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The sharp edge of a tongue wicked across his lips and he wrung his hands in punishing spasms. From down the hall, the air muffled with damp and metal, was the machine crack of words hacked out in a fury. Pyotr swallowed loudly and gripped his hand on the cool of the knob. The high cackles from behind the door hooked through his stomach and made him wince.
He darted in, scrabbling for the crumpled sheafs of typeface, and ducked out again to the howls of the thing inside. The lock clicked cheerily in place. Pyotr stumbled his way back along the hall.
The binding room was a dry, stifling cupboard of yellowing shelves and tiny avalanches of print. The air itself could nick the lungs with drifting wisps of paper shards, and the weight of the bowed ceiling made Pyotr feel the need to duck for fear of it all crashing down upon him. Sean waved him over and pushed a stool out with his foot.
"Got the new pages?"
Pyotr held the crumpled papers up for inspection. Sean took them and his eyes glowed round and wet as he scanned the letters. He thumbed them through to the end.
"Is this it?"
"Erm. Yeah, I guess." Pyotr gripped the seat under him.
Sean nodded, satisfied, and spread the pages reverentially across his lined pin board. His fingers smoothed over the creases and flattened out the dog-ears; his faint motions seemed to resurrect the letters, which failed to smear under his touch as they had in Pyotr's sweating grip. He tugged a thin volume from the bookshelves above and split the binding with a fine-edged razor.
Pyotr coughed shyly as the man began to thread a thick needle. Sean peered at him through the needle's eye.
"Yes?" he purred.
Pyotr smiled, though his heart twitched frantically. "Uhm. So what do I do, now?"
"Well, I got the pages."
Sean blinked heavily, ponderously, and drew the thread through. The pressure of his eyes made Pyotr squirm self-consciously. He muttered, "And. Uhm. I was sort of. Wondering why you have to keep. Uhm," the thoughts trode hesitantly in his mind and he let the question die.
The needle whipped cleanly through the wound in the book's side, the thread drawing up the new pages in stiff tugs. Occassionally a paper would rasp with the sound of breath under anesthetic. Sean's fingers worked expertly over the flayed spine, pinching and pressing alternately as he revived the book.
When he finished, as Pyotr sat back on his hands and gnawed his inner lip raw, Sean gingerly slid the rebound volume into its place on the shelf. He hissed softly through his teeth, shoulders going slack, and rubbed the palm of a hand into his eyes.
"You were asking a question, Pyotr," it was a statement, and he watched Pyotr's reaction behind red-filmed eyes.
Pyotr shifted on his seat, shaking the blood back into his fingertips. "Yeah. The author?"
Sean stiffened, but his eyes stayed low. "What about it?"
"Well. Why do you keep it, you know, locked up?"
His lips twitched. Pyotr sunk back on himself, drawing his heels up a rung on the stool.
"Why?" Sean crowed, the pent-up laughter cracking his face like a grinning egg, "Because that thing is crazy, that's why! Nutso, bonkers, totally whacked!" He whooped and collapsed back on his stool, pressing his fingers up to his temples and chuckling. Pyotr eyed him warily. "You know what that thing would do if we didn't take the pages from it?"
Pyotr shook his head.
"It would destroy them! Really," he said, "It gets up to some wild thoughts, in there. Says if he keeps going, writing all this stuff, the world will 'run out of stories'. Says there's only so many combinations of words out there and we're just going to run the whole production into the ground, at this pace."
Pyotr's eyes widened, his jaw limp. "Why doesn't he stop?"
"Because he can't! Says his muse has him in a lock over the keyboard and he's got no choice, 'no matter the spiritual consequences of the thing'." Sean eyed Pyotr through sharply watering eyes. "What do you think of that, eh?"
"What? That his mu - "
"No, no," Sean leaned forward, hands clasping the bones of his knees, "The running out of stories thing. What do you think of that?"
Pyotr gulped, twisting his fingers. His eyes flicked away from Sean's enboldened ones. "I - I don't really know. I mean, I guess there's only so many words, out there." He paused. Sean waved him on. "So, maybe. Maybe it's possible to run out of stories."
"Aha, but that's the other bit," Sean fairly bounced in his seat as he said it. "That author thing, in there, he says that all the stories, all those big old clumps of words, aren't stories at all! He says, 'It's all one circular story, the snake biting off his own tale in a loop. The whole world is an infinite weaving of one story, in and out with every person'." The smile twitched at the side of his mouth, again. "And, he says, 'All one can really do is try to pull out a thread of the whole story and try to weave it into his own interpretation of the warp. Any interpretation is, inherently, wrong, then, and the result is a meaningless mess of language.' Isn't that the craziest thing you ever heard?"
Pyotr slumped heavily into his clenched-up knees. The slick dribble of moisture plucked at his back on its path down the knobbled wall. The steady click-tap of keys pattered down like a dry rain storm around his ears; a steady act of literary limber, applauding itself in the void. Pyotr shuddered in his sleep. His lips moved in a bewildered sentence, a dreamland conversation.
The gradual sense of the silence edged into his mind and he peered cautiously around at the hallway. He yawned, pondering at his impulsive consciousness.
"It is done."
He tensed. The words were rounded, polished and foreign in a brooding finality. Pyotr stood and pressed his ear to the author's door.
A soft, spent laugh and the sound of a chair scraping back; spent limbs, heavy feet, shuffled across the floor. Pyotr strained into the metal, grimacing. Something breathed. Something fell.
They attempted to revive the author, Sean working and jerking the thin chest like the beaten book spines as his eyes flashed with stricken malice. No breath wisped from the author's slack smile.
Pyotr was advised to clean the shell of a room that was left, once Sean had hauled away the creaking desk and chair. He had set the author's typewriter in a small sanctuary in the binding room, a memory to the martyr of words, and set about to packing up the binding room library. The piecy grin of the keyboard beamed out over the commotion. It gave Sean 'the willies' and he smashed the machine into the wall one day. He then advised Pyotr to clean this mess up, too.
The inked ribbon furled out of the mess like a helixed tongue, gagging on itself, and the keys were splayed, broken fingers that beseeched him as they chittered against themselves in his palms. The thing was a memory fragmented and undeniably wrong. A slim spat of paper huddled under the pieces. The sight of it jerked Pyotr's heart and he stroked the piece cautiously with a darkened finger. He nudged it over.
The words were blurred.