Object 526

The Holder of the Fetters

In any city, in any country, go to any construction site. Find any of the workers and ask them to see the foreman, saying, "I wish to break the chains." They may shrug, or they may give you a funny look, or tell you to get lost, or direct you to the foreman's trailer. If they do, move on and ask someone else. You may speak to a thousand workers or just one, but eventually, one will respond with a smile and a left fist raised in solidarity. They will say "I'll take you to the foreman," call you brother or sister, and walk off toward the center of the construction site. Follow them and don't dawdle.

As you walk into the construction site, the unfinished work, wood, concrete, steel, aluminum, or glass, will stretch on and on, impossibly, and you'll find yourselves navigating a maze of unfinished construction. The materials of the site will give way to brick and stone, marble and clay, tangled chicken wire and broken rebar, and the worker will begin running faster, racing through the corridors of the maze. As you follow, your legs will feel heavier and heavier, as if mired in mud at first, and then as if dragging a ball and chain. You must, however, keep up, even if your legs become so heavy as to be useless. Do not lose sight of the worker. Do not drift off into the myriad side corridors. There are worse things in this labyrinth than minotaurs, and though you may get lost, they will always be able to find you.

After what seems like forever, the maze will suddenly and without warning give way to an open gravel pit, perhaps a mile across. Whether you are running, walking, or dragging yourself along on bleeding fingertips, the worker will smile at you again, and say, "The foreman's down there," before turning and walking back into the maze. If you do not wish to go on, stand up straight and walk back into the maze, as well. You'll never return, but your fate in the maze may be kinder than what will happen to you if you face the Holder without resolve.

If you can steel yourself to go on, stand up and walk down into the gravel pit. The larger rocks and dirt mounds each have a set of shackles attached, some to ancient skeletons, some to men, some to women, some to children. The living victims will all beg you to release them from their torment, poor devils. Even though they bake in the sun, and die by inches, parched and starving, jagged rocks stabbing into their desiccated flesh, you must not listen to them, for even the smallest and youngest will repay your kindness most horribly, and your eventual death will come as a relief.

Keep walking, and don't stumble or trip or you'll be the next in chains. In the center of the gravel pit, on a giant stone slab, you'll find a body, ancient, desiccated, mummified by the dry winds, chained down on its back, ancient shackles around its ankles, wrists, and neck. Walk up to it, and say, "Shift change, time to clock out." Say nothing else, make no sound. Wait.

A minute or an hour or an eternity might pass, but the shackles will open and the ancient corpse will sit up, climb down from the slab, and gesture at the shackles. Don't hesitate, don't say anything, and don't try to run. Climb onto the slab, fit the ankle cuffs and the neck shackle to yourself, and the corpse will fit the wrist shackles to you. You'll be bound to the slab, just as the corpse was. Close your eyes. If you came with resolve and with purpose, you'll open your eyes and find yourself lying in the construction yard, a broken shackle attached to your left wrist.

If your heart falters, however... If you were weak and insincere in your promise to break the chains, if you stumbled in the gravel pit or didn't hold onto your purpose, or gasped or wept at the pain of those chained to the rocks, you'll never leave. You will be the next Holder, and you will stay, waiting in vain for a Seeker with the strength you lacked.

The strength I lacked.

The shackle is Object 526 of 2538. Bring them together. Grant me my oblivion.