The Paper Places

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
After his Master isolated himself in his writing chamber, the concerned servant Tobias decides on checking up on him, despite Master Ferdinand's strict instructions not to interrupt him.

Submitted: August 11, 2013

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Submitted: August 11, 2013

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The Paper Places.

Old Tobias finally managed to force himself to go down, after his mere concerns had turned into flat-out worrying. He knew that his Master did not liked to be disturbed when he was in his writing chamber, but it had been almost a week and not once had he abandoned it. He got all his food through the dumbwaiter that ran from the kitchen straight to his room and Tobias knew that all the Master had to do was extend a arm to fetch his meals from the tray. He didn't even have to leave his seat. Tobias imagined he did his sleeping with his head laying on his bureau as well, paper works sticking to his cheek  and he wondered if the Master had even bothered at all to stand up and walk to the included privy to relieve himself, although he whisked this wicked thought away soon as it came.
"Surely, I'm overreacting..." Old Tobias muttered to himself, as he descended stiffly down the stairs. Although he had always kept it wisely to himself, he had always thought the Master to be a bit daft, but never he had thought him to be mad. Just  a bit eccentric is all- like many rich man are, Tobias reminded himself. As he rapped on the Writings chamber door he hoped he wasn't to be proven wrong now.
No answer came. For a moment Tobias envisioned an empty room and a wide open window with a silk rope made out of knotted sheets that ran down to the ground. His Master long gone. But the spell of this strange vision was broken by the Master raspy voice commanding him to enter. The slightly trembling tone sounded uncertain of its own order. Tobias tried the knob, knowing for certain the door would be unlocked. Since the fire that had rampaged through the Master's previous house holding, the Master had developed an almost paranoid fear for fire and insisted that every door, except for the main entrances,  was to be left unlocked at all times, just in case. 
The door swung open.
It was almost completely dark in the chamber, the only source of light being a small candle burning safely inside of a glass bell, riddled with tiny holes for air. There was a hearth, but it would never be kindled for as long as his Master Ferdinand had ownership over it. In the middle of the room, plunged into his own drapey clothing there was the huddled form of his Master Ferdinand, bowing deeply over his desk. He did not turn to face Tobias. In a way, it was exactly how Tobias had imagined it to be and it made his heart sink. When he realized he didn't know what to say an uncomfortable silence flooded the space between the two men. That was, until the Master broke it, sounding extremely aggravated.
"What is it, Tobias?" he grumbled. "Spit it out or leave me be. You know how I detest being disturbed."
Tobias shuffled with his feet. He was at least thirty years older than Master Ferdinand, but the strange aristocrat possessed a flatfooted attitude with which he could stop a rabid pit bull dead in its track with a single subduing sneer if the animal displeased him in any way. But there was no going back now; he would speak his mind.
"Well, you see, Master," Tobias managed nervously. "Me- and the other housemaids as well,  you must know, we, well...we are a bit...worried." 
"Worried?" The Master said. "How come? Surely I am completely safe in this room."
"Yes, yes, of course, Sir. But you haven't been outside for days, Sir. Blast, you haven't even been out of this very room!"
"Then tell me, Tobias," The Master said, unmoving still. "What is there outside of this room that I require? I can sleep, eat here. There's a toilet for nature's call, which it rarely even does at all considering how little food I really require. What is out there that you people fear I am missing out on?"
"Why, life, Master!" Tobias said, now more sure of himself than ever. His Master was quickly becoming a hermit, but Tobias wasn't going to let him wither away in is his isolation just like that. Such is no good for any kind of man and Tobias, as any good servant would be, was now more than ever worried for his Master's wellbeing. "People, human beings, remember? What is the last time you attended a party, Master? What is the last time you even had a simple tea-party? You are cocooning yourself in, isolating yourself...Don't you grow lonely, Sir?"
The Master sat lethally still, not answering the servant's questions. Tobias suddenly wondered if he had gone too far and was just about to retreat when Master Ferdinand spoke.
"What makes you think I am alone in here?" he said, almost soothingly. As if talking to a mere child. "I am far from lonely, in fact, I could say this is the most crowded room of all the house."
Tobias was both shocked and sad to hear his Master speak such nonsense. Clearly he was alone in this room. He had gone mad at last, then. 
"I'm sorry, Sir," Tobias said, softly shaking his bald head. "I'm afraid I do not understand. What people? I can see none." The Master suddenly turned around, facing Tobias abruptly. Held high, he was clutching several pages, filled with the Master's scribbles. 
"In here, Tobias," he said, raising his voice. "They are all in here. Thousands upon thousands of people. Enough to fill Sir Mockington's ballroom a million times. And places too. Whole townships, even whole worlds reside within this chamber. All thriving and riddled with life and motion. And you say I am lonesome. My dear Tobias, I am sorry to say, but you couldn't be more wrong." Taken aback by the sudden outburst, Tobias just managed to recover and whip out the obvious counterargument.
"But that is just fictional, master. It isn't real. Surely you would prefer reality above imagination, however vivid it may be." Master Ferdinand, his face roughened by six days’ worth of facial hair growth, scanned Tobias' humble appearance for a moment, then, suddenly, he smiled a kind smile. As if he was to introduce Tobias to some sort of secret. 
"What makes something real, Tobias?" he then said, still smiling his mild grin. "Is reality merely the physical flesh on my body?" Then, Master Ferdinand grabbed a paperweight and flung it towards Tobias. It struck his chest and Tobias cried out, more out of shock than of pain.
"That hurt, Master! Why'd you throw that at me?"
"It hurt, did it? Tell me, Tobias, did  it also hurt when the missus passed away?" Grimacing, Tobias placed his hand on his chest, but not where the paperweight had struck him. He placed it over his heart.
"Still hurts like hell every day, Sir." Master Ferdinand nodded at this and dug up a book from between the stacks of paper on his chest and held the cover in the candle light. 
"Can you tell me what this work is called?" he asked Tobias. Tobias nodded.
"Sure can. That's Romeo and Juliet...by Shakespeare." 
"Indeed it is," the Master agreed. "Have you, by any chance, read it?" Again Tobias confirmed. 
"Yessir. I proud myself on my reading skills. Lovely tale- a bit sad though." 
"Aha!" Master Ferdinand said with triumph. "So when the end came and the lovers died an seemingly unnecessary death, did you feel their pain? And was it unlike the pain of losing your late  wife?"
"I must confess it was quite like that indeed. It even had me crying for a bit, I believe. Me! You must know I'm no crying man, Sir, but that tale drew the tears from my eyes like fire draws in flies. It reminded me of the wife, I s'pose." The master's grin widened and spread out his arms in an obvious gesture. 
"And now will you have me believe that that feeling wasn't at all real?" The Master spoke, his triumph complete. Tobias, suddenly aware of the corner he had been lured into, muttered a "S'pose so," and wanted to say that it still was no reason for the Master to isolate himself, but Master Ferdinand already continued his say.
"And when you pass away yourself, my friend, that book will remain long after your flesh has withered. And it will be read again. And again and again, spreading it's influence all around the world, like the rippling of water. And it will outdo your impact on history, as it will outdo mine, and many others by far, so how can you possibly argue that it it's not real? Just because you cannot physically touch it? Because you cannot command it or manipulate it in any way, it isn't real? No my friend; it is more than real, because you cannot touch it. It is undeniable and pure in its form. You can disregard it, but you can't change it. Whereas it can touch you and it can move you, as you well know. With their flesh paper and their blood ink they are above the mortalities of us humans. In a way, stories are more real than any of us..." The master Ferdinand offered Tobias one last glance before turning himself back to his writings again. "So please leave me be and don't ever tell me how to live my life again. Thank you."
Tobias, stunned as ever by the Master's speech stood paralyzed in the doorway. Suddenly feeling the need to apologize in some way he bowed down as deeply as his arthritis-plagued spine would allow him to and retreated the room.
"Of course, Sir, I'm sorry Sir," he said flabbergasted, as he began to close the door again. Just before the door hit its frame the Master spoke one last time:
"Oh and Tobias?" he said. 
"Yes, master?" 
"Thank you for worrying; it is most thoughtful. Please enjoy a bottle of  my personal wine tonight- I insist. Give some to the maids and the rest of the house holding staff as well, will you?"
Tobias grinned. His Master was an eccentric one, certainly, but mad he was not. He had never thought he was.
"Certainly Sir, thank you very much, Sir." he said and awaited a last reply, but when it didn't came he finally let the door fall into its lock. 
In the returned silence the Master attended to his writings again and wrote down the following:
"Her dress rippled like water and flowed like wine as she passed through the city park. Her cherry lips curled up in a smile as she spotted me underneath one of the olden oaks. 'You came,' She said, her eyes shining like two brilliant suns in a pale sky, her cheeks flushed with the red glow of dawn. 'Could I ever let you be?' I said and stood up, facing her perfect image. She laughed and took my hand. She led me around the pond where we sat down next to each other, watching a pair of snowy swans glide over the water with majestic grace, leading their brood across their domain, their heads held high in complete awareness of their elegance. She looked smiling at the little signets, as they swam in the blessed wake of their impressive parents and placed her hand gently on her belly. In my turn, I laid my hand on hers, our fingers entwining..." 
Ferdinand laid down his fountain pen. His hands were trembling too much to write anymore down without making a mess. Besides, his tears would ruin the paper. There in the glowering of the candle the Master sobbed in solitude. Though the fire had taken her body all those years ago, she had never died and had never left him alone for one moment. With shaking hands he ran the tips of his fingers along the drying words, his lower jaw clenched shut to prevent it from trembling. "And although I cannot touch you anymore, my sweet, sweet Arlene," he said, while tears ran down his cheek in little streams. "You will never ever stop touching me..."
Upstairs, the household gathered to drink their precious gifts and chattered their gossip, making jokes, laughing, even loving in some cases. And although their muffled sounds crept into the Master's room through the brittle walls, he couldn't hear any of this. He would be somewhere else, forever.

Lost in the Paper Places with his love.

 

 


© Copyright 2017 John Keel . All rights reserved.

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