Harwell, a red panda, worked as an accountant in the city of Tulsa, and animals often nodded approvingly when he informed them of this. They, similarly to him, understood the practicality of clear analyses. He still kept to himself in the structured town, though, and isolation left him content, not lonely as creatures often liked to falsify. Indeed, the solitary routine of traveling to Tulsa Bank, analyzing and snacking, traveling back to his bungalow, analyzing some more and sleeping satisfied him to no end. One inevitable sunrise put a halt to this flawless schedule, however. The star ripped the horizon and said, “Sidero will welcome Harwell into her abyss with loving arms, catching sight of this deceiving daily routine tortures me to no end.” Nearly three hours later, Sidero did just that.
The fiery panda perches at a right angle on his office chair, which frequently glides across the tile floor. Disregarding his spectacles, Harwell’s sketched eyes squint at numbers. A calculator tilts over his paw. Two and two make four. Yes. And that to the fourth power equals 256. What does this mean for his client…? He sighs.
Harwell pivots his seat so that it faces the back wall, which consists entirely of glass. Of course he adores numbers, their absoluteness and clarity. Oh, of course he does! But maybe a short break would be fulfilling too. After all, various studies suggest that only a rested mind can achieve its full potential. Admittedly, he had already rested a few times, but clearly that wouldn’t do. So the red panda relaxes his body and admires the dense city of Tulsa.
At the sixteenth floor of the bank, Harwell can’t help but gaze over the tops of skyscrapers and buildings. The late morning star glares between the highest point and the lowest point in the sky, and its flames reflect off the glass windows of structures. Dumpsters and rickety vehicles occupy shaded alleys. He feels serene overlooking the activities of so many creatures, it gives him a chance to see the big picture. Harwell dislikes being inside his own bubble as details often elude him, what importance do they make, really? The result carries the most weight, not the process. And the result the red panda sees right now intrigues him. He vaguely wonders if painting it, or sketching it even, might explain why. No, that would be a waste of time.
He turns back to the documents with gritted teeth. “Oh, Harwell!” Harwell leaps out of the chair and lands like a cat. His eyes shift from object to object. The clock, the nameplate, his metal shelf and the plants that occupy it. “Oh, Harwell!” They then land on the painting that hangs beside his door. Fascinating. Does deep though always cause animals to hallucinate? Specifically, to hear voices coming from pretty paintings of fanciful cottages? Regardless, Harwell knows such an event calls for inspection, so he sails through the office, jumping from surface to surface. When he reaches the curious painting, its canvas briefly flickers at the center.
Harwell’s mouth twitches. “Um. Yes?” Shoot. Should one prompt their hallucinations? It seems both futile and perilous. He shrugs and continues observing the picture. Hm, the cottage seems less real and more dreamy—literally. Whenever Harwell had dreams, the blurry, vignette look always characterized them. Of course, this observation serves no purpose as far as determining the painting’s realism because tall mushrooms also occupy the canvas. So that settles it, someone painted this picture with fairy tales in mind. Snow White, perhaps? He recalls her residing in a forest much like the one that hangs in front of him.
Harwell continues droning on in thought until the acrylics of the painting start to merge. They begin by mingling with each other, which reminds him of animals exiting a show in the theater. But then they basically become each other, which doesn’t remind him of anything except perhaps a sports stadium from far away. The sports stadium swirls endlessly and progressively speeds up, and this produces a buzzing sound that flashes by his ear every couple of seconds. Harwell finds himself getting dizzy attempting to follow the painting’s movements. At the last phase, the paint has blended to the point of being snowy white. “Oh, Harwell!”
Without time to react, the painting engulfs his right arm, followed by his other arm and two legs. They shake uncontrollably while Harwell attempts to yank himself from the newly colorless canvas. Before his body completely enters the painting, Harwell notes that this experience likely doesn’t come from his imagination. But then his head enters the picture and Harwell plops to the ground of a second dimension.
“Welcome to Sidero’s Abyss, Harwell,” a voice echoes from nowhere in particular. Ignoring the voice, he stands up and observes his surroundings. Or lack thereof. Not one object occupies the dimension, not even a floor, wall, or ceiling. Only white stretches as far as the eye can see. Wondering how he can stand with no floor, Harwell glances down. He looks right back up again after being reminded of his fear of heights. In need of something physical to look at, Harwell raises his black paw to his face. He lets out a sigh when his eyes catch sight of it, and then thinks, the name of this place doesn’t deceive at all. And then he thinks, why am I here?
“Harwell, you have lied to yourself for 26 years. This is why I’ve brought you here, and only when you start being truthful will I free you.” At that moment, a blank canvas on a wooden easel appears in front of him. Red, blue, yellow, black, and white acrylics as well as a large paintbrush sit on the shelf that extends from it. When Harwell stands only a foot away from the canvas, he can see the intricate lines on it that always reminded him of a thatched roof or mini games of tic-tac-toe. He turns away.
“Are you saying that I must paint in order to leave?”
“No,” he huffs, “I will not.” Harwell crosses his arms and sits criss-cross on the invisible ground, forgetting to keep the canvas in his sight. Only a few moments have gone by when Harwell sees something floating in the abyss. Oh yes, the calculators. The calculators calculate numbers and fly above the… abyss of arrows. Two and two make four. Four to the fourth power equals sixteen divided by pi. Pie! Pumpkin pies and cherry pies! But what does this mean for his client…? Harwell chuckles. They must be hungry. For Thanksgiving dessert.
“Stop it!” Sidero commands. The easel appears in front of Harwell’s eyes, and the fog in his brain clears. “You will be truthful to yourself and paint! This job as an accountant is ruining you!” Harwell rubs his head and mindlessly approaches the painting, his lips pout slightly. After plucking the paintbrush from the easel, Harwell tilts his head. How about stars? No, not stars. Maybe hope instead. But how could he draw hope? Harwell stares for a moment.
Only the sun comes to mind, so he dips the brush into the blue acrylics for the sky and makes a mark on the canvas. The paint runs over it like water over rock, but on a micro scale. He spreads it until the blue fades, and therefore can’t go on any longer. So Harwell dips his brush again. If only the canvas had been blue in the first place, then he wouldn’t have to go through all this trouble. All this trouble… Harwell’s eyes expand.
He snatches the canvas and strikes it to his knee, and it breaks in half. “I will not paint!” he huffs through gritted teeth and flexed muscles. Tears swell in his eyes at the sight of a broken canvas, so Harwell turns away to the white abyss like a fool. Fool’s mate! One, two, L, diagonal. One, two, L, diagonal. Rooks and knights and bishops. Kingdom is to chess as the city is to Chutes and Ladders. Climb, climb, climb until the clouds float miles below you and the stars shine within reach. Harwell reaches.
Sidero, an evil yet tender nymph, works for the sun in her white abyss, and she used to smile whenever something reminded her of this. Any time the sun assigned her a new liar, they ended up leaving with new beginnings and hope; this is what kept her content. She didn’t often look back on visitors of her abyss, though, because she already knew they’d be doing well, and she also didn’t much care. So, yes, the routine of fixing people by Sun’s command and never glancing over her shoulder satisfied Sidero very much. One inevitable sunrise put a halt to this flawless schedule, however. The star ripped the horizon and said, “Sidero will welcome Harwell into her abyss with loving arms, catching sight of this deceiving daily routine tortures me to no end.” Nearly three hours later, Sidero did just that.