Drainmen Ch. 6

by RW Spryszak

My days go the way of blind alleys and it has been so for years. Over and over, with the same men saying the same things in the same way. The ever-present rain on my head. Stabbing at rubbish hours on end. Watching the great locomotive rise higher, a little higher, every day on its way to the top of the tower. An inching black worm.

Seventeen men have fallen to their deaths from the swaying cables. We dig up the sidewalk to make their graves and replace the damage with new concrete to be a benefit to the city. Each death is commemorated with a vertical red stripe painted on the tower itself, which is a government regulation, and then the ceremony that follows. The oldest of the crew climb the cranes and symbolically chastise the equipment with horsehair whips. I never understood the custom.

When the great engine was only a quarter of the way to the top crews began to build the equipment that would pull the monster from the side of the tower over the tower's crenellations and onto the flat roof - always the most dangerous and complex part of the operation. The transfer is always precarious and fatalities are expected, but we can only have the barest minimum in equipment on the roof so as not to collapse the ancient structure. So the apparatus is strictly built of wood instead of iron and harks back to the medieval days of catapults and trebuchets. And if the exchange from vertical lift to horizontal shift somehow goes awry, or the rooftop equipment fails, the locomotive could come crashing back down to the street. There has only been one such catastrophe in all of history. But it was paid for by the public executions of three well known engineers and an unknown number of assistants. Some say seven. Others say eight. Still, we are weeks away from that final leg of the project. Our crew is methodical.

I have little to worry about in comparison. From my position, though I can see our progress clearly, I am in no way in ant danger from such an incident. Nor would I be among those arrested for it if the worst should happen. The only possible danger to me would be a snapped cable whipping around at me, but the distance is so great I am not that worried. It's a rare possibility anyway. Perhaps beyond rare, as it has never happened, though it is talked about in the required safety meetings. The break would have to be at a certain point of the cable. And the swing of it would have to follow a precise path to reach me. In my mind I have never been able to see how it could even be possible. We laugh when they tell us to be careful for it.

I am busy enough keeping the drain clear so the street doesn't flood. And I don't know where all this paper comes from. I stab it with my poker and toss it in my bin like a madman sometimes. It's almost as if the same paper I am clearing escapes the bin and starts up the street at me again. I could understand food wrappers and the illegal handbills and fliers. That kind of paper has a reason. But these crumpled sheets of lined pages filled with crazy handwriting, dense paragraphs making unreadable, dense blocks of text I can't make out keep coming. Every day. The first barrage of this kind of material began three days after you left and has been a regular occurrence since. At first I thought they were letters from you. But I don't recognize the language they are written in. I put a sheet in my pocket once when the engineers weren't looking. Took it home and tried to read it in secret, away from the guards. But it wasn't from you at all. I have no idea what they are from. But they keep coming. Every day. Pages and pages sometimes in crumples balls, ripped up and smashed together,made like a paste from the rain in the gutter. At first I wondered if it was something valuable that had been destroyed by accident. But it came in such quantity it simply couldn't be anything but on purpose. I can't make it out. The symbols and strange ciphers. I have stopped trying to guess.

And the illegal handbills I do not collect. "We drink Poison from the exposed pipes." "A flash of COLOR reminds us to go slow." Too busy with feeding our killing machines of epic glory." All nonsense of that sort.

What bothers me the most is the medical waste. The occasional article of clothing. An incongruous stocking. A floating empty bottle of wine. And once I saw the leaves of the Sigillaria tree that had gone extinct on this island three hundred years ago. We are a wasteful people. Careless, addictive, and without a thought for the red giant in our future.

I see the reflection of our dead eyes in all these empty buildings up and down the street,  around our worksite. We will die out by our own hands. As I've said to you many times before, eventually all the predictions will come true.