The Others waited with their leader in the lee of the sunken road. Some smoked. They talked quietly (as quietly as the rising wind allowed) of the things rough men in rough places will always talk about. The only other sound was the stamping of their heavy, muddy boots as they unconsciously fought off the piercing cold. They wore bulky clothes, gloves, and a dozen different hats between the ten of them. From time to time they would look over at the man they waited for, hoping he would pick up his staff and show the way.
There was much, much work to be done. They waited in the cold.
The man was tired. His staff, spattered with mud, was propped against the bench almost as an afterthought. He had grappled with many trying and subtle puzzles for too many hours under the lowering gray sky. The bitterly cold wind buffeted him as he bent over his workbench and split his attention between solving the riddle before him and preserving his pencil, papers, and notes. The storm was approaching so quickly but the answer continued to escape him. He could feel the damp in his scarred hands and the wrist he'd broken so long ago twinged as the horizon shrank under a bar of steel colored clouds.
The scrolls offered no answers. Even his box of numbers, so often the key to untangling the knottiest of problems, served only as a paperweight in this moment of vexation. His silent staff trembled in the rising wind. Vanity goaded him to tidy it whenever opportunity offered. In this time and place so marked by disorder and casual filth the white luster of the staff stood as his icon for the order that was meant to come.
Nothing. The lines and columns of careful ciphers mocked him. Their sums and products climaxed into silent gibberish. The careful effort and attention of hours had come to naught. He checked the figures and drawings, and checked again as the howling wind tore at the pages and the first hard spatters of frozen rain beat down on his back. He looked at one page and another and another and then the answer leapt out: the scrolls were flawed - on a vexingly simple point - but the failing was only now apparent after time had run out and the storm was upon him.
His anger was instant and white hot. Sweeping the sodden scrolls and pages of notes and careful calculations into a ball in one hand and grasping the shabby staff in the other he scrambled, stumbling, to the top of the streaming bank to face the full force of the blinding snow. He howled obscenities into the wind, his face purple with rage.
The others watched in silence as the man screamed at the storm. Finally he fell silent, spent, and slumped against his staff. He let slip the useless papers and they scattered and quickly disappeared downwind into the formless white oblivion that had become the world.
Finally, the leader of the others stepped forward.
"I guess this means I can't get the sewer past the 10"X10"X14" tee, the proposed power vault, and the natural gas crossing without putting in another manhole, right?"
And how was YOUR day?