The job was supposed to be on the fifth story of the building, in Ms. Jessica Woodrose’s apartment. It was a simple job, Mrs. Woodrose told the Carpet Knight’s manager on the phone. She had a dog that wouldn’t stop shitting on the carpet, and, now that the dog was dead and the carpet was ruined, she just needed someone to replace it. Ms. Woodrose wanted a navy blue carpet installed, and, after some haggling on the phone, had agreed to pay the carpet knight five hundred dollars for the job, which, she said, shouldn’t take him more than an hour and a half.
The Carpet Knight parked his work van on the side of the road and smoked a cigarette to prepare himself for the job. He was a working man, with strong legs and strong hairy arms from years of physical labor. He had long hair which he kept under a Yankees ballcap, and wore his traditional carpet work outfit of blue denim overalls. He had a pencil tucked behind his ear, a hammer on his belt, and a toolbox full of everything he’d need, except for the carpet itself. That was in the back of the truck.
“Voodoo Child” by Jimi Hendrix was playing on his van’s radio by the time he finished his smoke and turned it off. The Carpet Knight liked his job. The physicality of the labor calmed him and kept him in shape, and at the end of the day he could look at what he’d completed, and be satisfied. Humming the guitar riff he’d just turned off, he got out of his van and stretched—he always stretched before a job—and cracked his knuckles and his neck. He opened the back of the van and pulled out the carpet he was to cut and install. Heaving it over his back, he made his way to the front door of the apartment building, and stepped inside.
There was something off about the place. It was dark in the foyer, with only one half-dead, flickering light on, showing a room filled with cobwebs and rotted furniture. Looks like the place needs an electrician and a carpenter too, the Carpet Knight thought. On one of the walls, just above a mirror, was a sign written in human blood: TURN BACK, OR YE SHALL SUFFER FOREVER. The Carpet Knight looked at the sign for a second, and chuckled. Looks like this might be an interesting one, he thought, and he started whistling, happy that something was out-there enough to amuse him. The Carpet Knight was usually bored. He pressed the button, waited for the elevator while whistling “Voodoo Child,” and got in when the doors parted for him.
He pressed floor five, but on the second floor the elevator shuttered to a stop. Looks like they need an elevator tech too, the Carpet Knight thought, still amused. The elevator began to shake and rattle, and soon the doors opened. The Carpet Knight laid the carpet he had been carrying over his shoulder onto the ground, and went out to see if he could find a staircase.
At the end of the hallway was a figure wrapped in shadows, wearing a plague doctor’s mask and carrying a scythe. The Carpet Knight knew that this vision would terrify a normal person, but he personally didn’t give a shit. He walked up to the plague doctor and tipped his ball cap. “Howdy,” said the Carpet Knight. “Any chance you could point me in the direction of a staircase? Looks like the elevator in this building is broken, and I’ve got a job to do on the fifth floor.”
All at once the dark figure let out a shriek, and struck at the Carpet Knight with his scythe. The Carpet Knight dodged it, Hendrix pulsing loudly in his mind, and, in a swift move, brought his hammer down upon the plague doctor’s head. The figure vanished into a puff of dust. Strange, thought the Carpet Knight, but I’ve seen stranger things in my time.
He managed to find a stairway at the end of the hall, and lugged his carpet to it. However, at the next floor he found his way blocked by a long pit of quicksand. Well, I’ll be, thought the Carpet Knight, guess I’ll go out and see if I can call the elevator up here. Maybe it’s just the second floor that’s busted.
He stepped out into the third floor hall and found that it wasn’t a hall at all. Instead, it was a wide room, with a gleaming chandelier pouring golden light onto the walls. Oil paintings in mahogany frames were on the walls, depicting dead kings and queens. The Carpet Knight dropped his carpet, and it fell to the floor with a dull thud. Soon after there was a rumbling from the back of the chamber, and then a dragon emerged from the shadows into the light! It was a green dragon, an ugly beast, with red eyes and teeth as long as knives. “Well, this sure beats staying in all day and watching TV,” the Carpet Knight muttered. The dragon opened its jaws and a fireball shot out. The Carpet Knight dove to the side, feeling the heat but avoiding the burn. The dragon shot more fireballs at him, but he kept dodging them. Realizing that the fireballs weren’t working, the dragon ran at him, claws out, jaws open, but the Carpet Knight was ready. He struck the dragon in the side of its head with his hammer, one blow, hard. He felt the beast’s skull crack under the force of his blow. The dragon fell to the floor, whimpered, and soon died.
“Damn shame,” the Carpet Knight said. “If you weren’t trying to kill me, I wouldn’t have killed you. But it is what it is.” He picked up his carpet, and found the elevator.
This time it came to him, and the doors opened, and he stepped inside. He pressed the fifth floor button again, but, just like last time, the elevator climbed a floor then groaned to a halt. “Damn,” said the Carpet Man, who realized he was growing late for his appointment with Ms. Woodrose. He used his hammer and his strength to pry open the door, and stepped outside. He knew he’d have to find the staircase again, hopefully this time not blocked by quicksand, in order to get to the fifth floor and reach Ms. Woodrose’s apartment.
The fourth floor was overgrown. It was literally a jungle. Thick, steaming trees grew up to the ceiling, where, all at once, they vanished. The voices of a million birds and insects and other living creatures all cried out at once. The Carpet Knight sighed, thinking about how he’d have to make it through the jungle carrying his carpet. But it was a challenge, and he had a job to do, so he carried on.
After some time of bushwhacking he made it to a clearing. There, at the end, was the staircase to the fifth floor. But standing between the Carpet Knight and the staircase was a man in a black suit with no face.
“So,” said the man with no face. “You’ve made it this far.”
The Carpet Knight wondered how he spoke with no face, and therefore no mouth. But it didn’t matter, so he put it out of his mind. “Yes,” said the Carpet Knight. “I’ve got a job to do. Got to replace Ms. Woodrose’s carpet on the fifth floor. I’m running late.”
“You cannot pass,” said the man with no face, “unless you answer my riddle.”
“Alright,” said the Carpet Knight. “Let’s have it. What’s the riddle?”
“What is broken before you can use it?” said the man with no face.
The Carpet Knight puzzled it over some. Was it a hammer? No, those don’t break easy. Could it be a chainsaw? No, those break, but aren’t broken before use. Suddenly the Carpet Man realized that he was hungry. “Give me a minute,” he told the man with no face. “I need to eat before I can think straight.” He opened his toolbox and pulled out a peanut butter sandwich, and all at once the answer struck him. “An egg,” he said. “An egg is broken before you use it.”
“Gooooooood,” said the man with no face. “You have passed the test.”
The Carpet Man nodded, and shoved the peanut butter sandwich into his mouth, eating while walking, as he was now quite late. He climbed the staircase, and reached the fifth floor.
He came to a door, unit 501, and knocked. After a delay, a middle-aged woman with long gray hair answered the door. “Oh, hello,” she said, “are you from Carpet Knights?”
“Yes,” said the Carpet Knight.
“You’re late,” said Ms. Woodrose.
“Sorry about that,” said the Carpet Knight.
“That’s alright. I’m in no rush.”
The Carpet Knight stepped inside, put in earbuds, and began playing Electric Ladyland. As the wild guitar pulsed in his ears he got to work, relieved, at last, to be doing the job he was paid to be doing. The end.