We lived in a small town made of concrete, built over the ruins of those who came before us and tried to make something of it, though all that was left was one high shadow that fell sharply into one dark hole. To the east sat a Pit dug deep, deep into the ground and lined with concrete, and to the west the skeletal high-rise, so tall and barren that we called it the Pillar. The distance between them was less than a mile, with all we had sitting between the Pit and the Pillar. Nothing grew except for the few children, whose souls slowly took the shape of our sharp, stagnant landmarks. Most of them stretched so high up they were unreachable, burning themselves in the light until they seemed like nothing more than invisible black wires, a single puppet string barely holding up each body. A few were dark and low, lower than the Pit itself, so that if you looked too long your heart ached just to see the bottom. All we had was one small market, one building that stood out among the rest, where we bought our food. The owner was the only one with enough money and influence to get the stuff shipped here in those big weather-worn trucks every few weeks. They were the only vehicles that ever came to the town. Some years, a few people would hitch a ride out on one of those trucks, but not often. And they almost never came back, though I can’t say why. Bad things happened out there, but we looked out for our own. We had a lot of drunks, that was for sure, but they knew their place. If they did something Bad, if they hurt someone, they were left with one choice. They were either left to the Pillar, the Pit, or the sands that surrounded us, stretching out in every direction like an ocean dried up from all our hurt. There was no one to sell water in the sands. It was a Bad place. (No one ever chose the Pit, it was almost always the Pillar. At least it was a quick death, the death they made for themselves. Climb to the top and drop. At least we didn’t shoot people with guns, like those big cities, those collections of filth that for all their shouted worth were just bigger chunks of concrete out in the sand. But that’s not the point.) I worked for the market, which meant that I did whatever needed doing. That day I was the sheriff, the detective, the officer of the law, whatever it is that I was. It was a punishment, you see, having to walk through the midday heat, away from the safety of the shade that kept the soles of my shoes from softening too much. I was looking for Stephen, who’d been seen wandering drunk towards the Pillar. There was a lot of space there to hide, but people almost always avoided the place. They didn’t need to be reminded it was there, they saw its shadow fall over the city every morning whether they wanted to or not. but that day Stephen hit his wife, and apparently it was the last hit she would take because she’d turned him in. In to me, and I in turn would turn him in to the town. I got to play sheriff, but I didn’t get to play jury. What I’m meaning to get at is that when I was in the tower I heard something. It was a strange noise, fading in and out of meaning, and I listened hard to catch some before it left again. It was like a voice mixed with wind in the sand and dry fire. I quit looking for Stephen and I followed that voice because I knew that I had to, that way you always know when you can’t let something slip past you in a dream you’ve had before. I climbed my way up the half-made stairs for three flights and then I found it. In a room made roughly of wooden planks and metal beams, there was a small box. I knew immediately what it was then, and I was more scared and excited than before. I had before me a radio. I’d read about them, that no one used them anymore. There was no point. Something about the sand and the storms messing with them, nobody sending anything to them however it was they did it. I just figured it was because nobody was interested in listening anymore. But I was listening now, and what I heard was a lot of crackling over the voice of Bobby Travis. Bobby Travis, who’d hitched a ride on the back of a truck and left town, left my sister all alone, never to be seen again as far as we thought. Because they never come back, we knew that, and yet I still heard Bobby’s voice coming from the radio. I didn’t know what to do, so I ran back home to my sister. My poor sister was kind and beautiful but she was dark inside. The bit of sunlight reflected in her hair was the only light left about her, even her face looked weary from all the sun. I hated to admit it to myself, but the less she talked, the more her soul seemed to me like the Pit, and it scared me. (But she was all I had.) (But that’s also not the point.) I ran to her then, and I told her about Bobby Travis, and together we went back to the Pillar, where she said he’d be. I wasn’t sure how she knew, or if she knew at all, but we climbed the steps and began to search: I, the empty-handed sheriff, and she, the deep dark girl with a brick in her hand. Where the hell did she get that brick? And why did I let her carry it in the first place? I had no time to think on it, she’d run up the stairs ahead of me, and she ran with purpose, with a brick in her hand. First up the stairs, first to the hallway, first to be born, first to go mad, first to die. She would always be first. But that’s not the point. At that moment on the stairs I heard a scream, and before I knew where I was again at the top of them there was Bobby Travis, dead on the floor. He’d come back here, and all for this, all just to get a brick to the head. I took the brick from my sister and I threw it out the window, east into the sands as far as I could. There was blood on my hands, there was blood on my sister’s hands. I cleaned them off, all four hands, and we left. I pulled her down the stairs after me, and her words ran ahead to catch up with me: where was the radio and what was it saying and where would we put the body of the man who clearly had needed to die and couldn’t I see it? And I cried as we ran down all those stairs, though not so many stairs as to tire us out. I cried and cried until night, when I went back, and I listened to that radio again, playing the same message, over and over. Letters and numbers and names and words, or one word which meant everything to me, and that was water, water below the Pit. But it was nonsense, there was nothing in the Pit, surely not water, surely there could not be water beneath it. But I remembered all those numbers and letters and words, and I took them with me back to bed, and I took them with me the next morning, as the memory of the Pillar slowly reached out like the shadow of the Pillar, creeping with its hazy edges towards the Pit where it could lie in wait. The one thing I’d managed to forget was poor old drunken Stephen. Drunk Stephen, who, now sober, played the sheriff on me, finding the greatest hangover cure known to man up there in the Pillar: a corpse. The corpse of Bobby Travis, surrounded by bloody handprints and bloody footprints, and the salvaged pieces of drunken recollection that Stephen could manage, of my voice mostly, as my sister hardly spoke. And the good sheriff turned me in, and the jury found the brick, and the jury found me guilty. And I chose of all things the Pit. No one ever chooses the Pit. Almost never. But as I descended down the rungs, never to be seen again, I knew why I chose. I reached the bottom, never to be seen again, and I looked. I looked and I mumbled the things from the radio until I found myself a small keypad. And I spent the afternoon trying numbers and words and letters. As the sun began to set about me, and my soul was telling me that I was dead and never to be seen again, the keypad clicked. The stone clicked, and it scraped, and a tunnel opened up before me, a perfectly smooth and circular tunnel that went down, not up. And at the end, I saw green like I’d never seen before out here in the sands, and I could hear the water, and I could see light, light not from a lamp, but like the sun. Light from below the Pit.