…I can remember just ten times when I had really narrow escapes from death. Two were from drowning in typhoons, one was when our boat was charged by a wounded whale, once my wife and I were nearly eaten by wild dogs, once we were in great danger from fanatical lama priests, two were close calls when I fell over cliffs, once was nearly caught by a huge python, and twice I might have been killed by bandits.
Roy Chapman Andrews.
If a man could pass through Paradise in a dream, and have a flower presented to him as a pledge that his soul had really been there, and if he found that flower in his hand when he awake — Aye! and what then?
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
In the valley of Nis the accursed waning moon shines thinly, tearing a path for its light with feeble horns through the lethal foliage of a great upas-tree. And within the depths of the valley, where the light reaches not, move forms not meet to be beheld. Rank is the herbage on each slope, where evil vines and creeping plants crawl amidst the stones of ruined palaces, twining tightly about broken columns and strange monoliths, and heaving up marble pavements laid by forgotten hands. And in trees that grow gigantic in crumbling courtyards leap little apes, while in and out of deep treasure-vaults writhe poison serpents and scaly things without a name.
Vast are the stones which sleep beneath coverlets of dank moss, and mighty were the walls from which they fell. For all time did their builders erect them, and in sooth they yet serve nobly, for beneath them the grey toad makes his habitation.
At the very bottom of the valley lies the river Than, whose waters are slimy and filled with weeds. From hidden springs it rises, and to subterranean grottoes it flows, so that the Daemon of the Valley knows not why its waters are red, nor whither they are bound.
The Genie that haunts the moonbeams spake to the Daemon of the Valley, saying, “I am old, and forget much. Tell me the deeds and aspect and name of them who built these things of stone.” And the Daemon replied, “I am Memory, and am wise in lore of the past, but I too am old. These beings were like the waters of the river Than, not to be understood. Their deeds I recall not, for they were but of the moment. Their aspect I recall dimly, for it was like to that of the little apes in the trees. Their name I recall clearly, for it rhymed with that of the river. These beings of yesterday were called Man.”
So the Genie flew back to the thin horned moon, and the Daemon looked intently at a little ape in a tree that grew in a crumbling courtyard.
The city of Sophronia is made up of two half-cities. In one there is the great roller coaster with its steep humps, the carousel with its chain spokes, the Ferris wheel of spinning cages, the death-ride with crouching motorcyclists, the big top with the clump of trapezes hanging in the middle. The other half-city is of stone and marble and cement, with the bank, the factories, the palaces, the slaughterhouse, the school and all the rest. One of the half-cities is permanent, the other is temporary, and when the period of its sojourn is over, they uproot it, dismantle it, and it off, transplanting it to the vacant lots of another half-city.
And so every year the day comes when the workmen remove the marble pediments, lower the stone walls, the cement pylons, take down the Ministry, the monument, the docks, the petroleum refinery, the hospital, load them on trailers, to follow from stand to stand their annual itinerary. Here remains the half-Sophronia of the shooting-galleries and the carousels, the shout suspended from the cart of the headlong roller coaster, and it begins to count the months, the days it must wait before the caravan returns and a complete life can begin again.
It was the pivotal teaching of Pluthero Quixos, the most celebrated dramatist of the Second Dominion, that in any fiction, no matter how ambitious its scope or profound its theme, there was only ever room for three players. Between warring kings, a peacemaker; between adoring spouses, a seducer of a child. Between twins, the spirit of the womb. Greater numbers might drift through the drama, of course–thousands in fact–but they could only ever be phantoms, agents, or, on rare occasions, reflections of the three real and self-willed beings who stood at the center. And even this essential trio would not remain intact, or so he taught. It would steadily diminish as the story unfolded, three becoming two, two becoming one, until the stage was left deserted.
Needless to say, this dogma did not go unchallenged. The writers of fables and comedies were particularly vociferous in their scorn, reminding the worthy Quixos that they inevitably ended their own tales with a marriage and a feast. He was unrepentant. He dubbed them cheats and told them they were swindling their audiences out of what he called the last great procession, when, after the wedding songs had been sung and the dances danced, the characters took their melancholy way off into darkness, following each other into oblivion.
Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands I have been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
We were schooner-rigged and rakish, with a long and lissome hull,
and we flew the pretty colours of the cross-bones and the skull;
We’d a big black Jolly Roger flapping grimly at the fore,
and we sailed the Spanish Water in the happy days of yore.
A rose-red city half as old as time.
The Emperor then caressed them and said, pointing to me, This is a stranger, show him what he has never yet seen. They said, we will. One of them then assumed the form of a cube and arose from the earth, and in this cubic shape he occupied a place in the air over our heads.
Because I could not stop for Death —
He kindly stopped for me —
The Carriage held but just Ourselves —