The Warren

The Warren

by Brian Evenson

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780765393159
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 09/20/2016
Pages: 96
Sales rank: 1,278,267
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.30(d)

About the Author

BRIAN EVENSON is the author of a dozen books of fiction, including the story collections A Collapse of Horses (Coffee House Press, 2016), Windeye (Coffee House Press 2012) and the novel Immobility (Tor 2012), the latter two of which were finalists for a Shirley Jackson Award. His novel Last Days won the American Library Association's award for Best Horror Novel of 2009). His novel The Open Curtain (Coffee House Press) was a finalist for an Edgar Award and an International Horror Guild Award.

Read an Excerpt

The Warren


By Brian Evenson, Ann VanderMeer

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2016 Brian Evenson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7653-9315-9


CHAPTER 1

I shall begin this written record by reporting the substance of our last conversation — which was not only the last conversation I had with Horak but the last I had with anyone or ever expect to have. Perhaps the last conversation that any two humans will have, if he and I can be said to both qualify as human. There is apparently some debate on that score. Or would be if he had not abandoned me. Was some debate, I should say.

I did not know how to make the machine function properly, and did not know either how to shut it off — it was not me who suspended him within the machine in the first place. The instructions for the operation of the machine were to be found in a sector that proved to be decayed, the data irretrievable. Nor did I know the sequence or the code, and my slow muddlings got me nowhere. In the end, seeing my own time ticking away with nothing resolved, I decided drastic measures were justified.


How long has it been since a person left the warren and how long did he survive? I had asked the monitor earlier, before all this. I knew the answer to this question: the last of us to leave the warren had left one hundred and forty days ago — I wanted to see if the monitor knew this fact or if this portion of the data was also corrupted. The last of us to leave was named Wollem, a name chosen for him by the pair who had come before him, Vigus and Vagus. When they neared the end of their lives, they had themselves imprinted within the monitor and then set about constructing Wollem. They had hoped to make a pair, as had always been done before, but there was so little material that out of prudence they opted to make only one, so that he in turn could make another one, so there might be at least a little more time given to us before a final end. One hundred and forty days ago, Wollem left in search of more material, knowing he would die in the process. But, with luck, he would die only after returning with sufficient material for others to be formed and for us to persist a while longer.

He did not return.

To my question, the monitor responded: Query: what do you mean by person?

I thought about this a long time and then asked, "What do you mean by person?"

It responded, Bipedal, an individual thought process enmeshed in a body, procreated through the fertilization of an ovum by a sperm and its subsequent development in a womb.

"Only the first criterion is relevant."

With this definitional clarification, it said, this sort of "person" left one hundred and forty days ago. He did not return. It is not known how long he survived. This is not a question for which there is sufficient data to provide an answer.

"Is it likely he survived?"

It is not likely.

"And if all three criteria are considered relevant?" I asked.

By these criteria, it has been seventy-one years, eleven months, six days, and twenty-one hours since a person left the warren. He still survives and has been carefully preserved.


But I intended to start differently. I allowed myself to get distracted. Since I learned most things in a way that I have come to feel would not be considered normal for those who might read this record, my sense of balance and order is sometimes far from perfect. At times, I become confused about the order in which things should be told. Parts of me know things that other parts do not, and sometimes I both know a thing and do not know it, or part of me knows something is true and another part knows it is not true, and there is nothing to allow me to negotiate between the two. The monitor can help if I ask the right questions, but in many circumstances it just adds another layer of confusion so that whatever is being choked or stifled is even more so.

"He still survives?" I asked.

Yes, said the monitor.

"Does he have a name?"

Yes. Horak.

"He has been preserved?" I asked. "On an impression?"

Not on an impression. Being preserved on an impression is not the same thing as being alive. His body has been physically stored and his mind along with it.

"Show me where."

It showed me a schematic. Horak was, in fact, quite close. Perhaps through some of the tunnels of the warren that had been filled, he could be reached, I thought at first, but then another self within me stirred, opened its pale eye, and said, No, on the surface.

"Is he outside?" I asked myself.

He is in a facility. Don't you remember?

"No," I said.

I do, it said. I said.

"Is the facility at" — eye after eye opened within me as I groped for a word, finally found it — "ground level?"

Yes.

"And he's still alive?" I asked, amazed.


Some of the sectors pertaining to the proper use of a suit had been corrupted, but not all of them. As a result, I had some information and some noise, and needed only to determine what was information and what was noise, and then determine which parts of me I should ignore and which I should listen to. Could I survive at ground level? Yes, it was clear, but not for long. Longer if I was wearing a suit, but even then not long. How long was not long? The answer to this question was unclear, and querying the monitor did little good. No sensors currently accessible at ground level, it indicated, and then seemed to consider the matter closed.


After Wollem had formed me and made it possible for me to communicate, and then imbued me with the further quickening that made me a receptacle for the selves that had come before me, he told me: My purpose is complete. Now I go in search of help. I am almost certain that I remember him saying this. And that after saying it, he drew a suit up around his body, sealed it, and left the warren.

After he departed, I lay there on my tablature, for how long I do not know. I was trying to translate the vast amount of damaged and partial information that had been poured into my mind into some sort of rational order, into something useful. I could see, in vivid detail, the means by which a finger could be made to flex and move — I understood the electrical impulse that would best bring this about but seemed unable to manifest it. I do not know how long I lay spread on the tablature, trying to move a single finger. And then, suddenly, I did manage a pulse of electricity and the finger moved. But when I examined what I had in my head again, I saw the simple movement of a finger had burnt a line there, a minuscule thread, hardly noticeable unless you happened to be looking for it, unless you happened to be looking very closely because you needed something very specific and saw the way that the line split that thing in two and even obliterated the slightest portion of it. And then I understood that everything I said, everything I did, would do damage to whatever was already contained within me, that there was hardly enough space in my head for all the various selves, let alone their memories, let alone my own.

What did I do? For a long time I did not move, waiting to see if what I held within my head would congeal in some way, become resistant or formalized or ... I don't know. I could see how the information that was there was part of different strata, that what I had thought upon waking was just one being was in fact many layered one atop the other, that I was the partial record of all those who had come before me. These I began to peel off, divide up, and put to sleep, so that I could keep them straight and, if possible, safe.

But in the end I could only do so much of this. In the end, I had no choice but to move another finger.


Wollem came back into the room wearing a suit, prepared to leave, to go to ground level. Or rather, no, that was not what it felt like at the time. I am not sure this is my true memory or instead the memory of an earlier self. At the time, whether my memory or another's, what it felt like was this: Wollem left the room. He was gone for a time. I struggled to move a finger and began to rearrange the architecture of my mind. And then a figure, bipedal but featureless, made of vulcanized cloth, with a head made of a bulb of steel and tempered glass, entered the room and spoke in a tinny voice. The figure waved once and then was gone. It was only later that I stumbled upon a sector on the monitor that told me this was a man wearing a suit. This man must have been, so I deduced since there was nobody else, Wollem.


I rummaged through the warren until I found a suit that reminded me of that suit I had seen, and then I forced my body into it. There were cracks and splits in it, a rent in the stomach, the fabric stained around it by what looked like rust. Doesn't matter if there are holes, part of me that was still awake thought, you're dead anyway if you go outside.

But I opened up each pale eye within me and inquired until I found enough to tell me to rummage some more, and then I tried to close all the eyes again at once, to seal each back — for their own good, for their safety. Each was already crisscrossed with darkness and scars and damage, and awakening them seemed only to damage them worse, so better to keep them asleep.

I rummaged until I found a rusted can of sealant — though the rust on the can was of a somewhat different color than that on the lips of the tear in the suit. Perhaps merely a difference in material. I shook it and sprayed it. When it came out and I positioned it correctly, it bubbled and filled the cracks and splits, and sealed the lips of the rent not only to one another but to my skin beneath, so thoroughly that to remove it later I had to take a knife to my belly and separate a strip of skin from my body.

Wollem told me: "I was taught by Vigus and Vagus in a different way than you will be. Some things were imprinted, but only the most basic of things and with gaps between. The ability to chew and swallow, the ability to walk and crawl, the basics of language. Then Vigus and Vagus took turns instructing me. Once they were gone, I learned from the monitor.

"But the monitor is not what it was. Whole sectors are damaged. Vigus's personality is still preserved, but Vagus's is so damaged that if he were to be brought back, he would be mad. For years we fooled ourselves into thinking we could preserve ourselves in such fashion and be reconstituted later when someone came to relieve us. But no one is coming. No one ever will come, unless it will be someone who means us harm."


And yet, even knowing this, even believing this as he did, once he had imprinted me not just with simple gestures and abilities but with the surviving personalities of our expedition, Wollem could not stop himself from going out to look for someone or something to save us.


There are times when I look back at this writing and do not recognize what I have written. There are moments, whole pages even, that are written in my hand, to be sure, but that I have no memory of writing. When I awake, I sometimes find myself deep in the warren before the writing desk, with the charcoal grasped tight in my hand and no memory of how I arrived there.

I am writing this on paper even though such writing is a forgotten art. I am writing on paper because I have seen the way that sectors of the monitor and other recording devices can become corrupted and whole selves, as a result, are lost. I am trying to leave behind a record that will survive. Apparently, judging from the passages that I do not remember but that are nonetheless written, I am not the only part of me doing this.


I do not have an earliest memory. All the memories came at once, an overlay of a dozen different personalities and all the memories going along with them. Or at least some of the memories — there is not enough room and each new memory I make, each new thing I do, ends up sacrificing memories that came before. Each moment I live snuffs out a little more of the lives of the others within me.

Wollem meant well. When he discovered what was happening within the monitor, the fact that the majority of personalities imprinted within the monitor had grown corrupt with time, he did not know what else to do. He could have let each recorded personality lapse, could have waited until, one after another, they either grew corrupt or the monitor or the tablature broke down sufficiently so as to make organic reinscription of these personalities possible. Instead, having one last source of material at his disposal, he formed me, and then, within me, formed everyone who remained.

And yet, Wollem did not inscribe his own personality. He did not reproduce himself either on the monitor or, organically, within my brain, along with the dozen or so others. Why? Was it merely an oversight on his part? Was it because he knew there were already too many within me? Or was it selfishness, a very real desire to let his flesh and self die together, to keep his self to himself?


Suit affixed, heart pounding, I squirreled my way along the edges of the warren and came to the first seal. This was much farther than I had ever gone before. I removed the seal and ignored the warning sirens. I had salvaged a piece of rebar from the failed portion of the warren, the damaged portion, and positioned it to keep the seal open, just in case it was inclined to slide closed while I was gone or in case, despite the damage the warren had undergone, there was some mechanism that would, after a certain amount of time had passed, draw the seal closed.

I climbed the ladder, slowly, putting one foot over the other as I had been taught to do. As I did so, I felt several pairs of eyes within my head flicker open, awakened by a movement that was familiar to them, from their own climbs to the surface many years before. The strangeness of that: the feeling that you, or rather I, are at once dreaming and remembering and simultaneously doing something as if for the first time. That terrible rapid construction of the world around you, but not as a new world; instead, as a world already known, already seen. At the top of the ladder was a second seal. I had not known I would encounter it until my hand reached out in the dim and touched it, but once touched it sprang forth fully formed. A set of eyes within my head opened, but another set opened wider, and I climbed down the ladder and found a second piece of rebar and then climbed back up again.

It was difficult to force open this second seal. I had to pound on it with the piece of rebar, and as I did so, flakes of rust sifted slowly down around me and adhered to my faceplate, mottling my vision. At first, I thought it was not going to open for me, and then a voice from a self within me directed me how to brace the rebar and use it as a lever and, by so doing, slowly force the seal open. Even then the seal did not give until, abruptly, it did and I lost my hold and dropped the bar clattering down the shaft and almost tumbled down myself.

Light, the shock of it, more searing and intense than anything I'd ever seen. Then, blind, I was up and through the seal and on the surface, up and running now, all the eyes of the selves I harbor in my head open now and the mouths attached to them counting a measured cadence, one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand, and on and on, the numbers growing, the heads within my head growing anxious and me myself anxious along with them. How much time, in the suit, did I have before we would be poisoned and die? And then I had scampered across the bare, damaged ground and was at the seal of the facility, wondering with a sinking feeling if I should have brought another piece of rebar. I stumbled into the wall and applied the palm of my glove to the pressure pad, and, unexpectedly, the door slid open and I tumbled into a solitary room.

Within, it was the same as the warren — the same, rather, as the farthest walls of the warren, without the modifications that we had developed over the years. So much so that I became quickly convinced that this was part of the warren or once had been.

The storage unit occupied the center of the room, humming slightly, cables running up into the ceiling. It was as tall as my chest and twice as thick as a man, rooted solidly in the floor. Inside was a figure, human or nearly so. Crystals of ice were in his hair and he was frozen.

"Monitor," I asked the room at large, "are you here as well?"

There was no answer. I looked for a monitor port but there was no port, so perhaps this had never been part of the warren after all.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Warren by Brian Evenson, Ann VanderMeer. Copyright © 2016 Brian Evenson. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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The Warren 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
tpolen More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure what to say about this novella. Did I like it? Yes, I'm pretty sure I did. Did I understand what happened? Possibly. The Warren is suspenseful, may or may not have different POVs and an unreliable narrator, and leans heavily on existential horror. It's ambiguous and leaves much to reader interpretation, so if you like your stories wrapped up in a neat package with a pretty bow on top, this probably isn't for you. If, however, you enjoy mulling over strange and bewildering tales, trying to fit the puzzle pieces into a cohesive unit - give The Warren a try. I know I'm still thinking about it. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.