The ground buckled and this, too, was usual. Craig simply stepped to the left, along a former fissure, this one long since caked over with dust and footprints. Craig hopped over the ditch, as he did every day, and entered the inventions factory. Someone had freshly graffitied “GO AWAY!” on the entry door, but someone else had more freshly changed the “!” to a “?”: GO AWAY?
Inside the factory, skeletons of impossible inventions, those that wouldn’t live to see their utility, littered the floor. Craig walked lightly through them, for he too had failed. Some of his inventions—the effortless divider, the stretching plane, the miniature handle—lay amidst the floor, adding to the carpet of loss. Craig didn’t care. None of the inventors cared. They just kept inventing.
The inventors were inventing at a furious pace. Rube, a man known for his complex machines that defied practical function, was poring over ornate blueprints, making intricate adjustments. Rube was paranoid that other inventors would steal his ideas, though few could even understand his ideas, much less reproduce them. Craig greeted Rube with raised eyebrows. Rube blushed and tried to cover his work with his upper body. “It’s—not,” said Rube, quaking in defense.
“Is that?” asked Craig.
“No,” said Rube.
Every inventor threatened one another, but no one owned their threats. Everyone knew that they had to invent, invent, invent. Hopes and gadgets cluttered every workstation, their functions unknown to anyone but their makers. Failures were forgotten as soon as they were deemed unworthy, and fell right to the floor. No one swept the floor.
Sometimes the tremors would swallow a few of the most buried never-inventions, which made the whole ground seem alive. The inventors called the groundswells “Justice,” and accepted them as happily as any inevitability.
The factory was big, too big; there were too many inventors. Craig looked at his dissolute desk and wondered what would come next, which ideas would deem manufacture. Craig’s ideas hadn’t been coming lately, and he reminded himself of this when his desk didn’t. His progress, charted in lights on a giant marquee on the wall, was flagging, there for everyone to see. Craig wrestled with components until his hands ached, but everything he made was curio at best, and would never survive Stage 2.
Craig sank into his chair, the leavings of his latest nothing cluttered in his lap, his hands full of twine and polymer. Craig sighed loudly, trying to elicit sympathy or inspiration from any inventor within earshot, knowing anyone who had heard him would only smile at the thought of another competitor vanquished. But there was no collaboration at the inventions factory, only bastard autonomy. Craig slumped in his chair until he found himself almost under his desk. He caricatured his own defeat in this posture, and imagined himself from the perspective of the other inventors. He held no sympathy for himself either.
The ground shifted under the factory floor, a seismic tickle that pulled on Craig’s treadbare shoes. Startled, Craig began raising his chair. He raised it and raised it, as high as it would go, until the edges of his desk pressed against his shins. Yet the chair wasn’t high enough. Then Craig had an idea.
Craig stepped off his chair and pulled it apart. He began reassembling it using all the instruments of assembly, because reassembly too isinvention. Using cylindrical pieces of 1½” metal piping, he welded and attached, joined and made. Craig placed the piping into and onto his chair: his chair rose ever higher. Craig went over to Keith’s workstation and stole Keith’s fast ladder and used it. Keith, too slow to stop him, was both upset and proud that his fast ladder was a success. All of the other inventors watched Craig with ineluctable curiosity, pretending to pencil in logistics. The ground growled.
Craig raised and raised his chair, now running out of ideal pieces of tubing. So, he used anything else: rubber haloes, a series of linked casement lock pins, caulk and insulation, butterfly and elbow joints. Craig raised his chair until his desk was a tiny disorganized rectangle far below him. Keith watched below in righteous envy. Craig’s inventing became a madness. He laughed in glee or triumph.
Eventually Craig’s chair reached its highest point possible, looking as high and crooked as a Coconut palm, its seat the eventual fronds. To get to the chair, Craig had to abandon the altered fast ladder. It clattered to the floor; Keith rushed to pick up the pieces. Craig shimmied his way up the uppermost section of chair, the pipe bending under his weight. Craig held the sides of his chair with white knuckles and brought his knees into his chest, swaying lightly, looking down at the field of inventors far, far below. Craig wrote “Hi chair” and a crude copyright symbol on a piece of paper in his pocket and then sailed it down to the rest of the inventors. Craig sat in teeth-grinding triumph, swaying above, watching for his lights on the marquee to light up and up.
Craig’s chair was high; too high; it wobbled with him perched atop it. But the other inventors didn’t catcall him, nor did they try to tip his high chair. They just looked up at him in his crow’s nest, crossing their fingers for the next quake, ready to see Craig toppled to the ground amidst the rest of the lost causes, ready for Justice again.
Matthew McCain Martin has been published in the North Carolina Literary Review, Burnt Bridge, A: The Colorado State University Literary Review, the Rocky Mountain Bullhorn, the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, the Colorado Springs Independent, and The Freestone.