Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Beautiful People: A Tale of Alyria

Note: As I've been going through my Alyria manuscript, I've been rereading some of the stories that I wrote for the RPG book. A couple of them are strong enough to stand on their own, in my opinion. So, I thought that I would share them with you.

If you walk into the Citadel, just down the street from the clock tower of Kron, if you are particularly unlucky, you might see a little alleyway between two wrecked buildings. That used to be home. That’s where I used to do business. Me. Jane. I lived there and I sold me. That’s right. Jane, the prostitute. Plain Jane, the whore. But no longer.

Oh I know what men called me. Best lay in the Fifth District. Do one at a time or all together. Jane don’t care. That’s all they knew. They didn’t care when they were panting over me, breathing heavy. They didn’t care that I closed my eyes so I didn’t have to watch. Didn’t care that I hid away in a corner of my mind while they did what they did to me. In the middle of an orgy, all alone.

It was killing me. One day at a time, it drained my soul. I could see it in my eyes. They stared at me from the mirror, dead and empty. Once they used to dance with life. That’s what I told myself. I remember birthdays and picnics, happy shouts and…Nothing. The dead eyes stared accusingly at me from the mirror as I got ready for another night of business. I could feel them on my back as I leave the room.

Sometimes, when it was early in the morning and all the johns had gone home or were passed out drunk in the gutter, I’d clean up as best I could and I’d sit out in the alleyway. Most times the Weeping Moon would be setting, and its light would leak across the sky like blood, like the time I slit my wrists in the bath and watched the redness swirl through the dirty bathwater. Mist and smoke twist across the sky, but sometimes, just sometimes, I could see a single star beaming down from the sky. It was almost like some happy spirit in the sky was reaching down to me in the middle of all this mist and fear and iron and pain. I cannot tell you how often I have wanted to reach out my hands, grab on to that fragile beam of light, and just fly away.

Sometimes I would pretend that I climbed that beam of light into another world. I climb and climb and climb and then suddenly I would be surrounded with light. The sun breaks over the horizon and I can see that I am standing on soft puffy clouds and surrounded by a sky so intensely blue that it is almost painful. Beautiful people live here. I can see them all around me. Some of them are laughing and some are playing and no one is angry, no one at all, and they call to me and I run to them and they love me I am so alone I want someone to love me why won’t anyone love me.

But then I would wake up, alone except for my thoughts and the bitter tears that fell from my cold dead eyes.

That night was supposed to be my night off. I was going to go shopping in the market, looking for a flower to brighten my room. But Myra came down with a hideous cough and Piter told me that there was no way that he was going to get any business if Myra was on duty tonight. Never mind that he made me work when I was burning with a fever. Myra was just too precious to little Piter. She was his prize heifer, and she knew it.

So sundown found me at the mouth of my alley, working the street. Pose body like so. Call out seductive phrase. Flirt with eyes. I run through my checklist. The act had become second-nature to me; I could have done it in my sleep. Still, the night was slow. Several men and even a couple of women stop to check me out but each continued on their separate ways. “That’s right,” I thought. “Just keep going. If you leave me alone, then perhaps I will have peace tonight.”

Then he stopped at the mouth of the alley, and I knew that my first customer of the night had arrived. I mouthed the empty words of lust that he expected to hear as I led him back to my room. He said very little, but his eyes… His eyes frightened me. They were hard and uncaring. They spoke of untold cruelty, of pain given, of slow torturous death.

We arrived at my room and I asked for my payment. He refused, saying that he would pay after he has received service. I insisted. Then he hit me. Just once, but very hard. I flew across the room. Wiping blood from my mouth, I ordered him to leave. With a single movement, he was across the room, picking me up, hurling me onto the bed. I tried to kick, tried to scream, but his hand was over my mouth and then he was in me. I fought, I struggled, but he hit me again and again, even as he thrust into me. All the while those dead eyes never changed, not with rage, not with lust. Blows battered me as I was violated and I plunged into a darkness with no bottom, followed only by those eyes…

***

Pain filled my world as I opened my eyes. My vision was dark, and the ceiling wavered as I struggled to sit up. Blackness threatened to swallow me as the room spun and twisted. I staggered, vomited blood, and collapsed into the puddle. I could not feel my arms or legs. Far away I could hear the beautiful people singing but I thought they only mocked my pain. The thought suddenly occurred to me. “I’m dying.” I considered this for a moment, and then I was glad. I welcomed the thought of death. Death, a cold numbness to remove my pain. I closed my eyes and waited for the end.

Then gentle hands lifted me. Soft voices spoke to me. I opened my eyes and I saw two women in softly glowing robes kneeling over me. My room had faded away into radiant mist. Instead of the hum and clank of machinery, I heard the babble of a stream and the rushing of leaves blowing in the wind. As my eyes cleared, I saw that I was lying in a beautiful garden. My bed was of soft green grass. With a smile, one of the women held out her hand to me. Slowly, painfully, I took it.

Together we staggered down to the water’s edge. Sunlight glistened from the crystal water, and for a moment I thought that the stream was a river of gold. “Come,” she said. “You must be washed.” Slowly she began to wade out into the stream. But I hung back. I could not enter that stream. I was filthy. I was covered in blood. I would pollute that beautiful stream. I shrank back in fear and shame. She turned and smiled. “Come,” she repeated. I shook my head wordlessly, almost in a panic. With a gentle smile she returned to the bank of the stream. Without another word, she lifted me in her arms. I tried to struggle, but I was too weak. So I clung to her like a baby to her mother. Turning, she waded into the stream. Slowly I was immersed.

It was a feeling that I had never felt before. It was as though all my pain and fear, my anger and my sorrow, all was swept away. I was clean, clean as I had never been.

And then I saw Him. The Gardener. Oh, sirs, if you could only see His face for a moment… But you cannot. How could you? You will only see Him when He chooses to be seen by you.

I could have gazed into that face forever. He smiled at me and placed His hand on my forehead. It burned, it burned like white fire into my brain. The world was burned away in that blaze until all I could see were those precious, precious eyes. Then He whispered a single word and passed His hand over my eyes.

What did He whisper? I cannot say for certain. But I know that it is the word that is written on my forehead, the word that all your scholars strive to read but cannot. Strange, isn’t it? So many others have seen that word and knew immediately what it means.

However, I know what that word means to me. He put it there, and it means that I am His.

I awoke in my room. My wounds were healed. My pain was gone. And, somehow, I knew what He wanted me to do. In a voice of power, I called for fire, and the room burned behind me as I walked out of the Citadel into the wilderness. Once I stopped and looked back. The smoke rose in the moonlight like a blood-red column into the sky. Then, as I watched, the clouds parted and the smoke ascended through the tear in the sky, up, up to the stars.

And so, sirs, that is my story. I know that it will not change your judgment or sway your feelings. I know that you still think me to be a rabble-rouser, preaching a strange religion to the people under your sway. I know that you still see me as a false prophetess, preaching against Pheric, your so-called god. I know that I will still stand condemned before this Council of Inquisition and be taken away to my death. But that does not matter to me. Because I know that I am one of the beautiful people, and tonight I will be clothed in white when the Garden receives me from your hand. And there is nothing that you can do to change that. Nothing at all.

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