On occasion, it becomes necessary for Frederick to leave the flat. Of course he gets his groceries delivered along with any other items he may require, which as it happens is very little. However in order to sustain himself and his craft, he once in a while needs to experience human contact.
Frederick gave up seeing his ‘friends’ long ago. He knows what they say about him: ‘Frederick is always working! He could do to take a break one of these days, he doesn’t even post on Facebook! He just needs to get some perspective or a wife or a wi-fi. You never see Frederick smiling anymore.’ There was no sense to be found there.
Instead, he visits other men – and women too – in the private booths near the train station. To ensure the authenticity of the participants, recording devices of any nature must be left at the payment kiosk: it is assumed that if no one is streaming video to gain likes and bait trolls, then they must be in it for the genuine desire to grow brain function and further knowledge. Participants are paired off at random, entering their allocated booth on opposite sides of a plasti-glass panel. They then have the duration they have paid for – usually one hour – to converse, debate and discuss any topic of their choosing without the watchful eyes of their peers and public being upon them.
This stimulates Frederick. It keeps him in touch with the real world, with current affairs and the way things are going for humanity. It also activates something inside him: somewhere near his third eye he thinks, based on where the tokens come from. The 5p sized pieces emerge from his tear ducts and sometimes, if there are many, from his ears too. Thankfully he’s always home by the time that happens; it’s such an ugly sight that he’d hate for it to be caught on camera and leaked to the world by meme. He doesn’t care for his own reputation as such, but if attention were to be drawn to this peculiarity, the opportunity to practice his craft would surely be at an end. He would very much like to know if the other participants have the same experience, but no one ever raises the issue in the booths: talk rarely becomes as personal as that, and he respects the privacy of others enough not to be the one to ask.
Surprisingly enough, the token release doesn’t hurt. It actually feels more restorative, like the lifting of a mental and emotional burden. When there are no more tokens to fall, Frederick sweeps them all up into a little wicker basket, which he hangs upon a hook pegged to the clothesline in his sitting room. He has a basic pulley system set up there, whereby the line and the basket can be carried along through a purpose-carved hole in the wall. When the basket hits an obstacle on the other side, the tokens are tipped out and can be heard clattering down into the depths. Frederick can sleep then, sometimes for a couple of days at a time: the first leg of his craft complete.
Upon awakening, Frederick straight away dons his waterproof trousers, wellies, gloves, and a helmet with a built-in torch. He lifts the handle in the floor beneath the rug – the only thing that could reasonably be called a furnishing in the flat – and prepares to descend the ladder with a bucket and pick held in two fingers. For perhaps 100 vertical feet, he takes careful steps down the iron rungs.
Once he has a good footing, he begins to scrape at the damp walls, freeing up the crystallised words that have formed during sleep. He carefully wriggles them free, being sure not to lose any part of any letter in the process, and pops them into his bucket. Sometimes he will find a particularly rare word: selcouth or gasconade or blatherskite, and he will chuckle to himself at the wonder of where it could possibly be used. When the bucket is full, he takes it back up into the sitting room and empties the contents into a huge urn before returning for more.
He often dreams that he is not some earth creature farming the abyss through a passageway in his floor, but a being that actually comes from beneath, who is climbing up to the top of a tower to gain a new vantage point. Sadly they don’t understand him up there, and he is confined to his turret by the weight of people’s stares.
When there are no more words to gather, Frederick strips off his dirtied clothes and connects up a tube from the brimming urn to the cannula in his arm. For hours thereafter – days even – he sits at his typewriter upon bare floorboards, grinning to himself as the words tumble out of his fingertips.
What a rush! When he writes he feels connected, full of purpose and life, and the masterpieces pile up quickly around him. No one will ever read them of course, but the day he stops his craft will be the day the colour fades from his soul. His eyes will turn to grey, his wrinkles will deepen, and his heart will sink. He will become the man they mistakenly think he is.