The aging man stood with a limp behind the brandished jutting white of crooked slabs of wood, panes of dead trees just formal enough to separate him from any intruder who ventured into the closed mall at night. Foolish wanderers to him, all the nocturnal strays who tried to conceal their footsteps and ticking prana, and visible fear at empty patches of light, and the larger patches of shadow which gave every stray who lived in them some cheap or alien wholeness.
He looked down on the steaming young man who found his gloomy hideaway, like a drug addict or a hamburger wrapper-- the vision of either one, tumbling across a dirty parking lot. “I’ve read all your reports. They were.. sub-par.”
The younger man screamed as if the place was soundproof and there weren’t the moving lights of patrols outside, “You know what I’ve just seen today? I’ve seen a guy light himself on fire on the roof of another building for no reason. So you might want to tell me why you had me come down here in the first place in this massive hole.”
“The job isn’t done. That’s the only reason I’m still here.” The old man’s hand went to rest on the desk but instead it sunk into the wood like weight in water, he didn’t have a reaction, but he looked up after hearing the echo of someone else’s footsteps in the dark and empty mall.
“And how many more giant staircases like this are there?! Do they have people or things like you underneath them?”
“My wooden desk has bones in it. There’s never any time in a dream.” By now the old man had his arms up to his shoulders in the desk, he was about to put his face through it, crawl into the very mirage of it and die.
“How exactly do those bones hold the wood up and where did you get them from?” It was futile to ask as the old man drowned into the desk-- and the desk dropped down with its top becoming part of the floor, and the floor turned from cement to wood planks lined with bone.
Meanwhile the footsteps got closer and were followed with some small light, but the individual was just a narrow shadow, making their way down the long hall, after making their own crawl underneath the staircase on the other side.
The young man wanted to yell but didn’t know if his life was in danger.
It seemed to him that the shadow could either be walking forwards and backwards, as though it was making no discernible distance, but its weak light was dimming and flickering, and would stutter back on with such brightness that the surroundings would seem different and interrupted. There were rumbles with the stutters of light that made him mutter with vertigo that he might be moving upwards.
He suddenly stood upon the roof of the mall, which was covered in street lights, with one light now being the supposed flashlight he was transfixed on-- its long, metal foundation now appearing as the human he once saw, and a loneliness crept in which was worse than death. Under the stretch of stars was a desolate stretch of empty, snowy roof and city in all directions. Every inch of the roof was lit, but silent, and there was a surreal, comatose emptiness here that made him feel he couldn’t leave by conventional means.
He found a match in his pocket, plopped down in the snow, and lit it to his jacket. The heat reached him but not the sting. He coughed from the smoke in his face as he saw trails of it in the distance. Maybe they were just from piles of garbage he thought, built up by authoritarians who lost themselves in their own struggle for suppressing life, or maybe they were signals from other people with no way down, their faces hopeless, stomachs empty, hearts lonely.. their dreams blackening and taking to the flame.