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The body                                           

the body on the blue tarp, draped in filthy fleece, bone-bleached chinos, the one foot laced in a torn leather shoe, the other gone, that trouser leg knotted off just below the knee. Glint of gold about a wrist, a watch. The only sound a lazy lap of water somewhere below.

“You can’t,” he says, “think of it like that. The past is not another country. You can’t go to the future. They’re directions. Not places.”

She steps off the little wooden porch, sinks to her knees with a crackle of dead dry grass before a broken wooden tub. Ragged red Chuck Taylors, black boxer briefs, broad straw hat. A single sob heaves up shoulders burnt a ruddy brown, her back, her legs. Running from the waistband of her briefs a pale seam pinkly white against her sunbrowned belly shining up and up to the thick green stub of a stem, freshly broken, rooted in a gnurl of flesh on her breast.

“David?” she says. He’s slumped in the high-backed black desk chair, photographs spread over his lap, under his unmoving hands. Hazed by light from windowed walls that narrow to a windowed point in that open room. “David,” she says again, there in the kitchen, black shorts, red shoes, the broad straw hat, and something else, a flower a-bob there by her chin, bloomed delicately pink from a long green stem coiled once about her shoulders, and rooted in her breast. A scuff of something underfoot as she heads down from the kitchen, blue glitter brightly scattered on the steps.

Rustle she pulls the folded tarp from a narrow closet crunch as something heedless falls in its wake. Sunlight blares through windows all about, and drifting scrims of dust. Bundling the awkward tarp under one arm she brushes the flower irritatedly from her face and heads out past a tipped-over bucket, a rack hung with yellow track suits, white piping shrouded in dust, past drywall patched with curdled plaster, out onto the landing, and staircases up and down, and the chuckle and slap of water somewhere below.

Paddling her canoe through sunstruck wavelets up to the point of the corner of the building that rises up white and green, she slews about with the rough-hewn paddle to slow a rush of water sloshed before half-open doors of mud-flecked glass. Stashing the paddle in the bottom of the boat she reaches up and back for the frame and muscles bunching in sunburned arms leans, levers, wriggles the slender canoe around to pull herself backwards through the doors. Click-clack, a sign hung to one side, Sorry We’re Closed, it says.

Gliding back past mannequins knee-deep in scummed-over water, polyester finery gone dank, racks and shelves of clothing mud-soaked, rotting, clouded glass case filled with spills of beads, sunglasses tumbled in amber and tortoiseshell, clouds of chiffon scarves, sparkling bangles and baubles, the occasional fallal, geegaws, trinkets, slow currents roiling in her wake. Lifting off her hat she leans away from the flower by her chin, looks ahead over her shoulder to eye her stately progress through another doorway, into a trash-choked hall, until the stern clacks gently against a submerged crate. Clambering adroitly hat in hand from canoe up over stepping to the ottoman beyond a squelching leap the landing there, slimed with mud, stairs rising steeply, high and dry, to a second floor, and a third.

“Jesus,” she says, and “fucking” and “oh shit, you fucker, move.” With a skronking wrench the outer glass door shivers in against the weight of water shoved and sloshing falling through she’s spitting getting her splashing feet under herself dark hoodie soaked, black jeans sodden, fighting her way to the landing high and dry enough, “shit,” she says, but “Wait!” he’s pushed in after, churning up muck-slicked waves, falling to cling to a crate there by the wall of mailboxes, “Jo!” he yells, but she’s scrabbling up the stairs to the second floor. He splashes after white shirt translucent beige fleece slopped over his shoulders up the dripping steps, “Jo!” Lunging to clutch an ankle tripping her bang to her elbows, “Think,” he’s saying, as “Dammit!” she kicks herself free, “there’s no one here!” he cries, but she’s up on her feet, “Ysabel!” she bellows, from the next landing up. “Iona!”

“Shit,” he says, tugging back a waterlogged cuff to check the golden watch about his wrist, and every hand of each of its dials hung slackly loose. “Shit.”

Through the dead grass past a rust-mottled air vent toward the body on the tarp there by the parapet, she kneels to stroke the sunken cheek, “You stupid,” she murmurs, “stupid,” as she takes up a wrist, brushing back what remains of a fleecey sleeve to reveal that watch. Supinates the wrist to pick at the latch until it springs open, loosening the golden band, and the watch slips off to drop into her palm. She peers at the face of it in the shade of her hat, four or five dials each hashed with tiny numerals, signs and sigils, and all the hands pointed up and up, to twelve, to twenty-seven, to the tops of their dials, even the single ornate sweep hand above them all. “Stupid,” she says, again. “Never should’ve,” but the rest is blown away by a sigh. Lifting the edge of the blue tarp crinkling over the body, reaching to grab the other side. The watch chimes then, softly.

She freezes, bent over the body. Looks down without moving her head to the watch, tilted just to see the sweep hand swinging down to point toward something behind her, off to the left. The quiet lap of water far below’s disturbed by the faintest flickering hum. Slowly, so slowly she turns enough to look back over her left shoulder, where it hangs a few feet back, a central mass maybe as big as the palm of a hand, glossily carapaced, and waspish bodies, four of them, depended from the quarters of it, each twitching a-shiver with flickering wings, lacily rainbowed, too many too fast to count. She tenses as it swoops just a few inches away, spun about to bring one of those bodies to bear. She leans back her head, tipping the brim of her hat out of its way. Closes her eyes as it settles on her shoulder, a great four-taloned claw clamped about her upper arm, her back, her chest, the buzzing stilled, those wings now visible, four sets of four each, veinily transparent. The clicking as tiny legs dimple her skin. It noses closer to the broken stem rooted in her breast, and she sucks a sudden breath when black eyes open as that snout rears up, legs cycling before they seize her ragged stump, and squeeze it, drops of sap flicked up to what might be a mouth.

“Oh,” she says, “oh – ”

It kicks off in a blur of whirring wings, wheeling about to zip up and back, slip to one side, nose toward what’s laid out before her, but quickly now she settles the tarp to drape the body completely, and it turns away, spins about lifting, and she sits back on her heels to watch it accelerate away. Snaps the latch of the watchband closed about her fingers. The hands of it all swing slackly loose but the one, that sweep hand, still steadily pointed back behind her, off to the left. She looks back again. Nothing now but the little wooden porch in the awning’s shade, the closed door, the building beyond.

With a grunt she heaves the bundled body up onto the parapet, swings it out, away, lets go. After a moment from down below a splash. She’s already sat herself on the parapet, hat in one hand, watch about the other. She turns herself about, elbows braced, legs a-dangle kicking once, pushing herself away to let herself drop and then, a pause, the splash.

“Orthogonal,” he says. “Hyperbolic orthogonal, rather.” His voice unmuffled by that tarp. “Since we’re abstracting a pseudo-Riemannian manifold down to a, a pseudoholomorphically symplectic curve, and I’ve always liked that about math? If anything threatens the elegance of your equation, you can just,” he smiles, or seems to, “forget about it.” Laid out in the bottom of the canoe. She’s perched in the stern, braced against the gunwale to cant the boat to one side, driving it sluggishly forward with awkward curling strokes of the paddle. “So throw out the spacelike dimensions, height, breadth, width: fuck ’em. Focus on the timelike: now,” and he leans forward in the big black high-backed chair, fingers pinching a point before his eyes, “before,” a wave off to his left, “and after,” a gesture right.

“What have you done,” she says, lifting the lid of one of those boxes stacked about. Blue glitter slithers to the floor. He slaps it shut, knocking the lid from her hands. “You might as well ask who drowned the world,” he says, leaned heavily on his makeshift crutch.

“Future days,” she mutters. The bow of the canoe now pointed past those spiky hillocks ahead, leafless crowns of submerged trees. She rests the dripping paddle on the gunwales.

“They’re gone!” he roars, pounding up the stairs after her, grabbing her arm. She shoves, slap of wet clothing, “whatever’s up there,” his gritted teeth, “fuck you,” she snarls, shoves him against the wall, “it isn’t them,” he says, catching her hand. She yanks back, drops to sit on the steps, “think,” he says, sitting back in that chair, “of time as a line. We’ll keep it simple. Time is a line, and now?” His hands suggest a line in the air, string a point on it, shrug. “Thing about now is, now doesn’t move. It can’t. It’s now. It’s the line that moves,” sweep of a hand from right to left, “bringing what’s to come, letting go of what has been. What do you think,” lurching away from the box with a hop-skip, crutch and foot, over toward the windows, “about a hundred feet? How many icebergs even is that?”

“All of them,” she mutters, digging in with the paddle again, past the cool shadow of an apartment block, out over unruffled water like milky mud stretched vastly out before her. Far-off, ahead, towers rise grey-glassed and white, and further off, to the right, the towering arc of a bridge still high and dry above the water, past green-glassed towers and girdered infrastructure sunk deep, overwhelmed. To her left, another bridge risen up from the middle of the swollen river to almost reach the steep far bank. She savages the water with the paddle, swinging her freighted bow toward it, toward another set of girdered towers, angled stubs that jut from the water there and there before the empty freeway bridge. “All of them,” she says, but he shakes his head under the tarp, “Precisely,” he says. “The thing about now is, we experience the moment, the instant, the point, but it’s really a plane. To keep it simple. I mean, where the line of time passes through it?” Poking the palm of his hand. “A point, sure. But looping out from that,” his poking finger lifted in a swoop, “perpendicular to, orthogonal to that line, etched across the plane of now: what might’ve been. What maybe could. Every moment,” he says, sitting back in the chair, “carries with it everything that led up to it, and anything that might come of it.” Leaning on his crutch there by the windows, sunlight dappling his face.

“What the fuck is this,” she growls when he opens the door.

“Good to see you, too,” he says, slumping with studied insouciance.

“The fuck, David!” Thumping the door with a fist, rattling the numbers nailed to it. She reaches into her unzipped hoodie to yank down the collar of her white T-shirt. He frowns, peering at the blemish on her breast, the puckered skin, the greenly yellow leaf uncurling from it. “Well, damn,” he says. “I guess we know now we’re not inside of that.”

“You’re so full of shit,” she says, unzipping her sodden hoodie. “You fucked with this,” click-clack she taps the hard little lump on her breast, under her wet white T-shirt, “and it did what it does, which is contain the fuckery.” He lets out a single flat laugh, turning away from the windows on his crutch, “If that’s taken us inside of it,” he says, and a nod for the flower grown up straight and tall beside her chin, “then how is it in here, with us?”

The canoe’s slipped into still water, in the lee of one of those girdered towers, a breakwater of junk, branches and broken timbers and picked-over flotsam. Caged in the girders high above a great counterweight, storeys of concrete once painted red, now covered over with crawling black shapes blurred by buzzing wings. “Well,” he says. “We’re fucked then, aren’t we.”

“Should’ve gotten some dry clothes.”

“I wouldn’t go back there, if I were you,” he says, and she stops, dripping, there in the kitchen. “That’s,” she says, looking into the open, sunlit room beyond, “those,” as he pushes past, down the three low steps, among the regular banker’s boxes white and brown stacked about, on the floor, on the sofa, “the photos,” she says. “The Devil’s morgue. Someone must’ve brought it all up, before the flood.”

“You haven’t heard a goddamn thing I’ve said.” He sits back in the chair. Lifts the lid of a box, water puddling at his feet. “There is no back. We can’t go anywhere. All we’ve got is now.” Leaned on that crutch. “It’s just, a different now. But the problem is, whatever it is that makes it different?”

“What have you done,” she says, red shoes spangled with blue glitter, that flower pink grown up out of her half-zipped hoodie.

“The math. Can’t. Tell,” he says, knocking the lid of the box by his knee for emphasis. “Whatever we use to try to grab hold of it, points, vectors, planes or manifolds, pseudoholomorphic curves, whichever way we run the equations, forwards, backwards, now or later, doesn’t matter. You can’t tell. The math,” a lop-sided shrug, “forgets.”

A hawk screams somewhere, and those black shapes leap from the tower to a sudden thunderhead, a bombilation rising in volume, falling in pitch as they swoop overhead, dip toward the canoe, the tarp-wrapped body within. She lifts her paddle, holds it warily, as she glides closer to the tower, “Hrif!” someone cries, a figure up there, hanging off a ladder, glint of sunlight on goggles. “Hrif!” Someone else, scrambling toward her over the junkpile.

“What did you do,” she whispers under her broad straw hat, the stem of that flower grown long enough now to loop, once, about her shoulders.

They’ve wrapped the body with bungee cords about the tarp, the one of them goggles pushed up, a couple faded T-shirts one over another and arms wound about with strips of filthy cloth, the other in dusty black rubber waders, dark shoulders shining, floppy grey bucket hat. She’s perched above them, leaned back against a girder, red shoes braced on an angled beam, “I did what I had to!” he shouts, through the tarp. “I figured it out! How to make it matter!”

“Gheupo we!” The body jerks, bungee cords lashed to a cable yanked taut, gears creaking. It begins to spin, slowly, as it’s lifted.

“I know how this ends, David,” she says, as he lurches toward the chair, as he sits back in the chair, as he spins that high-backed chair about, idly, with one wet hand. “You’re gonna die here,” she says. “Right there.”

“But I figured out how to make it back,” he says.

She shrugs.

“Topat wel,” says the one, pushing back the bucket hat. The other’s halfway up the tower, guiding the body past the enormous counterweight, and the buzzing crowd eddies about, skirling, whirling up to settle in crawling clusters at the top of that tower, waiting. “Dal, dam timon, the time, ’s good. Hungruz, kenk, kenkru? Grows,” he says. “Topat wel. Gedhlei. Good.”

“Yeah,” she says, hopping off the beam, crash and crunch through the junk.

“You’ll be back,” he says, leaned on his crutch, sat in that chair, dripping among all those boxes.

“Yeah,” she says. The towers of downtown so close across the water, brick and crowned by a ziggurat, high and white with darkly narrow windows, grey and topped by the tilted black wing of a great solar panel, and pale smoke drifting from beneath it into a white sky filled with droning black shapes swelling the flocks that circle above, but ahead, behind all that, rising into the haze from the flood, a lone tower of ruddy amber glass framed by dull pink stone all flatly sunstruck bright, and tethered far above a garden, a sudden burst of color against the sky, circling a castle of yellow stone, all on the back of a shining silver zeppelin.

From behind her, the call, “Medheigh!” She waves without looking back. Plants a foot in the canoe scraping against driftwood, balancing a moment. Red shoes, black shorts, the broad straw hat. Stump of a stem at her breast, gold watch flashing about her fingers as she reaches for the paddle. Leaning into a kick of a shove, pushing out over

Table of Contents

Pseudo-Riemannian Manifolds and Isometric Actions of Simple Lie Groups,” written by Raul Quiroga-Barranco, ©2013.

The water                                                   

the water brown and oily sunlight-frothed, sluiced into the bucket by a current slow and strong. Twang of the rope as she pulls it hand over hand up through the pulley, wobbling, sloshing, white plastic striated with hard use. Wrapping the rope about one hand, letting go with the other, leaning out over the drop to grasp the bucket’s handle, balancing rope, pulley, bucket, herself, she shifts, hauls, releases a screech of the pulley the bucket slopping in through the window.

Leaned against the weight of it she makes her way past a wall of silent grandfather clocks out into a broad dim showroom broken up in niches and nooks by arrangements of furniture, settees and love seats, end tables, coffee tables, rugs laid showily atop the dull grey carpet, a phalanx of loungers, a couple chaises longues. Her red shoes, black jeans, dark hoodie. A row of freestanding fireplaces, red brick and white and yellow and grey stone, white tile, smoked glass, gleaming chrome, but every hearth is cold. At the end a wide white plaster mantel, elaborately molded, and four or five mounds of blankets and pillows laid out before it.

Long windows at the front of the showroom glazed with sunlight, and another line of fireplaces there, faced out toward the empty street. She sets the bucket down before a pot-bellied stove at the end, with a ramshackle sheet-metal chimney run up and back to a hole punched in the wall. Dry wood stacked beside it, split and neatly trimmed. Protecting her hand with the cuff of her hoodie she levers the door open, eyes the glowing embers, stuffs in a log, and another.

The water in the bucket brown, but slicked with hints of rainbow.

On the mantel off to one side a tall stainless steel pot, a couple of skillets, a plate of something, draped in crinkled plastic wrap, a misshapen loaf of stuff the color of old ice that quivers as she digs her fingers into it, scooping off a goodly corner, rolling it into a fatty ball with her fingertips. Holds it over the bucket, lets it drop. It floats a moment before with a sizzling plop it sinks, scarring the muddy water with white bubbles. She leans back against the mantel, stretches out her arms, grimacing, shaking out her hands. The bucket gurgles, spits up more bubbles that pop with a smokey haze. The stove sighs, the chimney tocks, once. An ethereally slender man shuffles up, quilt about his narrow shoulders, blinking behind thick spectacles. “Bout done?” he says, looking over the bucket.

“Give it a minute,” she says.

A girl approaches, long dark hair and a cropped white tank, “Where’s the coffee?” she moans.

“In the jar,” she says, snagging a tin cup from among the pots and pans.

“You ain’t even made it yet?” says the girl, rolling her eyes. “Water’s not done,” says the slender man. The girl stalks off. She scoops a cupful up from the bucket, sips, then gulps it down, clear water trickling from the corner of her mouth. “It’s done,” she says, dropping the cup.

“You want some coffee?” he says, as she steps away.

“Can’t stand instant,” she says.

“But it’s all that’s left,” he says, gaze mournfully rounded by those spectacles.

Brown water sucks at the pole as he shoves the raft along. Greenery draping the banks of the gulch to either side, buildings stood up beyond, the blankly grey warehouse looming behind them, red letters unlit say Gordon’s Fireplace Shop. His loose white shirt, his cargo shorts, his spectacles blanked in the light. She’s up toward the front, dark hoodie, black jeans, by someone bundled in blankets, stringy iron-colored hair spread thinly from the scalp, and a bald man, brown-shouldered, pin-striped vest and trousers. The girl laid on her belly on a towel in the middle of the raft, and rainbow-colored ponies cavort across her underwear. She’s writing something in a fat little journal with a silver pen.

The water broadens as the gulch bends to the right, and an onramp lifts ponderously from the middle of it, pavement cracked and yellow grass sprung up. He pushes along from bent to bent until the ramp is high enough to slip beneath, out of the sun, and as the shadow falls the girl on the towel rolls over, looks back to him and his pole with a glare that unfolds in a wide-eyed smiling gasp. “Fairies!” she cries, pointing.

A dozen maybe, clustered about each other against the underside of the ramp, black bodies formless, clickery scratch of claws, humming of unseen wings as one and then another drops, snaps to, zigs and zags. He plants the pole, dragging the raft to a sloshing slowing stop, and the man in the vest gets to his feet, and she does, too, the both of them eyeing the buzzing, whirring mass. Something’s glistening in the middle of them all, a grey wet shimmer, “Think it’s a big one,” says the man in the vest. The girl laughs. “Look!” she cries. “Look!”

One of them hovers before her, bobbing as one of its waspish bodies curls under itself, jerking as wings strain to take up the slack, the one body grasping toward its opposite, legs extending up and down to meet with knitting clicks. “Oh, look,” says the girl. Something growing glistens there, too grey to shine in sunlight bounced off smooth brown water. The stuff’s flicked up to hang a moment as it unfolds itself, wheeling away as that ball drops neatly to her upheld hands, a greasy plop that quivers as she clutches it carefully to herself. “Wow,” she says.

The chainsaw rattle, the two-stroke growl, the rest of them kick off the underside flipping and falling in swarming whirling streams out into the sunlight up and gone. The stuff they’ve left behind distends, an egg, a teardrop stretching threads of itself still clinging to concrete, “Watch it” and “Don’t bump” and “Whoop!” as it drops thump to the middle of the raft, “Whoa” and “Got it!” and “Wait a minute, wait” as wavelets disturb the brown placidity about them, slopping over the boards of the raft to soak their feet, the blankets, the towel, “My journal!” cries to girl, but she holds it out to her, and the pen, rescued from the water. The girl beams, clutching them to her chest with her sloppy handful of stuff.

“This is plenty,” says the man in the vest, hunkered over the splattered bolus.

“So let’s go back,” says the girl, pressing her handful into it, arms streaked luminous grey.

“It’s too much,” says the hatless bundle hunched at the front of the raft.

“We said we’d all go,” says the man with the spectacles.

She says, “I want some damn strawberries.”

“And fish,” says the hatless bundled. “But it must be kept safe.”

“From what?” says the man in the vest with a snort, and “We can just cover it with the towel,” says the man with the spectacles.

“They’ll know. They’ll all know.”

She says, “So somebody takes it. We’ll just find more.”

“This is enough for days!” cries the girl. “We can just, go back, fuck off, who cares? Strawberries.” Stepping to the edge of the raft. “I mean,” she says, “I could fucking swim back – ”

“Lauren,” booms the hatless bundle. “You are not to dip one toe in that foul brew.”

“Yessul,” mutters the girl, skipping down the line of grandfather clocks, bare feet silent on the carpet, “check it from the inside,” she sings to herself, past the nooks and niches, “step up to play,” past the fireplaces dark and cold, “come on strong, hold on tight,” up to the front of the showroom where someone sits before those sunfilled windows, dark hoodie, black jeans, she patters up all in a rush, “that boy’s gonna make you scream tonight! Hey,” she hunkers in her cartooned underwear, “something I wanted to ask you.” Reaching for that hoodie. “What do you have on your – ”

“Don’t,” she says, knocking the hand aside.

“Okay,” says the girl, sitting back. Swinging her skinny legs around, wriggling bare feet filthy, catching them in her hands as she leans forward, “I used to have a pair of red shoes.”

“Did you,” she says, gripping the rough-hewn paddle, ragged red Chucks braced against the gunwales. Her broad straw hat, the broken stem jutting from her breast. Watchband gleaming about her fingers. To her left the dull pink tower rising, and the tether climbing higher, but to her right the river opens, stretched off in a side-channel, a steeply green-walled gulch, gated by a tangle of freeway overpasses and bridges risen and fallen from the dull brown endless water. They drift into her wake as she paddles past, even as that tower seems to stay fixed, turning only slightly, to follow her.

Twist the berry thumb and forefinger pinch the stem, pluck, a tiny thing in her palm, bright red peppered with black, a fade of pinkish green about the cap of it, but she’s swung her hand over the plastic bucket by her knee, maybe a third full already, she’s let it drop, her other hand already reaching for the next berry, the next plant. Lined across a gentle slope long low-mounded rows of low and dusty plants, and narrow dusty paths between each row, and just ahead a knee-high concrete wall. As she plucks the last berry from the last plant before it she hoists the bucket up to balance on its crumbling top, then sits herself beside it, swings her red-shoed feet over. The dusty ground beyond’s a foot or two lower, but lined with more rows of dusty red-dotted plants. In the shadows to the right there, neat piles of old brick, an even stack of whitely desiccated lumber, ruthless coils of wire, what’s left of the house the wall once supported. A couple people ahead, crouching, kneeling, making their way along their rows, reaching, plucking, filling buckets and boxes, a half dozen more, seven, eight, to either side of this foundation, through a similar space beside it where another house had been, now filled with strawberries. These fields bordered above and below by the broken pavements of empty streets yellowed with dust and old mud. Another block below of houses razed and dry soil tilled and low plants mounded in long interrupted rows, and yellow grass beyond, and then trees black and green below, falling away to the valley floor, houses down there and buildings, and brown water pooled in dendritic fronds along low streets. Far off away on the horizon an abruptly upthrust tooth of treeless grey-brown stone, a single mountain, utterly bereft of snow. She heads on down her row through the former crawlspace, turning leaves with care, plucking berries darkly red, leaving behind the pale ones white and greenly pink. Those ahead already climbing up and over the foundation wall, leaving her behind.

The man in the pin-striped vest steps heavily down the slope, one arm up to steady the laden flats balanced on his shoulder, his other slung low by the weight of a full bucket, a red bandana tied about his bald head. “Fujiwara-nota!” he calls, to the small crowd gathered by the rickety wagon at the bottom of the field, couple-three women in print dresses, a blouse, some broad-brimmed bonnets, the slender man in his cargo shorts and his loose white shirt, the girl’s there, too, sat tailor-fashion by the bundle of blankets, writing in her journal. The older guy who turned at the cry peers up, skin crinkled about his eyes. His brown jeans shiny with old grime, a yellow kerchief about his neck, black fedora tipped back on his head. “Arrie gato, gozeye mas!” calls the man in the vest, “Fujiwara-nota!” and the older guy rocks back with laughter. “Not bad!” he booms. “You’ll soon sound like a Yonsei!”

The man in the vest sets his bucket down by others clustered there, and then the flats he’s carried. She’s coming down after him, buckets heavy in either hand. “Want us to go back out?” he says, straightening, thumbing a trickle of sweat from his brow, but “Nah, no,” the older guy’s saying, “we already got more than we could ever eat. Somebody’s got to learn to make strawberry wine, eh, Baba?” The woman in the blouse waves a dismissive hand. “Brandy even,” says the older guy, taking one of the buckets from her hands. “That’ll use some up. Come on, Jonny Pulliam’s gonna be here by nightfall, and a metric buttload of seriously fat fish. Let’s get these berries loaded, run ’em down to the compound, and then do nothing at all except maybe keep an eye on the grill till he shows.”

She stumps over to sprawl on the curb by the girl and the bundle of blankets as they start heaving up buckets and flats onto the wagon. “Hey,” she says, pulling a wadded handkerchief from her hoodie. “Lauren.” The girl ends a sentence with a flourish and looks up, scowling, capping her pen. She’s unwrapped the handkerchief to reveal a half-dozen little berries, perfectly red, and the girl squeeps and grabs them up, pops one in her mouth, “Oh,” she says, rolling her eyes, “so good,” chewing, swallowing with a humming moan, “Pru,” she says, “Pru, they are so good,” holding one out to the bundle, the stringy-haired scalp tipping to free a spindle nose from a blanket-fold, chapped lips parting about sharp yellow teeth that take a berry, gingerly, from the girl’s hand. The wagon’s creaking, getting under way, the older guy and the man in the vest at the beam at the end of the tongue of it, bracing themselves as the slender man and the woman in the blouse push. The girl flings her arms about her, “You are the best!” and “Lauren,” she says, “hey, Lauren,” as the girl sits back, peering, pointing, “What’s that,” she says, curious, not at all unfriendly.

She looks down at her T-shirt under the unzipped hoodie, at the spot brightly there, the point of light that doesn’t shift or fall away as she turns about, that’s shining out from within her shirt.

“Jo?” says the girl, but she’s scrambled to her feet, stepped away, she’s yanking at the collar of her

A crack in the thumb-sized rainbowed slick that’s otherwise smooth against her skin and shining out from it a spark of golden yellow light and uncurling up from within a tender greenly yellow leaf, another

“Jo!” cries the girl as she falls to her knees, her hands and knees heaving once a hacking spitting cough of something slimily yellow, and a deep breath scrapes the back of her throat. “Are you,” footsteps behind her, rustle of clothing, blankets, “Oh” and “Is she” but she pushes herself to her stumbling feet, “Wait! Jo!” but she waves them away, heads off away, up the dusty street, faster and faster toward the dark trees and the sky so white above and the flaring brilliance of

Table of Contents

Curves,” written by Chloe Day, copyright holder unknown. Oregon Legislature marks 75 years since presidential executive order 9066 brought Japanese internment,” written by Diane Dietz, ©2017 www.statesmanjournal.com.

The sun                                                 

the sun shining down through concrete pillars that support a tangle of onramps and offramps knitted against the white sky above scoring the brownly dappled water with shadowed maps. Quick chopping strokes of the rough-hewn paddle scoot the stern of the canoe about a curl of a turn to the right under a low bridge, skidding through shadow and back out into dazzling bright. She keeps her head down, shaded by the brim of her broad straw hat. Another bridge ahead, even lower, anchored to a grassy ridge just breaking the water’s surface, and she ducks forward as the canoe slips under and past with the last of its momentum.

A lapped lagoon beyond, pavement rising up from under her to crest that grassy yellow slope, a sudden shore crowned by dark trees, and splashing and peals of laughter echoing. She swings the paddle out and around, suddenly wary. Past a skeletal stand of drowned trees, the rusted tops of a couple of sunken fence poles, there’s a fold in the shoreline, a shallow pool snug against the sudden loft of the ridge, and a half-dozen kids splashing and laughing, dark against the bright water, the yellow grass. Falling silent as her canoe drifts up crunching snagged to a stop on the shore. Red shoes splashing she drags the canoe higher onto the grass, drops the paddle clattering into the belly of it. “Need to keep your ears open,” she calls down to them. “Eyes peeled. Moody’ll come down and get you.”

They laugh, all of them, the boys with black hair closely clipped, the girl with her curls tied up in beaded twists, even the toddler, clapping pudgy hands and kicking up water, “He ain’t come down in years,” says one of the boys, shading his eyes to peer up at her, and “Everybody knows that,” says another.

She looks down at the watch about her fingers, then up, to the bridge above, winding together with all the others to flow toward the swooping arch of the freeway gathering itself to leap across the water. “Years,” she says.

“Reverend Turner keeps the calendar,” says the woman leading them down the dim hall, “oh, my, yes. Fifty years since the flood, and almost fifty years again, it will be soon,” her head wrapped about in brightly colored scarves, and more bright cloth swathing her shoulders, drapes of shimmering yellow, orange, red, “when the waters recede, and Vanport stands once more.” Doors open on spacious rooms, unlit to the left, but those to the right have windows, filmy curtains, sunlight, beds neatly made with white sheets and brown blankets and about each bed more curtains that might be drawn, or left pulled back, and this room has five or six cardboard boxes filled with books, and the next a small table overwhelmed with framed photographs, the next’s awash in plastic and wooden toys in strong primary colors, and conversations still as they approach, and folks look out at them as they pass, his footsteps loudly clattering, those stovepipes clamped about his shins. “We’ll know for certain when we see it all come back, of course, but by then it’ll be too late. A time, and the times, and the dividing of time.” The hall opens out in a sharp corner, turning, sunlit rooms continuing around to the right, walls falling away to the left, a counter instead, a chrome rack hung with soft suits in singly rich colors, magenta, pale green, luminous blue, a man sat in a desk chair, another man in a faded blue smock stood beside him, scissors in one hand, a comb the other, a third man looking over the intricate game of solitaire laid out on the counter before him, behind jars and vials and little pots of powders, salves, creams and oils, and a small sign propped by a dead computer monitor: Lew’s Man Shop, say white plastic letters neatly pinned to black felt. “He’s usually here in the afternoons,” she says.

“Brady?” says the barber. “He’s off in the courtyard, seeing to Ike and that rabbit of his.”

“Thought he was up with George and Howard today,” says the man in the chair.

“Ain’t no rabbit,” says the man laying a card down with a snap. He frowns almost immediately.

“A busy man, our reverend,” says the woman in headscarves, turning back to the two of them, waving them on, him skinny, dark hair tucked under the colander on his head, the plastic bin in his hockey-gloved hands cloudily greasily filled with something heavy, the color of old ice, much like the bin in her bare hands, her dark hoodie half unzipped to leave room for the flower grown there, delicately pink, at the end of a stubby green stem poked up from the ripped collar of her T-shirt. “But, oh, yes, my dear,” the woman in headscarves is saying, “decades since He moored His castle in the skies above, and sent His cherubs to us with their manna, but only months remain until Vanport returns, and He steps down to begin His glorious reign.”

“Decades,” she says, mostly to herself. Down the next hall, the sunlight less direct here, cooler, but still the stilling conversations, the wary, watchful eyes, not glaring, not quite staring, the women in a circle with a quilt upon their laps, the man poised on a credenza with a hammer and his lips about a couple tiny silver nails, the old woman peering out from behind the plastic curtain drawn about her bed, sparsely curls rinsed blue, the toddler goggling as they clanking pass. The hall opens out in a wide foyer, walled and doored with smokey glass, and slow dust a-drift through lowly desultory light. A quiet bank of elevators there, and a long rack that holds perhaps a half-dozen bicycles before a row of dark and empty vending machines, and a small sign of black felt on a stand at one end, Thos. Shine Parlor & Bicycle Shop, say neatly pinned letters of white plastic. “Through here,” the woman’s saying, “through here,” scarves and wraps still bright in the dimly amber, but there’s a squeak and a patter of running feet, “Randy!” someone’s calling, “Randy!” and there’s the toddler running out into the foyer, a man hustling behind, “Sir Bob!” cries the toddler, arms out wide to crash into a hug about the skinny guy’s pipe-clamped leg.

“Hey, little mister,” says the skinny guy with a smile, looking down past his heavy bin. She sets her own bin on the floor, then takes his, and stiffly he drops to one clanking knee, clink of the glass bottles in his canvas rucksack. She’s set his bin on hers, straightens, leaning annoyed away from the flower that brushes her chin. “Sorry,” the man’s saying back there, “sorry, Randy, you come on back now,” but from off that way here comes striding a short man regal in pastoral lavender, a couple three people behind him, “Pearlie Mae!” his voice large and rich, his thick spectacles gleaming. “Is everything all right?”

“Of course,” says the woman in headscarves, “it’s all fine, Bob’s just brought us more,” but those spectacles’ve turned to her, they’re all looking at her now, sunbleached, sweatlogged, the only spot of color about her that pale pink flower, the bright green stem.

Clank and scrape the skinny guy pushes himself to his feet beside her. “Since when is your name Bob,” she says, quietly sidelong, and “Later,” he says, with a warning lilt. “Who’s your friend then, Bob?” says the man in the lavender suit, that rich voice filling the foyer without being raised. The skinny guy turns to her, but it’s then the toddler lifts a hand and says, much too loudly, “She has a flower!”

Hand over her heart, clenching the flaps of the half-zipped hoodie, pushing the flower back, away, stepping back from the hockey-gloved hand held out to her, but the woman in headscarves kneels, an arm about the toddler, “Isn’t it a wonder?” she says, smiling.

Clattering spokes, whizz of chains, bicycles soar up the empty street, houses to either side giving way to low buildings, a yellow warehouse with a sign that might once have said Rebuilding Center, a giant guitar hung in the window of a pale blue building says Black Book Guitars, the windows of the next shop walled up with books, Reading Frenzy, says the sign over the door. Unlit neon in a dark window once spelled out Bridge City Comics, faded signs say The Meadow and Mississippi Chiropractic and Laughing Planet. A chittering flock of songbirds erupts as they wheel past a line of trees before a looming block of apartments, a tipped-over sandwich sign on the sidewalk, an arrow pointed uselessly off toward a Rental Office. A blackly four-lobed shape floats up against the white sky laboring under the sheen of its wings as those songbirds settle, chirruping, in their wake. He’s pumping, pushing heavily, the clank of the stovepipes clamped about his shins, the enormous pot lid strapped to his chest, the rattle of empty bins and clink of glass in the panniers behind him. She drives ahead, coasts behind, churns her pedals to catch up once more, the flower laid back against a shoulder, fluttering with speed. A lone car slumped in the next intersection, a van that says We Deliver For You by an abstract eagle-shape in blue on its side. She slows as he grinds on, she circles the van in a swoop of a turn, stood up on her pedals, looking it over. The tires long since gone, and the glass of its windows, the front of it crumpled, scorched. “Hey!” she calls, flatly loud, pumping her pedals, flower bobbing as she pulls away. “Hey!” Catching up halfway along the next block, more low buildings, a storefront painted bright sky blue, dotted with cartoon clouds. “Why were they calling you Bob?”

“Well,” he says, opening the door, and the jingle of a bell, “I used to work with Gordon. So.”

The floor’s covered with mismatched shoes set left by right, brogue by sneaker, clog by chukka, cracked and grimy boat shoe by gleaming patent mule, creamy slipper by ankle-strapped stiletto, weather-beaten boot next to a peep-toed alligator wedge. He hops clang and crash from this gap to that cleared spot, toward the counter, she takes long, teeteringly awkward steps after, empty bins in her hands. “He’s not here now, is he?”

“No,” he says, shaking off a hockey glove. “Everybody was gone when I, uh,” he pulls a crumpled running shoe from his rucksack, “the boxes, they don’t show up anymore, either,” tosses it to the mound of undifferentiated footwear on the worktable behind him. “I still see a shoe here and there out there, though, just, sitting on the sidewalk, or whatever? So. Figure I’ll keep my hand in,” but there, on the green-cushioned pew, an older woman sits, hunched in a puffy winter coat, her hair the color of iron, cut short.

“But you’re out here by yourself,” she says. A half-empty glass on the teal formica before her, a hand up by her shoulder, the flower safe behind it.

“So, what,” he says, “I should, move in with them, at Emanuel?” In his hand a glass half-full of something thinly pink. “I don’t know. I mean, we help each other out, sure, but. Different worlds, you know?”

She shrugs. “There’s other folks out there.”

“Yeah? Anybody bother you, when you were up on Tabor?” he says. “Down the Gulch?” She shrugs again. “Because,” he says, “you know, it’s really pretty quiet,” setting his glass on the table by the open bottle, the small plate piled with wobbling grey. “Moody aside.”

“That’s a pretty big aside,” she says.

“Yeah, but, even he’s calmed down? These days. And besides,” sitting heavily on the edge of the bed, all that makeshift armor scrape and squeak, “it’s not like I’m by myself, now. Right?”

In her torn T-shirt she sits up on her knees behind him, peeling away at the grubby tape that straps a pot lid to his shoulder. “Been a while since you’ve had this off, huh.”

“Sorry,” he says, looking down, “for, uh, the reek?”

“I don’t know,” she says. “Sweat, hot metal, plastic – better than rancid river mud.”

“Yeah?” Looking over his shoulder. “Well, you’ve got that flower, making everything smell sweet,” turning creak and clunk, “Frankie, wait,” she says, but “Jo,” he says, his bare hand gently on hers, and smiling just enough to bring out a dimple, there and there.

“Months, decades,” she says, lying back on rumpled blankets, “whatever,” T-shirt gone now, too, black jeans on the floor there, bare feet grimy, grime and old dirt streaking the skin of her, shins and thighs, limning creases, her knees and hips, elbows paler than forearms, shoulders, throat and face burnt ruddy, sunbleached hair sweat-salted spread over pillows as she turns on her side to face him, “I’d still kill for a cigarette.”

“Not what I thought you were gonna say,” arms up folded beneath his head, still mostly strapped and crimped in his suit of junk. “Know what I miss the most about it?”

“Frankie,” she says, with a warning edge.

“When you’re waiting for it to kick in,” he says, “when it’s too late not to do it, and just any minute now it’s gonna come on like a movie, you know? All smooth and cool and every move you make, just like you meant it, and everything in the world’s gonna do just what it’s supposed to, the way it’s supposed to, and even if you fuck it up it’s clear you did that for the kick, you know? It’s,” she’s pushed up on an elbow, leans over flower pulsing, “it’s all lubricated,” he says, and she kisses his mouth. “That’s what I miss,” he murmurs.

She kisses him again. “Does it still hurt?” Her hand on the pot lid strapped to his chest, but the woman on the green-cushioned pew lifts her head, “He didn’t have to end up like this!” she croaks. “It was you. It was all your fault!”

Cages hang from chains bolted to the beams above, nine of them in rows of three set close together across the width of the sleeping porch, bottoms about at shoulder-height. She crouches to pass beneath them, careful with her flower, red shoes scuffing scattered dried seeds, tiny packets of needled bones and matted rotten fur twisted in weird sigils. She’s pulled on her underwear, her dark hoodie. Low table at the end of the porch, sleeping bag neatly rolled, she bumps a cage as she stands upright, clank and groan of chain set slowly a-sway. Something within the cage, a crumpled sack once perhaps as long as her arm propped up by twig-like bones, shriveled talons whitely grey at one end, and feathers broken and fallen away from it, and only the beak still cruel and sharp.

“I couldn’t, I didn’t know,” he says, at the other end of the porch. “There’s no doors, on the cages, see?” Pot lids gone from his chest, his shoulders, shirt unbuttoned, ducting still crimped about his forearms, legs clanking as he steps close to the cages between them. “I tried, I did. I, I made sure there was water, and I, when I could, I brought him mice? And a dead bird, like, a robin or something? And I talked to him, I did, but I don’t, I don’t know why he stayed. I don’t know why Gordon left him behind. I don’t,” he’s in shadow, indirect sunlight behind him hazed by floating dust, but still a glint on his bare chest, darkly wet, a line, she blurts out, “You slept up here,” and a glance for the sleeping bag at her feet. “Didn’t you.” Looking back through the cages to him.

“Yeah,” with a rising lilt, not quite a question.

“That was his room,” she says. “That was his bed, where we.”

“Jo,” he says, “I don’t,” she’s pushing between the cages groan and popping clang, they crash together behind her, she shoves through the next row, scattering seed and straw, “Shit!” he yells, those massive cages striking dully sour peals that far too huge and squeal of links and straining beams she’s through, he reaches after her, she’s out the door. “This isn’t yours!” she yells, over the clamor, “None of this!” too quickly almost falling down the steeply switchbacked stairs, bouncing out splash through the beaded curtain into the front room, and silence. He turns about, there in the middle of those neatly lined shoes, chinos faded, fleece of his beige pullover worn thin about the elbows, frayed along his upturned collar. “That got loud,” he says. She stands there, blinking, pink flower brushing her chin. He checks his watch.

“How long,” she says.

“Since the last time you took off?” he says. “Couple of days.”


“Whichever. Listen – ”

“You’re dead.”

His brow cocks at that. “No,” he says, “I’m just not there. Here. Listen – ”

“I wrapped you in a tarp! I took you to – I’m going to – it’s, I don’t,” she says.

“You’re seeing what you see,” he says. “You haven’t even asked about my foot.”

“It happens sometime after this damn thing is gone,” she says, a hand lifted to cup that flower. He claps his hands soundlessly, once, “Jo!” he says, sharply. “I’m about to lose the connection. Pay attention.” His shoes aren’t there, among those other shoes. His chinos are fading away. “Come back,” he says, faintly. “Come back as soon as you can.” The sunlight shining through him now, “I figured out how to,” and then there’s nothing left of him but the glint of his watch, left hanging in

Table of Contents

Jumptown, 1956—a Portland, Or. Gentrification Map,” compiled by Lisa Loving, ©2016 The Skanner News.

The air                                                   

the air, a towering arc to leap the wide river below, and at the very top two flags still limply fly. She stands in the shadow of a slender overpass, ragged red shoes, black briefs, the broad straw hat in one hand, the gold watch wrapped about the other. Pavement stretches cracked and crumbling before her, yellow lines and white baked almost away, just ahead a single skid mark, each nubbin and crease printed clearly on the concrete, a swerve to the left that ends at the guardrail. To the right, another lane rises at a slightly steeper angle, climbing to cross over hers up ahead, just before that towering arc, one deck of that great bridge stacked atop the other, and the next cool patch of shadow. A deep breath, and she drops to one knee, bending her head. A hand lifted to cover the broken stem on her breast.

“The hell is that?” he says, looking up as they come out from under the trees. She swings back, lurching toward him, dark hoodie, black jeans, fists balled, “You don’t,” she snarls, “you don’t talk to me, you don’t follow me,” he’s smiling, “Jo,” he says, “you keep the fuck away from me,” she says, “I ever find out how you did, what you did,” and “Jo,” he isn’t looking at her, “you,” she says, “I am gonna fucking kill you, you goddamn – ”


“What did you do to them!”

“Who!” he bellows, she throws up her hands, spins away, turns back, leaning in, “Becker!” she yells. “Lymond! Everyone!” Echoing up and down the empty street. “Where did they go!”

He bursts into laughter, doubles over, hooting, hacking, gasping for breath, “Me?” he manages to say. “What did I do? Jo. Look.” Waving an arm for emphasis. “They didn’t go anywhere.”

The street drops away from them down a slope between two- and three-storey buildings and stands of trees to a calm flat plane of water swallowing doorsills and then windowsills, and then the islands and reefs of upper storeys, roofs, treetops out to that tower risen from the water, ruddy amber glass framed by dull pink sunstruck stone, and far off past it the arc of a great bridge gathering itself to leap the flood.

“We did,” he says, the laughter still in his voice. “We did.”

Tethered high above that tower a glorious tumbled garden of flowers floating, a castle of yellow stone gleaming against the white sky, a shining silver zeppelin undergirding the greensward.

On her knee on the crumbled pavement head bowed her lips move, whispering, and as she lifts her hand from her breast the last word can just be made out, please, as that hand closes in a fist and muscles straining, jaw set, she pulls down nothing from the air, not even a flash of light. She doesn’t look up when she opens her eyes. She looks at the face of the watch in her palm, the hands of it slackly swinging. “Well,” she says, as she gets to her feet, “back to plan A.”

“Big One?” he says, looking around. “But there’d be more damage. Buildings, roads – same if Yellowstone blew, plus,” looking up, squinting at the glare, “we wouldn’t have such a pristine sky. Nah, my money’s on a catastrophic melt. Methane outgassing from the Siberian tundra, ocean acidification run amok, hockey stick becomes a space elevator straight to hell, and are you listening to a goddamn word I’m saying?” She’s stepped away, her back to him, looking at something in her hand. “You got a signal on that thing?” he says.

She shakes her head, tucks it away, a slim black phone. Steps out into the middle of the tangled intersection, right up to the verge of that opaque brown water. “I can wade maybe a few more blocks,” she says. A tall sign that says 2 BIG MAC FOR $5 planted right where a drive-through lane rises from the flood, circling round the back of a dark and drily empty fast-food restaurant. “Gonna have to swim to make it to the 405. At least, I guess, we know some time passed?”

“Since when?” he says.

“Since,” she says, “before, this.” A wave at the water. “Happened.” Her gesture ends up pointing up, but she’s turning, looking away, looking back, off to the right, across that intersection, past a triangular slice of park. “That wasn’t here when we left.”

He peers up at it, a dozen storeys or more of blue-grey glass stacked on the corner, grimly similar storefronts lining the sidewalk, unobtrusive signs tucked here and there, cracked plastic letters that say Boise Fry Company, Tropical Smoothies, Parking, Hot Lips Pizza over an exaggerated cartoon lip-print leached of color. “Huh,” he says.

“I know somebody who lives there,” she says. “What used to be there. What’s supposed to be there.” Her ragged red shoes slowly, deliberately make their way along the long unwavering ramp held out over the water toward that great bridge, but hitch once, faltering, a step that doesn’t swing forward, that pauses, that returns to the crumbled pavement. Sweeping off her broad straw hat, tipping back her head, eyes closed, under the white sky. Sweatlogged hair crumpled on her shoulders, the green stump on her breast now edged with brittle brown. The shadowed mouth much closer up ahead. Plastic sheeting’s been hung across the roadway, and down the sides of it, tenting the lower deck.

“Moody!” she calls.

There’s no response.

They lie on dusty pavement wet beneath them, water seeping from their clothing down the slope to where it dips below the muddy flood. He sits up, white shirt clinging translucent, scoops up a sodden wad of beige fleece, futilely sets to wringing out what he can. “That,” he says, a grimace of effort, “was foul.” Spitting. He shakes out the pullover, drops it plop to the pavement. “Look, if you’re expecting a text from somebody, I’ve got bad news.”

Laid back, she’s holding up her phone, still dry. On the screen of it a photo, her brown hair short and tufted, cheek to cheek with Ysabel in her white coat, long black curls, sidelong, knowing smile. 35:B, say the slender floating numerals of the clock above their heads. Baldr’s Day, Eighth of Ever. 87%, say tiny numerals by a battery-shaped icon. She thumbs it off. He checks the golden watch about his wrist. “So what’s the plan, mastermind?”

“Plan?” she says. She’s closed her eyes. “The plan is, I go across the bridge to high ground, head south, figure out how to get over I-84, maybe the bridge at 12th is high enough? But I can swim that easy, if I have to. Keep going down, till I get to the apartment. Get inside. Get upstairs. If she’s here,” opening her eyes, getting to her feet, “she’s there.”

Still sitting he shifts, turns to follow her as she walks away. “Not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your theology there, Jo,” he says.

“I could give two shits,” she says, striding on.

“Hey. Hey! We came here together!” as he stands, “Wherever we go? It’s together!” as he snatches up his pullover. “You’re dead,” she mutters to herself, but “Mastermind!” he yells. “You happen to notice what’s up ahead?”

The ramp they’re on climbs higher out of the water, and to the left another climbing higher till it crosses over, there, one deck above the other where the bridge takes a sharp turn to the right and the towering arc of it leaps over deeper water, falling short of that far side, where ramps unwind themselves, reach out straight and true for the greenery edging those ridges, but the bridge, the bridge: white plastic sheeting hangs from the upper deck, the limply cloudy length of it tenting the lower.

“Somebody’s up there!” he cries.

“Yeah?” she says, without looking back. “Maybe they got something to eat.”

The tapered poignard mirror-bright beneath her chin, “Hot damn. At last. At long God fucking damn last, hot damn.” He tips back his black leather hat. “As I live and breathe, Bambi. How the hell are you.”

“Moody,” she says. His smile flicks away. “You know the law!” he snaps, pressing close. Wrapped in a jacket of army-surplus green. “No! Real! Names!” She leans back from the knife, but her blinking eyes are fixed on his, not the blade. “You,” he snarls, “you will give me my due, bitch.”

“Dread Paladin,” she says, and “Damn straight,” he says. The man beside her with the damp beige pullover coughs up a laugh, “I’m sorry,” he says, and they both look at him, “but that? Is the stupidest fucking, and today, has been a wealth of stupid, fucking, I mean,” as the blade-tip turns to him. “Dread?”

“The hell are you?” says the man with the knife, and she says, “The Wizard,” and “Jesus fucking Christ,” says the man with the pullover, “how many times I have to tell you,” but the little guy beside him in a tight T-shirt yanks his arm, and “Shut up!” says the man with the knife. “You know who she is?”

“Of course,” he says, twisting his arm free, rubbing his wrist. “She’s, uh,” looking her over in her dark hoodie, hunched, arms folded, drawn away from the figures behind her, the one with the thick chain hanked about a fist, padlock clipped to one dangled end, the other leaned on a scuffed length of plastic pipe.

“Well?” says the man with the knife.

“Bambi,” he says, “right, she’s Bambi, call me the Wizard, sure.”

“You can learn. Good. Because there’s rules, out here. Tell him the rules, Bambi.”

“No snitching,” she mutters, still looking down. “Never talk to a cop. Respect the lifers. No real names, never talk about where anybody sleeps. No flirting, with your brother’s girl, your sister’s boy. Never steal from” but he joins in, shrieking over her, “Never steal from family!” Jabbing the knife at her. “She ran away from home, she came here, and we gave her a new one! I gave her a family!” The others of them all stood or sat in a ragged circle among the supermarket tents, the shopping carts lashed together, draped with sunfaded blue tarps, a little town sheltered by great cloudy curtains of plastic hung from the deck above. “But she had to go and run away again. Took a government handout for a room in a box. You went and got yourself a job.”

“How long’d you end up doing down in Salem, Moody,” she says.

“I ought to beat you down by the tracks myself,” he snarls, lurching close, “let those goddamn buzzards pick your bones. I ought to,” drawing back, “but, shit. World’s ending. We can afford to be magnanimous, right?” Spreading his arms to the listless slithering flap of plastic curtains. “So!” Stepping close to the man with the pullover. “We’ll just tax your sorry ass. Let’s have that fancy watch.”

“What?” he says, still holding his wrist. “No, that’s,” looking over to her, “not gonna happen.”

“Oh you do not want to say no. Tell him, Bambi.”

“I can’t give you the watch,” he says. “Ask for something else. Anything,” and he hold his hands very still as that knife reaches toward him, a swallow as tink the tip of it touches the glass of the dial, “Jo?” he says. “Hate to ask, but any time, you know?”

“I can’t,” she says, her arms still folded, and “Can’t, wait, what?” says the man with the knife, as she says, “don’t you think I already tried?” Hood falling back, blinking quickly, mouth set tight. “I can’t reach it. I can’t find it, it’s not there, I don’t, I don’t know,” and the man with the knife is smiling again. “So!” he says. “Give me the watch.”

“Well, first, it’s not a hey!” as the guy in the tight T-shirt grabs his elbow, “It’s not mine to give!”

“It’s mine to take,” says the man with the knife. “Hand it over. Maybe we’ll let you go on over the bridge.”

“Paladin,” she says.

Rustles and steps a clink of chain that plastic pipe lifted as she pulls something glassily black from the pocket of her hoodie, “Hold up,” says the man with the knife, “hold up,” and then, “a phone?” he says. “The fuck am I supposed to do with that?”

She thumbs it to life.

“Oh, Bambi,” says the man with the knife, leaning close. “Oh, that is adorable. You got yourself a girlfriend.”

“She’s,” she says, but then she pushes the phone at him. “Tax me. Let us go. You’ll never see me again.”

“Oh, but I will,” he says, his hand on hers. “Any time I want. Long as the battery holds.”

“Moody,” she says, again, lifting a hand watch wrapped about her fingers to part the heavily translucent curtains that hang across the road. No one stands guard on the other side. No one moves among the litter of tents beyond, no one’s peering out from behind a flap. A shopping cart’s been knocked over. Splintered wood pallets, broken glass. One of those tents still lashed to its frame, but upside-down, stubbed pegs stuck useless in the air. A boot tipped over, filthy green jeans, a khaki coat in a rusty splotch of brown. Those curtains with a shuffle fall shut behind her, hung breathlessly still down either side of the bridge deck. Another body crouched, one running shoe still on, another puddle of blood. Two more wrapped about each other under a sticky, bunched-up blanket, another just beyond, head at an impossibly wet angle, thick chain flung off just out of reach, almost beneath the turning, twisting, she shakes her head, she looks away. “Oh, Moody,” she says.

His black leather hat’s fallen to the pavement, there by the knee of the man sat tailor-fashion, silver stripes of his green track suit dull in the dim, head bowed, a pair of blue and white headphones over his ears. She kneels before him, trying to meet his eyes behind his sunglasses, careful of the sword laid on his knees, the long blade of it and the golden pommel both stained darkly red. She starts back when he lifts a hand, wrapped in a fingerless cycling glove, but he’s reaching for those headphones, burst of noise as he lifts them away, “Forgive me,” he says, “but fighting,” his words wheeze, “your folk is such. Butcher’s work.”

“I don’t,” she says. “Do I know you?”

“Huntsman,” he says, gazing up at her through jagged lenses tinted green, like pieces of broken bottle. Beneath her straw hat her haggard face. The broken stem lodged in her breast. “You’ve,” he says, “changed, but,” fighting for breath, “hurry. We haven’t.” And then, “You must.”

“Hurry,” she says, standing. The watch about her fingers.

Twisting, turning, the body wrapped in a jacket of blood-soaked army-surplus green hangs leaned forward from a dull green-grayish cord that’s wound about the chest, up under dangled arms, stretched taut to the pale green girder above. The head flopped forward. Her free hand, shaking, catches one of those dangled hands, lifts it limp, her other hand fingers stretching the golden band of the watch enough to slip it over those fingers, past the knuckles, scraping back the drying blood. Snapping the latch shut, the body swaying, bumbled against her with the effort, “God!” she spits, steadying the weight, patting at the pockets of that jacket. Up close the dull green cord’s quite iridescent, browns and purples, reds, oranges chase each other up and down the glistening length to where it’s swallowed by the bloody jacket, the once-white shirt beneath. She tugs something, a stiff weight from a bloodlogged pocket, lets it fall a brightly clang to the pavement, long, tapered, the silver handle wrapped in wire.

“You’ll need a blade,” he says.

“I don’t want,” she says, stepping back. “I know Lucinda. I remember, but I don’t,” she frowns. The sword on his lap, his hands in those fingerless gloves, grey and black. “I used to,” she says. “I had a pair of gloves.”

“You will need gloves,” he says, and coughs.

But she peels the jacket open, reaches for the pockets within, this side, that. Steps back. The body left to sway a ponderous pendulum from that taut-stretched cord. The phone in her hand, one corner of the glass of it webbed with cracks, a crooked line jagged up to the top. She closes her eyes, opens them, thumbs the button at the bottom of the phone. Nothing happens.

She falls to her knees.

Some time later she takes a deep shuddering breath. “There’s no flies,” she says, to herself. “Where are the flies.” Sitting up. Rip of velcro as she tightens the closures on her fingerless cycling gloves, black and grey. Scrape of steel she takes up the bloodied silver poignard. Knife in one hand, phone in the other, she heads over to the edge of the deck, to the cloudy plastic aglow with sunlight whitely without. Tucks the phone away in the waistband of her briefs. Turns the blade and lifts it a swinging punch, rip, she snatches the tear to pull, yanking with rustles sharp like clattering falling sheeting popping loose to slump, a clamorous collapse, crumpled to the guardrail, leaning slowly weight of it pulling over and down to the water below, “Come on!” she screams. “Come on!” The light pouring in, the towers of downtown rising from the flood. The body behind her turning slows abruptly, an arm slipped free of the twisting cord that tips the weight of it sideways legs a-dangle lift, and the hair flops back from the ruin of that face, but still within all the blood the lips are parted in a smile about

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Symphony No. 6 (Devil Choirs at the Gates of Heaven), written by Glenn Branca, copyright holder unknown.

Those teeth                               

those teeth that gleam in sunlight hazed through windowed walls that narrow to a windowed point. “You’re not,” she says, coming down the low steps into the open room, hat in hand. “I was here,” she says. “I’ve already been here.”

“You came back,” he says, the words slipped carefully through such long teeth. “Remember?”

“I wrapped his body,” she says. “I went to get the tarp, I brought it here so I could drag him down the,” looking back, over her shoulder, “hall, why did I come back?” Brushing her cheek a flower, delicately pink there at the end of a green stem sparsely leafed, long enough to coil once about her shoulders, rooted in a pucker on the slope of her breast. “Who knows?” he says, climbing down off the high-backed black office chair. “One last look about the place. You’re going back!” He sets the wide-bladed cleaver down on the box before him, by a small glittering bit of bone. “We’re going back,” he says, pushing back his tattered cuff to check his watch. “That’s what matters.”

“You’re dead,” she says.

“You keep saying that,” he says. “What I have to keep asking myself is how I can hear you, if it’s true.” His beige pullover rent to shreds, he’s leaning on a makeshift crutch.

“Whatever it is you do, it doesn’t,” she says, “it’s not, gonna work, and I come back here, why do I keep coming back?” Looking about the sunlit room, the boxes stacked about. “The last time, the last time I come back here, you’re in my chair,” she points, “and I wrap you in this plastic tarp from downstairs, and, but then, I came back in here, and there was, there’s gonna be, this tiny guy in my, chair,” and as she falters, he smiles, much too widely about those teeth. “Don’t,” she says. “Stop doing that.” And then, “I know you,” she says.

“Eleleu, ie,” he says, quietly. “Jo. Jo.” Snapping his fingers. “Of course you do. Don’t get lost now.”

“Shut up, David,” she says. “I’m talking about him. You’re both here. Sort of. You will be.”

“But I’m dead,” he says. “And you haven’t even asked about my foot.”

“What is this,” she says. “Why am I here. What did you,” she’s stepping in among the boxes, and he hops back a step. “Figure out,” she says, looking down at the lid of the box between them, the cleaver on it, and the bit of bone, all spangled with blue glitter. “Is it the photos? Is it, that’s, why would somebody go to all the trouble. Pictures, of Portland, how we, know it, remember it, so that, what, makes a difference. Right?”

“You haven’t heard a goddamn thing I’ve said.” Thump of his cane, hop-step toward the windows, “Every moment already holds within it whatever might’ve come before. All of this,” leaning lurch as he waves that crutch spinning about to thump catch himself, “already here,” he says, “there’s no difference.” Thump, hop. “But you’re close.”

“What have you done,” she says, lifting the lid of that box with a slither of blue glitter, tink of bone against blade, he slaps it shut, knocking the lid from her hands. “It’s not the photos,” he says. “It’s the box. Think!” Waving his free hand gleam of the gold watch over those boxes. “Who went to all this trouble? Who brought them all upstairs, and saved them from the flood? Who cleaned them and sorted and filed them away?” He’s standing on the sofa behind him, among the boxes there, an elaborate shrug of don’t ask me, his smile somehow hapless despite his teeth. “Who stayed behind to do all that?”

“What did you do,” she says, red shoes spangled with blue, that flower pink beside her chin.

“What I had to,” he says, resting his free hand on the lid of that box, his weight on his hand. “Took forever. I had to be so, inhumanly patient. But I did it.” Looking up, lifting that knobbled knurl of bone, spangled with silver, dusting his fingertips with glittering flakes of blue. “I caught him. And he told me where he slept.”

“Slept,” she says, flatly.

“Don’t you get it? They never slept, before they came here. Now, some of them, all they do is sleep. And they have to sleep somewhere. Boxes!” Setting the bone back down. “Cabinets. Cupboards, drawers. Footlockers,” looking about, “closets, hell, there are so many of them. And they all need someplace to call their own, where they can go, to dream – don’t you get it? It’s too small!” Thumping the lid of the box for emphasis, the shreds of what’s left of his pullover a-flap with the force of it. “He couldn’t possibly fit in this. But he did. It’s a bubble, of somewhere else – of space! Not time, not time at all. And if we can get in there?” He’s peering out from behind him, crouched on the arm of the sofa now, twirling a finger by his temple. “We can go anywhere. Jo. Anywhere. We can go back.”

“What was his name,” she says.

“All we have to do,” he says, but “His name,” she growls, and “I,” he says, looking down at the bone, the cleaver, the box. “I don’t see what,” and then, his shoulders slumping, “Inchwick,” he says, looking up, but she’s closed her eyes. “David,” she says. “I’m not going back.” A deep breath, and she opens them. He’s slumped in the high-backed black desk chair, lost in the sunlight hazed through windowed walls, hands not quite folded together atop the photos spread over his lap. “David?” she says, sweeping off her hat, and he takes it from her and lays it on the sofa, then takes her hand in his, much smaller, and roughly red about the knuckles. “Then what happened,” he says, carefully, through those teeth.

“I’m gonna go to the top of Big Pink,” she says, still looking at the body in the chair. The flower’s as high as her eye, and the stem of it long enough to drape, once, about her shoulders. “She’s up there, I know she’s up there. Should’ve known that as soon as I saw it.”

“So you’ve spoken with the King.”

“I, guess? That would make sense, but – no, wait. He’s not, up there? With her?”

“There are rules.”

“Yeah,” she says. “Right. Rules. So he’s the one who tells, who. Will have told me. What to do.”

“You’ll come back.”

“I came back.”

“Here you are.”

“Yeah,” she says. “I was gonna, I’m, I need,” she swallows, looks down at him. “The watch,” she says.

“By all means, take the watch.”

“I should,” she says, looking up, “do something for him,” but she falters, blinking. The chair is empty.

“You wrapped him in the tarp already,” he says. “That you went downstairs to get?” She’s shaking her head, but he’s rattling on, “You’ve already hauled him away outside, you’re almost good to go, the only way out is up and we’re all onboard with that, but you came back in here for one last thing.”

She says, “What.”

“Lean down, if you would?” he says. “I can’t quite reach,” and when she does so, hesitantly, bent forward at the waist, he gently takes the stem of that flower between thumb and forefinger. “Actually,” she says, “that’s,” but as she tries to straighten he tightens his grip, hand a fist about the stem now, “Hey!” she slaps his shoulder, pushes him away, but he’s opening his mouth.

Lobed petals delicately pink unfurl in curling layers from a tight-packed central bud within to open and open up and out until the outermost ring’s laid almost flat atop five green long-pointed septal leaves, and she spreads her fingers to push it, gently, away, out of her face, “I’m sorry?” she says, looking up, then shaking her head, irritated. The flower’s bobbing back against her cheek.

“Proof of residence,” says the woman, peering down from up behind the podium, a slab of pink-tinged granite trimmed with greening copper.

“I haven’t,” she says, looking down at herself, that sparsely leafed stem awkwardly swallowed by her half-zipped hoodie, stiff with dried mud, her bare mud-spattered legs, her ragged red shoes. “It’s been a while since I got a gas bill,” she says, “and unless you’ve got a working DMV somewhere up in here?”

“Your claim to passage,” the woman up behind the podium with a white-gloved hand lifts a piece of paper to read from it, “is that you are within her heart.” Lays it aside. “You must provide proof of residence to redeem your claim.”

“I, did I,” frowning, a shake of her head, “did I say that? That doesn’t, I don’t – ”

“You would establish another claim to passage?” She sits up, leaning over the edge of the podium, her jacket a silvery pink, trimmed and epauleted with white cord, the breast of it festooned with ribbons and medallions, and the orange beret pinned at a distracting angle to her whitely silver hair.

“I don’t,” she says, looking past the podium to the dark hall beyond, the bank of elevators. “Is she, can you at least tell me if she’s even up there? Can I get a, message to her? Or something?”

“To whom,” says the woman, still leaning over the edge of the podium.

“Ysabel. Perry. Ysabel Perry. Is she – ”

“Queen of All? Mountain-shod, Sun-clad, the Star-crowned Lady, who is never but Maid and Mother and Loathly Crone? The Acme, the Zenith, the One True Only and Ever for Always?”

“I,” she says, “well, I was the Gallowglas? I hunted for the King. I was the,” pushing that flower away again, “I was the Duchess of Southeast. The, the Widow, of the Hawk.”

“None of which,” says the woman, sitting back, “is sufficient to redeem your claim to passage.”

She turns away abruptly, flower swaying. The light about is thin, shining up from water unseen below to slip uncertain through walls of coppery glass. “If I could just,” she says. One whole pane there’s been knocked out, a makeshift balcony of planks and bungee cord lashed to the frame. “I haven’t seen her in,” she says, “ah, shit,” and breaks into a run thump of her shoes on filthy carpet driving around and past that podium toward the elevators head down grunt arms flung up stumbling headlong sprawling falling to tumble roll fetch up against the wall as the woman drops down from behind the podium, bustling quickly over crook of the cane in her white-gloved hand shoving her sitting up back and down against the carpet, holding her there, “You may. Not. Pass!” she cries, but there’s a sharp “Hey!” from someone else, and she lifts the cane, straightening, reaching up to make sure of her orange beret. “Majesty,” she says.

He’s not too terribly tall, draped in a kaftan of leafy greens shot through with golden thread, and his hair’s a mop of artful tangles blackly drooped about his shoulders. “Just, show her the phone,” he says, not unkindly. “The lock screen? That photo of you and Ys, that’s enough, that’s all she, Jo?” Her head back against the wall eyes closed she draws a breath that shakes with the sob that screws up her face, that coughs out of her, that leaves her gasping. “Oh, Jo,” he says, kneeling before her, and then, “Leave us,” he says, and there’s steel in his voice.

“Majesty, I could not possibly – ”

“Take a fucking break, Mousely. They’re not exactly beating down our doors anymore. Go for a swim or something.” Half-turning, to face her. “Give us the room.”

“Majesty,” she says, and a curt little nod.

“Jo,” he says, taking her hand in both of his. “There are rules. Rules not even a king might break.” He smiles, but it does little to light his face. “The flower’s spectacular. You certainly took your sweet time getting here.”

“I didn’t,” she says. “I didn’t know. It, it didn’t, I,” but “It’s all right,” he’s saying, squeezing her hand. “It’s all right. Is it lost? Gone for good? Can you get it back?”

“You’re not,” she says, then, and then, “you, you’re Lymond. You’re Lymond.”

“Well,” he says. “When I’m at home.” That smile again. One of his eyes might be blue, and the other more a brown, but it’s hard to say, given the uncertainty of

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The light                        

the light, bounced from water to glass, reflected, refracted, tinted and coppery softened, dimmed, steeping the shadows about them both. “Five hundred years?” he says, sat on the carpet, back to the wall beside her. “Fifty.” A sigh. “I don’t know.”

She says, “Is she up there? Is that where she went?”

“I was so angry at them both,” he says. “Vincent, for just, quitting, walking away from a fight, but John for forcing the fight in the first place. I wasn’t on his side, or his side, I was – I wanted to go back, to before there were any sides at all.”

“I even,” she says, “made it over to our old place, our first place, in the Kafoury building? Just in case, I mean, maybe, but it, there was nobody there. And I tried to find the VC. Back where it all began, right?” Leaning away from the flower, shoulder brushing his. “It’s gone. Somebody put up a fucking skyscraper.”

“I wish you’d seen it,” he says, her hand in his. “When it all finally came together? It was, it was glorious. It worked. It worked!” A giddy little laugh. “So many of them came, from all over the world,” looking up, “and there were rooms enough for them all.”

She says, “This time, this is the time he’s gonna be dead. I don’t,” a deep breath. “I don’t wanna go back.” Closing her eyes. “But I have to go back to get the watch so I can get the phone so I can get past whatshername.” Looking slyly over at him. “Are you sure you couldn’t just, let me slip past? Right now?”

“Well, I put on the mask,” he says. “I figured, I don’t know,” and a sigh. “I’d sweep it off, at just the right moment. Shame my father for not being there. Stop the King in his tracks.” He closes his eyes. “But it all happened so fast.” Looking down at his hands, folded together in his lap. “I think he knew it was me, in the end. I think, he let me win. And so,” lifting his hands, ta-da, “here I am.”

“It feels like I’ve been here so long,” she says. “This sun.”

“She’s waiting for you. I can tell you that. But there are rules.”

“I don’t like his smile.”

“I called them here,” he says, sitting up. “I opened the door. I saved them all, every last one. Fuck Mars!”

“Lymond?” she says. “What’s going on?”

“Oh, probably a couple more days. It’s nice, isn’t it?” Looking down, at her flower. “Getting a glimpse of what’s to come.”

“Not all of them,” she says.

“What I can do,” and he gets to his feet then, “is hook you up with a canoe. That should let you get around a little faster, anyway.”

“Not every last one,” and she takes his hand, and lets him pull her up.

“You do know where it is.”

“Why did he do it?”

“That I might be King,” he says, leading her toward the empty pane, the makeshift balcony. “Wait a minute,” she’s saying, as they step outside. “Didn’t I come here in a canoe?”

Stowing the rough-hewn paddle she pauses halfway up the rickety ladder, leaning over the gunwale to look down the two or three storeys she’s climbed above the dripping guide-rope lifted off the water’s surface as she strokes and kicks through pale brown water, flower floating in her wake, the slowing canoe bumps a couple of kayaks thump and wobble, a neatly knocked-together raft among those empty little boats that choke the water about the mud-scummed base of the towering wall of pink-bronze glass, mossily tarnished where wavelets lap, the boats knock hollowly. A bloodstained poignard in her teeth she reaches for the makeshift balcony lashed above her head, she hauls on the guide-rope, she takes long careful dripping steps from gunwale to bobbing deck, scrambling up from the rope ladder onto that narrow balcony lashed to the broken window, pulling herself from the milky muddy water kick and splash, leaping the final step to the floating dock butted up against the glass that anchors the guide-ropes stretched out to styrofoam buoys, the focus of that abandoned flotilla. Her dripping jeans, her bare legs dry, the black glass phone tucked in the waistband of her briefs, her wet hair darkly shining under the high white sky, the broad-brimmed hat that shadows her face and shoulders, the stump of the stem rooted in her breast, the flower gleaming with water droplets almost white in the brightness. Red shoes squelch as she heads across the dock, drily quiet across the balcony, squeak and clack as she starts up the ladder, clink of glass as she steps through the missing pane, “Hello?” she says.

“Lymond?” she says.

As and as she walks heads across the filth across the grimy carpet, “I. I was the. Gallowglas,” she says, she says, “the Huntsman. I am here. The Duchess of Southeast! The Hawks’ Widow! Her Champion! I am here!”

There is no response.

“Shit,” she says, she says, “ah, shit,” she says, and. Heading around and past the toward the podium past to the elevators grunt she stumbles sprawling headlong hands and knees the knife skitters bounce and tumble to fetch up against the wall. Black phone held tight. Deep breath sighing, she rolls over and rolling over sits up, lifts her hand sitting up, her hand coming up to push away a flower, there is no flower.

“Ysabel?” she says, getting to her feet. Getting to her feet.

The stairwell’s dark. Water drips echoing somewhere far below, and the shuff of her footsteps, climbing, until somewhere up there she stops, and sits herself on the steps. She takes off her straw hat, blots her forehead with a gloved palm, leans back, looking up at the flights above still left to climb. What little light seeps through doors propped open here and there up the height of it all makes it all that much harder to see. She lofts that hat out into the stairwell, whirling up in the weak light to wobble slip and fall away quickly lost and gone.

The stairs end under a low ceiling, a nondescript door held open by a folding chair. Beyond a catwalk over dormant gears, slack dusty cables, quiet engines half-seen in the pooled brightness at the end, where one more flight of stairs climbs into dazzling sky. She pauses at the foot of them, in the last angled fall of shadow, the colorless light beyond, above, and the climbing curve of thick-twined rope that thins into a thread, lost to sight long before it reaches the silver belly hoving into view, the underside of that far-off castle, fringed by the greenery of its gardens. Up the steps, up and out onto the roof of that tower a dizzying height above the water caramel yellow under the blank haze, cradled by the rumpled folds of hills, their trees long since scorched brown, interrupted by pockets of empty houses, shelves of condominiums broken along this ridge or that, the great leaping arc of the freeway bridge, plastic sheeting ripped and dangled from the deck of it, and clouded crawling with swirls of black specks, and then lines and blocks of rooftops flat and peaked, and upper storeys, and the round tops of a row of grain silos, irrupting the endless stretch of smooth calm water. Turning about, the towers of downtown enormous gnomons against the haze, the curve of that other freeway bridge, and the girdered spires sunk before it, clouded about by smudged arabesques of more specks and sparks, and far off out there past the water a sharp mountain at the edge of the world, harsh grey without a hint of snow. She comes out onto the roof, away from the steps, the rope descending from straight above to end in a mighty anchor bolted to the buckled, rumpled concrete there by the antenna knocked askew, topped by a dead warning light, and the white rock shaped there, a bird, much too large to be a bird, smooth rounded shoulders with not a suggestion of feathers but angled chevrons carved in the broad stained breast. The little man kneeling before those cyclopean talons looks back at her over his shoulder. A great flower’s laid on the cracked concrete, a handspan or more across, delicately pink, the long stem of it thickly limp, sparsely leafed, browning at the broken end of it.

“Eleleu,” he says, through all those teeth.

The head of that eagle turns, a grate of stone on stone, stark beak, blank eyes aimed square at her.

Head low feet pound she comes for him. He ducks under the lifting groaning grinding wing spread up and out to halt she ducks around and under there he’s stepped up on the anchor seized the rope in both his hands she’s running as he opens wide his mouth and

the sound

bites, head whipped to one side spun away as the freed rope drags a yard or two along the roof, sliding away toward the edge, “No!” she cries, slither and slip of the rope off the edge of the roof away and gone she’s running, running leap onto the parapet and kicking launched out into the air the water far below she’s falling hands she’s reaching grasping seizing hands the frayed end of the rope she’s holding, holding, swinging, swaying, kicking out over the city drowned below, arms straight up over her head the pink-bronzed tower so far too far away, below, her eyes squeezed streaming shut her muscles bunching arms and shoulders pulling, pulling, holding, folding as she hauls herself up her face now at the level of her hands at the end of that rough rope, and then, swung and swayed and twisted about she lets one gloved hand, flung up clutch to grab to higher hold, a gasp, her other hand up after seizing holding fast. Inch by inch, hand over hand, up the rope a vast pendulum swung from the castle drifting far above until, until the soft-fuzzed end of it thumps against her foot, her kicking red shoe wound about, her both feet now, clutched together, and the rope between them, clinging glove and forearm elbow thigh and knee and shoe.

The towers and the brown hills falling away, the water passing beneath and now that higher ground, houses and empty streets, trees still dark with leaves, the mountain twisting about, absurdly sharp, too close to be so far away, and then the city again, behind. She lifts her feet, knees bent a kneel to draw them up, clamped higher about the rope, standing herself then, up higher, lifting her hands one the other to clutch up higher up the rope. And again. And again, feet and knees, hands, muscles bunching, shifting, jaw set, knife jammed through the waistband of her briefs, by the black phone snug against the small of her back, and the frayed end of the rope left twitching and jumping in her wake.

The light’s changing as the castle drifts on, dimming, coalescing above the hills behind the dwindling city in a point too bright for the yellowed sky. Something flickers in those shadows, billowing slow coils that churn, dissolving into whirls of specks that surging flurry closer, closer, she closes her eyes as by the dozens, the thousands they swarm, black-lobed bodies spinning glossily beneath the threnodic roar of those shivering wings, a terrible soaring storm of them mounting the length of the rope, rushing away up toward the castle. An eddy peels away, gusting back down to the weight of her dangled to gyre about, fetch up in jerking halts, hovering, dropping and jagging close, startling away. One struggles insistently to hold itself still before her face until she opens her blinking eyes again to see it wings too fast to be but rainbowed blurs, light glinting off the cockpit surmounting the central mass of it, obscuring the helmeted figure within, the flash of the silver needle it raises, sat astride the high-backed saddle strapped between those glossy wasp-bodied lobes. That lance tips over, pointing down, the buzzing rising as it heels over, tinny knock of a fist against the cockpit glass, pointing down, pale underside of its wide-brimmed hat lit up in carnival colors by instruments within. Below, past her feet, far past the tufted end of the rope, far below the streets have unwound themselves from a close-packed grid to sparse threads laid through dry fields, dark lines and clumps of trees and only now and then a house, a barn. The flash of that tiny lance again, pointing once more down, and then the figure leans back in the saddle, sawing the reins, flicking an array of switches, rolling, pitching, yawing away, each of them spinning, lifting in fits and starts, scraps of ash climbing an updraft, leaving only the creak of the rope, but something’s changed, something’s changing, the sound of it, the tension, the air about her, looking up, the castle shining closer now, and growing closer, larger, too quickly, she clings to the rope watching helplessly as it swells, the flowers of its gardens, the golden towers above, pennants snapping in the wind, all occluded by the shining belly of it, white stone, polished steel, woven aluminum, titanium ribs, the whole of it slowly starting to spin as she’s twisting, twirling with the growing speed of the rope drawn up into the zeppelin’s hull through a hawsehole tiny in that vast expanse, but there’s something, she blinks, cheek pressed to the shivering peering up the taut length to that small whiteness against the silver, a circle, a disk, an inverted cone cuffing the rope that thrums with the speed of its passage through a far too narrow notch in its center.

“Oh,” she says, or “oh, God,” or maybe, “no.”

Leaning back from the rope but there’s nothing, nothing but the spinning ocean of light and shining silver, cloud and stone and the white guard at the center of it all hurtling toward her. Trembling leaning further back “oh, shit” her hands slip once a jerk feet cycling trying to turn herself about feet-first but it’s all so fast, too sudden, smack and bellow slam into wrenched about shoes against booming skin of it skidding the notch at the top the groaning rope arms braced and screaming jerking rope slips once through her gloved hands buckling knees and rip and slam against the clean white guard the rope wrenched out of her hands and slipping sliding falling out over all that

One last frantic kick that knocks her out and up enough just enough her flailing slap and grab the edge swung out a grunt heeled up but one hand slipping she’s slipping she lets go the one hand reaching for the knife in her waistband windmilling arm up driving it point home into the crump of plastisteel steamed papyrus the mithriluminum punctured yes but holding, holding, hand on the hilt, the rest of her dangled over nothing at all.

The last of the rope slips bumping frayed end up through the guard and whips away, gone.

The flat wide cone of that guard’s hung at an angle on a slender pylon jutting from the silver stone foundation wall, ten feet below that hawsehole. Ragged holes punched along the surface of it, four or five in an irregular line, the last of them still plugged with the wire-wrapped handle of that knife. She’s laid on her side on the pylon, holding tight to a cross-bar, one leg bent, a foot hooked through the notch in the top of the guard. The haze has faded, light sharpened, crisp blues and greys now etch the slopes of clouds. Here and there among them float other yellow castles, and the bright flowers of their gardens, and brave pennants. It’s breathlessly quiet, but for the chatter of her teeth, and her hair is stiff with ice. In the hand close by her face she holds the glassy black phone.

A face appears at the hawsehole, peering down the ten feet to that pylon, the damaged guard, “Aiw!” jerking back thump of a helmet against the hole’s rim. Some heated discussion ensues. Her teeth have stilled.

Scuffle and thump, feet emerge from the hawsehole, pale bare strapped in leathern sandals orange coveralls a shining foil pressure suit, dangled there a moment thick bit of rope, knotted every foot or so, a coil of air line red woven aluminastic, “Yjb elayna,” and a burst of static, “razgonyat!” Climbing floating leaping lithely down to land step grab the pylon. “Dap. Dedap!” Kneeling folding hands together lifting a finger to an ear, hidden behind a light-glared faceplate, “Penquepel,” the voice, rotely bored, devoutly murmured low and close, “sothe for to seyne, muy dolzhniy. Plaiqwel?” Standing then, adjusting the fit of the breechclout, tool belt, paying out the air line, holding tight that simple rope ladder, floating stepping over her to the top of the guard. Wrenching the knife free with a shocking sound, whipping it away, blood-browned wire-wrapped shining tumbling flying falling kneeling to reach up, take hold of a sun-ruddied arm clamped tight about the brace, gently work it loose. Looking up, lifting a hand to the ear again, bowing the head, a kiss for a wrist, shadow nodding behind light-struck glass, “Five by five, Medheigh.”

Straightening bracing wrapping a loop of rope about an elbow to plant a boot a sandal a callus-horned foot and lean into a shoving kick that sends

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