Thorpe had been reading for several hours, hoping that he’d be able to just doze off. It was two in the morning, and still absurdly hot in his tiny apartment. The book was good, and though he’d hoped that he’d start dozing off, it never happened. He just kept reading and mentally complaining to himself about the heat.
The book was called “The Funnel” but there hadn’t been any mention of any sort of actual funnel, so Thorpe was wondering when it would come up. Instead, the book was about a drifter called Byron who was obsessed with a particular carving of a killer whale that he’d found in a thrift shop. The carving had subsequently been stolen from him, and Byron had followed it first to the sketchy little art dealer who’d taken it, through various other hands, all the way to a gangster named Boucher who had laid claim to it. He was clearly willing to kill for it. Boucher had decided that the orca was his “spirit animal,” and that he needed to have the carving in front of him when he did business.
In any case, Thorpe found it both compelling and confusing. He wanted to find out what Byron was going to do. He also wondered if the funnel was ever going to show up. And he wondered what a funnel could possibly be meant to do in this situation. His mind kept imagining awful forms of torture that might involve a funnel, but he had no idea how it might happen to fall out that way. He really hoped that it didn’t. He quite like the drifter, and he didn’t want to see him get tortured.
So even though Thorpe had never skipped around in a book before, when it lapsed into a long explanation of Boucher’s troubled childhood, he couldn’t resist. He was too anxious to find out what happened. He told himself it was the author’s own fault for writing it the way he had, but he knew that it wasn’t really. He was just being impatient, and he skipped forward about fifty pages to see if he could find anything out.
When he did, however, he found that all the pages he hadn’t read yet were totally garbled. They looked normal, but it was like someone had simply stirred up the words so that they weren’t in any sensible order any longer. “Was stone walked house near.” There was nothing to be discovered.
At first, he couldn’t believe it. He skipped back to an earlier part, and it made complete sense. Pages that he’d already read were still in order. It was only the pages in the back that were completely garbled and unreadable.
And then Thorpe got a little angry. After all, it was his book and maybe skipping forward was frowned upon, but surely, he had a right to do it if he wanted to. He decided that he would foil the author and publisher by simply putting the book down. He placed the book on the bed table, turned the light out and tried to doze. But it was still insanely hot, and he still couldn’t get to sleep. He tossed around for a while, and then turned the light on again.
He took up the book and flipped to the back pages again. Still garbled. He knew that they would be, but he had had to check. In any case, he just sighed with resignation and then went back to the page that he’d actually been on. The words were all in their proper order, so, with a sigh, he started reading about Boucher’s childhood again. There didn’t seem to be any other choice. If he wanted to know what was happening to the drifter and where the funnel came in, he’d have to get through the gangster’s childhood.
However, the text quickly degenerated into just a long checklist of a really, profoundly not very troubled childhood. In fact, it wasn’t long before Thorpe began to wonder if this was supposed to somehow justify the gangster’s behavior, or whether it was a clever satire of the cliché of the expected terrible childhood. There were a couple of divorces, and some less than attentive parents, but nothing that would explain the violence of criminal activity.
Then Thorpe realized that there’d never been any explicit stories of violence from the gangster. He had simply assumed that organized crime would include a fair amount of violence, but now that he thought about it, he couldn’t remember any such thing. There weren’t any accounts of violence in the book.
So, he started skipping back to see if he could find anything. Fairly easily, he managed to find an account of the gangster punching a man to death for stealing from him. Thorpe was sure that he hadn’t read it before. If it had been there previously, he would absolutely have remembered reading such a graphic account of the man’s bloody death.
Out of curiosity, he skipped all the way back to the very beginning. To his shock, the book was no longer about the drifter. The main character was Boucher, instead. It recounted how the Orca statue came into his possession and Byron’s obsessive quest to take it back from him. You were obviously meant to cheer for the gangster, rather than the drifter, who was portrayed as an insane person unwilling to simply let go of the Orca statue, even though it was clearly beyond reach.
Thorpe looked at the front of the book and realized that the title had changed as well. It was now called “The Silent Piece.” But even though he was quite disturbed by the change, Thorpe also couldn’t help but wonder what the new title referred to. He wondered whether if he simply continued to read, whether the book would now contain a revelation about “The Silent Piece” rather than a funnel.
Then he began to wonder if he should just go back to the beginning and start the whole thing over again to get the complete story. Though he also wondered whether every page would go back to gibberish again, as if it was a completely new book.
So he didn’t start again. But not really knowing what else to do, he went back to the part where the gangster was beating the man to death and read that horrific account again. He started wondering about the man himself, and how he’d gotten himself in the position of getting beaten to death.
Thorpe suddenly found himself holding onto a very short book. He was already at the end of it, so at least he didn’t have the problem of gibberish on the pages, since there weren’t any future pages. In fact, he was almost to the last page. The man’s death was almost at the end of the book.
He skipped back to the front again, and found that the book had changed characters to make the man called Edwin the main character. Thorpe assumed that he must be the man eventually beaten to death. The tone of the book had also radically changed. It had had a realistic though largely detached tone while it told the story of the drifter and then the gangster, but it took on a very gritty and personal voice to tell Edwin’s story.
He got no insight into Edwin’s early life, but a very personal account of the man’s failure as a businessman and the addiction to cocaine that had come with it. Edwin had always felt that his ability to get things done depended on the cocaine. Eventually he starts selling cocaine for Boucher, and soon after that, he begins skimming drugs for himself. The amount he skims gets larger and larger until someone notices it’s happening and tells Boucher about it. Then Edwin is beaten to death.
By that point, the book was called “Salt.” It was now four in the morning, and Thorpe knew that he needed to get some sleep. He decided that he’d start on Edwin’s story the next day. Not wanting to have the book change again, he put it down on the table beside the bed before there was a chance for his mind to wander to any other character.
Even then, he wasn’t sure that that would be enough. Maybe in his dreams he’d start subconsciously musing on another character, and when he woke up, the book would have changed again. He knew he wasn’t going to be able to control dreams, so he wasn’t sure what he could do.
Then he had an idea. He got himself dressed, carefully trying to keep his mind focused on Edwin all the time. When he had on jeans and t-shirt, he slipped on his shoes, and went outside. When he was out, he wandered down to the end of the alley, where he knew that one of the buildings had a gap where he could hide the book. Between the metal of a garage door, and the brick that surrounded it, there was a thin space that had been left. Thorpe had noticed it walking back and forth past the building to go to work. He’d never really given it a second thought, but when he was trying to figure out what to do with his book, he had remembered that it was there.
Luckily there was a light over the garage door for drivers who were coming in late, so he was easily able to find the gap that he’d been thinking of. When he found it, he tucked the book inside in its plastic bag. Then he headed back down the alley to his own apartment building.
He had no idea whether this would actually work or not. Perhaps the book would still be able to read his mind from the other end of the alley. But he hoped not, and it had been the only thing that he could think of doing.
So, when he got back, he still kept thinking about Edwin. But he was able to get some sleep, finally, having done everything he could to keep the book as “Salt,” and looking forward to reading it in the morning.