By Michael Pevzner

I’m not a music person. Father has all sorts of things in the house that can still play, and he listens to them on occasion, but I never cared. I have no need of borrowed emotions; my own are more than enough for me.

Yet a morning came when the orchestra sounded within me. It burst through the cobweb of my dream and I knew that it was something different. I couldn’t see it, I could only hear it, and I heard that it was calling me to it. I felt all of me drawn towards something greater than myself, something distant and beyond my comprehension, something I must become a part of.

In my dream I could fly. I had gossamer wings and these wings carried me upwards, above the tin tent, above the hydroponic farms and the rest of the settlement. I flew, led on by the sounds of the orchestra, not yet knowing myself where I was headed, but knowing with the utmost certainty that the orchestra was leading me to where I belong. I flew through the dust clouds, above the heaps of garbage that have flooded the world, towards the ruined buildings that towered on the horizon like the rotten teeth of a giant. I saw underneath me skeletons of cars and tractors, of trucks and of buses, and I flew straight through the shattered windows of colossal buildings. In one of them I saw a writing desk covered with dust and a shattered television set and a framed picture that lay on the desk, and I stopped for a moment to sweep the dust off the picture and saw the face of a woman smiling at me.

I continued over mountains that grew refuse instead of trees, over rivers whose waters had turned black, over collapsed smokestacks of old factories.

At last the shades of dark grey and brown gave birth to pure, blinding whiteness—below me I saw the dome of the City, bigger than I could have ever imagined.

And at that moment, what I had understood deep within has reached the front of my consciousness—the City was calling me.

I open my eyes. I am once again on the metallic net of my bed in the tin tent. The gossamer wings are gone, yet the orchestra remains. I feel it filling me, inflating me as if I were a plastic bag. All that remains for me is to be a thin covering over a bubble of music that is moving on its own. The orchestra is pulling me—beyond the houses, beyond the black rivers and the collapsed factories, pulling me to the City.

I have been found worthy. Worthy to join the last hope of humanity that lives in the City. So it is told, at least—when all fell apart, when Earth revolted against us, the City was built to protect the worthy from Earth’s fury. And the City still chooses the worthy and calls them to it.

I remember the day that my bother Ra was found worthy. At first I was angry—at Ra, at myself, at the City. Why him? Why not me? Why not all of us? Later, I understood—the City cannot choose us all. There are rumours of entire families being chosen, but it is the nature of rumours to be exaggerated. I learnt to rejoice that at least one of us had been chosen.

And now I am found worthy myself.

Will I see my brother there?

I get up and walk out of the tent. In the east, the sun is already rising, making its way through the polluted clouds like an old sick man walking with a wan flashlight through an endless landfill, carefully choosing where to position his leg with each step. Father is standing outside, observing the world around him with old, tired eyes from under a thicket of heavy brows, the thin, old skin on his nose wrinkling with each breath.

I study the world around me as well—saying my goodbyes. To the tin tents, to the hydroponic farm, to the corpse of the dograt lying near it, the one I’d killed yesterday when it had tried to sneak in.

“Father,” I say, “I have great news.”

We take out the knapsack—in every tent one can always find such a knapsack. The knapsack is hope. Few are those who have the chance to use it, and we are getting a second one out of our house—first Ra and now me. We are, beyond a doubt, blessed by luck.

“Take care of yourself,” says father, and I put the knapsack over my shoulder and exit the tent.

In my soul, the orchestra is playing, showing me the way.

***

The journey to the City lasts many months. The orchestra is leading me on, pushing me, playing within my soul that I am closer to my goal with every step I take, with every movement of my body.

I pass all the sights I have witnessed in my dream, but the journey on two legs is far more difficult than that on wings. The order of the sights is different now, as well. I arrive at the skyscrapers when I am but a few days away from the City—I can feel the orchestra playing its closeness to me.

I raise my eyes and look at the building to my right, and suddenly I realise it is the same building in which I saw the picture of the woman—then, in the dream.

The orchestra objects gently, playing in my soul sadness and urgency, but I must know. I must know who that woman was, the woman whose picture somebody left in a hurry when running out of that building, leaving it to the caprices of the dying Earth, letting her smile be buried under years of dead dust.

I want that picture with me when I enter the City.

I enter the ruined building and climb its old, cracked stairs. Spiders have woven their webs in the stair rooms—I am surprised that something still lives here. The knapsack on my back is heavy but I continue my climb, more and more stories up the concrete stairs covered in dust and cobwebs.

At last I reach the story where I know I’ll find that which I seek. I pass through the deserted hallway; around me a savage wind screams like a banshee through the torn openings that were once windows. The place is empty and cold.

The orchestra, although still resisting lightly, leads me to that which I seek. I turn into one of the old office rooms, and on the cracked desk in the centre of the room I see the grey protruding rectangle that is the picture.

I reach my hand to it, but at that moment the orchestra cries out desperately, and I feel the floor moving beneath my feet. The heavy desk begins sliding slowly to one side as a terrible noise shakes the building to its rusted bones and the floor leans at a frightening angle. The desk skids towards the opening of the old window, strikes at a supporting column, and I see the picture parting from it, flying downwards together with papers and folders that crumble to dust in the wind.

The entire building is about to collapse.

It hasn’t forgiven me for interrupting its rest after so many years, for wanting to take that which is its by right.

I run backwards, careful not to fall, down the stairs, leaning against the slanted wall.

As I run I hear a creak and then a colossal, rolling thunder above me, and I see deep cracks beginning to spread through the stairs over my head as pieces of metal, rock and concrete begin falling down in a painful, suffocating downpour. I continue running but the cracks spread down the staircase faster than I can run. The stairs collapse under my feet and I fall, sliding down the slanted wall. My knapsack saves me—a metallic rod jutting out of the wall cleaves it like a knowing knife can gut a fish. All the provisions, all the clothes, all the mementos from my home—all are crushed and scatter in a confetti of lost memories. At last I fall to the ground. I release myself from the knapsack’s straps that are now holding but lone tatters, cough away the dust that hangs heavy in the air and run with all the strength that I have.

Thanks to luck sent to me by forces unknown, I manage to reach a safe distance and hide behind the corpse of a gigantic tractor before the building collapses completely, and the colossal cloud of dust it raises in its fall passes at the sides of the tractor and spares me.

I mumble a prayer to the City and look to the distance, but the dust prevents me from seeing it.

I have at least two days of walking, the orchestra plays in my soul, and all of my provisions are lying in the ruins behind me.

I rise slowly and continue my walk.

The following three days are hard. I try to drink the dirty rainwater that accumulates on car roofs but it only makes me vomit. I have nothing left to vomit.

I am starving and exhausted, barely able to move my feet, when I finally stand in front of the City’s gates.

They are completely white, and I lean my whole body against them. Above me something comes to life, a dance of colourful lights waltzes over my entire body for a few moments and then stops, and I see the gates beginning to open slowly.

As I enter, the gates close behind my back.

***

The City is so bright that my eyes hurt, but all its colours are faded, as if coming out of a dream.

And it is completely empty. I stand on a small white porch with metallic railing. Below me is a gigantic park, decorated with flora but devoid of people. And everything is white or faded green and completely sterile. White walkways stretch between the lawns, white benches stand empty on the walkways.

Two emotions simultaneously overwhelm me.

The first, a feeling of emptiness. The orchestra that was playing in me, that filled me with knowing, with understanding, with acceptance—has disappeared as though it had never been there, packed up the instruments and left in a hurry without saying a word, the conductor pressing the note sheets to his chest in a jumble, crumpling them slightly, for he had no time to put them in his case. One of the musicians forgot in the depths of my soul a broken violin.

The second, a feeling of not belonging. I feel filthy. I am suddenly aware of all the layers of worn clothing I am wearing, grimy, stiff from dust and sweat. I can feel my boots leaving prints of mud and ash on the smooth, white floor. I feel myself a black wart upon the most beautiful face in the world.

I don’t yet understand why, but I catch myself taking off—no, peeling off—all the layers of clothing I am wearing, my hands suddenly feeling too long and bony. I remove layer after layer: a coat; another coat, its pockets torn, and my hand becomes entangled in one of the holes; then a sleeveless jacket of worn, sticky leather; then a grey sweater of thorny wool, which scratches at my hands and face as I take it off; then a shirt; another shirt; finally, an undershirt, which is glued to my body, yellow from sweat. Then I remove the heavy boots that were once green but are now a brownish shade of grey, lumps of mud sticking to them, and I notice that the left boot’s sole is torn and crumbling. Then I peel off the heavy socks and the trousers and the short pants under them, and then the underpants.

I put all the clothes in a pile and push it towards the closed gate behind me.

I look down at my body and suddenly realise how skinny I am—my bones protrude so much that it seems they’re about to tear through my skin.

I step away from the pile of clothes, distancing myself from it. It doesn’t help. I am still filthy. My skin is dirty and sticky, my hair feels like an oily mesh of carton and wire. I pass a hand through my hair and shudder with disgust. I extract from my hair an insect the size of a fingernail and crush it between my fingers. It makes a quiet crack as a viscous, yellow-grey fluid spills over my hand.

I throw its corpse towards the pile of clothes.

The feeling of filthiness is unbearable.

My hands rise almost unconsciously and I begin peeling layers of grime and sweat off myself. My nails dig trenches in my skin, my body hurts, it burns and boils—and it doesn’t help at all.

I feel weak and the world begins spinning round me. My body pulsates with pain and my hands have no more strength to scratch. My legs collapse under me. A strange feeling of remoteness spreads through my soul, trying to fill the space where the orchestra resided not long ago.  Remoteness from my body, from the pain that it feels and the dirt that still sticks to it.

I feel my eyes closing and I feel a thousand hands reaching for me from the darkness, a thousand eyes staring at me. I fall from infinity and into infinity, I float—but I have no body. Out of the darkness in front of me slowly appears the beautiful face of a woman. Her features are perfect, almost inhuman, and her skin is pale grey. She opens light-violet eyes beneath long eyelashes and her thin, colourless lips smile at me.

The darkness in which I float suddenly feels like a soft, gentle blanket of countless black feathers.

“Welcome,” says the woman, and her voice is pleasant, caressing, echoing. It envelops me and I snuggle in it as in a cocoon. I am safe in the voice. I am part of the voice. I am the voice. “Welcome to us,” says the woman. “Come and join us. You will be well with us. Let us rid you of the burden of flesh. Let your soul join the soul of the eternal humanity. We are the salvation. Join us.”

“How?” I hear myself asking, my voice echoing in the woman’s voice, merging with it in a dizzying dance within the dark.

“Go to the Temple,” answers her voice in the dance. “Go to the Temple and join us. Let the City lead you to the Temple. Let us lead you to the Temple. Join us…”

I hear an orchestra in the distance, to whose sounds both of our voices are dancing. It is the orchestra that was once in me—and I know it is waiting for me again. I feel a fraction of it returning to my soul, and I know that the rest is mine too—if only I go to the Temple. If only I join the woman. If only I become the woman…

If…

Only…

Water.

Cold.

I cough. I open my eyes, breathe air into my lungs as though I’ve never breathed before and sit up sharply.

I feel water on my lips, flowing down my chin.

I realise I’m in a small room with white walls, sitting on the floor. On me is a pair of white, well-fitting and comfortable trousers and no other clothes.

My head is humming. I hear—no, I feel—the orchestra, the voices, the dance… distant, weak, deep in my consciousness.

I want to go back to them.

I want the voices.

I want the orchestra.

I want the woman.

I want.

I turn round and see that to my left sits a woman. She looks about forty, her hair a dirty blonde and it reaches down to her shoulders. Her face is very red, very tired, crow’s feet of tension spread from the edges of her lips. She wears white, sterile, well-fitting clothes. And she is ugly.

That is, no, she isn’t supposed to be, but this is how she looks to me at that moment. She is ugly in relation to her—the woman to whom I spoke only moments ago. Her face was perfect, inhumanly perfect, and I suddenly realise that every face but hers will now appear ugly to me.

The woman to my left looks as if she doesn’t belong to this place; the same way I felt I didn’t belong when I stood at the City’s gates. I can feel her dirt under my skin, like a thousand small and filthy ants, although she doesn’t seem to be dirty at all.

“Good you finally woke up, too,” says a hoarse voice behind me.

I turn around. Behind me stands a short man, wearing white well-fitting clothes much like the woman’s. His face protrudes from the collar of his shirt like a tumour. He looks at me with a slightly patronising look, his hands folded on his chest.

“Where’s the Temple?” I ask. “I want to go to the Temple.”

The man and woman exchange glances. I look at the woman and see her lower her gaze, pursing her lips. By her look, it seems I shouldn’t have said that.

“Sorry, buddy. You can’t go to the Temple.”

The weak orchestra on the edges of my soul plays something sad and quiet. The violins sound like lost kittens.

The man sits down on a stool.

“Listen,” he begins, but the woman interrupts him:

“Maybe not now? Can’t you see he’s tired? Let him rest a little…”

“No! Now!” says the man sharply. “Now, because he needs to understand everything as soon as possible. We can’t take any chances!”

I don’t entirely understand what they want from me. I’m tired. My body still hurts, and now I feel the hunger return to sizzle inside of me. I want the woman’s flask, but I am too tired to tell her that, and I see her walk away from the room in frustration, the flask in her hands.

“Listen,” says the man again and leaves a meaningful pause. He tries to sound serious and authoritative, to show me that the situation is completely under his control, and that as long as I truly listen to his words and act on his advice, all will be well. He tries—he doesn’t entirely succeed.

“What you heard about the Temple—it’s all the City’s lies. There is no City you can join, it’s only what it wants you to believe. The one consciousness, the next step of humanity—it’s all hogwash that the City tells you. All it really wants is to eat you up, to drink your soul through a straw and throw you aside.”

Gentle drums enter the piece that the orchestra is playing. I can feel a crescendo approaching.

“It tried to convince us, too, when we arrived,” says the man, an understanding look in his brown eyes. “Me and Lia and Mark and little Taiho. But we aren’t fools. We figured out its plan. And you know how? Because the City is empty! Look at it, there’s nobody here.” He taps his temple with his finger, proud of himself. “If it’s all like it says, if it was really designed as the next step of evolution, then why the hell is it empty? Huh?” The man is pleased with himself. “No, buddy, you can’t fool me. It’s all lies. Lies and hogwash. I don’t know what happened to the previous city, what happened to the people who used to live here, but the previous city is gone. What you see here now—it’s a predator that set up a lair for itself here, and it uses the old mechanisms of the city to bring itself new prey.”

The orchestra becomes stronger. I see the woman’s face again—her perfect, gentle face—appearing out of the fog of exhaustion that films my eyes. She smiles at me. She whispers something to me, but I can’t understand what it is. I am drawn again into the dance of voices, I feel its softness enwrapping me; I want to fall into it—and sleep, sleep, sleep…

“I want to go to the Temple,” I say in a weak but stable voice.

“Didn’t you listen to me at all, or what!”’ shouts the man. “The Temple is a lie! The Temple is the monster’s maw, the City will devour you! Don’t you get it!”

The woman continues to smile at me.

“You can’t stop me,” I say.

“Oh, I can. I can and I will. I don’t care what you want and what you don’t want, but I’m not intending to feed the beast.” He rises from his stool and exits the room, and I hear him shutting the heavy door behind him and locking it.

“The Temple is real,” caresses the strengthening voice of the woman. The dance continues and I am drawn into it, and the orchestra is playing a waltz. “He creates lies for himself because he is afraid of the truth. He is afraid of the new world that we are offering him, that we are offering you, and this is why he runs. He does not understand how weak and useless the flesh is. The City is not empty; it is only that I—that we—have no need for bodies of flesh and blood. We are the City, we are the one soul of humanity. And we are patient. We let him live amongst us, we give him food and provide him with clothes, and we know that he will see the light in the end. For he has been chosen by us. Do not tarry as he does. Come to the Temple.”

For a moment, the woman’s face turns, in the eyes of my mind, into a giant spider. The spider resides in a colossal web, its hairy, mucous underbelly fills almost all of my view, and it pulls the threads of the web—and I see that these threads are in fact gentle cords, and every pull plays a tune in an infinite orchestra, and more and more people are drawn to the music…

“Come to the Temple,” I once again hear the woman’s voice say, still gentle, but this time there’s also some insistence playing in it. The voice shatters the spider into pieces and again I see her perfect face, again I hear the orchestra—my orchestra, my and nobody else’s—accompanying the dance and our voices. For a moment, I can see in her face a myriad of faces smiling at me. “Do not let the lies contaminate your soul. Look deep into yourself and you shall see the road opening to the Temple. We are the next step of humanity. We are the salvation. Join us in the temple, become part of us and we shall become part of you. This is salvation.”

The woman’s voice reaches a long, gentle hand towards me and I reach my hand in return. I shudder in expectation of the coming touch, the releasing touch, the woman’s embrace…

I wake from the sound of the door closing and see that there’s a tray of food lying by the door. The food consists of many vegetables, potatoes and mushrooms, apparently electrically fried.

Actually, by the time I catalogue what was on the tray it is already empty.

I think it’s the happiest moment of my life. The quality of the vegetables is countless times higher than those we grow at our hydroponic farms.

I feel now that I can think clearly, go back and understand what has happened from the moment I set foot in the City.

And still, a pure, distilled smell, the smell of a young creek, of roses and grass—the smell of the pure and only truth—comes from the lips of the woman who talks to me. Whilst the man smells of mould, of old dust—the smell of fear.

Where is Ra? Did Ra walk to the Temple? Did Ra make the move? Yes, undoubtedly yes, otherwise he’d be here with these people. Ra knew what he was doing; he wouldn’t be afraid to stand behind his decisions.

The thought of Ra choosing the City and the Temple is warming and comforting. It is the additional voice saying that it is the right decision, the knowledge that I won’t be there alone, that I’ll be there with Ra, and Ra will know what to do.

I feel weak-willed. I’m supposed to be able to make decisions on my own. I’m no longer the age when I went after my brother wherever he led me. But in reality, I realise, I am simply afraid of death. I’m afraid of death, and there’s no-one to tell me that my decision won’t lead me to it. At any age, one does not want to make such decisions on one’s own.

***

The days crawl by slowly. The family brings me food. The head of the family walks in from time to time and talks to me. He believes in what he says. I feel that he wants to protect his family, but I also feel the fear coming off him, like the vapours rising from a rod of scalding hot iron standing in the middle of an ice desert. And I can feel his crumbling grip on his family, his desire to protect, twisted into a suffocating, consuming desire to freeze in place. He’s seen too many changes in his life and he doesn’t want to see more. His eyes are blind to the light, and when he looks at it directly all he can feel is pain.

In his plans, he escapes from the City with his family, or he destroys the City and puts an end to its evil. He wants my help—and understands that he won’t have it. I eat the food he gives me—which isn’t his food anyway, it’s the food the City provides him—and I keep silent. I’m not him. I can see the light.

And I have no family to protect here. There is no-one to bear the burden of my decision but me.

From time to time I hear him shouting outside at his wife or his eldest son.

He would’ve preferred it if I hadn’t come. He hoped to find in me a partner, a friend—but found nothing. He put his last strength into trying to teach me his truth; he wanted so much for somebody to help him hold the reins, and now that he understands I am not the man for the job, he can no longer hold the reins himself. He hasn’t got much time left.

I’m in no hurry. I know that the City will provide me with my moment. The woman is with me in my dreams, and she’s in no hurry either.

***

About a month passes until a youth appears in the door. He looks about fifteen, his hair impeccably dishevelled, and he wears the same white, sterile clothes as his parents.

“Hi,” says the youth. “I’m Mark.”

“I know,” I answer, not really sure why I answered that way. I think I sound much more important than I truly am.

The youth sits down on the floor in front of me. He’s silent for some time, and I understand that he wants to say something very important for him, something he’s been building in himself for some time now, that presses on his throat from within, trying to get out—but he doesn’t manage to release it.

“Speak up,” I say in the calmest voice I can manage and I smile—or try to, at least; I’m not sure of the result. “I don’t bite.”

The youth raises his eyes and looks into mine.

“Father…” he says slowly. “Father is… we are…” He’s searching for words and cannot find them. He’s in shock, for he had a speech ready, polished and refined, but it’s hiding away beyond his reach, forcing him to face it on his own.

Suddenly he bursts into tears. “I don’t want it no more!” he shouts. “I can’t! Can’t! Father’s a coward… he’s a coward and he forces all of us to be afraid with him, but I can’t anymore…”

And I understand: Mark also has an orchestra. Mark also knows how to lose himself in a timeless dance with the woman with the perfect face. He wants to go to the Temple and he doesn’t believe his father at all—but there’s nothing he can do. He’s scared.

And I understand why he’s here. He wants me to help him. All this time there was nobody who could truly help him.

“You… you believe me, right? You must’ve… you must’ve…” Mark feels uncomfortable continuing the sentence. The sudden blush reveals that what he’s trying to say is equal to him to saying you must’ve slept with her; you know how it is.

Yes, I know how it is.

The desperate hope in his eyes finishes the most important part for him—he wants me to help him escape. He wants me to help him get to the temple.

“Father will hold you here forever,” says Mark. His face is red and wet but he doesn’t notice. His tears soak into the white fabric of the shirt, giving it a grey shade. “He won’t let you go. But if I help you, you—”

Mark suddenly halts—not of his own will. His eyes grow wide in astonishment and I notice a streamlet of blood appearing between his lips and flowing down his chin.

Mark collapses on his side and turns back, and in the entrance there stands a small boy, about five years old, holding in his outstretched hands a silent-model pistol. A good model, I didn’t even hear the shot.

“I heard it all!” says the boy victoriously, the pistol shaking slightly in his hands. “I heard it all! I’ll tell on you both to daddy!”

“You… you took… father’s gun?” Mark whispers. I see the torn wound in his back, and a puddle of dark blood is spreading over the floor. Rich, dark red over the pure, sterile white. Mark lies down, his eyes staring at the ceiling. He coughs blood, breathing slowly and heavily. I don’t think he’ll live.

Well, hello there, little Taiho.

There’s no time to waste. His parents must have heard his joyful cries and will be here any moment.

I approach him carefully, stepping slowly, my hand reaching forward. “Everything’s okay,” I say, mustering all the peace of mind that I have. “Mark was a bad boy, you did everything well. Now give uncle the gun and everything will be okay…”

“No,” says Taiho, shaking his head, his mane fluttering in the cool air.

I continue approaching, reaching my hand for the pistol. “Come on, Taiho, it’s all okay now. You can give uncle the gun and uncle will give the gun to daddy…”

“But…” mumbles Taiho. He’s less sure of himself now. He makes a hesitant half-step backwards.

I can see the pistol is close enough for me to grab but I realise that Taiho will not give it up willingly—not any time soon, at any rate.

I make a quick half-step forward and reach my hand for the gun, snatching it from Taiho’s hands.

The air between us blazes up in a flash of white. I have the pistol in my hand, and before I can take in the pain I hit Taiho’s cheek from the side and downwards with the handle of the pistol. I can hear his jaw snapping like rotten wood, I feel the warmth of his blood on my hand and shoulder and I see his small body thrown sideways against the wall.

And then the pain hits. It hits into my hip like a gigantic hammer, and then it digs in, deep into my body, up my guts and down my leg, crawling like worms of rusted wire, gnawing at me from the inside. I fold in half, pressing my left hand against my side, feeling the warm blood seeping through the wound.

I step outside on failing legs and see the mother and father running towards the place. On their faces, I can see a look of pure, distilled terror spreading.

“Don’t come any closer!” I shout, but my voice breaks into a wet rasp. I cough, and viscous pink spittle bursts from my mouth and flows down my chin. I raise the pistol towards them with my right hand. My hand shakes like a boat in stormy waters, but the couple freeze in their place. Still pointing the pistol at them, I step backwards carefully, my bare feet barely keeping from slipping.

“Don’t come any closer!’ I shout once again. I think I’m shouting. I’m not sure if the words ever reached my mouth.

The world begins expanding and shrinking around me, spinning, waves of heat and coldness hit my body, shaking the entire world. I feel I’m about to vomit all of my inner organs.

My legs continue to drag me backwards. I realise the couple won’t come after me. They have more important things to do. Not to mention that I…

No. Not to think about it.

The orchestra plays a requiem. I can see the woman. She is smiling a sad smile at me and our dance is dark.

“Come to the Temple,” she whispers in my ear.

“I’m coming.”

I’m walking, I’m faltering, I’m crawling—I’m going to the Temple. “Here I come.”

The world turns into an endless black strip, my ears ring in a requiem by a thousand instruments and I no longer want to hear it. I’m cold, I feel my whole body shaking like a leaf in the wind, and still heavy drops of sweat pour down my forehead, stick to my eyebrows, drip down my nose. My eyes sting from the sweat.

“Come to the Temple,” dances the woman’s voice around me, and I notice that this time she dances while holding long red ribbons in her hands, twisting round her in magnificent curves. The ribbons encircle me, enwrap me. We dance to the sounds of the orchestra’s requiem.

The world wobbles like drum skin onto which thousands of insane children pour their madness, but through the wobbling I can see the gates of the Temple. Triangular glass doors open and welcome me inside. I enter an elongated room with high walls.

The dance becomes faster, animated, excited.

My legs can’t hold me any longer and I fall, sit on the side, supporting myself with my right arm. I realise that I’ve lost the pistol somewhere along the way.

Although the room is empty, I can feel a presence in it—a colossal presence, strong, sure of itself. But a presence of what? What awaits me on the other side of the Temple, on the other side of the dream?

“Are you here, Ra?” I whisper.

The woman smiles and kisses me on my forehead. I see lights coming on above me, and there’s a low hum of metallic creatures coming to life, preparing.

And then I hear the glass doors opening behind me. I turn around and see Lia standing in the doorway. She’s crying and her lips are trembling—and the whole world is shaking around me. The pain in my side suddenly becomes more real than I’d have ever thought possible, bursting with a thousand suns of boiling glass.

“What…” I try to ask her, but my lips only move weakly.

“He can’t hold me any longer,” she says in a quavering voice. “There’s nothing that can hold me…”

And I understand that in fact she’s saying, there’s no more Mark and Taiho to hold me.

“I’ve come to the Temple,” she says, and I hear her sobs becoming weaker, calmer. Her eyes close.

My right hand trembles under the weight of my body and I lie down on my back.

“I’ve come to the Temple,” my voice plays to the perfect woman.

“You’ve come to the Temple,” her voice caresses, and she hugs me with her entire body, with all of her eight legs.

The requiem ends on a high note.

Michael Pevzner lives in Haifa, Israel, and has studied mathematics and computer science. Other than writing fiction, he also enjoys role-playing, attends many local conventions and wrote a column on role-playing game design on RPG.net. “Faithful City” is his first published story.

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