IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE
Dolores J. Nurss
Volume V: Sharing Insanity
Sunday, December 6, 2708
I feel midnight crawl across my dead body, as the green fires of Hell gnaw me down to the bone. ďDoesnít everybody deserve a second chance?Ē I pray. ďHave I done no good, intermixed with all the evil?
But why should God give me a second chance, when I wonít take it? Iíve got a job to do, and if I have to finish it in Hell, I will.
I struggle to raise myself. Joint rubs scrapingly against joint when you try to move bones with the flesh burnt away. Everything hurts. I manage to turn over.
Itís a start.
(ďI can bring you your power back,Ē says the little man with the engaging skull grin, white in his black-charred face, still handsome despite everything. ďI can give you more power than ever. I can make you a God.Ē And I feel myself fission into many pure, clear slices of my soul to scatter onto the wind, falling as lenses before the eyes of each of my followers, altering their vision to fit mine.
ďOh you are no mere oracle!Ē the charred one gloats.)
(In the dorm blankets stir all around us, students sitting up as one. The twelve-year-old that we saved from sacrifice says, softly but clearly, ďThe Changewright can go everywhere at once.Ē)
I donít have to stay in Hell. I donít. I can go anywhere I want. If only I could moveÖ
Monday, December 7, 2708
I press through the sleepy morning BART station crowd, in the gray predawn light, to catch my train to San Francisco. The Roman Centurion just a few yards away looks as tired as I feel; Iíd hate to have to wear a heavy helm like that to work. Then I blink and heís just another guy in a three piece suit, standing there bareheaded.
I barely wedge myself in in time. Worse luckóall the seats ďreserved for the disabledĒ are taken by more men in suits, all of whom look hale. Gangstas, punks, and little old ladies will all give their seat to a woman with a cane, but Iíve never seen it from a man wearing dark gray wool.
Resigned to fate, I hold onto a pole as the train takes off, fighting the ache by appreciating my surroundings. I gaze out over all the sleeping faces of the men and women who did manage to get seats before me, row upon row, looking as innocent as children, and my heart swells with love. The human race is so intensely beautiful! Over there stands the man whoís not a centurion after all; he didnít get a seat, either. He reads a paper the best he can in the press of bodies, saving me the embarrassment of having our eyes meet; people never know how theyíve transformed; they take it ill when you stare.
And whatís his story, I wonder? Why did I get that image for that particular man? Is that how he sees himself? A Roman officer persevering in following his orders, stoically accepting Platoís admonition that pity and fear are the two basest emotions, and that he must purge these from his heart to get through the day?
None of my business, really. I turn away and settle into a trance that cuts the pain of standing on my bad leg till we arrive in The City. Thank God narcolepsy helps with trances!
Muniís down again, thanks to the new system theyíve installed; Iíll have to take the bus. At least this time I manage to get a seat; I settle in safe and warm as the door shuts out the noisy street and the bus rolls past all the weary men and women stirring from their blankets and their cardboard shelters like revenants, their cold-cramped muscles barely able to move.
The bus stops for a light, and just outside my window I see James Dean in rags, his motorcycle jacket coming apart at the seams, slumped over an old Harley whose chrome hasnít had a good polishing in years; I know that the sight of that defeated posture will haunt me for days.
Then, before my eyes, James Dean and motorcycle alike resolve into a shopping-cart crowded with a manís last possessions. I glance about and, just before the bus starts rolling again, I see the cartís owner in a sleeping-bag by the wheelsóso thatís the one whose James Dean fantasy didnít quite turn out the way heíd planned. I donít see any cup out for spare change; he hasnít gone to work yetóheís missing the morning crowd. A drowsy arm flings free of the bag as he turnsódrug-thin stick of an arm, marked as one might expect. Poor man. And the light changes, and the bus rolls on.
Wait a minuteówhat just happened here? Never mind; itís only hypnagogic hallucination, possibly informed by that telepathy which researchers say can best affect the sleeping mind. Dreaming on my feet. Or rump, or whatever. This sort of thing happens to narcoleptics all the time, when the border between sleep and waking blurs to nonexistence.
No, not that. Something else.
If Iím getting hypnagogic or hypnopompic or whatever, full sleep might sweep in on me at any minute. So I weave my transfer through my fingers; that way I wonít drop it when I nod off, trusting in the training that will wake me when my stop comes Ďround. I pull a file from my briefcase, overflowing with my latest novel-notes, the dreams and the speculations, to type into coherence during lunch, if I get lunch off, which I havenít lately; I set the file against the window so that when my head falls against it my hair wonít mess up the glass.
No, donít settle into the morning so easily. What happened?
I pitied an addict sleeping by his cart.
More than that.
I held him in contempt. Okay, I admit it. I got through the sixties without ever having taken drugs. I got beaten up regularly, in fact, for refusing to use drugs. I have never seen the need for drugs.
And what happened before?
James Dean? The Centurion?
Exactly. How DARE you look down on people who hunger after what comes to you naturally! Are you no less an addict than they? How many years have you known of a treatment and refused to consider it? Hasnít the obvious ever occurred to you, that you spend your entire life in an altered state of consciousness? What makes you so pure?
That I am an initiate of the TiliŠn.
In your dreams.
Exactly. You take whatever reality comes your way. When in Rome...
...catch your train like the rest of the centurions? Youíre out of your mind.
Thanks for your expert opinion, o voice in my head. Now if you donít mind Iíve got some editing to do.
But before I can take my red pen from the briefcase my head sinks against the file propped upon the window, and I...
...open my eyes to gray leaves dripping gray rain from a godforsaken gray sky. Whatever I dreamed fizzles into nothing in my head before I can grasp any of it, and it takes something else with it, some sense of joy or color or completeness of life. Or maybe thatís just the effect of memory rushing back, the knowledge of my deeds before I slept.
No. I didnít do anything. I donít remember, no more than a dream. None of it was real.
You know better, Deirdre. How DARE you look down on the rich for embracing oblivion!
Recollections swell up behind my eyes like boils in the brain. Did I just commit that ancient atrocity? Did I really send out a suicide bomber? No, no, it must have been some other Deirdre.
I push my face back into the bag of clothes that serves me for a pillow, but I find no comfort there. I make a stab at rising, but the cold cramps my muscles when I try to move, and the bandages donít help; I drop my head back onto the bag and stifle a moan. But I have to raise it again when Tanjin brings me a thin gray soup of beans, without any bread to go with it. They had the last of the bread yesterday.
Yes. The Sabbath. Today is Monday.
What happened to Sunday?
Everybody understands, Tanjin reassures me.
That I took the day of rest so literally I didnít even stir to bless what bread we had. After three days and nights without sleep that seemed quite reasonable, he says.So why do I feel so acutely that God has turned His back and taken all the colors with him?