Nursery rhymes, crosswords, a coming-of-age novel; Mortmain’s daughters have crisped him deep in the oubliette until he produces something, until he creates anything. “Your job,” they cried, and left him there in the leaf-tinted light to curse, to wail, to turn again and again from the hungry void of the page.
He remembers the war, and his terror at being called up. His fear of heights, his hatred of violence, his patrician disdain for the other soldiers, a paratrooper’s life. 47 times the door disappeared down the gullet of the sky, and then armistice before he saw action, thank god. He wears a white feather in his hatband every November, even now when no one remembers the significance, a rebuke to himself. Never again.
Falling, though. Each time worse, an orgasm of fear, always new; pale and shaken and drunk in the mess afterward, while their rude laughter crashed through him like the tinnitus of blood. He has been preparing for so long, packing each new puzzle, each half-constructed language, each discovered delft design away with soothing routine.
The door closing echoes in the choked, half-sunken room. With no other choice, Mortmain lets go and falls, for the first and forty-eighth time, and writes.