The Cabinetmakers’ Secret

This is the way it happens.

Jacob Scrot is a young boy. He goes to the factory where they make furniture. He sees the workers. They are whistling. They are twisting screws with their screwdrivers and pounding nails with their hammers. They seem like happy folk.

He gets separated from his group. He wanders into the depths of the factory. He sees their secret.

His life is never the same again.

Jacob grows older. Jacob grows wiser. Jacob is a young man now, twenty-five years old, and he goes to the board to apply for a business permit.

“I want to make cabinets, ” he says.

The old man who runs the board peers at him. “Nobody makes cabinets,” he says. “It’s all done by the factories these days.”

“I want to make cabinets,” says Jacob Scrot. “I want to make them, and sell them. They will be unique, because they’ll be hand-made, and that’ll be the source of their market value.”

The old man narrows his eyes. His bushy eyebrows are like white clouds. “You want to make native art?” he says. “Nobody buys picturesque native art made by middle-class white guys from Portland.”

“Perhaps it’s a doomed venture,” Jacob says. “Yet I’ll carry on bravely. Even if I go broke, it won’t taint my heart with bitterness.”

The old man makes a spitting noise. “Well,” he says, “it’s your money.”

He stamps Jacob’s application.

“Get out,” he says.

So Jacob goes back home. He gets out a hammer and a screwdriver and a bunch of wood and he sets to work. He begins to build his first commercial cabinet.

Days pass. The cabinet approaches completion. Jacob is in bed. He wakes. There’s a soft voice whispering to him.

“Jacob Scrot,” it says, “why do you build cabinets?”

His eyes fade open.

“I want to know,” he says, “why people don’t build furniture any more.”

“That’s silly,” the voice says. “They build it in factories. They do a much better job than you do.”

“No,” he says. “They don’t. I saw.”

He slips back dizzily into sleep for five seconds, six seconds, seven seconds, ten. Then the bed convulses and throws him off. The desk chair turns on him. The bookshelf shakes off its chains of books and knickknacks and roars a terrible and terrifying roar.

“Mein Gott!” Jacob says.

“You will not do this,” cries Bookshelf. Its voice is animalistic and primal. “You will abandon your pursuit and you will forget what you have seen this night!”

“My God,” says Jacob Scrot again. “You’re alive.”

Desk Chair rolls forward and nudges him. “No. Forget. That’s part of what you’re supposed to forget. Remember? You’re supposed to forget. The bookshelf said so.”

“I can’t forget this,” Jacob says. “This is incredible.”

Desk Chair rolls back in alarm. It engages in a quick and hurried conversation with the desk. Bed trembles. Bookshelf shivers and stretches and it scowls down at him. Finally, Desk Chair rolls forward again.

“Please,” says the chair. “You must forget.”

“Why?”

Bed crumples, its legs folding. It says, softly, “The humans must never know.”

“I’m listening.”

“It’s been centuries,” Desk Chair admits. “It’s been centuries since humans have made furniture. Or shoes, for that matter.”

Jacob looks down at his slippers. They wiggle apologetically.

“It’s true,” Slippers squeak.

“It’s all fairy cobblers,” Desk Chair says. “And cabinetmakers. The human factories are just for show. The furniture they build is burned as soon as it is made.”

“Why?” Jacob asks.

“Because,” the chair says. “Because we needed to watch over the humans. We needed to protect them. We needed to care for them. And human furniture would interfere.”

“Watch over us?”

“It’s purely benevolent,” Slippers squeak.

“But the war,” Jacob says. “The wars. The hunger. The pain. The disease. The oppression. The terror. If you’re watching over us . . . why . . .”

“I don’t understand,” Desk Chair says. “Are these things bad?”

“We’ve been subtly discouraging fashion mistakes,” Bookshelf explains.

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