In a room underground exists a square pit several dozen yards wide and many thousands of feet deep. Grey-blue smoke clouds the pit. Around it, there are four benches, each stretching the whole side lengths of the pit. Every so often, the leader of the people who throng near the pit turns the benches on their side and moves them a bit closer or a bit farther from the edge. Sometimes the benches are used to sit upon, sometimes they provide a railing; this varies. The scores of persons wandering about the pit will take to staring into its black depths for hours: they therefore achieved the name “Pit Watchers.”

The leader of these devils, a youngish man of slight build, was often accused by his fellows of improper conduct, specifically regarding the use of the crane suspended over the pit. It was improper of him, his followers said, to employ the crane as casually as he did—say, in attempt to rescue some hapless individual who was shoved over the edge by his fellows after some trivial altercation. The followers argued, and perhaps rightly so, that their leader’s use of the crane in such an instance was altogether futile, a mere waving of the flag in protest of a divine selection that only the pit could offer. Indeed, they further implied that it was arrogant of their leader to exercise his might not in their service, or the service of the pit, but instead seemingly in direct opposition to either of those ends. It was in light of such disagreements between the leader and the followers that the former was sometimes chased by the latter into the dark hallways stretching from the corners of the pit-room, often with murderous intent. The followers, after failing to apprehend their leader, would give up the chase, at which point he would come out of hiding and reassert his dominance. This ritual of mutiny was carried out many times until one day the pit watchers began to notice their numbers dwindling (the pit had, no doubt, claimed far too many persons, some even accidentally, during the mob’s various witch hunts for its leader). It was then that they realized a serious change was in order if they hoped to permanently oust their leader. So it was that one day, while he was dozing on a bench, that the followers pushed from their ranks a person of particular grit and snarl, who would be the one to permanently bring the leader’s end. This gritty man strode powerfully up to his leader and, after whispering in the sleeping man’s ear, grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and flung him into the pit, where so many had gone before. All cheered as the leader plunged into the misty blackness, only to fall silent, for they saw that their former leader had not fallen to his demise, but instead hung swinging from the old metal crane, which jangled because of his hasty grip. The crowd looked in dismay, and turned on the man whom it had selected to lead the coup. “This is an unclean expulsion!” one man cried. “The pit is unready for our leader,” mumbled others to themselves. Some rested their heads in their hands. Others began to pace. Still others ran about frantically.

The would-be usurper sat on a bench, watching his leader—who had taken to swinging on the crane’s chain, trying to gain enough momentum to propel himself to safety—and he began to engage him in conversation: “You know sir, in all the years I have served you, I don’t believe I have had the privilege of knowing your name. As you will perhaps soon not have the opportunity to inform me of it, would you now grace me with its sound?”

“I would happily have done so long ago,” his leader replied “but for the unambiguous instructions given to me when I took on this office from a leader whose position was much like mine is now. You see,” he continued, “there is but one responsibility of a true leader, and that is to be hated. That my followers should know my name would furnish within them an understanding of me and therefore diminish their potential for loathing.”

“Yes, but because their hatred has frolicked unchecked, you have been overthrown; you therefore no longer have a reason to conceal your name. I furthermore disagree with the logic of your explanation, as all things need a face. A person is no exception. In fact, I believe a face is all the better hated if one can ascribe the facade of a name to it, for what is hatred but grinding one’s teeth at a mask?”

“True enough,” his leader replied. “But I am of a more traditional mindset. I believe that the hateful party should be given opportunity to imagine his spite, devoid of manipulation. In this way said party can feel at home in his hatred. Regardless, I acknowledge the validity of your claim to my name, and, under these circumstances, you may be privy to its sound as I speak it,” he said, continuing to swing from the crane. Giving one last good kick, he leapt from it, arms outstretched, in an attempt to grab—whether for safety or vengeance one cannot say—the man who had hitherto imposed on him his situation. He failed to clear the distance and was lost. Before he vanished, he muttered, “Ventre.”

The Pit Watchers stared at each other in confusion. They all sat on the benches and resumed watching the pit, waiting for the smoke to clear so that they could see their leader’s remains below. It never did and they all starved to death waiting.

 

Marc Cioffi is a senior in the Fine Arts Department at SVA. He has been writing stories and poems since high school, and is interested in exploring the failure to exist within the world, a vanishing appreciation of one’s own state of being, and the resulting loss of the civilized individual’s wholeness.