Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Water Tank

It has been two days since he found himself in the abandoned water tank. He does not why he is here. Or where here is. He is not even certain that it is a water tank, he is just guessing.

He is aware that he must have got here somehow, must have climbed or been carried (he imagines the rusted steps coiling up the side, the dizzying ladder clawing its way to the top), jumped or been thrown. He cannot remember, or imagine, how it could have happened - what impulse or enmity or series of accidents could have led to this. Perhaps the fall has damaged his memory. Perhaps he was unconscious at the time. Or drunk. Or high.

It is not too bad in here. The floor and walls of the tank are tolerably dry, except for a few patches of black moss on the walls and a thin seep of water at one end. There is shade in the day and the thick walls keep the inside of the tank cool, and at night he can see the stars through the distant aperture of the open manhole, their shimmering precision interrupted now and then by the haze of the city, that intercedes with the heavens on his behalf, like a friendly ghost. Sometimes the sound of distant traffic strays into the tank, but for the most part it is quiet. The silence of the tomb he thinks, hearing every little move he makes resounding in its confined hollowness. It occurs to him that this would be the perfect place to write, if he had a typewriter or even a pen and a piece of paper. But he has nothing.

It is impossible to get out of the tank, of course. There may once have been a ladder on the inside, leading down from the manhole (he can see the brackets on the rim) but if there was it has been removed. Probably taken away when the tank was abandoned, sold as scrap. The walls of the tank are concrete smooth, and the manhole is much too high to jump. So he is stuck.

When he first awoke and found himself here he tried shouting for help, but soon gave it up - he was not sure his voice would carry beyond the tank, and besides, it was unlikely anyone would be around to hear him. Better to conserve his strength. At the back of his mind (though he refuses to admit it) is the thought that perhaps someone has, in fact, thrown him in here and will come in a while to take him out; all he has to do is to survive until then.

There is no food. The little moisture he is able to lick from the seep tastes rancid. The first night his pangs were terrible and left him blubbering in agony, but now the pain has receded, leaving him lightstomached, numb. For a while he worried that the water might come on and fill the tank, then he realized if that happened he might be able to swim to the top and get out through the manhole. Not that there's much chance of that. The tank seems to have been dry for a long time.

He falls asleep and dreams thin, elusive dreams, as if the starvation in his gut had made its way to his imagination. He wakes in the darkness, to the sound of something clanging shut. Initially, he thinks the sound is part of his dream, and feels disoriented, lost. It is a minute or two before he realizes what has happened.

Someone has shut the manhole.

He leaps to his feet and starts to yell, but sits down again a moment later. No use. It is completely dark in the tank now. It occurs to him that with the manhole shut the tank has no ventilation, and he wonders how airtight the cover of the manhole is. He will suffocate in a few hours without some inlet for air. Actually, he will probably suffocate anyway. Or the shutting of the manhole cover may mean that they're planning to start the water again, in which case he will drown.

It occurs to him that none of this matters. He would have starved to death in a while anyway - by comparison drowning or suffocation may be an easier way to go. He considers whether there is a quicker way to kill himself but cannot think of one. His eyes are growing accustomed to the dark now, though the complete absence of light means that he still can't see. Still it isn't hard to make his way around the tank - the whole thing is perfectly simple, perfectly smooth. Like an idea, or the inside of an egg. Not that he has anywhere to go.

Already he can feel the air growing stale. He lies down, flat on his back, and waits for unconsciousness to overcome him, knowing it will be a sleep from which he will not wake. He wonders if they will ever find his body. Do they inspect these tanks at all? He imagines the tank being filled after he is dead, and his body rotting inside it, the broken molecules of his flesh dissolving in the water and being piped to a thousand homes in the city, making their way into the stomachs of his fellow men and women like a secret message they will never learn to decode. "The words of a dead man are modified in the guts of the living." He recites the line out loud, startling himself with the sound of his voice, hearing it echo through the sealed drum of the tank. Then he laughs, and this time the echo is a bat's wing, flapping away into the darkness. It occurs to him that this is the last time he will hear someone laughing. Inspite of himself, he starts to cry.

As his strength fades, he lies there, staring up at the roof. His last thought is that it wasn't so bad in here with the manhole open. It's terrible to be dying this way - it's grotesque, it's unfair - but he wouldn't mind so much if he could just see the sky.

P.S. Will be out attending a conference for the next few days. Regular blogging resumes Wednesday, August 8th.


Jabberwock said...

Hey! How did you know all this? This is exactly as it happened - except for the bit where I bravely resisted the temptation to munch on a crow carcass.

Tabula Rasa said...

ha! the ps. is the punchline, isn't it? :-) enjoy aom.

mandeepsg said...

nice post....but Shot in the Dark is more shocking...

Kronoskraor said...

strange..something's's like mebe a paragraph or some lines aren't there.

Kronoskraor said...

and the first line doesn't sound quite right.sigh.i mostly cant stop raving about your writing.

Falstaff said...

j'wock: Ha! You think you're the only one with water tank problems?

TR: Yes. And I did. Though I'll admit there were times when being stuck in an empty water tank seemed like an attractive idea. Thank god for free alcohol.

mandeepsg: Thanks

kronoskraor: could be, could be.

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

Sinister water tank indeed... reminds me of another short story of yours... trying to find it in your archives,,, a guy in a box?