Pico Wilson sat in the middle of his corpse pile.
The Sculptor was talking at The Painter; The Painter talking at The Composer; The Composer was talking at The Builder; The Builder was talking at The Sculptor. The Snipper sat atop his throne, saying nothing to anyone and not being spoken at, the only person in the room actually listening. All of them wanted attention but him.
“I’m telling you, we mock them through ear worms and jingles! They won’t be able to get it out of their heads, they aren’t free in their own minds!”
“No, we literally turn their art into adverts and billboards! The corporatisation of artistic expression kills its meaning!”
“We can literally grow a gallery around them, the ultimate display of power! Forcing them within the confines of the institution!”
“Just sculpt our own artists to take their places, claiming themselves to be the original creators! The real ones won’t know what to do!”
The Snipper played little attention to the squabbling. Surrounded by petulant children, he thought, snapping out some of his subjects’ ribs and stabbing them into the dead man’s legs. How the hell does The Critic even keep them in line?
The answer to that question kicked open the door. Immediately, all conversation was dropped, all disagreements put aside, and all heads turned to face The Janitor.
The Janitor towered tall, a long black trenchcoat stopping just short of its knees. It was definitely an ‘it’; the presence was not of a human but an immutable force of reality. Its face was entirely obscured by a gas mask; it wore a pitch fabric that hurt to look at. Where it moved, lights seemed to flicker and disappear, physical objects looked intangible and transient, the impossible was certain and certainties could not even be conceived. The Janitor walked into the room, wooden floor creaking to accommodate the immense pressure, and it glanced towards the corpse pile. The Snipper looked directly into the black eyeholes, and in that instant, his stomach turned, his throat tightened, his heart started beating faster and the hairs on his arms stood on end. For the first time in his life, The Snipper felt the sweet rush of love. Well, that or fear. He’d never felt either before, and from what he had heard, the two seemed very similar. He knew one caused attraction, and the other repulsion, and yet here he stood immobile and completely awestruck by the being in front of him. He blurted out the one thing he knew, from an artistic perspective, was objectively true.
“You are beautiful.”
He numbly offered The Janitor a cracked rib, grinning dumbly while shaking. The Janitor cocked its head to one side, as if confused, then took the rib and placed it inside an inner trenchcoat pocket. A heavily obscured, almost mechanical voice buzzed from the diaphragm of the gas mask, and yet the words were clear enough to be understood by all.
“You know not what you have offered me. I may well craft Eve from this rib.”
The Snipper’s grin, somehow, widened even more.
“Then shall I consider you my Yahweh, my Jehovah, my lord and god?”
“I am not a god. I am simply a hand.”
“The hand of a god, then!”
“I am my own hand. Nobody thinks themself a god.”
“Nobody does, indeed.”
The Painter and The Composer shared glances, The Builder actively stared at his feet, and The Sculptor felt somewhat ambivalent to the whole affair, breaking the conversation.
“Get a fucking room. We’re busy.”
The Janitor turned its head to face The Sculptor.
“Apologies, Sculptor. To business, then. To the topic of Friday.”
“Right. Well, you’re obviously here to sit in on the plans. I want you standing by as an ace in the hole in case things go south, you can probably keep track of everything from one of the nearby rooftops.”
“I was planning on doing so regardless. The Director had requested such before her accident.”
“Good. Now I think, perhaps, it would be interesting if we used a bit of a multi-pronged approach here. We’ve all got good ideas, we all think we’ve got the best ones… why not just go for all of them at once?”
The Painter interjected.
“We still need to organise ourselves, else we’ll be tripping over each other’s feet the whole time.”
“True. So, everyone – Janitor excluded, of course – put your plans down on paper, set a timetable, and we can work around it all. Here.”
The Sculptor passed pens and paper to everyone in the room. Everyone began to scribble down notes, The Janitor dutifully standing in silence. The Snipper finished writing, and started to fold his paper into a small origami flower. He began his conversation with The Janitor anew.
“So what do you look like under the mask?”
The Janitor turned. The Sculptor scowled, but continued his own writing.
“Under the mask I am something else.”
“Do you ever take it off? Like, if you get itchy or something?”
“I remove the mask when I am not needed.”
“And then what?”
“And then I am not me.”
The Snipper scratched his head.
“But you are you, though.”
“The me that is this me is not the only me. This is the me that wears a mask. The face beneath this face, perhaps, considers itself a mask concealing me.”
“Oh, so it’s like a split personality shindig. A bit cliché, but hell, who am I to judge, right?”
The Janitor remained silent.
“So, you’re not planning anything for Friday then?”
“My role differs. I am not an artist.”
“Everyone’s an artist.”
“I cannot create.”
“Not all art is in the creation of things. Hell, look at me.”
The Snipper removed a kidney from his subject, rubbing his finger along the rubbery flesh.
“I do not wish to be an artist.”
“Then you’re a critic?”
“I do not judge. I observe.”
“That’s just silly. Observation is inherently judgemental. You choose to observe things worthy of your attention; your choice of what to watch is a judgement.”
The Janitor remained silent. The Sculptor placed his pen down on the table, a detailed itinerary of his exhibit completed.
“Stop bugging The Janitor. If you’re done, hand over your paper.”
The Snipper threw his completed paper flower over to The Sculptor, who began to unfold it with poorly veiled anger.
“So you clean up after us, yeah?”
“That is correct.”
“No matter how much mess we make?”
“That is correct.”
“If I nuked the city, could you clean it up?”
The Painter interjected.
“Don’t nuke the city.”
“Don’t tell me what to do! Could you?”
The Janitor placed a gloved hand to its chin. It thought for a few seconds, The Snipper’s face grinning madly at confounding his new friend.
The Janitor remained silent.
“Oh come on, don’t be a cocktease. How would you do it?”
The Janitor turned to look at The Snipper. Pico’s body was overcome with the same primal shock that he felt when first seeing it, shivers running down his spine and losing feeling in his extremities.
“Alright, whatever. I guess I’ll just have to find out the hard way.”
The Painter yelled louder than before.
“DON’T NUKE THE CITY!”
“Sigh. Fucking spoilsport.”
The Sculptor completed unfolding the piece of paper.
“What the fuck is this?”
He held it up for all to see. The only words on the piece of paper were drawn in blood, spelling out ‘CORPSES FOR THE CORPSE THRONE’.
“I think I was direct and to the point with my itinerary.”
“You’re just going to be exhibiting piles of corpses?”
“…you know what? I’m fine with that. It’s simple, it’s creepy, and some people will probably just run the fuck away. Straight and to the point. Good job, Snipper. Glad to have you onboard.”
“Snip snip snip.”
“No. Don’t try and make that a thing that you do. That’s not a thing. Everyone else done?”
The Builder and The Painter passed back their papers, The Composer having long ago written down his song list. The Sculptor appraised their plans.
“This is good. This is really good, actually… Bob, you’ll have to move your plan around so you’re not getting in Robbo’s way, your gallery’s going to start blocking the adverts if you have it coming up through the alleyways.”
The Builder offered a solution.
“I’ll have the gallery mimic the surrounding wall decorations, anything you’ve done can move through to inside. Actually, scratch that, I’ll just stick windows around everything you do.”
The Painter nodded in agreement.
“I’ll send you a map of the whole plan tomorrow morning, we can figure it out by the night.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
The Sculptor continued.
“Like I said, Snipper’s just running corpses, and Sam’s fine, since sound doesn’t really… oh, actually, the internal acoustics of Bob’s stuff might fuck with it. Something else you’ll have to figure out tomorrow morning, but it’s a tiny issue, you’ll be able to figure it out. I’ll be fine since my stuff’s mobile anyway. We’ve cut this close, gentlemen, but we know what we’re doing. We have our battle plans. After this, nobody’s going to forget why we’re the cool ones. I’ll see you all tomorrow.”
The Sculptor straightened his papers, placing them into a small folder, then walked out of the room, shortly followed by The Builder, Composer, and Painter. The Snipper snuggled into his corpse pile, The Janitor observing every movement. A voice came from deep within the pile.
“Why? Why do you clean up after them?”
The mask’s diaphragm buzzed.
“That is my role.”
“Who set that role?”
The Snipper lifted his head above the pile.
“How does he strongarm someone like you?”
“I have free will. I follow willingly.”
The Snipper frowned.
“Nobody who follows instructions is really free.”
The Janitor remained silent.
“Does he know who you really are, then?”
“I am who I am who I am.”
“Do you know who you really are?”
The Janitor remained silent. The Snipper cackled.
“You’re like a caged bird, except the cage is made of glass and you’re a rhinoceros. You don’t even realise you can break free, do you?”
“I am already free.”
“No. No you aren’t. You poor thing. You poor, pitiful little thing.”
The Janitor faced The Snipper, again shooting lightning down his arms and drying out his mouth. His face betrayed nothing of it.
“I am more free than you will ever understand. I am free from desire, free from emotion, free from everything. You may be free from others, but I am free from myself. I shall take my leave.”
The Janitor left the room with a single step, leaving The Snipper to lie in collected viscera. He sucked the blood from his thumb, spitting it out onto the floor. It was lying, it was deluded, The Janitor was not free.
That would not do, Pico thought.
He would have to free it.