A new volume of succinct yet stirring stories arrives with the second season of Future Fables. Exploring how the ancient fable form may bring us replenishment, comfort and perhaps guidance for the modern day, celebrated contemporary writers weave yarns that resonate and illuminate in equal measure.
Based in Boulder, Colorado, Stephen Graham Jones is the author of nearly 30 novels, collections, novellas and comic books. His writing typically spans horror, crime and science fiction, and references his heritage as a Blackfoot Native American.
In this darkly comic tale, Jones urges us to accept life’s inevitabilities, even the frightening ones.
Three nails were standing in a crossbeam five feet up a wall in the third house on the fifth street of what was going to be a housing development someday, according to the signs on the fences and the hopes of the builders and investors. Each of the nails’ chisel points were embedded in the dry white pine of their board, but most of their golden selves were bare and exposed.
“I hope this will be a closet,” the first nail said, almost giggling with the thrill of it all. “Closets are good, closets are necessary.”
Because all the houses were, for the moment, just frames with no sheetrock or siding, there was no easy to way to tell what was going to be what.
“I hope this is a hallway,” the second nail said wistfully. “Then we can watch the family rushing up and down it before they go off into the day to their respective pursuits.”
“It doesn’t matter where we are,” the third nail said. “The hammer is coming, do you two not know that? Do you know what violence hammers do to nails?”
“My mother told me of the sweet kiss of the hammer, yes,” the first nail said.
The second added, “Supposedly you can hear it whistling down for you, and time will slow down when you hear the air parting, such that it becomes a moan, then a bellow, then a steady falling rumble, which is the bumpy sound its textured head makes right before it makes that good, good contact.”
“Exactly!” said the third nail. “The hammer comes, the hammer comes! It longs to drive us in up to our throats, silencing us forever!”
“I believe we still creak from time to time, don’t we?” the second nail asked. “Am I wrong?”
“I believe it’s the board that does the creaking?” the first nail asked, with all due hesitation.
“And don’t forget the gurgling of the pipes and the hissing and popping of the exposed wires,” the first nail added.
“It doesn’t matter!” the third nail said, twisting as much as it could, as if it wriggle up and out.
“But we can’t stay like this, can we?” the first nail asked, looking around. “All exposed and bare?”
“The rust, the rust,” the second nail added, almost afraid to give such a thing voice.
“Rust?” the third nail asked.
“The board is dry,” the first nail explained. “There’s no moisture in there, once we’re fully hammered in.”
“The board is our prison!” the third nail said, still twisting in place. “Do the two of you not realize what awaits us one of these mornings?”
“Fulfillment?” the first nail asked.
“The hammer is the end,” the third nail said.
“It is?” the second nail said, incredulous. This went against everything it had been taught. But the third nail was so certain.
“Don’t listen,” the first nail whispered to the second nail. “I’ve heard about nails like this.”
“Nails that want to survive, you mean?” the third nail asked, for its ears were very good.
“But we’re nails,” the second nail objected. “What’s the purpose of a nail, if not to be nailed into a board?”
“We hold this closet up,” the first nail added.
“Or this hallway,” the second nail agreed, satisfied with the new direction this was taking.
“Or we’re just practice?” the third nail asked both of them. “Why are we only positioned to be nailed in? Isn’t there the chance that we’re mistakes, that we’re only tapped in because someone didn’t know exactly where to place us?”
The two other nails considered this. They looked around. All the other nails they could see were just heads now, flush with their boards, their lives either complete or over, it was getting harder and harder to tell.
“He’s right,” the first nail said.
“Why are we here?” the second nail asked, wanting to shrink into itself in fear.
For long minutes, no nail said anything. Then, finally, the second nail said, “I think there must be a young builder on-site. I believe the one training him placed us here for him to nail in, to hold this hallway up.”
“Or this closet,”” the first nail said, sort of under its breath.
“Whatever it is,” the second nail said.
“What if this is the kitchen?” the third nail asked. “Kitchens are the first to get remodeled, aren’t they? In a few years’ time, we’re in a rubble heap. What purpose would that serve?”
“A kitchen is the heart of a home?” the first nail said, not very sure of itself.
“I can smell the flavors now,” the second nail said, staging a grand inhale.
“I don’t even know how to talk to the two of you,” the third nail said. “You want the hammer to come. You know we won’t be able to speak with each other like this when we’re hammered into the board, don’t you?”
Neither the first nor the second nail had considered this.
They looked to each other, less certain about things than they had been.
“But without the hammer,” the second nail asked, putting the thought together as it went, “are we even still nails anymore?”
“We’re still pointy, with these round heads,” the third nail said.
“We still have these gills at the top of our necks,” the first nail said, stretching to show them off.
“Those are to keep us in the board better!” the third nail said, its voice trying to fill the house, except there were no walls yet.
“Which holds the closet together better?” the first nail said, sort of like a question.
“Or the hallway?” the second nail added.
“It’s a bedroom,” the board rumbled, all around them. “This is the wall of the house’s biggest bedroom.”
The three nails screamed in their heads and tried to escape the holes they were tapped into.
“You’re alive?” the first nail asked.
“Are we hurting you?” the second nail asked.
“We’re all going to be hidden behind the sheetrock!” the third nail said. “We won’t be able to watch the family grow! We’ll be in the dark forever!”
“But with each other, right?” the second nail said.
“Maybe that’s why we’re so close?” the first added. “So we won’t be lonely?”
“The hammer doesn’t care if we’re lonely!” the third nail yelled. “It only wants to hammer us! That’s why it exists!”
“Wouldn’t it be sad if it didn’t get to?” the second nail asked.
“Who cares about the hammer!” the third nail said. “Aaagh! Why do I have to spend the few moments I have left with nails that are worried they might hurt the hammer’s feelings?”
“The hammer is violent,” the board rumbled. “But so was the saw, for me.”
“Do you hate the saw?” the first nail asked, hesitant to be so bold.
“It was loud and it was fast,” the board said, creaking the slightest bit.
“Would you rather still be a tree in the forest?” the second nail asked, not exactly sure how to phrase it.
“Would you rather be particles of metal in the rock underground?” the board asked back.
“I would rather not get nailed into you,” the third nail said. “No offense.”
“It’s good to be one wall of a bedroom,” the board said, reciting what it had been taught, or told, it could no longer remember.
“We can still see the closet from here, I bet,” the first nail said.
“And the family gets here through the hallway,” the second nail said.
“And when the hammer hits you, your world fills with sound and heat and pain!” the third nail screeched.
“It hurts?” the first nail asked.
“A lot?” the second asked.
“So much!” the third nail confirmed. “And then we get shut in here in the darkness forever, because nobody remodels bedrooms as deep as the walls.”
“But the family might nail other nails in,” the second nail said. “To hang pictures on the walls? Those nails could bring us news.”
“To torture us about the outside world?” the third nail said. “No thanks.”
“What would you have us do?” the first nail asked.
“Avoid the hammer!” the third nail said. “I’m beginning to think the two of you don’t have very sharp points!”
“Avoid the hammer because it hurts . . . ” the second nail said, and would have hugged itself warm it it could have.
“Avoid the hammer so we can still talk to each other . . . ” the first nail said.
“The hammer’s the worst,” the third nail said.
“It is scary,” the board confirmed. “And sometimes it drives ones like you in crooked, and has to slam you flat.”
“That happens?” the first and second nail asked as one.
“More than you think,” the board confirmed.
“I thought it was just two or three taps and done,” the first nail mumbled.
“Ideally, yes,” the third nail said. “But accidents happen all the time. And ‘tap’ is quite the charitable term. ‘Pummel’ might be more accurate. ‘Slam’ would work. ‘Strike,’ ‘drive,’ ‘batter,’ it just goes on and on. Maybe it’s a different word with every hit?”
The three nails shivered in their holes.
“If we stand very still, maybe the hammer will miss us,” the first nail said.
“And if we’re less shiny, it won’t see us,” the second added.
“And we can’t talk, either,” the third said. “The hammer might hear.”
So the three of them stood as still as they could, and didn’t speak a word, and tried to be as dull as possible, and so the hammer did end up missing them, and they got walled in.
In the darkness, the first one said, quietly, “We made it!”
The second one said back, “The hammer never came for us!”
The third nail didn’t say anything. It was wishing that it wasn’t trapped in this dusty eternity with two nails as uninteresting as these two.
“Now the hammer will never find you,” the board boomed through the darkness.
And so it didn’t. But the moisture did, and the rust, and after the second family, the three nails were twisting this way and that, trying to sink
down deeper into their holes, but their holes didn’t go any deeper, not without the hammer, so they just recycled the same questions and observations and jokes, and when a picture-hanging nail finally shoved into their space, admitting a ring of light for a brief moment, all the three nails could do was plead for it to please alert the hammer to their presence, they missed it, they needed it, but picture-hanging nails aren’t to be trusted with such missions, they only care about the precious art they hold, so the three nails just endured, and crumbled, and by the fourth family, there was nothing left to say to each other, so they didn’t.
The moral is that the hammer comes for us all, and it’s scary, yes,
but woe to those who would seek to avoid that frightening moment.
Stephen Graham Jones is the NYT bestselling author of some thirty novels and collections, and there’s some novellas and comic books in there as well. Most recent are Don’t Fear the Reaper and the ongoing Earthdivers. Up before too long are The Angel of Indian Lake and I Was a Teenage Slasher. Stephen lives and teaches in Boulder, Colorado.
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