As Christopher K. awoke one winter morning from uneasy dreams, he heard from outside his bedroom window the sounds of drilling and hammering.
“What the dickens is going on out there?” he thought. It was no dream. His room, a regular human bedroom, only rather too small (“This old house really needs an addition”, he thought, adding, “it’s become impossible to get anything decent in this town!”) lay quiet between the four familiar walls. But outside the window, the sounds of drilling and hammering continued.
The giveaway Saratoga clock on the wall (he had dozens more in the basement, having figured they would be worth a fortune on eBay someday) read 8:15. Every day at eight in the morning he was brought his breakfast by Anna, his cook, but today she didn’t come. That had never happened before.
K. waited a little while, and finally, both hungry and disconcerted, rang the bell. There was immediately a knock at the door and a man entered. He had never seen this man in this house before, but somehow he seemed vaguely familiar. He was slim but firmly built, his well-worn black T-shirt had a faded image of galloping horses and text that read “Fall Championship Season”. K. wondered what that meant.
“Who are you?” asked K., sitting half upright in his bed. The man, however, ignored this question as if his arrival simply had to be accepted, and merely replied, in an impossibly deep voice that seemed to have lurched from the mid-1960s, “You rang?”
“Anna should have brought me my breakfast,” said K. He tried to work out who the man actually was, just by observation and thinking about it, but handicapping was never K.’s strong suit, and besides, the man didn’t stay still to be looked at for very long. Instead he went over to the door, opened it slightly, and said to someone who was clearly standing immediately behind it, “He wants Anna to bring him his breakfast.”
There was a little laughter in the neighboring room, it was not clear from the sound of it whether there were several people laughing. The strange man could not have learned anything from it that he hadn’t known already, but now he said to K., as if making his report, “It is not possible.”
K. jumped out of bed, his feet finding his fluffy Uggs, and said “I want to see who that is in the next room, and why Anna has let me be disturbed in this way.”
It immediately occurred to him that he needn’t have said this out loud, and that he must to some extent have acknowledged their authority by doing so, but that didn’t seem important to him at the time. That, at least, was how the stranger took it, as he said, “Don’t you think you’d better stay where you are?”
“I want neither to stay here nor to be spoken to by you until you have introduced yourself. And what is that infernal racket going on outside?”
“I meant it for your own good,” said the stranger, “but suit yourself.” The stranger opened the door and walked into the adjacent room, K. trailing behind.
Perhaps there was a little more space in the adjacent room than usual today, but if so it was not immediately obvious, especially as the main difference was the presence of a man sitting by an open window reading a Racing Form from which he now looked up.
“You should have stayed in your room! Didn’t Franz tell you?”
“And what is it you want, then?” said K. “And why is that window open? It’s cold outside!” The sound of the drilling and hammering seemed louder on account of the open window.
“I want to see Anna! I want my breakfast!” said K., making a movement as if tearing himself away from the two men – even though they were standing well away from him – and wanting to go.
“No,” said the man at the window, who threw his Racing Form down on a coffee table and stood up. “You can’t go away when you’re under arrest.”
“That’s how it seems,” said K. “And why am I under arrest? I know I’ve done nothing wrong. I’ve met all my goals. I get my bonus every year.”
“That’s something we’re not allowed to tell you. Now go into your room and wait there. Proceedings are underway and you – and everyone else – will learn about everything in due time.” With that the two strangers turned and strode off down the stairs, leaving K. shivering in only his pajamas and Uggs.
K. briefly considered following the man’s direction, but since he was the CEO, and answered only to the Governor, he followed the strangers downstairs.
The strangers had turned into the too-small dining room and then into the kitchen (which needed updating) and out the back door, leaving it open as if they had been raised in a barn. A cold wind blew in, carrying with it the sound of pounding hammers, and K., shivering in chilly fear, grabbed the first thing he saw – a garish red sports jacket – from a hook by the kitchen door and followed them outside.
In the spacious backyard stood a monstrous circular structure built from cheap stockade fencing and topped by a tent that K. recognized as the covering from the private champagne bar that once flanked the choicest spot along the paddock at the racetrack. The strangers were talking with several workers in winter-weight NYRA coats who were putting the finishing touches on a sturdy wooden door that completed the gruesome circle.
Pulling on his red jacket – which was made of summer-weight wool and didn’t offer much protection from the winter chill – K. approached the men and said “What is the meaning of this?”
“You didn’t wait as we had asked,” the second stranger said. “We haven’t had the chance to string the ribbon for you to cut as part of the grand opening.” Nonetheless, the stranger stood alongside the open door and beckoned K. to enter.
K. stepped through the door and saw pictures from a familiar exhibition. There was one of Bob Baffert, and of Angel Cordero, and one of Jerry Bailey. The exhibition walls which supported the pictures continued in a labyrinth coursing through the circus-like structure.
K. turned to face the two strangers who had followed him inside. “What’s all this, then? Why has the Walk of Fame been moved to my backyard?”
“Because,” Franz said, “you never asked us if we wanted your Walk of Fame in our backyard.”
“Yeah,” said the other stranger. “Didn’t you know we already had a perfectly fine Hall of Fame and Museum of Racing right across Union Avenue? You’ve got to trust the process.”
Franz and the other stranger turned and walked out the door, leaving K. to shiver on the frozen ground in his Uggs, pajamas and red jacket. For the first time K. noticed a doorkeeper, mammoth and bearded and swaddled in a thick fur coat that gave him the appearance of a bear, blocking his exit.
K. timidly approached the doorkeeper, beseeching him. “How will anyone find the Walk of Fame, now that it is located in my backyard?”
The doorkeeper recognizes that the man has reached his end, and, to let his failing senses catch the words, roars in his ear: “No one else could ever be admitted here, since this gate was made only for you. I am now going to shut it.”
Grateful acknowledgment to Franz Kafka for the selections shamelessly lifted from “The Metamorphosis”, “The Trial”, and the parable “Before the Law”.