If you’re a newsletter subscriber, you got this early, but if not, it’s OK. This is just a little short story I wrote to scratch an itch recently, and extended and polished up when I was having work done in the apartment and was just sitting here with no internet and only half the electricity working.
The story’s a little bit Poe, a little bit Lovecraft, a little bit all over, but I like how it came out, especially in terms of voice and sentence structure (if that makes sense).
“The Iron Space” by Costa Koutsoutis
The Iron City was always just that, no matter what other names it took. It was born from iron, and even as iron became steel and wood was replaced with stone and metal, it was the Iron City. At one point it might have been Irontown or Iron Town or the Iron Village or the Iron Town or some variation, but that was far too long ago for anyone to remember. Perhaps before it was Iron.
It’s Iron City, or the Iron City, now anyways, with water south, roads east, and who knows what north and west. The water is either a lake or a river or the sea, who knows, but it’s water. Most people can’t even remember ever seeing it, especially if they’re not working by the water or they live on the other side of the city. Sometimes, the buildings are so tall and the clouds so dark that it might as well be night when it’s noon. There are maps, too, original ones, new official ones, and the true ones, but even those aren’t complete. Streets and alleys can open up and close and move and be renamed in the span of half a day, depending on what is going on.
Like any and all cities, Iron City is run by the factions. It might be written that the rulers are others, names and positions of power that either inherit it or get voted into it, but in reality the factions run city on a day-to-day basis. Who gets what done, who goes or who doesn’t go, and what gets made and unmade. There are the big factions, like the Lance and the Hand, but there are also smaller factions, like Sam’s Boys, the Derby Girls, and the Papers.
From one block to a whole side of town, factions decide everything in Iron City, every day. Want to get the stairs in your office repaired? Pushers have to be consulted, paid, and appeased. Need someone to strong-arm unruly regulars at your bar? Lance might help, if it means free food and drinks for them whenever they want. Contracts with the powers, nice fancy government contracts? The Hand are the only ones who control that, and their slice is non-negotiable.
It’s not all that bad, though. They do manage to provide a balance, because heavens know that the powers, the inherited and the voted-in, they don’t care about how the day-to-day life for Iron City works. Taxes are collected, no rules are broken unpunished, the sun rises, and they get their cuts. How it happens is immaterial.
If all I ever thought about were the other factions though, then I’d never be able to talk about one particular spot in Iron City, a spot where no factions ruled. There are a lot of nice spots in the city where you can relax and have fun and see some wonderful and beautiful things, but all of them are, in some way, run, usually by factions. The big names of official power don’t rule in this one place though, either. I don’t think anyone actually rules, controls, runs, or even suggest what goes on in this tiny little corner of the biggest city in the world. It doesn’t need any of that. It only needs one thing. Well, two.
It asks for peace and quiet, which is small and easy to give. Somehow, all of our desires boil down that, so to give it when asked is nothing to us. It’s the other thing to think about.
The second thing is a piece of you. It wants something of you.
The price for this place, this small quiet place in the Iron City where the factions and the powers rule, is a piece of yourself. Be it flesh, be it something deeper, you must give. You must give, or it will take.
When it takes, it takes what it wants, not what you’d offer.
When it takes, it can be cruel. At the least, it is not kind.
You could offer whatever it is that you want, that you are willing to part with. It can be a scrap of paper from your pocket, a drop of blood, a single hair. It can be two minutes of your total lifespan, or a horrific memory you want to get rid of. It doesn’t matter what you give, so long as you give something. These things, from the most precious of deep memories to the faded receipts from your back pants pockets, they carry something, a little bit of “Whiff.”
Whiff is what makes this little corner, this space, up, so to enter, you have to help maintain it. Even a little Whiff helps, and even if you give a little, if it means a lot to you, it means more. I know that doesn’t make much sense, but somehow, it works.
Even though I’m sure you would never dream of it, I have to warn you of what will be taken if you don’t pay. This place, it takes what it wants if nothing is offered, considering it only fair for what it provides, what it offers. It’s a privilege to be here in a time of need, and what we offer, it wears away at the Whiff that makes it up, so denying the toll is one of the most selfish crimes that can be considered.
I’ve said that no one does anything to “rule” this place, but that isn’t entirely true. I work there. Well, I exist here, to be more specific. The price has to be collected and the rules have to be explained, so I’m here. You cannot really expect people who have never been here before who show up to just know the rules of how to behave in his quiet little corner of the greatest city in the world. People need a helping hand, so I help. After all, a little place like this, a corner in a big city where no one rules, not even one single tiny one-room faction, it’s a treasure that should be appreciated.
Anyway, I think I exist here. I might have been a regular visitor at one point, I don’t know. I feel like I’ve always been here, and feelings tend to be the most right, but at the same time, I remember asking about how I could work here, and someone, maybe someone else, telling me that they were waiting for me to ask. I’ve been here, ever since. It was…it was a while ago, but, no, never mind, forget I said that, I have always been here.
What is this place? Well, I’m glad you asked, actually. I can tell you’re new to the Iron City. Are you from out west? I hear it’s quite beautiful out there, the roads are all so new in comparison to here, it’s more temperate…I’m sorry, I’m rambling on and on about pointless things. It’s a bad habit with new visitors, but I can’t help myself, I just enjoy chatting with new faces. I don’t really get out too much from here.
If you need it, you’ll find it. Anywhere that there can be a little, tiny corner of quiet, if you really need it, you’ll find it. Come through that door, the door right over there you came through, and whatever you need, we provide. Quiet mourning? Peaceful solitude? Vivacious and carnal lust? Venting righteous fury and anger? If you need it, it will be here for you, all for the cost of whatever you offer.
Welcome to the Space. I am the Host. Now, how can I help you? Are you ready to pay the toll?