The Coil
Published in

The Coil


Fiction by Josh Wardrip

The principal feature of Furthermore, and its claim to engineering genius, is the structure’s mechanism for autonomous development and expansion. Incredibly, the original complex occupied just one acre and remained thus for several years while founder J. L. Furthermore tested and refined his now-famous Theorem. Furthermore today encompasses cities, states, bodies of water, nations. Residents live in mostly identical units of seven hundred square feet, and while certain attributes can be modified to accommodate special needs (of the disabled, the elderly, or, perhaps, the eccentric), each apartment typically contains a lavatory, a kitchen, a sitting room, sleeping chambers, and an auxiliary space. At the tenant’s discretion, these areas may be demarcated by walls or arranged as an open-plan studio. Regardless of location, each residence has a large window offering a generous view of an urban or rural setting (or combination thereof). Outside light is provided by enormous lamps built into the ceiling. This light is calibrated to resemble natural sunlight, just as the sculpted landscapes appear nearly identical to the fields, streams, islands, and mountains one might find outside the structure. Perhaps better, even. While some contend that simulation impoverishes the soul, I prefer to think of Furthermore as an improvement upon the world, a triumph over the limits of what is given.

Like most technicians at Furthermore, I have been reassigned to tasks of a more pedestrian sort. Improvements to the system architecture based on new extrapolations of the Theorem eventually obviated the need for administrators to oversee its workings. I was not born here, but I will certainly die here. As with all departed residents, my body will be processed into compost and spread over Furthermore’s chiseled earth, nourishing its abundant flora. Though dissent is rare, certain members of the externalist faction have quarreled with the disposition of the dead, condemning what they see as a subordination of dignity to utility. Conversely, the progressive internalists say that composting should, additionally, be an option for the almost dead, the terminally ill, or the terminally dissatisfied, and even in some instances unwanted offspring below a certain age. These positions are not without merit. Let me repeat, however, a basic precept (paraphrased from the only extant record of the Theorem, a damaged and incomplete text): Suffice to say the structure knows what is best for itself.

The exterior walls are designed to repel any attack, whether by missile, bomb, aircraft, or other means. They rise out of sight into the clouds, taller than any mountain of the earth. The precise height and thickness of the walls are indeterminate since they continually change as the edifice grows and adapts. The absence of guiding engineers, of oversight, in the structure’s evolution is the great maddening puzzle of Furthermore. I will try to clarify this mystery by recalling some first principles.

Above all, the structure is sovereign. It is true that J. L. Furthermore built the first primitive complex, but once the process was fully implemented and set in motion, it could not be undone or otherwise amended. The particulars of the Theorem died with the author. The extant record I spoke of contains only foundational notes from Furthermore’s days as a graduate student; almost nothing remains of the Theorem’s byzantine formulae, which are said to have occupied several thousand pages.

Second, it is infinitely adaptable. That is to say, it not only freely expands but may also continually modify its existing constitution. The dimensions of any given space can spontaneously change. Though most alterations are innocuous enough, it is not unheard of for an apartment to shift abruptly to an entirely different part of Furthermore. The dislocation could be fifty feet or one thousand miles, which might prove jarring to newer residents. Ours is not to complain but to comply. And the relative sameness of Furthermore from one grid to the next helps ease such transitions. Despite this homogeny some say chaos governs the core, that the endless modifications are illogical and without purpose. The philosophers, however, have shown that the Architect — in his goodness and wisdom — was no prankster, and it was not in his nature to erect a subterfuge for anarchy. The absurdity of such claims is self-evident.

It has been suggested that all strife might cease with the enactment of a universal language. There is little question that the dialects of the unstable regions are of inferior character — mongrel variants lacking the clarity and grace of the predominant Furthermore tongue. It is no wonder the speakers of these lesser idioms should have muddled thoughts and lead depraved lives. Advocates for the universal language have proposed what is called, quite simply, the Furthermore Standard (FS). As best we can discover, FS most closely resembles the Architect’s parlance, drawing heavily upon the fragments of the Theorem. Though not yet compulsory, FS is already the preferred style for all official communication and is by far the most spoken dialect in Furthermore.

Some years ago a massive book purported to be the lost text of the Theorem was circulated by an anonymous publisher. Composed of dense, arcane jargon, the book successfully deceived much of the public. Linguists, however, comparing the text with the authentic fragments of the Theorem promptly dismissed it as forgery. Likewise, mathematicians who examined the work determined that its formulae were gibberish and could not have been produced by J. L. Furthermore. Such a hoax would not be inherently harmful were it not for certain passages, quietly inserted into all the harebrained theorizing, that are plainly subversive. One such excerpt I will reproduce here from memory (since all known copies were long ago removed from circulation):

Whereupon Colossus should navigate
The brine and collide with the stalwart shores
Of the continent, wherefore the ingrate,
Who in folly said, “This world is not yours,”
Will fight against the elder warriors
Who in their time have seen their towers burned,
Their lakes tinged red, their fragile peace upturned.

And then sweet doom shall take the rising beast.
En masse, his legion white-fleeced timid sheep,
Their eyes afraid to gaze toward the east,
Will slice themselves at the gullet or sweep
Below the midsection; their blood will seep
In holes and clog the gears that should not be
Until he meets his end beneath the sea.

This is preposterous, of course, and I include it here only for historical purposes and entertainment. I should point out that eastward expansion is fully underway, and what little resistance we’ve encountered has been ameliorated. And though it’s clear the author seeks to make his or her points via symbol and metaphor, I remind you there are no “gears” to “clog,” as it were, that Furthermore’s sublime mechanisms are surely sabotage-proof. Lastly, such bombast is inconsistent with what we know of the Architect’s writing, which was plain and factual. He certainly would not have employed such an archaic form as verse to delineate his thought. The most plausible explanation is that the forgery was written in whole or in part by the radical poet Todd Kueker (leading some to term the hoax the Kueker affair), who has been missing for more than five years. We believe he is either deceased or in hiding in the Lane province, near the western wall.

While it pains me to waste time on trifles such as the Kueker affair, in my role as public relations director for East Qanne, I am required to comment on matters relevant to citizen morale. And thus my days are spent: composing memos on the issues of the day, clarifying metaphysical conundrums, fostering serenity and temperance among the residents of my district. All of this I accomplish without leaving my apartment. Which is not to say I never leave my quarters; it’s just rarely necessary. Though written communication is my métier, I do sometimes appear in video transmissions. To be sure, my features are altered during such broadcasts, not to ensure my safety but because I am ugly. It is true that I was once an engineer. You might think my present work causes me discontent. It does not. On the contrary, it has helped me discover the highest virtue of all: peace through acquiescence.

I am, however, deteriorating. Sedentariness has engendered in my body a terrible lethargy I fear will one day render me immobile. I am not, as you might think, obese. Food is rationed according to one’s minimum caloric requirements, and it is, rest assured, quite healthy. I suspect my troubles stem from something more serious than a lack of movement. There is a constant ache in the back of my neck and a metallic taste in my mouth; it is rare that I pass solid stool. Doctors say I am in perfect health. I find this difficult to accept, but I must as our facilities are state of the art and our professionals the best available. My own diagnosis is simply this: I am an imperfect facsimile of a human, and I have been since birth.

But I haven’t told you about my quarters. Though it is not impossible that an exact duplicate somewhere exists, I’d like to think my peculiar configuration is unique among the apartments of Furthermore. Like all units, it is approximately seven hundred square feet. Unlike any other I know of, it comprises fourteen rooms, each measuring roughly seven feet by seven feet. All but one (and perhaps one other, which I will tell you about) have the same single light fixture built into the ceiling. There are thirteen doors, each with a unique lock and key. The front entrance, facing south, opens into a foyer that contains, among other things, a coat rack, two umbrellas, and a master light switch. A door in the south wall leads to another anteroom, this one empty, with a door in each of the four walls. The western door goes to the lavatory, the eastern to the kitchen. At the south wall of the kitchen is the only entrance to the dining room, which has a small table and a single chair. Back in the anteroom, the southern door opens into the primary work room where there is a desk and other implements of my trade. This is where most of my day is spent. A secondary work room lies to the south. It, too, contains a desk and sundry office supplies, and it is here where I typically pass my evenings. Turning to the north, through the primary work room and back again to the anteroom, then west to the lavatory, one finds to the south the changing room, which holds all of my clothing and other personal accessories. There are no closets, just rods for hanging items and a simple, compact chest of drawers. The next room, again to the south, has a fish tank with fish in it. Next, once more to the south, is the reading and sitting room where there is a reclining chair. East of this room is the bed chamber with a twin bed and a nightstand. Once more to the east is the storage area. In the past I owned things; I now own much less. This room houses the few items I’ve no use for in daily life. Finally, beyond the northern door of the storage room, lies the sanctum sanctorum. It is empty and unlit, and I go there rarely, only when necessary. Like the rest of the apartment, there are no windows here. If you’re paying attention, you have noticed that I’ve only described thirteen rooms, whereas I said at the beginning there are fourteen. There is a fourteenth room. It lies to the south of the bed chamber, and while there is no door, opening, or other indicator, it is surely there since I specified it when I submitted the design request for my quarters (Furthermore officials are sometimes accorded special, though modest, privileges in matters of housing.). I cannot easily describe its exact function or even its contents. When I am ready, I will have the door installed, or perhaps I’ll simply tear through the wall and thrust myself into its horrible wonders.

I fear that in these notes I have too much dwelt on fringe elements, thereby implying their numbers are significant. They are not. Their means are limited, and their influence rarely extends beyond their own secluded circles. This compulsion to seek comfort and solidarity in groups surely indicates a profound deficiency in some essential area of life. The serene joy of solitude and the sustaining routines of work compel me to remain in this world and shun, for now, whatever hidden places might usurp all that I know in my heart to be true and real.

The 2016 Luminaire Award for Best Prose

We are pleased to announce this piece as a finalist for the 2016 Luminaire Award for Best Prose, honoring the independent press’ best short stories and hybrid prose works of the year. The winners are selected by an external panel that judges all pieces blind and selects the full list of finalists. Alternating Current does not determine the final outcome for the judging; the external judges’ decisions are final.

JOSH WARDRIP’s fiction has appeared in New Orleans Review, Gargoyle, Chicago Quarterly Review, American Letters & Commentary, and many other journals. He studied at the University of Kentucky and Texas State University. He lives in Pittsburgh and works as an academic editor. This story first appeared in American Letters & Commentary, Issue 23.

Originally published on 5/25/16.



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The Coil

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