Authors: Michael Cisco
San Veneficio comes clear again. The sky is a hurricane of motionless black clouds like the swirled cone of a cavern roof, from horizon to horizon save for the storm’s round eye immediately overhead. There the pupilless moon stares down, and strange shadows move on its face, its light dapples the city blue and red. Where it’s blue, San Veneficio is a ruin. The streets are empty and quiet, the buildings crumbling and bleached like ancient grave markers, the air turns chill and thin, the Divinity Student’s breath steams acrid in his face, his feet stir plumes of dust powdering the ground like fine snow. Where it’s red, the streets buck and shift like the deck of a doomed ship, the air rises in hot transparent coils so that the city distorts, as if viewed through a window of wrinkled glass. The outlines of the buildings around him billow like smoke, they hide enormous roaring engines, legions of enemies. In passing from color to color he can feel his wake in the air reflected back on himself, as if he’d run through a doorway where no walls or door had been. He looks down at himself and, like looking into a convex mirror, his body distorts, curving down to the ground, legs tapering to points, his pale hands like a doll’s hands, his own pale face startling him in windows, and the rest of him lost in heavy folds of black coat.
For one hundred years he’s making his way toward the center of the city, where the drone of the Eclogue is swelling in increments to a shattering roar with an audible gap into which he will be fitted. Dark and heavy the world falls away slowly. San Veneficio is a maze, dead-end and then turn to dead-end again, but always a column of smoke rising from the center, a clanging siren, and that’s what he follows, running to be attached to them. He sees all but the largest now, those that rush by whale-sized, glistening in corners chirping and muttering to each other. The rest blend into the air. A train passing screams at him with a woman’s voice. Somewhere on a back street he meets a man he’d met before on the floor of a hotel room. He drops from a melting fire escape and stops in his tracks to stare at the Divinity Student. That single inexplicable look masks his eyes, so that when he looks again, the man is gone. Passing the cemetery, he sees huge pulsing trees burrowing into graves with their roots, their branches forking like capillaries into fleshy clouds. Another time he is stopped by someone else, someone who dances in an awkward, heavy circle, and vanishes into the corner of a building. Two men pass him on a rooftop holding hands, and passing, they greet him and wish him welcome. He never stops long, but keeps making his way toward the center of the city. He doesn’t count the twelve men that he meets, one after another. The closer the column of smoke looms the faster he goes, and once he enters the inner district, he moves fastest of all. Now he’s all but flying, feet barely touching the ground, streaking dust behind him in blue light, dancing along the uneven cobbles in the buckling red light, suspended between the ground and the air. And once in a while, he’ll look up, to see someone pacing him along the rooftops, vaulting from chimney to weathervane, skating on gutters, using roof slates for her stepping stones, and her black-gloved hands flutter in their lace cuffs like spiders in white flowers.
He gains the inner city at last, coming to San Veneficio’s heart, the Orpheum and its great empty plaza milling with a thousand invisible shapes, sounding with a thousand hollow voices. Here the light is pure, the moon shines like an iceberg in stark white sterile light, the Orpheum is neither smoke nor ruin, but it blazes like a second moon, cool and unsearing. The voice comes from deep inside, a disconnected, businesslike voice chanting inside the Orpheum, and a column of smoke dissipating across the city now that the Divinity Student has arrived. A lone white figure with long black legs whips through the air like lightning to plant her feet firmly atop the apex of the Orpheum’s shining dome. She raises her two arms high in the air and turns her face to the Divinity Student, she bows her head to the Divinity Student, who is coming through the plaza to stand directly before the palace’s great doors, between the statues of San Veneficio’s greatest poets and a dry fountain filled with earth and blossoming night plants, where dark and heavy the world falls beneath a single gap in the clouds where the moon is moving away to reveal—
Voices rise again on all sides and shapes outlined in the dazzling light take on substance again, altogether a vast soundless noise and lightless light Eclogue, parting to dimension an aperture. A terrible feeling takes the Divinity Student, like a clod of dirt lodged in his chest, and branching through his limbs. He clutches his chest and falls forward, acid pain scalding him inside. The pain climaxes as the chant from the Orpheum reaches its crescendo and he then raises his head despite his agony, because he recognizes the words. Now he knows the words, and the language, his own language, finally roots in him. A dark place he’s seen before collapses all around him, and in darkness the Divinity Student catches with creation on the air, hooking his teeth, the Eclogue clothes him and strips him in divinity and takes him like a messenger, he is drawn up into the sky.
Naked seabed. The sky is a still canopy, like the underside surface of a lake, and blue light shines on the marble walls striking patterns across the hot ground like dancing traceries of light reflected from rippling water. Sitting alone in a spacious cab, the Divinity Student watches the sweat trickle down the driver’s neck, wind buffeting him from the open window. A single road lies flat.