'How could the Outsider have chosen such a bungler? ...When had he ever offered a single sacrifice, however small, to the Outsider? Never! Not one in his entire life. Yet the Outsider had extended infinite credit to him... Certainly he would never be able to repay the Outsider for the knowledge and the honor, no matter how hard or how long he tried.' (Gene Wolfe, Nightside The Long Sun)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Through A Dark and Ruined Dreamscape

In bed, tossing and turning, Silk drove the deadcoach through a dark and ruined dreamscape, the land of the dead still a land of the living. The wind was blowing and blowing, fluttering all the yellow-white curtains of all the bedroom windows, fluttering the velvet hangings of the deadcoach like so many black flags; like the slashed poster on Sun Street with old Councillor Lemur's eyes gouged out, his nose and his mouth dancing, dancing in the wind; like the kind face of old Councillor Loris cut away and blowing down the gutter; like Maytera Rose's wide black habit, heavy with hemweights and death but fluttering anyway while the tall black plumes bent and swayed, while the wind caught the black lash of Silk's dancing whip, so that when he intended to whip one black horse he whipped the other. The unwhipped black horse lagged and lagged, dogged and dogged it, snorted at the billowing yellow dust but was never whipped. He should have been for cheating his brother who sweated and lunged at the harness though his flanks were crusted with yellow dust that the white foam had already dyed black.

In the deadcoach Orpine writhed naked and white, Silk's old torn cotton handkerchief falling from her face, always falling but never fallen, always slipping but never slipped, though the wind whistled against the glass and carried dust through every crack. While whipping the wrong horse, always the wrong horse, Silk watched her clawing Chenille's dagger, saw her claw and pull at it though it was wedged between her ribs, saw her clawing like a cat at the red cat with the fiery tail, at the fine brass guard all faceted with file work. Her face beneath the slipping handkerchief was stained with her blood, forever the face of Mucor, of Blood's crazed daughter. There were sutures in her scalp and her brown hair was shaved away, her black hair shaved by Moorgrass, who had washed her body and shaved half her head so that the stitches showed and a drop of blood at each stitch though her full breasts leaked milk onto the black velvet. The grave awaited her, only the grave, one more grave in a whorl of graves where so many lay already watched over by Hierax, God of Death and Caldé of the Dead, High Hierax the White-Headed One with her white spirit in his claws because the second one had been a brain surgeon, for whom if not for her?

Nor did Silk, alone in the padded black-leather driver's seat, know what any of these things meant, but only that he was driving to the grave and was late as usual. He always came to a grave too late and too soon, driving nightside in a dark that was darker than the darkest night, on a day that was hotter than the hottest day, so that it burned the billowing dust as an artist's earths are burned in an artist's little furnace, glowing gold in the heat, the black plumes billowing while he whipped the wrong horse, a sweating horse that would die at the grave if the other did not pull too. And where would Orpine lie, with the dead black horse in her grave?

“Hi-yup!” he shouted, but the horses did not heed him, for they were at the grave and the long sun gone out, burned out, dead forever until it kindled next time. “Too deep,” Chenille told him standing by the grave. “Too deep,” the frogs echoed her, frogs he had caught as a boy in the year that he and his mother had gone to the country for no reason and come back to a life no different, the frogs he loved and killed with his love. “Too deep!” and the grave was too deep, though its bottom was lined with black velvet so that the sand and the cold clay would never touch her. The cold, sinking waters of underground streams that were sinking every year it seemed would never wash Orpine, would not rot her back to trees and flowers, never wash off Blood's blood nor wet the fiery cat with the black mouse in its jaws, nor the golden hyacinths. Never fill the golden pool in which the golden crane watched golden fish forever; for this was no good year for golden fish, nor even for silver ones.

“Too deep!”

And it was too deep, so that the yellow dust would never fill it and the velvet at the bottom was sprinkled with sparks that might flicker at last but hadn't flickered yet as Maytera Marble told him pointing, and by the light of that one there she was young again, with a face like Maytera Mint's and brown gloves like flesh covering her hard-working steel fingers.

“Too long!” he told the horses, and the one that never pulled at all lunged and plunged and put his back into it, pulling for all he was worth, though the wind was in his teeth and the night darker than any night could be, with never a patch of skylands showing. The long road underground was buried forever in the billowing dust and all this blowing brush.

“Too long!”

Hyacinth sat beside him on the padded leather seat; after a time he gave her his old, bloodstained handkerchief to cover her nose and mouth. Though the wind bayed like a thousand yellow hounds, it could not blow their creaking, shining, old deadcoach off of this road that was no road at all, and he was glad of her company.

(Gene Wolfe, Lake of the Long Sun)

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