A Cold Open Stories Original
Written by Chris Buxey
Reading Time: 9 minutes
The dark god of the silent abyss filled the colossal obsidian cavern. His skin was charcoal-grey and his sinewy limbs were folded around his cyclopean form as he floated restlessly above the cold black floor. On his otherwise featureless head, a thousand mouths silently screamed. Krak’nagorian was the god’s name, and he was terrible to behold. In a small office at his feet, Trenton refreshed his email hoping to see today’s work order.
An alarm beeped. Trenton stood, stretched, and rubbed his eyes under his glasses. Being reminded to move every thirty minutes helped his circulation. It was a good excuse to visit the coffee pot too. The rear of his office contained a modest kitchenette, a separate toilet, a little bedroom and of course the small armoured door that he’d entered via just over six months ago. The front of the office was dominated by a panoramic window offering a view of the enormous cavern. Floodlights illuminated a pitifully small area of the black glassy floor outside the window before surrendering to the darkness. Other lights stabbed up at the giant god with thin stilettos of illumination. Here, a slice of a limb larger than any redwood, there, a slowly waving fragment of monumental loincloth fashioned from acres of human skin. Otherwise, the view was simply as black as the coffee Trenton had just poured. But the lights were not for his benefit.
Trenton sat back at his desk beneath the window, blowing on the steaming coffee. The smell filled his office. He suspected the room also smelled of stale sweat— there hadn’t been much need for personal hygiene lately—but if it did then he had got used to it and no longer noticed. He hit refresh but there were still no work orders. It wasn’t a surprise, the quantum entanglers were a work of engineering genius, and they’d barely needed any maintenance during the six months he’d been down here. Just another twelve months to go. Trenton knew it was a strange wish for a maintenance engineer, but he did hope they’d go wrong slightly more often. There was little else to keep him occupied. The security protocols surrounding his role were exacting; absolutely no outside contact or communication. Corporate emails to his direct supervisor only, and bless him, Trenton thought, Simon really didn’t have a sense of humour about this job. Other than that, well, there was his novel—Trenton looked at the blank file on his desktop—that he was definitely going to start any day now.
One small morsel of human contact that he was permitted were the remote cameras situated around the yawning cavern. Most were focused on Krak’nagorian’s monolithic form, but a few covered the walkway that circled the great god’s head like an iron crown. The images were silent and grainy due to the filters, but they did let Trenton actually see the people at the top of the abyss far above his head. He clicked on the cameras now. Tourists were walking around the suspended walkway, leaning on the railings and pointing at the multitude of gnashing mouths, each large enough to swallow a bus. As there was no sound, Trenton liked to imagine what the tiny, distant figures were saying.
‘Dad, why does it say no photos?’ Trenton said quietly to himself in a mocking voice, watching a teenager wave his phone.
‘I don’t know, son, but I don’t think that applies to us. Take a picture.’ Trenton answered himself in a deeper voice.
A pin-prick of light flashed in the darkness above.
‘Oh dad, the picture didn’t take properly, it’s just showing a black screen. Wait, now my phone’s not working at all!’ Trenton said in a whiney voice, watching the distant figure shake their phone in frustration.
‘That’s why it says no photos, dipshit,’ Trenton muttered to himself, reverting to his own voice, ‘you can’t view Krak’nagorian through an unfiltered camera.’ He didn’t feel much sympathy for the guest; to Trenton’s mind, if you ignored a warning sign then you deserved the consequences. But, the guest could also most likely afford a replacement. Coming to Eldritch Park as a tourist was not cheap. It was definitely not a place Trenton could afford to be if he wasn’t working here.
As if on cue, his email dinged. Trenton eagerly switched tabs away from the camera. Trenton’s excitement at a break in the monotony rapidly faded when he found the message was corrupt. The body of the email was blank, and it seemed to have a malformed attachment. Frowning, Trenton fired off a quick email to Simon.
Hi Simon, did you send me a work order? I think it’s corrupted. Sincerely, Trenton.
Hi Trenton, no, nothing today. Must have been a glitch. Sincerely, Simon.
No worries. How’s your day going? Sincerely, Trenton.
Very busy. Sincerely, Simon.
At least someone is, thought Trenton. He deleted the corrupt email, and got up for another coffee. Following twenty minutes of staring out of the window at Krak’nagorian’s foot, he decided to have another look at the corrupt email. After trying a couple of techniques to parse the data, he realised it wasn’t malformed, but a file with an incorrect extension. He dropped it in a text editor and was faintly surprised to see a legible message.
Are you ready to listen? 142857
Trenton had no idea what that meant. He tried to find work order 142857, but the job numbers didn’t go that high. Trenton leant back and pondered. He tried turning off his workstation and listening. Without the whirring fans, the office fell into a deep and oppressive silence. He held his breath, until the sound of his pulse thundered in his ears. Outside, high above, Krak’nagorian’s foot twitched.
A loud knocking echoed around the room. Trenton jumped violently, spilling coffee over his workstation. Not a single person had knocked at his office door in the past six months.
‘H-hello?’ croaked Trenton. The spike of adrenaline felt like a stake through his heart. The knocking came again, more insistent this time. Trenton crept slowly towards the door. He had barely looked at it since he entered his office, there didn’t seem much point. Now he saw there was no peephole or video screen. No handle even. The knocking came again, more rapid still.
‘Hello?’ called Trenton, louder this time. More knocking. He looked around urgently for some way of communicating or opening the door. There was a small numeric keypad, and he had no idea what the – Trenton paused, then tried to recall the hidden email message. The hammering knocking came again.
‘Yes, yes, I get it, I’m coming!’ he yelled as he restarted the workstation.
Trenton hurried back to the door. He hesitated, finger hovering over the keypad. Should he be doing this? The security protocols said he wasn’t supposed to have contact with anyone. But what if it was an emergency? In truth, Trenton suddenly realised how lonely he was. He typed in the number and the door slid open. A lady stood there with her fist raised, ready to knock again.
‘Oh thank the gods, I thought you were stupid!’ she said with a relieved smile.
‘W-what…?’ stammered Trenton.
‘I thought you were too stupid to find the secret message and deleted the email or something,’ she laughed.
‘Who are you?’
‘Sorry, it’s been a while since I talked to anyone new. My name’s Eliana.’
‘Trenton,’ said Trenton, shaking her hand.
‘Yes, I know. I sent you the email, remember?’
‘Ah, right. So, what are you doing here?’
‘The quantum entanglement generators!’
‘What about them? Is there a problem? Are they failing?’
‘No, that’s just it! They never fail do they? Never even need real maintenance. I’m going to find out why. Thought you might like to come along.’
‘Why not? Got anything better to do?’ Trenton had to admit that he didn’t. Outside his office door was a neatly-carved corridor through the obsidian leading to a lift, just as he remembered it from when he had first arrived. Together they entered the lift and Eliana hit a button. The lift began to rise.
‘How do you know where the quantum entanglers are?’
‘If I can dump the door code database then I can find floor plans. I’m surprised you didn’t do it yourself.’
‘Well, I mean, that’s not really my area of expertise. You’re another engineer then? Which god are you with?’
‘Nycetarath, god of the maddening depths.’
‘Oh yeah? How’s that?’
‘Damp. How’s Krak’nagorian of the silent abyss? Does it stare back?’
‘You know, if you stare into the abyss, does it stare back?’
‘No, not really…he doesn’t have any eyes.’
Eliana fell silent for the first time and Trenton took a moment to look at her properly. She was wearing overalls embroidered with the Park name. Her skin was dark and her eyes a deep brown. Her hair was long and frizzy, and she had the look of someone who had just been caught in the rain. Trenton wondered what he must look like to her.
The lift doors opened, and Trenton blinked. They were in a brightly lit corridor filled with people. Smartly dressed families and children walked by, and it took him a few seconds to realise they were amongst the paying customers.
‘What are you doing?’ hissed Trenton, the enormity of this act suddenly hitting him. He was in breach of his contract. ‘Management will see us!’
‘I think speed is more important than stealth, we don’t want to be away from our workstations for long.’
‘But, we don’t look like tourists!’
‘Then, let’s be quick.’
They hurried out of the lift and down the corridor. Eldritch Park was carved deep into the heart of a mountainous island. Corridors and chambers were built from huge blocks of white marble and granite. Their path was lit with pseudo-flaming torches. Every facet of the facility was designed to feel eternal and divine.
Trenton found the amount of people overwhelming after his isolation. Even Eliana was a little too much, if he was honest. They pushed their way between the guests queuing to see Jehovah. The hubbub that echoed through every corridor was just as oppressive in its own way as the silence at the bottom of the abyss.
‘We’ll cut through the petting zoo,’ said Eliana. The “petting zoo” was the nickname for the area containing the smaller, less sanity-blasting gods. The guide book recommended it as a good place to start if you had children. They hurried past the crowds gawping at Ecanorioch, the All-Seeing-Eye. On the other side, Eliana ushered Trenton through a concealed doorway into a service corridor. Behind the scenes, everything suddenly looked more industrial. Power conduits lined the walls. They had nearly reached the quantum entanglers.
‘What exactly are you looking for?’ Trenton asked.
‘I don’t know, to be honest. I just find the whole thing strange. These marvellous mechanisms keep a myriad of gods trapped here for our amusement. The engineers like us know how our sections work, but who is overseeing the whole? What does the whole even look like? Could you reverse engineer its function? I know I couldn’t! Nothing like Eldritch Park has ever been attempted in the history of humanity, but it all just works flawlessly while we kick our heels? I’m not buying it.’
‘You might not, but they certainly do,’ said Trenton, gesturing back at the tourists.
Apart from their footsteps, the corridor was silent. At the far end, a small door marked the entrance to the quantum entanglers.
‘That’s…not what I was expecting,’ said Eliana. Trenton suddenly felt a rising nervousness as they walked closer. The only sounds were their echoing footsteps.
‘Last chance to turn back,’ said Eliana quietly as they reached the door.
‘We’ve come this far…,’ replied Trenton. They pushed the door open together and stepped into darkness. Lights flickered into life, revealing a vast empty room.
‘I don’t understand!’ said Eliana. She looked back at the label on the door, and then the schematics on her tablet, ‘We’re definitely in the right place. Where are the entanglers?’
‘There’s nothing here,’ said Trenton.
‘Obviously! So what’s keeping the gods contained?’ demanded Eliana. Trenton shrugged. Eliana began pacing up and down muttering to herself while Trenton advanced slowly into the room, worried he could collide with a giant invisible machine at any moment. But the room was as empty as it appeared.
‘Why do the gods stay?’ muttered Eliana, ‘Why do we have to sit down there at Nycetarath’s feet, day after day, in the damp, listening to the endless maddening piping? Just me and Kristen and Jakob all together in that office?’
‘Wait…what?!’ Trenton spun around to stare at Eliana, ‘You have people in the office with you?!’
‘You mean you don’t?!’
‘Of course not! Where do you think they were when you came knocking?!’
‘On the toilet? In their bunk? I don’t know! Eighteen months completely alone, holy shit! That’s just cruel.’
‘You really share with two other people? I just sit alone in the silence and darkness.’
‘I’d take silence and darkness over constant dripping walls and that fucking incesent piping…’ Eliana clawed at her face as she spoke, but she stopped suddenly. She lowered her hands, a look of revelation shining in her eyes. ‘Oh of course. Of bloody course.’
‘What? What is it?’
‘It’s us,’ said Eliana, ‘we’re why the gods stay. They’re not held here by the quantum entanglers. There are no quantum entanglers!’ Trenton’s eyes went wide.
‘Then how do we keep them here?’
‘My sanity, your loneliness. That’s what they want. We’re given fake busy work to stop us realising that we’re the sacrifice this whole place is built on!’
Eliana gave a scream of frustrated rage and threw her tablet across the room. It smashed where it landed.
‘Fuck this! I’m out! I quit! Contract be damned!’ Eliana yelled as she stormed out. Trenton hurried after her. Eliana ranted and raved as they strode down the service corridor, and made no effort to calm down once they reached the public areas. People stared at them as Trenton steered Eliana through the crowds. Ecanorioch watched them pass with a hundred blinking orbs. At last, they reached the lift to Trenton’s office.
‘Good luck with your resignation,’ said Trenton, pressing the call button, ‘it was nice to meet you Eliana.’ This seemed to snap her from the rage.
‘You’re going back?!’
‘Yes, I need this job.’
‘Eldritch Park’s shareholders are getting rich at the cost of our health and sanity!’
Eliana stared at Trenton for long seconds.
‘Then this is goodbye, Trenton, you crazy idiot.’
‘You’re the crazy one remember? I’m the lonely one.’
Eliana gave a short bark of laughter then spun on her heel and strode away. Trenton returned to his workstation. He suddenly felt motivated to make a start on his novel.
About the Author
Chris Buxey is a writer, laser safety officer and occasional Tony Stark impersonator. He lives in southern England with his wife and two children.