rent and buckled underfoot. Its skeletal jaws cracked open impossibly wide, and a churning inky darkness came flowing from its mouth. The darkness filled the cave, teetered for a moment, then rolled squirming over the edge. As the wind screamed and raged, it poured out into the world.
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