Let's see if you guys can guess what song sparked this off in my head. ;)
Of all the things Charles Surry had been called in his relatively young life, ‘observant’ had not come up often. Neither had ‘creative’, nor ‘imaginative’, nor any other word describing the softer, brighter aspects of human nature. He was a man of few colors, mostly brown and grey; he had brown hair, and brown eyes, and surprisingly brown skin for a man who saw the sun only in commuting, and only then through the grey-skinned English sky. The suit he wore to his middling-level bureaucratic job was invariably grey, although occasionally it was speckled with brown or green, or in one case patterned with hound s tooth. He was particularly fond of the hounds tooth suit; he counted it a great leap of fashion.
Charles did not go by any nicknames; not Chuck or Charlie, he was and had always been Charles, born at twenty-five and evolved into a muddy earthen-colored thirty-two that in any other situation would have retained the awkwardness of the teenage years. Having never really been a teenager, Charles didn’t have that problem. He was quiet, however, and unassuming, the kind of man who would live and die in middle management. He walked the same way to the same underground station to take the same train to work every day, not once thinking there might even be another way, put his mail n the same end table in his modest flat. Charles was a creature of habit, not of spontaneity.
This being true of Charles, it was hardly surprising or even out of the ordinary that it took him days--weeks, even--to notice it. He walked by it every day, twice a day, but if he ever looked at it then his eyes slipped right past it, busy with whatever they were expecting to see instead of what they were actually seeing. But then, on a random Tuesday that was not much different than the previous Tuesday or the Tuesday before that, Charles looked up from putting his mail down on the official mail-holding end table in the front hall of his flat and, for the very first time, he noticed the thread.
It was not a very large thread, but it was errant, hanging from the ceiling of the hallway. In the stale air currents of the apartment, it stirred like a lazy pendulum, drifting back and forth in the air. It was the color of a fiberoptic cable, and almost impossible to see except from exactly the angle that Charles was looking at it, and every time he reached his hand up to touch at it, it would dance just out of his grasp, shivering and shifting to the side before it would touch his skin. Charles spent a few minutes vainly trying to catch hold of it before he gave up, and brushed it out of his mind to continue rifling through his mail.
For a few days, that was that. Charles never really noticed the thread hanging from the ceiling, and he certainly never thought about it. His days were swallowed by the grey-brown of London bureaucracy, and his nights were swallowed by sleeping, and there was very little that Charles did in between those two activities. He had very little time in the self-made clockwork of his life to entertain anything else. Charles had lived all his independent life that way, and in a pathetic, uninspired way it had worked for him. Cogs never have much time to think about anything but turning.
But somewhere deep in the heart of him was a dreamer that had long been deferred, and something about that thread woke the sleeper that was within Charles, and the sleeper would not let the idea pass away into the machine.
Charles found himself thinking of the thread at the most inconvenient times; in the midst of his admittedly very inconsequential paperwork, as he settled down for tea, as he lay awake at night for the first time in thirty years, wondering what exactly that thread was. He was no expert on building materials -- or anything, really -- but Charles was moderately confident that his flat was not made of fiberglass. This meant that the thread was out of place, an anomaly, and as in all machines, this anomaly made all the gears, bells and whistles in Charles' factory floor mind come to a grinding halt.
It was nearing three-am on a Thursday morning that, a little over three weeks after he first noticed the thread in the front hallway, Charles threw down his covers and swung his legs out of bed and, in his pajamas and without so much as slippers, made his way down the hall to where that thread had been hanging before. There was a part of him that was entirely convinced he'd made the entire thing up, and was being very foolish indeed indulging this, but there was a different part of him--maybe not larger but definitely the vocal minority--that was convinced that the thread would still be there and, for the sake of Charles' sanity, it must be dealt with. Right then, at nearly three am on a Thursday morning.
The thread was, indeed, still hanging where Charles has left it, discovered and forgotten and recovered. It had gotten no longer in its time spent waiting, although it no longer swayed with the invisible motion of air inside the hallway and instead hung straight down like a divining rod at the floor. With a spasm of determination the likes of which had never been seen before on Charles' passive, somewhat unremarkable face, he reached out and wrapped his fingers around the thread. It was the first step that Charles Surry had ever taken off of a path that had been well and duly trodden for him, by a long line of grey-brown men in grey-brown suits living grey-brown lives.
Against his palm, the thread lay as stiff as it had been hanging, trembling like a racehorse in the gates. He could barely see it against his skin; it was simply a spot of distortion, a place where the colors were just a shade more intense than it was before, everything sharper and cleaner as if he were looking at that small section of his hand through a high-definition screen. It was much heavier than he'd expected, and in his hand it was a leaden weight, creasing the same skin that it made sharper. Charles was vaguely surprised--vaguely being the only sort of surprised that Charles could muster up--that it hadn't fallen further out in the time he'd been trying to ignore it. He did not muse on that long, however. Now was the time for uncharacteristic action in Charles, and he was not going to put it aside any longer. The thinker-doer in his heart had been awakened, and refused to sleep again until this deed was done.
Closing his fist with a certain alien sense of conviction, Charles pulled downward on the thread, to detach it from his ceiling and have done from the whole affair. It was not nearly that easy, but then again even in middle management, things never were.
Instead of coming free, the thread began to unravel from its anchor point, undoing in graceful kinks that quickly stiffened. The line of the thread dodged side-to-side across the ceiling, and as it did, as Charles pulled, the entire top of his apartment slowly dissolved, revealing the night sky above him with bright, bright stars. He stared, blankly, upward at the place where his ceiling used to be, as well as the place where he was fairly sure there had been at least one if not a half dozen more floors of flats, but his hands did not stop moving. Even as he puzzled over the jagged lines of Perseus in the constellations, his fingers kept pulling at the thread, carefully snapping it over until it folded into a dense bundle in his left palm. He kept pulling until the snag had started down the far wall of the hallway in the same sharp left-right-left swerving of dissolving stitchwork.
The excess thread became too much for him to hold, and it spilled out of his hand in geometric angles to begin to pile near his feet.
When he refocused on what he was doing, Charles had pulled free all four walls of his apartment, and half of the floor. He could see London spread out before him in its night-time glory, thick and deep and smoggy but somehow flatter and glossy, as if it were all just a great picture torn out of a greater magazine that he was standing on, making plays at being a part of. He coiled the thread around his feet in a snakecharmer's weave, and the floor disappeared, leaving him suspended yards above the foundation where his apartment building once stood, hovering in the air as solidly as he had stood on the floor. No one on the street seemed to notice him, and considering the fact that Charles was still in his pajamas, this made Charles very grateful. He had always been prone to embarrassment.
The thread still hadn't come free from its variable mooring, and having done quite a bit of damage already, Charles' now-very-vocal dreamer was not content to leave it stuck hanging on the skyline as it was. He continued to pull, hand over hand like a Volga boatman, like he'd been passing rope between his calloused palms for a thousand lifetimes. London's silhouette began to pull apart starting at the Eye, then continuing on to undo the entire ragged skyline in wobbling line, until there was no more Tower, no more Parliament, no Globe Theatre and no Madame Tussaud's, just Charles and the night canopy. And then he unraveled the stars.
When it was all said and done, Charles was left standing alone in his pajamas in a featureless wash of grey with the loose end of the fiberglass thread in his hand. Without a point of reference in the unremarkable wash of anti-color, Charles was hard-pressed to tell whether it'd been a few seconds or a few years when the voice finally spoke in a drab, peevish tone; "Well, you've gone and done it now, haven't you?"
Charles blinked twice into the nothing. "I beg pardon?"
"I said," reiterated the voice, which had yet to resolve itself into any real speaker, "You've gone and done it now, haven't you? Unraveled the very fabric of reality. I suppose you're very proud of yourself."
"Well, no, not really." Charles was frequently on the defensive in conversations, and this one was made no different by the fact that Charles was beginning to suspect he was actually having it with himself. "It's just that there was this thread..."
A disembodied snort. "There's always one."
for the second time in as many minutes, Charles found himself very confused. That was alright because he was very accustomed to confusion. "I beg pardon?" He repeated, his voice sliding a little higher.
"I said, there's always one. Thread, that is. Something hanging loose somewhere because the work's got to end someplace, doesn't it? And then there's always a trouble-maker who has to go and pull the thread just to see what it does, instead of leaving well enough alone." The voice was beginning to sound downright cheesed off.
"I'm not a trouble-maker." Charles protested, in a moue of insult and patheticness. There was a beat of silence that boomed like timpani before he asked, "Are you God?"
A man appeared just before Charles with such abruptness that Charles took a step back, briefly walleyed as he tried to focus on the newcomer. He was an elder gentleman, with a haphazard grizzled beard, who leaned on what Charles took a moment to recognize as a mop. He was dressed in a grey cover-all which had clearly seen better days, and had once had a little square with a name stitched on the left breast, but that was long gone. "In a manner of speaking, I suppose."
God was a janitor. Charles found himself somewhat bemused that this had never occurred to him before now.
"In any case," God-the-janitor said, his expression some parts surly and some parts just tired, "It's your mess you've made. I'm not cleaning up after all of this." He gestured with his mop at the grey nothing, and dirty water arced in fat drops only to swallowed by it. Then he swung and, shortly after nearly pummeling Charles in the face with it, he shoved the mop out and away from himself in a gesture that echoed irrefutably with finality. "I am well done with this."
Charles could feel his mouth trying to form another pout, and he took the mop from God to prevent being assaulted with it. Then he looked down at himself, in his pajamas, with a mop in one hand and the loose end of the fabric of the universe in the other, and he sighed heavily. "I haven't the foggiest idea what to do with these." Charles wasn't very creative, and a mop and a thread just didn't seem to go together in his mind, no matter how he tried to turn his wheels over it.
The janitor grunted in a very un-Godlike manner, and gestured back over his shoulder with a jerked thumb. "Well, there's always that, but it was too fancy for me. I don't care which one you use, because it's going to be you using it. My shift's over, kid." Along the trajectory of his motion, a loom appeared that was never there before.
"But..." Charles protested, and that's all he got out before God had taken three ambling steps to the side and was gone as abruptly as he'd appeared, offering no more explanation or advice to the lost bureaucrat. As he had said, his shift was over, and that was that.
Which left Charles alone with a mop, a loom, and the yarn of the universe.
Even Charles could see that a thread belonged much more with a loom than a mop, despite his shuttered way of looking at things, and so he let the mop slip from his fingers, watching as it hit the floor that wasn't there and, like God, disappeared completely. Maybe it was still there, and Charles simply lacked the ability to see it any longer. Maybe it had never existed at all. He wasn't very good with existential puzzled. He wasn't even very good with physical puzzles. what Charles was good at was straight lines, one foot in front of the other, logical patterns of geometry and mediocrity. With the end of the thread clutched tight in one hand, he took heavy, plodding steps over to the loom. The thread trailed behind him, a shimmering and iridescent snake.
Unsurprisingly, Charles had never been exposed to a loom before in anything more than an intellectual sense. He recognized it for what it was, of course, but he'd never really seen the long stretch of yarn across its frame, nor the treadles and shuttle, the subtle difference between the weft and the warp. Every piece of clothing he'd ever worn had been made industrially, on a factory floor somewhere and likely at hundreds of miles an hour, but the machine that stood before him now required no electricity, no foreman, no machine oil or computer chips. It was as old as his race, ancient and proud and covered in lazy-intricate designs along its framework that rang some dim bell in Charles' memory that he couldn't quite identify. For all of his trepidation, and for all the absurdity of the events that had lead him to this loom, the thing seemed almost inviting, and after a deep, long breath that might have been cleansing for a different man, Charles sat down on the loom's bench with the thread still in his hand.
It was like sitting on epiphany. Charles remembered, in that instant, everything that he had ever forgotten; how to laugh, how to dream, the sound of cold water against warm stones, the way London looked under a cloudless summer sky. He remembered colors and music and how to dance. He remembered what it was like to be born, and then his mind unfolded like a water-lily, and he remembered things he had never known. He remembered what it was like to fly with the desert wind in his wings, how to run and run over arctic snow and never tire, what it was to be a mother carrying an unborn child, the way the world looked from the top of its mountains, freefall from four thousand feet. Charles remembered how to die, and then, when it was all over and he felt himself shivering in his own body once again, very last of all Charles remembered how to breathe again.
His eyes, when they opened, were a starfield at night, focused on the loom with the intimate knowledge of what it was for and how to use it for that purpose. More importantly, they were focused with determination, and more creativity than his heart had ever held before. Then Charles shifted, and looked at the thread still in his hand.
What was once translucent and unremarkable was now alive with color, flashes of images too close to be distinct, shivering in an attempt to respond to everything that was streaking through Charles' mind like comets. For one fragile, tremulous moment, the whole thread turned a patterned grey and brown, and Charles looked down at it with his cassiopedic gaze and he paused. And then he frowned, and shook his head to himself; he'd had quite enough of grey and brown. It was time for new colors, for reds and greens and browns, fire-rust-orange and deep-as-midnight black that swirled along the length of the fiber in smoky instability. He wove the thread through his fingers first, a cat's cradle of reality with which he made a pocket around himself, and after it was formed Charles carefully bound the thread onto his loom, stretching it over the frame and fitting it into the place it had always belonged.
And then Charles Surry, once bureaucrat and unremarkable, turned Charles Star-gazer, the Thinker of Thoughts and Dreamer of Dreams, wove himself a new world.