Under

Construction is a constant part of this city. Like a living thing, this place is under constant renewal. From the office building I worked in, I would see half a dozen cranes dominate the skyline. They gracefully spin, slowly and surely heaving materials in and out of the sites. I was lucky enough to have a window seat at my desk. My colleagues who sit in a sea of cubicles have nothing but grey partitions as a vista. Some attempt to overcome this, but decorating it with knick-knacks and photos of happier times. But not me. At anytime I could just turn in my chair and see the blue sky painted with clouds above, and the grey stone and silver steel and dark blue glass of the city below. I enjoyed watching the construction. Seeing the workers move about like ants, carrying materials inside, talking to each other, having lunch on the newly set concrete floors. All of them seemed uniform with their yellow hardhats and orange vests. All of their work was in silence when I watched them from the window. Seriously I could do it for hours.

Near the building where I used to work, there was an old church. It seemed older than the city itself. It was an old limestone and granite building, with a steeped roof and decorated with some sculpture on the capstones that smoothed and worn away from the elements. For as long as I remembered, it was always abandoned. I never saw any services there. No long lines of patrons. The doors had always been chained shut. Metal grills bolted over the stained glass windows. Some windows were cracked or broken, but you couldn’t see inside. It was just so dark in there. It seemed odd to have such an old building in the heart of the city, where change seemed a daily occurrence. Old buildings were often quietly demolished and new buildings eventually took their place.

On Monday, I came to work and found the high temporary walls around were the church was. The standard signs adorned the wall: “Construction Site”, “All Visitors and Contractors Report to the Site Foreman” “Bill Posters Will Be Prosecuted”. As I walked past the wall, I looked up at the crane towering overhead. It was still and poised with it arm facing to the mountains. I beamed with excitement. This site was only a street away from my work. I could clearly see the whole construction from my window. I was only a couple of floors from the ground and my viewpoint initially did not give me a good idea of what was happening beyond the walls. I figured they demolished the entire church over the weekend. I was out of town on that weekend. I eagerly waited to finish work that day. I remember being exicted. Not that I get excited so much nowadays.

The next day I brought in my camera and tripod. I thought that during the day I could take a couple of photos of the construction site. I thought maybe I could keep the progress of the works; maybe compile it into a short film. So everyday I took one photo in the morning, one at midday and another before I left for home. The thing with new high-rise buildings is they first build the elevator shaft several stories and then build the rest of the building around it. If the building needs to be higher, the workers extend the shaft and then return to the building at large. Over the next couple of weeks I saw these towers of concrete rise above the temporary walls. They looked like mushrooms with the construction housing sitting on top, setting the latest layer of concrete. I took the first series of photos home on the weekend and figured I need to take more. So I set a timer for every hour and took a photo then. It was really just pressing a button as the camera was already focused on the site. After a while, the construction workers built a giant framework around the building. It was made of mesh and looked like it was stolen from the batting cages. Eventually it wrapped around the entire site, like a cage for some oversized creature. Inside you wouldn’t be able to see too well, but there was the steel pipes that made up the framework supporting the concrete floors above. As more floors were added the darker it became. But there I was, every hour taking photos of the progress. It was something to do, to break the monotony of work. I enjoyed it at first. Watching the clock, for the next reminder to show up and then “click” another shot made. Soon enough though, the construction site began to worry me.

It’s all about supply and demand. Weekend work is not an uncommon thing for construction workers. It’s extra money and God knows in those days, I guess they needed it. With the work going ahead seven days a week, it meant that I missed out on some of the progress. I began coming into work on the weekends for a couple of hours to even out the empty spaces in the progress. But everyday, when I started work and left to go home, the sound of construction was as constant as ever. It didn’t seem to stop. But I didn’t think much of it. I figured that there were two shifts running the site. Maybe more with the weekend work. I sometimes wondered at the cost of trying to get this building finished on time. Nothing seemed suspicious until one night. I had parked in the city. I left my car in a place where I knew it would be free. In the end I stayed longer than I expected, meeting with a few people in a bar for drinks. It got late and I thought I better get home. I had to walk past my work and the site. It was near midnight and I expected to see a silent skeleton, sitting still in the darkness, with the crane quietly keeping an eye on it. No. I heard the sound of impact drills, the buzz cutting of saws, the hammering of steel. I saw the flashes from welding or the sparks from the grinding of angles. How much was this building worth, I wondered. No sane person would work into the night. When I got home, I was tired, but I couldn’t sleep. All I could think about was the endless construction.

I began to get headaches. I woke up earlier than normal. My home seemed dull and grey, with nothing to do. I decided to go to work early, maybe take a cat nap before the day really started. The city seemed practically deserted. It was something like six. The sun had not really risen above the horizon and everything seemed stuck in a grey twilight. I walked past the site and found it quiet. I felt relieved, but then I was frozen by the noise. It was like a bell. But, at the same time, not like a bell. Like a hammer, violently meeting a long piece of steel tube in long even strokes: TONG TONG TONG TONG. There was something I felt behind it. Something I couldn’t hear. I shook. I didn’t know what came over me. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, these construction workers appears and made their way toward the gates of the site. Most people on their way to work chat and smile, laugh and complain. But not these people, they quietly marched towards the gate, orderly and cowed. Some had sunken dark eyes. Some looked starved. They filed into the site, and I could see into it. I went to work. I didn’t get a nap. I watched construction throughout the day. I couldn’t focus on anything else. My headaches didn’t go away. I loaded myself with painkillers, but they just hummed through my skull. I took photos all day and did no work. The next day, I was told to work back. There were a few people sick today. I worked into the night. And I heard that terrible bell again. Even through the double paned glass of the building that silenced the city. I could hear it in my skull. TONG TONG TONG TONG. I still didn’t sleep, at least not in any consistent way. All I could dream about was an animal, I don’t know what it was, but I could feel its bones. They were moist and warm, the sinews and strings of muscle seemed to write and wriggle across it, like thousands of worms right in my hands, tightening and binding around the bone, decaying in reverse. The creature seemed to lash out at me. Then I would wake. And I could hear in the distance the strange bell. I lay in my bed eyes wide open, unable to move. I began to get nosebleeds.

I went to work, but I was told to go home. They said I was too sick to work, even with so many away. I saw a doctor and he prescribed some pills to help me sleep. They did not work. All I could think about was the construction. I looked through the photos, scrutinising every photo for a clue, or something to explain this madness. I eventually saw it. The people in the photos had changed. No longer the yellow hardhats and the safety orange-coloured jackets dominated the scene. I saw people in regular clothes, tracksuits, business wear all through the site, working and cutting and drilling and building. I had to get to work. I had been away for a several days and wanted to claim my camera. That would be my excuse. The traffic was quiet on the way in. There seemed to be no one on the road. It was peak hour. It didn’t click. Not at first. I was only concerned about the progress on the building. No one was on the street. No foot traffic. No students breaking away from class. No busy people. Or homeless. I went into work and found it deserted, an empty silent sea of grey. I went to my desk and looked at the construction. It was enormous now. The scale had bloated out, spilling over the temporary wall. The whole work now seemed erratic. Supports and girders jutted out the sides at all angles. The concrete formations seemed warped. The whole chaos seemed it shouldn’t have stood, but there it was, a monstrosity rising out of the ground.

I began to watch it over days, taking photos that were relevant. Swarms of people would come and go throughout the day. The entire structure was a hive under constant activity. Hammering and drilling and welding. Four times a day that terrible bell would ring. TONG TONG TONG TONG. I’d cover my ears, but I would feel it in my skull. By the time it stopped, I would be on floor, curled foetally. Workers would leave and be replaced by other drones. Each of them looked haggard, worn to the bone. I never saw them take out any fallen or sick. Each of them would walk, hobble or limp out. But they could move under their own strength. I dreaded what they did to those exhausted from the construction. The whole thing would only stop late at night, in the witching hour. But this respite was only mere moments before the bell sounded again and I picked myself of the floor to see people crawling all over the site.

I went home along vacant empty roads. I see other cars but we pass like ships in the night. Sometimes, I could see a fire and smoke rising from an abandoned suburb. There is no one to tend to it and it burns through dusk and dawn. I found myself breaking into supermarkets and shops for food. I carry a large kitchen knife to protect myself, hoping someone else didn’t have a gun. I avoided anything that made too much noise. Some days I could hear large groups of people moving, stripping a supermarket or convenience store of anything edible or buildable. Other times I would see the lone stranger, picking through what was left behind, be it the instant noodles or cans of dog food. We never talked, just show each other our improvised weapons and then go about our business at opposite ends of the building. This is what we have been reduced to.

I don’t know why the construction hasn’t claimed me yet. I don’t know how I haven’t been drawn to it like my friends or most of everyone in the city. It repulses to think of entering. It’s like an allergic reaction I guess. I can see the thing in my dreams and now from the horizon when I looked through my bedroom window. Time is doing strange things, days feel they stretch out for weeks, but the weeks roll by in moments. It’s become harder to find food and shelter, I’ve found whole neighbourhoods destroyed and dismantled.

I’ve decided to go there. I’m going to wait for that bell in the streets and try to stay standing. And when the gates open for the change, I’ll melt into the throng of people and go inside and find out what abomination has swallowed this city. I don’t know if I can stop it, but I guess I go through that door when they build it.

Don’t come for me. Leave while you can.

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