Orson Scott Card
27 Short Stories
A SEPULCHRE OF SONGS
She was losing her mind during the rain. For four weeks it came down nearly every day, and the people at the Millard County Rest Home didn't take any of the patients outside. It bothered them all, of course, and made life especially hellish for the nurses, everyone complaining to them constantly and demanding to be entertained.
Elaine didn't demand entertainment, however. She never seemed to demand much of anything. But the rain hurt her worse than anyone. Perhaps because she was only fifteen, the only child in an institution devoted to adult misery. More likely because she depended more than most on the hours spent outside; certainly she took more pleasure from them. They would lift her into her chair, prop her up with pillows so her body would stay straight, and then race down the corridor to the glass doors, Elaine calling, "Faster, faster," as they pushed her until finally they were outside. They told me she never really said anything out there, just sat quietly in her chair on the lawn, watching everything. And then later in the day they would wheel her back in.
I often saw her being wheeled in -- early, because I was there, though she never complained about my visits' cutting into her hours outside. As I watched her being pushed toward the rest home, she would smile at me so exuberantly that my mind invented arms for her, waving madly to match her childishly delighted face; I imagined legs pumping, imagined her running across the grass, breasting the air like great waves. But there were the pillows where arms should be, keeping her from falling to the side, and the belt around her middle kept her from pitching forward, since she had no legs to balance with.
It rained four weeks, and I nearly lost her.
My job was one of the worst in the state, touring six rest homes in as many counties, visiting each of them every week. I "did therapy" wherever the rest home administrators thought therapy was needed. I never figured, out how they decided -- all the patients were mad to one degree or another, most with the helpless insanity of age, the rest with the anguish of the invalid and the crippled.
You don't end up as a state-employed therapist if you had much ability in college. I sometimes pretend that I didn't distinguish myself in graduate school because I marched to a different dnunmer. But I didn't. As one kind professor gently and brutally told me, I wasn't cut out for science. But I was sure I was cut out for the art of therapy. Ever since I comforted my mother during her final year of cancer, I had believed I had a knack for helping people get straight in their minds. I was everybody's confidant.
Somehow I had never supposed, though, that I would end up trying to help the hopeless in a part of the state where even the healthy didn't have much to live for. Yet that's all I had the credentials for, and when I (so maturely) told myself I was over the initial disappointment, I made the best of it.
Elaine was the best of it.
"Raining raining raining," was the greeting I got when I visited her on the third day of the wet spell.
"Don't I know it?" I said. "My hair's soaking wet."
"Wish mine was," Elaine answered.
"No, you don't. You'd get sick."
"Not me," she said.
"Well, Mr. Woodbury told me you're depressed. I'm supposed to make you happy."
"Make it stop raining."
"Do I look like God?"
"I thought maybe you were in disguise. I'm in disguise," she said. It was one of our regular games. "I'm really a large Texas armadillo who was granted one wish. I wished to be a human being. But there wasn't enough of the armadillo to make a full human being; so here I am." She smiled. I smiled back.
Actually, she had been five years old when an oil truck exploded right in front of her parents' car, killing both of them and blowing her arms and legs right off. That she survived was a miracle. That she had to keep on living was unimaginable cruelty. That she managed to be a reasonably happy person, a favorite of the nurses -- that I don't understand in the least. Maybe it was because she had nothing else to do. There aren't many ways that a person with no arms or legs can kill herself.
"I want to go outside," she said, turning her head away from me to look out the window.
Outside wasn't much. A few trees, a lawn, and beyond that a fence, not to keep the inmates in but to keep out the seamier residents of a rather seamy town. But there were low hills in the distance, and the birds usually seemed cheerful. Now, of course, the rain had driven both birds and hills into hiding. There was no wind, and so the trees didn't even sway. The rain just came straight down.
"Outer space is like the rain," she said. "It sounds like that out there, just a low drizzling sound in the background of everything."
"Not really," I said. "There's no sound out there at all."
"How do you know?" she asked.
"There's no air. Can't be any sound without air."
She looked at me scornfully. "Just as I thought. You don't really know. You've never been there, have you?"
"Are you trying to pick a flght?"
She started to answer, caught herself, and nodded. "Damned rain."
"At least you don't have to drive in it," I said. But her eyes got wistful, and I knew I had taken the banter too far. "Hey," I said. "First clear day I'll take you out driving."
"It's hormones," she said.
"I'm fifteen. It always bothered me when I had to stay in. But I want to scream.
My muscles are all bunched up, my stomach is all tight, I want, to go outside and scream. It's hormones."
"What about your friends?" I asked.
"Are you kidding? They're all out there, playing in the rain."
"All of them?"
"Except Grunty, of course. He'd dissolve."
"And where's Grunty?"
"In the freezer, of course."
"Someday the nurses are going to mistake him for ice cream and serve him to the guests." She didn't smile. She just nodded, and I knew that I wasn't getting anywhere. She really was depressed.
I asked her whether she wanted something.
"No pills," she,said. "They make me sleep all the time."
"If I gave you uppers, it would make you climb the walls."
"Neat trick," she said.
"It's that strong. So do you want something to take your mind off the rain and these four ugly yellow walls?"
She shook her head. "I'm trying not to sleep."
She just shook her head again. "Can't sleep. Can't let myself sleep too much."
I asked again.
"Because," she said, "I might not wake up." She said it rather sternly, and I knew I shouldn't ask anymore. She didn't often get impatient with me, but I knew this time I was coming perilously close to overstaying my welcome.
"Got to go," I said. "You will wake up." And then I left, and I didn't see her for a week, and to tell the truth I didn't think of her much that week, what with the rain and a suicide in Ford County that really got to me, since she was fairly young and had a lot to live for, in my opinion. She disagreed and won the argument the hard way.
Weekends I live in a trailer in Piedmont. I live alone. The place is spotlessly clean because cleaning is something I do religiously. Besides, I tell myself, I might want to bring a woman home with me one night. Some nights I even do, and some nights I even enjoy it, but I always get restless and irritable when they start trying to get me to change my work schedule, or take them along to the motels I live in or, once only, get the trailerpark manager to let them into my trailer when I'm gone. To keep things cozy for me. I'm not interested in "cozy." This is probably because of my mother's death; her cancer and my responsibilities as housekeeper for my father probably explain why I am a neat housekeeper. Therapist, therap thyself. The days passed in rain and highways and depressing people depressed out of their minds; the nights passed in television and sandwiches and motel bedsheets at state expense; and then it was time to go to the Millard County Rest Home again, where Elaine was waiting. It was then that I thought of her and realized that the rain had been going on for more than a week, and the poor girl must be almost out of her mind. I bought a cassette of Copland conducting Copland. She insisted on cassettes, because they stopped. Eight-tracks went on and on until she couldn't think.
"Where have you been?" she demanded.
"Locked in a cage by a cruel duke in Transylvania. It was only four feet high, suspended over a pond filled with crocodiles. I got out by picking the lock with my
teeth. Luckily, the crocodiles weren't hungry. Where have you been?"
"I mean it. Don't you keep a schedule?"
"I'm right on my schedule, Elaine. This is Wednesday. I was here last
Wednesday. This year Christmas falls on a Wednesday, and I'll be here on Christmas."
"It feels like a year."
"Only ten months. Till Christmas. Elaine, you aren't being any fun."
She wasn't in the mood for fun. There were tears in her eyes. "I can't stand much more," she said.
And she was afraid. Her voice trembled.
"At night, and in the daytime, whenever I sleep. I'm just the right size."
"What do you mean?"
"You said you were just the right size."
"I did? Oh, I don't know what I meant. I'm going crazy. That's what you're here for, isn't it? To keep me sane. It's the rain. I can't do anything, I can't see anything, and all I can hear most of the time is the hissing of the rain."
"Like outer space," I said, remembering what she had said the last time.
She apparently didn't remember our discussion. She looked. startled. "How did you know?" she asked. "You told me."
"There isn't any sound in outer space," she said.
"Oh," I answered.
"There's no air out there."
"I knew that."
"Then why did you say, 'Oh, of course?' The engines. You can hear them all over the ship, it's a drone, all the time. That's just like the rain. Only after a while you can't hear it anymore. It becomes like silence. Anansa told me."
Another imaginary friend. Her file said that she had kept her imaginary friends long after most children give them up. That was why I had first been assigned to see her, to get rid of the friends. Grunty, the ice pig; Howard, the boy who beat up everybody; Sue Ann, who would bring her dolls and play with them for her, making them do what Elaine said for them to do; Fuchsia, who lived among the flowers and was only inches high. There were others. After a few sessions with her I saw that she knew that they weren't real. But they passed time for her. They stepped outside her body and did things she could never do. I felt they did her no harm at all, and destroying that imaginary world for her would only make her lonelier and more unhappy. She was sane, that was certain. And yet I kept seeing her, not entirely because I liked her so much. Partly because I wondered whether she had been pretending when she told me she knew her friends weren't real. Anansa was a new one.
"Oh, you don't want to know." She didn't want to talk about her; that was obvious.
"I want to know."
She turned away. "I can't make you go away, but I wish you would. When you get nosy."
"It's my job."
"Job!" She sounded contemptuous. "I see all of you, running around on your healthy legs, doing all your jobs."
What could I say to her? "It's how we stay alive," I said. "I do my best." Then she got a strange look on her face; I've got a secret, she seemed to say, and I want you to pry it out of me. "Maybe I can get a job, too."
"Maybe," I said. I tried to think of something she could do.
"There's always music," she said.
I misunderstood. "There aren't many instruments you can play. That's the way it is." Dose of reality and all that.
"Don't be stupid."
"Okay. Never again."
"I meant that there's always the music. On my job."
"And what job is this?"
"Wouldn't you like to know?" she said, rolling her eyes mysteriously and turning toward the window. I imagined her as a normal fifteen-year-old girl. Ordinarily I would have interpreted this as flirting. But there was something else under all this. A feeling of desperation. She was right. I really would like to know. I made a rather logical guess. I put together the two secrets she was trying to get me to figure out today.
"What kind of job is Anansa going to give you?"
She looked at me, startled. "So it's true then."
"It's so frightening. I keep telling myself it's a dream. But it isn't, is it?"
"You think she's just one of my friends, don't you. But they're not in my dreams,
not like this. Anansa --"
"What about Anansa?"
"She sings to me. In my sleep."
My trained psychologist's mind immediately conjured up mother figures. "Of
course," I said. "She's in space, and she sings to me. You wouldn't believe the songs." It reminded me. I pulled out the cassette I had bought for her. "Thank you," she said. "You're welcome. Want to hear it?" She nodded. I put it on the cassette player. Appalachian Spring. She moved her
head to the music. I imagined her as a dancer. She felt the music very well. But after a few minutes she stopped moving and started to cry. "It's not the same," she said. "You've heard it before?" "Turn it off. Turn it off!" I turned it off. "Sorry," I said. "Thought you'd like it." "Guilt, nothing but guilt," she said. "You always feel guilty, don't you?" "Pretty nearly always," I admitted cheerfully. A lot of my patients threw
psychological jargon in my face. Or soap-opera language. "I'm sorry," she said. "It's just -- it's just not the music. Not the music. Now that I've heard it, everything is so dark compared to it. Like the rain, all gray and heavy and dim, as if the composer is trying to see the hills but the rain is always
in the way. For a few minutes I thought he was getting it right." "Anansa's music?" She nodded. "I know you don't believe me. But I hear her when I'm asleep. She
tells me that's the only time she can communicate with me. It's not talking. It's all her songs. She's out there, in her starship, singing And at night I hear her." "Why you?"
"You mean, why only me?" She laughed. "Because of what I am. You told me yourself. Because I can't run around, I live in my imagination. She say that the threads between minds are very thin and hard to hold. But mine she can hold, because I live completely in my mind. She holds on to me. When I go to sleep, I can't escape her now anymore at all."
"Escape? I thought you liked her." "I don't know what I like. I like -- I like the music. But Anansa wants me. She wants to have me -- she wants to give me a job."
"What's the singing like?" When she said job, she trembled and closed up; I referred back to something that she had been willing to talk about, to keep the floundering conversation going.
"It's not like anything. She's there in space, and it's black, just the humming of the engines like the sound of rain, and she reaches into the dust out there and draws in the songs. She reaches out her -- out her fingers, or her ears, I don't know; it isn't clear. She reaches out and draws in the dust and the songs and turns them into the music that I hear. It's powerful. She says it's her songs that drive her between the stars."
"Is she alone?"
Elaine nodded. "She wants me."
"Wants you. How can she have you, with you here and her out there?"
Elaine licked her lips. "I don't want to talk about it," she said in a way that told me she was on the verge of telling me.
"I wish you would. I really wish you'd tell me."
"She says -- she says that she can take me. She says that if I can learn the songs, she can pull me out of my body and take me there and give me arms and legs and fingers and I can run and dance and--"
She broke down, crying.
I patted her on the only place that she permitted, her soft little belly. She refused to be hugged. I had tried it years before, and she had screamed at me to stop it. One of the nurses told me it was because her mother had always hugged her, and Elaine wanted to hug back. And couldn't.
"It's a lovely dream, Elaine."
"It's a terrible dream. Don't you see? I'll be like her."
"And what's she like?"
"She's the ship. She's the starship. And she wants me with her, to be the starship with her. And sing our way through space together for thousands and thousands of years." "It's just a dream, Elaine. You don't have to be afraid of it."
"They did it to her. They cut off her arms and legs and put her into the
"But no one's going to put you into a machine."
"I want to go outside," she said.
"You can't. It's raining."
"Damn the rain."
"I do, every day."
"I'm not joking! She pulls me all the time now, even when I'm awake. She keeps pulling at me and making me fall asleep, and she sings to me, and I feel her pulling and pulling. If I could just go outside, I could hold on. I feel like I could hold on if I could just--"
"Hey, relax. Let me give you a--"
"No! I don't want to sleep!"
"Listen, Elaine. It's just a dream. You can't let it get to you like this. It's just the
rain keeping you here. It makes you sleepy, and so you keep dreaming this. But don't fight it. It's a beautiful dream in a way. Why not go with it?"
She looked at me with terror in her eyes.
"You don't mean that. You don't want me to go."
"No; Of course I don't want you to go anywhere. But you won't, don't you see? It's a dream, floating out there between the stars."
"She's not floating. She's ramming her way through space so fast it makes me dizzy whenever she shows me."
"Then be dizzy. Think of it as your mind finding a way for you to run."
"You don't understand, Mr. Therapist. I thought you'd understand."
"I'm trying to."
"If I go with her, then I'll be dead." ***
I asked her nurse, "Who's been reading to her?"
"We all do, and volunteers from town. They like her. She always has someone to read to her."
"You'd better supervise them more carefully. Somebody's been putting ideas in her head. About spaceships and dust and singing between the starg. It's seared her pretty bad."
The nurse frowned. "We approve everything they read. She's been reading that kind of thing for years. It's never done her any harm before. Why now?"
"The rain, I guess. Cooped up in here, she's losing touch with reality."
The nurse nodded sympathetically and said, "I know. When she's asleep, she's doing the strangest things now."
"Like what? What kind of things?"
"Oh, singing these horrible songs."
"What are the words?"
"There aren't any words. She just sort of hums. Only the melodies are awful. Not even like music. And her voice gets funny and raspy. She's completely asleep. She sleeps a lot now. Mercifully, I think. She's always gotten impatient when she can't go outside."
The nurse obviously liked Elaine. It would be hard not to feel sorry for her, but Elaine insisted on being liked, and people liked her, those that could get over the horrible flatness of the sheets all around her trunk. "Listen," I said. "Can we bundle her up or something? Get her outside in spite of the rain?"
The nurse shook her head. "It isn't just the rain. It's cold out there. And the explosion that made her like she is -- it messed her up inside. She isn't put together right. She doesn't have the strength to fight off any kind of disease at all. You understand -- there's a good chance that exposure to that kind of weather would kill her eventually. And I won't take a chance on that."
"I'm going to be visiting her more often, then," I said. "As often as I can. She's got something going on in her head that's scaring her half to death. She thinks she's going to die."
"Oh, the poor darling," the nurse said. "Why would she think that?" "Doesn't matter. One of her imaginary friends may be getting out of hand."
"I thought you said they were harmless."
When I left the Millard County Rest Home that night, I stopped back in Elaine's room. She was asleep, and I heard her song. It was eerie. I could hear, now and then themes from the bit of Copland music she had listened to. But it was distorted, and most of the music was unrecognizable -- wasn't even music. Her voice was high and strange, and then suddenly it would change, would become low and raspy, and for a moment I clearly heard in her voice the sound of a vast engine coming through walls of metal, carried on slender metal rods, the sound of a great roar being swallowed up by a vast cushion of nothing. I pictured Elaine with wires coming out of her shoulders and hips, with her head encased in metal and her eyes closed in sleep, like her imaginary Anansa, piloting the starship as if it were her own body. I could see that this would be attractive to Elaine, in a way. After all, she hadn't been born this way. She had memories of running and playing, memories of feeding herself and dressing herself, perhaps even of learning to read, of sounding out the words as her fingers touched each letter. Even the false arms of a spaceship would be something to fill the great void.
Children's centers are not inside their bodies; their centers are outside, at the point where the fingers of the left hand and the fingers of the right hand meet. What they touch is where they live; what they see is their self. And Elaine had lost herself in an explosion before she had the chance to move inside. With this strange dream of Anansa she was getting a self back.
But a repellent self, for all that. I walked in and sat by Elaine's bed, listening to her sing. Her body moved slightly, her back arching a little with the melody. High and light; low and rasping. The sounds alternated, and I wondered what they meant. What was going on inside her to make this music come out?
If I go with her, then I'll be dead.
Of course she was afraid. I looked at the lump of flesh that filled the bed shapelessly below where her head emerged from the covers. I tried to change my perspective, to see her body as she saw it, from above. It almost disappeared then, with the foreshortening and the height of her ribs making her stomach and hint of hips vanish into insignificance. Yet this was all she had, and if she believed -- and certainly she seemed to -- that surrendering to the fantasy of Anansa would mean the death of this pitiful body, is death any less frightening to those who have not been able to fully live? I doubt it. At least for Elaine, what life she had lived had been joyful. She would not willingly trade it for a life of music and metal arms, locked in her own mind. Except for the rain. Except that nothing was so real to her as the outside, as the trees and birds and distant hills, and as the breeze touching her with a violence she permitted to no living person. And with that reality, the good part of her life, cut off from her by the rain, how long could she hold out against the incessant pulling of Anansa and her promise of arms and legs and eternal song?
I reached up, on a whim, and very gently lifted her eyelids.
Her eyes remained open, staring at the ceiling, not blinking.
I closed her eyes, and they remained closed.
I turned her head, and it stayed turned. She did not wake up. just kept singing as if I had done nothing to her at all.
* * *
On Friday it looked as if the clouds were breaking, but after only a few minutes of sunshine a huge new bank of clouds swept down from the northwest and it was worse than before. I finished my work rather carelessly, stopping a sentence in the middle several times. One of my patients was annoyed with me. She squinted at me. "You're not paid to think about your woman troubles when you're talking to me." I apologized and tried to pay attention. She was a talker; my attention always wandered. But she was right in a way. I couldn't stop thinking of Elaine. And my patient's saying that about woman troubles must have triggered something in my mind. After all, my relationship with Elaine was the longest and closest I had had with a woman in many years. If you could think of Elaine as a woman.
Catatonia, or the beginning of catalepsy. She's losing her mind, I thought, and if I don't bring her back, keep her here somehow, Anansa will win, and the rest home will be caring for a lump of mindless flesh for the next however many years they can keep tlns remnant of Elaine alive.
"I'll be back on Saturday," I told the administrator. "Why so soon?"
"Elaine is going through a crisis of some kind," I explained. An imaginary woman from space wants to carry her off -- that I didn't say. "Have the nurses keep her awake as much as they can. Read to her, play with her, talk to her. Her normal hours at night are enough. Avoid naps."
"I'm afraid for her, that's all. She could go catatonic on us at any time, I think. Her sleeping isn't normal. I want to have her watched all the time." "This is really serious?" "This is really serious." On Saturday I drove back to Millard County and found the nurses rather
distraught. They didn't realize how much she was sleeping until they tried to stop her, they all said. She was dozing off for two or three naps in the mornings, even more in the afternoons. She went to sleep at night at seven-thirty and slept at least twelve hours. "Singing all the time. It's awful. Even at night she keeps it up. Singing and singing."
But she was awake when I went in to see her. "I stayed awake for you." "Thanks," I said. "A Saturday visit. I must really be going bonkers." "Actually, no. But I don't like how sleepy you are." She smiled wanly. "It isn't my idea." I think my smile was more cheerful than hers. "And I think it's all in your head." "Think what you like, Doctor." "I'm not a doctor. My degree says I'm a master." "How deep is the water outside?" "Deep?" "All this rain. Surely it's enough to keep a few dozen arks afloat. Is God
destroying the world?" "Unfortunately, no. Though He has killed the engines on a few cars that went a
little fast through the puddles." "How long would it have to rain to fill up the world?" "The world is round. It would all drip off the bottom." She laughed. It was good to hear her laugh, but it ended too abruptly, and she
looked at me fearfully. "I'm going, you know." "You are?"
"I'm just the right size. She's measured me, and I'll fit perfectly. She has just the place for me. It's a good place, where I can hear the music of the dust for myself, and learn to sing it. I'd have the directional engines."
I shook my head. "Grunty the ice pig was cute. This isn't cute, Elaine."
"Did I ever say I thought Anansa was cute? Grunty the ice pig was real, you know. My father made hun out of crushed ice for a luau. He melted before they got the pig out of the ground. I don't make my friends up."
"Fuchsia the flower girl?"
"My mother would pinch blossoms off the fuchsia by our front door. We played with them like dolls in the grass."
"But not Anansa."
"Anansa came into my mind when I was asleep. She found me. I didn't make her up."
"Don't you see, Elaine, that's how the real hallucinations come? They feel like reality."
She shook her head. "I know all that. I've had the nurses read me psychology books. Anansa is -- Anansa is other. She couldn't come out of my head. She's something else. She's real. I've heard her music. It isn't plain, like Copland. It isn't false."
"Elaine, when you were asleep on Wednesday, you were becoming catatonic."
"I felt you touch me. I felt you turn my head. I wanted to speak to you, to say good-bye. But she was singing, don't you see? She was singing. And now she lets me sing along. When I sing with her, I can feel myself travel out, like a spider along a single thread, out into the place where she is. Into the darkness. It's lonely there, and black, and cold, but I know that at the end of the thread there she'll be, a friend for me forever."
"You're frightening me, Elaine." "There aren't any trees on her starship, you know. That's how I stay here. I think of the trees and the hills and the birds and the grass and the wind, and how I'd lose all of that. She gets angry at me, and a little hurt. But it keeps me here. Except now I can hardly remember the trees at all. I try to remember, and it's like trying to remember the face of my mother. I can remember her dress and her hair, but her face is gone forever. Even when I look at a picture, it's a stranger. The trees are strangers to me now."
I stroked her forehead. At first she pulled her head away, then slid it back.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I usually don't like people to touch me there."
"I won't," I said.
"No, go ahead. I don't mind."
So I stroked her forehead again. It was cool and dry, and she lifted her head almost imperceptibly, to receive my touch. Involuntarily I thought of what the old woman had sad the day before. Woman troubles. I was touching Elaine, and I thought of making love to her. I immediately put the thought out of my mind.
"Hold me here," she said. "Don't let me go. I want to go so badly. But I'm not meant for that. I'm just the right size, but not the right shape. Those aren't my arms. I know what my arms felt like."
"I'll hold you if I can. But you have to help."
"No drugs. The drugs pull my mind away from my body. If you give me drugs, I'll die."
"Then what can I do?"
"Just keep me here, any way you can."
Then we talked about nonsense, because we had been so serious, and it was as if she weren't having any problems at all. We got on to the subject of the church meetings.
"I didn't know you were religious," I said.
"I'm not. But what else is there to do on Sunday? They sing hymns, and I sing with them. Last Sunday there was a sermon that really got to me. The preacher talked about Christ in the sepulchre. About Him being there three days before the angel came to let Him go. I've been thinking about that, what it must have been like for Him, locked in a cave in the darkness, completely alone." "Depressing."
"Not really. It must have been exhilarating for Him, in a way. If it was true, you know. To he there on that stone bed, saying to Himself, 'They thought I was dead, but I'm here. I'm not dead.'"
"You make Him sound smug."
"Sure. Why not? I wonder if I'd feel like that, if I were with Anansa."
"I can see what you're thinking. You're thinking, 'Anansa again.'"
"Yeah," I said. "I wish you'd erase her and go back to some more harmless friends."
Suddenly her face went angry and fierce.
"You can believe what you like. Just leave me alone."
I tried to apologize, but she wouldn't have any of it. She insisted on believing in this star woman. Finally I left, redoubling my cautions against letting her sleep. The nurses looked worried, too. They could see the change as easily as I could.
That night, because I was in Millard on a weekend, I called up Belinda. She wasn't married or anything at the moment. She came to my motel. We had dinner, made love, and watched television. She watched television, that is. I lay on the bed, thinking. And so when the test pattern came on and Belinda at last got up, beery and passionate, my mind was still on Elaine. As Belinda kissed and tickled me and whispered stupidity in my ear, I imagined myself without arms and legs. I lay there, moving only my head.
"What is the matter, you don't want to?"
I shook off the mood. No need to disappoint Belinda -- I was the one who had called her. I had a responsibility. Not much of one, though. That was what was at me. I made love to Belinda slowly and carefully, but with my eyes closed. I kept superimposing Elaine's face on Behnda's. Woman troubles. Even though Belinda's fingers played up and down my back, I thought I was making love to Elaine. And the stumps of arms and legs didn't revolt me as much as I would have thought. Instead, I only felt sad. A deep sense of tragedy, of loss, as if Elaine were dead and I could have saved her, like the prince in all the fairy tales; a kiss, so symbolic, and the princess awakens and lives happily ever after. And I hadn't done it. I had failed her. When we were finished, I cried. "Oh, you poor sweetheart," Belinda said, her voice rich with sympathy. "What's wrong -- you don't have to tell me." She cradled me for a while, and at last I went to sleep with my head pressed against her breasts. She thought I needed her. I suppose that, briefly, I did.
I did not go back to Elaine on Sunday as I had planned. I spent the entire day almost going. Instead of walking out the door, I sat and watched the incredible array of terrible Sunday morning television. And when I finally did go out, fully intending to go to the rest home and see how she was doing, I ended up driving, luggage in the back of the car, to my trailer, where I went inside and again sat down and watched television.
Why couldn't I go to her?
Just keep me here, she had said. Any way you can, she had said.
And I thought I knew the way. That was the problem. In the back of my mind all this was much too real, and the fairy tales were wrong. The prince didn't wake her with a kiss. He wakened the princess with a promise: In his arms she would be safe forever. She awoke for the happily ever after. if she hadn't known it to be true, the princess would have preferred to sleep forever.
What was Elaine asking of me?
Why was I afraid of it?
Not my job. Unprofessional to get emotionally involved with a patient.
But then, when had I ever been a professional? I finally went to bed, wishing I had Belinda with me again, for whatever comfort she could bring. Why weren't all women like Belinda, soft and loving and undemanding?
Yet as I drifted off to sleep, it was Elaine I remembered, Elaine's face and hideous, reproachful stump of a body that followed me through all my dreams.
And she followed me when I was awake, through my regular rounds on Monday and Tuesday, and at last it was Wednesday, and still I was afraid to go to the Millard County Rest Home. I didn't get there until afternoon. Late afternoon, and the rain was coming down as hard as ever, and there were lakes of standing water in the fields, torrents rushing through the unprepared gutters of the town.
"You're late," the administrator said.
"Rain," I answered, and he nodded. But he looked worried. "We hoped you'd come yesterday, but we couldn't reach you anywhere. It's Elaine."
And I knew that my delay had served its damnable purpose, exactly as I expected.
"She hasn't woken up since Monday morning. She just lies there, singing. We've got her on an IV. She's asleep."
She was indeed asleep. I sent the others out of the room.
"Elaine," I said.
I called her name again, several times. I touched her, rocked her head back and forth. Her head stayed wherever I placed it. And the song went on, softly, high and then low, pure and then gravelly. I covered her mouth. She sang on, even with her mouth closed, as if nothing were the matter.
I pulled down her sheet and pushed a pin into her belly, then into the thin flesh at, her collarbone. No response. I slapped her face. No response. She was gone. I saw her again, connected to a starship, only this time I understood better. It wasn't her body that was the right size; it was her mind. And it was her mind that had followed the slender spider's thread out to Anansa, who waited to give her a body.
Shock therapy? I imagined her already-deformed body leaping and arching as the electricity coursed through her. It would accomplish nothing, except to torture unthinking flesh. Drugs? I couldn't think of any that could bring her back from where she had gone. In a way, I think, I even believed in Anansa, for the moment. I called her name. "Anansa, let her go. Let her come back to me. Please. I need her."
Why had I cried in Belinda's arms? Oh, yes. Because I had seen the princess and let her lie there unawakened, because the happily ever after was so damnably much work.
I did not do it in the fever of the first realization that I had lost her. It was no act of passion or sudden fear or grief. I sat beside her bed for hours, looking at her weak and helpless body, now so empty. I wished for her eyes to open on their own, for her to wake up and say, "Hey, would you believe the dream I had!" For her to say, "Fooled you, didn't I? It was really hard when you poked me with pins, but I fooled you." But she hadn't fooled me.
And so, finally, not with passion but in despair, I stood up and leaned over her, leaned my hands on either side of her and pressed my cheek against hers and whispered in her ear. I promised her everything I could think of. I promised her no more rain forever. I promised her trees and flowers and hills and birds and the wind for as long as she liked. I promised to take her away from the rest home, to take her to see things she could only have dreamed of before.
And then at last, with my voice harsh from pleading with her, with her hair wet with my tears, I promised her the only thing that might bring her back. I promised her me. I promised her love forever, stronger than any songs Anansa could sing.
And it was then that the monstrous song fell silent. She did not awaken, but the song ended, and she moved on her own; her head rocked to the side, and she seemed to sleep normally, not catatonically. I waited by her bedside all night. I fell asleep in the chair, and one of the nurses covered me. I was still there when I was awakened in the morning by Elaine's voice.
"What a liar you are! It's still raining."
* * *
It was a feeling of power, to know that I had called someone back from places far darker than death. Her life was painful, and yet my promise of devotion was enough, apparently, to compensate. This was how I understood it, at least. This was what made me feel exhilarated, what kept me blind and deaf to what had really happened.
I was not the only one rejoicing. The nurses made a great fuss over her, and the administrator promised to write up a glowing report. "Publish," he said.
"It's too personal," I said. But in the back of my mind I was already trying to figure out a way to get the case into print, to gain something for my career. I was ashamed of myself, for twisting what had been an honest, heartfelt commitment into personal advancement. But I couldn't ignore the sudden respect I was receiving from people to whom, only hours before, I had been merely ordinary.
"It's too personal," I repeated firmly. "I have no intention of publishing."
And to my disgust I found myself relishing the administrator's respect for that decision. There was no escape from my swelling self-satisfaction. Not as long as I stayed around those determined to give me cheap payoffs. Ever the wise psychologist, I returned to the only person who would give me gratitude instead of admiration. The gratitude I had earned, I thought. I went back to Elaine. "Hi," she said. "I wondered where you had gone."
"Not far," I said. "Just visiting with the Nobel Prize committee."
"They want to reward you for bringing me here?"
"Oh, no. They had been planning to give me the award for having contacted a
genuine alien being from outer space. Instead, I blew it and brought you back. They're quite upset."
She looked flustered. It wasn't like her to look flustered -- usually she came back with another quip. "But what will they do to you?"
"Probably boil me in oil. That's the usual thing. Though, maybe they've found a way to boil me in solar energy. It's cheaper." A feeble joke. But she didn't get it.
"This isn't, the way she said it was -- she said it was--"
She. I tried to ignore the dull fear that suddenly churned in my stomach. Be analytical, I thought. She could be anyone.
"She said? Who said?" I asked.
Elaine fell silent. I reached out and touched her forehead. She was perspiring.
"What's wrong?" I asked. "You're upset."
"I should have known."
She shook her head and turned away from me.
I knew what it was, I thought. I knew what it was, but we could surely cope. "Elaine," I said, "you aren't completely cured, are you? You haven't got rid of Anansa, have you? You don't have to hide it from me. Sure, I would have loved to think you'd been completely cured, but that would have been too much of a miracle. Do I look like a miracle worker? We've just made progress, that's all. Brought you back from catalepsy. We'll free you of Anansa eventually."
Still she was silent, staring at the rain-gray window.
"You don't have to be embarrassed about pretending to be completely cured. It was very kind of you. It made me feel very good for a little while. But I'm a grownup. I can cope with a little disappointment. Besides, you're awake, you're back, and that's all that matters." Grown-up, hell! I was terribly disappointed, and ashamed that I wasn't more sincere in what I was saying. No cure after all. No hero. No magic. No great achievement. Just a psychologist who was, after all, not extraordinary.
But I refused to pay too much attention to those feelings. Be a professional, I told myself. She needs your help.
"So don't go feeling guilty about it."
She turned back to face me, her eyes full. "Guilty?" She almost smiled. "Guilty." Her eyes did not leave my face, though I doubted she could see me well through the tears brimming her lashes.
"You tried to do the right thing," I said.
"Did I? Did I really?" She smiled bitterly. It was a strange smile for her, and for a terrible moment she no longer looked like my Elaine, my bright young patient. "I meant to stay with her," she said. "I wanted her with me, she was so alive, and when she finally joined herself to the ship, she sang and danced and swung her arms, and I said, 'This is what I've needed; this is what I've craved all my centuries lost in the songs.' But then I heard you."
"Anansa," I said, realizing at that moment who was with me.
"I heard you, crying out to her. Do you think I made up my mind quickly? She heard you, but she wouldn't come. She wouldn't trade her new arms and legs for anything. They were so new. But I'd had them for long enough. What I'd never had was -- you."
"Where is she?" I asked.
"Out there," she said. "She sings better than I ever did." She looked wistful for a moment, then smiled ruefully. "And I'm here. Only I made a bad bargain, didn't I? Because I didn't fool you. You won't want me, now. It's Elaine you want, and she's gone. I left her alone out there. She won't mind, not for a long time. But then -- then she will. Then she'll know I cheated her."
The voice was Elaine's voice, the tragic little body her body. But now I knew I had not succeeded at all. Elaine was gone, in the infinite outer space where the mind hides to escape from itself. And in her place -- Anansa. A stranger.
"You cheated her?" I said. "How did you cheat her?" "It never changes. In a while you learn all the songs, and they never change. Nothing moves. You go on forever until all the stars fail, and yet nothing ever moves."
I moved my hand and put it to my hair. I was startled at my own trembling touch on my head.
"Oh, God," I said. They were just words, not a supplication.
"You hate me," she said.
Hate her? Hate my little, mad Elaine? Oh, no. I had another object for my hate. I hated the rain that had cut her off from all that kept her sane. I hated her parents for not leaving her home the day they let their car drive them on to death. But most of all I remembered my days of hiding from Elaine, my days of resisting her need, of pretending that I didn't remember her or think of her or need her, too. She must have wondered why I was so long in coming. Wondered and finally given up hope, finally realized that there was no one who would hold her. And so she left, and when I finally came, the only person waiting inside her body was Anansa, the imaginary friend who had come, terrifyingly, to life. I knew whom to hate. I thought I would cry. I even buried my face in the sheet where her leg would have been. But I did not cry. I just sat there, the sheet harsh against my face, hating myself.
Her voice was like a gentle hand, a pleading hand touching me. "I'd undo it if I could," she said. "But I can't. She's gone, and I'm here. I came because of you. I came to see the trees and the grass and the birds and your smile. The happily ever after. That was what she had lived for, you know, all she lived for. Please smile at me."
I felt warmth on my hair. I lifted my head. There was no rain in the window. Sunlight rose and fell on the wrinkles of the sheet.
"Let's go outside," I said.
"It stopped raining," she said.
"A bit late, isn't it?" I answered. But I smiled it her.
"You can call me Elaine," she said. "You won't tell, will you?"
I shook my head. No, I wouldn't tell. She was safe enough. I wouldn't tell because then they would take her away to a place where psychiatrists reigned but did not know enough to rule. I imagined her confined among others who had also made their escape from reality and I knew that I couldn't tell anyone. I also knew I couldn't confess failure, not now. Besides, I hadn't really completely failed. There was still hope. Elaine wasn't really gone. She was still there, hidden in her own mind, looking out through this imagmary person she had created to take her place. Someday I would find her and bring her home. After all, even Grunty the ice pig had melted.
I noticed that she was shaking her head. "You won't find her," she said. "You won't bring her home. I won't melt and disappear. She is gone and you couldn't have prevented it."
I smiled. "Elaine," I said.
And then I realized that she had answered thoughts I hadn't put into words.
"That's right," she said, "let's be honest with each other. You might as well. You can't lie to me."
I shook my head. For a moment, in my confusion and despair, I had believed it all, believed that Anansa was real. But that was nonsense. Of course Elaine knew what I was thinking. She knew me better than I knew myself. "Let's go outside, " I said. A failure and a cripple, out to enjoy the sunlight, which fell equally on the just and the unjustifiable.
"I don't care," she said. "Whatever you want to believe: Elaine or Anansa. Maybe it's better if you still look for Elaine. Maybe it's better if you let me fool you after all."
The worst thing about the fantasies of the mentally ill is that they're so damned consistent. They never let up. They never give you any rest.
"I'm Elaine," she said, smiling. "I'm Elaine, pretending to be Anansa. You love me. That's what I came for. You promised to bring me home, and you did. Take me outside. You made it stop raining for me. You did everything you promised, and I'm home again, and I promise I'll never leave you."
She hasn't left me. I come to see her every Wednesday as part of my work, and every Saturday -and Sunday as the best part of my life. I take her driving with me sometimes, and we talk constantly, and I read to her and bring her books for the nurses to read to her. None of them know that she is still unwell -- to them she's Elaine, happier than ever, pathetically delighted at every sight and sound and smell and taste and every texture that they touch against her cheek. Only I know that she believes she is not Elaine. Only I know that I have made no progress at all since then, that in moments of terrible honesty I call her Anansa, and she sadly answers me. But in a way I'm content. Very little has changed between us, really; And after a few weeks I realized, with certainty, that she was happier now than she had ever been before. After all, she had the best of all possible worlds, for her. She could tell herself that the real Elaine was off in space somewhere, dancing and singing and hearing songs, with arms and legs at last, while the poor girl who was confined to the limbless body at the Millard County Rest Home was really an alien who was very, very happy to have even that limited body.
And as for me, I kept my commitment to her, and I'm happier for it. I'm still human -- I still take another woman into my bed from time to time. But Anansa doesn't mind. She even suggested it, only a few days after she woke up. "Go back to Belinda sometimes," she said. "Belinda loves you, too, you know. I won't mind at all." I still can't remember when I spoke to her of Belinda, but at least she didn't mind, and so there aren't really any discontentments in my life. Except.
Except that I'm not God. I would like to be God. I would make some changes.
When I go to the Millard County Rest Home, I never enter the building first. She is never in the building. I walk around the outside and look across the lawn by the trees. The wheelchair is always there; I can tell it from the others by the pillows, which glare white in the sunlight. I never call out. In a few moments she always sees me, and the nurses wheel her around and push the chair across the lawn.
She comes as she has come hundreds of times before. She plunges toward me, and I concentrate on watching her, so that my mind will not see my Elaine surrounded by blackness, plunging through space, gathering dust, gathering songs, leaping and dancing with her new arms and legs that she loves better than me. Instead I watch the wheelchair, watch the smile on her face. She is happy to see me, so delighted with the world outside that her body cannot contain her. And when my imagination will not be restrained, I am God for a moment.
I see her running toward me, her arms waving. I give her a left hand, a right hand, delicate and strong; I put a long and girlish left leg on her, and one just as sturdy on the right.
And then, one by one, I take them all away.
The difference between Latin America and North America's United States has always been vast; the first being in virtual colonial aspect to the Empire of the Dollar. Now beyond the border between Mexico and the U.S.A. there lives another race, that of the native Americans miscalled Indians. The majority of the inhabitants of those countries are among the dispossessed of the world. This may change; indeed, as history always calls the tune, no matter how long or in what fashion it takes, it will change.
Sam Monson and Anamari Boagente had two encounters in their lives, forty years apart. The first encounter lasted for several weeks in the high Amazon jungle, the village of Agualinda. The second was for only an hour near the ruins of the Glen Canyon Dam, on the border between Navaho country and the State of Deseret.
When they met the first time, Sam was a scrawny teenager from Utah and Anamari was a middle-aged spinster Indian from Brazil. When they met the second time, he was governor of Deseret, the last European state in America, and she was, to some people's way of thinking, the mother of God. It never occurred to anyone that they had ever met before, except me. I saw it plain as day, and pestered Sam until he told me the whole story. Now Sam is dead and she's long gone, and I'm the only one who knows the truth. I thought for a long time that I'd take this story untold to my grave, but I see now that I can't do that. The way I see it, I won't be allowed to die until I write this down. All my real work was done long since, so why else am I alive? I figure the land has kept me breathing so I can tell the story of its victory, and it has kept you alive so you can hear it. Gods are like that. It isn't enough for them to run everything. They want to be famous, too.
Passengers were nothing to her. Anamari only cared about helicopters when they brought medical supplies. This chopper carried a precious packet of benaxidene; Anamari barely noticed the skinny, awkward boy who sat by the crates, looking hostile. Another Yanqui who doesn't want to be stuck out in the jungle. Nothing new about that. Norteamericanos were almost invisible to Anamari by now. They came and went.
It was the Brazilian government people she had to worry about, the petty bureaucrats suffering through years of virtual exile in Mannaus, working out their frustration by being petty tyrants over the helpless Indians. No I'm sorry we don't have any more penicillin, no more syringes, what did you do with the AIDS vaccine we gave you three years ago? Do you think we're made of money here? Let them come to town if they want to get well. There's a hospital in Sao Paulo de Olivenca, send them there, we're not going to turn you into a second hospital out there in the middle of nowhere, not for a village of a hundred filthy Baniwas, it's not as if you're a doctor, you're just an old withered up Indian woman yourself, you never graduated from the medical schools, we can't spare medicines for you. It made them feel so important, to decide whether or not an Indian child would live or die. As often as not they passed sentence of death by refusing to send supplies. It made them feel powerful as God.
Anamari knew better than to protest or argue-it would only make that bureaucrat likelier to kill again in the future. But sometimes, when the need was great and the medicine was common, Anamari would go to the Yanqui geologists and ask if they had this or that. Sometimes they would share, but if they didn't, they wouldn't lift a finger to get any. They were not tyrants like the Brazilian bureaucrats. They just didn't give a damn. They were there to make money.
That was what Anamari saw when she looked at the sullen light-haired boy in the helicopter-another Norteamericano, just like all the other Norteamericanos, only younger.
She had the benaxidene, and so she immediately began spreading word that all the Baniwas should come for injections. It was a disease that had been introduced during the war between Guyana and Venezuela two years ago; as usual, most of the victims were not citizens of either country, just the Indios of the jungle, waking up one morning with their joints stiffening, hardening until no movement was possible. Benaxidene was the antidote, but you had to have it every few months or your joints would stiffen up again. As usual, the bureaucrats had diverted a shipment and there were a dozen Baniwas bedridden in the village. As usual, one or two of the Indians would be too far gone for the cure; one or two of their joints would be stiff for the rest of their lives. As usual, Anamari said little as she gave the injections, and the Baniwas said less to her.
It was not until the next day that Anamari had time to notice the young Yanqui boy wandering around the village. He was wearing rumpled white clothing, already somewhat soiled with the greens and browns of life along the rivers of the Amazon jungle. He showed no sign of being interested in anything, but an hour into her rounds, checking on the results of yesterday's benaxidene treatments, she became aware that he was following her.
She turned around in the doorway of the government-built hovel and faced him. "O que e'?" she demanded. What do you want?
To her surprise, he answered in halting Portuguese. Most of these Yanquis never bothered to learn the language at all, expecting her and everybody else to speak English. "Posso ajudar?" he asked. Can I help?
"Nao," she said. "Mas pode olhar." You can watch.
He looked at her in bafflement.
She repeated her sentence slowly, enunciating clearly. "Pode olhar." "Eu?" Me? "Voce, sim. And I can speak English." "I don't want to speak English." "Tanto faz," she said. Makes no difference. He followed her into the hut. It was a little girl, lying naked in her own feces. She had palsy
from a bout with meningitis years ago, when she was an infant, and Anamari figured that the girl would probably be one of the ones for whom the benaxidene came too late. That's how things usually worked-the weak suffer most. But no, her joints were flexing again, and the girl smiled at them, that heartbreakingly happy smile that made palsy victims so beautiful at times.
So. Some luck after all, the benaxidene had been in time for her. Anamari took the lid off the clay waterjar that stood on the one table in the room, and dipped one of her clean rags in it. She used it to wipe the girl, then lifted her frail,
atrophied body and pulled the soiled sheet out from under her. On impulse, she handed the sheet to the boy. "Leva fora," she said. And, when he didn't understand, "Take it outside." He did not hesitate to take it, which surprised her. "Do you want me to wash it?" "You could shake off the worst of it," she said. "Out over the garden in back. I'll wash it
He came back in, carrying the wadded-up sheet, just as she was leaving. "All done here," she said. "We'll stop by my house to start that soaking. I'll carry it now." He didn't hand it to her. "I've got it," he said. "Aren't you going to give her a clean sheet?" "There are only four sheets in the village," she said. "Two of them are on my bed. She
won't mind lying on the mat. I'm the only one in the village who cares about linens. I'm also the only one who cares about this girl." "She likes you," he said. "She smiles like that at everybody.
"So maybe she likes everybody." Anamari grunted and led the way to her house. It was two government hovels pushed together. The one served as her clinic, the other as her home. Out back she had two
metal washtubs. She handed one of them to the Yanqui boy, pointed at the rainwater tank, and told him to fill it. He did. It made her furious. "What do you want!" she demanded. "Nothing," he said. "Why do you keep hanging around!''
"I thought I was helping." His voice was full of injured pride. "I don't need your help." She forgot that she had meant to leave the sheet to soak. She began rubbing it on the washboard.
"Then why did you ask me to ..." She did not answer him, and he did not complete the question. After a long time he said, "You were trying to get rid of me, weren't you?" "What do you want here?" she said. "Don't I have enough to do, without a Norteamericano
boy to look after?"
Anger flashed in his eyes, but he did not answer until the anger was gone. "If you're tired of scrubbing, I can take over." She reached out and took his hand, examined it for a moment. "Soft hands," she said.
"Lady hands. You'd scrape your knuckles on the washboard and bleed all over the sheet." Ashamed, he put his hands in his pockets. A parrot flew past him, dazzling green and red;
he turned in surprise to look at it. It landed on the rainwater tank. "Those sell for a thousand dollars in the States," he said. Of course the Yanqui boy evaluates everything by price. "Here they're free," she said.
"The Baniwas eat them. And wear the feathers."
He looked around at the other huts, the scraggly gardens. "The people are very poor here," he said. "The jungle life must be hard." "Do you think so?" she snapped. "The jungle is very kind to these people. It has plenty for
them to eat, all year. The Indians of the Amazon did not know they were poor until Europeans came and made them buy pants, which they couldn't afford, and built houses, which they couldn't keep up, and plant gardens. Plant gardens! In the midst of this magnificent Eden. The jungle life was good. The Europeans made them poor."
"Europeans?" asked the boy. "Brazilians. They're all Europeans. Even the black ones have turned European. Brazil is just another European country, speaking a European language. Just like you Norteamericanos. You're Europeans too."
"I was born in America," he said. "So were my parents and grandparents and great- grandparents." "But your bis-bis-avos they came on a boat."
"That was a long time ago," he said. "A long time!" She laughed. "I am a pure Indian. For ten thousand generations I belong to this land. You are a stranger here. A fourth-generation stranger."
"But I'm a stranger who isn't afraid to touch a dirty sheet," he said. He was grinning defiantly. That was when she started to like him. "How old are you?" she asked. "Fifteen," he said.
"Your father's a geologist?" "No. He heads up the drilling team. They're going to sink a test well here. He doesn't think they'll find anything, though."
"They will find plenty of oil," she said. "How do you know?" "Because I dreamed it," she said. "Bulldozers cutting down the trees, making an airstrip,
and planes coming and going. They'd never do that, unless they found oil. Lots of oil."
She waited for him to make fun of the idea of dreaming true dreams. But he didn't. He just looked at her. So she was the one who broke the silence. "You came to this village to kill time while your
father is away from you, on the job, right?"
"No," he said. "I came here because he hasn't started to work yet. The choppers start bringing in equipment tomorrow." "You would rather be away from your father?" He looked away. "I'd rather see him in hell."
"This is hell," she said, and the boy laughed. "Why did you come here with him?" "Because I'm only fifteen years old, and he has custody of me this summer." "Custody," she said. "Like a criminal." "He's the criminal," he said bitterly. "And his crime?" He waited a moment, as if deciding whether to answer. When he spoke, he spoke quietly
and looked away. Ashamed. Of his father's crime. "Adultery," he said. The word hung in the air. The boy turned back and looked her in the face again. His face was tinged with red.
Europeans have such transparent skin, she thought. All their emotions show through. She guessed a whole story from his words, beloved mother betrayed, and now he had to spend the summer with her betrayer. "Is that a crime?"
He shrugged. "Maybe not to Catholics." "You're Protestant?" He shook his head. "Mormon. But I'm a heretic." She laughed. "You're a heretic, and your father is an adulterer." He didn't like her laughter. "And you're a virgin," he said. His words seemed calculated to
hurt her. She stopped scrubbing, stood there looking at her hands. "Also a crime?" she murmured. "I had a dream last night," he said. "In my dream your name was Anna Marie, but when I
tried to call you that, I couldn't. I could only call you by another name." "What name?" she asked. "What does it matter? It was only a dream." He was taunting her. He knew she trusted in
dreams. "You dreamed of me, and in the dream my name was Anamari?" "It's true, isn't it? That is your name, isn't it?" He didn't have to add the other half of the
question: You are a virgin, aren't you?
She lifted the sheet from the water, wrung it out and tossed it to him. He caught it, vile water spattering his face. He grimaced. She poured the washwater onto the dirt. It spattered mud all over his trousers. He did not step back. Then she carried the tub to the water tank and began to fill it with dean water. "Time to rinse," she said.
"You dreamed about an airstrip," he said. "And I dreamed about you." "In your dreams you better start to mind your own business," she said. "I didn't ask for it, you know," he said. "But I followed the dream out to this village, and you
turned out to be a dreamer, too."
"That doesn't mean you're going to end up with your pinto between my legs, so you can forget it," she said. He looked genuinely horrified. "Geez, what are you talking about! That would be
fornication! Plus you've got to be old enough to be my mother!" "I'm forty-two," she said. "If it's any of your business." "You're older than my mother," he said. "I couldn't possibly think of you sexually. I'm sorry
if I gave that impression." She giggled. "You are a very funny boy, Yanqui. First you say I'm a virgin-•, "That was in the dream," he said. "And then you tell me I'm older than your mother and too ugly to think of me sexually." He looked at her ashen with shame. "I'm sorry, I was just trying to make sure you knew
that I would never-" "You're trying to tell me that you're a good boy." "Yes," he said. She giggled again. "You probably don't even play with yourself," she said. His face went red. He struggled to find something to say. Then he threw the wet sheet
back at her and walked furiously away. She laughed and laughed. She liked this boy very
much. The next morning he came back and helped her in the clinic all day. His name was Sam Monson, and he was the first European she ever knew who dreamed true dreams. She had thought only Indios could do that. Whatever god it was that gave her dreams to her, perhaps it was the same god giving dreams to Sam. Perhaps that god brought them together here in the jungle. Perhaps it was that god who would lead the drill to oil, so that Sam's father would have to keep him here long enough to accomplish whatever the god had in mind.
It annoyed her that the god had mentioned she was a virgin. That was nobody's business but her own.
Life in the jungle was better than Sam ever expected. Back in Utah, when Mother first told him that he had to go to the Amazon with the old bastard, he had feared the worst. Hacking through thick viney jungles with a machete, crossing rivers of piranha in tick- infested dugouts, and always sweat and mosquitos and thick, heavy air. Instead the American oilmen lived in a pretty decent camp, with a generator for electric light. Even though it rained all the time and when it didn't it was so hot you wished it would, it wasn't constant danger as he had feared, and he never had to hack through jungle at all. There were paths, sometimes almost roads, and the thick, vivid green of the jungle was more beautiful than he had ever imagined. He had not realized that the American West was such a desert. Even California, where the old bastard lived when he wasn't traveling to drill wells, even those wooded hills and mountains were gray compared to the jungle green.
The Indians were quiet little people, not headhunters. Instead of avoiding them, like the adult Americans did, Sam found that he could be with them, come to know them, even help them by working with Anamari. The old bastard could sit around and drink his beer with the guys-adultery and beer, as if one contemptible sin of the flesh weren't enough-but Sam was actually doing some good here. If there was anything Sam could do to prove he was the opposite of his father, he would do it; and because his father was a weak, carnal, earthy man with no self-control, then Sam had to be a strong, spiritual, intellectual man who did not let any passions of the body rule him. Watching his father succumb to alcohol, remembering how his father could not even last a month away from Mother without having to get some whore into his bed, Sam was proud of his self-discipline. He ruled his body; his body did not rule him.
He was also proud to have passed Anamari's test on the first day. What did he care if human excrement touched his body? He was not afraid to breathe the hot stink of suffering, he was not afraid of the innocent dirt of a crippled child. Didn't Jesus touch lepers? Dirt of the body did not disgust him. Only dirt of the soul.
Which was why his dreams of Anamari troubled him. During the day they were friends. They talked about important ideas, and she told him stories of the Indians of the Amazon, and about her education as a teacher in Sao Paulo. She listened when he talked about history and religion and evolution and all the theories and ideas that danced in his head. Even Mother never had time for that, always taking care of the younger kids or doing her endless jobs for the church. Anamari treated him like his ideas mattered. But at night, when he dreamed, it was something else entirely. In those dreams he kept seeing her naked, and the voice kept calling her "Virgem America." What her virginity had to do with America he had no idea-even true dreams didn't always make sense-but he knew this much: when he dreamed of Anamari naked, she was always reaching out to him, and he was filled with such strong passions that more than once he awoke from the dream to find himself throbbing with imaginary pleasure, like Onan in the Bible, Judah's son, who spilled his seed upon the ground and was struck dead for it.
Sam lay awake for a long time each time this happened, trembling, fearful. Not because he thought God would strike him down-he knew that if God hadn't struck his father dead for adultery, Sam was certainly in no danger because of an erotic dream. He was afraid because he knew that in these dreams he revealed himself to be exactly as lustful and evil as his father. He did not want to feel any sexual desire for Anamari. She was old and lean and tough, and he was afraid of her, but most of all Sam didn't want to desire her because he was not like his father, he would never have sexual intercourse with a woman who was not his wife.
Yet when he walked into the village of Agualinda, he felt eager to see her again, and when he found her-the village was small, it never took long-he could not erase from his mind the vivid memory of how she looked in the dreams, reaching out to him, her breasts loose and jostling, her slim hips rolling toward him-and he would bite his cheek for the pain of it, to distract him from desire.
It was because he was living with Father; the old bastard's goatishness was rubbing off on him, that's all. So he spent as little time with his father as possible, going home only to sleep at night.
The harder he worked at the jobs Anamari gave him to do, the easier it was to keep himself from remembering his dream of her kneeling over him, touching him, sliding along his body. Hoe the weeds out of the corn until your back is on fire with pain! Wash the Baniwa hunter's wound and replace the bandage! Sterilize the instruments in the alcohol! Above all, do not, even accidentally, let any part of your body brush against hers; pull away when she is near you, turn away so you don't feel her warm breath as she leans over your shoulder, start a bright conversation whenever there is a silence filled only with the sound of insects and the sight of a bead of sweat slowly etching its way from her neck down her chest to disappear between her breasts where she only tied her shirt instead of buttoning it.
How could she possibly be a virgin, after the way she acted in his dreams?
"Where do you think the dreams come from?" she asked.
He blushed, even though she could not have guessed what he was thinking. Could she?
"The dreams," she said. "Why do you think we have dreams that come true?" It was nearly dark. "I have to get home," he said. She was holding his hand. When had she taken his hand like that, and why?
"I have the strangest dream," she said. "I dream of a huge snake, covered with bright green and red feathers."
"Not all the dreams come true," he said.
"I hope not," she answered. "Because this snake comes out of--I give birth to this snake."
"Quetzal," he said.
"What does that mean?"
"The gathered serpent god of the Aztecs. Or maybe the Mayas. Mexican, anyway. I have to go home."
"But what does it mean?"
"It's almost dark," he said.
"Stay and talk to me!" she demanded. "I have room, you can stay the night."
But Sam had to get back. Much as he hated staying with his father, he dared not spend a night in this place. Even her invitation aroused him. He would never last a night in the same house with her. The dream would be too strong for him. So he left her and headed back along the path through the jungle. All during the walk he couldn't get Anamari out of his mind. It was as if the plants were sending him the vision of her, so his desire was even stronger than when he was with her.
The leaves gradually turned from green to black in the seeping dark. The hot darkness did not frighten him; it seemed to invite him to step away from the path into the shadows, where he would find the moist relief, the cool release of all his tension. He stayed on the path, and hurried faster.
He came at last to the oilmen's town. The generator was loud, but the insects were louder, swarming around the huge area light, casting shadows of their demonic dance. He and his father shared a large one-room house on the far edge of the compound. The oil company provided much nicer hovels than the Brazilian government.
A few men called out to greet him. He waved, even answered once or twice, but hurried on. His groin felt so hot and tight with desire that he was sure that only the shadows and his quick stride kept everyone from seeing. It was maddening: the more he thought of trying to calm himself, the more visions of Anamari slipped in and out of his waking mind, almost to the point of hallucination. His body would not relax. He was almost running when he burst into the house. Inside, Father was washing his dinner plate. He glanced up, but Sam was already past him. "I'll heat up your dinner." Sam flopped down on his bed. "Not hungry." "Why are you so late?" asked his father.
"We got to talking." "It's dangerous in the jungle at night. You think it's safe because nothing bad ever happens to you in the daytime, but it's dangerous."
"Sure, Dad. I know." Sam got up, turned his back to take off his pants. Maddeningly, he
was still aroused; he didn't want his father to see. But with the unerring instinct of prying parents, the old bastard must have sensed that Sam was hiding something. When Sam was buck naked, Father walked around, and looked just as if he never heard of privacy. Sam blushed in spite of himself. His father's eyes went small and hard. I hope I don't ever look like that, thought Sam. I hope my face doesn't get that ugly suspicious expression on it. I'd rather die than look like that.
"Well, put on your pajamas," Father said. "I don't want to look at that forever." Sam pulled on his sleeping shorts. "What's going on over there?" asked Father. "Nothing," said Sam. "You must do something all day." "I told you, I help her. She runs a clinic, and she also tends a garden. She's got no
electricity, so it takes a lot of work." "I've done a lot of work in my time, Sam, but I don't come home like that. " "No, you always stopped and got it off with some whore along the way." The old bastard whipped out his hand and slapped Sam across the face. It stung, and the
surprise of it wrung tears from Sam before he had time to decide not to cry. "I never slept with a whore in my life," said the old bastard. "You only slept with one woman who wasn't," said Sam.
Father slapped him again, only this time Sam was ready, and he bore the slap stoically, almost without flinching.
"I had one affair," said Father.
"You got caught once," said Sam. "There were dozens of women."
Father laughed derisively. "What did you do, hire a detective? There was only the one."
But Sam knew better. He had dreamed these women for years. Laughing, lascivious women. It wasn't until he was twelve years old that he found out enough about sex to know what it all meant. By then he had long since learned that any dream he had more than once was true. So when he had a dream of Father with one of the laughing women, he woke up, holding the dream in his memory. He thought through it from beginning to end, remembering all the details he could. The name of the motel. The room number. It was midnight, but Father was in California, so it was an hour earlier. Sam got out of bed and walked quietly into the kitchen and dialed directory assistance. There was such a motel. He wrote down the number. Then Mother was there, asking him what he was doing.
"This is the number of the Seaview Motor Inn," he said. "Call this number and ask for room twenty-one-twelve and then ask for Dad."
Mother looked at him strangely, like she was about to scream or cry or hit him or throw up. "Your father is at the Hilton," she said.
But he just looked right back at her and said, "No matter who answers the phone, ask for Dad."
So she did. A woman answered, and Mom asked for Dad by name, and he was there. "I wonder how we can afford to pay for two motel rooms on the same night," Mom said coldly. "Or are you splitting the cost with your friend?" Then she hung up the phone and burst into tears.
She cried all night as she packed up everything the old bastard owned. By the time Dad got home two days later, all his things were in storage. Mom moved fast when she made up her mind. Dad found himself divorced and excommunicated all in the same week, not two months later.
Mother never asked Sam how he knew where Dad was that night. Never even hinted at wanting to know. Dad never asked him how Mom knew to call that number, either. An amazing lack of curiosity, Sam thought sometimes. Perhaps they just took it as fate. For a while it was secret, then it stopped being secret, and it didn't matter how the change happened. But one thing Sam knew for sure--the woman at the Seaview Motor Inn was not the first woman, and the Seaview was not the first motel. Dad had been an adulterer for years, and it was ridiculous for him to lie about it now. But there was no point in arguing with him, especially when he was in the mood to slap Sam around.
"I don't like the idea of you spending so much time with an older woman," said Father. "She's the closest thing to a doctor these people have. She needs my help and I'm going to keep helping her," said Sam.
"Don't talk to me like that, little boy." "You don't know anything about this, so just mind your own business." Another slap. "You're going to get tired of this before I do, Sammy." "I love it when you slap me, Dad. It confirms my moral superiority. •. Another slap, this time so hard that Sam stumbled under the blow, and he tasted blood
inside his mouth. "How hard next time, Dad?" he said. "You going to knock me down? Kick me around a little? Show me who's boss?" "You've been asking for a beating ever since we got here."
"I've been asking to be left alone." "I know women, Sam. You have no business getting involved with an older woman like that."
"I help her wash a little girl who has bowel movements in bed, Father. I empty pails of vomit. I wash clothes and help patch leaking roofs and while I'm doing all these things we talk. Just talk. I don't imagine you have much experience with that, Dad. You probably never talk at all with the women you know, at least not after the price is set."
It was going to be the biggest slap of all, enough to knock him down, enough to bruise his face and black his eye. But the old bastard held it in. Didn't hit him. Just stood there, breathing hard, his face red, his eyes tight and piggish.
"You're not as pure as you think," the old bastard finally whispered. "You've got every desire you despise in me."
"I don't despise you for desire, " said Sam. "The guys on the crew have been talking about you and this Indian bitch, Sammy. You may not like it, but I'm your father and it's my job to warn you. These Indian women are easy, and they'll give you a disease."
"The guys on the crew," said Sam. "What do they know about Indian women? They're all fags or jerk-offs."
"I hope someday you say that where they can hear you, Sam. And I hope when it happens I'm not there to stop what they do to you."
"I would never be around men like that, Daddy, if the court hadn't given you shared custody. A no-fault divorce. What a joke."
More than anything else, those words stung the old bastard. Hurt him enough to shut him up. He walked out of the house and didn't come back until Sam was long since asleep.
Asleep and dreaming.
Anamari knew what was on Sam's mind, and to her surprise she found it vaguely flattering. She had never known the shy affection of a boy. When she was a teenager, she was the one Indian girl in the schools in Sao Paulo. Indians were so rare in the Europeanized parts of Brazil that she might have seemed exotic, but in those days she was still so frightened. The city was sterile, all concrete and harsh light, not at all like the deep soft meadows and woods of Xingu Park. Her tribe, the Kuikuru, were much more Europeanized than the jungle Indians-she had seen cars all her life, and spoke Portuguese before she went to school. But the city made her hungry for the land, the cobblestones hurt her feet, and these intense, competitive children made her afraid. Worst of all, true dreams stopped in the city. She hardly knew who she was, if she was not a true dreamer. So if any boy desired her then, she would not have known it. She would have rebuffed him inadvertently. And then the time for such things had passed. Until now.
"Last night I dreamed of a great bird, flying west, away from land. Only its right wing was twice as large as its left wing. It had great bleeding wounds along the edges of its wings, and the right wing was the sickest of all, rotting in the air, the feathers dropping off."
"Very pretty dream," said Sam. Then he translated, to keep in practice. "Que sonho lindo."
"Ah, but what does it mean?"
"What happened next?"
"I was riding on the bird. I was very small, and I held a small snake in my hands-"
"The feathered snake."
"Yes. And I turned it loose, and it went and ate up all the corruption, and the bird was clean. And that's all. You've got a bubble in that syringe. The idea is to inject medicine, not air. What does the dream mean?"
"What, you think I'm a Joseph? A Daniel?" "How about a Sam?" "Actually, your dream is easy. Piece of cake." "What?" "Piece of cake. Easy as pie. That's how the cookie crumbles. Man shall not live by bread
alone. All I can think of are bakery sayings. I must be hungry." "Tell me the dream or I'll poke this needle into your eye." "That's what I like about you Indians. Always you have torture on your mind." She planted her foot against him and knocked him off his stool onto the packed dirt floor.
A beetle skittered away. Sam held up the syringe he had been working with; it was
undamaged. He got up, set it aside. "The bird," he said, "is North and South America. Like
wings, flying west. Only the right wing is bigger." He sketched out a rough map with his toe
on the floor.
"That's the shape, maybe," she said. "It could be."
"And the corruption-show me where it was."
With her toe, she smeared the map here, there.
"It's obvious," said Sam.
"Yes," she said. "Once you think of it as a map. The corruption is all the Europeanized
land. And the only healthy places are where the Indians still live." "Indians or half-Indians," said Sam. "All your dreams are about the same thing, Anamari. Removing the Europeans from North and South America. Let's face it. You're an Indian
chauvinist. You give birth to the resurrection god of the Aztecs, and then you send it out to destroy the Europeans." "But why do I dream this?" "Because you hate Europeans." "No," she said. "That isn't true." "Sure it is." "I don't hate you. "
"Because you know me. I'm not a European anymore, I'm a person. Obviously you've got to keep that from happening anymore, so you can keep your bigotry alive."
"You're making fun of me, Sam."
He shook his head. "No, I'm not. These are true dreams, Anamari. They tell you your destiny."
She giggled. "If I give birth to a feathered snake, I'll know the dream was true."
"To drive the Europeans out of America."
"No," she said. "I don't care what the dream says. I won't do that. Besides, what about the dream of the flowering weed?"
"Little weed in the garden, almost dead, and then you water it and it grows larger and larger and more beautiful-"
"And something else," she said. "At the very end of the dream, all the other flowers in the garden have changed. To be just like the flowering weed." She reached out and rested her hand on his arm. "Tell me that dream."
His arm became still, lifeless under her hand. "Black is beautiful," he said.
"What does that mean?"
"In America. The U.S., I mean. For the longest time, the blacks, the former slaves, they were ashamed to be black. The whiter you were, the more status you had-the more honor. But when they had their revolution in the sixties-"
"You don't remember the sixties, little boy."
"Heck, I barely remember the seventies. But I read books. One of the big changes, and it made a huge difference, was that slogan. Black is beautiful. The blacker the better. They said it over and over. Be proud of blackness, not ashamed of it. And in just a few years, they turned the whole status system upside down."
She nodded. "The weed came into flower."
"So. All through Latin America, Indians are very low status. If you want a Bolivian to pull a knife on you, just call him an Indian. Everybody who possibly can, pretends to be of pure Spanish blood. Pure-blooded Indians are slaughtered wherever there's the slightest excuse. Only in Mexico is it a little bit different." "What you tell me from my dreams, Sam, this is no small job to do. I'm one middle-aged Indian woman, living in the jungle. I'm supposed to tell all the Indians of America to be proud? When they're the poorest of the poor and the lowest of the low?"
"When you give them a name, you create them. Benjamin Franklin did it, when he coined the name American for the people of the English colonies. They weren't New Yorkers or Virginians, they were Americans. Same thing for you. It isn't Latin Americans against Norteamericanos. It's Indians and Europeans. Somos todos indios. We're all Indians. Think that would work as a slogan?"
"Me. A revolutionary."
"Nos somos os americanos. Vai fora, Europa! America p'ra americanos! All kinds of slogans."
"I'd have to translate them into Spanish."
"Indios moram na India. Americanos moram na America. America nossa! No, better still: Nossa America! Nuestra America! It translates. Our America."
"You're a very fine slogan maker."
He shivered as she traced her finger along his shoulder and down the sensitive skin of his chest. She made a circle on his nipple and it shriveled and hardened, as if he were cold.
"Why are you silent now?" She laid her hand flat on his abdomen, just above his shorts, just below his navel. "You never tell me your own dreams," she said. "But I know what they are."
"See? Your skin tells me, even when your mouth says nothing. I have dreamed these dreams all my life, and they troubled me, all the time, but now you tell me what they mean, a white-skinned dream-teller, you tell me that I must go among the Indians and make them proud, make them strong, so that everyone with a drop of Indian blood will call himself an Indian, and Europeans will lie and claim native ancestors, until America is all Indian. You tell me that I will give birth to the new Quetzalcoatl, and he will unify and heal the land of its sickness. But what you never tell me is this: Who will be the father of my feathered snake?"
Abruptly he got up and walked stiffly away. To the door, keeping his back to her, so she couldn't see how alert his body was. But she knew.
"I'm fifteen," said Sam, finally. "And I'm very old. The land is older. Twenty million years. What does it care of the quarter- century between us?"
"I should never have come to this place."
"You never had a choice," she said. "My people have always known the god of the land. Once there was a perfect balance in this place. All the people loved the land and tended it. Like the garden of Eden. And the land fed them. It gave them maize and bananas. They took only what they needed to eat, and they did not kill animals for sport or humans for hate. But then the Incas turned away from the land and worshiped gold and the bright golden sun. The Aztecs soaked the ground in the blood of their human sacrifices. The Pueblos cut down the forests of Utah and Arizona and turned them into red-rock deserts. The Iroquois tortured their enemies and filled the forest with their screams of agony. We found tobacco and coca and peyote and coffee and forgot the dreams the land gave us in our sleep. And so the land rejected us. The land called to Columbus and told him lies and seduced him and he never had a chance, did he? Never had a choice. The land brought the Europeans to punish us. Disease and slavery and warfare killed most of us, and the rest of us tried to pretend we were Europeans rather than endure any more of the punishment. The land was our jealous lover, and it hated us for a while.
"Some Catholic you are," said Sam. "I don't believe in your Indian gods."
"Say Dens or Cristo instead of the land and the story is the same," she said. "But now the Europeans are worse than we Indians ever were. The land is suffering from a thousand different poisons, and you threaten to kill all of life with your weapons of war. We Indians have been punished enough, and now it's our turn to have the land again. The land chose Columbus exactly five centuries ago. Now you and I dream our dreams, the way he dreamed."
"That's a good story," Sam said, still looking out the door. It sounded so close to what the old prophets in the Book of Mormon said would happen to America; close, but dangerously different. As if there were no hope for the Europeans anymore. As if their chance had already been lost, as if no repentance would be allowed. They would not be able to pass the land on to the next generation. Someone else would inherit. It made him sick at heart, to realize what the white man had lost, had thrown away, had torn up and destroyed.
"But what should I do with my story?" she asked. He could hear her coming closer, walking up behind him. He could almost feel her breath on his shoulder. "How can I fulfill it?"
By yourself. Or at least without me. "Tell it to the Indians. You can cross all these borders in a thousand different places, and you speak Portuguese and Spanish and Arawak and Carib, and you'll be able to tell your story in Quechua, too, no doubt, crossing back and forth between Brazil and Colombia and Bolivia and Peru and Venezuela, all close together here, until every Indian knows about you and calls you by the name you were given in my dream."
"Tell me my name."
"Virgem America. See? The land or god or whatever it is wants you to be a virgin."
She giggled. "Nossa senhora," she said. "Don't you see? I'm the new Virgin Mother: It wants me to be a mother, all the old legends of the Holy Mother will transfer to me; they'll call me virgin no matter what the truth is. How the priests will hate me. How they'll try to kill my son. But he will live and become Quetzalcoatl, and he will restore America to the true Americans. That is the meaning of my dreams. My dreams and yours."
"Not me," he said. "Not for any dream or any god." He turned to face her. His fist was pressed against his groin, as if to crush out all rebellion there. "My body doesn't rule me," he said. "Nobody controls me but myself."
"That's very sick," she said cheerfully. "All because you hate your father. Forget that hate, and love me instead."
His face became a mask of anguish, and then he turned and fled.
He even thought of castrating himself, that's the kind of madness that drove him through the jungle. He could hear the bulldozers carving out the airstrip, the screams of falling timbers, the calls of birds and cries of animals displaced. It was the terror of the tortured land, and it maddened him even more as he ran between thick walls of green. The rig was sucking oil like heartblood from the forest floor. The ground was wan and trembling under his feet. And when he got home he was grateful to lift his feet off the ground and lie on his mattress, clutching his pillow, panting or perhaps sobbing from the exertion of his run.
He slept, soaking his pillow in afternoon sweat, and in his sleep the voice of the land came to him like whispered lullabies. I did not choose you, said the land. I cannot speak except to those who hear me, and because it is in your nature to hear and listen, I spoke to you and led you here to save me, save me, save me. Do you know the desert they will make of me? Encased in burning dust or layers of ice, either way I'll be dead. My whole purpose is to thrust life upward out of my soils, and feel the press of living feet, and hear the songs of birds and the low music of the animals, growling, lowing, chittering, whatever voice they choose. That's what I ask of you, the dance of life, just once to make the man whose mother will teach him to be Quetzalcoatl and save me, save me, save me.
He heard that whisper and he dreamed a dream. In his dream he got up and walked back to Agualinda, not along the path, but through the deep jungle itself. A longer way, but the leaves touched his face, the spiders climbed on him, the tree lizards tangled in his hair, the monkeys dunged him and pinched him and jabbered in his ear, the snakes entwined around his feet; he waded streams and fish caressed his naked ankles, and all the way they sang to him, songs that celebrants might sing at the wedding of a king. Somehow, in the way of dreams, he lost his clothing without removing it, so that he emerged from the jungle naked, and walked through Agualinda as the sun was setting, all the Baniwas peering at him from their doorways, making clicking noises with their teeth.
He awoke in darkness. He heard his father breathing. He must have slept through the afternoon. What a dream, what a dream. He was exhausted.
He moved, thinking of getting up to use the toilet. Only then did he realize that he was not alone on the bed, and it was not his bed. She stirred and nestled against him, and he cried out in fear and anger.
It startled her awake. "What is it?" she asked.
"It was a dream," he insisted. "All a dream."
"Ah yes," she said, "it was. But last night, Sam, we dreamed the same dream." She giggled. "All night long."
In his sleep. It happened in his sleep. And it did not fade like common dreams, the memory was clear, pouring himself into her again and again, her fingers gripping him, her breath against his cheek, whispering the same thing, over and over. "Aceito, aceito-te, aceito." Not love, no, not when he came with the land controlling him, she did not love him, she merely accepted the burden he placed within her. Before tonight she had been a virgin, and so had he. Now she was even purer than before, Virgem America, but his purity was hopelessly, irredeemably gone, wasted, poured out into this old woman who had haunted his dreams. "I hate you," he said. "What you stole from me."
He got up, looking for his clothing, ashamed that she was watching him.
"No one can blame you," she said. "The land married us, gave us to each other. There's no sin in that."
"Yeah," he said.
"One time. Now I am whole. Now I can begin."
And now I'm finished.
"I didn't mean to rob you," she said. "I didn't know you were dreaming."
"I thought I was dreaming," he said, "but I loved the dream. I dreamed I was fornicating and it made me glad." He spoke the words with all the poison in his heart. "Where are my clothes?"
"You arrived without them," she said. "It was my first hint that you wanted me." There was a moon outside. Not yet dawn. "I did what you wanted," he said. "Now can I go home?"
"Do what you want," she said. "I didn't plan this." "I know. I wasn't talking to you." And when he spoke of home, he didn't mean the shack where his father would be snoring and the air would stink of beer.
"When you woke me, I was dreaming," she said.
"I don't want to hear it."
"I have him now," she said, "a boy inside me. A lovely boy. But you will never see him in all your life, I think."
"Will you tell him? Who I am?"
She giggled. "Tell Quetzalcoatl that his father is a European? A man who blushes? A man who burns in the sun? No, I won't tell him. Unless someday he becomes cruel, and wants to punish the Europeans even after they are defeated. Then I will tell him that the first European he must punish is himself. Here, write your name. On this paper write your name, and give me your fingerprint, and write the date."
"I don't know what day it is."
"October twelfth," she said.
"Write October twelfth," she said. "I'm in the legend business now."
"August twenty-fourth," he murmured, but he wrote the date she asked for.
"The helicopter comes this morning," she said.
"Good-bye," he said. He started for the door.
Her hands caught at him, held his arm, pulled him back. She embraced him, this time not in a dream, cool bodies together in the doorway of the house. The geis was off him now, or else he was worn out; her body had no power over his anymore.
"I did love you," she murmured. "It was not just the god that brought you."
Suddenly he felt very young, even younger than fifteen, and he broke away from her and walked quickly away through the sleeping village. He did not try to retrace his wandering route through the jungle; he stayed on the moonlit path and soon was at his father's hut. The old bastard woke up as Sam came in.
"I knew it'd happen," Father said.
Sam rummaged for underwear and pulled it on.
"There's no man born who can keep his zipper up when a woman wants it." Father laughed. A laugh of malice and triumph. "You're no better than I am, boy."
Sam walked to where his father sat on the bed and imagined hitting him across the face. Once, twice, three times.
"Go ahead, boy, hit me. It won't make you a virgin again."
"I'm not like you," Sam whispered.
"No?" asked Father. "For you it's a sacrament or something? As my daddy used to say, it don't matter who squeezes the toothpaste, boy, it all squirts out the same."
"Then your daddy must have been as dumb a jackass as mine." Sam went back to the chest they shared, began packing his clothes and books into one big suitcase. "I'm going out with the chopper today. Mom will wire me the money to come home from Manaus."
"She doesn't have to. I'll give you a check."
"I don't want your money. I just want my passport."
"It's in the top drawer." Father laughed again. "At least I always wore my clothes home."
In a few minutes Sam had finished packing. He picked up the bag, started for the door.
"Son," said Father, and because his voice was quiet, not derisive, Sam stopped and listened. "Son," he said, "once is once. It doesn't mean you're evil, it doesn't even mean you're weak. It just means you're human." He was breathing deeply. Sam hadn't heard him so emotional in a long time. "You aren't a thing like me, son," he said. "That should make you glad."
Years later Sam would think of all kinds of things he should have said. Forgiveness. Apology. Affection. Something. But he said nothing, just left and went out to the clearing and waited for the helicopter. Father didn't come to try to say good-bye. The chopper pilot came, unloaded, left the chopper to talk to some people. He must have talked to Father because when he came back he handed Sam a check. Plenty to fly home, and stay in good places during the layovers, and buy some new clothes that didn't have jungle stains on them. The check was the last thing Sam had from his father. Before he came home from that rig, the Venezuelans bought a hardy and virulent strain of syphilis on the black market, one that could be passed by casual contact, and released it in Guyana. Sam's father was one of the first million to die, so fast that he didn't even write.
The state of Deseret had only sixteen helicopters, all desperately needed for surveying, spraying, and medical emergencies. So Governor Sam Monson rarely risked them on government business. This time, though, he had no choice. He was only fifty-five, and in good shape, so maybe he could have made the climb into Glen Canyon and back up the other side. But Carpenter wouldn't have made it, not in a wheel-chair, and Carpenter had a right to be here. He had a right to see what the red-rock Navaho desert had become.
Deciduous forest, as far as the eye could see.
They stood on the bluff where the old town of Page had once been, before the dam was blown up. The Navahos hadn't tried to reforest here. It was their standard practice. They left all the old European towns unplanted, like pink scars in the green of the forest. Still, the Navahos weren't stupid. They had come to the last stronghold of European science, the University of Deseret at Zarahemla, to find out how to use the heavy rainfalls to give them something better than perpetual floods and erosion. It was Carpenter who gave them the plan for these forests, just as it was Carpenter whose program had turned the old Utah deserts into the richest farmland in America. The Navahos filled their forests with bison, deer, and bears. The Mormons raised crops enough to feed five times their population. That was the European mindset, still in place: enough is never enough. Plant more, grow more, you'll need it tomorrow.
"They say he has two hundred thousand soldiers," said Carpenter's computer voice. Carpenter could speak, Sam had heard, but he never did. Preferred the synthesized voice. "They could all be right down there, and we'd never see them."
"They're much farther south and east. Strung out from Phoenix to Santa Fe, so they aren't too much of a burden on the Navahos."
"Do you think they'll buy supplies from us? Or send an army in to take them?"
"Neither," said Sam. "We'll give our surplus grain as a gift."
"He rules all of Latin America, and he needs gifts from a little remnant of the U.S. in the Rockies?"
"We'll give it as a gift, and be grateful if he takes it that way."
"How else might he take it?"
"As tribute. As taxes. As ransom. The land is his now, not ours."
"We made the desert live, Sam. That makes it ours."
"There they are."
They watched in silence as four horses walked slowly from the edge of the woods, out onto the open ground of an ancient gas station. They bore a litter between them, and were led by two-not Indians-Americans. Sam had schooled himself long ago to use the word American to refer only to what had once been known as Indians, and to call himself and his own people Europeans. But in his heart he had never forgiven them for stealing his identity, even though he remembered very clearly where and when that change began.
It took fifteen minutes for the horses to bring the litter to him, but Sam made no move to meet them, no sign that he was in a hurry. That was also the American way now, to take time, never to hurry, never to rush. Let the Europeans wear their watches. Americans told time by the sun and stars.
Finally the litter stopped, and the men opened the litter door and helped her out. She was smaller than before, and her face was tightly wrinkled, her hair steel-white.
She gave no sign that she knew him, though he said his name. The Americans introduced her as Nuestra Senora. Our Lady. Never speaking her most sacred name: Virgem America.
The negotiations were delicate but simple. Sam had authority to speak for Deseret, and she obviously had authority to speak for her son. The grain was refused as a gift, but accepted as taxes from a federal state. Deseret would be allowed to keep its own government, and the borders negotiated between the Navahos and the Mormons eleven years before were allowed to stand.
Sam went further. He praised Quetzalcoatl for coming to pacify the chaotic lands that had been ruined by the Europeans. He gave her maps that his scouts had prepared, showing strongholds of the prairie raiders, decommissioned nuclear missiles, and the few places where stable governments had been formed. He offered and she accepted, a hundred experienced scouts to travel with Quetzalcoatl at Deseret's expense, and promised that when he chose the site of his North American capital, Deseret would provide architects and engineers and builders to teach his American workmen how to build the place themselves.
She was generous in return. She granted all citizens of Deseret conditional status as adopted Americans, and she promised that Quetzalcoatl's armies would stick to the roads through the northwest Texas panhandle, where the grasslands of the newest New Lands project were still so fragile that an army could destroy five years of labor just by marching through. Carpenter printed out two copies of the agreement in English and Spanish, and Sam and Virgem America signed both. Only then, when their official work was done, did the old woman look up into Sam's eyes and smile. "Are you still a heretic, Sam?"
"No," he said. "I grew up. Are you still a virgin?" She giggled, and even though it was an old lady's broken voice, he remembered the laughter he had heard so often in the village of Agualinda, and his heart ached for the boy he was then, and the girl she was. He remembered thinking then that forty-two was old.
"Yes, I'm still a virgin," she said. "God gave me my child. God sent me an angel, to put the child in my womb. I thought you would have heard the story by now."
"I heard it," he said. She leaned closer to him, her voice a whisper. "Do you dream, these days?"
"Many dreams. But the only ones that come true are the ones I dream in daylight."
"Ah," she sighed. "My sleep is also silent." She seemed distant, sad, distracted. Sam also; then, as if by conscious decision, he brightened, smiled, spoke cheerfully. "I have grandchildren now."
"And a wife you love," she said, reflecting his brightening mood. "I have grandchildren, too." Then she became wistful again. "But no husband. Just memories of an angel."
"Will I see Quetzalcoatl?" "No," she said, very quickly. A decision she had long since made and would not reconsider. "It would not be good for you to meet face to face, or stand side by side. Quetzalcoatl also asks that in the next election, you refuse to be a candidate."
"Have I displeased him?" asked Sam.
"He asks this at my advice," she said. "It is better, now that his face will be seen in this land, that your face stay behind closed doors." Sam nodded. "Tell me," he said. "Does he look like the angel?" "He is as beautiful," she said. "But not as pure." They embraced each other and wept. Only for a moment. Then her men lifted her back
into her litter, and Sam returned with Carpenter to the helicopter. They never met again.
In retirement, I came to visit Sam, full of questions lingering from his meeting with Virgem America. "You knew each other," I insisted. "You had met before." He told me all this story then.
That was thirty years ago. She is dead now, he is dead, and I am old, my fingers slapping these keys with all the grace of wooden blocks. But I write this sitting in the shade of a tree on the brow of a hill, looking out across woodlands and orchards, fields and rivers and roads, where once the land was rock and grit and sagebrush. This is what America wanted, what it bent our lives to accomplish. Even if we took twisted roads and got lost or injured on the way, even if we came limping to this place, it is a good place, it is worth the journey, it is the promised, the promising land.
CardKemal Akyazi grew up within a few miles of the ruins of Troy; from his boyhood home above Kumkale he could see the waters of the Dardanelles, the narrow strait that connects the waters of the Black Sea with the Aegean. Many a war had been fought on both sides of that strait, one of which had produced the great epic of Homer's ILIAD
This pressure of history had a strange influence on Kemal as a child. He learned all the tales of the place, of course, but he also knew that the tales were Greek, and the place was of the Greek Aegean world. Kemal was a Turk; his own ancestors had not come to the Dardanelles until the fifteenth century. He felt that it was a powerful place, but it did not belong to him. So the ILIAD was not the story that spoke to Kemal's soul. Rather it was the story of Heinrich Schliemann, the German explorer who, in an era when Troy had been regarded as a mere legend, a myth, a fiction, had been sure not only that Troy was real but also where it was. Despite all scoffers, he mounted an expedition and found it and unburied it. The old stories turned out to be true
In his teens Kemal thought it was the greatest tragedy of his life that Pastwatch had to use machines to look through the the millennia of human history. There would be no more Schliemanns, studying and pondering and guessing until they found some artifact, some ruin of a long-lost city, some remnant of a legend made true again. Thus Kemal had no interest in joining Pastwatch. It was not history that he hungered for--it was exploration and discovery that he wanted, and what was the glory in finding the truth through a machine
So, after an abortive try at physics, he studied to become a meteorologist. At the age of eighteen, heavily immersed in the study of climate and weather, he touched again on the findings of Pastwatch. No longer did meteorologists have to depend on only a few centuries of weather measurements and fragmentary fossil evidence to determine long-range patterns. Now they had accurate accounts of storm patterns for millions of years. Indeed, in the earliest years of Pastwatch, the machinery had been so coarse that individual humans could not be seen. It was like time-lapse photography in which people don't remain in place long enough to be on more than a single frame of the film, making them invisible. So in those days Pastwatch recorded the weather of the past, erosion patterns, volcanic eruptions, ice ages, climatic shifts
All that data was the bedrock on which modern weather prediction and control rested. Meteorologists could see developing patterns and, without disrupting the overall pattern, could make tiny changes that prevented any one area from going completely rainless during a time of drought, or sunless during a wet growing season. They had taken the sharp edge off the relentless scythe of climate, and now the great project was to determine how they might make a more serious change, to bring a steady pattern of light rain to the desert regions of the world, to restore the prairies and savannahs that they once had been. That was the work that Kemal wanted to be a part of
Yet he could not bring himself out from the shadow of Troy, the memory of Schliemann. Even as he studied the climatic shifts involved with the waxing and waning of the ice ages, his mind contained fleeting images of lost civilizations, legendary places that waited for a Schliemann to uncover them
His project for his degree in meteorology was part of the effort to determine how the Red Sea might be exploited to develop dependable rains for either the Sudan or central Arabia; Kemal's immediate target was to study thedifference between weather patterns during the last ice age, when the Red Sea had all but disappeared, and the present, with the Red Sea at its fullest. Back and forth he went through the coarse old Pastwatch recordings, gathering data on sea level and on precipitation at selected points inland. The old TruSite I had been imprecise at best, but good enough for counting rainstorms
Time after time Kemal would cycle through the up-and-down fluctuations of the Red Sea, watching as the average sea level gradually rose toward the end of the Ice Age. He always stopped, of course, at the abrupt jump in sea level that marked the rejoining of the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. After that, the Red Sea was useless for his purposes, since its sea level was tied to that of the great world ocean
But the echo of Schliemann inside Kemal's mind made him think: What a flood that must have been
What a flood. The Ice Age had locked up so much water in glaciers and ice sheets that the sea level of the whole world fell. It eventually reached a low enough point that land bridges arose out of the sea. In the north Pacific, the Bering land bridge allowed the ancestors of the Indies to cross on foot into their great empty homeland. Britain and Flanders were joined. The Dardanelles were closed and the Black Sea became a salty lake. The Persian Gulf disappeared and became a great plain cut by the Euphrates. And the Bab al Mandab, the strait at the mouth of the Red Sea, became a land bridge
But a land bridge is also a dam. As the world climate warmed and the glaciers began to release their pent-up water, the rains fell heavily everywhere; rivers swelled and the seas rose. The great south-flowing rivers of Europe, which had been mostly dry during the peak of glaciation, now were massive torrents. The Rhone, the Po, the Strimon, the Danube poured so much water into the Mediterranean and the Black Sea that their water level rose at about the same rate as that of the great world ocean
The Red Sea had no great rivers, however. It was a new sea, formed by rifting between the new Arabian plate and the African, which meant it had uplift ridges on both coasts. Many rivers and streams flowed from those ridges down into the Red Sea, but none of them carried much water compared to the rivers that drained vast basins and carried the melt-off of the glaciers of the north. So, while the Red Sea gradually rose during this time, it lagged far, far behind the great world ocean. Its water level responded to the immediate local weather patterns rather than to worldwide weather
Then one day the Indian Ocean rose so high that tides began to spill over the Bab al Mandab. The water cut new channels in the grassland there. Over a period of several years, the leakage grew, creating a series of large new tidal lakes on the Hanish Plain. And then one day, some fourteen thousand years ago, the flow cut a channel so deep that it didn't dry up at low tide, and the water kept flowing, cutting the channel deeper and deeper, until those tidal lakes were full, and brimmed over. With the weight of the Indian Ocean behind it the water gushed into the basin of the Red Sea in a vast flood that in a few days brought the Red Sea up to the level of the world ocean
This isn't just the boundary marker between useful and useless water level data, thought Kemal. This is a cataclysm, one of the rare times when a single event changes vast reaches of land in a period of time short enough that human beings could notice it. And, for once, this cataclysm happened in an era when human beings were there. It was not only possible but likely that someone saw this flood--indeed, that it killed many, for the southern end of the Red Sea basin was rich savannah and marshes up to the moment when the ocean broke through, and surely the humans of fourteen thousand years ago would have hunted there. Would have gathered seeds and fruits and berries there. Some hunting party must have seen, from the peaks of the Dehalak mountains, the great walls of water that roared up the plain, breaking and parting around the slopes of the Dehalaks, making islands of them
Such a hunting party would have known that their families had been killed by this water. What would they have thought? Surely that some god was angry with them. That the world had been done away, buried under the sea. And if they survived, if they found a way to the Eritrean shore after the great turbulent waves settled down to the more placid waters of the new, deeper sea, they would tell the tale to anyone who would listen. And for a few years they could take their hearers to the water's edge, show them the treetops barely rising above the surface of the sea, and tell them tales of all that had been buried under the waves
Noah, thought Kemal. Gilgamesh. Atlantis. The stories were believed
The stories were remembered. Of course they forgot where it happened--the civilizations that learned to write their stories naturally transposed the events to locations that they knew. But they remembered the things that mattered. What did the flood story of Noah say? Not just rain, no, it wasn't a flood caused by rain alone. The "fountains of the great deep" broke open. No local flood on the Mesopotamian plain would cause that image to be part of the story. But the great wall of water from the Indian Ocean, coming on the heels of years of steadily increasing rain--THAT would bring those words to the storytellers' lips, generation after generation, for ten thousand years until they could be written down
As for Atlantis, everyone was so sure they had found it years ago
Santorini--Thios--the Aegean island that blew up. But the oldest stories of Atlantis said nothing of blowing up in a volcano. They spoke only of the great civilization sinking into the sea. The supposition was that later visitors came to Santorini and, seeing water where an island city used to be, assumed that it had sunk, knowing nothing of the volcanic eruption. To Kemal, however, this now seemed far-fetched indeed, compared to the way it would have looked to the people of Atlantis themselves, somewhere on the Mits'iwa Plain, when the Red Sea seemed to leap up in its bed, engulfing the city. THAT would be sinking into the sea! No explosion, just water. And if the city were in the marshes of what was now the Mits'iwa Channel, the water would have come, not just from the southeast, but from the northeast and the north as well, flowing among and around the Dehalak mountains, making islands of them and swallowing up the marshes and the city with them
Atlantis. Not beyond the pillars of Hercules, but Plato was right to associate the city with a strait. He, or whoever told the tale to him, simply replaced the Bab al Mandab with the greatest strait that he had heard of. The story might well have reached him by way of Phoenicia, where Mediterranean sailors would have made the story fit the sea they knew. They learned it from Egyptians, perhaps, or nomad wanderers from the hinterlands of Arabia, and "within the straits of Mandab" would quickly have become "within the pillars of Hercules,
and then, because the Mediterranean itself was not strange and exotic enough, the locale was moved outside the pillars of Hercules
All these suppositions came to Kemal with absolute certainty that they were true, or nearly true. He rejoiced at the thought of it: There was still an ancient civilization left to discover
Everyone knew that Naog of the Derku People was going to be a tall man when he grew up, because his father and mother were both tall and he was an unusually large baby. He was born in floodwater season, when all the Engu clan lived on reed boats. Their food supply, including the precious seed for next year's planting, was kept dry in the seedboats, which were like floating huts of plaited reeds. The people themselves, though, rode out the flood on the open dragonboats, bundles of reeds which they straddled as if they were riding a crocodile--which, according to legend, was how the dragonboats began, when the first Derku woman, Gweia, saved herself and her baby from the flood by climbing onto the back of a huge crocodile. The crocodile--the first Great Derku, or dragon--endured their weight until they reached a tree they could climb, whereupon the dragon swam away. So when the Derku people plaited reeds into long thick bundles and climbed aboard, they believed that secret of the dragonboats had been given to them by the Great Derku, and in a sense they were riding on his back
During the raiding season, other nearby tribes had soon learned to fear the coming of the dragonboats, for they always carried off captives who, in those early days, were never seen again. In other tribes when someone was said to have been carried off by the crocodiles, it was the Derku people they meant, for it was well know that all the clans of the Derku worshipped the crocodile as their savior and god, and fed their captives to a dragon that lived in the center of their city
At Naog's birthtime, the Engu clan were nestled among their tether trees as the flooding Selud River flowed mudbrown underneath them
If Naog had pushed his way out of the womb a few weeks later, as the waters were receding, his mother would have given birth in one of the seedboats. But Naog came early, before highwater, and so the seedboats were still full of grain. During floodwater, they could neither grind the grain into flour nor build cooking fires, and thus had to eat the seeds in raw handfuls. Thus it was forbidden to spill blood on the grain, even birthblood; no one would touch grain that had human blood on it, for that was the juice of the forbidden fruit
This was why Naog's mother, Lewik, could not hide alone in an enclosed seedboat for the birthing. Instead she had to give birth out in the open, on one of the dragonboats. She clung to a branch of a tether tree as two women on their own dragonboats held hers steady. From a near distance Naog's father, Twerk, could not hide his mortification that his new young wife was giving birth in full view, not only of the women, but of the men and boys of the tribe
Not that any but the youngest and stupidest of the men was overtly looking. Partly because of respect for the event of birth itself, and partly because of a keen awareness that Twerk could cripple any man of the Engu that he wanted to, the men paddled their boats toward the farthest tether trees, herding the boys along with them
There they busied themselves with the work of floodwater season--twining ropes and weaving baskets
Twerk himself, however, could not keep from looking. He finally left his dragonboat and climbed his tree and watched. The women had brought their dragonboats in a large circle around the woman in travail. Those with children clinging to them or bound to them kept their boats on the fringes--they would be little help, with their hands full already. It was the older women and the young girls who were in close, the older women to help, the younger ones to learn
But Twerk had no eyes for the other women today. It was his wide-eyed, sweating wife that he watched. It frightened him to see her in such pain, for Lewik was usually the healer, giving herbs and ground-up roots to others to take away pain or cure a sickness. It also bothered him to see that as she squatted on her dragonboat, clinging with both hands to the branch above her head, neither she nor any of the other women was in position to catch the baby when it dropped out. It would fall into the water, he knew, and it would die, and then he and everyone else would know that it had been wrong of him to marry this woman who should have been a servant of the crocodile god, the Great Derku
When he could not contain himself a moment longer, Twerk shouted to the women: "Who will catch the baby?
Oh, how they laughed at him, when at last they understood what he was saying. "Derku will catch him!" they retorted, jeering, and the men around him also laughed, for that could mean several things. It could mean that the god would provide for the child's safety, or it could mean that the flood would catch the child, for the flood was also called derkuwed, or dragonwater, partly because it was aswarm with crocodiles swept away from their usual lairs, and partly because the floodwater slithered down from the mountains like a crocodile sliding down into the water, quick and powerful and strong, ready to sweep away and swallow up the unwary. Derku will catch him indeed! The men began predicting what the child would be named. "He will be Rogogu, because we all laughed," said one. Another said, "It will be a girl and she will be named Mehug, because she will be spilled into the water as she plops out!" They guessed that the child would be named for the fact that Twerk watched the birth; for the branch that Lewik clung to or the tree that Twerk climbed; or for the dragonwater itself, into which they imagined the child spilling and then being drawn out with the embrace of the god still dripping from him. Indeed, because of this notion Derkuwed became a childhood nickname for Lewik's and Twerk's baby, and later it was one of the names by which his story was told over and over again in faraway lands that had never heard of dragonwater or seen a crocodile, but it was not his real name, not what his father gave him to be his man-name when he came of age
After much pushing, Lewik's baby finally emerged. First came the head, dangling between her ankles like the fruit of a tree--that was why the word for HEAD and was the same as the word for FRUIT in the language of the Derku people. Then as the newborn's head touched the bound reeds of the dragonboat, Lewik rolled her eyes in pain and waddled slowly backward, so that the baby flopped out of her body stretched along the length of the boat. He did not fall into the water, because his mother had made sure of it
"Little man!" cried all the women as soon as they saw the sex of the child
Lewik grunted out her firstborn's baby-name. "Glogmeriss," she said
GLOG meant "thorn" and MERISS meant "trouble"; together, they made the term that the Derku used for annoyances that turned out all right in the end, but which were quite painful at the time. There were some who thought that she wasn't naming the baby at all, but simply commenting on the situation, but it was the first thing she said and so it would be his name until he left the company of women and joined the men
As soon as the afterbirth dropped onto the dragonboat, all the other women paddled nearer--like a swarm of gnats, thought Twerk, still watching. Some helped Lewik pry her hands loose from the tree branch and lie down on her dragonboat. Others took the baby and passed it from hand to hand, each one washing a bit of the blood from the baby. The afterbirth got passed with the baby at first, often dropping into the floodwater, until at last it reached the cutting woman, who severed the umbilical cord with a flint blade. Twerk, seeing this for the first time, realized that this might be how he got his name, which meant "cutting" or "breaking." Had his father seen this remarkable thing, too, the women cutting a baby off from this strange belly-tail? No wonder he named him for it
But the thing that Twerk could not get out of his mind was the fact that his Lewik had taken off her napron in full view of the clan, and all the men had seen her nakedness, despite their efforts to pretend that they had not. Twerk knew that this would become a joke among the men, a story talked about whenever he was not with them, and this would weaken him and mean that he would never be the clan leader, for one can never give such respect to a man that one laughs about behind his back
Twerk could think of only one way to keep this from having the power to hurt him, and that was to confront it openly so that no one would laugh behind his back. "His name is Naog!" cried Twerk decisively, almost as soon as the baby was fully washed in river water and the placenta set loose to float away on the flood
"You are such a stupid man!" cried Lewik from her dragonboat
Everyone laughed, but in this case it was all right. Everyone knew Lewik was a bold woman who said whatever she liked to any man. That was why it was such a mark of honor that Twerk had chosen to take her as wife and she had taken him for husband--it took a strong man to laugh when his wife said disrespectful things to him. "Of course he's naog," she said. "All babies are born naked.
"I call him Naog because YOU were naked in front of all the clan,
answered Twerk. "Yes, I know you all looked when you thought I couldn't see," he chided the men. "I don't mind a bit. You all saw my Lewik naked when the baby came out of her--but what matters is that only I saw her naked when I put the baby in!
That made them all laugh, even Lewik, and the story was often repeated. Even before he became a man and gave up the baby-name Glogmeriss, Naog had often heard the tale of why he would have such a silly name--so often, in fact, that he determined that one day he would do such great deeds that when the people heard the word NAOG they would think first of him and his accomplishments, before they remembered that the name was also the word for the tabu condition of taking the napron off one's secret parts in public
As he grew up, he knew that the water of derkuwed on him as a baby had touched him with greatness. It seemed he was always taller than the other boys, and he reached puberty first, his young body powerfully muscled by the labor of dredging the canals right among the slaves of the dragon during mudwater season. He wasn't much more than twelve floodwaters old when the grown men began clamoring for him to be given his manhood journey early so that he could join them in slave raids--his sheer size would dishearten many an enemy, making them despair and throw down his club or his spear. But Twerk was adamant. He would not tempt Great Derku to devour his son by letting the boy get ahead of himself. Naog might be large of body, but that didn't mean that he could get away with taking a man's role before he had learned all the skills and lore that a man had to acquire in order to survive
This was all fine with Naog. He knew that he would have his place in the clan in due time. He worked hard to learn all the skills of manhood--how to fight with any weapon; how to paddle his dragonboat straight on course, yet silently; how to recognize the signs of the seasons and the directions of the stars at different hours of the night and times of the year; which wild herbs were good to eat, and which deadly; how to kill an animal and dress it so it would keep long enough to bring home for a wife to eat. Twerk often said that his son was as quick to learn things requiring wit and memory as to learn skills that depended only on size and strength and quickness
What Twerk did not know, what no one even guessed, was that these tasks barely occupied Naog's mind. What he dreamed of, what he thought of constantly, was how to become a great man so that his name could be spoken with solemn honor instead of a smile or laughter
One of Naog's strongest memories was a visit to the Great Derku in the holy pond at the very center of the great circular canals that linked all the Derku people together. Every year during the mud season, the first dredging was the holy pond, and no slaves were used for THAT. No, the Derku men and women, the great and the obscure, dredged the mud out of the holy pond, carried it away in baskets, and heap it up in piles that formed a round lumpen wall around the pond. As the dry season came, crocodiles a-wandering in search of water would smell the pond and come through the gaps in the wall to drink it and bathe in it. The crocodiles knew nothing of danger from coming within walls. Why would they have learned to fear the works of humans? What other people in all the world had ever built such a thing? So the crocodiles came and wallowed in the water, heedless of the men watching from trees. At the first full moon of the dry season, as the crocodiles lay stupidly in the water during the cool of night, the men dropped from the trees and quietly filled the gaps in the walls with earth. At dawn, the largest crocodile in the pond was hailed as Great Derku for the year. The rest were killed with spears in the bloodiest most wonderful festival of the year
The year that Naog turned six, the Great Derku was the largest crocodile that anyone could remember ever seeing. It was a dragon indeed, and after the men of raiding age came home from the blood moon festival full of stories about this extraordinary Great Derku, all the families in all the clans began bringing their children to see it
"They say it's a crocodile who was Great Derku many years ago," said Naog's mother. "He has returned to our pond in hopes of the offerings of manfruit that we used to give to the dragon. But some say he's the very one who was Great Derku the year of the forbidding, when he refused to eat any of the captives we offered him.
"And how would they know?" said Twerk, ridiculing the idea. "Is there anyone alive now who was alive then, to recognize him? And how could a crocodile live so long?
"The Great Derku lives forever," said Lewik
"Yes, but the true dragon is the derkuwed, the water in flood," said Twerk, "and the crocodiles are only its children.
To the child, Naog, these words had another meaning, for he had heard the word DERKUWED far more often in reference to himself, as his nickname, than in reference to the great annual flood. So to him it sounded as though his father was saying that HE was the true dragon, and the crocodiles were his children. Almost at once he realized what was actually meant, but the impression lingered in the back of his mind
"And couldn't the derkuwed preserve one of its children to come back to us to be our god a second time?" said Lewik. "Or are you suddenly a holy man who knows what the dragon is saying?
"All this talk about this Great Derku being one of the ancient ones brought back to us is dangerous," said Twerk. "Do you want us to return to the terrible days when we fed manfruit to the Great Derku
When our captives were all torn to pieces by the god, while WE, men and women alike, had to dig out all the canals without slaves?
"There weren't so many canals then," said Lewik. "Father said.
"Then it must be true," said Twerk, "if your old father said it. So think about it. Why are there so many canals now, and why are they so long and deep? Because we put our captives to work dredging our canals and making our boats. What if the Great Derku had never refused to eat manfruit? We would not have such a great city here, and other tribes would not bring us gifts and even their own children as slaves. They can come and visit our captives, and even buy them back from us. That's why we're not hated and feared, but rather LOVED and feared in all the lands from the Nile to the Salty Sea.
Naog knew that his father's manhood journey had been from the Salty Sea all the way up the mountains and across endless grasslands to the great river of the west. It was a legendary journey, fitting for such a large man. So Naog knew that he would have to undertake an even greater journey. But of that he said nothing
"But these people talking stupidly about this being that same Great Derku returned to us again--don't you realize that they will want to put it to the test again, and offer it manfruit? And what if the Great Derku EATS it this time? What do we do then, go back to doing all the dredging ourselves? Or let the canals fill in so we can't float the seedboats from village to village during the dry season, and so we have no defense from our enemies and no way to ride our dragonboats all year?
Others in the clan were listening to this argument, since there was little enough privacy under normal circumstances, and none at all when you spoke with a raised voice. So it was no surprise when they chimed in. One offered the opinion that the reason no manfruit should be offered to this Great Derku was because the eating of manfruit would give the Great Derku knowledge of all the thoughts of the people they ate. Another was afraid that the sight of a powerful creature eating the flesh of men would lead some of the young people to want to commit the unpardonable sin of eating that forbidden fruit themselves, and in that case all the Derku people would be destroyed
What no one pointed out was that in the old days, when they fed manfruit to the Great Derku, it wasn't JUST captives that were offered. During years of little rain or too much rain, the leader of each clan always offered his own eldest son as the first fruit, or, if he could not bear to see his son devoured, he would offer himself in his son's place--though some said that in the earliest times it was always the leader himself who was eaten, and they only started offering their sons as a cowardly substitute. By now everyone expected Twerk to be the next clan leader, and everyone knew that he doted on his Glogmeriss, his Naog-to-be, his Derkuwed, and that he would never throw his son to the crocodile god. Nor did any of them wish him to do so. A few people in the other clans might urge the test of offering manfruit to the Great Derku, but most of the people in all of the tribes, and all of the people in Engu clan, would oppose it, and so it would not happen
So it was with an assurance of personal safety that Twerk brought his firstborn son with him to see the Great Derku in the holy pond
But six-year- old Glogmeriss, oblivious to the personal danger that would come from the return of human sacrifice, was terrified at the sight of the holy pond itself. It was surrounded by a low wall of dried mud, for once the crocodile had found its way to the water inside, the gaps in the wall were closed. But what kept the Great Derku inside was not just the mud wall. It was the row on row of sharpened horizontal stakes pointing straight inward, set into the mud and lashed to sharp vertical stakes about a hand's-breadth back from the point. The captive dragon could neither push the stakes out of the way nor break them off. Only when the floodwater came and the river spilled over the top of the mud wall and swept it away, stakes and all, would that year's Great Derku be set free. Only rarely did the Great Derku get caught on the stakes and die, and when it happened it was regarded as a very bad omen
This year, though, the wall of stakes was not widely regarded as enough assurance that the dragon could not force his way out, he was so huge and clever and strong. So men stood guard constantly, spears in hand, ready to prod the Great Derku and herd it back into place, should it come dangerously close to escaping
The sight of spikes and spears was alarming enough, for it looked like war to young Glogmeriss. But he soon forgot those puny sticks when he caught sight of the Great Derku himself, as he shambled up on the muddy, grassy shore of the pond. Of course Glogmeriss had seen crocodiles all his life; one of the first skills any child, male or female, had to learn was how to use a spear to poke a crocodile so it would leave one's dragonboat--and therefore one's arms and legs--in peace. This crocodile, though, this dragon, this god, was so huge that Glogmeriss could easily imagine it swallowing him whole without having to bite him in half or even chew
Glogmeriss gasped and clung to his father's hand
"A giant indeed," said his father. "Look at those legs, that powerful tail. But remember that the Great Derku is but a weak child compared to the power of the flood.
Perhaps because human sacrifice was still on his mind, Twerk then told his son how it had been in the old days. "When it was a captive we offered as manfruit, there was always a chance that the god would let him live. Of course, if he clung to the stakes and refused to go into the pond, we would never let him out alive--we poked him with our spears. But if he went boldly into the water so far that it covered his head completely, and then came back out alive and made it back to the stakes without the Great Derku taking him and eating him, well, then, we brought him out in great honor. We said that his old life ended in that water, that the man we had captured had been buried in the holy pond, and now he was born again out of the flood
He was a full member of the tribe then, of the same clan as the man who had captured him. But of course the Great Derku almost never let anyone out alive, because we always kept him hungry.
"YOU poked him with your spear?" asked Glogmeriss
"Well, not me personally. When I said that WE did it, I meant of course the men of the Derku. But it was long before I was born. It was in my grandfather's time, when he was a young man, that there came a Great Derku who wouldn't eat any of the captives who were offered to him. No one knew what it meant, of course, but all the captives were coming out and expecting to be adopted into the tribe
But if THAT had happened, the captives would have been the largest clan of all, and where would we have found wives for them all? So the holy men and the clan leaders realized that the old way was over, that the god no longer wanted manfruit, and therefore those who survived after being buried in the water of the holy pond were NOT adopted into the Derku people. But we did keep them alive and set them to work on the canals. That year, with the captives working alongside us, we dredged the canals deeper than ever, and we were able to draw twice the water from the canals into the fields of grain during the dry season, and when we had a bigger harvest than ever before, we had hands enough to weave more seedboats to contain it. Then we realized what the god had meant by refusing to eat the manfruit. Instead of swallowing our captives into the belly of the water where the god lives, the god was giving them all back to us, to make us rich and strong. So from that day on we have fed no captives to the Great Derku. Instead we hunt for meat and bring it back, while the women and old men make the captives do the labor of the city. In those days we had one large canal. Now we have three great canals encircling each other, and several other canals cutting across them, so that even in the dryest season a Derku man can glide on his dragonboat like a crocodile from any part of our land to any other, and never have to drag it across dry earth. This is the greatest gift of the dragon to us, that we can have the labor of our captives instead of the Great Derku devouring them himself.
"It's not a bad gift to the captives, either," said Glogmeriss. "Not to die.
Twerk laughed and rubbed his son's hair. "Not a bad gift at that,
"Of course, if the Great Derku really loved the captives he would let them go home to their families.
Twerk laughed even louder. "They have no families, foolish boy," he said. "When a man is captured, he is dead as far as his family is concerned. His woman marries someone else, his children forget him and call another man father. He has no more home to return to.
"Don't some of the ugly-noise people buy captives back?
"The weak and foolish ones do. The gold ring on my arm was the price of a captive. The father-of-all priest wears a cape of bright feathers that was the ransom of a boy not much older than you, not long after you were born. But most captives know better than to hope for ransom. What does THEIR tribe have that we want?
"I would hate to be a captive, then," said Glogmeriss. "Or would YOU be weak and foolish enough to ransom me?
"You?" Twerk laughed out loud. "You're a Derku man, or will be. We take captives wherever we want, but where is the tribe so bold that it dares to take one of US? No, we are never captives. And the captives we take are lucky to be brought out of their poor, miserable tribes of wandering hunters or berry-pickers and allowed to live here among wall-building men, among canal- digging people, where they don't have to wander in search of food every day, where they get plenty to eat all year long, twice as much as they ever ate before.
"I would still hate to be one of them," said Glogmeriss. "Because how could you ever do great things that everyone will talk about and tell stories about and remember, if you're a captive?
All this time that they stood on the wall and talked, Glogmeriss never took his eyes off the Great Derku. It was a terrible creature, and when it yawned it seemed its mouth was large enough to swallow a tree. Ten grown men could ride on its back like a dragonboat. Worst of all were the eyes, which seemed to stare into a man's heart. It was probably the eyes of the dragon that gave it its name, for DERKU could easily have originated as a shortened form of DERK-UNT, which meant "one who sees." When the ancient ancestors of the Derku people first came to this floodplain, the crocodiles floating like logs on the water must have fooled them. They must have learned to look for eyes on the logs. "Look!" the watcher would cry. "There's one with eyes! Derk-unt!" They said that if you looked in the dragon's eyes, he would draw you toward him, within reach of his huge jaws, within reach of his curling tail, and you would never even notice your danger, because his eyes held you. Even when the jaws opened to show the pink mouth, the teeth like rows of bright flame ready to burn you, you would look at that steady, all-knowing, wise, amused, and coolly angry eye
That was the fear that filled Glogmeriss the whole time he stood on the wall beside his father. For a moment, though, just after he spoke of doing great things, a curious change came over him. For a moment Glogmeriss stopped fearing the Great Derku, and instead imagined that he WAS the giant crocodile. Didn't a man paddle his dragonboat by lying on his belly straddling the bundled reeds, paddling with his hands and kicking with his feet just as a crocodile did under the water? So all men became dragons, in a way
And Glogmeriss would grow up to be a large man, everyone said so
Among men he would be as extraordinary as the Great Derku was among crocodiles. Like the god, he would seem dangerous and strike fear into the hearts of smaller people. And, again like the god, he would actually be kind, and not destroy them, but instead help them and do good for them
Like the river in flood. A frightening thing, to have the water rise so high, sweeping away the mud hills on which they had built the seedboats, smearing the outsides of them with sun-heated tar so they would be watertight when the flood came. Like the Great Derku, the flood seemed to be a destroyer. And yet when the water receded, the land was wet and rich, ready to receive the seed and give back huge harvests. The land farther up the slopesof the mountains was salty and stony and all that could grow on it was grass. It was here in the flatlands where the flood tore through like a mad dragon that the soil was rich and trees could grow
I will BE the Derkuwed. Not as a destroyer, but as a lifebringer
The real Derku, the true dragon, could never be trapped in a cage as this poor crocodile has been. The true dragon comes like the flood and tears away the walls and sets the Great Derku crocodile free and makes the soil wet and black and rich. Like the river, I will be another tool of the god, another manifestation of the power of the god in the world. If that was not what the dragon of the deep heaven of the sea intended, why would he have make Glogmeriss so tall and strong
This was still the belief in his heart when Glogmeriss set out on his manhood journey at the age of fourteen. He was already the tallest man in his clan and one of the tallest among all the Derku people. He was a giant, and yet well-liked because he never used his strength and size to frighten other people into doing what he wanted; on the contrary, he seemed always to protect the weaker boys. Many people felt that it was a shame that when he returned from his manhood journey, the name he would be given was a silly one like Naog. But when they said as much in Glogmeriss's hearing, he only laughed at them and said, "The name will only be silly if it is borne by a silly man. I hope not to be a silly man.
Glogmeriss's father had made his fame by taking his manhood journey from the Salty Sea to the Nile. Glogmeriss's journey therefore had to be even more challenging and more glorious. He would go south and east, along the crest of the plateau until he reached the legendary place called the Heaving Sea , where the gods that dwelt in its deep heaven were so restless that the water splashed onto the shore in great waves all the time, even when there was no wind. If there was such a sea, Glogmeriss would find it. When he came back as a man with such a tale, they would call him Naog and none of them would laugh
Kemal Akyazi knew that Atlantis had to be there under the waters of the Red Sea; but why hadn't Pastwatch found it? The answer was simple enough. The past was huge, and while the TruSite I had been used to collect climatalogical information, the new machines that were precise enough that could track individual human beings would never have been used to look at oceans where nobody lived. Yes, the Tempoview had explored the Bering Strait and the English Channel, but that was to track long-known-of migrations. There was no such migration in the Red Sea. Pastwatch had simply never looked through their precise new machines to see what was under the water of the Red Sea in the waning centuries of the last Ice Age. And they never WOULD look, either, unless someone gave them a compelling reason
Kemal understood bureaucracy enough to know that he, a student meteorologist, would hardly be taken seriously if he brought an Atlantis theory to Pastwatch--particularly a theory that put Atlantis in the Red Sea of all places, and fourteen thousand years ago, no less, long before civilizations arose in Sumeria or Egypt, let alone China or the Indus Valley or among the swamps of Tehuantapec
Yet Kemal also knew that the setting would have been right for a civilization to grow in the marshy land of the Mits'iwa Channel
Though there weren't enough rivers flowing into the Red Sea to fill it at the same rate as the world ocean, there were still rivers. For instance, the Zula, which still had enough water to flow even today, watered the whole length of the Mits'iwa Plain and flowed down into the rump of the Red Sea near Mersa Mubarek. And, because of the different rainfall patterns of that time, there was a large and dependable river flowing out of the Assahara basin. Assahara was now a dry valley below sea level, but then would have been a freshwater lake fed by many rivers and spilling over the lowest point into the Mits'iwa Channel. The river meandered along the nearly level Mits'iwa Plain, with some branches of it joining the Zula River, and some wandering east and north to form several mouths in the Red Sea
Thus dependable sources of fresh water fed the area, and in rainy season the Zula, at least, would have brought new silt to freshen the soil, and in all seasons the wandering flatwater rivers would have provided a means of transportation through the marshes. The climate was also dependably warm, with plenty of sunlight and a long growing season. There was no early civilization that did not grow up in such a setting. There was no reason such a civilization might not have grown up then
Yes, it was six or seven thousand years too early. But couldn't it be that it was the very destruction of Atlantis that convinced the survivors that the gods did not want human beings to gather together in cities? Weren't there hints of that anti-civilization bias lingering in many of the ancient religions of the Middle East? What was the story of Cain and Abel, if not a metaphorical expression of the evil of the city-dweller, the farmer, the brother-killer who is judged unworthy by the gods because he does not wander with his sheep? Couldn't such stories have circulated widely in those ancient times? That would explain why the survivors of Atlantis hadn't immediately begun to rebuild their civilization at another site: They knew that the gods forbade it, that if they built again their city would be destroyed again. So they remembered the stories of their glorious past, and at the same time condemned their ancestors and warned everyone they met against people gathering together to build a city, making people yearn for such a place and fear it, both at once
Not until a Nimrod came, a tower-builder, a Babel-maker who defied the old religion, would the ancient proscription be overcome at last and another city rise up, in another river valley far in time and space from Atlantis, but remembering the old ways that had been memorialized in the stories of warning and, as far as possible, replicating them. We will build a tower so high that it CAN'T be immersed. Didn't Genesis link the flood with Babel in just that way, complete with the nomad's stern disapproval of the city? This was the story that survived in Mesopotamia--the tale of the beginning of city life there, but with clear memories of a more ancient civilization that had been destroyed in a flood
A more ancient civilization. The golden age. The giants who once walked the earth. Why couldn't all these stories be remembering the first human civilization, the place where the city was invented
Atlantis, the city of the Mits'iwa plain
But how could he prove it without using the Tempoview? And how could he get access to one of those machines without first convincing Pastwatch that Atlantis was really in the Red Sea? It was circular, with no way out
Until he thought: Why do large cities form in the first place
Because there are public works to do that require more than a few people to accomplish them. Kemal wasn't sure what form the public works might take, but surely they would have been something that would change the face of the land obviously enough that the old TruSite I recordings would show it, though it wouldn't be noticeable unless someone was looking for it
So, putting his degree at risk, Kemal set aside the work he was assigned to do and began poring over the old TruSite I recordings
He concentrated on the last few centuries before the Red Sea flood--there was no reason to suppose that the civilization had lasted very long before it was destroyed. And within a few months he had collected data that was irrefutable. There were no dikes and dams to prevent flooding--that kind of structure would have been large enough that no one would have missed it. Instead there were seemingly random heaps of mud and earth that grew between rainy seasons, especially in the drier years when the rivers were lower than usual. To people looking only for weather patterns, these unstructured, random piles would mean nothing. But to Kemal they were obvious: In the shallowing water, the Atlanteans were dredging channels so that their boats could continue to traffic from place to place. The piles of earth were simply the dumping-places for the muck they dredged from the water. None of the boats showed up on the TruSite I, but now that Kemal knew where to look, he began to catch fleeting glimpses of houses. Every year when the floods came, the houses disappeared, so they were only visible for a moment or two in the Trusite I: flimsy mud-and-reed structures that must have been swept away in every flood season and rebuilt again when the waters receded. But they were there, close by the hillocks that marked the channels. Plato was right again--Atlantis grew up around its canals
But Atlantis was the people and their boats; the buildings were washed away and built again every year
When Kemal presented his findings to Pastwatch he was not yet twenty years old, but his evidence was impressive enough that Pastwatch immediately turned, not one of the Tempoviews, but the still-newer TruSite II machine to look under the waters of the Red Sea in the Massawa Channel during the hundred years before the Red Sea flood
They found that Kemal was gloriously, spectacularly right. In an era when other humans were still following game animals and gathering berries, the Atlanteans were planting amaranth and ryegrass, melons and beans in the rich wet silt of the receding rivers, and carrying food in baskets and on reed boats from place to place. The only thing that Kemal had missed was that the reed buildings weren't houses at all. They were silos for the storage of grain, built watertight so that they would float during the flood season. The Atlanteans slept under the open air during the dry season, and in the flood season they slept on their tiny reed boats
Kemal was brought into Pastwatch and made head of the vast new Atlantis project. This was the seminal culture of all cultures in the old world, and a hundred researchers examined every stage of its development. This methodical work, however, was not for Kemal. As always, it was the grand legend that drew him. He spent every moment he could spare away from the management of the project and devoted it to the search for Noah, for Gilgamesh, for the great man who rode out the flood and whose story lived in memory for thousands of years. There had to be a real original, and Kemal would find him
The flood season was almost due when Glogmeriss took his journey that would make him into a man named Naog. It was a little early for him, since he was born during the peak of the flood, but everyone in the clan agreed with Twerk that it was better for a manling so well-favored to be early than late, and if he wasn't already up and out of the flood plain before the rains came, then he'd have to wait months before he could safely go. And besides, as Twerk pointed out, why have a big eater like Glogmeriss waiting out the flood season, eating huge handfuls of grain. People listened happily to Twerk's argument, because he was known to be a generous, wise, good-humored man, and everyone expected him to be named clan leader when sweet old ailing Dheub finally died
Getting above the flood meant walking up the series of slight inclines leading to the last sandy shoulder, where the land began to rise more steeply. Glogmeriss had no intention of climbing any higher than that. His father's journey had taken him over those ridges and on to the great river Nile, but there was no reason for Glogmeriss to clamber through rocks when he could follow the edge of the smooth, grassy savannah. He was high enough to see the vast plain of the Derku lands stretching out before him, and the land was open enough that no cat or pack of dogs could creep up on him unnoticed, let alone some hunter of another tribe
How far to the Heaving Sea? Far enough that no one of the Derku tribe had ever seen it. But they knew it existed, because when they brought home captives from tribes to the south, they heard tales of such a place, and the farther south the captives came from, the more vivid and convincing the tales became. Still, none of them had ever seen it with their own eyes. So it would be a long journey, Glogmeriss knew that. And all the longer because it would be on foot, and not on his dragonboat. Not that Derku men were any weaker or slower afoot than men who lived above the flood--on the contrary, they had to be fleet indeed, as well as stealthy, to bring home either captives or meat. So the boys' games included footracing, and while Glogmeriss was not the fastest sprinter, no one could match his long-legged stride for sheer endurance, for covering ground quickly, on and on, hour after hour
What set the bodies of the Derku people apart from other tribes, what made them recognizable in an instant, was the massive development of their upper bodies from paddling dragonboats hour after hour along the canals or through the floods. It wasn't just paddling, either. It was the heavy armwork of cutting reeds and binding them into great sheaves to be floated home for making boats and ropes and baskets. And in older times, they would also have developed strong arms and backs from dredging the canals that surrounded and connected all the villages of the great Derku city
Slaves did most of that now, but the Derku took great pride in never letting their slaves be stronger than they were. Their shoulders and chests and arms and backs were almost monstrous compared to those of the men and women of other tribes. And since the Derku ate better all year round than people of other tribes, they tended to be taller, too. Many tribes called them giants, and others called them the sons and daughters of the gods, they looked so healthy and strong. And of all the young Derku men, there was none so tall and strong and healthy as Glogmeriss, the boy they called Derkuwed, the man who would be Naog
So as Glogmeriss loped along the grassy rim of the great plain, he knew he was in little danger from human enemies. Anyone who saw him would think: There is one of the giants, one of the sons of the crocodile god. Hide, for he might be with a party of raiders. Don't let him see you, or he'll take a report back to his people. Perhaps one man in a pack of hunters might say, "He's alone, we can kill him," but the other hunters would jeer at the one who spoke so rashly. "Look, fool, he a javelin in his hands and three tied to his back. Look at his arms, his shoulders--do you think he can't put his javelin through your heart before you got close enough to throw a rock at him? Let him be. Pray for a great cat to find him in the night.
That was Glogmeriss's only real danger. He was too high into the dry lands for crocodiles, and he could run fast enough to climb a tree before any pack of dogs or wolves could bring him down. But there was no tree that would give a moment's pause to one of the big cats
No, if one of THEM took after him, it would be a fight. But Glogmeriss had fought cats before, on guard duty. Not the giants that could knock a man's head off with one blow of its paw, or take his whole belly with one bite of its jaws, but still, they were big enough, prowling around the outside of the clan lands, and Glogmeriss had fought them with a hand javelin and brought them down alone. He knew something of the way they moved and thought, and he had no doubt that in a contest with one of the big cats, he would at least cause it grave injury before it killed him
Better not to meet one of them, though. Which meant staying well clear of any of the herds of bison or oxen, antelope or horses that the big cats stalked. Those cats would never have got so big waiting around for lone humans--it was herds they needed, and so it was herds that Glogmeriss did NOT need
To his annoyance, though, one came to HIM. He had climbed a tree to sleep the night, tying himself to the trunk so he wouldn't fall out in his sleep. He awoke to the sound of nervous lowing and a few higher-pitched, anxious moos. Below him, milling around in the first grey light of the coming dawn, he could make out the shadowy shapes of oxen. He knew at once what had happened. They caught scent of a cat and began to move away in the darkness, shambling in fear and confusion in the near darkness. They had not run because the cat wasn't close enough to cause a panic in the herd. With luck it would be one of the smaller cats, and when it saw that they knew it was there, it would give up and go away
But the cat had not given up and gone away, or they wouldn't still be so frightened. Soon the herd would have enough light to see the cat that must be stalking them, and then they WOULD run, leaving Glogmeriss behind in a tree. Maybe the cat would go in full pursuit of the running oxen, or maybe it would notice the lone man trapped in a tree and decide to go for the easier, smaller meal
I wish I were part of this herd, thought Glogmeriss. Then there'd be a chance. I would be one of many, and even if the cat brought one of us down, it might not be me. As a man alone, it's me or the cat
Kill or die. I will fight bravely, but in this light I might not get a clear sight of the cat, might not be able to see in the rippling of its muscles where it will move next. And what if it isn't alone
What if the reason these oxen are so frightened yet unwilling to move is that they know there's more than one cat and they have no idea in which direction safety can be found
Again he thought, I wish I were part of this herd. And then he thought, Why should I think such a foolish thought twice, unless the god is telling me what to do? Isn't that what this journey is for, to find out if there is a god who will lead me, who will protect me, who will make me great? There's no greatness in having a cat eviscerate you in one bite. Only if you live do you become a man of stories. Like Gweia--if she had mounted the crocodile and it had thrown her off and devoured her, who would ever have heard her name
There was no time to form a plan, except the plan that formed so quickly that it might have been the god putting it there. He would ride one of these oxen as Gweia rode the crocodile. It would be easy enough to drop out of the tree onto an ox's back--hadn't he played with the other boys, year after year, jumping from higher and higher branches to land on a dragonboat that was drifting under the tree
An ox was scarcely less predictable than a dragonboat on a current
The only difference was that when he landed on the ox's back, it would not bear him as willingly as a dragonboat. Glogmeriss had to hope that, like Gweia's crocodile frightened of the flood, the ox he landed on would be more frightened of the cat than of the sudden burden on his back
He tried to pick well among the oxen within reach of the branches of the tree. He didn't want a cow with a calf running alongside--that would be like begging the cats to come after him, since such cows were already the most tempting targets. But he didn't want a bull, either, for he doubted it would have the patience to bear him
And there was his target, a fullsized cow but with no calf leaning against it, under a fairly sturdy branch. Slowly, methodically, Glogmeriss untied himself from the tree, cinched the bindings of his javelins and his flintsack and his grainsack, and drew his loincloth up to hold his genitals tight against his body, and then crept out along the branch until he was as nearly over the back of the cow he had chosen as possible. The cow was stamping and snorting now--they all were, and in a moment they would bolt, he knew it--but it held still as well as a bobbing dragonboat, and so Glogmeriss took aim and jumped, spreading his legs to embrace the animal's back, but not SO wide that he would slam his crotch against the bony ridge of its spine
He landed with a grunt and immediately lunged forward to get his arms around the ox's neck, just like gripping the stem of the dragonboat. The beast immediately snorted and bucked, but its bobbing was no worse than the dragonboat ducking under the water at the impact of a boy on its back. Of course, the dragonboat stopped bobbing after a moment, while this ox would no doubt keep trying to be rid of him until he was gone, bucking and turning, bashing its sides into other oxen
But the other animals were already so nervous that the sudden panic of Glogmeriss's mount was the trigger that set off the stampede
Almost at once the herd mentality took over, and the oxen set out in a headlong rush all in the same direction. Glogmeriss's cow didn't forget the burden on her back, but now she responded to her fear by staying with the herd. It came as a great relief to Glogmeriss when she leapt out and ran among the other oxen, in part because it meant that she was no longer trying to get him off her back, and in part because she was a good runner and he knew that unless she swerved to the edge of the herd where a cat could pick her off, both she and he would be safe
Until the panic stopped, of course, and then Glogmeriss would have to figure out a way to get OFF the cow and move away without being gored or trampled to death. Well, one danger at a time. And as they ran, he couldn't help but feel the sensations of the moment: The prickly hair of the ox's back against his belly and legs, the way her muscles rippled between his legs and within the embrace of his arms, and above all the sheer exhilaration of moving through the air at such a speed. Has any man ever moved as fast over the ground as I am moving now? he wondered. No dragonboat has ever found a current so swift
It seemed that they ran for hours and hours, though when they finally came to a stop the sun was still only a palm's height above the mountains far across the plain to the east. As the running slowed to a jolting jog, and then to a walk, Glogmeriss kept waiting for his mount to remember that he was on her back and to start trying to get him off. But if she remembered, she must have decided she didn't mind, because when she finally came to a stop, still in the midst of the herd, she simply dropped her head and began to graze, making no effort to get Glogmeriss off her back
She was so calm--or perhaps like the others was simply so exhausted--that Glogmeriss decided that as long as he moved slowly and calmly he might be able to walk on out of the herd, or at least climb a tree and wait for them to move on. He knew from the roaring and screaming sounds he had heard near the beginning of the stampede that the cats--more than one--had found their meal, so the survivors were safe enough for now
Glogmeriss carefully let one leg slide down until he touched the ground. Then, smoothly as possible, he slipped off the cow's back until he was crouched beside her. She turned her head slightly, chewing a mouthful of grass. Her great brown eye regarded him calmly
"Thank you for carrying me," said Glogmeriss softly
She moved her head away, as if to deny that she had done anything special for him
"You carried me like a dragonboat through the flood," he said, and he realized that this was exactly right, for hadn't the stampede of oxen been as dangerous and powerful as any flood of water? And she had borne him up, smooth and safe, carrying him safely to the far shore. "The best of dragonboats.
She lowed softly, and for a moment Glogmeriss began to think of her as being somehow the embodiment of the god--though it could not be the crocodile god that took this form, could it? But all thoughts of the animal's godhood were shattered when it started to urinate. The thick stream of ropey piss splashed into the grass not a span away from Glogmeriss's shoulder, and as the urine spattered him he could not help but jump away. Other nearby oxen mooed complainingly about his sudden movement, but his own cow seemed not to notice. The urine stank hotly, and Glogmeriss was annoyed that the stink would stay with him for days, probably
Then he realized that no COW could put a stream of urine between her forelegs. This animal was a bull after all. Yet it was scarcely larger than the normal cow, not bull-like at all. Squatting down, he looked closely, and realized that the animal had lost its testicles somehow. Was it a freak, born without them? No, there was a scar, a ragged sign of old injury. While still a calf, this animal had had its bullhood torn away. Then it grew to adulthood, neither cow nor bull. What purpose was there in life for such a creature as that
And yet if it had not lived, it could not have carried him through the stampede. A cow would have had a calf to slow it down; a bull would have flung him off easily. The god had prepared this creature to save him. It was not itself a god, of course, for such an imperfect animal could hardly be divine. But it was a god's tool
"Thank you," said Glogmeriss, to whatever god it was. "I hope to know you and serve you," he said. Whoever the god was must have known him for a long time, must have planned this moment for years
There was a plan, a destiny for him. Glogmeriss felt himself thrill inside with the certainty of this
I could turn back now, he thought, and I would have had the greatest manhood journey of anyone in the tribe for generations. They would regard me as a holy man, when they learned that a god had prepared such a beast as this to be my dragonboat on dry land. No one would say I was unworthy to be Naog, and no more Glogmeriss
But even as he thought this, Glogmeriss knew that it would be wrong to go back. The god had prepared this animal, not to make his manhood journey easy and short, but to make his long journey possible. Hadn't the ox carried him southeast, the direction he was already heading? Hadn't it brought him right along the very shelf of smooth grassland that he had already been running on? No, the god meant to speed him on his way, not to end his journey. When he came back, the story of the unmanned ox that carried him like a boat would be merely the first part of his story. They would laugh when he told them about the beast peeing on him. They would nod and murmur in awe as he told them that he realized that the god was helping him to go on, that the god had chosen him years before in order to prepare the calf that would be his mount. Yet this would all be the opening, leading to the main point of the story, the climax. And what that climax would be, what he would accomplish that would let him take on his manly name, Glogmeriss could hardly bear to wait to find out
Unless, of course, the god was preparing him to be a sacrifice. But the god could have killed him at any time. It could have killed him when he was born, dropping him into the water as everyone said his father had feared might happen. It could have let him die there at the tree, taken by a cat or trampled under the feet of the oxen. No, the god was keeping him alive for a purpose, for a great task. His triumph lay ahead, and whatever it was, it would be greater than his ride on the back of an ox
The rains came the next day, but Glogmeriss pressed on. The rain made it hard to see far ahead, but most of the animals stopped moving in the rain and so there wasn't as much danger to look out for. Sometimes the rain came down so thick and hard that Glogmeriss could hardly see a dozen steps ahead. But he ran on, unhindered. The shelf of land that he ran along was perfectly flat, neither uphill nor downhill, as level as water, and so he could lope along without wearying. Even when the thunder roared in the sky and lightning seemed to flash all around him, Glogmeriss did not stop, for he knew that the god that watched over him was powerful indeed. He had nothing to fear. And since he passed two burning trees, he knew that lightning could have struck him at any time, and yet did not, and so it was a second sign that a great god was with him
During the rains he cross many swollen streams, just by walking
Only once did he have to cross a river that was far too wide and deep and swift in flood for him to cross. But he plunged right in, for the god was with him. Almost at once he was swept off his feet, but he swam strongly across the current. Yet even a strong Derku man cannot swim forever, and it began to seem to Glogmeriss that he would never reach the other side, but rather would be swept down to the salt sea, where one day his body would wash to shore near a party of Derku raiders who would recognize from the size of his body that it was him. So, this is what happened to Twerk's son Glogmeriss. The flood took him after all
Then he bumped against a log that was also floating on the current, and took hold of it, and rolled up onto the top of it like a dragonboat. Now he could use all his strength for paddling, and soon he was across the current. He drew the log from the water and embraced it like a brother, lying beside it, holding it in the wet grass until the rising water began to lick at his feet again. Then he dragged the log with him to higher ground and placed it up in the notch of a tree where no flood would dislodge it. One does not abandon a brother to the flood
Three times the god has saved me, he thought as he climbed back up to the level shelf that was his path. From the tooth of the cat, from the fire of heaven, from the water of the flood. Each time a tree was part of it: The tree around which the herd of oxen gathered and from which I dropped onto the ox's back; the trees that died in flames from taking to themselves the bolts of lightning meant for me; and finally this log of a fallen tree that died in its home far up in the mountains in order to be my brother in the water of the flood. Is it a god of trees, then, that leads me on? But how can a god of trees be more powerful than the god of lightning or the god of the floods or even the god of sharp-toothed cats? No, trees are simply tools the god has used. The god flings trees about as easily as I fling a javelin
Gradually, over many days, the rains eased a bit, falling in steady showers instead of sheets. Off to his left, he could see that the plain was rising upcloser and closer to the smooth shelf along which he ran. On the first clear morning he saw that there was no more distant shining on the still waters of the Salty Sea--the plain was now higher than the level of that water; he had behind the only sea that the Derku people had ever seen. The Heaving Sea lay yet ahead, and so he ran on
The plain was quite high, but he was still far enough above it that he could see the shining when it came again on a clear morning. He had left one sea behind, and now, with the ground much higher, there was another sea. Could this be it, the Heaving Sea
He left the shelf and headed across the savannah toward the water
He did not reach it that day, but on the next afternoon he stood on the shore and knew that this was not the place he had been looking for. The water was far smaller than the Salty Sea, smaller even than the Sweetwater Sea up in the mountains from which the Selud River flowed. And yet when he dipped his finger into the water and tasted it, it WAS a little salty. Almost sweet, but salty nonetheless. Not good for drinking. That was obvious from the lack of animal tracks around the water. It must usually be saltier than this, thought Glogmeriss. It must have been freshened somewhat by the rains
Instead of returning to his path along the shelf by the route he had followed to get to this small sea, Glogmeriss struck out due south
He could see the shelf in the distance, and could see that by running south he would rejoin the level path a good way farther along
As he crossed a small stream, he saw animal prints again, and among them the prints of human feet. Many feet, and they were fresher than any of the animal prints. So fresh, in fact, that for all Glogmeriss knew they could be watching him right now. If he stumbled on them suddenly, they might panic, seeing a man as large as he was. And in this place what would they know of the Derku people? No raiders had ever come this far in search of captives, he was sure. That meant that they wouldn't necessarily hate him--but they wouldn't fear retribution from his tribe, either. No, the best course was for him to turn back and avoid them
But a god was protecting him, and besides, he had been without the sound of a human voice for so many days. If he did not carry any of his javelins, but left them all slung on his back, they would know he meant no harm and they would not fear him. So there at the stream, he bent over, slipped off the rope holding his javelins, and untied them to bind them all together
As he was working, he heard a sound and knew without looking that he had been found. Perhaps they HAD been watching him all along. His first thought was to pick up his javelins and prepare for battle
But he did not know how many they were, or whether they were all around him, and in the dense brush near the river he might be surrounded by so many that they could overwhelm him easily, even if he killed one or two. For a moment he thought, The god protects me, I could kill them all. But then he rejected that idea. He had killed nothing on this journey, not even for meat, eating only the grain he carried with him and such berries and fruits and roots and greens and mushrooms as he found along the way. Should he begin now, killing when he knew nothing about these people? Perhaps meeting them was what the god had brought him here to do
So a slowly, carefully finished binding the javelins and then slung them up onto his shoulder, being careful never to hold the javelins in a way that might make his watcher or watchers think that he was making them ready for battle. Then, his hands empty and his weapons bound to his back, he splashed through the stream and followed the many footprints on the far side
He could hear feet padding along behind him--more than one person, too, from the sound. They might be coming up behind him to kill him, but it didn't sound as if they were trying to overtake him, or to be stealthy, either. They must know that he could hear them. But perhaps they thought he was very stupid. He had to show them that he did not turn to fight them because he did not want to fight, and not because he was stupid or afraid
To show them he was not afraid, he began to sing the song of the dog who danced with a man, which was funny and had a jaunty tune. And to show them he knew they were there, he bent over as he walked, scooped up a handful of damp soil, and flung it lightly over his shoulder
The sound of sputtering outrage told him that the god had guided his lump of mud right to its target. He stopped and turned to find four men following him, one of whom was brushing dirt out of his face, cursing loudly. The others looked uncertain whether to be angry at Glogmeriss for flinging dirt at them or afraid of him because he was so large and strange and unafraid
Glogmeriss didn't want them to be either afraid or angry. So he let a slow smile come to his face, not a smile of derision, but rather a friendly smile that said, I mean no harm. To reinforce this idea, he held his hands out wide, palms facing the strangers
They understood him, and perhaps because of his smile began to see the humor in the situation. They smiled, too, and then, because the one who was hit with dirt was still complaining and trying to get it out of his eyes, they began to laugh at him. Glogmeriss laughed with them, but then walked slowly toward his victim and, carefully letting them all see what he was doing, took his waterbag from his waist and untied it a little, showing them that water dropped from it. They uttered something in an ugly-sounding language and the one with dirt in his eyes stopped, leaned his head back, and stoically allowed Glogmeriss to bathe his eyes with water
When at last, dripping and chagrined, the man could see again, Glogmeriss flung an arm across his shoulder like a comrade, and then reached out for the man who seemed to be the leader. After a moment's hesitation, the man allowed Glogmeriss the easy embrace, and together they walked toward the main body of the tribe, the other two walking as closely as possible, behind and ahead, talking to Glogmeriss even though he made it plain that he did not understand
When they reached the others they were busy building a cookfire. All who could, left their tasks and came to gawk at the giant stranger
While the men who had found him recounted the tale, others came and touched Glogmeriss, especially his strong arms and chest, and his loincloth as well, since none of the men wore any kind of clothing
Glogmeriss viewed this with disgust. It was one thing for little boys to run around naked, but he knew that men should keep their privates covered so they wouldn't get dirty. What woman would let her husband couple with her, if he let any kind of filth get on his javelin
Of course, these men were all so ugly that no woman would want them anyway, and the women were so ugly that the only men who would want them would be these. Perhaps ugly people don't care about keeping themselves clean, thought Glogmeriss. But the women wore naprons made of woven grass, which looked softer than the beaten reeds that the Derku wove. So it wasn't that these people didn't know how to make cloth, or that the idea of wearing clothing had never occurred to them. The men were simply filthy and stupid, Glogmeriss decided
And the women, while not as filthy, must be just as stupid or they wouldn't let the men come near them
Glogmeriss tried to explain to them that he was looking for the Heaving Sea, and ask them where it was. But they couldn't understand any of the gestures and handsigns he tried, and his best efforts merely left them laughing to the point of helplessness. He gave up and made as if to leave, which immediately brought protests and an obvious invitation to dinner
It was a welcome thought, and their chief seemed quite anxious for him to stay. A meal would only make him stronger for the rest of his journey
He stayed for the meal, which was strange but good. And then, wooed by more pleas from the chief and many others, he agreed to sleep the night with them, though he halfway feared that in his sleep they planned to kill him or at least rob him. In the event, it turned out that they DID have plans for him, but it had nothing to do with killing. By morning the chief's prettiest daughter was Glogmeriss's bride, and even though she was as ugly as any of the others, she had done a good enough job of initiating him into the pleasures of men and women that he could overlook her thin lips and beakish nose
This was not supposed to happen on a manhood journey. He was expected to come home and marry one of the pretty girls from one of the other clans of the Derku people. Many a father had already been negotiating with Twerk or old Dheub with an eye toward getting Glogmeriss as a son-in-law. But what harm would it do if Glogmeriss had a bride for a few days with these people, and then slipped away and went home? No one among the Derku would ever meet any of these ugly people, and even if they did, who would care? You could do what you wanted with strangers. It wasn't as if they were people, like the Derku
But the days came and went, and Glogmeriss could not bring himself to leave. He was still enjoying his nights with Zawada--as near as he could come to pronouncing her name, which had a strange click in the middle of it. And as he began to learn to understand something of their language, he harbored a hope that they could tell him about the Heaving Sea and, in the long run, save him time
Days became weeks, and weeks became months, and Zawada's blood-days didn't come and so they knew she was pregnant, and then Glogmeriss didn't want to leave, because he had to see the child he had put into her. So he stayed, and learned to help with the work of this tribe. They found his size and prodigious strength very helpful, and Zawada was comically boastful about her husband's prowess--marrying him had brought her great prestige, even more than being the chief's daughter. And it gradually came to Glogmeriss's mind that if he stayed he would probably be chief of these people himself someday
At times when he thought of that, he felt a strange sadness, for what did it mean to be chief of these miserable ugly people, compared to the honor of being the most ordinary of the Derku people? How could being chief of these grub-eaters and gatherers compare to eating the common bread of the Derku and riding on a dragonboat through the flood or on raids? He enjoyed Zawada, he enjoyed the people of this tribe, but they were not his people, and he knew that he would leave. Eventually
Zawada's belly was beginning to swell when the tribe suddenly gathered their tools and baskets and formed up to begin another trek. They didn't move back north, however, the direction they had come from when Glogmeriss found them. Rather their migration was due south, and soon, to his surprise, he found that they were hiking along the very shelf of land that had been his path in coming to this place
It occurred to him that perhaps the god had spoken to the chief in the night, warning him to get Glogmeriss back on his abandoned journey. But no, the chief denied any dream. Rather he pointed to the sky and said it was time to go get--something. A word Glogmeriss had never heard before. But it was clearly some kind of food, because the adults nearby began laughing with anticipatory delight and pantomiming eating copious amounts of--something
Off to the northeast, they passed along the shores of another small sea. Glogmeriss asked if the water was sweet and if it had fish in it, but Zawada told him, sadly, that the sea was spoiled. "It used to be good," she said. "The people drank from it and swam in it and trapped fish in it, but it got poisoned.
"How?" asked Glogmeriss
"The god vomited into it.
"What god did that?
"The great god," she said, looking mysterious and amused
"How do you know he did?" asked Glogmeriss
"We saw," she said. "There was a terrible storm, with winds so strong they tore babies from their mothers' arms and carried them away and they were never seen again. My own mother and father held me between them and I wasn't carried off--I was scarcely more than a baby then, and I remember how scared I was, to have my parents crushing me between them while the wind screamed through the trees.
"But a rainstorm would sweeten the water," said Glogmeriss. "Not make it salty.
"I told you," said Zawada. "The god vomited into it.
"But if you don't mean the rain, then what do you mean?
To which her only answer was a mysterious smile and a giggle
"You'll see," she said
And in the end, he did. Two days after leaving this second small sea behind, they rounded a bend and some of the men began to shinny up trees, looking off to the east as if they knew exactly what they'd see. "There it is!" they cried. "We can see it!
Glogmeriss lost no time in climbing up after them, but it took a while for him to know what it was they had seen. It wasn't till he climbed another tree the next morning, when they were closer and when the sun was shining in the east, that he realized that the vast plain opening out before them to the east wasn't a plain at all. It was water, shimmering strangely in the sunlight of morning. More water than Glogmeriss had ever imagined. And the reason the light shimmered that way was because the water was moving. It was the Heaving Sea
He came down from tree in awe, only to find the whole tribe watching him. When they saw his face, they burst into hysterical laughter, including even Zawada. Only now did it occur to him that they had understood him perfectly well on his first day with them, when he described the Heaving Sea. They had known where he was headed, but they hadn't told him
"There's the joke back on you!" cried the man in whose face Glogmeriss had thrown dirt on that first day. And now it seemed like perfect justice to Glogmeriss. He had played a joke, and they had played one back, an elaborate jest that required even his wife to keep the secret of the Heaving Sea from him
Zawada's father, the chief, now explained that it was more than a joke. "Waiting to show you the Heaving Sea meant that you would stay and marry Zawada and give her giant babies. A dozen giants like you!
Zawada grinned cheerfully. "If they don't kill me coming out, it'll be fine to have sons like yours will be!
Next day's journey took them far enough that they didn't have to climb trees to see the Heaving Sea, and it was larger than Glogmeriss had ever imagined. He couldn't see the end of it. And it moved all the time. There were more surprises when they got to the shore that night, however. For the sea was noisy, a great roaring, and it kept throwing itself at the shore and then retreating, heaving up and down. Yet the children were fearless--they ran right into the water and let the waves chase them to shore. The men and women soon joined them, for a little while, and Glogmeriss himself finally worked up the courage to let the water touch him, let the waves chase him. He tasted the water, and while it was saltier than the small seas to the northwest, it was nowhere near as salty as the Salt Sea
"This is the god that poisoned the little seas," Zawad explained to him. "This is the god that vomited into them.
But Glogmeriss looked at how far the waves came onto the shore and laughed at her. "How could these heavings of the sea reach all the way to those small seas? It took days to get here from there.
She grimaced at him. "What do you know, giant man? These waves are not the reason why this is called the Heaving Sea by those who call it that. These are like little butterfly flutters compared to the true heaving of the sea.
Glogmeriss didn't understand until later in the day, as he realized that the waves weren't reaching as high as they had earlier. The beach sand was wet much higher up the shore than the waves could get to now. Zawada was delighted to explain the tides to him, how the sea heaved upward and downward, twice a day or so. "The sea is calling to the moon," she said, but could not explain what that meant, except that the tides were linked to the passages of the moon rather than the passages of the sun
As the tide ebbed, the tribe stopped playing and ran out onto the sand. With digging stones they began scooping madly at the sand. Now and then one of them would shout in triumph and hold up some ugly, stony, dripping object for admiration before dropping it into a basket. Glogmeriss examined them and knew at once that these things could not be stones--they were too regular, too symmetrical. It wasn't till one of the men showed him the knack of prying them open by hammering on a sharp wedgestone that he really understood, for inside the hard stony surface there was a soft, pliable animal that could draw its shell closed around it
"That's how it lives under the water," explained the man. "It's watertight as a mud-covered basket, only all the way around. Tight all the way around. So it keeps the water out!
Like the perfect seedboat, thought Glogmeriss. Only no boat of reeds could ever be made THAT watertight, not so it could be plunged underwater and stay dry inside
That night they built a fire and roasted the clams and mussels and oysters on the ends of sticks. They were tough and rubbery and they tasted salty--but Glogmeriss soon discovered that the very saltiness was the reason this was such a treat, that and the juices they released when you first chewed on them. Zawada laughed at him for chewing his first bite so long. "Cut it off in smaller bits," she said, "and then chew it till it stops tasting good and then swallow it whole." The first time he tried, it took a bit of doing to swallow it without gagging, but he soon got used to it and it WAS delicious
"Don't drink so much of your water," said Zawada
"I'm thirsty," said Glogmeriss
"Of course you are," she said. "But when we run out of fresh water, we have to leave. There's nothing to drink in this place. So drink only a little at a time, so we can stay another day.
The next morning he helped with the clam-digging, and his powerful shoulders and arms allowed him to excel at this task, just as with so many others. But he didn't have the appetite for roasting them, and wandered off alone while the others feasted on the shore. They did their digging in a narrow inlet of the sea, where a long thin finger of water surged inward at high tide and then retreated almost completely at low tide. The finger of the sea seemed to point straight toward the land of the Derku, and it made Glogmeriss think of home
Why did I come here? Why did the god go to so much trouble to bring me? Why was I saved from the cats and the lightning and the flood
Was it just to see this great water and taste the salty meat of the clams? These are marvels, it's true, but no greater than the marvel of the castrated bull-ox that I rode, or the lightning fires, or the log that was my brother in the flood. Why would it please the god to bring me here
He heard footsteps and knew at once that it was Zawada. He did not look up. Soon he felt her arms come around him from behind, her swelling breasts pressed against his back
"Why do you look toward your home?" she asked softly. "Haven't I made you happy?
"You've made me happy," he said
"But you look sad.
"The gods trouble you," she said. "I know that look on your face
You never speak of it, but I know at such times you are thinking of the god who brought you here and wondering if she loved you or hated you.
He laughed aloud. "Do you see inside my skin, Zawada?
"Not your skin," she said. "But I could see inside your loincloth when you first arrived, which is why I told my father to let me be the one to marry you. I had to beat up my sister before she would let me be the one to share your sleeping mat that night. She has never forgiven me. But I wanted your babies.
Glogmeriss grunted. He had known about the sister's jealousy, but since she was ugly and he had never slept with her, her jealousy was never important to him
"Maybe the god brought you here to see where she vomited.
"It was in a terrible storm.
"You told me about the storm," said Glogmeriss, not wanting to hear it all again
"When the storms are strong, the sea rises higher than usual. It heaved its way far up this channel. Much farther than this tongue of the sea reaches now. It flowed so far that it reached the first of the small seas and made it flow over and then it reached the second one and that, too, flowed over. But then the storm ceased and the water flowed back to where it was before, only so much salt water had gone into the small seas that they were poisoned.
"So long ago, and yet the salt remains?
"Oh, I think the sea has vomited into them a couple more times sincethen. Never as strongly as that first time, though. You can see this channel--so much of the seawater flowed through here that it cut a channel in the sand. This finger of the sea is all that's left of it, but you can see the banks of it--like a dried-up river, you see? That was cut then, the ground used to be at the level of the rest of the valley there. The sea still reaches into that new channel, as if it remembered. Before, the shore used to be clear out there, where the waves are high. It's much better for clam-digging now, though, because this whole channel gets filled with clams and we can get them easily.
Glogmeriss felt something stirring inside him. Something in what she had just said was very, very important, but he didn't know what it was
He cast his gaze off to the left, to the shelf of land that he had walked along all the way on his manhood journey, that this tribe had followed in coming here. The absolutely level path
Absolutely level. And yet the path was not more than three or four man-heights above the level of the Heaving Sea, while back in the lands of the Derku, the shelf was so far above the level of the Salt Sea that it felt as though you were looking down from a mountain
The whole plain was enormously wide, and yet it went so deep before reaching the water of the Salt Sea that you could see for miles and miles, all the way across. It was deep, that plain, a valley, really. A deep gouge cut into the earth. And if this shelf of land was truly level, the Heaving Sea was far, far higher
He thought of the floods. Thought of the powerful current of the flooding river that had snagged him and swept him downward. And then he thought of a storm that lifted the water of the Heaving Sea and sent it crashing along this valley floor, cutting a new channel until it reached those smaller seas, filling them with saltwater, causing THEM to flood and spill over. Spill over where? Where did their water flow? He already knew--they emptied down into the Salt Sea. Down and down and down
It will happen again, thought Glogmeriss. There will be another storm, and this time the channel will be cut deeper, and when the storm subsides the water will still flow, because now the channel will be below the level of the Heaving Sea at high tide. And at each high tide, more water will flow and the channel will get deeper and deeper, till it's deep enough that even at low tide the water will still flow through it, cutting the channel more and more, and the water will come faster and faster, and then the Heaving Sea will spill over into the great valley, faster and faster and faster
All this water then will spill out of the Heaving Sea and go down into the plain until the two seas are the same level. And once that happens, it will never go back
The lands of the Derku are far below the level of the new sea, even if it's only half as high as the waters of the Heaving Sea are now
Our city will be covered. The whole land. And it won't be a trickle
It will be a great bursting of water, a huge wave of water, like the first gush of the floodwater down the Selud River from the Sweetwater Sea. Just like that, only the Heaving Sea is far larger than the Sweetwater Sea, and its water is angry and poisonous
"Yes," said Glogmeriss. "I see what you brought me here to show me.
"Don't be silly," said Zawada. "I brought you here to have you eat clams!
"I wasn't talking to you," said Glogmeriss. He stood up and left her, walking down the finger of the sea, where the tide was rising again, bringing the water lunging back up the channel, pointing like a javelin toward the heart of the Derku people. Zawada followed behind him. He didn't mind
Glogmeriss reached the waves of the rising tide and plunged in. He knelt down in the water and let a wave crash over him. The force of the water toppled him, twisted him until he couldn't tell which was was up and he thought he would drown under the water. But then the wave retreated again,leaving him in the shallow water on the shore
He crawled back out stayed there, the taste of salt on his lips, gasping for air, and then cried out, "Why are you doing this! Why are you doing this to my people!
Zawada stood watching him, and others of the tribe came to join her, to find out what the strange giant man was doing in the sea
Angry, thought Glogmeriss. The god is angry with my people. And I have been brought here to see just what terrible punishment the god has prepared for them. "Why?" he cried again. "Why not just break through this channel and send the flood and bury the Derku people in poisonous water? Why must I be shown this first? So I can save myself by staying high out of the flood's way? Why should I be saved alive, and all my family, all my friends be destroyed? What is their crime that I am not also guilty of? If you brought me here to save me, then you failed, God, because I refuse to stay, I will go back to my people and warn them all, I'll tell them what you're planning
You can't save me alone. When the flood comes I'll be right there with the rest of them. So to save me, you must save them all. If you don't like THAT, then you should have drowned me just now when you had the chance!
Glogmeriss rose dripping from the beach and began to walk, past the people, up toward the shelf of land that made the level highway back home to the Derku people. The tribe understood at once that he was leaving, and they began calling out to him, begging him to stay
"I can't," he said. "Don't try to stop me. Even the god can't stop me.
They didn't try to stop him, not by force. But the chief ran after him, walked beside him--ran beside him, really, for that was the only way he could keep up with Glogmeriss's long-legged stride
"Friend, Son," said the chief. "Don't you know that you will be king of these people after me?
"A people should have a king who is one of their own.
"But you ARE one of us now," said the chief. "The mightiest of us
You will make us a great people! The god has chosen you, do you think we can't see that? This is why the god brought you here, to lead us and make us great!
"No," said Glogmeriss. "I'm a man of the Derku people.
"Where are they? Far from here. And there is my daughter with your first child in her womb. What do they have in Derku lands that can compare to that?
"They have the womb where I was formed," said Glogmeriss. "They have the man who put me there. They have the others who came from that woman and that man. They are my people.
"Then go back, but not today! Wait till you see your child born
Glogmeriss stopped so abruptly that the chief almost fell over, trying to stop running and stay with him. "Listen to me, father of my wife. If you were up in the mountain hunting, and you looked down and saw a dozen huge cats heading toward the place where your people were living, would say to yourself, Oh, I suppose the god brought me here to save me? Or would you run down the mountain and warn them, and do all you could to fight off the cats and save your people?
"What is this story?" asked the chief. "There are no cats. You've seen no cats.
"I've seen the god heaving in his anger," said Glogmeriss. "I've seen how he looms over my people, ready to destroy them all. A flood that will tear their flimsy reed boats to pieces. A flood that will come in a single great wave and then will never go away. Do you think I shouldn't warn my mother and father, my brothers and sisters, the friends of my childhood?
"I think you have new brothers and sisters, a new father and mother
The god isn't angry with US. The god isn't angry with you. We should stay together. Don't you WANT to stay with us and live and rule over us? You can be our king now, today. You can be king over me, I give you my place!
"Keep your place," said Glogmeriss. "Yes, a part of me wants to stay. A part of me is afraid. But that is the part of me that is Glogmeriss, and still a boy. If I don't go home and warn my people and show them how to save themselves from the god, then I will always be a boy, nothing but a boy, call me a king if you want, but I will be a boy-king, a coward, a child until the day I die. So I tell you now, it is the child who dies in this place, not the man
It was the child Glogmeriss who married Zawada. Tell her that a strange man named Naog killed her husband. Let her marry someone else, someone of her own tribe, and never think of Glogmeriss again." Glogmeriss kissed his father- in-law and embraced him. Then he turned away, and with his first step along the path leading back to the Derku people, he knew that he was truly Naog now, the man who would save the Derku people from the fury of the god
Kemal watched the lone man of the Engu clan as he walked away from the beach, as he conversed with his father-in-law, as he turned his face again away from the Gulf of Aden, toward the land of the doomed crocodile- worshippers whose god was no match for the forces about to be unleashed on them. This was the one, Kemal knew, for he had seen the wooden boat--more of a watertight cabin on a raft, actually, with none of this nonsense about taking animals two by two. This was the man of legends, but seeing his face, hearing his voice, Kemal was no closer to understanding him than he had been before. What can we see, using the TruSite II? Only what is visible
We may be able to range through time, to see the most intimate, the most terrible, the most horrifying, the most inspiring moments of human history, but we only see them, we only hear them, we are witnesses but we know nothing of the thing that matters most: motive
Why didn't you stay with your new tribe, Naog? They heeded your warning, and camped always on higher ground during the monsoon season. They lived through the flood, all of them. And when you went home and no one listened to your warnings, why did you stay? What was it that made you remain among them, enduring their ridicule as you built your watertight seedboat? You could have left at any time--there were others who cut themselves loose from their birth tribe and wandered through the world until they found a new home
The Nile was waiting for you. The grasslands of Arabia. They were already there, calling to you, even as your own homeland became poisonous to you. Yet you remained among the Engu, and by doing so, you not only gave the world an unforgettable story, you also changed the course of history. What kind of being is it who can change the course of history, just because he follows his own unbending will
***It was on his third morning that Naog realized that he was not alone on his return journey. He awoke in his tree because he heard shuffling footsteps through the grass nearby. Or perhaps it was something else that woke him--some unhearable yearning that he nevertheless heard. He looked, and saw in the faint light of the thinnest crescent moon that a lone baboon was shambling along, lazy, staggering. No doubt an old male, thought Naog, who will soon be meat for some predator
Then his eyes adjusted and he realized that this lone baboon was not as close as he had thought, that in fact it was much bigger, much TALLER than he had thought. It was not male, either, but female, and far from being a baboon, it was a human, a pregnant woman, and he knew her now and shuddered at his own thought of her becoming the meal for some cat, some crocodile, some pack of dogs
Silently he unfastened himself from his sleeping tree and dropped to the ground. In moments he was beside her
"Zawada," he said
She didn't turn to look at him
"Zawada, what are you doing?
Now she stopped. "Walking," she said
"You're asleep," he said. "You're in a dream.
"No, YOU'RE asleep," she said, giggling madly in her weariness
"Why have you come? I left you.
"I know," she said
"I'm returning to my own people. You have to stay with yours." But he knew even as he said it that she could not go back there, not unless he went with her. Physically she was unable to go on by herself--clearly she had eaten nothing and slept little in three days. Why she had not died already, taken by some beast, he could not guess. But if she was to return to her people, he would have to take her, and he did not want to go back there. It made him very angry, and so his voice burned when he spoke to her
"I wanted to," she said. "I wanted to weep for a year and then make an image of you out of sticks and burn it.
"You should have," he said
"Your son wouldn't let me." As she spoke, she touched her belly
"Son? Has some god told you who he is?
"He came to me himself in a dream, and he said, 'Don't let my father go without me.' So I brought him to you.
"I don't want him, son OR daughter." But he knew even as he said it that it wasn't true
She didn't know it, though. Her eyes welled with tears and she sank down into the grass. "Good, then," she said. "Go on with your journey. I'm sorry the god led me near you, so you had to be bothered." She sank back in the grass. Seeing the faint gleam of light reflected from her skin awoke feelings that Naog was now ashamed of, memories of how she had taught him the easing of a man's passion
"I can't walk off and leave you.
"You already did," she said. "So do it again. I need to sleep now.
"You'll be torn by animals and eaten.
"Let them," she said. "You never chose me, Derku man, I chose YOU. I invited this baby into my body. Now if we die here in the grass, what is that to you? All you care about is not having to watch. So don't watch. Go. The sky is getting light. Run on ahead. If we die, we die. We're nothing to you anyway.
Her words made him ashamed. "I left you knowing you and the baby would be safe, at home. Now you're here and you aren't safe, and I can't walk away from you.
"So run," she said. "I was your wife, and this was your son, but in your heart we're already dead anyway.
"I didn't bring you because you'd have to learn the Derku language
It's much harder than your language.
"I would have had to learn it anyway, you fool," she said. "The baby inside me is a Derku man like you. How would I get him to understand me, if I didn't learn Derku talk?
Naog wanted to laugh aloud at her hopeless ignorance. But then, how would she know? Naog had seen the children of captives and knew that in Derku lands they grew up speaking the Derku language, even when both parents were from another tribe that had not one word of Derku language in it. But Zawada had never seen the babies of strangers; her tribe captured no one, went on no raids, but rather lived at peace, moving from place to place, gathering whatever the earth or the sea had to offer them. How could she match even a small part of the great knowledge of the Derku, who brought the whole world within their city
He wanted to laugh, but he did not laugh. Instead he watched over her as she slept, as the day waxed and waned. As the sun rose he carried her to the tree to sleep in the shade. Keeping his eye open for animals prowling near her, he gathered such leaves and seeds and roots as the ground offered the traveler at this time of year. Twice he came back and found her breath rasping and noisy; then he made her wake enough to drink a little of his water, but she was soon asleep, water glistening on her chin
At last in the late afternoon, with the air was hot and still, he squatted down in the grass beside her and woke her for good, showing her the food. She ate ravenously, and when she was done, she embraced him and called him the best of the gods because he didn't leave her to die after all
"I'm not a god," he said, baffled
"All my people know you are a god, from a land of gods. So large, so powerful, so good. You came us so you could have a human baby. But this baby is only half human. How will he ever be happy, living among US, never knowing the gods?
"You've seen the Heaving Sea, and you call ME a god?
"Take me with you to the land of the Derku. Let me give birth to your baby there. I will leave it with your mother and your sisters, and I will go home. I know I don't belong among the gods, but my baby does.
In his heart, Naog wanted to say yes, you'll stay only till the baby is born, and then you'll go home. But he remembered her patience as he learned the language of her people. He remembered the sweet language of the night, and the way he had to laugh at how she tried to act like a grown woman when she was only a child, and yet she couldn't act like a child because she was, after all, now a woman
Because of me she is a woman, thought Naog, and because of her and her people I will come home a man. Do I tell her she must go away, even though I know that the others will think she's ugly as I thought she was ugly
And she IS ugly, thought Naog. Our son, if he IS a son, will be ugly like her people, too. I will be ashamed of him. I will be ashamed of her
Is a man ashamed of his firstborn son
"Come home with me to the land of the Derku," said Naog. "We will tell them together about the Heaving Sea, and how one day soon it will leap over the low walls of sand and pour into this great plain in a flood that will cover the Derku lands forever. There will be a great migration. We will move, all of us, to the land my father found. The crocodiles live there also, along the banks of the Nile.
"Then you will truly be the greatest among the gods," she said, and the worship in her eyes made him proud and ill-at-ease, both at once. Yet how could he deny that the Derku were gods? Compared to her poor tribe, they would seem so. Thousands of people living in the midst of their own canals; the great fields of planted grain stretching far in every direction; the great wall of earth surrounding the Great Derku; the seedboats scattered like strange soft boulders; the children riding their dragonboats through the canals; a land of miracles to her. Where else in all the world had so many people learned to live together, making great wealth where once there had been only savannah and floodplain
We live like gods, compared to other people. We come like gods out of nowhere, to carry off captives the way death carries people off
Perhaps that is what the life after death is like--the REAL gods using us to dredge their canals. Perhaps that is what all of human life is for, to create slaves for the gods. And what if the gods themselves are also raided by some greater beings yet, carrying THEM off to raise grain in some unimaginable garden? Is there no end to the capturing
There are many strange and ugly captives in Derku, thought Naog. Who will doubt me if I say that this woman is my captive? She doesn't speak the language, and soon enough she would be used to the life. I would be kind to her, and would treat her son well--I would hardly be the first man to father a child on a captive woman
The thought made him blush with shame
"Zawada, when you come to the Derku lands, you will come as my wife," he said. "And you will not have to leave. Our son will know his mother as well as his father.
Her eyes glowed. "You are the greatest and kindest of the gods.
"No," he said, angry now, because he knew very well just exactly how far from "great" and "kind" he really was, having just imagined bringing this sweet, stubborn, brave girl into captivity. "You must never call me a god again. Ever. There is only one god, do you understand me? And it is that god that lives inside the Heaving Sea, the one that brought me to see him and sent me back here to warn my people. Call no one else a god, or you can't stay with me.
Her eyes went wide. "Is there room in the world for only one god?
"When did a crocodile ever bury a whole land under water forever?
Naog laughed scornfully. "All my life I have thought of the Great Derku as a terrible god, worthy of the worship of brave and terrible men. But the Great Derku is just a crocodile. It can be killed with a spear. Imagine stabbing the Heaving Sea. We can't even touch it
And yet the god can lift up that whole sea and pour it over the wall into this plain. THAT isn't just a god. That is GOD.
She looked at him in awe; he wondered whether she understood. And then realized that she could not possibly have understood, because half of what he said was in the Derku language, since he didn't even know enough words in HER language to think of these thoughts, let alone say them
Her body was young and strong, even with a baby inside it, and the next morning she was ready to travel. He did not run now, but even so they covered ground quickly, for she was a sturdy walker. He began teaching her the Derku language as they walked, and she learned well, though she made the words sound funny, as so many captives did, never able to let go of the sounds of their native tongue, never able to pronounce the new ones
Finally he saw the mountains that separated the Derku lands from the Salty Sea, rising from the plain. "Those will be islands," said Naog, realizing it for the first time. "The highest ones. See
They're higher than the shelf of land we're walking on.
Zawada nodded wisely, but he knew that she didn't really understand what he was talking about
"Those are the Derku lands," said Naog. "See the canals and the fields?
She looked, but seemed to see nothing unusual at all. "Forgive me,
she said, "but all I see are streams and grassland.
"But that's what I meant," said Naog. "Except that the grasses grow where we plant them, and all we plant is the grass whose seed we grind into meal. And the streams you see--they go where we want them to go. Vast circles surrounding the heart of the Derku lands. And there in the middle, do you see that hill?
"I think so," she said
"We build that hill every year, after the floodwater.
She laughed. "You tell me that you aren't gods, and yet you make hills and streams and meadows wherever you want them!
Naog set his face toward the Engu portion of the great city. "Come home with me," he said
Since Zawada's people were so small, Naog had not realized that he had grown even taller during his manhood journey, but now as he led his ugly wife through the outskirts of the city, he realized that he was taller than everyone. It took him by surprise, and at first he was disturbed because it seemed to him that everyone had grown smaller. He even said as much to Zawada--"They're all so small"--but she laughed as if it were a joke. Nothing about the place or the people seemed small to HER
At the edge of the Engu lands, Naog hailed the boys who were on watch. "Hai!
"Hai!" they called back
"I've come back from my journey!" he called
It took a moment for them to answer. "What journey was this, tall man?
"My manhood journey. Don't you know me? Can't you see that I'm Naog?
The boys hooted at that. "How can you be naked when you have your napron on?
"Naog is my manhood name," said Naog, quite annoyed now, for he had not expected to be treated with such disrespect on his return. "You probably know of my by my baby name. They called me Glogmeriss.
They hooted again. "You used to be trouble, and now you're naked!
cried the bold one. "And your wife is ugly, too!
But now Naog was close enough that the boys could see how very tall he was. Their faces grew solemn
"My father is Twerk," said Naog. "I return from my manhood journey with the greatest tale ever told. But more important than that, I have a message from the god who lives in the Heaving Sea. When I have given my message, people will include you in my story. They will say, 'Who were the five fools who joked about Naog's name, when he came to save us from the angry god?'
"Twerk is dead," said one of the boys
"The Dragon took him," said another
"He was head of the clan, and then the Great Derku began eating human flesh again, and your father gave himself to the Dragon for the clan's sake.
"Are you truly his son?
Naog felt a gnawing pain that he did not recognize. He would soon learn to call it grief, but it was not too different from rage. "Is this another jest of yours? I'll break your heads if it is.
"By the blood of your father in the mouth of the beast, I swear that it's true!" said the boy who had earlier been the boldest in his teasing. "If you're his son, then you're the son of a great man!
The emotion welled up inside him. "What does this mean?" cried Naog
"The Great Derku does not eat the flesh of men! Someone has murdered my father! He would never allow such a thing!" Whether he meant his father or the Great Derku who would never allow it even Naog did not know
The boys ran off then, before he could strike out at them for being the tellers of such an unbearable tale. Zawada was the only one left, to pat at him, embrace him, try to soothe him with her voice
She abandoned the language of the Derku and spoke to him soothingly in her own language. But all Naog could hear was the news that his father had been fed to the Great Derku as a sacrifice for the clan
The old days were back again, and they had killed his father. His father, and not even a captive! Others of the Engu, hearing what the boys were shouting about, brought him to his mother. Then he began to calm down, hearing her voice, the gentle reassurance of the old sound. She, at least, was unchanged. Except that she looked older, yes, and tired. "It was your father's own choice," she explained to him. "After floodwater this year the Great Derku came into the pen with a human baby in its jaws. It was a two-year-old boy of the Ko clan, and it happened he was the firstborn of his parents.
"This means only that Ko clan wasn't watchful enough," said Naog
"Perhaps," said his mother. "But the holy men saw it as a sign from the god. Just as we stopped giving human flesh to the Great Derku when he refused it, so now when he claimed a human victim, what else were we to think?
"Captives, then. Why not captives?
"It was your own father who said that if the Great Derku had taken a child from the families of the captives, then we would sacrifice captives. But he took a child from one of our clans. What kind of sacrifice is it, to offer strangers when the Great Derku demanded the meat of the Derku people?
"Don't you see, Mother? Father was trying to keep them from sacrificing anybody at all, by making them choose something so painful that no one would do it.
She shook her head. "How do you know what my Twerk was trying to do
He was trying to save YOU.
"Your father was clan leader by then. The holy men said, 'Let each clan give the firstborn son of the clan leader.'
"But I was gone.
"Your father insisted on the ancient privilege, that a father may go in place of his son.
"So he died in my place, because I was gone.
"If you had been here, Glogmeriss, he would have done the same.
He thought about this for a few moments, and then answered only, "My name is Naog now.""We thought you were dead, Naked One, Stirrer of Troubles," said Mother
"I found a wife.
"I saw her. Ugly.
"Brave and strong and smart," said Naog
"Born to be a captive. I chose a different wife for you.
"Zawada is my wife.
Even though Naog had returned from his journey as a man and not a boy, he soon learned that even a man can be bent by the pressure of others. This far he did NOT bend: Zawada remained his wife. But he also took the wife his mother had chosen for him, a beautiful girl named Kormo. Naog was not sure what was worse about the new arrangement--that everyone else treated Kormo as Naog's real wife and Zawada as barely a wife at all, or that when Naog was hungry with passion, it was always Kormo he thought of. But he remembered Zawada at such times, how she bore him his first child, the boy Moiro; how she followed him with such fierce courage; how good she was to him when he was a stranger. And when he remembered, he followed his duty to her rather than his natural desire. This happened so often that Kormo complained about it. This made Naog feel somehow righteous, for the truth was that his first inclination had been right. Zawada should have stayed with her own tribe. She was unhappy most of the time, and kept to herself and her baby, and as years passed, her babies. She was never accepted by the other women of the Derku. Only the captive women became friends with her, which caused even more talk and criticism
Years passed, yes, and where was Naog's great message, the one the god had gone to such great trouble to give him? He tried to tell it
First to the leaders of the Engu clan, the whole story of his journey, and how the Heaving Sea was far higher than the Salty Sea and would soon break through and cover all the land with water. They listened to him gravely, and then one by one they counseled with him that when the gods wish to speak to the Derku people, they will do as they did when the Great Derku ate a human baby. "Why would a god who wished to send a message to the Derku people choose a mere BOY as messenger?
"Because I was the one who was taking the journey," he said
"What will you have us do? Abandon our lands? Leave our canals behind, and our boats?
"The Nile has fresh water and a flood season, my father saw it.
"But the Nile also has strong tribes living up and down its shores
Here we are masters of the world. No, we're not leaving on the word of a boy.
They insisted that he tell no one else, but he didn't obey them. In fact he told anyone who would listen, but the result was the same
For his father's memory or for his mother's sake, or perhaps just because he was so tall and strong, people listened politely--but Naog knew at the end of each telling of his tale that nothing had changed. No one believed him. And when he wasn't there, they repeated his stories as if they were jokes, laughing about riding a castrated bull ox, about calling a tree branch his brother, and most of all about the idea of a great flood that would never go away
Poor Naog, they said. He clearly lost his mind on his manhood journey, coming home with impossible stories that he obviously believes and an ugly woman that he dotes on
Zawada urged him to leave. "You know that the flood is coming," she said. "Why not take your family up and out of here? Go to the Nile ourselves, or return to my father's tribe.
But he wouldn't hear of it. "I would go if I could bring my people with me. But what kind of man am I, to leave behind my mother and my brothers and sisters, my clan and all my kin?
"You would have left me behind," she said once. He didn't answer her. He also didn't go
In the third year after his return, when he had three sons to take riding on his dragonboat, he began the strangest project anyone had ever seen. No one was surprised, though, that crazy Naog would do something like this. He began to take several captives with him upriver to a place where tall, heavy trees grew. There they would wear out stone axes cutting down trees, then shape them into logs and ride them down the river. Some people complained that the captives belonged to everybody and it was wrong for Naog to have their exclusive use for so many days, but Naog was such a large and strange man that no one wanted to push the matter
One or two at a time, they came to see what Naog was doing with the logs. They found that he had taught his captives to notch them and lash them together into a huge square platform, a dozen strides on a side. Then they made a second platform crossways to the first and on top of it, lashing every log to ever other log, or so it seemed
Between the two layers he smeared pitch, and then on the top of the raft he built a dozen reed structures like the tops of seedboats
Before floodwater he urged his neighbors to bring him their grain, and he would keep it all dry. A few of them did, and when the rivers rose during floodwater, everyone saw that his huge seedboat floated, and no water seeped up from below into the seedhouses. More to the point, Naog's wives and children also lived on the raft, dry all the time, sleeping easily through the night instead of having to remain constantly wakeful, watching to make sure the children didn't fall into the water
The next year, Engu clan built several more platforms following Naog's pattern. They didn't always lash them as well as he had, and during the next flood several of their rafts came apart--but gradually, so they had time to move the seeds. Engu clan had far more seed make it through to planting season than any of the other tribes, and soon the men had to range farther and farther upriver, because all the nearer trees of suitable size had been harvested
Naog himself, though, wasn't satisfied. It was Zawada who pointed out that when the great flood came, the water wouldn't rise gradually as it did in the river floods. "It'll be like the waves against the shore, crashing with such force ... and these reed shelters will never hold against such a wave.
For several years Naog experimented with logs until at last he had the largest movable structure ever built by human hands. The raft was as long as ever, but somewhat narrower. Rising from notches between logs in the upper platform were sturdy vertical posts, and these were bridged and roofed with wood. But instead of using logs for the planking and the roofing, Naog and the captives who served him split the logs carefully into planks, and these were smeared inside and out with pitch, and then another wall and ceiling were built inside, sandwiching the tar between them. People were amused to see Naog's captives hoisting dripping baskets of water to the roof of this giant seedboat and pouring them out onto it. "What, does he think that if he waters these trees, they'll grow like grass?" Naog heard them, but he cared not at all, for when they spoke he was inside his boat, seeing that not a drop of water made it inside
The doorway was the hardest part, because it, too, had to be able to be sealed against the flood. Many nights Naog lay awake worrying about it before building this last and largest and tightest seedboat. The answer came to him in a dream. It was a memory of the little crabs that lived in the sand on the shore of the Heaving Sea
They dug holes in the sand and then when the water washed over them, their holes filled in above their heads, keeping out the water. Naog awoke knowing that he must put the door in the roof of his seedboat, and arrange a way to lash it from the inside
"How will you see to lash it?" said Zawada. "There's no light inside.
So Naog and his three captives learned to lash the door in place in utter darkness
When they tested it, water leaked through the edges of the door. The solution was to smear more pitch, fresh pitch, around the edges of the openingand lay the door into it so that when they lashed it the seal was tight. It was very hard to open the door again after that, but they got it open from the inside--and when they could see again they found that not a drop of water had got inside. "No more trials," said Naog
Their work then was to gather seeds--and more than seeds this time
Water, too. The seeds went into baskets with lids that were lashed down, and the water went into many, many flasks. Naog and his captives and their wives worked hard during every moment of daylight to make the waterbags and seedbaskets and fill them. The Engu didn't mind at all storing more and more of their grain in Naog's boat--after all, it was ludicrously watertight, so that it was sure to make it through the flood season in fine form. They didn't have to believe in his nonsense about a god in the Heaving Sea that was angry with the Derku people in order to recognize a good seedboat when they saw it
His boat was nearly full when word spread that a group of new captives from the southeast were telling tales of a new river of saltwater that had flowed into the Salty Sea from the direction of the Heaving Sea. When Naog heard the news, he immediately climbed a tree so he could look toward the southeast. "Don't be silly," they said to him. "You can't see the Salty Shore from here, even if you climb the tallest tree.
"I was looking for the flood," said Naog. "Don't you see that the Heaving Sea must have broken through again, when a storm whipped the water into madness. Then the storm subsided, and the sea stopped flowing over the top. But the channel must be wider and longer and deeper now. Next time it won't end when the storm ends. Next time it will be the great flood.
"How do you know these things, Naog? You're a man like the rest of us. Just because you're taller doesn't mean you can see the future.
"The god is angry," said Naog. "The true god, not this silly crocodile god that you feed on human flesh." And now, in the urgency of knowing the imminence of the flood, he said what he had said to no one but Zawada. "Why do you think the true god is so angry with us? Because of the crocodile! Because we feed human flesh to the Dragon! The true god doesn't want offerings of human flesh. It's an abomination. It's as forbidden as the forbidden fruit. The crocodile god is not a god at all, it's just a wild animal, one that crawls on its belly, and yet we bow down to it. We bow down to the enemy of the true god!
Hearing him say this made the people angry. Some were so furious they wanted to feed him to the Great Derku at once, but Naog only laughed at them. "If the Great Derku is such a wonderful god, let HIM come and get me, instead of you taking me! But no, you don't believe for a moment that he CAN do it. Yet the TRUE god had the power to send me a castrated bull to ride, and a log to save me from a flood, and trees to catch the lightning so it wouldn't strike me
When has the Dragon ever had the power to do THAT?
His ridicule of the Great Derku infuriated them, and violence might have resulted, had Naog not had such physical presence, and had his father not been a noble sacrifice to the Dragon. Over the next weeks, though, it became clear that Naog was now regarded by all as something between an enemy and a stranger. No one came to speak to him, or to Zawada, either. Only Kormo continued to have contact with the rest of the Derku people
"They want me to leave you," she told him. "They want me to come back to my family, because you are the enemy of the god.
"And will you go?" he said
She fixed her sternest gaze on him. "You are my family now," she said. "Even when you prefer this ugly woman to me, you are still my husband.
Naog's mother came to him once, to warn him. "They have decided tokill you. They're simply biding their time, waiting for the right moment.
"Waiting for the courage to fight me, you mean," said Naog
"Tell them that a madness came upon you, but it's over," she said
"Tell them that it was the influence of this ugly foreign wife of yours, and then they'll kill her and not you.
Naog didn't bother to answer her
His mother burst into tears. "Was this what I bore you for? I named you very well, Glogmeriss, my son of trouble and anguish!
"Listen to me, Mother. The flood is coming. We may have very little warning when it actually comes, very little time to get into my seedboat. Stay near, and when you hear us calling--
"I'm glad your father is dead rather than to see his firstborn son so gone in madness.
"Tell all the others, too, Mother. I'll take as many into my seedboat as will fit. But once the door in the roof is closed, I can't open it again. Anyone who isn't inside when we close it will never get inside, and they will die."She burst into tears and left
Not far from the seedboat was a high hill. As the rainy season neared, Naog took to sending one of his servants to the top of the hill several times a day, to watch toward the southeast. "What should we look for?" they asked. "I don't know," he answered. "A new river. A wall of water. A dark streak in the distance. It will be something that you've never seen before.
The sky filled with clouds, dark and threatening. The heart of the storm was to the south and east. Naog made sure that his wives and children and the wives and children of his servants didn't stray far from the seedboat. They freshened the water in the waterbags, to stay busy. A few raindrops fell, and then the rain stopped, and then a few more raindrops. But far to the south and east it was raining heavily. And the wind--the wind kept rising higher and higher, and it was out of the east. Naog could imagine it whipping the waves higher and farther into the deep channel that the last storm had opened. He imagined the water spilling over into the salty riverbed
He imagined it tearing deeper and deeper into the sand, more and more of it tearing away under the force of the torrent. Until finally it was no longer the force of the storm driving the water through the channel, but the weight of the whole sea, because at last it had been cut down below the level of low tide. And then the sea tearing deeper and deeper
"Naog." It was the head of the Engu clan, and a dozen men with him
"The god is ready for you.
Naog looked at them as if they were foolish children. "This is the storm," he said. "Go home and bring your families to my seedboat, so they can come through the flood alive.
"This is no storm," said the head of the clan. "Hardly any rain has fallen.
The servant who was on watch came running, out of breath, his arms bleeding where he had skidded on the ground as he fell more than once in his haste. "Naog, master!" he cried. "It's plain to see--the Salty Shore is nearer. The Salty Sea is rising, and fast.
What a torrent of water it would take, to make the Salty Sea rise in its bed. Naog covered his face with his hands. "You're right," said Naog. "The god is ready for me. The true god. It was for this hour that I was born. As for YOUR god--the true god will drown him as surely as he will drown anyone who doesn't come to my seedboat.
"Come with us now," said the head of the clan. But his voice was not so certain now
To his servants and his wives, Naog said, "Inside the seedboat. When all are in, smear on the pitch, leaving only one side where I can slide down.
"You come too, husband," said Zawada
"I can't," he said. "I have to give warning one last time.
"Too late!" cried the servant with the bleeding arms. "Come now.
"You go now," said Naog. "I'll be back soon. But if I'm not back, seal the door and open it for no man, not even me.
"When will I know to do that?" he asked in anguish
"Zawada will tell you," said Naog. "She'll know." Then he turned to the head of the clan. "Come with me," he said. "Let's give the warning." Then Naog strode off toward the bank of the canal where his mother and brothers and sisters kept their dragonboats. The men who had come to capture him followed him, unsure who had captured whom
It was raining again, a steady rainfall whipped by an ever-stronger wind. Naog stood on the bank of the canal and shouted against the wind, crying out for his family to join him. "There's not much time!" he cried. "Hurry, come to my seedboat!
"Don't listen to the enemy of the god!" cried the head of the clan
Naog looked down into the water of the canal. "Look, you fools! Can't you see that the canal is rising?
"The canal always rises in a storm.
Naog knelt down and dipped his hand into the canal and tasted the water. "Salt," he said. "Salt!" he shouted. "This isn't rising because of rain in the mountains! The water is rising because the Salty Sea is filling with the water of the Heaving Sea. It's rising to cover us! Come with me now, or not at all! When the door of my seedboat closes, we'll open it for no one." Then he turned and loped off toward the seedboat
By the time he got there, the water was spilling over the banks of the canals, and he had to splash through several shallow streams where there had been no streams before. Zawada was standing on top of the roof, and screamed at him to hurry as he clambered onto the top of it. He looked in the direction she had been watching, and saw what she had seen. In the distance, but not so very far away, a dark wall rushing toward them. A plug of earth must have broken loose, and a fist of the sea hundreds of feet high was slamming through the gap. It spread at once, of course, and as it spread the wave dropped until it was only fifteen or twenty feet high. But that was high enough. It would do
"You fool!" cried Zawada. "Do you want to watch it or be saved from it?
Naog followed Zawada down into the boat. Two of the servants smeared on a thick swatch of tar on the fourth side of the doorway. Then Naog, who was the only one tall enough to reach outside the hole, drew the door into place, snugging it down tight. At once it became perfectly dark inside the seedboat, and silent, too, except for the breathing. "This time for real," said Naog softly. He could hear the other men working at the lashings. They could feel the floor moving under them--the canals had spilled over so far now that the raft was rising and floating
Suddenly they heard a noise. Someone was pounding on the wall of the seedboat. And there was shouting. They couldn't hear the words, the walls were too thick. But they knew what was being said all the same. Save us. Let us in. Save us
Kormo's voice was filled with anguish. "Naog, can't we--
"If we open it now we'll never close it again in time. We'd all die
They had every chance and every warning. My lashing is done.
"Mine too," answered one of the servants
The silence of the others said they were still working hard
"Everyone hold onto the side posts," said Naog. "There's so much room here. We could have taken on so many more.
The pounding outside was in earnest now. They were using axes to hack at the wood. Or at the lashings. And someone was on top of the seedboat now, many someones, trying to pry at the door
"Now, O God, if you mean to save us at all, send the water now.
"Done," said another of the servants. So three of the four corners were fully lashed
Suddenly the boat lurched and rocked upward, then spun crazily in every direction at once. Everyone screamed, and few were able to keep their handhold, such was the force of the flood. They plunged to one side of the seedboat, a jumble of humans and spilling baskets and water bottles. Then they struck something--a tree? The side of a mountain?--and lurched in another direction entirely, and in the darkness it was impossible to tell anymore whether they were on the floor or the roof or one of the walls
Did it go on for days, or merely hours? Finally the awful turbulence gave way to a spinning all in one plane. The flood was still rising; they were still caught in the twisting currents; but they were no longer caught in that wall of water, in the great wave that the god had sent. They were on top of the flood
Gradually they sorted themselves out. Mothers found their children, husbands found their wives. Many were crying, but as the fear subsided they were able to find the ones who were genuinely in pain
But what could they do in the darkness to deal with bleeding injuries, or possible broken bones? They could only plead with the god to be merciful and let them know when it was safe to open the door
After a while, though, it became plain that it wasn't safe NOT to open it. The air was musty and hot and they were beginning to pant
"I can't breathe," said Zawada. "Open the door," said Kormo
Naog spoke aloud to the god. "We have no air in here," he said. "I have to open the door. Make it safe. Let no other wave wash over us with the door open.
But when he went to open the door, he couldn't find it in the darkness. For a sickening moment he thought: What if we turned completely upside down, and the door is now under us? I never thought of that. We'll die in here
Then he found it, and began fussing with the lashings. But it was hard in the darkness. They had tied so hurriedly, and he wasn't thinking all that well. But soon he heard the servants also at work, muttering softly, and one by one they got their lashings loose and Naog shoved upward on the door
It took forever before the door budged, or so it seemed, but when at last it rocked upward, a bit of faint light and a rush of air came into the boat and everyone cried out at once in relief and gratitude. Naog pushed the door upward and then maneuvered it to lie across the opening at an angle, so that the heavy rain outside wouldn't inundate them. He stood there holding the door in place, even though the wind wanted to pick it up and blow it away--a slab of wood as heavy as that one was!--while in twos and threes they came to the opening and breathed, or lifted children to catch a breath of air. There was enough light to bind up some bleeding injuries, and to realize that no bones were broken after all
The rain went on forever, or so it seemed, the rain and the wind
And then it stopped, and they were able to come out onto the roof of the seedboat and look at the sunlight and stare at the distant horizon. There was no land at all, just water. "The whole earth is gone," said Kormo. "Just as you said
"The Heaving Sea has taken over this place," said Naog. "But we'll come to try land. The current will take us there.
There was much debris floating on the water--torn-up trees and bushes, for the flood had scraped the whole face of the land. A few rotting bodies of animals. If anyone saw a human body floating by, they said nothing about it
After days, a week, perhaps longer of floating without sight of land, they finally began skirting a shoreline. Once they saw the smoke of someone's fire--people who lived high above the great valley of the Salty Sea had been untouched by the flood. But there was no way to steer the boat toward shore. Like a true seedboat, it drifted unless something drew it another way. Naog cursed himself for his foolishness in not including dragonboats in the cargo of the boat. He and the other men and women might have tied lines to the seedboat and to themselves and paddled the boat to shore. As it was, they would last only as long as their water lasted
It was long enough. The boat fetched up against a grassy shore. Naog sent several of the servants ashore and they used a rope to tie the boat to a tree. But it was useless--the current was still too strong, and the boat tore free. They almost lost the servants, stranding them on the shore, forever separated from their families, but they had the presence of mind to swim for the end of the rope
The next day they did better--more lines, all the men on shore, drawing the boat further into a cove that protected it from the current. They lost no time in unloading the precious cargo of seeds, and searching for a source of fresh water. Then they began the unaccustomed task of hauling all the baskets of grain by hand. There were no canals to ease the labor
"Perhaps we can find a place to dig canals again," said Kormo
"No!" said Zawada vehemently. "We will never build such a place again. Do you want the god to send another flood?
"There will be no other flood," said Naog. "The Heaving Sea has had its victory. But we will also build no canals. We will keep no crocodile, or any other animal as our god. We will never sacrifice forbidden fruit to any god, because the true god hates those who do that. And we will tell our story to anyone who will listen to it, so that others will learn how to avoid the wrath of the true god, the god of power.
Kemal watched as Naog and his people came to shore not far from Gibeil and set up farming in the El Qa' Valley in the shadows of the mountains of Sinai. The fact of the flood was well known, and many travelers came to see this vast new sea where once there had been dry land. More and more of them also came to the new village that Naog and his people built, and word of his story also spead
Kemal's work was done. He had found Atlantis. He had found Noah, and Gilgamesh. Many of the stories that had collected around those names came from other cultures and other times, but the core was true, and Kemal had found them and brought them back to the knowledge of humankind
But what did it mean? Naog gave warning, but no one listened. His story remained in people's minds, but what difference did it make
As far as Kemal was concerned, all old-world civilizations after Atlantis were dependent on that first civilization. The IDEA of the city was already with the Egyptians and the Sumerians and the people of the Indus and even the Chinese, because the story of the Derku people, under one name or another, had spread far and wide--the Golden Age. People remembered well that once there was a great land that was blessed by the gods until the sea rose up and swallowed their land. People who lived in different landscapes tried to make sense of the story. To the island-hopping Greeks Atlantis became an island that sank into the sea. To the plains-dwelling Sumerians the flood was caused by rain, not by the sea leaping out of its bed to swallow the earth. Someone wondered how, if all the land was covered, the animals survived, and thus the account of animals two by two was added to the story of Naog. At some point, when people still remembered that the name meant "naked," a story was added about his sons covering his nakedness as he lay in a drunken stupor
All of this was decoration, however. People remembered both the Derku people and the one man who led his family through the flood
But they would have remembered Atlantis with or without Naog, Kemal knew that. What difference did his saga make, to anyone but himself and his household? As others studied the culture of the Derku, Kemal remained focused on Naog himself. If anything, Naog's life was proof that one person makes no difference at all in history. He saw the flood coming, he warned his people about it when there was plenty of time, he showed them how to save themselves, and yet nothing changed outside his own immediate family group. That was the way history worked. Great forces sweep people along, and now and then somebody floats to the surface and becomes famous but it means nothing, it amounts to nothing
Yet Kemal could not believe it. Naog may not have accomplished what he THOUGHT his goal was--to save his people--but he did accomplish something. He never lived to see the result of it, but because of his survival the Atlantis stories were tinged with something else
It was not just a golden age, not just a time of greatness and wealth and leisure and city life, a land of giants and gods. Naog's version of the story also penetrated the public consciousness and remained. The people were destroyed because the greatest of gods was offended by their sins. The list of sins shifted and changed over time, but certain ideas remained: That it was wrong to live in a city, where people get lifted up in the pride of their hearts and think that they are too powerful for the gods to destroy. That the one who seems to be crazy may in fact be the only one who sees the truth. That the greatest of gods is the one you can't see, the one who has power over the earth and the sea and the sky, all at once
And, above all, this: That it was wrong to sacrifice human beings to the gods
It took thousands of years, and there were places where Naog's passionate doctrine did not penetrate until modern times, but the root of it was there in the day he came home and found that his father had been fed to the Dragon. Those who thought that it was right to offer human beings to the Dragon were all dead, and the one who had long proclaimed that it was wrong was still alive. The god had preserved him and killed all of them. Wherever the idea of Atlantis spread, some version of this story came with it, and in the end all the great civilizations that were descended from Atlantis learned not to offer the forbidden fruit to the gods
In the Americas, though, no society grew up that owed a debt to Atlantis, for the same rising of the world ocean that closed the land bridge between Yemen and Djibouti also broke the land bridge between America and the old world. The story of Naog did not touch there, and it seemed to Kemal absolutely clear what the cost of that was. Because they had no memory of Atlantis, it took the people of the Americas thousands of years longer to develop civilization--the city. Egypt was already ancient when the Olmecs first built amid the swampy land of the bay of Campeche. And because they had no story of Naog, warning that the most powerful of gods rejected killing human beings, the old ethos of human sacrifice remained in full force, virtually unquestioned. The carnage of the Mexica--the Aztecs--took it to the extreme, but it was there already, throughout the Caribbean basin, a tradition of human blood being shed to feed the hunger of the gods
Kemal could hardly say that the bloody warfare of the old world was much of an improvement over this. But it was different, and in his mind, at least, it was different specifically because of Naog. If he had not ridden out the flood to tell his story of the true God who forbade sacrifice, the old world would not have been the same. New civilizations might have risen more quickly, with no stories warning of the danger of city life. And those new civilizations might all have worshiped the same Dragon, or some other, as hungry for human flesh as the gods of the new world were hungry for human blood
On the day that Kemal became sure that his Noah had actually changed the world, he was satisfied. He said little and wrote nothing about his conclusion. This surprised even him, for in all the months and years that he had searched hungrily for Atlantis, and then for Noah, and then for the meaning of Noah's saga, Kemal had assumed that, like Schliemann, he would publish everything, he would tell the world the great truth that he had found. But to his surprise he discovered that he must not have searched so far for the sake of science, or for fame, or for any other motive than simply to know, for himself, that one person's life amounted to something. Naog changed the world, but then so did Zawada, and so did Kormo, and so did the servant who skinned his elbows running down the hill, and so did Naog's father and mother, and ... and in the end, so did they all. The great forces of history were real, after a fashion. But when you examined them closely, those great forces always came down to the dreams and hungers and judgments of individuals. The choices they made were real. They mattered
Apparently that was all that Kemal had needed to know. The next day he could think of no reason to go to work. He resigned from his position at the head of the Atlantis project. Let others do the detail work. Kemal was well over thirty now, and he had found the answer to his great question, and it was time to get down to the business of living
BUT WE TRY NOT TO ACT LIKE IT
There was no line. Hiram Cloward commented on it to the pointy-faced man behind the counter. "There's no line."
"This is the complaint department. We pride ourselves on having few complaints." The pointy-faced man had a prim little smile that irritated Hiram. "What's the matter with your television?"
"It shows nothing but soaps, that's what's the matter. And asinine gothics."
"Well-- that's programming, sir, not mechanical at all."
"It's mechanical. I can't turn the damn set off."
"What's your name and social security number?"
"Hiram Cloward. 528-80-693883-7."
"That's singles, sir. Of course you can't turn off your set."
"You mean because I'm not married I can't turn off my television?"
"According to congressionally authorized scientific studies carried out over a
three-year period from 1989 to 1991, it is imperative that persons living alone have the constant companionship of their television sets."
"I like solitude. I also like silence."
"But the Congress passed a law, sir, and we can't disobey the law--"
"Can't I talk to somebody intelligent?"
The pointy-faced man flared a moment, his eyes burning. But he instantly regained his composure, and said in measured tones, "As a matter of fact, as soon as any complainant becomes offensive or hostile, we immediately refer them to section A-6." "What's that, the hit squad?" "It's behind that door." And Hiram followed the pointing finger to the glass door at the far end of the
waiting room. Inside was an office, which was filled with comfortable, homey knickknacks, several chairs, a desk, and a man so offensively nordic that even Hitler would have resented him. "Hello," the Aryan said, warmly.
"Hi." "Please, sit down." Hiram sat, the courtesy and warmth making him feel even more resentful-- did
they think they could fool him into believing he was not being grossly imposed upon? "So you don't like something about your programming?" said the Aryan.
"Your programming, you mean. It sure as hell isn't mine. I don't know why Bell Television thinks it has the right to impose its idea of fun and entertainment on me twenty-four hours a day, but I'm fed up with it. It was bad enough when there was some variety, but for the last two months I've been getting nothing but soaps and gothics."
"It took you two months to notice?" "I try to ignore the set. I like to read. You can bet that if I had more than my stinking little pension from our loving government, I could pay to have a room
where there wasn't a TV so I could have some peace." "I really can't help your financial situation. And the law's the law." "Is that all I'm going to hear from you? The law? I could have heard that from
the pointy-faced jerk out there." "Mr. Cloward, looking at your records, I can certainly see that soaps and gothics
are not appropriate for you." "They aren't appropriate," Hiram said, "for anyone with an IQ over eight." The Aryan nodded. "You feel that people who enjoy soaps and gothics aren't
the intellectual equals of people who don't." "Damn right. I have a Ph.D. in literature, for heaven's sake!" The Aryan was all sympathy. "Of course you don't like soaps! I'm sure it's a mistake. We try not to make mistakes, but we're only human-- except the computers, of course." It was a joke, but Hiram didn't laugh. The Aryan kept up the small talk as he looked at the computer terminal that he could see and Hiram could not. "We may be the only television company in town, you know, but--"
"But you try not to act like it."
"Yes. Ha. Well, you must have heard our advertising."
"Well, let's see now. Hiram Cloward, Ph.D. Nebraska 1981. English literature, twentieth century, with a minor in Russian literature. Dissertation on Dostoevski's influence on English-language novelists. A near-perfect class attendance record, and a reputation for arrogance and competence."
"How much do you know about me?"
"Only the standard consumer research data. But we do have a bit of a problem."
Hiram waited, but the Aryan merely punched a button, leaned back, and looked
at Hiram. His eyes were kindly and warm and intense. It made Hiram uncomfortable.
"You are unemployed."
"Few people are willingly unemployed, Mr. Cloward. But you have no job. You also have no family. You also have no friends."
"That's consumer research? What, only people with friends buy Rice Krispies?"
"As a matter of fact, Rice Krispies are favored by solitary people. We have to know who is more likely to be receptive to advertising and we direct our programming accordingly."
Hiram remembered that he ate Rice Krispies for breakfast almost every morning. He vowed on the spot to switch to something else. Quaker Oats, for instance. Surely they were more gregarious. "You understand the importance of the Selective Programming Broadcast Act of 1985, yes?"
"It was deemed unfair by the Supreme Court for all programming to be geared to the majority. Minorities were being slighted. And so Bell Television was given the assignment of preparing an individually selected broadcast system so that each individual, in his own home, would have the programming perfect for him."
"I know all this."
"I must go over it again anyway, Mr. Cloward, because I'm going to have to help you understand why there can be no change in your programming."
Hiram stiffened in his chair, his hands flexing. "I knew you bastards wouldn't change."
"Mr. Cloward, we bastards would be delighted to change. But we are very closely regulated by the goverrunent to provide the most healthful programming for every American citizen. Now, I will continue my review."
"I'll just go home, if you don't mind."
"Mr. Cloward, we are directed to prepare programming for minorities as small as ten thousand people-- but no smaller. Even for minorities of ten thousand the programming is ridiculously expensive-- a program seen by so few costs far more per watching-minute to produce than one seen by thirty or forty million. However, you belong to a minority even smaller than ten thousand."
"That makes me feel so special."
"Furthermore, the Consumer Protection Broadcast Act of 1989 and the regulations of the Consumer Broadcast Agency since then have given us very strict guidelines. Mr. Cloward, we cannot show you any program with overt acts of violence."
"Because you have tendencies toward hostility that are only exacerbated by viewing violence. Similarly, we cannot show you any programs with sex."
Cloward's face turned red. "You have no sex life whatsoever, Mr. Cloward. Do you realize how dangerous that is? You don't even masturbate. The tension and hostility inside you must be tremendous."
Cloward leaped to his feet. There were limits to what a man had to put up with. He headed for the door.
"Mr. Cloward, I'm sorry." The Aryan followed him to the door. "I don't make these things up. Wouldn't you rather know why these decisions are reached?
Hiram stopped at the door, his hand on the knob. The Aryan was right. Better to know why than to hate them for it.
"How," Hiram asked. "How do they know what I do and do not do within the walls of my home?"
"We don't know, of course, but we're pretty sure. We've studied people for years. We know that people who have certain buying patterns and certain living patterns behave in certain ways. And, unfortunately, you have strong destructive tendencies. Repression and denial are your primary means of adaptation to stress-- that and, unfortunately, occasional acting out."
"What the hell does all that mean?"
"It means that you lie to yourself until you can't anymore, and then you attack somebody."
Hiram's face was packed with hot blood, throbbing. I must look like a tomato, he told himself, and deliberately calmed himself. I don't care, he thought. They're
wrong anyway. Damn scientific tests.
"Aren't there any movies you could program for me?"
"I am sorry, no."
"Not all movies have sex and violence."
The Aryan smiled soothingly. "The movies that don't wouldn't interest you
"Then turn the damn thing off and let me read!"
"We can't do that."
"Can't you turn it down?" "No."
"I am so sick of hearing all about Sarah Wynn and her danm love life!"
"But isn't Sarah Wynn attractive?" asked the Aryan.
That stopped Hiram cold. He dreamed about Sarah Wynn at night. He said
nothing. He had no attraction to Sarah Wynn.
"Isn't she?" the Aryan insisted.
"Isn't who what?"
"Who was talking about Sarah Wynn? What about documentaries?"
"Mr. Cloward, you would become extremely hostile if the news programs were
broadcast to you. You know that."
"Walter Cronkite's dead. Maybe I'd like them better now."
"You don't care about the news of the real world, Mr. Cloward, do you?"
"Then you see where we are. Not one iota of our programming is really appropriate for you. But ninety percent of it is downright harmful to you. And we can't turn the television off, because of the Solitude Act. Do you see our dilemma?"
"Do you see mine?"
"Of course, Mr. Cloward. And I sympathize completely. Make some friends, Mr.
Cloward, and we'll turn off your television."
And so the interview was over.
For two days Cloward brooded. All the time he did, Sarah Wynn was grieving over her three-days' husband who had just been killed in a car wreck on Wilshire Boulevard, wherever the hell that was. But now the body was scarcely cold and already her old suitors were back, trying to help her, trying to push their love on her. "Can't you let yourself depend on me, just a little?" asked Teddy, the handsome one with lots of money.
"I don't like depending on people," Sarah answered.
"You depended on George." George was the husband's name. The dead one.
"I know," she said, and cried for a moment. Sarah Wynn was good at crying. Hiram Cloward turned another page in The Brothers Karamazov.
"You need friends," Teddy insisted.
"Oh, Teddy, I know it," she said, weeping. "Will you be my friend?"
"Who writes this stuff?" Hiram Cloward asked aloud. Maybe the Aryan in the television company offices had been right. Make some friends. Get the damn set turned off whatever the cost.
He got up from his chair and went out into the corridor in the apartment building. Clearly posted on the walls were several announcements:
Chess club 5-9 wed
Encounter groups nightly at 7
Learn to knit 6:30 bring yarn and needles
Games games games in game room (basement)
Just want to chat? Friends of the Family 7:30 to 10:30 nightly
Friends of the Family? Hiram snorted. Family was his maudlin mother and her constant weeping about how hard life was and how no one in her right mind would ever be born a woman if anybody had any choice but there was no choice and marriage was a trap men sprung on women, giving them a few minutes of pleasure for a lifetime of drudgery, and I swear to God if it wasn't for my little baby Hiram I'd ditch that bastard for good, it's for your sake I don't leave, my little baby, because if I leave you'll grow up into a macho bastard like your beerbelly father.
And friends? What friends ever come around when good old Dad is boozing and belting the living crap out of everybody he can get his hands on?
I read. That's what I do. The Prince and the Pauper. Connecticut Yankee. Pride and Prejudice. Worlds within worlds within worlds, all so pretty and polite and funny as hell.
Friends of the Family. Worth a shot, anyway. Hiram went to the elevator and descended eighteen floors to the Fun Floor. Friends of the Family were in quite a large room with alcohol at one end and soda pop at the other. Hiram was surprised to discover that the term soda pop had been revived. He walked to the cola sign and asked the woman for a Coke.
"How many cups of coffee have you had today?" she asked.
"Then I'm so sorry, but I can't give you a soda pop with caffeine in it. May I
"You may not," Hiram said, clenching his teeth. "We're too damn overprotected."
"Exactly how I feel," said a woman standing beside him, Sprite in hand. "They protect and protect and protect, and what good does it do? People still die, you know."
"I suspected as much," Hiram said, struggling for a smile, wondering if his humor sounded funny or merely sarcastic. Apparently funny. The woman
"Oh, you're a gem, you are," she said. "What do you do?"
"I'm a detached professor of literature at Princeton."
"But how can you live here and work there?"
He shrugged. "I don't work there. I said detached. When the new television
teaching came in, my PQ was too low. I'm not a screen personality." "So few of us are," she said sagely, nodding and smiling. "Oh, how I long for the
good old days. When ugly men like David Brinkley could deliver the news."
"You remember Brinkley?"
"Actually, no," she said, laughing. "I just remember my mother talking about him." Hiram looked at her appreciatively. Nose not very straight, of course-- but that seemed to be the only thing keeping her off TV. Nice voice. Nice nice face. Body.
She put her hand on his thigh.
"What are you doing tonight?" she asked.
"Watching television," he grimaced.
"Really? What do you have?"
She squealed in delight. "Oh, how wonderful! We must be kindred spirits then! I have Sarah Wynn, too!"
Hiram tried to smile.
"Can I come up to your apartment?"
Danger signal. Hand moving up thigh. Invitation to apartment. Sex.
And Hiram remembered that the only way he could ever get rid of the television was to prove that he wasn't solitary. And fixing up his sex life-- i.e., having one-- would go a long way toward changing their damn profiles. "Come, on," he said, and they left the Friends of the Family without further ado.
Inside the apartment she immediately took off her shoes and blouse and sat down on the old-fashioned sofa in front of the TV. "Oh," she said, "so many books. You really are a profes6or, aren't you?"
"Yeah," he said, vaguely sensing that the next move was up to him, and not having the faintest idea of what the next move was. He thought back to is only fumbling attempt at sex when he was (what?) thirteen? (no) fourteen and the girl was fifteen and was doing it on a lark. She had walked with him up the creekbed (back when there were creeks and open country) and suddenly she had stopped and unzipped his pants (back when there were zippers) but he was finished before she had hardly started and gave upinm disgust and took his pants and ran away. Her name was Diana. He went home without his pants and had no rational explanation and his mother had treated him with loathing and brought it up again and again for years afterward, how a man is a man no matter how you treat him and he'll still get it when he can, who cares about the poor girl. But Hiram was used to that kind of talk. It rolled off him. What haunted him was the uncontrolled shivering of his body, the ecstacy of it, and then the look of disgust on the girl's face. He had thought it was because-- well, never mind. Never mind, he thought. I don't think of this anymore.
"Come on," said the woman. "What's your name?" Hiram asked.
She looked at the ceiling. "Agnes, for heaven's sake, come on."
He decided that taking off his shirt might be a good idea. She watched, then
decided to help.
"No," he said.
"Don't touch me."
"Oh for pete's sake. What's wrong? Impotent?"
Not at all. Not at all. Just uninterested. Is that all right?
"Look, I don't want to play around with a psycho case, all right? I've got better
things to do. I make a hundred a whack, that's what I charge, that's standard, right?"
Standard what? Hiram nodded because he didn't dare ask what she was talking about.
"But you obviously, heaven knows how, buddy, you sure as hell obviously don't know what's going on in the world. Twenty bucks. Enough for the ten minutes you've screwed up for me. Right?"
"I don't have twenty," Hiram said.
Her eyes got tight. "A fairy and a deadbeat. What a pick. Look, buddy, next time
you try a pickup, figure out what you want to do with her first, right?"
She picked up her shoes and blouse and left. Hiram stood there.
"Teddy, no," said Sarah Wynn.
"But I need you. I need you so desperately," said Teddy on the screen.
"It's only been a few days. How can I sleep with another man only a few days
after George was killed? Only four days ago we-- oh, no, Teddy. Please."
"Then when? How soon? I love you so much."
Drivel, George thought in his analytical mind. But nevertheless obviously based
on the Penelope story. No doubt her George, her Odysseus, would return, miraculously alive, ready to sweep her back into wedded bliss. But in the meantime, the suitors: enough suitors to sell fifteen thousand cars and a hundred thousand boxes of Tampax and four hundred thousand packages of Cap'n Crunch.
The nonanalytical part of his mind, however, was not the least bit concerned with Penelope. For some reason he was clasping and unclasping his hands in front of him. For some reason he was shaking. For some reason he fell to his knees at the couch, his hands clasping and unclasping around Crime and Punishment, as his eyes strained to cry but could not.
Sarah Wynn wept.
But she can cry easily, Hiram thought. It's not fair, that she should cry so easily. Spin flax, Penelope.
* * *
The alarm went off, but Hiram was already awake. In front of him the television was singing about Dove with lanolin. The products haven't changed, Hiram. thought. Never change. They were advertising Dove with lanolin in the little market carts around the base of the cross while Jesus bled to death, no doubt. For softer skin.
He got up, got dressed, tried to read, couldn't, tried to remember what had happened last night to leave him so upset and nervous, but couldn't, and at last he decided to go back to the Aryan at the Bell Television offices.
"Mr. Cloward," said the Aryan.
"You're a psychiatrist, aren't you?" Hiram asked.
"Why, Mr. Cloward, I'm an A-6 complaint representative from Bell Television. What can I do for you?
"I can't stand Sarah Wynn anymore," Hiram said.
"That's a shame. Things are finally going to work out for her starting in about two weeks."
And in spite of himself, Hiram wanted to ask what was going to happen. It isn't fair for this nordic uberman to know what sweet little Sarah is going to be doing weeks before I do. But he fought down the feeling, ashamed that he was getting caught up in the damn soap.
"Help me," Hiram said.
"How can I help you?"
"You can change my life. You can get the television out of my apartment."
"Why, Mr. Cloward?" the Aryan asked. "It's the one thing in life that's absolutely free. Except that you get to watch commercials. And you know as well as I do that the commercials are downright entertaining. Why, there are people who actually choose to have double the commercials in their personal progranuning. We get a thousand requests a day for the latest McDonald's ad. You have no idea."
"I have a very good idea. I want to read. I want to be alone."
"On the contrary, Mr. Cloward, you long not to be alone. You desperately need a friend."
Anger. "And what makes you so damn sure of that?"
"Because, Mr. Cloward, your response is completely typical of your group. It's a group we're very concerned about. We don't have a budget to program for you-- there are only about two thousand of you in the country-- but a budget wouldn't do us much good because we really don't know what kind of programming you want."
"I am not part of any group."
"Oh, you're so much a part of it that you could be called typical. Dominant mother, absent and/or hostile father, no long-term relationships with anybody. No sex life."
"I have a sex life."
"If you have in fact attempted any sexual activity it was undoubtedly with a prostitute and she expected too high a level of sophistication from you. You are easily ashamed, you couldn't cope, and so you have not had intercourse. Correct?"
"What are you! What are you trying to do to me!"
"I am a psychoanalyst, of course. Anybody whose complaints can't be handled by our bureaucratic authority figure out in front obviously needs help, not another bureaucrat. I want to help you. I'm your friend." And suddenly the anger was replaced by the utter incongruity of this nordic masterman wanting to help little Hiram Cloward. The unemployed professor laughed.
"Humor! Very healthy!" said the Aryan.
"What is this? I thought shrinks were supposed to be subtle."
"With some people-- notably paranoids, which you are not, and schizoids, which
you are not either."
"And what am I?"
"I told you. Denial and repression strategies. Very unhealthy. Acting out-- less
healthy yet. But you're extremely intelligent, able to do many things. I personally think it's a damn shame you can't teach."
"I'm an excellent teacher."
"Tests with randomly selected students showed that you had an extremely heavy emphasis on esoterica. Only people like you would really enjoy a class from a person like you. There aren't many people like you. You don't fit into many of the normal categories."
"And so I'm being persecuted."
"Don't try to pretend to be paranoid." The Aryan smiled. Hiram smiled back. This
is insane. Lewis Carroll, where are you now that we really need you?
"If you're a shrink, then I should talk freely to you."
"If you like."
"I don't like."
"And why not?"
"Because you're so godutterlydamn Aryan, that's why."
The Aryan leaned forward with interest. "Does that bother you?"
"It makes me want to throw up."
"And why is that?" The look of interest was too keen, too delightful. Hiram couldn't resist. "You don't know about my experiences in the war, then, is that it?"
"What war? There hasn't been a war recently enough--"
"I was very, very young. It was in Germany. My parents aren't really my parents, you know. They were in Germany with the American embassy. In Berlin in 1938, before the war broke out. My real parents were there, too-- German Jews, or half Jews, anyway. My real father-- but let that pass, you don't need my whole genealogy. Let's just say that when I was only eleven days old, totally unregistered, my real Jewish father took me to his friend, Mr. Cloward in the American embassy, whose wife had just had a miscarriage. 'Take my child,' he said.
"'Why?' Cloward asked.
" 'Because my wife and I have a perfect, utterly foolproof plan to kill Hitler. But there is no way for us to survive it.' And so Cloward, my adopted father, took me in.
"And then, the next day, he read in the papers about how my real parents had been killed in an accident in the street. He investigated-- and discovered that just by chance, while my parents were on their way to carry out their foolproof plan, some brown shirts in the street had seen them. Someone pointed them out as Jews. They were bored-- so they attacked them. Had no idea they were saving Hitler's life, of course. These nordic mastermen started beating my mother, forcing my father to watch as they stripped her and raped her and then disemboweled her. My father was then subjected to experimental use of the latest model testicle-crusher until he bit off his own tongue in agony and bled to death. I don't like nordic types." Hiram sat back, his eyes full of tears and emotion, and realized that he had actually been able to cry-- not much, but it was hopeful.
"Mr. Cloward," said the Aryan, "you were born in Missouri in 1951. Your parcnts of rccord are your natural parents."
Hiram smiled. "But it was one hell of a Freudian fantasy, wasn't it? My mother raped, my father emasculated to death, myself divorced from my true heritage, etc., etc."
The Aryan smiled. "You should be a writer, Mr. Cloward."
"I'd rather read. Please, let me read."
"I can't stop you from reading." "Turn off Sarah Wynn. Turn off the mansions from which young girls flee from the menace of a man who turns out to be friendly and loving. Turn off the commercials for cars and condoms."
"And leave you alone to wallow in cataleptic fantasies among your depressing Russian novels?"
Hiram shook his head. Am I begging? he wondered. Yes, he decided. "I'm begging. My Russian novels aren't depressing. They're exalting, uplifting, overwhelming."
"It's part of your sickness, Mr. Cloward, that you long to be overwhelmed."
"Every time I read Dostoevski, I feel fulfilled."
"You have read everything by Dostoevski twenty times over. And everything by Tolstoy a dozen times."
"Every time I read Dostoevski is the first time!"
"We can't leave you alone."
"I'll kill myself!" Hiram shouted. "I can't live like this much longer!"
"Then make friends," the Aryan said simply. Hiram gasped and panted, gathering his rage back under control. This is not happening. I am not angry. Put it away, put it back, get control, smile. Smile at the Aryan.
"You're my friend, right?" Hiram asked.
"If you'll let me," the Aryan answered.
"I'll let you," Hiram said. Then he got up and left the office.
On the way home he passed a church. He had often seen the church before. He had little interest in religion-- it had been too thoroughly dissected for him in the novels. What Twain had left alive, Dostoevski had withered and Pasternak had killed. But his mother was a passionate Presbyterian. He went into the church.
At the front of the building was a huge television screen. On it a very charismatic young man was speaking. The tones were subdued-- only those in the front could hear it. Those in the back seemed to be meditating. Cloward knelt at a bench to meditate, too. But he couldn't take his eyes off the screen. The young man stepped aside, and an older man took his place, intoning something about Christ. Hiram could hear the word Christ, but no others.
The walls were decorated with crosses. Row on row of crosses. This was a Protestant church-- none of the crosses contained a figure of Jesus bleeding. But Hiram's imagination supplied him nonetheless. Jesus, his hands and wrists nailed to the cross, his feet pegged to the cross, his throat at the intersection of the beams.
Why the cross, after all? The intersection of two utterly opposite lines, perpendicular that can only touch at one point. The epitome of the life of a man, passing through eternity without a backward glance at those encountered along the way, each in his own, endlessly divergent direction. The cross. But not at all the symbol of today, Hiram decided. Today we are in spheres. Today we are curves, not lines, bending back on ourselves, touching everybody again and again, wrapped up inside little balls, none of us daring to be on the outside. Pull me in, we cry, pull me and keep me safe, don't let me fall out, don't let me fall off the edge of the world.
But the world has an edge now, and we can all see it, Hiram decided. We know where it is, and we can't bear to let anyone find his own way of staying on top.
Or do I want to stay on top?
The age of crosses is over. Now the age of spheres. Balls.
"We are your friends," said the old man on the screen. "We can help you."
There is a grandeur, Hiram answered silently, about muddling through alone.
"Why be alone when Jesus can take your burden?" said the man on the screen.
If I were alone, Hiram answered, there would be no burden to bear.
"Pick up your cross, fight the good fight," said the man on the screen.
If only, Hiram answered, I could find my cross to pick it up.
Then Hiram realized that he still could not hear the voice from the television. Instead he had been supplying his own sermon, out loud. Three people near him in the back of the church were watching him. He smiled sheepishly, ducked his head in apology, and left. He walked home whistling.
Sarah Wynn's voice greeted him. "Teddy. Teddy! What have we done? Look what we've done."
"It was beautiful," Teddy said. "I'm glad of it."
"Oh, Teddy! How can I ever forgive myself?" And Sarah wept.
Hiram stood transfixed, watching the screen. Penelope had given in. Penelope had left her flax and fornicated with a suitor! This is wrong, he thought.
"This is wrong," he said.
"I love you, Sarah," Teddy said.
"I can't bear it, Teddy," she answered. "I feel that in my heart I have murdered George! I have betrayed him!"
Penelope, is there no virtue in the world? Is there no Artemis, hunting? Just Aphrodite, bedding down every hour on the hour with every man, god, or sheep that promised forever and delivered a moment. The bargains are never fulfilled, never, Hiram thought.
At that moment on the screen, George walked in. "My dear," he exclaimed. "My dear Sarah! I've been wandering with amnesia for days! It was a hitchhiker who was burned to death in my car! I'm home!"
And Hiram screamed and screamed and screamed.
* * *
The Aryan found out about it quickly, at the same time that he got an alarming report from the research teams analyzing the soaps. He shook his head, a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. Poor Mr. Cloward. Ah, what agony we do in the name of protecting people, the Aryan thought.
"I'm sorry," he said to Hiram. But Hiram paid him no attention. He just sat on the floor, watching the television set. As soon as the report had come in, of course, all the soaps-- especially Sarah Wynn's-- had gone off the air. Now the game shows were on, a temporary replacement until errors could be corrected.
"I'm so sorry," the Aryan said, but Hiram tried to shrug him away. A black woman had just traded the box for the money in the envelope. It was what Hiram would have done, and it paid off. Five thousand dollars instead of a donkey pulling a cart with a monkey in it. She had just avoided being zonked.
"Mr. Cloward, I thought the problem was with you. But it wasn't at all. I mean, you were marginal, all right. But we didn't realize what Sarah Wynn was doing to people." Sarah schmarah, Hiram said silently, watching the screen. The black woman was bounding up and down in delight.
"It was entirely our fault. There are thousands of marginals just like you who were seriously damaged by Sarah Wynn. We had no idea how powerful the identification was. We had no idea."
Of course not, thought Hiram. You didn't read enough. You didn't know what the myths do to people. But now was the Big Deal of the Day, and Hiram shook his head to make the Aryan go away.
"Of course the Consumer Protection Agency will pay you a lifetime compensation. Three times your present salary and whatever treatment is possible."
At last Hiram's patience ended. "Go away!" he said. "I have to see if the black woman there is going to get the car!"
"I just can't decide," the black woman said.
"Door number three! " Hiram shouted. "Please, God, door number three!"
The Aryan watched Hiram silently.
"Door number two!" the black woman finally decided. Hiram groaned. The announcer smiled.
"Well," said the announcer. "is the car behind door number two? Let's just see!"
The curtain opened, and behind it was a man in a hillbilly costume strumming a beat-up looking banjo. The audience moaned. The man with the banjo sang "Home on the Range." The black woman sighed.
They opened the curtains, and there was the car behind door number three. "I knew it," Hiram said, bitterly. "They never listen to me. Door number three, I say, and they never do it."
"I told you, didn't I?" Hiram asked, weeping.
"Yes," the Aryan said.
"I knew it. I knew it all along. I was right." Hiram sobbed into his hands.
"Yeah," the Aryan answered, and then he left to sign all the necessary papers
for the commitment. Now Cloward fit into a category. No one can exist outside one for long, the Aryan realized. We are creating a new man. Homo categoricus. The classified man.
But the papers didn't have to be signed after all. Instead Hiram went into the bathroom, filled the tub, and joined the largest category of all.
"Damn," the Aryan said, when he heard about it.
CLAP HANDS AND SING
On the screen the crippled man screamed at the lady, insisting that she must not run away. He waved a certificate. "I'm a registered rapist, damnit!" he cried. "Don't run so fast! You have to make allowances for the handicapped!" He ran after her with an odd, left-heavy lope. His enormous prosthetic phallus swung crazily, like a clumsy propeller that couldn't quite get started. The audience laughed madly. Must be a funny, funny scene!
Old Charlie sat slumped in his chair, feeling as casual and permanent as glacial debris. I am here only by accident, but I'll never move. He did not switch off the television set. The audience roared again with laughter. Canned or live? After more than eight decades of watching television, Charlie couldn't tell anymore. Not that the canned laughter had got any more real: It was the real laughter that had gone tinny, premeditated. As if the laughs were timed to come now, no matter what, and the poor actors could strain to get off their gags in time, but always they were just this much early, that much late.
"It's late," the television said, and Charlie started awake, vaguely surprised to see that the program had changed: Now it was a demonstration of a convenient electric breast pump to store up natural mother's milk for those times when you just can't be with baby. "It's late."
"Hello, Jock," Charlie said.
"Don't sleep in front of the television again, Charlie."
"Leave me alone, swine," Charlie said. And then: "Okay, turn it off."
He hadn't finished giving the order when the television flickered and went white, then settled down into its perpetual springtime scene that meant off. But in the flicker Charlie thought he saw-- who? Name? From the distant past. A girl. Before the name came to him, there came another memory: a small hand resting lightly on his knee as they sat together, as light as a long-legged fly upon a stream. in his memory he did not turn to look at her; he was talking to others. But he knew just where she would be if he turned to look. Small, with mousy hair, and yet a face that was always the child Juliet. But that was not her name. Not Juliet, though she was Juliet's age in that memory. I am Charlie, he thought. She is-- Rachel.
Rachel Carpenter. In the flicker on the screen hers was the face the random light had brought him, and so he remembered Rachel as he pulled his ancient body from the chair; thought of Rachel as he peeled the clothing from his frail skeleton, delicately, lest some rough motion strip away the wrinkled skin like cellophane.
And Jock, who of course did not switch himself off with the television, recited:
"An aged man is a paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick."
"Shut up," Charlie ordered.
"Unless Soul clap its hands."
"I said shut up!"
"And sing, and louder sing for every tatter in its mortal dress."
"Are you finished?" Charlie asked. He knew Jock was finished. After all, Charlie had programmed him to recite it, to recite just that fragment every night when his shorts hit the floor.
He stood naked in the middle of the room and thought of Rachel, whom he had not thought of in years. It was a trick of being old, that the room he was in now so easily vanished, and in its place a memory could take hold. I've made my fortune from time machines, he thought, and now I discover that every aged person is his own time machine. For now he stood naked. No, that was a trick of memory; memory had these damnable tricks. He was not naked. He only felt naked, as Rachel sat in the car beside him. Her voice-- he had almost forgotten her voice-- was soft. Even when she shouted, it got more whispery, so that if she shouted, it would have all the wind of the world in it and he wouldn't hear it at all, would only feel it cold on his naked skin. That was the voice she was using now, saying yes. I loved you when I was twelve, and when I was thirteen, and when I was fourteen, but when you got back from playing God in Sao Paulo, you didn't call me. All those letters, and then for three months you didn't call me and I knew that you thought I was just a child and I fell in love with-- Name? Name gone. Fell in love with a boy, and ever since then you've been treating me like... Like. No, she'd never say shit, not in that voice. And take some of the anger out, that's right. Here are the words... here they come: You could have had me, Charlie, but now all you can do is try to make me miserable. It's too late, the time's gone by, the time's over, so stop criticizing me. Leave me alone.
First to last, all in a capsule. The words are nothing, Charlie realized. A dozen women, not least his dear departed wife, had said exactly the same words to him since, and it had sounded just as maudlin, just as unpleasantly uninteresting every time. The difference was that when the others said it, Charlie felt himself insulated with a thousand layers of unconcern. But when Rachel said it to his memory, he stood naked in the middle of his room, a cold wind drying the parchment of his ancient skin.
"What's wrong?" asked Jock.
Oh, yes, dear computer, a change in the routine of the habitbound old man, and you suspect what, a heart attack? Incipient death? Extreme disorientation?
"A name," Charlie said. "Rachel Carpenter."
"Living or dead?"
Charlie winced again, as he winced every time Jock asked that question; yet it was an important one, and far too often the answer these days was Dead. "I don't know."
"Living and dead, I have two thousand four hundred eighty in the company archives alone."
"She was twelve when I was-- twenty. Yes, twenty. And she lived then in Provo, Utah. Her father was a pianist. Maybe she became an actress when she grew up. She wanted to."
"Rachel Carpenter. Born 1959. Provo, Utah. Attended--"
"Don't show off, Jock. Was she ever married?"
"And don't imitate my mannerisms. Is she still alive?"
"Died ten years ago."
Of course. Dead, of course. He tried to imagine her-- where? "Where did she
"Tell me anyway. I'm feeling suicidal tonight."
"In a home for the mentally incapable."
It was not shocking; people often outlived their minds these days. But sad. For she had always been bright. Strange, perhaps, but her thoughts always led to something worth the sometimes-convoluted path. He smiled even before he remembered what he was smiling at. Yes. Seeing through your knees. She had been playing Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker, and she told him how she had finally come to understand blindness. "It isn't seeing the red insides of your eyelids, I knew that. I knew it isn't even seeing black. It's like trying to see where you never had eyes at all. Seeing through your knees. No matter how hard you try, there just isn't any vision there." And she had liked him because he hadn't laughed. "I told my brother, and he laughed," she said. But Charlie had not laughed.
Charlie's affection for her had begun then, with a twelve-year-old girl who could never stay on the normal, intelligible track, but rather had to stumble her own way through a confusing underbrush that was thick and bright with flowers. "I think God stopped paying attention long ago." she said. "Any more than Michelangelo would want to watch them whitewash the Sistine Chapel."
And he knew that he would do it even before he knew what it was that he would do. She had ended in an institution, and he, with the best medical care that money could buy, stood naked in his room and remembered when passion still lurked behind the lattices of chastity and was more likely to lead to poems than to coitus.
You overtold story, he said to the wizened man who despised him from the mirror. You are only tempted because you're bored. Making excuses because you're cruel. Lustful because your dim old dong is long past the exercise.
And he heard the old bastard answer silently, You will do it, because you can. Of all the people in the world, you can.
And he thought he saw Rachel look back at him, bright with finding herself beautiful at fourteen, laughing at the vast joke of knowing she was admired by the very man whom she, too, wanted. Laugh all you like, Charlie said to his vision of her. I was too kind to you then. I'm afraid I'll undo my youthful goodness now.
"I'm going back," he said aloud. "Find me a day."
"For what purpose?" Jock asked.
"I have to know your purpose, or how can I find you a day?"
And so he had to name it. "I'm going to have her if I can."
Suddenly a small alarm sounded, and Jock's voice was replaced by another. "Warning. Illegal use of THIEF for possible present-altering manipulation of the past." Charlie smiled. "Investigation has found that the alteration is acceptable. Clear." And the program release: "Byzantium."
"You're a son of a bitch," said Jock.
"Find me a day. A day when the damage will be least-- when I can..."
"Twenty-eight October 1973."
That was after he got home from Sao Paulo, the contracts signed, already a capitalist before he was twenty-three. That was during the time when he had been afraid to call her, because she was only fourteen, for God's sake.
"What will it do to her, Jock?"
"How should I know?" Jock answered. "And what difference would it make to you?"
He looked in the mirror again. "A difference."
I won't do it, he told himself as he went to the THIEF that was his most ostentatious sign of wealth, a private THIEF in his own rooms. I won't do it, he decided again as he set the machine to wake him in twelve hours, whether he wished to return or not. Then he climbed into the couch and pulled the shroud over his head, despairing that even this, even doing it to her, was not beneath him. There was a time when he had automatically held back from doing a thing because he knew that it was wrong. Oh, for that time! he thought, but knew as he thought it that he was lying to himself. He had long since given up on right and wrong and settled for the much simpler standards of effective and ineffective, beneficial and detrimental.
He had gone in a THIEF before, had taken some of the standard trips into the past. Gone into the mind of an audience member at the first performance of Handel's Messiah and listened. The poor soul whose ears he used wouldn't remember a bit of it afterward. So the future would not be changed. That was safe, to sit in a hall and listen. He had been in the mind of a farmer resting under a tree on a country lane as Wordsworth walked by and had hailed the poet and asked his name, and Wordsworth had smiled and been distant and cold, delighting in the countryside more than in those whose tillage made it beautiful. But those were legal trips. Charlie had done nothing that could alter the course of history.
This time, though. This time he would change Rachel's life. Not his own, of course. That would be impossible. But Rachel would not be blacked from remembering what happened. She would remember, and it would turn her from the path she was meant to take. Perhaps only a little. Perhaps not importantly. Perhaps just enough for her to dislike him a little sooner, or a little more. But too much to be legal, if he were caught.
He would not be caught. Not Charlie. Not the man who owned THIEF and therefore could have owned the world. It was all too bound up in secrecy. Too many agents had used his machines to attend the enemy's most private conferences. Too often the Attorney General had listened to the most perfect of wiretaps. Too often politicians who were willing to be in Charlie's debt had been given permission to lead their opponents into blunders that cost them votes. All far beyond what the law allowed; who would dare complain now if Charlie also bent the law to his own purpose?
No one but Charlie. I can't do this to Rachel, he thought. And then the THIEF carried him back and put him in his own mind, in his own body, on 28 October 1973, at ten o'clock, just as he was going to bed, weary because he had been wakened that morning by a six A.M. call from Brazil.
As always, there was the moment of resistance, and then peace as his self of that time slipped into unconsciousness. Old Charlie took over and saw, not the past, but the now.
A moment before, he was standing before a mirror, looking at his withered, hanging face; now he realizes that this gazing into a mirror before going to bed is a lifelong habit. I am Narcissus, he tells himself, an unbeautiful idolator at my own shrine. But now he is not unbeautiful. At twenty-two, his body still has the depth of young skin. His belly is soft, for he is not athletic, but still there is a litheness to him that he will never have again. And now the vaguely remembered needs that had impelled him to this find a physical basis; what had been a dim memory has him on fire.
He will not be sleeping tonight, not soon. He dresses again, finding with surprise the quaint print shirts that once had been in style. The wide-cuffed pants. The shoes with inch-and-a-half heels. Good God, I wore that! he thinks, and then wears it. No questions from his family; he goes quietly downstairs and out to his car. The garage reeks of gasoline. It is a smell as nostalgic as lilacs and candlewax.
He still knows the way to Rachel's house, though he is surprised at the buildings that have not yet been built, which roads have not yet been paved, which intersections still don't have the lights he knows they'll have soon, should surely have already. He looks at his wristwatch; it must be a habit of the body he is in, for he hasn't worn a wristwatch in decades. The arm is tanned from Brazilian beaches, and it has no age spots, no purple veins drawing roadmaps under the skin. The time is ten-thirty. She'll doubtless be in bed. He almost stops himself. Few things are left in his private catalog of sin, but surely this is one. He looks into himself and tries to find the will to resist his own desire solely because its fulfillment will hurt another person. He is out of practice
- so far out of practice that he keeps losing track of the reason for resisting. The lights are on, and her mother-- Mrs. Carpenter, dowdy and delightful, scatterbrained in the most attractive way-- her mother opens the door suspiciously until she recognizes him. "Charlie," she cries out.
"Is Rachel still up?"
"Give me a minute and she will be!"
And he waits, his stomach trembling with anticipation. I am not a virgin, he reminds himself, but this body does not know that. This body is alert, for it has not yet formed the habits of meaningless passion that Charlie knows far too well. At last she comes down the stairs. He hears her running on the hollow wooden steps, then stopping, coming slowly, denying the hurry. She turns the corner, looks at him.
She is in her bathrobe, a faded thing that he does not remember ever having seen her wear. Her hair is tousled, and her eyes show that she had been asleep.
"I didn't mean to wake you."
"I wasn't really asleep. The first ten minutes don't count anyway."
He smiles. Tears come to his eyes. Yes, he says silently. This is Rachel, yes. The narrow face; the skin so translucent that he can see into it like jade; the slender arms that gesture shyly, with accidental grace.
"I couldn't wait to see you."
"You've been home three days. I thought you'd phone."
He smiles. In fact he will not phone her for months. But he says, "I hate the telephone. I want to talk to you. Can you come out for a drive?"
"I have to ask my mother."
"She'll say yes."
She does say yes. She jokes and says that she trusts Charlie. And the Charlie she knows was trustworthy. But not me, Charlie thinks. You are putting your diamonds into the hands of a thief. "Is it cold?" Rachel asks.
"Not in the car." And so she doesn't take a coat. It's all right. The night breeze isn't bad.
As soon as the door closes behind them, Charlie begins. He puts his arm around her waist. She does not pull away or take it with indifference. He has never done this before, because she's only fourteen, just a child, but she leans against him as they walk, as if she had done this a hundred times before. As always, she takes him by surprise.
"I've missed you," he says.
She smiles, and there are tears in her eyes. "I've missed you, too," she says.
They talk of nothing. It's just as well. Charlie does not remember much about the trip to Brazil, does not remember anything of what he's done in the three days since getting back. No problem, for she seems to want to talk only of tonight. They drive to the Castle, and he tells her its history. He feels an irony about it as he explains. She, after all, is the reason he knows the history. A few years from now she will be part of a theater company that revives the Castle as a public amphitheater. But now it is falling into ruin, a monument to the old WPA, a great castle with turrets and benches made of native stone. It is on the property of the state mental hospital, and so hardly anyone knows it's there. They are alone as they leave the car and walk up the crumbling steps to the flagstone stage.
She is entranced. She stands in the middle of the stage, facing the benches. He watches as she raises her hand, speech waiting at the verge of her lips. He remembers something. Yes, that is the gesture she made when she bade her nurse farewell in Romeo and Juliet. No, not made. Will make, rather. The gesture must already be in her, waiting for this stage to draw it out.
She turns to him and smiles because the place is strange and odd and does not belong in Provo, but it does belong to her. She should have been born in the Renaissance, Charlie says softly. She hears him. He must have. spoken aloud. "You belong in an age when music was clean and soft and there was no makeup. No one would rival you then."
She only smiles at the conceit. "I missed you," she says.
He touches her cheek. She does not shy away. Her cheek presses into his hand, and he knows that she understands why he brought her here and what he means to do.
Her breasts are perfect but small, her buttocks are boyish and slender, and the only hair on her body is that which tumbles onto her shoulders, that which he must brush out of her face to kiss her again. "I love you," she whispers. "All my life I love you."
And it is exactly as he would have had it in a dream, except that the flesh is tangible, the ecstasy is real, and the breeze turns colder as she shyly dresses again. They say nothing more as he takes her home. Her mother has fallen asleep on the living room couch, a jumble of the Daily Herald piled around her feet. Only then does he remember that for her there will be a tomorrow, and on that tomorrow Charlie will not call. For three months Charlie will not call, and she'll hate him.
He tries to soften it. He tries by saying, "Some things can happen only once." It is the sort of thing he might then have said. But she only puts her finger on his lips and says, "I'll never forget." Then she turns and walks toward her mother, to waken her. She turns and motions for Charlie to leave, then smiles again and waves. He waves back and goes out of the door and drives home. He lies awake in this bed that feels like childhood to him, and he wishes it could have gone on forever like this. It should have gone on like this, he thinks. She is no child. She was no child, he should have thought, for THIEF was already transporting him home.
"What's wrong, Charlie?" Jock asked.
Charlie awoke. it had been hours since THIEF brought him back. It was the middle of the night, and Charlie realized that he had been crying in his sleep. "Nothing," he said.
"You're crying, Charlie. I've never seen you cry before. "
"Go plug into a million volts, Jock. I had a dream."
"I destroyed her."
"No, you didn't."
"It was a goddamned selfish thing to do."
"You'd do it again. But it didn't hurt her."
"She was only fourteen."
"No, she wasn't."
"I'm tired. I was asleep. Leave me alone."
"Charlie, remorse isn't your style."
Charlie pulled the blanket over his head, feeling petulant and wondering whether this childish act was another proof that he was retreating into senility after all.
"Charlie, let me tell you a bedtime story."
"I'll erase you."
"Once upon a time, ten years ago, an old woman named Rachel Carpenter petitioned for a day in her past. And it was a day with someone, and it was a day with you. So the routine circuits called me, as they always do when your name comes up, and I found her a day. She only wanted to visit, you see, only wanted to relive a good day. I was surprised, Charlie. I didn't know you ever had good days."
This program had been with lock too long. It knew too well how to get under his skin.
"And in fact there were no days as good as she thought," Jock continued. "Only anticipation and disappointment. That's all you ever gave anybody, Charlie. Anticipation and disappointment."
"I can count on you."
"This woman was in a home for the mentally incapable. And so I gave her a day. Only instead of a day of disappointment, or promises she knew would never be fulfilled, I gave her a day of answers. I gave her a night of answers, Charlie."
"You couldn't know that I'd have you do this. You couldn't have known it ten years ago."
"That's all right, Charlie. Play along with me. You're dreaming anyway, aren't you?"
"And don't wake me up."
"So an old woman went back into a young girl's body on twenty-eight October 1973, and the young girl never knew what had happened; so it didn't change her life, don't you see?"
"It's a lie." "No, it isn't. I can't lie, Charlie. You programmed me not to lie. Do you think I would have let you go back and harm her?"
"She was the same. She was as I remembered her."
"Her body was."
"She hadn't changed. She wasn't an old woman, lock. She was a girl. She was a girl, jock."
And Charlie thought of an old woman dying in an institution, surrounded by yellow walls and pale gray sheets and curtains. He imagined young Rachel inside that withered form, imprisoned in a body that would not move, trapped in a mind that could never again take her along her bright, mysterious trails.
"I flashed her picture on the television," Jock said.
And yet, Charlie thought, how is it less bearable than that beautiful boy who wanted so badly to do the right thing that he did it all wrong, lost his chance, and now is caught in the sum of all his wrong turns? I got on the road they all wanted to take, and I reached the top, but it wasn't where I should have gone. I'm still that boy. I did not have to lie when I went home to her.
"I know you pretty well, Charlie," Jock said. "I knew that you'd be enough of a bastard to go back. And enough of a human being to do it right when you got there. She came back happy, Charlie. She came back satisfied."
His night with a beloved child was a lie then; it wasn't young Rachel any more than it was young Charlie. He looked for anger inside himself but couldn't find it. For a dead woman had given him a gift, and taken the one he offered, and it still tasted sweet.
"Time for sleep, Charlie. Go to sleep again. I just wanted you to know that there's no reason to feel any remorse for it. No reason to feel anything bad at all.
Charlie pulled the covers tight around his neck, unaware that he had begun that habit years ago, when the strange shadowy shapes hid in his closet and only the blanket could keep him safe. Pulled the covers high and tight, and closed his eyes, and felt her hand stroke him, felt her breast and hip and thigh, and heard her voice as breath against his cheek.
"0 chestnut tree," Jock said, as he had been taught to say, "...great rooted blossomer,
"Are you the leaf, the blossom, or the bole? "0 body swayed to music, 0 brightening glance
"How can we know the dancer from the dance?"
The audience applauded in his mind while he slipped into sleep, and he thought it remarkable that they sounded genuine, He pictured them smiling and nodding at the show. Smiling at the girl with her hand raised so; nodding at the man who paused forever, then came on stage.
CLOSING THE TIMELID
Gemini lay back in his cushioned chair and slid the box over his head. It was pitch black inside, except the light coming from down around his shoulders.
"All right, I'm pulling us over," said Orion. Gemini braced himself. He heard the clicking of a switch (or someone's teeth clicking shut in surprise?) and the timelid closed down on him, shut out the light, and green and orange and another, nameless color beyond purple danced at the edges of his eyes.
And he stood, abruptly, in thick grass at the side of a road. A branch full of leaves brushed heavily against his back with the breeze. He moved forward, looking for--
The road, just as Orion had said. About a minute to wait, then.
Gemini slid awkwardly down the embankment, covering his hands with dirt. To his surprise it was moist and soft, chnging. He had expected it to be hard. That's what you get for believing pictures in the encyclopedia, he thought. And the ground gave gently under his feet.
He glanced behind him. Two furrows down the bank showed his path. I have a mark in this world after all, he thought. It'll make no difference, but there is a sign of me in this time when men could still leave signs.
Then dazzling lights far up the road. The truck was coming. Gemini sniffed the air. He couldn't smell anything-- and yet the books all stressed how smelly gasoline engines had been. Perhaps it was too far.
Then the lights swerved away. The curve. In a moment it would be here, turning just the wrong way on the curving mountain road until it would be too late. Gemini stepped out into the road, a shiver of anticipation running through him. Oh, he had been under the timehd several times before. Like everyone, he had seen the major events. Michelangelo doing the Sistine Chapel. Handel writing the Messiah (everyone strictly forbidden to hum any tunes). The premiere performance of Love's Labour's Lost. And a few offbeat things that his hobby of history had sent him to: the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a politician; the meeting between Lorenzo d'Medici and the King of Naples; Jeanne d'Arc's death by fire-- grisly.
And now, at last, to experience in the past something he was utterly unable to live through in the present. Death.
And the truck careened around the corner, the lights sweeping the far embankment and then swerving in, brilliantly lighting Gemini for one instant before he leaped up and in, toward the glass (how horrified the face of the driver, how bright the lights, how harsh the metal) and then --
agony. Ah, agony in a tearing that made him feel, for the first time, every particle of his body as it screamed in pain. Bones shouting as they splintered like old wood under a sledgehammer. Flesh and fat slithering like jelly up and down and sideways. Blood skittering madly over the surface of the truck. Eyes popping open as the brain and skull crushed forward, demanding to be let through, let by, let fly. No no no no no, cried Gemini inside the last fragment of his mind. No no no no no, make it stop!
And green and orange and more-than-purple dazzled the sides of his vision. A twist of his insides, a shudder of his mind, and he was back, snatched from death by the inexorable mathematics of the timelid. He felt his whole, unmarred body rushing back, felt every particle, yes, as clearly as when it had been hit by the truck, but now with pleasure-- pleasure so complete that he didn't even notice the mere orgasm his body added to the general symphony of joy.
The timelid lifted. The box was slid back. And Gemini lay gasping, sweating, yet laughing and crying and longing to sing.
What was it like? The others asked eagerly, crowding around. What is it like, what is it, is it like--
"It's like nothing. It's." Gemini had no words. "It's like everything God promised the righteous and Satan promised the sinners rolled into one." He tried to explain about the delicious agony, the joy passing all joys, the--
"Is it better than fairy dust?" asked one man, young and shy, and Gemini realized that the reason he was so retiring was that he was undoubtedly dusting tonight.
"After this," Gemini said, "dusting is no better than going to the bathroom."
Everyone laughed, chattered, volunteered to be next ("Orion knows how to throw a party"), as Gemini left the chair and the timelid and found Orion a few meters away at the controls.
"Did you like the ride?" Orion asked, smiling gently at his friend.
Gemini shook his head. "Never again," he said. Orion looked disturbed for a moment, worried. "That bad for you?"
"Not bad. Strong. I'll never forget it, I've never felt so-- alive, Orion. Who would have thought it. Death being so--"
"Bright," Orion said, supplying the word. His hair hung loosely and clean over his forehead-- he shook it out of his eyes. "The second time is better. You have more time to appreciate the dying."
Gemini shook his head. "Once is enough for me. Life will never be bland again." He laughed. "Well, time for somebody else, yes?"
Harmony had already lain down on the chair. She had removed her clothing, much to the titillation of the other party-goers, saying, "I want nothing between me and the cold metal." Orion made her wait, though, while he corrected the setting. While he worked, Gemini thought of a question. "How many times have you done this, Orion?"
"Often enough," the man answered, studying the holographic model of the timeclip. And Gemini wondered then if death could not, perhaps, be as addictive as fairy dust, or cresting, or pitching in.
* * *
Rod Bingley finally brought the truck to a halt, gasping back the shock and horror. The eyes were still resting there in the gore on the windshield. Only they seemed real. The rest was road-splashing, mud flipped by the weather and the tires.
Rod flung open the door and ran around the front of the truck, hoping to do-- what? There was no hope that the man was alive. But perhaps some identification. A nuthouse freak, turned loose in weird white clothes to wander the mountain roads? But there was no hospital near here.
And there was no body on the front of his truck.
He ran his hand across the shiny metal, the clean windshield. A few bugs on the grill.
Had this dent in the metal been there before? Rod couldn't remember. He looked all around the truck. Not a sign of anything. Had he imagined it?
He must have. But it seemed so real. And he hadn't drunk anything, hadn't taken any uppers-- no trucker in his right mind ever took stay-awakes. He shook his head. He felt creepy. Watched. He glanced back over his shoulder. Nothing but the trees bending slightly in the wind. Not even an animal. Some moths already gathering in the headlights. That's all.
Ashamed of himself for being afraid at nothing, he nevertheless jumped into the cab quickly and slammed the door shut behind him and locked it. The key turned in the starter. And he had to force himself to look up through that windshield. He half-expected to see those eyes again.
The windshield was clear. And because he had a deadline to meet, he pressed on. The road curved away infinitely before him.
He drove more quickly, determined to get back to civilization before he had another hallucination.
And as he rounded a curve, his lights sweeping the trees on the far side of the road, he thought he glimpsed a flash of white to the right, in the middle of the road.
The lights caught her just before the truck did, a beautiful girl, naked and voluptuous and eager. Madly eager, standing there, legs broadly apart, arms wide. She dipped, then jumped up as the truck caught her, even as Rod smashed his foot into the brake, swerved the truck to the side. Because he swerved she ended up, not centered, but caught on the left side, directly in front of Rod, one of her arms flapping crazily around the edge of the cab, the hand rapping on the glass of the side window. She, too, splashed.
Rod whimpered as the truck again came to a halt. The hand had dropped-- loosely down to the woman's side, so it no longer blocked the door... Rod got out quickly, swung himself around the open door, and touched her.
Body warm. Hand real. He touched the buttock nearest him. It gave softly, sweetly, but under it Rod could feel that the pelvis was shattered. And then the body slopped free of the front of the truck, slid to the oil and gravel surface of the road-- and disappeared.
Rod took it calmly for a moment. She fell from the front of the truck, and then there was nothing there. Except a faint (and new, definitely new!) crack in the windshield, there was no sign of her.
The sound echoed from the cliff on the other side of the chasm. The trees seemed to swell the sound, making it louder among the trunks. An owl hooted back. And finally, Rod got back into the truck and drove again, slowly, but erratically, wondering what, please Cod tell me what the hell's the matter with my mind.
* * *
Harmony rolled off the couch, panting and shuddering violently.
"Is it better than sex?" one of the men asked her, one who had doubtless tried, but failed, to get into her bed.
"It is sex," she answered. "But it's better than sex with you."
Everyone laughed. What a wonderful party. Who could top this? The would-be hosts and hostesses despaired, even as they clamored for a chance at the timelid.
But the crambox opened then, buzzing with the police override. "We're busted!" somebody shrieked gaily, and everyone laughed and clapped.
The policeman was young, and she seemed unused to the forceshield, walking awkwardly as she stepped into the middle of the happy room.
"Orion Overweed?" she asked, looking around.
"I," answered Orion, from where he sat at the controls, looking wary, Gemini beside him.
"Officer Mercy Manwool, Los Angeles Timesquad."
"Oh no," somebody muttered.
"You have no jurisdiction here," Orion said.
"We have a reciprocal enforcement agreement with the Canadian Chronospot Corporation. And we have reason to believe you are interfering with timetracks in the eighth decade of the twentieth century." She smiled curtly. "We have witnessed two suicides, and by making a careful check of your recent use of your private timelid, we have found several others. Apparently you have a new way to pass the time, Mr. Overweed."
Orion shrugged. "It's merely a passing fancy. But I am not interfering with timetracks."
She walked over to the controls and reached unerringly for the coldswitch. Orion immediately snagged her wrist with his hand. Gemini was surprised to see how the muscles of his forearm bulged with strength. Had he been playing some kind of sport? It would be just like Orion, of course, behaving like one of the lower orders.
"A warrant," Orion said.
She withdrew her arm. "I have an official complaint from the Timesquad's observation team. That is sufficient. I must interrupt your activity."
"According to law," Orion said, "you must show cause. Nothing we have done tonight will in any way change history."
"That truck is not robot-driven," she said, her voice growing strident. "There's a man in there. You are changing his life."
Orion only laughed. "Your observers haven't done their homework. I have. Look."
He turned to the control and played a speeded-up sequence, focused always on the shadow image of a truck speeding down a mountain road. The truck made turn after turn, and since the hologram was centered perpetually on the truck, it made the surrounding scenery dance past in a jerky rush, swinging left and right, up and down as the truck banked for turns or struck bumps.
And then, near the bottom of the chasm, between mountains, the truck got on a long, slow curve that led across the river on a slender bridge.
But the bridge wasn't there.
And the truck, unable to stop, skidded and swerved off the end of the truncated road, hung in the air over the chasm, then toppled, tumbled, banging against first this side, then that side of the ravine. It wedged between two outcroppings of rock more than ten meters above the water. The cab of the truck was crushed completely.
"He dies," Orion said. "Which means that anything we do with him before his death and after his last possible contact with another human being is legal. According to the code."
The policeman turned red with anger.
"I saw your little games with airplanes and sinking ships. But this is cruelty, Mr. Overweed."
"Cruelty to a dead man is, by definition, not cruelty. I don't change history. And Mr. Rodney Bingley is dead, has been for more than four centuries. I am doing no harm to any living man. And you owe me an apology." Officer Mercy Manwool shook her head. "I think you're as bad as the Romans, who threw people into circuses to be torn by lions--"
"I know about the Romans," Orion said coldly, "and I know whom they threw. In this case, however, I am throwing my friends. And retrieving them very safely through the full retrieval and reassembly feature of the Hamburger Safety Device built inextricably into every timelid. And you owe me an apology."
She drew herself erect. "The Los Angeles Timesquad officially apologizes for making improper allegations about the activities of Orion Overweed."
Orion grinned. "Not exactly heartfelt, but I accept it. And while you're here, may I offer you a drink?"
"Nonalcoholic," she said instantly, and then looked away from him at Gemini, who was watching her with sad but intent eyes. Orion went for glasses and to try to find something nonalcoholic in the house.
"You performed superbly," Gemini said.
"And you, Gemini," she said softly (voicelessly), "were the first subject to travel."
Gemini shrugged. "Nobody said anything about my not taking part."
She turned her back on him. Orion came back with the drink. He laughed. "Coca-Cola," he said. "I had to import it all the way from Brazil. They still drink it there, you know. Original recipe." She took it and drank.
Orion sat back at the controls.
"Next!" he shouted, and a man and woman jumped on the couch together, laughing as the others slid the box over their heads.
* * *
Rod had lost count. At first he had tried to count the curves. Then the white lines in the road, until a new asphalt surface covered them. Then stars. But the only number that stuck in his head was nine.
9. NINE. Oh God, he prayed silently, what is happening to me, what is happening to me, change this night, let me wake up, whatever is happening to me make it stop. A gray-haired man was standing beside the road, urinating. Rod slowed to a crawl. Slowed until he was barely moving. Crept past the man so slowly that if he had even twitched Rod could have stopped the truck. But the gray-haired man only finished, dropped his, robe, and waved gaily to Rod. At that moment Rod heaved a sigh of relief and sped up.
Dropped his robe. The man was wearing a robe. Except for this gory night men did not wear robes. And at that moment he caught through his side mirror the white flash of the man throwing himself under the rear tires. Rod slammed on the brake and leaned his head against the steering wheel and wept loud, wracking sobs that shook the whole cab, that set the truck rocking slightly on its heavy- duty springs.
For in every death Rod saw the face of his wife after the traffic accident (not my fault!) that had killed her instantly and yet left Rod to walk away from the wreck without a scratch on him.
I was not supposed to live, he thought at the time, and thought now. I was not supposed to live, and now God is telling me that I am a murderer with my wheels and my motor and my steering wheel.
And he looked up from the wheel.
* * *
Orion was still laughing at Hector's account of how he fooled the truck driver into speeding up.
"He thought I was conking into the bushes at the side of the road!" he howled again, and Orion burst into a fresh peal of laughter at his friend.
"And then a backflip into the road, under his tires! How I wish I could see it!" Orion shouted. The other guests were laughing, too. Except Gemini and Officer Manwool.
"You can see it, of course," Manwool said softly.
Her words penetrated through the noise, and Orion shook his head. "Only on the holo. And that's not very good, not a good image at all."
"It'll do," she said.
And Gemini, behind Orion, murmured, "Why not, Orry? The sound of the old term of endearment was starthng to Orion, but oddly comforting. Did Gemini, then, treasure those memories as Orion did? Orion turned slowly, looked into Gemini's sad, deep eyes. "Would you like to see it on the holo?" he asked.
Gemini only smiled. Or rather, twitched his lips into that momentary piece of a smile that Orion knew from so many years before (only forty years; but forty years was back into my childhood, when I was only thirty and Gemini was -- what? -- fifteen. Helot to my Spartan; Slav to my Hun) and Orion smiled back. His fingers danced over the controls.
Many of the guests gathered around, although others, bored with the coming and going in the timelid, however extravagant it might be as a party entertainment ("Enough energy to light all of Mexico for an hour," said the one with the giddy laugh who had already promised her body to four men and a woman and was now giving it to another who would not wait), occupied themselves with something decadent and delightful and distracting in the darker corners of the room.
The holo flashed on. The truck crept slowly down the road, its holographic image flickering.
"Why does it do that?" someone asked, and Orion answered mechanically, "There aren't as many chronons as there are photons, and they have a lot more area to cover."
And then the image of a man flickering by the side of the road. Everyone laughed as they realized it was Hector, conking away with all his heart. Then another laugh as he dropped his robe and waved. The truck sped up, and then a backflip by the manfigure, under the wheels. The body flopped under the doubled back tires, then lay hmp and shattered in the road as the truck came to a stop only a few meters ahead. A few moments later, the body disappeared.
"Brilliantly done, Hector!" Orion shouted again. "Better than you told it!" Everyone applauded in agreement, and Orion reached over to flip off the holo. But Officer Manwool stopped him.
"Don't turn it off, Mr. Overweed," she said. "Freeze it, and move the image."
Orion looked at her for a moment, then shrugged and did as she said. He expanded the view, so that the truck shrank. And then he suddenly stiffened, as did the guests close enough and interested enough to notice. Not more than ten meters in front of the truck was the ravine, where the broken bridge waited.
"He can see it," somebody gasped. And Officer Manwool slipped a lovecord around Orion's wrist, pulled it taut, and fastened the loose end to her workbelt. "Orion Overweed you're under arrest. That man can see the ravine. He will not die. He was brought to a stop in plenty of time to notice the certain death ahead of him. He will live-- with a knowledge of whatever he saw tonight. And already you have altered the future, the present, and all the past from his time until the present."
And for the first time in all his life, Orion realized that he had reason to be afraid.
"But that's a capital offense," he said lamely.
"I only wish it included torture," Officer Manwool said heatedly, "the kind of torture you put that poor truck driver through!"
And then she started to pull Orion out of the room.
* * *
Rod Bingley lifted his eyes from the steering wheel and stared uncomprehendingly at the road ahead. The truck's light illuminated the road clearly for many meters. And for five seconds or thirty minutes or some other length of time that was both brief and infinite he did not understand what it meant.
He got out of the cab and walked to the edge of the ravine, looking down. For a few minutes he felt relieved.
Then he walked back to the truck and counted the wounds in the cab. The dents on the grill and the smooth metal. Three cracks in the windshield.
He walked back to where the man had been urinating. Sure enough, though there was no urine, there was an indentation in the ground where the hot liquid had struck, speckles in the dirt where it had splashed.
And in the fresh asphalt, laid, surely, that morning (but then why no warning signs on the bridge? Perhaps the wind tonight blew them over), his tire tracks showed clearly. Except for a manwidth stretch where the left rear tires had left no print at all.
And Rodney remembered the dead, smashed faces, especially the bright and livid eyes among the blood and broken bone. They all looked like Rachel to him. Rachel who had wanted him to-- to what? Couldn't even remember the dreams anymore?
He got back into the cab and gripped the steering wheel. His head spun and ached, but he felt himself on the verge of a marvelous conclusion, a simple answer to all of this. There was evidence, yes, even though the bodies were gone, there was evidence that he had hit those people. He had not imagined it.
They must, then, be (he stumbled over the word, even in his mind, laughed at himself as he concluded) angels. Jesus sent them, he knew it, as his mother had taught him, destroying angels teachmg hun the death that he had brought to his wife while daring, himself, to walk away scatheless.
It was time to even up the debt.
He started the engine and drove, slowly, deliberately toward the end of the road. And as the front tires bumped off and a sickening moment passed when he feared that the truck would be too heavy for the driving wheels to push along the ground, he clasped his hands in front of his face and prayed, aloud: "Forward!"
And then the truck slid forward, tipped downward, hung in the air, and fell. His body pressed into the back of the truck. His clasped hands struck his face. He meant to say, "Into thy hands I commend my spirit," but instead he screamed, "No no no no no!" in an infinite negation of death that, after all, didn't do a bit of good once he was committed into the gentle, unyielding hands of the ravine. They clasped and enfolded him, pressed him tightly, closed his eyes and pillowed his head between the gas tank and the granite.
* * *
"Wait," Gemini said.
"Why the hell should we?" Officer Manwool said, stopping at the door with Orion following docilely on the end of the lovecord. Orion, too, stopped, and looked at the policeman with the adoring expression all lovecord captives wore.
"Give the man a break," Gemini said.
"He doesn't deserve one," she said. "And neither do you."
"I say give the man a break. At least wait for the proof."
She snorted. "What more proof does he need, Gemini? A signed statement from Rodney Bingley that Orion Overweed is a bloody hitler?"
Gemini smiled and spread his hands. "We didn't actually see what Rodney did next, did we? Maybe he was struck by lightning two hours later, before he saw anybody-- I mean, you're required to show that damage did happen. And I don't feel any change to the present--" "You know that changes aren't felt. They aren't even known, since we wouldn't remember anything other than how things actually happened!"
"At least," Gemini said, "watch what happens and see whom Rodney tells."
So she led Orion back to the controls, and at her instructions Orion lovingly started the holo moving again.
And they all watched as Rodney Bingley walked to the edge of the ravine, then walked back to the truck, drove it to the edge and over into the chasm, and died on the rocks.
As it happened, Hector hooted in joy. "He died after all! Orion didn't change a damned thing, not one damned thing!"
Manwool turned on him in disgust. "You make me sick," she said.
"The man's dead," Hector said in glee. "So get that stupid string off Orion or I'll sue for a writ of--"
"Go pucker in a corner," she said, and several of the women pretended to be shocked. Manwool loosened the lovecord and slid it off Orion's wrist. Immediately he turned on her, snarling. "Get out of here! Get out! Get out!"
He followed her to the door of the crambox. Gemini was not the only one who wondered if he would hit her. But Orion kept his control, and she left unharmed.
Orion stumbled back from the crambox rubbing his arms as if with soap, as if trying to scrape them clean from contact with the lovecord. "That thing ought to be outlawed. I actually loved her. I actually loved that stinking, bloody, son-of-abitching cop!" And he shuddered so violently that several of the guests laughed and the spell was broken.
Orion managed a smile and the guests went back to amusing themselves. With the sensitivity that even the insensitive and jaded sometimes exhibit, they left him alone with Gemini at the coritrols of the timelid.
Gemini reached out and brushed a strand of hair out of Orion's eyes. "Get a comb someday," he said. Orion smiled and gently stroked Gemini's hand. Gemini slowly removed his hand from Orion's reach. "Sorry, Orry," Gemini said, "but not anymore."
Orion pretended to shrug. "I know," he said. "Not even for old times' sake." He laughed softly. "That stupid string made me love her. They shouldn't even do that to criminals." He played with the controls of the holo, which was still on. The image zoomed in; the cab of the truck grew larger and larger. The chronons were too scattered and the image began to blur and fade. Orion stopped it.
By ducking slightly and looking through a window into the cab, Orion and Gemini could see the exact place where the outcropping of rock crushed Rod Bingley's head against the gas tank. Details, of course, were indecipherable.
"I wonder," Orion finally said, "if it's any different."
"What's any different?" Gemini asked.
"Death. If it's any different when you don't wake up right afterward."
Then the sound of Gemini's soft laughter.
"What's funny?" Orion asked.
"You," the younger man answered. "Only one thing left that you haven't tried, isn't there?"
"How could I do it?" Orion asked, half-seriously (only half?). "They'd only clone me back."
"Simple enough," Gemini said. "All you need is a friend who's willing to turn off the machine while you're on the far end. Nothing is left. And you can take care of the actual suicide yourself."
"Suicide," Orion said with a smile. "Trust you to use the policeman's term."
And that night, as the other guests slept off the alcohol in beds or other convenient places, Orion lay on the chair and pulled the box over his head. And with Gemini's last kiss on his cheek and Gemini's left hand on the controls, Orion said, "All right. Pull me over."
After a few minutes Gemini was alone in the room. He did not even pause to reflect before he went to the breaker box and shut off all the power for a critical few seconds. Then he returned, sat alone in the room with the disconnected machine and the empty chair. The crambox soon buzzed with the police override, and Mercy Manwool stepped out. She went straight to Gemini, embraced him. He kissed her, hard.
"Done?" she asked.
"The bastard didn't deserve to live," she said.
Gemini shook his head. "You didn't get your justice, my dear Mercy."
"Isn't he dead?"
"Oh yes, that. Well, it's what he wanted, you know. I told him what I planned.
And he asked me to do it." She looked at him angrily. "You would. And then tell me about it, so I wouldn't get any joy out of this at all." Gemini only shrugged. Manwool turned away from him, walked to the timelid. She ran her fingers along the box. Then she detached her laser from her belt and slowly melted the timelid until it was a mass of hot plastic on a metal stand. The few metal components had even melted a little, bending to be just a little out of shape. "Screw the past anyway," she said. "Why can't it stay where it belongs?"
DEEP BREATHING EXERCISES
If Dale Yorgason weren't so easily distracted, he might never have noticed the breathing. But he was on his way upstairs to change clothes, noticed the headline on the paper, and got deflected; instead of climbing the stairs, he sat on them and began to read. He could not even concentrate on that, however. He began to hear all, the sounds of the house. Brian, their two-year-old son, was upstairs, breathing heavily in sleep. Colly, his wife, was in the kitchen, kneading bread and also breathing heavily.
Their breath was exactly in unison. Brian's rasping breath upstairs, thick with the mucus of a child's sleep; Colly's deep breaths as she labored with the dough. It set Dale to thinking, the newspapers forgotten. He wondered how often people did that-- breathed perfectly together for minutes on end. He began to wonder about coincidence.
And then, because he was easily distracted, he remembered that he had to change his clothes and went upstairs. When he came down in his jeans and sweatshirt, ready for a good game of outdoor basketball now that it was spring, Colly called to him. "I'm out of cinnamon, Dale!"
"I'll get it on the way home!"
"I need it now!" Colly called.
"We have two cars!" Dale yelled back, then closed the door. He briefly felt bad about not helping her out, but reminded himself that he was already running late and it wouldn't hurt her to take Brian with her and get outside the house; she never seemed to get out of the house anymore.
His team of friends from Allways Home Products, Inc., won the game, and he came home deliciously sweaty. No one was there. The bread dough had risen impossibly, was spread all over the counter and dropping in large chunks onto the floor. Colly had obviously been gone too long. He wondered what could have delayed her.
Then came the phone call from the police, and he did not have to wonder anymore. Colly had a habit of inadvertently running stop signs.
*** The funeral was well attended because Dale had a large family and was well liked at the office. He sat between his own parents and Colly's parents. The speakers droned on, and Dale, easily distracted, kept thinking of the fact that of all the mourners there, only a few were there in private grief. Only a few had actually known Colly, who preferred to avoid office functions and social gatherings; who stayed home with Brian most of the time being a perfect housewife and reading books and being, in the end, solitary. Most of the people at the funeral had come for Dale's sake, to comfort him. Am I comforted? he asked himself. Not by my friends-- they had little to say, were awkward and embarrassed. Only his father had had the right instinct, just embracing him and then talking about everything except Dale's wife and son who were dead, so mangled in the incident that the coffin was never opened for anyone. There was talk of the fishing in Lake Superior this summer; talk of the bastards at Continental Hardware who thought that the 65-year retirement rule ought to apply to the president of the company; talk of nothing at all. But it was good enough. It distracted Dale from his grief.
Now, however, he wondered whether he had really been a good husband for Colly. Had she really been happy, cooped up in the house all day? He had tried to get her out, get to meet people, and she had resisted. But in the end, as he wondered whether he knew her at all, he could not find an answer, not one he was sure of. And Brian-- he had not known Brian at all. The boy was smart and quick, speaking in sentences when other children were still struggling with single words; but what had he and Dale ever had to talk about? All Brian's companionship had been with his mother; all Colly's companionship had been with Brian. In a way it was like their breathing-- the last time Dale had heard them breathe-- in unison, as if even the rhythms of their bodies were together. It pleased Dale somehow to think that they had drawn their last breath together, too, the unison continuing to the grave; now they would be lowered into the earth in perfect unison, sharing a coffin as they had shared every day since Brian's birth.
Dale's grief swept over him again, surprising him because he had thought he had cried as much as he possibly could, and now he discovered there were more tears waiting to flow. He was not sure whether he was crying because of the empty house he would come home to, or because he had always been somewhat closed off from his family; was the coffin, after all, just an expression of the way their relationship had always been? It was not a productive line of thought, and Dale let himself be distracted. He let himself notice that his parents were breathing together.
Their breaths were soft, hard to hear. But Dale heard, and looked at them, watched their chests rise and fall together. It unnerved him-- was unison breathing more common than he had thought? He listened for others, but Colly's parents were not breathing together, and certainly Dale's breaths were at his own rhythm. Then Dale's mother looked at him, smiled, and nodded to him in an attempt at silent communication. Dale was not good at silent communication; meaningful pauses and knowing looks always left him baffled. They always made him want to check his fly. Another distraction, and he did not think of breathing again.
Until at the airport, when the plane was an hour late in arriving because of technical dffficulties in Los Angeles. There was not much to talk to his parents about; even his father's chatter failed him, and they sat in silence most of the time, as did most of the other passengers. Even a stewardess and the pilot sat near them, waiting silently for the plane to arrive.
It was in one of the deeper silences that Dale noticed that his father and the pilot were both swinging their crossed legs in unison. Then he listened, and realized there was a strong sound in the gate waiting area, a rhythmic soughing of many of the passengers inhaling and exhaling together. Dale's mother and father, the pilot, the stewardess, several other passengers, all were breathing together. It unnerved him. How could this be? Brian and Colly had been mother and son; Dale's parents had been together for years. But why should half the people in the waiting area breathe together?
He pointed it out to his father.
"Kind of strange, but I think you're right," his father said, rather delighted with the odd event. Dale's father loved odd events.
And then the rhythm broke, and the plane taxied close to the windows, and the crowd stirred and got ready to board, even though the actual boarding was surely half an hour off.
The plane broke apart at landing. About half the people in the airplane survived. However, the entire crew and several passengers, including Dale's parents, were killed when the plane hit the ground.
It was then that Dale realized that the breathing was not a result of coincidence, or the people's closeness during their lives. It was a messenger of death; they breathed together because they were going to draw their last breath together. He said nothing about this thought to anyone else, but whenever he got distracted from other things he tended to speculate on this. It was better than dwelling on the fact that he, a man to whom family had been very important, was now completely without family; that the only people with whom he was completely himself, completely at ease, were gone, and there was no more ease for him in the world. Much better to wonder whether his knowledge might be used to save lives. After all, he often thought, reasoning in a circular pattern that never seemed to end, if I notice this again, I should be able to alert someone, to warn someone, to save their lives. Yet if I were going to save their lives, would they then breathe in unison? If my parents had been warned, and changed flights, he thought, they wouldn't have died, and therefore wouldn't have breathed together, and so I wouldn't have been able to warn them, and so they wouldn't have changed flights, and so they would have died, and so they would have breathed in unison, and so I would have noticed and warned them...
More than anything that had ever passed through his mind before, this thought engaged him, and he was not easily distracted from it. It began to hurt his work; he slowed down, made mistakes, because he concentrated only on breathing, listening constantly to the secretaries and other executives in his company, waiting for the fatal moment when they would breathe in unison.
He was eating alone in a restaurant when he heard it again. The sighs of breath came all together, from every table near him. It took him a few moments to be sure; then he leaped from the table and walked briskly outside. He did not stop to pay, for the breathing was still in unison at every table to the door of the restaurant.
The maitre d', predictably, was annoyed at his leaving without paying, and called out to him. Dale did not answer. "Wait! You didn't pay!" cried the man, following Dale out into the street.
Dale did not know how far he had to go for safety from whatever danger faced everyone in the restaurant; he ended up having no choice in the matter. The maitre d' stopped him on the sidewalk, only a few doors down from the restaurant, tried to pull him back toward the place, Dale resisting all the way.
"You can't leave without paying! What do you think you're doing?"
"I can't go back," Dale shouted. "I'll pay you! I'll pay you right here!" And he fumbled in his wallet for the money as a huge explosion knocked him and the maitre d' to the ground. Flame erupted from the restaurant, and people screamed as the building began crumbling from the force of the explosion. It was impossible that anyone still inside the building could be alive.
The maitre d', his eyes wide with horror, stood up as Dale did, and looked at him with dawning understanding. "You knew!" the maitre d' said. "You knew!"
* * *
Dale was acquitted at the trial-- phone calls from a radical group and the purchase of a large quantity of explosives in several states led to indictment and conviction of someone else. But at the trial enough was said to convince Dale and several psychiatrists that something was seriously wrong with him. He was