(For Tania, who left this world a year ago today)
April 14, 2017
Nunevah Crenshaw was first to go.
"A plague on all their houses!" he said jogging the main sidewalk heading out of town, passing all twelve courts, coming from December, blowing a farewell kiss January's way. "So it's Shangri-la, is it? Just like Brisbane Robert Calister IV to think he's found the source of all Shangri-las - 'Bris' to his friends, and fawners, 'Bane' to me and mine. So he's found it, eh? Hope it up and moves before he gets back to it, stone by stone, halfway across Asia; better still halfway across time! A hundred years from now, so there's nothing left to find no matter how much funding he's able to charm his way. A plague on all their houses - but not his. Not Lizzie, who should be my wife; not Bobby, who should be my kid. Not them. And not the missus. Sorry to up and leave her - Her Brown-Crenshaw. Sorry to leave her like this. But it's time to go. Time to go. No name on any sidewalk. Old 'Bane' beat me to it, took my Lizzie. Should have been my name over top hers, not his. Mine's nowhere. I can go, free and clear. I'm nowhere to be found. Goodbye Colpen."
Nunevah Crenshaw couldn't see himself falling down the sidewalk, the last bit, the home stretch before Colpen became history. "Why am I slowing up?" he wondered. "Second thoughts? Remorse? A kink in my leg maybe? Better stop and stretch."
Nunevah Crenshaw couldn't stretch, couldn't quite get his leg, either leg, far enough in front to stretch. "What's going on?" he wondered. "My name's nowhere. Couldn't put it with Lizzie's; didn't want to put it with Her's. My name's nowhere! There's nothing holding me, nothing held me, nothing to hold me! Nothing!"
Nunevah Crenshaw kept sinking. Sinking slow. His ankles. His knees. His hips. His chest. His neck. Tip of his head. One final tuft of brown hair.
Nunevah Crenshaw was gone. Old man Brown watched it all. But saw none of it, not the jog, not the catch, not one speck of the disappearance. Old Man Brown was deep in thought. Dark, heavy, foreboding thoughts. "If they only knew what I'm thinking at this very moment, they'd come arrest me, carry me away to Colpen East, put me right in the Put-ery." He gathered all his thoughts, just in case one fell loose. "I'm gonna do it!" he pronounced with a sinister glee. "Yes sir, I'm gonna do it! I'm puttin' the brown doily on the sofa. Takin' off the white lacey one, puttin' on the brown. You just watch me! Just try and stop me! Yes siree, I'm doin' the devil's due. I'm gonna do it!"
Halfway through, between June and July, Colpen's Sycamore let a branch fist the sky, watching the jogger sink down and down and go away. A cloud way above parted where the fisted branch raised its ire. No ray of light shone through though. Just some more gray with whitish specks and hints of moisture. Then Colpen's Sycamore quieted.
At the End of June Old Miss Colpen heard a sound, arose from her seat, danced a circle all in place, thought back a time. "One must be careful eating babies," she reminded herself. "Careful not to eat your own, only the neighborhood brats. Poor Nuni, I should have eaten him, I could have spared him the final crush. But he was such a good baby, he loved everyone. It even says so down on May. Wallace Stevens got it wrong, the dear boy: May is not the cruelest month! April is. I should know. I was almost Miss April, till I was moved. I might have been the cruelest beauty in the cruelest month. Till I was moved." Old Miss Colpen listened. The music stopped. She sat down again, till the music started again.
"Mom! Those barrels down there!"
"They're urns, Bobby."
"Well, they're just big enough to hold a small zombie!"
"The people back there were small for their size! It's like that movie I read about: 'The Return of the Living Dead' - these kids went inside this cave - just like the ruins you found - and found all these barrels. And every one had a zombie inside. We need to check these urns out to make sure they're okay. Maybe this evening -"
"Not this evening. Remember: your father's giving a lecture."
"Oh yeah, I forgot. I keep forgetting he's home now. Is he here for good this time?"
"No. I'm afraid he'll always be heading out somewhere again."
"But he already found Shangri-La! Where else is there he still needs to go?"
"There's always somewhere else. You never know what you'll stumble upon -"
"Like the buried city beneath Colpen!"
"Exactly. You'd better get ready, we don't want to be late."
"Too bad we can't just click our heels three times and go wherever we want - like that sixth grade kid in that movie I read about did. She went home to Kansas - with her dog Toto - is that a cool name for a dog? It's so cool even a rock band I read about was called Toto. I wonder if that movie was based on a real story."
"People don't go from place to place like that."
"Sol says they can."
"This Indian brave just came into town. He's about the coolest guy I've ever met. He says you can go from place to place - and from time to time - in an instant. But he says it's dangerous, so not to try it. But some day I want to."
"Now go get ready."
On the way to his father's lecture, Bobby asked his mother if there was a nightingale at Shangri-La.
"There has to be a nightingale for it to be Shangri-La. Or maybe it clicked its claws and left when it saw father coming in. Nightingales are elusive."
Bobby took a moment to incline his head to Colpen's Sycamore and wave at Miss Colpen, though neither responded. Mr Brown, earlier on, did respond.
"He and Miss Colpen never go to these get togethers," Bobby noted. "I wish they would. Especially Mr Brown, he's cool. He's always planning something he says is wicked if people knew about it. I guess that means it's only wicked if someone knows about it, right? But isn't he someone too? So if he knows - because he thought it - then it's still wicked. Sol says that's kind of like a reductio ad absurdum. Did I tell you about Sol?"
"Yes, you did."
"Oops. He said not to tell anyone he's in town just yet. I just remembered that."
Elizabeth Calister and her son Bobby joined a crowd of people heading down the court toward January's Pavilion, where this evening's monthly get together was almost ready to begin.
"Hi," one of the residents addressed Elizabeth and her son before hurrying on.
"Good evening," Elizabeth answered more formally.
"Mom: doesn't she have the coolest name ever?" Bobby asked.
"Yeah, it is! Her. Her Brown. That is too cool."
"Brown-Crenshaw," Elizabeth corrected her son.
"He's gonna leave her - you watch: he will, I just know it."
"What makes you say that?"
"I just know it. Something put the idea in my head early this evening. He's gonna leave her, you just watch."
January's Pavilion was standard among the twelve pavilions; only December's and June's were bigger, partly to accommodate greater crowds, bigger ceremonies; partly for the extra equipment built into the buildings for the Blue Time and the Red Time.
Once everyone was seated, the announcer brought on January's special guest. "Tonight is Shangri-La. Without further ado, please welcome home internationally renowned archeologist Dr Brisbane Robert Calister."
"Thank you. I would change one small thing if you've no objection: let's call this gathering 'Shangri-La Cleared Out.' I'll explain as I go why I prefer this particular title. As you no doubt already know, I have indeed located the definitive site of this mythic city. I found it, not by looking in Tibet, concentrating on the Kun Lun Mountains - where most seekers expect it to be - or within the Hunza Valley. But by moving north, to the Mongolian border, the Altai Mountains; specifically, Khuiten Peak. Oh, I know, others too have looked there; I'm hardly the first. The difference in my approach - radical difference, I might say - was where on Khuiten Peak I looked. I didn't look on the mountain; I didn't look inside the mountain. I looked under - yes: under - the mountain. Why, you ask? Frankly I don't know. Something came to me as I was beginning my search. I can't say how it came to me; it just did. I saw as clearly as I see you before me a city - a whole city - buried deep beneath Khuiten Peak. Nothing could have struck me as more outlandish; yet nothing could have struck me as more certain. It was there; I knew it was there. So there was where we began our excavation. Under the mountain. Not on it or in it but under it.
"Now here's where I take on the persona of a traveler and crank up the slide projector. So bear with me a moment. There, all set. This first shot shows exactly where we decided to dig. As you can see from the next several shots, we bored down in a deep diagonal, beneath the mountain, till we reached pay dirt. What you're watching as a rapid descent, as you might imagine, took several months. We had to clear all the debris - dirt, rocks, plants, insects - as we went. We had to keep widening the trench, bracing it, preparing it for artificial lighting. That's where most of the funding goes: not into the planning, or the real archeological work: but into the tedious manual phase. Then - all of a sudden - there it was: Shangri-La; and there we were, standing in the midst of the most elusive place on earth. Then many months more clearing debris, uncovering structures, homes, buildings, until finally we were able to walk through the city and actually begin examining the interiors of the structures.
"That's when we discovered perhaps the most amazing aspect of the entire dig. Inside the dwellings was evidence of a city full of people dining - eating their evening or perhaps morning meal. Every dwelling presented the same exact scene: tables lined with plates of food. Literally. The food was left sitting on the plates on the tables - as if everyone in Shangri-La had simply gotten up from their dinners and left, all at once. No bones: we found no bones, no human remains. Just food left behind, un-eaten. And in the cold desert climate, perfectly preserved.
"That's a fairly common occurrence, by the way. Archeologists often find uneaten food left lying out in the open - though it is rare to encounter it on this scale. As I said, not one human remain was to be found anywhere. Now it's true we haven't unearthed the entire city; but we've gone a long way toward seeing everything there. So it's unlikely we'll ever discover what happened to the people of Shangri-La. One of the legends in the area tells of an entire race of people becoming trapped within what they call Kalachakra, or the Wheel of Time. When you encounter something like the lost city of Shangri-La, it certainly adds a measure of credence to a legend like that. But who knows.
"If anyone has questions I'd be more than willing to try and answer them. Yes, Mrs Brown-Crenshaw."
A very tall woman arose from her seat. "Why did you decide to look under the mountain? Surely there must have been more to it than simply intuition." She remained standing while her answer was delivered.
"Well, I can't say there was really any more to it than my feeling absolutely certain Shangri-La would be there. Now of course it's fairly common for a city or some other underground site to be buried deep within a mound of rubble that looks much like a hill or even a small mountain; but Khuiten Peak is much more than that, so in that respect the site is unique. None of us at the dig had any credible theory for how the city came to be built like that, other than that it was purposely built beneath the mountain. Certainly it bore no signs of having been buried in some kind of cave in or other catastrophe. Nor is there anything to indicate the mountain wasn't already there when the city was built. Oh, another thing: the whole city, from all appearances, was built basically at the same time rather than piecemeal, over time, as most cities are. Any other questions? Yes, Mr Tover."
A heavy set man remained seated as he inquired about other abandoned ruins nearby.
"Not really. I probably should mention Tsaparang, long abandoned in western Tibet, near Mount Kailash, a very sacred place to many. It's in the Sutej Valley, and some consider it the inspiration for Shangri-La."
The heavy set man asked a follow up question. "What convinced you to look in Mongolia rather than Tibet?"
"That I can't really say. I dreamed of the Gobi Desert three nights in a row while planning the expedition; but I don't put any store in that since I'd already decided where to look for Shangri-La. There was just something about that area that caught my fancy and drew me to it."
"What kind of artifacts did you find?" someone asked.
"Now there's something almost as unusual as finding food still on the tables. The artifacts - and they were for the most part the standard variety: urns, pots, jewelry, statues - were not all of a type. I don't mean just not all from the same period; but from the same region or regions. Naturally there would have been a certain amount of trade, this being along established trade routes; but trade alone wouldn't account for the variety of artifacts we found. You expect to find historical layers - that is, older relics and newer: that merely signifies a city which has been there for a very long period of time. But what we found were artifacts from parts of the world that almost certainly could have had no contact with Shangri-La; and from time periods well before - and it would seem well beyond - the accepted spread of years, even centuries, most likely to have circumscribed Shangri-La's existence. Representative artifacts have been carbon dated - those that could be - and show a range much broader than anything we could have expected to encounter."
"Will you be returning to Shangri-La?" Brisbane Robert Calister's wife Elizabeth asked, having gotten no other response previously to the same question.
"That one's still up in the air," came Calister's reply. "A host of unanswered questions remain - mostly centered around the carbon dating I referred to. Yet at the same time there are other sites I'd like to apply my 'Under the Massif" hypothesis to. Now if there are no more questions, I think I've already taken up enough of your time this evening. So thank you all for coming out."
On the way from January to September Court, Brisbane commented on old Miss Colpen, who sat in her rocker looking out the window, as she did most of the day and as far as anyone knew the night also.
"She hasn't changed since you and I were Bobby's age."
"No, she hasn't," Elizabeth agreed.
"She can't change," Bobby added his own perspective. "Old Mr Brown says she's made of stone. She's like the Gorgon, only instead of turning everyone else to stone when she looks at them, she turns herself back to stone. That's how she can sit so still without moving for such a long time."
"How's school coming along?" Brisbane asked his son as they were approaching June Court.
"School's okay," Bobby answered. "Will you be home for June's light show? I can't wait for June. Everyone says the light show's gonna be really great this year. They've got the blue really souped up. They say it'll shoot right through the atmosphere and on out into space. That'll be so cool! Will you be home?"
"I can't say for sure," Bobby's dad told his son. "Just can't say. I hate to miss it again though. I'll definitely be here for December's show."
"Oh man! December's'll be fantastic! Even better than June's. Right on the winter solstice. They've got so much neon ready to roll it'll knock everyone's socks off! I can't wait for December."
"Especially after last December's," Elizabeth added.
"Oh man, yeah, that was a real dud," Bobby agreed. "It just looked like a Christmas light. Hey, you know Jean and Jerry's son?"
"Yeah. Well he's supposed to be building this fantastic device, some kind of electronic thing, and it's supposed to be ready just in time for December. That's got to be so cool."
"What's the device do?" Bobby's dad asked.
"No one knows. But my friend Callie says it's something to do with medicine."
"Interesting," Brisbane said after thinking about it awhile, trying to imagine what such a device would, or even could, do.
A clear sky opened Colpen fully to the night. Street lights blotted some, but not all, stars; a new moon permitted the visible planets to line up in their assigned places. Colpen's twelve courts formed a grid on a huge open plain, twelve houses each, sidewalks, pathways, kept up lawns; and, at the apex of each court, a community center, each with slight variations, each approximately the same size, June's and December's a little larger with a tall obelisk protruding from the roof's apex. Beneath were streets, parking places, ramps leading outside the perimeter.
"So you literally stumbled upon the site," Brisbane observed, as taken by his wife's extraordinary discovery as by his own carefully plotted discovery of Shangri-La.
"No, I did!" Bobby corrected his father. "Me and Eddie were playing on one of the ramps when I stepped in a pot hole and there it was - you could see it under the lights. The pot hole wasn't even there the day before. I could tell it was a whole city - bigger than ours!"
"Amazing," Bobby's dad observed. "Now that I'm settled in, I must accompany you, Lizzie. If I may - after all, it is your site."
"Of course, Bris. I'd love your opinion."
"And make sure dad sees the urns! Dad: mom and I are convinced there are zombies in those urns - right mom?"
"Well, who knows what they hold."
"Zombies, eh," Brisbane mused.
"Like that movie I read about," Bobby explained. "Why don't they have movies anymore, I wonder. Maybe they ran out of ideas - do you think?"
"Oh that never stopped anyone," Brisbane told his son.
They arrived at September and made their way seven houses up the court to the Calister home, with its slight variations from the other eleven.
"I'm going to read some," Bobby told his parents. "There's this great movie I started reading about yesterday, I want to finish it. It's about this town called Racoon City, where all the people but a girl called Alice became zombies. I wish I could see the movie."
"Okay, you read. Your dad and I will be in the living room awhile longer. If you fall asleep -"
"No way! This movie's too exciting to fall asleep!"
"I give him fifteen minutes before he's sound asleep," Lizzie remarked.
"I kind of wish they did still have movies," Brisbane admitted. "I know reading's much better, in the long run; but still, once in a while it wouldn't hurt to just sit back and watch a movie."
"I suppose it wouldn't hurt. Everyone just overdid it. Hardly anyone ever read. Now everyone does."
"So you and Bobby think there might be zombies in those urns?"
"He's convinced there are. Now that comes from just reading about some silly movie - imagine if he actually saw the movie."
Brisbane, Elizabeth and Bobby Calister made their way early morning down the stairway in the center of their court to the underground highway system, from there to the entrance carefully constructed over the buried archeological site. Along the way they saw two men neither had ever seen before. Elizabeth asked her son if one of them was the mystery man Bobby had inadvertently mentioned.
"That's him," Bobby confirmed. "That's Sol - I guess it's okay to talk about him now that he's made his appearance. See, he's an Indian - a Native American. The other guy is just an ordinary guy, not a medicine man or something special."
"Where did you encounter him that no one else knew about him?" Brisbane asked.
"Just outside Colpen. Me and Eddie James were trying to see if maybe there was another entrance to mom's Lost City; but we couldn't find one - just the one we found already. I told Sol about the city and asked if he knew what it was; but he said no."
Arriving at the archeological site, Brisbane, as Elizabeth before him, was taken with its most unique feature: its eclectic nature. Immediately, Brisbane thought of Shangri-La, which shared the exact same feature.
"It's strange," Brisbane noted.
"Yes it is," Elizabeth agreed. "It's as if the people who originally built it came back centuries later to keep adding to it. Even without the carbon dating, you can tell it was built at intervals - like most cities; but there's no variation to suggest new generations of successive builders. It's just odd."
"It only makes sense if they're zombies," Bobby added his take on the site's uniformity. "They climb out of their urns every thousand years and start building again, then return to the urns. That's the only rational explanation."
Bobby's father thought it over. "I almost have to agree with you," he told his son. "That's about as rational as anything I can come up with. It does seem the original builders - not their descendants but the original builders themselves - kept adding to it over the years. At least, it's what a cursory assessment suggests."
Elizabeth had arranged for extensive electrical wiring throughout the city so street lighting could be interspersed among the ruins.
"Did you pick out the lights?" Brisbane asked.
"Yes, I did. Why?"
"Your taste is uncanny, Lizzie. The lighting looks as if it were put up by the very people who built the place, if they had come back in modern times to add lights. Whereas, of course, the makeshift lighting we installed at Shangri-La was nothing like anything the builders would have put up if they had come back to light their city. Uncanny."
The underground city covered the same amount of territory underneath as Colpen did above ground, not a square foot more, not a square foot less.
"It's like a mirror image," Elizabeth noted.
"Indeed, it is," Brisbane agreed. "In the Land of the Blind, the one-eyed man is King," he added, for no particular reason.
"You think they were all blind?" Bobby asked. "And they built everything just by touch. That would explain why everything's the same design."
"Figuratively blind, anyway," Brisbane suggested.
As they wandered through the city, a thought came to Brisbane. "How old are these ruins?" he asked his wife.
"The carbon dating puts the oldest at roughly six thousand years ago. The newest at less than two thousand."
"And yet, I don't think they are that old. Well, they may be; but the material somehow seems much newer."
Elizabeth smiled at her husband's whimsy. "You think they came to the future to get raw material?" she asked.
"Time travelers!," Bobby concluded. "That explains everything. That even makes more sense than being zombies. But we better be careful anyway."
"We got a whole new take on it," Bobby announced to Sol when they next met. "We believe the people who built the city were time travelers, coming to the future to get materials then going back to their own time to build their city."
"To do that they would have had to create more time than they needed," Sol explained.
"People don't create time," Bobby reminded his new friend.
"Some say they do," Sol noted.
"Do you say they do?"
"No, I just consider it, I don't actually say it."
"All the time came out of the Big Bang," Bobby pointed out.
"Or tried to, but maybe couldn't - not even for a Planck second. Maybe everything that happened before the creators of time came into being happened all at once. Millions of years' worth of existence happened before time happened - before anything came along capable of making time."
"So if there'd have been a clock back then it wouldn't have moved."
"Nope. It wouldn't have moved."
"Unless the makers of time made so much extra they were able to travel back to the very beginning," Sol's companion, who had kept quiet till now, observed.
"Wow!," Bobby exclaimed. "That is too cool! People making more time than they need then giving the extra time to the Big Bang so it could keep expanding. Wow! I gotta tell Eddie next time I see him. He'll flip out."
Later in the evening a chill set in just as Bobby started out to his friend Eddie's house. He ran back in for a heavier coat. "Gotta hurry!" he told his parents. "Got something fantastic to tell Eddie. Maybe it'll get us back to being best friends again - you know, after that business with Callie. Gotta run!"
Bobby arrived at the James's barely in time to see the family heading down the sidewalk leading out of Colpen.
"Hey Eddie!" he called as he ran after them. "Eddie! I got something fantastic to tell you! Wait up!"
He began losing sight of them along the horizon, even as he finally drew closer. Something told him to speed up.
"Don't look back," Eddie was warned by his parents. "We have to go now - now or never. We've got to get out of here right now, this evening, now."
As they spoke they kept disappearing farther into the horizon, deeper down. Bobby saw what was happening.
"Stop!" he called out. "Eddie! Stop! Get out of the way! Jump off the sidewalk! Now!"
He ran alongside the James's, reached out, tried to grab hold of Eddie, but couldn't. Then they were gone, disappeared down into the horizon, into the sidewalk.
Bobby stood there a moment shaking his head back and forth then ran home.
"Mom! Dad!" he called. "We've gotta go down to your city - we've gotta go now! Eddie and his mom and dad just fell through the sidewalk. They must have stepped into a big pot hole or sink hole or something and fell down there. We gotta go see if they were hurt! Now! Right now!"
The Calisters made their way to the Lost City. Bobby took them to about where he thought the James's had fallen through; but there was no sign of anyone, not there, not anywhere nearby.
"We've gotta find them," Bobby insisted. "They might be hurt."
They looked half the night, but there was no sign of anyone anywhere; nor any sign of any breach in the cavern roof. Nothing whatever to indicate anything unusual had happened.
"But I saw them fall, I know I did," Bobby kept repeating on the way home. "I know I did."
He thought a moment. "I know - I know exactly what happened: they must have fallen through all the way down to some other place buried beneath the city. That's the only thing that explains it! We've got to go back and look for another hole!"
"Now stop and think," Bobby's mother intercepted her son's train of thought. "It's late. It's past bedtime. We'd be there all night looking. We can look tomorrow. A few more hours won't make any difference."
"Your mother's got a point," Brisbane seconded Elizabeth's suggestion. "We'll look tomorrow."
"But anything could happen while we're waiting. The zombies could escape from their jars. Or they could be injured. Anything could happen."
"We'll just have to chance it," Elizabeth and Brisbane decided.
"Okay," Bobby conceded.
Early next morning Bobby's friend Callie stopped by, asking about the James's. "I went by to see Eddie -"
"I thought you and he broke up when you became my girl?" Bobby asked.
"I didn't go there as his girlfriend," Callie explained. "I only went to ask him what we should do about our names."
"You mean: in the sidewalk?" Elizabeth asked.
"Yes, ma'am. I was thinking we should try and get our names off somehow - now that Bobby and I put our names in the sidewalk."
"Bobby, you didn't say anything about that," Elizabeth noted.
"I was going to mom - before this other came up. Callie: Eddie and his mom and dad had a horrible accident. They fell down the sidewalk going out of town. Mom and dad and I are going back down to the Lost City down there to look and see if they maybe kept falling down and ended up even somewhere below the city. Do you want to come with us?"
"No, I'd better not," Callie told her new boyfriend. "If we meet up with him, it might be really awkward, and you two might start fighting again."
"I wouldn't do that," Bobby promised. "Besides, he might be hurt or something."
"In that case I'll go. But wouldn't they have fallen into the big parking lot?"
"It don't work that way," said Bobby.
"Why not?" asked Callie.
"It just doesn't. They'd be in another place, one that's not Colpen any longer. I can't explain it; but I know they would have by-passed the parking lot."
Callie was blonde and blue eyed, as were her parents; Bobby had brown hair and hazel eyes. Eddie had been a redhead, with lots of freckles and greenish eyes. The other kids mostly thought Callie and Eddie made a cuter couple but Bobby was better suited to Callie's personality.
Half an hour later the four were on their way down to the Lost City. Bobby was resolved to keep looking until he found the place Eddie and his family had fallen through to another location, another lost city beneath this one.
The next seven hours were spent searching for a mysterious passage to the archeological site Bobby was sure lay buried beneath this site. Street after street, courtyard after courtyard; building after building; but to no avail. No such passage could be found.
"It must have sealed over," Bobby concluded.
"We can't look any longer," Elizabeth told the others.
"But, mom, we have to find them!" Bobby insisted.
"Let's give it another couple days," Brisbane suggested, to which suggestion Callie readily agreed. "We'll see what turns up. They can easily survive another couple days."
"Okay," Bobby reluctantly also agreed.
Later that afternoon Bobby encountered Sol and his companion, and told them all about the disappearance. "I know they had to have fallen through to another city buried under it. That's the only thing that makes any sense. There's got to be another city; there has to be. And Eddie and his mom and dad are being held hostage down there. Don't you think so too?"
"They might have fallen through to another time," Sol acknowledged that possibility. "Or they could be suspended in time."
"How can that be?" Bobby asked.
"If this city beneath a city hasn't been built yet, there would be no place for them to go," Sol explained.
"Sol," Bobby pointed out, "it's under this Lost City - so it has to be there already! It has to be older than the Lost City. You can't build a newer city under an older city - it can only be the other way around."
"Not necessarily," Sol's companion noted.
Bobby thought this bizarre proposition over a few minutes; then an idea came to him. "If it's being built under the Lost City, that would explain why the ground gave way. Maybe they quickly filled it up from the bottom and that's why we didn't find any passage. We should have kept looking last night like I wanted."
For the first time since the disappearance, tears began forming in Bobby's eyes. "Eddie's my very best friend," he explained as he brushed a few tears away. "Now I might never see him again. Maybe when we're there again I'll take a shovel and start digging. Yeah, that's exactly what I'll do - it's the only thing that makes any sense."
Bobby avoided his other friends, sensing it would be disloyal to Eddie to play with anyone else just yet. He spent the afternoon in his room, reading reviews of old movies, finally going out for a walk after dusk. Passing November Court, he came upon old Mr Brown rocking on his front porch. He waved and started past; then, on a whim, decided to go up to Mr Brown's porch and ask his advice.
"I have a serious dilemma," he told Mr Brown. "Maybe you can help me with it."
"I don't know boy," Mr Brown, in turn, told Bobby. "I been in a mighty evil state of mind of late - thinking all kinds of evil thoughts."
"You mean, like killing someone?" Bobby asked.
"No, nothing that complicated. That ain't nothing anyway - just pick up any history book if you don't believe me. It's as everyday as blowing your nose. No, I'm talking about killing colors, I am. Making blue disappear and brown appear in its place. Yes sir, that's what I'm contemplating: the killing of colors."
"You gonna paint something?"
"No siree, nothing that slender. I'm talking great big evil. I'm talking taking a whole bunch of doilies off my sofa and chair arms - the ones at the back too - and putting a whole new set on 'em. That's what I'm talking."
"And that's evil?" Bobby asked. For the first time today he was glad Eddie wasn't with him, otherwise he couldn't have kept from giggling - not in a million years.
"Yes siree, that's pure d'evil. Evil on a stick."
"Can I tell you my dilemma anyway?"
"Go ahead boy, tell away."
"My best friend Eddie and his whole family -"
"- The James' -"
"- Yeah, the James'. They all disappeared down the sidewalk yesterday - I saw them, I tried to grab hold of Eddie's arm -"
"Wouldn't do you any good. Lost my wife same way. She was trying to leave town. Got sucked clear down into the sidewalk, twenty years ago. Her was only ten then."
"Why'd you name your daughter 'Her?'"
"Didn't. My wife named her. Named her Hieronymus. Worst name on earth. But my poor wife wasn't none too bright."
"Hieronymus - yeah, wow! That is the coolest name yet! I wish my mom hadn't of been too bright either - maybe she would have named me Hieronymus."
"Nope. Some names can't no two people have. It's like, if you give birth to a child with one eye blue, one eye brown, can't turn around and do it a second time."
"Maybe not. Anyway, here's my dilemma: mom, dad and I - and Callie, my girlfriend -"
"Hold it right there, boy. You're too young to have a girlfriend. You mess around at your age and that thing of yours'll grow too big for your britches. Take my advice. That's quite a dilemma alright."
"That's not my dilemma -"
"Maybe not right now, but it will be. Mark my words."
"Anyway, we were looking all through the Lost City that's beneath Colpen. And something told me there might be another city buried beneath it - and Eddie and his mom and dad kept falling right on through the ground down to this second city. What do you think?"
"What I think, boy, is that you'll never find 'em, never see 'em again."
"But I've got to find 'em! He's my best friend!"
"Now he's the lord Beelzebub's best friend, he is."
"Oh man! Now I know I've got to find him. Thanks anyway for your advice."
"Any time, boy."
Bobby's absolute conviction that his friend had fallen through the Lost City to another place stoked his resolve to keep returning until he located a passage to whatever lay beneath . He kept this to himself though, just to make sure neither his mother nor father tried to dissuade him. Besides, his conversation with Mr Brown prompted a consideration equally pressing if not more so.
"Mom, do people ever change their name?" he asked.
"Yes, they sometimes do."
"Good. Because I want to change my name," he announced. "I want to change it to Hieronymus - that's the coolest name of all time. What do I have to do?"
"Why Hieronymus? Where did you even hear that name? Her never uses it - she hates it -"
"I love it! If she doesn't want it, I'll take it. Then there won't be two of us. Old Mr Brown says something bad'll happen if two of us have that name. He said his wife wasn't too bright, that's why she named her daughter Hieronymus. Do you think I need to get Mr Crenshaw's approval before I can take Her's name?"
"I wouldn't think so."
"I should ask him though anyway, huh?"
"No one's seen him for a couple days."
"Seen who?" asked Brisbane, who just entered the room.
"Nuni," said Elizabeth.
"Must have left town."
"Does that mean his name's not written on any of the sidewalks?" Bobby asked.
"What's that got to do with it?" Brisbane asked his son.
"The curse! Everyone's heard about the curse."
"If your name's written on any part of the sidewalk, you can never leave. Not ever. And if you try something terrible'll happen to you."
"Where'd you hear that?"
"Everyone knows it."
"Have you ever heard that Lizzie?"
"I've heard of it. I guess from Her. But I certainly don't believe it."
"I do!" said Bobby.
"Bobby, the evidence is standing right in front of you. Your dad and I wrote our names when we were not much older than you - and he's been gone many times. So there's all the proof you need."
"I guess. But anyway, can I change my name?"
"Change your name? Are you kidding? You've got one of the most prestigious names in Colpen - right Lizzie?"
"Yeah but it's not a really cool name like Hieronymus."
"Hmm. Hieronymus,eh? That is kind of neat."
"Than can I change it?"
"Let's look into it and see what all it takes. You can't just go and change your name. There are legal documents and all kinds of red tape. We'll look into it though."
When Bobby saw Sol next, he apprised his new friend of his plan to change his name from Bobby to Hieronymus. Sol cautioned him to consider the ramifications.
"Dad told me about all the legal documents."
Sol shook his head. "I don't mean just that. There are existential consequences. You'd be altering reality, and any alteration there could affect everything that comes after it. Like the flapping of a butterfly's wing in Japan."
"I'm okay then 'cause I don't plan on going to Japan," Bobby concluded.
"For all you know, Japan may come to you."
"You mean if I stand perfectly still and all things come to he who waits?"
"I don't plan on standing still long enough for Japan to come to me."
"Unless you get caught in something."
Bobby told Callie about his plan to change his name and about how changing it could cause Japan to come to him on butterfly wings if he were caught in something.
"Like the sidewalk," Callie immediately suggested. "Especially now that we wrote our names."
"I hadn't thought of that," Bobby admitted. "Maybe we should erase our names."
"We can't now, not once the cement has hardened."
"Oh yeah, I forgot."
"Besides, now that your name's cast in stone, it may not let you change your name. The sidewalk might block you from changing it."
"Oh boy. That could really put a damper on my plan to become Hieronymus."
Bobby decided the best course for right now was to spend some time alone in the Lost City, looking for something Eddie and his family might have fallen down; then deal with his name change. The lights Elizabeth had had installed made it easier to search; but at the same time it made it difficult to pinpoint the location Bobby sought. Shadows were cast deeply across every street and path; any hole leading to another realm might lay in darkness. No perspective evidenced breaches topside; no vantage point showed the way beneath. Where before an excitement of exploration opened fabulous vistas, this time a frustration of absolute focus accompanied a dread of overlooking what was sought. For the first time ever, Bobby understood why people might have just picked up and left this Lost City, like the people of Shangra-La had done. Being tied to one single task, for a lifetime, turned all streets, houses, courtyards, public spaces to a formless glob of stone, mud and wood that kept the city outside the souls of those who dwelt here, and the people forever alienated from what they had built. Bobby sat down and shut his eyes and rested his head in his hands, trying to devise a strategy for continuing his search; but he came up empty. The task just seemed too overpowering.
"What's gone wrong with your search?" a voice Bobby recognized as Sol's asked.
"It's no fun," Bobby admitted. "I know that's no reason to give up searching -"
"Maybe it is. Maybe it's only when it's fun that anything is worth searching for. Why shouldn't what we do be fun?"
"I was trying to think of some game I could make up," Bobby explained. "Like watching for zombies, or vampires, or even aliens from space. But I can't take my mind off Eddie and his mom and dad long enough to do it."
Then he asked if that was something he would outgrow. So he'd be able to concentrate better.
Sol thought about that a long time before admitting he didn't know.
"I hate to think there's someplace even creepier than this just below it," Bobby mused. "I wouldn't want to be in Eddie's shoes if there is - would you?"
"No, I wouldn't," Sol answered. "Are you ready to return topside?"
"I guess I'd better."
Miss Colpen got up and, for no particular reason, began dancing in place to a tune in 3/4 time playing somewhere nearby. Colpen's Sycamore seemed to be peeking in, watching the marionette go round. It stirred as if trying to sync its motion in the wind with the old woman's rhythm. But its stirring was angered, a hollowed anger, petulant, sarcastic.
"It's wrong there should be a heaven," Miss Colpen declared. "There must not be a heaven, there mustn't be. It won't do. Why should anyplace be that's finer than Colpen? God prepared this place for us for all time; heaven would only get in the way. Perhaps I shall castrate the parish priest, if someone hasn't beat me to it, if there even is a parish priest. There must be; if not, God would have to make one. Then slit his throat if it hasn't already been. We don't need what he has to say; we just need him to get up there and look priestly in his cassock. Pity he's not a Cossack. A Cossack in a cassock, castrated, high pitched and slitted."
The music stopped. Miss Colpen sat down and went silent. Colpen's Sycamore ceased its anger, went docile, let its branches droop, fluffed its five pointed leaves. Quiet once more reined along Colpen Drive.
Bobby, Sol and Sol's companion watched as they went past. "She's a witch, I tell you," Bobby alerted the others. "I bet it was her who made the sidewalk open up and swallow Eddie and his mom and dad. You saw how she made that tree sway then stop when she sat down. She's definitely a witch."
"Or she may not exist at all," Sol's companion observed.
"I'm going back down tomorrow," Bobby stated his plan.
"You're not ready to give up looking yet?"
"I'll never be ready to stop looking. I've got to find him."
Bobby told his parents as well of his intention to keep looking. "I know there's a trap door somewhere and they fell down there. I know there is, if I can just find it."
Elizabeth remembered something her son had said when he first informed her of the Lost City. "Bobby, didn't you say Eddie was with you when you found the entrance to the underground city?"
"Yeah, he's the one who found it, when we were out looking for the mole people - like that movie I read about, where these half human creatures could crawl right into the ground of this huge cave."
"Then that explains it: Eddie must have led his parents to that entrance and now they're long gone."
"But why aren't they back home?"
"Wherever they were headed, they probably decided to keep going till they got there," Elizabeth speculated. "That's the only rational explanation. They'll be back when their visit's over."
Bobby was forced to admit his mother's explanation made the most sense. "But I'd still like to keep looking, at least for a while longer."
Day after day Bobby returned to the Lost City to search for a hidden passage to a city beneath. Day upon each new day he found no such passage. He told Sol of his mother's explanation for what happened.
"I know it makes the most sense," he admitted. "But I know that's not it. There's a hidden passage leading to another lost city."
"It may not be lost yet," Sol reminded.
"I will find it," Bobby resolved.
"Or create it," Sol told the boy.
"If I have to - if that's the only way I can find Eddie, then I will create a passage."
"Or a city."
"If I have to."
Soon a month passed; and all eyes were on February Court, where February's special event was all set to go. As with January's, and as there would be every month but June and December, no light show accompanied February's event. It would be a play, written by one of Colpen's best writers, and acted out by a small troupe of would be actors, and fleshed out by sundry set decorations, props, curtains and scenic array, topped off with an ingenious moving display of animal representations.
The Lonely Shepherd
On the night of the performance, as people from all twelve courts congregated on February, a distraught woman wandered among the gathering audience, looking every passer-by in the face as if interrogating each.
"What's Her doing?" Bobby asked his mom and dad, who each said she must be rehearsing for her part. But her part, as it turned out, was a blind woman trying to herd invisible sheep in a faraway pasture barely visible behind a sheer screen painted as a meadow.
When the audience was seated, and the lights dimmed, the lead, a young actor from August Court named Blair Crowell, entered stage left and a series of spotlights revealed a herd of sheep. He was their shepherd. His first words were "They'll pay."
"They'll pay," said the Lonely Shepherd. "Eat my sheep, will they? They'll pay. I'm almost ready to carry out my plan. I'm so sorry, Matilda," he pointed toward one of his sheep. "And Jessup, and Mattie, and you, too, Aggie - named for my gran. And Cassie May. And little Piper. I love you, all six of you, no less. But I must sacrifice you to save your sisters. It is the way. It's always been the way of things. Some must die so all may live. They'll eat you six precious lambs; then no more, ever again. I'll go into town, I'll make the arrangements. Steal my sheep, will they? Eat my precious lambs? No more - no more. The poison will kill all who come close to my angels, not just those who kill and eat them."
The light faded from the Lonely Shepherd to a far distant pasture, where a blind woman shepherded her flock of sheep. A long stick never left her hand as she tapped it over and over, forever summoning her invisible sheep. She too faded as the light left her in darkness to now reveal a small village bustling with people. Into this village walked the Lonely Shepherd along its main street, announcing as he went that he had sheep to sell.
"From my flock," he called out to every passer by. "From my flock. Six sheep will I sell, to do with as you please. From my flock. But I will choose which six."
The townspeople gathered around the young shepherd. Soon they began bidding on his six sheep.
"Care you not which sheep you bid on?" he asked.
"No," the bidders all said. "Mutton is mutton."
The young shepherd cringed, and winced, and his heart was breaking; but still he kept to his plan, still he accepted bids, until finally a deal had been struck on each of the six sheep chosen for sacrifice that the whole herd might be saved from the constant rustling that had reduced his herd to barely half what he began with.
"I will settle with you tomorrow morning when I bring my six sheep," he told the villagers. "But if another outbids you once they see my sheep, I will not be bound to sell these six to you." The villagers grumbled, but accepted his terms.
By the time he reached his pasture night had fallen. He spent the night in the midst of his sheep; and toward dawn he rounded up the six chosen for sacrifice. Two - Mattie and Aggie - kept wandering off, as if they knew what was coming. Finally, all six rounded up, and keeping the six separated from the rest, he applied the poison to their coats. A noise in the distance, as of the baying of a hound, sent him to his lower pasture for just a moment; but it was enough for Mattie and Aggie to wander off again. Just as they were about to reach the rest of his sheep he caught them and lured them back to the place he had set apart so they would not go among the herd and poison them. Finally, just as the sun was coming up, he started off with his six sheep to the village.
He passed where the blind shepherdess had already begun calling her invisible herd. Soon he was standing at the village gate, then entering the village to complete his plan of sacrifice and revenge.
"Six sheep: I have six sheep to sell!" he went along the village street calling. "Six sheep to sell!"
Soon a second time a crowd gathered around him and began bidding all over again on his sheep. Someone said in a stage whisper "Why buy what you can steal!" Laughter ensued. The young shepherd heard the quip, understood the laughter. And in an instant another plan took shape in his mind as the bidding all but ceased.
"Any I do not sell I will give away," he said, to much laughter. "I cannot feed my herd for having six too many: my pasture will not support so many grazing sheep. I cannot return all six to my herd. I cannot."
By mid-morning four were sold, two had to be given away. As the young shepherd turned to go, it suddenly hit him that one of his sheep was not among his six. He turned back. Aggie was not there. Yet he counted and counted again and there were six, the same six he brought to the village. Then he realized what he had done.
"Oh God!" he moaned as he took off running. Down the street, through the gate, and out of the village. Then once again past the blind shepherdess, who stopped her calling to listen to the sound of running feet before shaking her head: these were not the feet of her herd; and going back to calling her herd.
Till at last the young shepherd was standing at his upper pasture, looking down in horror into his lower pasture and the silent forms lying on the ground.
"What have I done?" he asked barely above a whisper. Then he let out a wail that reverberated throughout his pasture, upper and lower, and filled the entire arena.
"What have I done?" he cried out as he fell to his knees.
"I cannot bear to look upon what I have done. I must either die here and now or never look again. I don't deserve to die, my crime is such that I must endure the pain of what I have done forever. Therefore I must never again look upon anything."
He took out his knife and began slowing lifting it to his face. All the lights faded.
A stunned audience held its applause a moment while the enormity of what had transpired sank in; for though it was but a play, it was real somewhere, sometime, either in the past or readying to happen in the future.
Almost the entire audience stood up and applauded; three remained seated, till the applause died down and the audience returned to their seats, the three now arising, moving to the main aisle, leaving the auditorium ahead of everyone else. They briskly walked past all courts between February and December without stopping, then on out of Colpen altogether, critiquing the play the whole way.
"Any one of our plays would have been infinitely better than that hackneyed pap!" said one.
"It's unfathomable the judges would choose that sentimental fluff over ours!" said another.
"A ridiculous re-telling of the Oedipus saga!" said the third.
They continued walking, none of the three noticing one of their number disappearing down into the sidewalk, disappearing slowly until no trace of him remained. The other two, unaware, kept on walking till, suddenly, the second playwright let out a piercing scream. The first turned abruptly and saw the man behind him lodged so tightly in the sidewalk he could neither escape nor even so much as move. He kept screaming as the sidewalk kept tightening around him till, finally, his voice gave way to a torrent of blood seeping up to pour from his mouth.
"That's hogwash," had been his final words when, passing November Court, the three playwrights commented on Colpen's fanciful notion forbidding anyone from leaving if his name had ever been written into the concrete.
"Utter nonsense," the playwright who disappeared completely had agreed.
"An old wives tale - an urban legend," said the one who was neither sucked into the sidewalk nor crushed by it. After trying to extract the second, and looking all around for the first, he turned and began running, not stopping till Colpen was no longer visible on the horizon.
"My play should have been judged the best," he mused as he stood looking back to make sure there was nothing left of Colpen "in my rear view mirror," he turned the title of his rejected play to a quip.
No one knew quite what to do. No one could recall anyone ever being caught like this in the sidewalk, not even those who had been here half a century and more. There were multiple suggestions, but none seemed equal to the task at hand. Old Miss Colpen said to herself they should simply put a flower pot on his head, so that as his remains rotted pretty flowers would begin to grow; but she kept her suggestion private, seeing how she never engaged in conversation with her neighbors or partook of community matters. Mr Brown, on the other hand, freely offered his advice to whomever would listen.
"Put a galvanized steel bucket over his head - not a wooden - and let nature take its course." When asked what nature's course in the present circumstance might be or how exactly galvanized steel would help it along, he simply shrugged and laughed.
Others thought perhaps the entire slab of sidewalk could be taken up and carried to the cemetery; but when asked for the cemetery's location, they too shrugged and giggled.
"I say cut him to the quick," offered the playwright whose play had beaten his and the other two playwrights' plays out. It was felt, however, that he of all people had little or no say in this. In the end, it was decided to do nothing just yet; since this was February, and still cold, the citizens of Colpen felt there was time to put off having to decide till a later date.
"Mom, dad!" Bobby Calister ran to his parents a couple days after the incident. "I just saw the strangest thing ever! You won't even believe me - but it's true: Sol and his buddy saw it too, they can testify to it!"
"And what exactly did you see?" Elizabeth Calister asked her son.
"I was out walking and I happened to be on July Court - the court where the dead man lived, when he was still alive. And guess what? His name there on the corner slab is partly gone - it's been chiseled off somehow. So instead of saying 'Pembrook Manor' all it says is 'brook or.' How weird is that?"
"Someone must have tried to erase his name but part of it had already hardened," Brisbane Calister offered a possible explanation.
"Why would anyone want to do that?" Bobby asked.
"Well, remember those names are usually written when they're still kids. So they fall in love and fall out of love pretty easily."
Bobby nodded his agreement. "Yeah, I been there done that myself. When I found Amy Pollock writing her name and mine, I waited till that evening - so she wouldn't know it was me - and tried to erase it. But I was only able to get part of it out."
"I don't seem to recall a Pollock family," Brisbane admitted.
"They moved out of here about the time of your first archeological dig," Elizabeth said.
"Oh, okay, now I know who you're talking about."
"So you didn't want your name and Amy's together?" Elizabeth asked her son.
"Nah, not really. I kind of knew she was only doing it to make Eddie jealous."
"And did it?"
"Sort of. He wouldn't talk to me for a whole week."
"How did he even know it was your name if you erased part of it?" Brisbane asked.
"He just did."
"Have you ever heard of Plato's Cave?" Sol's companion asked for no particular reason on a particularly cold February morning when Bobby was loitering about the entrance to his mother's dig.
"No," answered Bobby. "But it sounds like a cool place. Is it around here somewhere?"
"It's around everywhere," Sol's companion said.
"That must be the biggest cave anywhere! Does anyone live there?"
"At one time or another we all do."
"Wow! Do you need any special equipment? Or an ID badge or something?"
"You need only realize it's but a copy of an even bigger cave you can't actually see or touch or experience."
"I don't think I'd like it there," Bobby concluded.
"No, you wouldn't."
"Bobby," asked Sol, "are you still going to look for your friend Eddie?"
"I don't know. I got some ideas what might have happened. The whole family might have gotten separated down there and each one stumbled into whatever lies beneath the Lost City, only in separate holes."
"Or they might have gone to Plato's Cave - his Idea Cave."
"I'll find 'em, I know that. If I have to dig a tunnel a mile down, I'll find them."
When Bobby had gone through the entrance and disappeared into the Lost City, Sol's companion asked if there was any chance of Bobby finding his friend.
"He'll find the city beneath a city - he can't help but find that once he's finished building it, making it a real place out of the idea in his head -"
"Just as Plato envisioned."
"But he won't find his friend in it. You can't create something out of something; only out of nothing."
"I have demons," Bobby confessed to his new girlfriend.
"Real or metaphorical?" Callie asked.
"The worst kind: both!" Bobby readily admitted. "But I think it's the metaphorical that's really doing me in."
"That's always the way," Callie agreed. "You really feel guilty about Eddie, don't you?"
"I do. Because for just one minute, or even a nano-minute, I wished he'd get gone. What's even worse, I said it out loud."
"You think God heard you?"
"Even worse: maybe the universe - and time and tide and the pull of gravity - heard me. How could I have done that?"
Callie thought a moment. "It's easy," she said.
"Wow. So easy to do bad. So easy. And now he's gone and I have to find him. I have to."
"I'll dig till I find whatever's under the Lost City. 'Cause I know something's there. And knowing it makes it happen."
Sol and his companion happened to overhear this conversation. They nodded to each other. When out of earshot, Sol's companion observed how close to Plato's Cave the boy was getting.
"Maybe too soon," Sol, in turn, observed. "Colpen may not be ready yet."
Bobby began digging; but didn't tell anyone what he was doing or why. He chose an obscure place so no one would notice. For some reason he couldn't quite name, Bobby thought about something he remembered. He paused his digging to speak out loud.
"I read about a penguin who climbed halfway up a mountain then laid down and climbed no farther. It was in a show. I wish I could have seen it. I wish we had movies, and TV shows, and documentaries about nature. If we did, I'd watch that one about the penguin over and over and over till I understood it."
Then he returned to his work and dug an hour or so more, still convinced he'd hit pay dirt even as he made no headway, convinced an entire city lay beneath the Lost City. He wondered what he could call this city beneath a city, now that his friend Eddie, who had not only discovered the entrance but also named it the Lost City, was no longer around. Did I really will him out of existence, Bobby wondered. I guess if you can will things into existence, you can will them out as well. If only I'd known then what I know now. He resolved to present his dilemma to old Mr Brown, to get his reaction; maybe even to old Miss Colpen. He didn't want Sol's opinion on this particular dilemma, preferring this time something more home spun, down to earth, even a little off the wall crazy. He especially didn't want anything from Plato or his Cave clouding his judgment; only the bare, basic facts, nothing cosmic in scope or philosophical in tone. Just the facts.
"Well if you ask me boy," Mr Brown told Bobby later that day, "all you can ever will your way into the world is a thimble and a sewing stitch. And even that's only if you need a new coat or shirt or such. Gotta be something you really need and can't get any other way. Now, was a time folks could sit right down in front of their TV, if the TV was small enough, and order 'em up a whole new suit of clothes. Yes siree, just like that."
"Wow!" Bobby exclaimed. "And that's for real?"
"You could rub two pennies together on that one young man!" Mr Brown assured Bobby.
"Wow! I knew you'd have the right answer. Now I might go ask Miss Colpen to see if she agrees."
"She won't agree. She won't even answer you. But you might get her started thinking about things, she might even get up and dance a bit, that's if her favorite tune picks up. Go easy though, she's got her some evil ways of her own, boy."
Bobby rang Miss Colpen's doorbell and looked in the window to catch her listening. But she never came to the door. She did get up though and started waltzing around there by her chair. Bobby could hear music playing; it seemed to be coming from the chair.
"If I could catch that boy," she said to herself, "I'd castrate him, with my bare nails, just for the fun of it. He wouldn't be the first; he wouldn't be the last. That way he'd never jilt someone the way I was jilted. All boys should be castrated, it'd do them good, give them a chance to see firsthand what it would be like to be forever trapped between being and not being real. Everyone should experience that at least once in their lives. I made sure all my boys did. And the girls too. Why not? Wouldn't want to be accused of gender bias, now would I?"
Bobby by this time was home, sitting down to dinner. "I read where they used to sit in front of a TV and eat dinner," he informed his parents. "How cool is that?"
"Ah, but how much of their dinner ended up on the floor?" Brisbane quipped.
"You think they dropped food?" Elizabeth attempted to play along.
"Undoubtedly," Brisbane affirmed. "Eating is by far and away the single most important human endeavor; so it stands to reason it requires one's full attention. Watching TV while eating is tantamount to having false gods before the one claiming to be the one true God."
"Is there one true God?" Bobby asked.
"Don't know if there is or not; but there are so many gods fighting to be that one true God it must be pretty special."
Bobby thought a moment before nodding his agreement. "Yeah, it must be pretty special."
Another family went missing very late the following Tuesday. This time no one saw anything, not even old Mr Brown or old Miss Colpen. Colpen's Sycamore saw, but kept its counsel; not a leaf stirred. When the family was gone - mother, father, sister, brother - all the time surrounding them left too; nothing remained to spread out, to leave the earth, the solar system, the galaxy, to fill a few more dots of dark between points of light gathering dust.
For a few days no one noticed their disappearance, no one remembered them except for the postman, and that was only because he had a certified letter from the management reminding them they were behind in their dues. The postman knocked on their front door one more time before concluding they had left town, reporting his conclusion to management, which tore the certified letter in two and ran it through the shredder.
"All gone," management wrote off the vanished's account.
Two weeks later their names folded into the sidewalk and disappeared too, leaving fresh cement for the next names.
"Mr Einstein gave us something of a bum steer," Miss Colpen casually observed one evening. "He told us time was solid like light where it's not at all, but liquid, a thick resinous liquid that holds its creators fast once it gets them in its grip. It's the dark matter they speak of. A plasma. And you can get stuck in it, or be carried away by it. Whether you pay your money or not, you must take your choice. Somewhat of a Doppelganger, a very naughty one to boot, that chokes the very life out of those whose birth brings it forth. Time is our twin, rolled out of a zygote in tandem with a new life. Born as brothers, twins, sisters, twins. One dies, its twin never does. Ah well; such is life." She got up, danced in place a bit then sat back down.
"Yes, she is a strange one," Elizabeth Calister agreed with her husband.
"She more than strange," Bobby added.
"How so?" Brisbane prompted.
"It's like, when you walk past, you don't feel anything. I mean nothing at all."
"Like no air?" Elizabeth asked, vaguely aware herself of something strange surrounding Miss Colpen's house on the main causeway at June Court.
"More than that," Bobby tried to explain. "When you walk past, no matter how long it takes, even if you slow down to a crawl, once you're past it's like it happened all at once. It's like...like..." Bobby sought some word to express what it felt like.
"Like you just walked through a time warp?" Bobby's father suggested.
"Or a time void," Elizabeth suggested for no particular reason.
"Yeah! That's it! That's exactly it: a time void!" Bobby excitedly agreed. "Yeah, a time void. Maybe one day I'll go up and knock on her door just to ask her what time it is. I bet anything she won't have a clue."
Brisbane thought a moment. "She may not even know what time is," he offered.
"And yet she's so punctual, at least in her getting up and moving around," Elizabeth pointed out.
"Oh! Let's go ask Mr Brown! Please!" Bobby asked.
Mr Brown was on his porch, watching as the Calisters approached. After exchanging pleasantries, Bobby got right to the point.
"Mr Brown," he asked, "do you think there's a time void all around Miss Colpen's house?"
"Well, let's attack this systematically, why not," Mr Brown prefaced his response. "My wife - not the brightest woman - once quoted old Will Shakespeare to me. To my recollection she never quoted him again after that. She said 'Macbeth murders sleep.' But that was all wrong, wrong as wrong could be. Weren't Macbeth murdering sleep. No sir, it was old Colpen - the builder of all this - murdering time. Yes sir, and ma'am, Colpen murders time. Just like his Sycamore tries to murder the sky. It will one day, then we'll all be in for it. That'll be the day old Chicken Little comes home to roost and no one'll call him a liar. You know, Her's gonna read you all a poem come the Ides of March. Well, the Ides plus seven. Vernal Equinox. Over to March Court. Her and her poem."
"Are you going to be there?" asked Elizabeth.
"Haven't made up my mind. Who knows? I may ask old Miss Colpen to be my date. Who knows?"
Bobby found a plaque buried along a Lost City roadway, written in a language he could read. It read "Time is our twin. It's born with us. And when we die, goes out there, where all time sits, where matter is pushed along till it darkens and disappears." The plaque was purple, the words gold leaf, each letter ever so faintly rusted over with a fine glaze of sand. When Bobby brushed off the sand, the letters went with it, leaving him holding a blank slate.
"Cool," he said. "The first invisible writing ever. Cool." He carefully replaced the plaque where he found it, covered it again, tamped the dirt down, then moved on. In his footprint, as if his shoe's logo, were three words: Time Has Mass.
(A thousand years from now another boy named Bobby uncovered another purple plaque with gold leaf that read the same three words: Time Has Mass.)
- Go To The Cold Places -
A giant game board in the center of Center Square, a place where all the children and many adults congregated whenever the weather was especially nice, as it happened to be on a Thursday afternoon halfway through March. The object of the game, as with most game boards regardless their size, was to work one's way around to a special place in the most remote corner. Along the way were several other places, necessary stops if one were to successfully reach the final stop and thereby win. These were the Cold Places; and as with all board games, the Cold Places, along with every other stop along the path, were marked appropriate to their ranking within the game. While most were brightly marked with objects representative of various aspects of earth - forests, meadows, all manner of open spaces, streams and lakes, even caves and mountains - the special places, the Cold Places, were dark, nearly formless, impossible to relate to any known phenomena. Unstated anywhere within the game but known to every one, these were places of dark matter: the Cold Places. They were Time Outs along the way to the ultimate Cold Place, whose formless darkened space was etched down the middle with two faintly visible shafts, one blue, one red, for bringing down from nowhere, Time, when both were engaged. To engage the blue and the red, every Cold Place along the way had to be occupied. No one had ever succeeded in winning every Cold Place and gaining the final Place as well.
Bobby couldn't wait till December 21st, when he would turn thirteen and be allowed to play. "I'll win," he predicted. "I'll get every Cold Place and the final Place. You just wait and see!"
It was announced that March's special event was being switched with June's. Hieronymus Brown-Crenshaw informed the committee she would not be ready with her presentation in time; they checked and it was determined that June's tentatively scheduled show could be ready for March.
The first week of March was unusually busy. There were three more disappearances. Each time Bobby was present; each time he tried warning the people; each time they disregarded his warning, remained on the sidewalk, were absorbed into the sidewalk. The first was a man from May Court; he was gone in a moment. Then a couple from October Court; they too were gone in a moment. Finally a family of five slowly sank into the concrete, all five yet in conversation. On an impulse, Bobby hastily made for the entrance to the Lost City and ran as fast as he could to where he expected the five to appear before they slipped on through to someplace else, just as he imagined Eddie and his family had. But, as before, there was no trace of any of them.
As he turned to go, dejected, he noticed a slight indentation in the ground where the five would have come down. He began digging in the dirt but decided to stop, go to the encampment at the other end of the site, get a shovel, then resume digging. He was gone no more than fifteen minutes; but when he returned, where he had dug was completely filled in. There was no longer any trace of an indentation.
"Oh man, this is weird," he said. "Really weird. Even Sol won't believe me this time."
In Bobby's Science class, they were talking about time. His teacher put forth several hypotheses currently under consideration, the most intriguing and controversial that time was causing the universe to expand. This was one of Bobby's two favorites, the other being that time was not contiguous to the beginning of the universe.
"Time," the teacher noted this particular hypothesis' core proposal, "did not begin till much later than the Big Bang. Accordingly, everything that happened after the Big Bang up to a fixed point, happened all at once; literally, all in a single burst of energy.
"So what started time rolling?" one of the students asked, to much laughter.
"No, that's a good question," the teacher told her class. "It doesn't get answered within this particular hypothesis; but an answer has been proposed elsewhere - ironically, a long time before even the Big Bang was proposed. Certain indigenous peoples have a legend about a man and a woman - something along the line of the Adam and Eve legend. According to this legend, these two humans, known simply as The First Ones, blew a big breath of air, The First Breath; and that first breath began time...rolling, as Johnny so whimsically put it. In other words, time is something created by living beings - not just humans but all living things."
Pausing a moment to let this sink in, Bobby's teacher moved on to another hypothesis. "Time, according to this hypothesis, is matter; not merely a law or a process but actual matter. Neither a solid nor a liquid, nor even an ether; but a plasma. Which is a slight variation of the Dark Matter hypothesis, a corollary of which is that eventually all the dark matter will be used up and consequently there will be no more happening in the universe."
"What will happen then?" Bobby's friend Callie asked.
"Everything will just cease, all activity. Some proponents of that particular hypothesis speculate the universe will begin contracting without dark matter to hold it together. Others speculate that since the universe will be completely filled with dark matter - which, they say, will be the cause of this cessation of all activity - everything will remain exactly as it was the instant time stopped."
Bobby quipped "Only time will tell!"
"Exactly," agreed his teacher.
"So how many of these theories are there about time?" another student asked.
"Not theories," the teacher cautioned. "Hypotheses. Theory means something else in the scientific sense: not the same as the everyday sense, when you might say you have a theory about this or that. Whereas, scientifically speaking, a theory is an established scientific fact, a conclusion, a law. Not an opinion."
The Last Guest Is Gone
Stood on the platform, half crying, waiting for the train that would take him away. He was coming home. He wanted to be someone's staff accountant, somewhere, anywhere else, anywhere but here, not here. Not here, where he lived his life. Not here. But now he was comin' home. It wasn't as if he wanted to be rich and famous, a president, or a rock star, or a great philosopher, or a great anything. Just someone's staff accountant somewhere, anywhere. Maybe with his own office; or maybe just a small desk in a corner; maybe by a window, or maybe not. Maybe with his own parking spot; or maybe just a bus pass. Maybe a big city, maybe a small town; or maybe just a warehouse somewhere all by itself. Maybe with a big bonus every quarter, maybe a small bonus once a year; or maybe no bonus at all. Maybe he could get a big house, or a small flat; or maybe have to rent a room in a motel somewhere. Maybe he'd dine out with his boss every meal, or maybe have a small kitchen; or maybe have to eat at a soup kitchen somewhere, then walk home alone.
But he wouldn't be here. He'd be somewhere else.
--So what happened? Where'd he go wrong? --
He walked along, alone, always looking, just looking, no longer for anything but just looking, to be looking. It grew dark, and dusty, and damp, all at once. He couldn't see, not without his eyes clouding up, so he stopped looking, but kept walking.
He'd been to a party, somewhere, anywhere. Everyone there said "You're the last guest." Everyone else was already there. "You're the last guest." What did it mean, to be the last guest? Did it mean anything? It had to: everyone said it, kept repeating it: "You're the last guest." How could it not mean something? Everyone said it. The phone rang. Someone on the line asked "Has the last guest arrived?" Everyone said "Yes." How could it not mean something, being the last guest?
The party played on, into the morning hours. The phone rang again. "Has the last guest gone?" was asked. "No," was answered. "We must know when the last guest is gone. This is crucial. We must know."
AM had to assume being the last guest meant something. He didn't ask what, nor care what; he just knew it meant something. And that was enough.
He grew tired. The party grew tired. The hours wore on. The phone rang. "Has the last guest gone?" once more was asked. Just as AM fell deeply asleep he heard "Yes" answered into the receiver. When he awoke he was back on the platform half crying. He knew. He knew what it meant when the last guest is gone. It meant no place was left but home. An empty platform, giving no succor, no respite, no food, no clothing, no shelter, pointing one way only. No place else. A sound of a train, a big yellow winged train; part of a train that was somewhere, anywhere, else but here. Which part, he wondered. The steam, or the wing. Entangled somehow, so each knows, steam and wing, what the other is doing, changing, becoming. Each knows. AM wished he was entangled; he'd know what the other part was doing, changing, becoming, He'd be somewhere, anywhere, wherever the other part was, beyond the speed of light, outside space and time. The other part. If only he was entangled. On a platform entangled, knowing always what the other part became, and when. Two events at the same instant, just like the Big Bang till every star was set, outside space and time. Till life came calling, with time on its hands. Time, the last guest to arrive, the last to go. When it goes, all else ceases, existence stops, stops cold, stops dead. When the last guest is gone.
Polite applause greeted the soliloquy. Even those who understood little of it joined the response, many grateful that Hieronymus Brown-Crenshaw had engineered the switch that put her recital at June, her son's this month. This, they felt, would not have been best for the summer solstice with its blue shaft of light.
"You should have been me," AM told Bobby when they next met. Sol and his companion were approaching and overheard. Sol looked puzzled but his companion nodded in perfect understanding.
"My mother loved your dad. You should have been me."
Bobby nodded no. "There's too much difference in our ages, I couldn't be you. But if I had been, who would have been me?" he asked.
"You wouldn't have been," Sol's companion answered for AM. "Nor would you," he told AM.
This time AM nodded. "And there'd have been no last guest. And the universe would have had all this free time I wouldn't have made, to use any way it wished."
"No," said Sol. "The universe would have had that much less time. It would all have ended that much sooner."
AM started walking away then turned back. "If I had a dog, I'd name her PM. I'd be the sun, she'd be the moon."
Through the grapevine, AM heard about Bobby's quest to find a hole leading beneath the Lost City. He knocked on the Calister's front door one evening and was invited in.
"Would it be alright if I accompanied Bobby next time he visits the Lost City?" AM asked.
"If it's alright with him," Elizabeth answered. I suppose you haven't seen it yet, you being away."
"Bobby: is it alright with you?" AM asked.
"Sure. Be my guest. Just bring a shovel!" Bobby quipped.
Early next morning, Bobby started out for the Lost City. AM joined him at the end of September Court. He had forgotten to bring a shovel.
"We're off to see the wizard!" said AM.
"This movie I heard about," AM explained. "It was called 'The Wizard of Oz.' This girl and her dog got transported to a strange land, and encountered all manner of adventures."
"That sounds cool!" said Bobby.
Nothing further was said until they reached their destination, upon which AM announced that once they started digging he was not stopping until he reached whatever lay beneath. Then he asked where Bobby planned to begin his dig.
"I play it by ear," Bobby explained. "A lot depends how much time I have, too," he added.
"You have more time than me," AM told him.
"How does that work?" asked Bobby.
"I'm older. I create less time as I go. You create more. Have you ever heard about quantum entanglements?"
"No, not that I recall."
"It's particles that in effect do everything together - faster than the speed of light no matter how far apart they are. That creates a paradox -"
"Yeah, I guess it would, if they go faster than light," Bobby readily agreed. "I didn't think anything could."
"Entangled particles can. But it's not really a paradox - I've worked it out. They exist outside the time-space continuum. They're the Big Bang still happening, these quantum entanglements are, so they're not bound by any of the laws of existence. They're just there."
"Cool. And do they also create time?"
"No. Only living things create time."
"What: even bugs and germs and all?" Bobby asked.
AM nodded yes.
"They can't create much, can they? Being so small."
"No. But there are so many - trillions and trillions - that together they create almost all the time in the universe."
"Especially if they get all entangled!" Bobby speculated.
"Here!" Bobby thrust his shovel into the ground as he cried out. "This is where I'll dig today." And as he spoke, he began digging. For the next two hours he dug, non-stop; then he stopped.
"I can take over if you're tired," AM told him.
"Not tired. But I've got to go home, it's almost supper time."
"Will you be back?"
"Not tonight. I've got too much homework." Bobby handed his shovel to AM. "Your turn," he said. "When you're done just leave it at the entrance."
"I may never get done. I'm going to find what's below."
"Even if it's water?"
"Especially if it's water. Time always seeks a place of water when it's ready for its next creation."
"Why's it so important to find the next level? I mean, I know why I'm looking: it's to find my friend Eddie before it's too late. But why are you looking?"
"I lost a friend too. My very best friend. I saw him trying to leave this place forever. He got as far as the very end of the sidewalk when, all of a sudden, just out of nowhere, he began sinking down into the very last piece of sidewalk. I tried to grab him, but he just ignored me and kept sinking. I cried out to him, then screamed; but he just kept ignoring me. Then he was gone, and there was no way I could reach him, or even see him. So I just started running, as fast as I could - I was on the track team so I can really run fast, I know how. I just ran. I didn't stop till I reached the train station. Then I started crying, and shaking, and screaming. No one was around, so I just kept crying and shaking and screaming till the eight o'clock train arrived and I left Colpen. I thought forever; but here I am, back again. I don't think I ever really intended to leave, I just did. And I'm going to dig and dig and dig and just keep digging till I find Moozie. That's what the 'M' in my name stands for, I gave myself his nickname. Instead of Anton Crenshaw I became AM Crenshaw. Just like that."
Bobby considered what AM said as he made his way home, finally deciding by the time he sat down for dinner to start calling himself BE Calister.
"Mom, dad," he announced, "I'm 'BE Calister.' At least for now. I'll run it past Sol tomorrow, if I see him. Just to get his take on it. If that's okay with the two of you."
"Why not? It's your name," Brisbane said. "If an 'E' suits you better than an 'R,' then why not? Why about you Lizzie? You up to having a BE Calister for your first born?"
"Are you planning to use that at school too?" Elizabeth asked her son.
"I hadn't really thought that far ahead," Bobby admitted. "But I guess so. Maybe."
"Then we'll leave it at that: a 'maybe.'"
It rained the next day, so Bobby decided to postpone his name change till Thursday. He said nothing to his teachers about his new name. Despite the rain, after school he made for the Lost City and his most recent dig. He found AM at the dig, seated on the ground, shivering.
"You got caught in the rain," he said.
AM looked up. "No," he answered. "I kept digging. I've been here since you left, digging. I dug a hole and fell in. There's nothing but water. Time always seeks out water. Always. I almost drowned. I managed to catch hold of a rock - like a stalagmite - and pulled myself up."
"You better go home and get dry," Bobby suggested.
"I started to. Then I saw this obelisk. I stopped to read it. It looked like gibberish, but I read it anyway."
AM arose and took Bobby to where the obelisk stood. "See?" he pointed. "It's just a bunch of hieroglyphics. No one could ever possibly read it; but I did. You want to know what it says?"
"Sure," said Bobby.
"It says: 'Sadness comes and fills any place not already taken."
He then walked Bobby around to the back of the obelisk and pulled a small door open, revealing yet a second inscription, only much smaller, which he also read aloud.
"This one says: 'When it's all said and done, sorrow is the only constant. It will remain when all else has left your world. It will always be among you, and among no you. Call it grief, or guilt, or loss or regret: sorrow subsumes them all."
"Wow," said Bobby. "So: do you believe it?"
"I live it," AM stated.
"Yeah, sometimes I do too," Bobby admitted.
"I always do," AM, in turn, admitted. "But I will find Moozie. I have to, if it's only his bones. I guess I should look for dad also. You know he's gone missing."
"I heard that. You think he fell down the sidewalk like Moozie and Eddie?"
"Probably. Although mom said he always said he could leave anytime he wished because he never wrote his name in concrete. And he never had a girlfriend, so no one could have ever written his name for him. Grandma used to call him Baby Nuni, even when he was grown and married and had a son -"
"Yeah, me. His son, who looked like him and took after mom. Who'd you take after?"
"Time," a familiar voice came from behind to answer for Bobby. It was Sol.
"Hey, Sol," Bobby skipped right to what he hoped to encounter Sol to run past him, "what do you think of my plan to rename myself 'BE' instead of Bobby?"
"It won't work," Sol told Bobby. You can't make your friend a part of yourself."
"He did," Bobby indicated AM.
"Perhaps AM had room. You don't," Sol explained. "There used to be an expression. People would say someone was 'Full of himself.' They meant it as a criticism of a person's overbearing egotism. But with you it's a literal truth: you are 'full of yourself.' Not in a bad way; just in the sense that your being fills your existence entirely. There is no room for anything or anyone else. That's a terrible burden; but it's your fate. You have to live with it."
Bobby considered Sol's words. "I don't want to be so full I can't slide down the sidewalk someday and get to see Eddie again."
"You can create a place for him -"
"Good! I will!"
"- but you'll never be there with him."
"If you can't," AM told Bobby, "I promise you I will. So at least he won't be all alone. Like Moozie. I swear I won't let him end up like Moozie."
"Maybe Moozie's with Eddie," Bobby suggested.
"No. I know he's not. Moozie always said he'd end up in a hole somewhere all by himself, for all eternity. I swore to him I wouldn't let that happen. But I did. I couldn't keep it from happening. So I have to find Eddie for you. I have to. Because I know no matter how much I dig, or how hard, it's not really Moozie I'm looking for but Eddie. Not Moozie for me; but Eddie for you."
At dinner Wednesday, Bobby was asked if he'd made up his mind on his name change. "I'm not going to do it, at least not just now," he answered.
"What changed your mind, you seemed pretty determined?" Brisbane asked.
"Sol told me I don't have room for the 'E'," Bobby explained. "I'm all filled up already."
Elizabeth considered Sol's reasoning. She found it odd; but at the same time a sound judgment, so she nodded in agreement.
Next day at school Bobby's science teacher discussed something she called the Schumann Resonance. "According to Professor Schumann, we resonate here at 7.83 Hz. By 'we,' Schumann meant the whole world - the earth itself."
"Is that what we resonate at here in Colpen too?" a student asked.
"Actually, we resonate at 7.769 Hz in Colpen. Our Department head took the measurement himself. Of course we don't have cell phone masts here in Colpen. Presumably that would increase the resonance considerably. It all depends on the level of the electromagnetic field."
Bobby couldn't wait to get to the Lost City to tell AM what he'd learned today. He knew he'd find AM digging somewhere; he just wasn't sure where. He followed the faint sound of digging till he found him.
"Just as I thought, there's water down there too," AM told Bobby. "It's all water."
"Maybe it'll dry up soon and we can see what's really down there," Bobby speculated. Then he proceeded to inform AM of his teacher's remarks, which seemed to spark a memory.
"Once, when I was almost asleep, I opened one eye and saw just for a second a great wave criss-crossing the whole world. Then it was gone. I'd almost forgotten about it."
"You think it was this Schumann Resonance you saw?" Bobby asked.
"It could have been," said AM. "You know, while I was digging I began wondering who lived here. Does your mom know - it's her dig, right?"
"Right. She's never said though. I'll ask her tonight."
An hour later Bobby left the site to go home. At dinner he asked his mother if she knew who used to live in the Lost City. She told him she didn't know, no one knew who they were, when they lived there, why they left or when they left.
"I bet it was Indians," Bobby stated emphatically. "Maybe Sol would know."
"I don't see how he could," said Elizabeth. "But it won't hurt to ask him."
The next day, after school, Bobby made immediately for the Lost City, hoping to encounter Sol along the way; but he didn't. When he finally found AM, he found AM putting on his trousers.
"Didn't want to get my southern necessary wet when I went down the hole I just dug," AM explained.
"Southern necessary?" Bobby puzzled over the term.
"That's what my favorite writer calls pants. She's not a very good writer but she's my favorite because everyone makes fun of her. That makes her special. Amanda McKitrick Ros. There, now I've got my southern necessary on."
"Mom said she didn't know who lived here," Bobby told AM.
"So we'll call them The Indians," AM decided.
On the way home Bobby met up with Sol and his companion and informed them he and AM had decided to call the residents of the Lost City The Indians.
Sol shook his head. "Only if you call them The First Indians," he said.
"The Hindi were the First Indians, they came before Native Americans," Sol explained. "Whoever lived here were before anyone; they're truly The First, no matter who they're called."
"Then it's a deal: The First Indians it is," Bobby agreed.
After school the next day Bobby made right for the Lost City, sure he'd find AM already digging. AM was there, was digging; but wasn't alone. Beside him, eagerly watching him dig, was a tall girl with long blonde hair. When AM heard Bobby approaching, he stopped digging and looked up.
"Bobby, this is Electra," he introduced the girl with him. "I told her what we were doing here and she wanted to see for herself - right?"
The girl nodded. "I've seen you around Bobby," she said. "I really liked your father's lecture on Shangri-La."
"Thanks," Bobby replied. "I'll tell him. He's probably going back there one day soon. I'd go with him but I've got to keep looking for Eddie."
"I lost my older sister to the sidewalk too," she said. "Maybe when you find Eddie I'll find her too."
"That'd be nice," Bobby agreed.
For three hours AM dug, till he once again struck water and once again got his trousers soaked.
"Uh oh," said Bobby. "Better take off your southern necessary!" he quipped.
AM blushed at this. "Not in front of a girl," he said.
"What's a southern necessary?" Electra asked.
"It's his pants!" Bobby answered.
The three of them laughed.
"You think your sister might have fallen through to whatever's below?" Bobby asked Electra.
"I didn't think it till Anton mentioned looking for your friend," the girl answered. "But now I'm starting to wonder."
"Have you ever been down here before?" Bobby asked.
"No. I'd heard about it, and some boys wanted to bring me and Lulu here to explore, along with their girl friends. But I wasn't interested till now. If I could find some trace of my sister, like her favorite scarf she was wearing when she disappeared. Maybe if I keep looking I will."
An hour later the three returned topside. Mr Brown was sitting on his front porch rocking. He waved at the three and called out "Good things come in threes! Bad things too," he added.
"I'd better go say hi to grandpa," AM halted in front of Mr Brown's house.
"Say hi to grandpa, will you, you pompous little deserter?" old Miss Colpen thought to herself. "If it weren't for my rheumatism I'd rip your 'southern necessary' right off your scurrilous little butt and stuff it down your throat! How would you like that, you ridiculous Moozie clone? And your little Miss Mourning Becomes Electra could see you in all your glory! And all the pock marks on your belly. At any rate, the marks that belong on your belly."
Then she stopped thinking to listen to some faint music, which prompted her to arise from her chair to commence dancing in place in front of her window, into which Colpen's Sycamore was now peaking.
"Oh look: there's the crazy woman!" Bobby observed, pointing toward Miss Colpen's window.
"You think she is crazy?" Electra asked.
'That and more," Bobby assured the girl. "Some say she's a witch. But I don't know. She looking less and less like a witch to me, and more and more like a demon."
"Either way, I'm sure she can hear you," Electra warned.
"Not when she's dancing, she can't. That's when she's vulnerable - that's the only time she can be killed."
"Why do you want to kill her?"
"I don't. I just know that's the only time she can be killed."
AM motioned Bobby and Electra to come over and say hi to his grandfather.
"I know you're thinking old Miss Colpen's evil," Mr Brown said. "But you're looking right at the real evil one."
"Does that mean you've gone ahead with your plan?" Bobby asked. Mr Brown nodded yes. "Wow! A brown slipcover! And brown doilies! What'll the management say?"
"They'll have me arrested and locked away somewhere behind June Court, where they keep all the bad guys."
"We don't have any bad guys," Electra, whose father was on the management staff, pointed out.
"We will now," Mr Brown predicted.
"Oh by the way," Electra turned to AM, "I'd like Lulu to join us tomorrow, if it's alright."
"Sure, it's okay."
"You won't never find anyone anywhere ever again," Mr Brown cautioned. "My advice is leave it be."
Lulu had jet black hair and sky blue eyes and was even taller than Electra.
"Who did you lose?" AM asked.
Lulu glared at him. "What a stupid question," she told him. "I didn't lose anyone. Do you have to lose someone before you're allowed down here?"
"No," AM admitted. "It's just, the only ones who ever come down here are looking for someone they lost, that's all."
"I lost no one. I just want to see this Lost City before I leave."
"You're leaving?" Electra asked.
"Of course. Why would anyone want to stay in this boring town? Unless someone gives me a reason to stay," Lulu added, looking pointedly at AM.
"You're not afraid of the curse?" Bobby asked.
"I'm afraid of nothing," Lulu replied. "Least of all some ridiculous superstition about writing your name in the concrete."
"Your name's written on a piece of sidewalk?" Bobby asked.
"Of course it is. It's written on three sidewalks, one for each boy friend: one for Teddy, one for Billy, one for Tony. All three on May Court. After we leave here I'll show you."
As before, AM's dig produced only underground water, once again soaking his trousers.
"Oops!" said Electra. "There goes your southern necessary!"
"Southern necessary - what's that?" Lulu asked.
"It's what this really bad writer calls pants," Bobby explained.
"How can they tell which is the bad writer," Lulu wondered. "They'll all bad. They only write because they can't sing, or play music, or split atoms, or build palaces. Calling pants 'southern necessary' is as good as anything else ever written as far as I'm concerned."
The four of them took a stroll down May Court on their way from the Lost City.
"There!" Lulu pointed. "There's Teddy and I. He was my first boy friend. We were both nine. And over there: there's Billy and I. We were ten."
They crossed the street to get a closer look; but when they arrived at the spot, they found only Billy's name, not Lulu's.
"Maybe the sidewalk cracked and they re-paved it," Lulu speculated. "And over there's Tony and I."
They crossed the street again to get a better look. But, as with Billy, only Tony's name remained. Lulu shrugged and walked on, the others following along.
"Maybe you only get one try," Bobby suggested, repeating his suggestion at dinner when he related the incident with Lulu and her boy friends.
"Oh I'm sure there's a rational explanation," Elizabeth told him.
"Mom, that is a rational explanation: you only get one try!"
"Good point," Brisbane agreed.
Bobby resolved to get Sol's take on the incident. They met up the next day; and while Bobby was getting Sol's take, Lulu was tracking down her three boy friends to see why here name had been removed from two sidewalk slabs. First to be grilled was Teddy, who swore he hadn't removed Lulu's name from her two other boy friends'.
"We were already broke up," Teddy reminded Lulu. "you turned ten, and said I was too young for you. If you recall, we tried to erase your name from my name but we couldn't."
"Maybe it wasn't you. Let's go find Billy. Maybe it was him."
"No, it wasn't me," swore Billy. "Tony had just moved in next door and when you saw him you left me and went over to his house, and the next day - two days after you wrote you loved me - you and Tony were writing your names in the wet cement."
"Lulu: I don't undo what I've done, not anything," Tony told her. "So, no, no way did I erase your name. I don't even care if your name or my name or anyone's name is carved in the sidewalk. I'd even forgotten all about it when Johanna wrote our names over on her street."
"Joanna Jones?" AM asked.
"Johanna - not Joanna. Got that? I ever hear you call her Joanna again I'll stuff your pants down your throat! Got that?"
"You mean his southern necessity," Lulu corrected her old boy friend.
"Whatever," Tony answered back. "I'll stuff them so far down his throat they'll be so far south of the border the only necessity'll be him getting them out before he chokes to death on them!"
"Why don't you come with us," Lulu suggested. "And bring Joanna if you want."
"You mean Johanna, don't you?" Bobby pointed out.
"Ill call her whatever I choose," Lulu retorted, glaring at Tony.
All the while old Miss Colpen was standing in front of her window hearing every word and loving every bit of the interchange. "Don't just say it: do it! Rip his pants off and ram them down his throat like you mean it. Then ram him some more, why don't you? Split him right down the middle, rip his gizzard out, make him eat it, then drink his blood. And anything else you can think of; and if you have trouble thinking of more ways to punish him, come sit beside me and I'll give you plenty more ideas where these came from."
It was already April by the time Tony and Johanna joined the party of four, in their daily visits to the Lost City. Johanna, with auburn hair and green eyes, kept asking along the way why it was they were going to the Lost City.
"Johanna, I keep telling you," Tony answered in desperation, "I don't know."
"Then someone else answer," Johanna suggested. "How about you, AM? Why are we going to that creepy place?"
"To look for Bobby's friend Eddie," AM answered.
"Oh, is that all? Why are we looking for that little brat? I say good riddance."
"Why do you say that?" AM beat Bobby in asking.
"His mom called me Joanna once, that's why. No one calls me Joanna and gets away with it -"
"I do," said Lulu.
"You don't count," said Johanna.
"So why does Eddie's mom count?" Bobby asked.
"She just does, if it's any of your concern."
When they arrived and began searching for a new place to dig, AM retrieving his shovel from the spot he'd left it the day before but saying nothing about yesterday's dig already filling itself in, Johanna began coughing.
"I hate this place," she told everyone. "I'm never coming back after today. And Tony, you'd better not either or else you can go back with Lulu."
"I wouldn't have him back. I want someone more sophisticated," Lulu said. "Like AM," she added.
Tony glared at AM as if daring him to say one word. AM turned away to begin looking for a place to dig, preferably one where he had not already dug. When he found a place and commenced digging, Bobby reminded him he'd already dug there. Tony laughed.
"I don't know which one of you is stupider!" he chided. "You for digging the same place you dug before; or you for not being able to tell that this spot hasn't been dug!"
"Bobby's right," AM admitted, blushing. "I have dug here already. I'm the stupid one." With this, AM proceeded down another street, stopped, looked at Bobby, got the okay, and began digging again.
Irritated at how slow AM was digging, Tony grabbed the shovel out of his hands, pushed him aside, and took over the digging. An hour later, water splashed up the hole and splattered Tony's trousers.
"Oh look," Lulu pointed.
"I see it, I'm not blind. My - what'd you call it: my southern necessity? - it's gotten wet. Bet you'd love me to taken 'em off, wouldn't you?"
"Oh please," Lulu retorted, "I'd sooner look at Bobby!"
"Is everyone going to April's show?" Electra asked as if to change the subject.
"I don't know," said Johanna. "Tony and I may go."
"Let me know," said Lulu, "so I can be sure to stay away if you do."
"AM, are you going?" Electra asked.
"Yeah, I will. I owe it to Moozie's mom and dad to see their show."
"Hope it's not as stupid as I hear yours was," said Tony as he threw down the shovel, took Johanna by the hand, and walked away.
"Was it stupid?" AM asked his other three companions on their way back.
"No," said Electra. "I liked it."
"It was okay," said Bobby. "A bit sad. Yeah, way too sad."
"Well, I didn't go, so I don't know," said Lulu.
"What'd I ever do to make Tony so made at me?" AM then asked.
"You existed before he did," Lulu told him. "You're almost a year older, and you were Joanna's boyfriend before he was."
"But we didn't write our names on the sidewalk, so why should he care?"
"Tony doesn't need a reason for anything he does."
"I don't always need a reason either," Bobby admitted. "But I'm not going to be like Tony."
"Good," said Lulu. "This town isn't big enough for two of you."
There was a blue light that night.
There was a red light that night.
It was neither June nor December, respective homes of blue and red, awaiting the solstice to appear. It was April, the 14th, a day on a Thursday; skyward went first the blue, followed by the red. Friday they said it had been a test; but there had never before been a test. Never. But it had to be: lights can't just light up. Photons don't work that way; they're nice and neat, well ordered, paragons of behavior. They go when and where sent; though some say they don't create waves as they go but rather attach to waves already there, carrying their luminescence along strands of dark matter.
In the coming days another young man joined the group searching for Bobby's friend Eddie. Lulu invited him.
"What's Jack Sprat doing here?" Tony asked.
"His name is Jake Spraight," Lulu corrected her old boyfriend.
"I'll call him what I want, and if he doesn't like it he knows where to find me!" Tony answered back.
"Right here's where he can find you," Bobby took the literal approach.
"I'm okay with what you want to call me," Jake told Tony.
"Good thing or you'd be flat on the ground just about now!" Tony boasted.
"Oh please don't hurt him, he's my boyfriend now, and I do so love him!" Lulu pleaded.
As before, the digging produced neither a sign of Eddie nor an entranceway to another city, lost beneath the Lost City. On the way back, the group encountered Sol and his companion.
"Still no sign of your friend?" Sol asked Bobby.
"No, still no sign," Bobby replied. "At least nobody's southern necessary got wet this time."
"What's a southern necessary?" asked Jake Spraight.
"It's a rite of passage, Jack," said Tony. Jake looked puzzled. "You figure it," Tony advised.
"I didn't think we had any rights here," Jake quipped.
The group slowly disbanded, leaving only Bobby with Sol and his companion.
"I know we'll find Eddie," said Bobby. "That next city's got to be down there somewhere. It's just a matter of finding the right passage. I know it's there."
Sol shook his head. "You haven't willed it yet," he told Bobby. "But you will, in time."
"Have you heard of that game we have?" Bobby asked Sol.
"Go To The Cold Places, you mean?"
"Yeah. I'll be old enough to play in December. And I'm going to win. No one's ever won. But I will. On December 21st. I'm going to win."
"Be careful what you win," Sol's companion observed.
The Party Is Over
April 21st was the night of April Court's show. When everyone was seated, the lights grew dim and a sign came on.
"The Party Is Over," the sign announced the beginning.
"Before It Began," the announcement added as the curtain rose to reveal a big room, well appointed, filled with guests seated at a long table.
--"The hostess has died --" a butler came in to announce.
The guests at first did nothing, then slowly began looking around, first at random then at one another as they realized no one was there to announce their arrival or tell them when to leave.
"Did we seat ourselves out of sequence?" some of the guests asked around. No one knew what to answer or even if it were appropriate to shrug.
"Should we ask for something to drink?" a guest asked.
"Or something to eat?" another asked.
"Or should we ask first how the hostess came to die?" a third asked.
"Or if she just died?"
"Or if she'd been dead all along?"
"Then who invited us?"
"Someone must have wanted us, don't you think?"
"Wouldn't we have heard something about her passing?"
For a long while nothing further was said. A second butler came in, carrying a champagne bottle. His opening it prompted a spell of laughing, till everyone remembered the absence of place settings. Quiet settled back upon the table. Out of nowhere someone began singing, off key and too loud, followed by others, then by all the guests seated at the table; followed by another round of silence. Someone took out a deck of cards and tried his hand at card tricks, amusing the other guests at first then boring them when all the cards fell on the floor. In a moment they all began laughing again. In the midst of laughter a few began telling jokes; but with everyone already laughing they fell flat and abruptly halted. Another silence ensued, followed by another sing along.
The party went on for hours, but it never began - how could it, without its hostess? It was stillborn, a timeless spectacle filled with empty time, for want of the time it needed, the hostess's time, to spark it onto the present plane. The party went directly from future to past, with no intermediate stopover. It was over before it began.
The stage went dark, the curtain closed, the lights came up, the audience applauded. AM cried.
The whole time he was watching he sat crying. Thinking of Moozie, who he didn't invite to his party, his last birthday party. He swore he'd never have another. He was mad at Moozie; he didn't invite his best friend to his last party ever. He sat crying over it. The party is over, he thought as he cried. It never began, because Moozie wasn't invited. It was just over, without ever beginning. How could it begin? Moozie was never invited.
"Look at him!" said Tony to Lulu, whom he and Johanna had managed to sit next to. "Crying over that stupid show. Filled with self pity. Self pity!" he said loud enough for AM to hear.
Of course it's self pity! AM thought to himself but said nothing. How could it not be? He never saw me again after I turned my back on him. Of course it's self-pity! That's the last time he ever saw me. He left never knowing how sorry I was. Of course it's self pity! I saw him, I reached out to him, I called to him. But he never heard me, never saw me again. He never knew how sorry I was. He never knew. Of course it's self-pity! Self-pity's just another name for guilt. That's all it is. When they want to make you feel bad about what you did, they accuse you of being guilty of something. Then when they want to make you feel bad about yourself they accuse you of self-pity. They don't care. It's nothing to them; so they think it should be nothing to you. They don't know. They can't see that guilt is the most crippling force in the universe. If it were a molecule or a quantum particle it could rip a hole through time and space, that's how crippling it is.
It was getting warm, too warm to ignore any longer the corpse caught in the sidewalk just outside of town. Colpen Management had bandied about for two months which department was responsible for the clean up. The first warm day, April 24th, it fell to the department being considered that particular - The Department of Recycling. Three workers were sent out with pick axes and jack hammers to retrieve the corpse. They worked six hours at it, finally freeing the corpse at three P.M., one hour before the business day closed. They weren't given instructions what to do with the corpse once they freed it from its death trap; so they set it beside the sidewalk, covered it, left it till another day to dispose of. Three days later a crew from the Department of Taxation came and carried the corpse away.
Sol, who with his companion had watched the crew working, attempted to engage them in conversation; but was told they could not reveal confidential departmental information.
By the end of the day, the piece of sidewalk that had to be removed, along with the corpse, had been replaced, though no one could quite pinpoint which department had replaced it. But since the Department of Assessments could find no bill for the new sidewalk, Colpen Management was satisfied and closed the book on the procedure, if somewhat nervously.
Jake Spraight asked Lulu if he could bring his cousin Jonesy along on the next day. He was told he'd have to ask the supervisor, Bobby, who readily agreed, citing "The more the merrier" as his sole justification. Two days later Jake's cousin Jonesy showed up wearing a clown costume. When asked what his attire was meant to signify, Jonesy pointed over toward his cousin and said he thought this was a merriment of some kind, and therefore called for a clown. Everyone agreed the outfit was fine, Tony expressing the sentiment that "Jack Sprat strikes again!"
This time Bobby grew increasingly agitated as the digging progressed, until he finally suggested they stop and resume tomorrow, or even the day after tomorrow. When asked why, all he said was that he had a hunch. The others pressed him to find out what his hunch was; but all he would say was that he needed time to sort out some ideas.
"What," asked Tony, "you have enough ideas they need to be sorted?"
Bobby acknowledged that this was the case; so everyone went home, promising to return the next day after school. At the supper table, Bobby divulged what he had come up with.
"Mom, dad," he said, "I think I know what's going on down there, and why we found no trace of Eddie's family, and why we've been having so much trouble trying to dig down to the next level. It's like this story I read about: 'The Time Machine,' where these creatures lived beneath the ground called Morlocks. They lived like a million years in the future, and they periodically ate people from above ground. They weren't very nice about it either. And that's who I've decided lives in the city beneath the Lost City. What do you think?"
"First off, Bobby," Elizabeth noted, "you shouldn't be digging at the site -"
"It's okay, mom," Bobby assured his mother, "because wherever we dig, no matter how far down we go, the next day it's all filled in again, without a trace. Now that I look back, it's obvious what keeps happening: when we go home and the Lost City is vacant again, these Morlocks climb up and fill in the holes we dug. So that means we're gonna have to be really careful; and maybe post a sentry to warn us in case any Morlocks happen to be milling about. I think I ought to run this by Sol, just to get his take on it. He says there's no city beneath the Lost City and won't ever be till I create it."
"How would you go about doing that?" Brisbane asked.
"Use my noggin, I guess. I don't know though, I've never created anything before. I'm not even sure how you would start, or when, or how long it would take to create a whole city. I just know I have to do it. That may be the only hope of saving Eddie from the Morlocks. I've got to save him. I've just got to."
Two days later Bobby was telling Sol and his companion about the Morlocks, and how time was running out to save his friend Eddie.
"I can just picture Eddie, running and hiding from the Morlocks, going from building to building as each building comes to be. Right now all he can do is go from place to place where each building needs to be, only there's no buildings yet, so he's vulnerable to the Morlocks. But I'm finally beginning to picture the buildings in my mind - they're like the buildings in the Lost City, only newer, and with binary code on the sides instead of hieroglyphics - and I can see Eddie running to where each building'll be."
"What made you decide the Morlocks were lurking beneath the Lost City?" Sol asked.
"It's got their mark all over it," Bobby answered. "It just makes the most sense. The moment I remembered about them, it all fell into place. So I can't put it off any longer: I've got to start thinking the new city into existence. There's no excuse not to now. Otherwise Eddie'll have nowhere to hide any longer and they'll get him."
"What will you call your new city?" Sol's companion asked.
"I haven't thought of a name yet," Bobby admitted.
While the three were conversing, AM walked by, and happened to overhear what had just been said.
"Call it the Found City," AM suggested; then broadened his suggestion to include "or Foundling"; or even "Foundry."
"Or does it even need a name?" Sol asked.
"Everything needs a name," AM offered. "If it doesn't have a name, then time has nothing to affix itself to; and just sits there, waiting for something to come by that could hold some more time, whether it needs it or not."
Then AM paused a moment as a thought came to him from out of the blue. "Nothing can ever be right again," he told everyone.
Sol's companion nodded his assent. AM took his leave and continued on. When he was out of earshot, Bobby explained about AM's friend Moozie not being invited to AM's birthday party, and never being seen or heard from again.
"AM did the right thing," Sol's companion said. "Until you've turned your back on what means most to you, you can't know the true meaning of life. Life isn't what people think; it isn't for us, it's against us; and it fights us every step of the way. But in the end we win, we always win; we defeat it and it goes away, and carries off our last bit of time."
"So life is a time thief?" Bobby tentatively speculated.
"More than that," Sol answered in his companion's stead. "There was a song once, called 'Time the Avenger.' But it isn't time: it's life that avenges. It refuses to let our time end when we're gone; it throws it up there, in a sea of dark matter it's been filling since the first bacteria sprang into being billions of years ago. Only they weren't years then; they were pieces of matter that broke free of their quantum entanglements and started coalescing into receptacles to catch and hold all the time that was being created throughout the universe."
"Wow," said Bobby. "The real world's even stranger than all the make believe worlds everyone reads about. That's for sure."
Jonesy brought his girlfriend to the next dig: brought her first, then asked if it was okay if he brought her. Everyone but one said it was okay.
"I didn't bring a shovel," Evangeline admitted somewhat sheepishly.
"You don't need one," AM told her. "We never dig in more than one spot, so we take turns."
"Well maybe you should dig in more than one spot," Evangeline suggested. "That way you're much more likely to find the treasure."
"It's not a treasure," Bobby explained, "it's a city, beneath this city."
"Maybe there's another way to get to it," said Evangeline. "Like maybe a secret passage."
"Wouldn't that be a hoot!" said Jonesy. "We're all digging away day after day, day after day - when all we have to do is find a secret passage!"
"That's highly unlikely," Electra sought to put an end to this line of inquiry. The thought of a secret passage somewhat frightened her.
"Why?" several asked in unison.
Here Bobby took the initiative. "Because the city's newer than this one," he said, "so no one could have built a passageway."
Nothing further was said regarding the secret passage as the dig progressed. Late in the day, when everyone had had enough digging and both Jonesy and Jake Spraight had gotten their trousers wet, a quip was made about their necessary southerlies.
"Necessary southerlies?" Evangeline asked, not sure she had heard correctly.
"It's literary for pants," Lulu explained.
The newcomers thought a moment then nodded as if its being literary made sense of it. Then everyone left, Jake Spraight observing they would have no trouble finding this spot tomorrow for the huge puddle of water. But Bobby knew the puddle would be reabsorbed into the ground long before the next dig.
"Sorry about your clown pants getting wet," Evangeline told Jonesy.
"That's okay," Jonesy assured his girlfriend. "A wet clown suit is a true clown suit, filled with the tears of a true clown. Oh, by the way," he told everyone; "I overheard Ollie Smolder tell Carleton Janes he was going to murder him during the May show."
"He's been saying that for years," Tony's girlfriend Johanna informed the group.
"Yeah but he sounded like he means it this time," Jonesy insisted.
"Why this time?" AM asked.
"Some guy named John Newton's all I know," Jonesy answered.
"There's no John Newton lives here," everyone agreed.
Jonesy shrugged. "We should ask Miss Colpen, she'd know," he suggested.
"Yeah, she'd tell you," Lulu agreed, adding "then slit your throat."
"What about my granddad?" AM suggested. "He knows everything that goes on here."
It was agreed to stop and ask Mr Brown about this mysterious John Newton, who might, or might not, be at the center of a murder mystery.
On their way to Mr Brown's, the group was joined by Deputy Sheriff Sluter, who informed them he had some serious business to discuss with them, starting right in before they could say one way or the other whether the discussion was agreeable to them.
"There's been talk lately of murder," he let it be known. "Now murder's a pretty risky business, kids, and not to be taken lightly - I think you should know that before you go getting yourselves in so deep you can't wiggle your way out, at least without perjuring yourselves. I'd give this a definite second thought if I were you. At the very least you'll be needing to cover your tracks. And give serious thought you don't just go murdering just anyone just for the thrill of it - they call that a Thrill Kill and it's one of the easiest murders to solve. Just a word to the wise, kids. One more thing: I'd like to join you on your next dig down there - just a precaution. So I'll meet you kids after school tomorrow. Probably best if I keep a low profile; so what say I meet you at the entrance. See you then. And do your best to keep out of trouble till then."
When Deputy Sheriff Stephen S. Sluter was out of ear shot, Tony quipped "So I guess that means we don't get to kill anyone tomorrow!"
Momentarily, they arrived at Mr Brown's front porch, where, as usual, he was out there planning some more craziness. Before anyone could say anything he remarked it was just a matter of time till Deputy Sheriff Sluter carted him off in handcuffs for re-arranging his master closet in such a way that was bound to be illegal.
"Granddad," AM got right to the purpose of the visit, "do you know of a John Newton anywhere in Colpen?"
"Well, let's see now. John Newton, you say. Hmm. Can't say as I do - unless it might be one of old Miss Colpen's old boyfriends. You know she had this reputation for eating her boyfriends once she tired of them. Still, I don't recall a John Newton."
"Do you know anything about southern necessaries?" Jonesy asked.
"Now that there's the meanest kind of pants there is. Won't hold a crease no matter what. If you got any hanging in your closet, my advice is get rid of them. You'll be glad you did. I've heard - just a rumor - they can wrap themselves around you in such a way to cut off your circulation. Don't know if it's true or not; but I sure wouldn't want to be the one to put it to the test."
"What about Ollie Smolder threatening to murder Carleton Janes?" Lulu asked.
Mr Brown laughed at that one. "Ollie's been all set to murder Carleton since time began. Probably go on trying till the end of time. Red and blue lights'll shoot up to the stars and back a billion billion times before that squabble comes to an end. That tree there of old Miss Colpen's could sooner take an axe to Miss Colpen herself than Ollie kill old Carleton off. And everyone knows that Sycamore ain't even a real tree. For all anyone knows, Miss Colpen herself ain't even real."
Patsy Sash arrived fresh from the gym to join the next dig. Deputy Sheriff Sluter applauded her decision, saying her expertise might be sorely needed.
"Now we can begin the search for the murderer," Patsy declared.
"Hold on there, Miss: don't put the cart before the horse," the Deputy cautioned. "First we need to find the murder victim; next comes the weapon; then there'll be time enough to track down the killer."
"So you don't have a description yet?" Patsy asked. Sluter shook his head.
"We don't even have the motive yet," he admitted. "Nor, like I said, the murder weapon."
"The murder weapon could be anything - even that shovel," Patsy pointed out. Sluter nodded.
"I'd better take that shovel," he said.
"Then how are we going to dig?" asked Bobby, not a little disturbed by the bizarre turn his search for his friend Eddie had taken.
Everyone agreed the shovel was presently more important as an archeological implement that as a possible murder weapon; so the Deputy Sheriff was overruled by public opinion - hardly the first time this had happened in his twenty odd years serving the law and the citizens of Colpen, ever seeking a balance between the two forces, which often were at odds.
The digging went as usual, producing a flow of water but no sign of anything else beneath the surface. As everyone was leaving, Sluter reached out to take hold of the shovel.
"I'd better confiscate it for now," he said; "but I'll bring it with me tomorrow, after I've run some tests."
When everyone had gone their separate ways, Bobby, instead of heading directly home, made his way back to the Lost City, followed, unbeknownst to him, by Sol and his companion. Bobby began looking, then walking, all around as if sizing up the place. Just as Sol was about to speak, a sudden thought prompted Bobby to speak aloud.
"I've got it! I've been doing that all wrong!" At that point he happened to notice his two followers.
"I know what I can do!" he told them. "I've been trying to picture the city Eddie fell into - and create it just by picturing it, when what I need to do is have all of us working together to try and picture it! That's bound to speed up the process!"
Sol and his companion both shook their heads. "That's not how it works," Sol told him. "You're the one with the power, not them. Only you can create it. And only once you've actually experienced the place will it come into being. Only then."
--Time darkens and hardens when its source ceases. It spirals on a blue beam to become invisible among all the rest. It spirals on a red beam when its source commences, directly to fit amongst the darkest matter --
"Ben's Device will be on display during the winter solstice. Those with ailments should make arrangements to attend."
This message went out to each of the twelve area managers, who disseminated it to the residents of each court. It became the dominant discussion at every dinner table that evening. No one doubted that the Device worked; but no one could say exactly how such a thing could actually treat ailments, let alone what properties it would need in order to achieve such a vaunting feat. Next everyone began cataloguing their various ailments, debating whether their ailment was worth standing in a long line in cold weather to be cured. Some decided it was worth the wait; most concluded it was not worth the inconvenience.
"I'm thinking it's an alias, this John Newton," Deputy Sheriff Sluter informed those at the dig site he felt he could trust; while to those he had his doubts about he would say only it seemed like a code for whatever murder loomed on the horizon.
"Police work is a lot like physics," he informed the entire group, whether he trusted them or not.
"How so?" asked Charles MacGregor Tyre, newest member of the group, who just happened to be a physics major.
"Oh, that's one of our trade secrets," Sluter would only say.
"So you're not at liberty to say if it's quantum mechanics, thermodynamics, relativity or string theory?" Charles asked.
"Nope," said Sluter.
"Or even astrophysics, biophysics, chaos theory, geophysics, or even nuclear physics?"
"How about quantum gravity?"
"Not even close," Sluter answered.
"Then it's got to be atomic physics."
"I think it's Newton's Laws," came from within the group.
"Who said that?" Sluter demanded to know.
Of all people, Sol's companion stepped forth, he and Sol having joined the group unnoticed and having listened attentively to the exchange.
"Hmm," Sluter mused. "You have a background in forensics, I take it," he hinted.
"Not at all," Sol's companion answered. "It just seemed the perfect segue."
"I see something! I see something!" Jake Spraight, whose turn it was to dig, exclaimed. Bobby rushed to the dig site, stood transfixed, staring down into the hole, certain he too saw something just before the omnipresent water began seeping up from below. Bobby had been standing, transfixed, desperately attempting to picture in his mind this city beneath the Lost City, able only to conjure the very tip of a tall building, which was exactly what he and Jake Spraight thought they saw.
"It's coming along," Sol whispered to Bobby - an action not unnoticed by Deputy Sheriff Sluter. I'll keep an eye on those two, Sluter made a mental note.
Each day thereafter a tiny piece more of a gleaming white surface showed in the dig hole before being drowned out by the water.
"Miss April is gone," it was announced the first of May. "She's just gone, and taken her little dog with her. No one knows where. She won't be here December 21st, when the red light streams deep into the sky, and carries the other half of our annual messages to the stars. Miss April is gone. April will not be at our annual ceremony."
Each month had its own beauty queen, chosen at the monthly gathering at each court, from among the residents of that court. Miss April was last seen walking her dog late one evening then never seen again.
"Maybe I killed her and buried her in my basement," Old Miss Colpen remarked upon hearing the news. "That would be so like me to do something like that and then forget all about it. You reach a point when you simply can't keep track any longer of every beauty queen you've eliminated, try as you might. And the dog; well I never cared for dogs any way. I won't eat them though, too many fleas. One should never eat God's precious insects. End of discussion."
Bobby happened along just as Miss Colpen was rounding out her soliloquy and, watching her as she stood silently a moment before dancing in place to a sudden strain of music, got a strange, almost claustrophobic sensation; but it wasn't the first time. He almost always got the same feeling from the old woman.
Bobby reported it to his mother who, just by chance, happened to meet up with Sol on her way to the market and, in turn, mentioned it to him.
"Why would he get claustrophobic?" Elizabeth wondered.
"Because he has so much time - and Miss Colpen has none," Sol said.
"So she's dead, you mean?"
"Not dead so much as timeless," Sol explained.
"She produces no time."
"No one produces time," Elizabeth reminded Sol.
"Let's just say no one realizes they're producing time."
"You have such an odd way of expressing things," Elizabeth noted. "I can see why Bobby's so enchanted with you," she added.
"Your son knows a little something about enchantment himself; and learns more every day."
Raymond J Everstart came along for Wednesday's dig. He'd heard about it and asked Electra if there was anything to this "dig phenomenon."
"Why not find out for yourself?" Electra offered. So he did.
"Just watch for that deep south necessity," Raymond's buddy Charles warned, explaining with disdain what the term referred to and where it came from.
"Oh," Raymond, an engineering major, said with scorn, "literature. When are they going to seal that ancient dried up corpse shut for good!"
"Hopefully yesterday," Charles remarked.
"Or the day before!" quipped Raymond.
"Ah, the twins!" exclaimed Tony a couple days later as the Diggers, as they had come to be known throughout Colpen, made their way to the Lost City.
"Miss Re and Miss In Re: to what do we owe the pleasure of your company?" inquired Lulu. The Elvin twins were known to be rather aloof, rarely associating with any of the other youths outside of school. The Elvins were unofficially the first family of Colpen; Mr Elvin had been mayor, when Colpen still had a mayor, and was now its principal manager. Mrs Elvin was a Colpen, one of only half a dozen descendants of the original builder of the community. And though the Colpen descendants regularly socialized, none of them ever had any dealings with old Miss Colpen, who had become socially disinherited as well as the community's acknowledged recluse.
"We heard through the grapevine about your little adventure and decided to see for ourselves," Miss Re answered.
"That is," Miss In Re added, "if it's alright with everyone." They were assured it was most certainly alright.
"The pleasure is all theirs," said Lulu. There had been some friction between Lulu and the Elvin twins, concerning Tony - before Tony chose Johanna as "my favorite gal and eventual wife and mother of my kids."
"Hopefully they won't be too ugly," Lulu had quipped when informed of Tony's plans for Johanna.
The dig went as expected, with one slight variation: Brisbane and Elizabeth Calister were already on site when the Diggers arrived.
"Mom, dad, what are you doing here?" Bobby asked, happy to see his parents and not a little hopeful they might tell the others to leave the site alone, in effect disbanding the group.
"I've decided to see for myself what's going on at this archeological site," Elizabeth told her son. "Bris was good enough to join me."
"We're both interested in what you've been finding of late," Brisbane added.
"I know there's another city down there - I just know it!" Bobby insisted.
"Who's turn is it to dig?" asked AM in somewhat of a dejected tone. He missed the days when it was just him doing the digging.
"Remember: weren't we going to draw straws?" Johanna pointed out.
"Okay," Tony agreed. "Let's get some straws!"
Raymond J Everstart won the draw. He dug for an hour and a half without stopping, Bobby, the whole time, watching his parents to see their reaction when Raymond's digging finally revealed a glimpse of the new city; but nothing below came into view, only the inevitable water spurting up through the hole.
"Maybe our being here kept it from happening," Elizabeth suggested.
"Or maybe the twins were bad luck," Lulu, in turn, offered.
"Guess we'll never know."
"I may be getting married on the summer solstice," Electra told Elizabeth in confidence as they were leaving. "Don't say anything just yet," she cautioned. "Townsend just proposed last night, and hasn't yet settled on a date - but I want it to be June 21st. That way I only have to come up with something old, something new, and something borrowed - the beam of light can be the something blue. Also, graduation will be out of the way and Townsend's father promised him a position in his accounting firm. Of course, in a way I kind of like Beatie a little bit better; but truthfully I don't see him doing as well as Townsend - but please don't tell anyone that."
"I won't say a word to anyone," Elizabeth promised.
"The Lime Green Popsicle Tournament Has Been Cancelled," a notice at the corner of May Court announced. It went on to say that Lora Belonis had inexplicably lost the ability to make the special dye needed for the popsicles. Everything turned blue, then orange, then bled yellow and red.
"What do you make of this turn of events?" Sol asked Mr Brown.
"Absolutely nothing!" Mr Brown emphatically replied. "Every year Mrs Belonis' popsicles were turning less and less green - and they've never been anywhere near lime green! It was getting to be a farce, and she knew it. If you ask me, it was Colpen's Sycamore that's responsible somehow - I haven't quite figured it out just yet. If you ask me, that tree's not right. It's just not right. That's from standing so close to old Miss Colpen's front window, if you ask me. I'll keep a watch out, though. Someone's got to."
AM, Bobby and the rest of the diggers happened by just as Sol was moving on.
"You were right grandpa," AM told Mr Brown. "It's what you said all along."
"That tree's not right. It's just not right. Keep your distance," Mr Brown warned his grandson and anyone else who might be listening.
May 21st there was no dig. Everyone wanted to be bright and ready for the monthly program.
"Two Gentlemen of Verona," as they liked to call themselves, conjured up a shadow play using puppets, marionettes and stationary cut outs. The show was titled "Amazing Grace."
The first puppet came forth to warn the audience that "The dark shadows we took for ghosts or even demons are not from beyond anything; but from time vortices rendered askance of their tentative niche within the dark void. Be afraid...be very afraid...."
An oarsman rowing a boat came next, but spoke nothing as he moved silently across the stage and disappeared over the edge.
"These gentlemen must think the earth's flat!" someone in the audience whispered.
"I am Sandy," said the next figure to appear. "I've come to collect slaves." As he spoke, a panther crept up behind him and whispered in his ear "Then be enslaved yourself." "I do it for the adventure," Sandy told the panther. "Our people do not see it as an adventure," said the panther. "They will once I've taken them to California to work the fields." "They have fields here to work." "There is no adventure in working their own fields." "Why to California?" "The Queen of the Universe, whose kingdom I come from, refuses to have slaves within her borders. But my Captain and his ship, the Monterey Bay, sail from the islands of California." "You will soon leave his ship to Captain your own; but it will be to free slaves, not to catch them." Its warning delivered, the panther disappeared deep into the forest.
A storm came upon Sandy and washed him overboard; a rope thrown to him failed to reel him in. He swam to shore, only to be taken up by five tall men who tied him to a tree and left him. Again the panther appeared, this time with three others. "We will release you," they told Sandy, "but only if you swear to release your vow of captivity, to become their liberator." "I will think on it," Sandy promised. "Think too long and you will die for we are not the only beasts stalking these woods."
When the sun came up and the tall men returned, Sandy was free of his ropes. He told them the panthers compelled him to renounce slavery and take up liberation. "How will you do that?" the tall men asked. "I will commandeer a sailing ship - perhaps the Queen Alice, which is docked in Kingston Harbor."
Another moon arose; then another sun. A sailing ship came into focus: the Queen Alice, a ship of liberation, which attacked and plundered a slave ship and set its slaves free. Sandy had taken not only a ship but a wife as well - a wife whose first husband pursued the Queen Alice as First Mate of the Monterey Bay, the ship in which Sandy had brought slaves to the fields of California to serve a life of adventure.
A fierce battle raged. The Queen Alice was sunk; Sandy and his wife were taken aboard the Monterey Bay as prisoners. A fierce wave arose from the ocean; it carried the Monterey Bay across the water onto the land of the Americas. Sandy and his wife's husband were pulled into the tide. The Queen of the Universe was pulled from her capital by the tide. Only Sandy arose out of the tide. He climbed aboard a rowboat and made his way across the ocean to the place he first encountered the panthers. They were waiting for him and summoned him deep within the jungle to be judged for his time as a slave trader.
The shadow play ended with the panthers leading Sandy into the dark.
When the applause died down, the two creators and executors of the shadow play came from behind the set to speak to the audience.
"We were told our story parallels the real life story of an Englishman whose name was John Newton."
At the mention of that name the entire audience was abuzz. Deputy Sheriff Sluter stood up to silence the crowd.
"Because of this parallel - which we knew nothing about when we crafted our story - we chose to call our presentation 'Amazing Grace,' in honor of John Newton, who penned that hymn."
And so the mystery which had plagued Deputy Sluter for a month was in a flash solved. Still, he continued accompanying the Diggers on their daily digs, having grown quite used to their company as well as to the intrigue of watching a world beneath the Lost City slowly open up to reveal itself. In his mind was the injunction that where there's mystery there's a perfect setup for crime; so he kept close vigil on the Diggers' activities, paying special attention to the apparent rivalry between AM and Tony, which he attributed to one of the girls, most likely Johanna. In this vein, he meant to check out the names scribbled throughout Colpen's sidewalks to try and get a fix on exactly who loves or had at one time loved whom. Names had occasionally been scratched out, sometimes entirely, sometimes partially, as the name of the man trapped and killed within a stretch of sidewalk had been. He noticed too that Bobby Calister's name had been only partially scratched out - if it really was that Bobby and not some other.
One afternoon he came upon a strange nomenclature on an obscure stretch of sidewalk; and made a mental note to check it out the next time his rounds took him to October Court.
Bobby asked his teacher if time and gravity were the same thing; and, if so, were there equations circumscribing the relationship. He was told no, so far as anyone could determine, they were not the same phenomenon; but that there was actually some indication they might be opposite phenomena. An obscure scientist had proposed gravity to be strengthened in the absence of time, as at the event horizon of a black hole; and weakened or even eliminated completely where time was strongest, for example in the space between galaxies.
"Mom, you have to come back and watch again when we dig, so you can see the new city. More and more of it's being uncovered every time we dig. That other time had to be a fluke."
"I will," Elizabeth promised.
When, a week later, Elizabeth again accompanied the Diggers, the dig revealed no new sight, only water filling the hole.
Sol and his companion too accompanied the Diggers. He told Elizabeth the new city was not yet ready to reveal itself to her, a sentiment Bobby readily agreed with.
"Ah," Elizabeth quipped, "is that because I do archeology the old fashioned way: rather than wait for it to come to me, I go to it?"
"Just the opposite," Sol, in turn, quipped, "you do wait for the site to come to you, as do all archeologists. Whereas your son goes to the site, seeks it out, and in so doing creates it."
"So I'll have to wait till it's all complete?" Elizabeth asked.
Sol nodded yes to that.
"The Orange Class would like to accompany the Diggers tomorrow, June 3rd, on a field trip," it was announced.
This was a Junior High Class which, though no one refused, none of the Diggers really wanted to accompany them - least of all Bobby, even if they were closer to his own age than the rest of the group.
"They'll only get in the way," he told the others.
"And don't anyone mention Southern Necessaries," AM added, "or they'll be the rest of the day giggling and whispering and pointing."
June 3rd came and went and everything went as usual. A few of the class members were first to spot something down below and offered helpful suggestions for ways to keep the water from terminating the day's dig, as it always did.
"I'm studying to be a hydrologist," one explained. "Since water seeks its own level," he went on to explain, "by digging several holes, the water may not rise quite as high in any one place."
Since they only had one shovel, they set up a dig brigade, one person digging a little then passing the shovel to the next, until ten diggers stood watch over ten gradually deepening holes. The process appeared at first to be working; but then all of a sudden the first hole filled up and splashed the digger and the other nine holes began closing over.
"Something strange here," the budding hydrologist speculated, his classmates readily agreeing. "I'd like to come back tomorrow and try another strategy," he suggested, his classmates again in agreement.
"Ah," quipped AM, "'tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.'"
And, indeed, tomorrow did lead to another, and another, and another. The Orange Class officially became part of the Diggers - for almost a week the newest members, till Jonesy, reprising his clown costume, brought his uncle Jones, once a real clown, in a real circus, replete with all manner of tales of trapeze artists, tightrope walkers, lion tamers and even elephants performing the most delicate feats of finesse atop their trainers' heads.
"I only witnessed one instance of crushing - not fatal though!" Jones told the group. "A big bull elephant sneezed and his trunk slapped his trainer unconscious. Didn't kill him, but he had trouble with his balance from then on. But he never left the circus."
The Diggers all applauded the trainer's perseverance.
Word spread; and in less than a week another class scheduled another field trip to the Lost City to witness and, possibly even join, the Diggers' dig the following Thursday. The Azure Class, a potpourri of grade school, junior high and high school students all proficient at math and ballet made their way after school Thursday to the entrance to the Lost City to await the Diggers, not realizing the hidden entrance Bobby's friend Eddie had found was the Diggers' official point of entry.
"Maybe they have something against our field of study," one of the Azure Class suggested.
"Everyone likes math," a second student assured his classmates.
Just by chance Deputy Sheriff Sluter was running late and decided to take the archeologists' entrance. He inquired why the kids were loitering at this entrance and was told they were waiting for the Diggers, upon which he set them straight where they should have stationed themselves, after which he invited them to join him as his personal guests.
"I've always been partial to math and ballet," he told the class.
"We were beginning to think they didn't like math," he in turn was told.
"Nah, some of them are real math and science whizzes," Sluter assured the students.
"Math and science," some of the students mused; "that's an interesting combination - a bit bizarre, but interesting."
Once the Azure Class got themselves situated among the Diggers, a controversy of sorts broke out regarding who would do the digging. After much discussion, it was decided the only fair way was to draw straws, a compromise bound to prolong the dig, much to Bobby's chagrin. He had a feeling something big would happen today. So while the straws were being made, then drawn, Bobby took up the shovel and began digging at a frenetic pace, not stopping even when the water began squirting up to nearly saturate the legs of his Southern Necessary.
"Easy there son," said Sluter; but Bobby ignored him and kept digging at the same pace, easing up only when, unlike any previous dig, the water began receding, revealing more and more of what lay beneath the Lost City. Nothing could stop him digging, not even when Jones the Clown began performing some of his clown tricks, which thoroughly enchanted everyone else, their enchantment only increasing when Jones' nephew Jonesy joined the clown show.
Finally Bobby stopped when so much had revealed itself that he became concerned for the safety of the new city. Afraid he might actually damage some of the structure, he laid his shovel down and pronounced today's dig done.
"What a shame," some of the Diggers said, "all this work and it'll all fill in before tomorrow. Maybe we should keep going."
"No," said Bobby in a voice that left no room for discussion. "It won't fill over. Not this time."
With that, everyone departed the dig site to head home.
Bobby, AM and a few more were passing Mr Brown's house when the ground shook. All of Colpen felt it. Everyone came out to see who or what had caused it.
"The Big One!" Mr Brown called to his grandson as he motioned the little group to his porch.
"Grandpa: we don't have earthquakes, we've never had an earthquake here - never!"
Mr Brown shook his head. "Wasn't no earthquake. Something much bigger. Bigger than when Bobby's mother found the Lost City - remember how the ground shook then? Shook for three days. This'll go on longer than that, mark my words."
"So what is it?"
"Something's trying to push up from below. Something new and big and anxious to get going. Something you kids have dug loose. You found something down there. It was trying not to be found, but you did anyway, now it wants out. It's ready to get going."
"There's another city down there, beneath the Lost City," AM told his grandfather. "We think that's where all those people who got sucked into the sidewalk ended up."
"Like your friend Moozie," Mr Brown noted.
"And my best friend Eddie," Bobby added.
"You'll never find 'em, 'cause by God they'll find you first - mark my words. While you're busy looking for 'em they'll walk up, tap you on the shoulder, and say 'Boo!' Mark my words."
"If only that could happen," wished AM; but Mr Brown shook his head and cautioned his grandson to be careful what he wished for.
During the conversation, Sol and his companion joined the group. Both seconded Mr Brown's advice, focusing their attention on Bobby, who for some reason found himself focused on Sol's shoes.
What are Sol's shoes trying to tell me, Bobby wondered.
"Mom's almost got her program ready," AM informed his grandfather. "Will you be there?"
"I'd sure like to - if I don't get arrested first."
Meanwhile a few more stragglers wandered by, Deputy Sheriff Sluter and the Azure Class among them. Mr Brown's statement immediately caught Sluter's attention.
"Hold it right there!" he ordered. "What's this about you being arrested?"
"Just planning ahead," Mr Brown told the Deputy. "Need to see how many pairs of under shorts I might be needing. Gonna be redecorating, maybe right after Summer Solstice."
"Nothing illegal about that," Sluter assured him.
"Should be," Mr Brown retorted.
Everyone in Colpen agreed that when the ground shook, just as before, it felt like the ground was pushing up rather than shaking. The same was true each of the next six days the ground shook, each day's dig executed or at least overseen personally by Bobby, who, just by chance, on the seventh day rested, his rest dictated purely by the lay of the land covering the new city.
Enough of the city beneath the Lost City had come into view, from enough different points, that Bobby felt it was time to call in his mother to assess the site.
On the day Elizabeth Calister was summoned, a new group joined the Diggers. The very exclusive and very esoteric Religioso Literalatti, which took everything ever postulated about the supernatural at its most literal level possible. What drew them specifically was the seven day period of the new city's uncovering - and Bobby's heralded role in its unmasking.
"Seven days," their spokesperson informed the Diggers as well as Bobby's mother, "have been allotted but one power of creation - the all powerful, all knowing, all seeing, all present Almighty, whose name escapes us at the moment. None other may ever create in such a time frame. This place may be the Next Garden they speak of; and if it is, it must be watched over by those versed in the sacred texts. Accordingly, we must insist upon joining your group of Diggers to provide spiritual insight and guidance."
No one objected, though no one much looked forward to having someone looking over their shoulder every step of the way.
"The water seems to have receded enough so we can maybe start digging a passageway," AM said. "Who's up for that?" he asked the ones milling about.
"Better not to rush until we've uncovered some more and made sure it's safe," Bobby's mother cautioned. "The underground spring may need more time to recede to a safe level."
By chance, Sol and his companion had decided to join the Diggers this particular day, mainly to see what this newest group, the Religioso Literalatti, were up to and how they would affect the dig.
"It may not be an underground spring," Sol told Elizabeth Calister.
"It has to be," Elizabeth countered. "It can't be anything else."
Sol acknowledged the logic of Elizabeth's conclusion; but left the wisdom of it unaddressed.
While the others were debating whether to go with AM's suggestion or accept Elizabeth's, Tony drew Lulu aside.
"I'm going to ask Johanna to marry me," he told her.
"The only question is if she's stupid enough to say yes!" Lulu replied.
"She knows a good thing when she sees one, she'll say yes!" Tony assured her.
"She'll have the rest of her life to regret her decision," said Lulu.
"There was a time I could have been yours for the asking," Tony taunted his ex-girlfriend.
"I ask for nothing, master!" Lulu cryptically replied.
"You called me 'master'?"
"I was merely quoting a line from a movie I saw before we stopped watching movies: 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show.' There was a character in that movie who reminded me of you - still does. Maybe one day I'll tell you which one."
"The Hero - of course!" Tony assured her.
"Not every story has a hero," Lulu pointed out.
The days were growing long. "How does that happen?" someone in Bobby's class asked.
"The position of the earth changes relative to the sun," the teacher explained.
"What if that's not it though?" Bobby's classmate persisted. "What if the position changing is only coincidental to what actually causes it?"
"Any thoughts on what that might be?" the teacher asked.
"Maybe because it's warmer and we take our coats off, if it's true that we create time, maybe we create more time not having our coats to trap time and hold it in," the student postulated. "So the days get longer for the extra time."
"But the days themselves don't actually get longer, only the amount of daylight," the teacher reminded her student.
"But the daylight is the day," Bobby came to his fellow student's defense.
"What is the night then?" Bobby's teacher asked.
"It's where the time we make during the day goes, like maybe a pit stop on its way to the dark matter," Bobby suggested.
"An interesting perspective," the teacher noted.
Elizabeth Calister was extremely impressed with the progress Bobby had made at his dig site. Enough had been uncovered that she could begin evaluating the shape of the spires made visible. Something suddenly caught her eye down below that held her attention the better part of an hour; everyone gathered around her.
"Is she in a trance?" Bobby's classmate, who had posed the question about time then joined the Diggers, asked.
"No," said Bobby, "mom never goes into a trance - but I do sometimes."
"So do I," his classmate admitted. "But I don't see ghosts or anything."
"Me neither," said Bobby.
The members of the Religioso Literalatti, their attention riveted on Bobby and his fellow classmate, nodded, shook their heads and shrugged their shoulders during this interchange.
"What do you see down there, Lizzie?" asked Brisbane.
"Over there, on that spire - see?" she diverted her husband's attention to one spire in particular. "What does that look like to you?"
Brisbane studied it awhile. "Hmm," he mused. "Sure does. Looks almost like a binary code. Zeroes and ones. Can't be though, can it?"
"It has to be some other kind of symbols, a very early hieroglyphic perhaps, that by pure chance resembles binary code," Elizabeth concluded.
"You're probably right," Brisbane agreed. "Can't wait till we can see more of this."
Miss Colpen's drapes were drawn, as they always were twice a year, on the Summer and Winter Solstice. Every leaf of Colpen's Sycamore drooped these same two times of the year.
"I'd bring you in with me if I could," Miss Colpen told the tree. "You hate the wretched blue and especially the red as much as I do. A curse on all their houses and a pox on all their heads," she said as she sat down and went limp in her rocker till one minute after midnight the day of the Summer Solstice.
A new band that formed on a recent Tuesday somehow thought they'd be invited to perform at June's gathering. When they weren't, they decided playing a gig at that day's dig would be almost as good; so they followed along when they saw the Diggers heading for the Lost City.
"We're the Racheters," they announced while setting up their equipment. "We're here to play our latest song. It's called 'Catch' and it's the best song we've ever done."
Once they began playing, the Azure Class went into an extemporaneous ballet. While they danced, Jonesy and his uncle took out some rubber balls and began juggling them. Tony feigned throwing up all over Lulu, who merely shook her head.
Bobby moved as far from the performers as he could to commence digging, mumbling to himself that something had to be done to stem the tide of these distractions. AM, overhearing him, agreed.
"It's so noisy down there now, we'd never hear Bobby's friend, let alone Moozie," AM told his mother before the evening's performance. "Maybe it's because of Jonesy and his uncle, but now whenever I'm down there all I can think of is a bunch of clowns all getting into a tiny car then coming out. I thought I had a hold of what we were doing; now it's slipping away."
Hieronymus - Her - Brown-Crenshaw nodded knowingly as she worked her slightly graying but still mostly golden blonde hair into a tight bun.
"Every time the answer gets close," she told her son, "we reach for it, and it drifts farther away again. It gets smaller, and the bigger the answer the smaller it gets, like the box in a box, in a box, till so much less is so much more. The particles get so small all we can do is pretend they're something to pray to, even if they're not. We can't find them anymore, so we may as well pray to them. They prayed to a totality when they should have been praying to the tiniest speck you could ever imagine. The answer is a tiny speck deep inside the tiniest speck in the universe. Look all you want, you won't find it. So you may as well pray to it. It's all you can do."
"Everyone keeps talking about time," AM jumped to another, or perhaps ancillary, topic. "It's all they talk about at school. I don't believe any of it. Time's like sandbags being piled up on a shore to hold the tide back. That's all it is. Maybe it does hold it back for awhile, but only awhile. Then it spills over, whatever's out there, and gets everyone, first existing then not existing."
"We make time," Her responded, "our own time, as we go, not knowing we're building our own private prison. Time is our prison; we have only ourselves to blame, for making it, even though we can't help making it, it's the price of our being alive. My mother left one night, to walk the longest sidewalk she could find, as far as she could, knowing it would pull her in. At that time no one else believed the sidewalks were swallowing up everyone they could. Now everyone is starting to believe it. That's something better not believed, I think."
At the appointed hour, Her rose upon the stage, wearing a long white gown skillfully tattered to tell of a battle long ago begun, yet to end. The setting sun covered her; a single spotlight slowly spread above her as the sun dissolved its colors across the horizon.
Evie, the evening's performance began.
"Evie McKlintok, on a crumbling pier,
watching the sky slowly clear.
Evie McKlintok, hair of flax,
Trying to bring another day back.
Evie McKlintok, dressed all in white
Straining to find six pieces of light.
The sky was going where day had been,
Night was coming from around the bend,
To fill her eyes from the outside in,
To taunt her lifelong battle yet to begin,
Against her enemy, foe and tormentor,
Swimming below, around and all about
Waiting as only waiting can carry out.
Evie McKlintok, looking down, dark and deep,
As clock infested waters began to seep
Into the moorings of her crumbling pier
While the sky began to clear
And the day to disappear
As the claws of time drew near.
Evie McKlintok, thrown into tomorrow,
Looking for a way back to today.
Evie McKlintok found herself only yesterday
In tomorrow become today
Only not today anymore.
Evie McKlintok, a strand of days
Hanging from her neck to the ground.
Evie McKlintok, watching minutes
Gorge on seconds,
Then eaten by hours
Reaching up to unbend
The chain around her soul,
And pull her down below
Into that pool of clocks
Gathering to munch upon her pier
And rip its moorings all apart
And feast on poor forlorn
Evie McKlintok, yet unborn.
Evie McKlintok, slowly sinking,
Evie McKlintok, calmly watching
A whirlpool of clocks ever circling
Closer and closer and closer still,
Their hands all poised to kill,
Their faces all tuned to spill
Endless streams of numbers of twelve
Followed fast by tics of ten
Set to set upon a crumbling pier
To draw its moorings into the smear
Of timeless times of careless chimes
Of hungry endless days and years
Swirling in a whirling sea of slime
To disappear forever from here
Whoever is caught unable to climb
Out of the vortex they fall in
Out to the darkest matter in space
Where time is gathered all in one place
Until it comes to start the race
All over again when a new pier
Begins again to crumble apart
As a new swirl of clock infested waters
Begins to seep into its pitted moorings
To drag a new Evie McKlintok
Deep into the whirlpool of time
To free itself from her chains.
Evie McKlintok, her feet tredding time,
Poised to leap headlong into the sea.
A spread of dust and ash
Against her crumbled pier
Clinging till the sea of clocks
Washes all, clean, away, forever."
In time, but not perfectly in time, with the last syllable of Her's program a deep blue light began its way slowly skyward until it finally filtered through high cirrus clouds and disappeared into the longest day of the year's terminus at the shortest night of the year. Everyone cheered, everyone but AM, who covered his ears and shut his eyes and began to hum a song he called Moozie's Song, a song he made up of pieces of songs his lost friend liked.
It came a second too late, Her noted. Two seconds more and everyone might have thought they were supposed to applaud. But they must never applaud, not when I perform. Applause ruins the moment, makes of it an interaction instead of a performance. Kills its meaning, giving it a shared meaning when it has nothing to share. Just two seconds - two seconds - separates something that is from something that is not. An art from a craft; though it was Arts and Crafts when I was in school, which made me quit school. In only Junior High. To walk among the dumb and the dumbed. Father thought mother was dumb for the very same reason, and that was why she knew no better than to name her daughter after a painter other than Grandma Moses. But she was first to find her way out. My husband will be last. I will not escape, unscathed. I am too dumb to find my way out of this great cosmic paper bag priming itself to burst. I and the bag will be together at the final immolation. And the son I never had but Elizabeth did will be left behind alone to work it all out. While the son Elizabeth never had but I did will reach out till the end of time without ever touching another living soul. Blessed children, the both of them. Blessed, in an unblessed unholy place and time.
Hieronymus Brown-Crenshaw released her hair before leaving her platform, feeling it flow to her shoulders. Everyone knew not to approach to congratulate her. Everyone knew.
Sol and his companion joined the Calisters for the Summer Solstice. Sol did not care for Her's performance, expressing aloud to Elizabeth and Brisbane that it felt strained somehow, as if the words kept trying to get away before each could be forced into its assigned place beside each other. Sol's companion, though, said he loved it; and while he agreed with Sol that the words proved unruly, that only added to the sense of doom.
"Each part was trying to kill the whole," he said. "Until, in the end, they all ganged up on it and made it cease."
Miss Colpen's blinds, drawn when the day began, finally opened when the day ended. An entire block stood outside her house counting down to midnight.
"Five-four-three-two-one-midnight! Here we go!" And the blinds opened.
Electra's wedding to Townsend Clarke did not take place on the Summer Solstice as planned.
"The Amber Class would like to join tomorrow's dig," another letter to Bobby Calister read. He would have liked to have said no; but he said yes, knowing full well they'd show up anyway.
The Amber Class had words with the Azure Class. "Wrap your minds around this if you can: there are those who partner science with math."
"It's supposed to be Math and Ballet," someone from the Azure Class insisted.
"And Science and Skateboarding," someone from the Amber Class insisted likewise.
"But there may be a certain rationale to it," both classes finally agreed. "Even though it lacks balance."
"But what color would such a class be?"
"Maybe that's the idea: no color at all."
"No color at all? Just Math and Science but no color at all?"
Meanwhile the Ratcheters were setting up their equipment off to the side, having been cautioned that their playing might interfere with the dig.
"Something fishy about those kids," Deputy Sheriff Sluter informed Bobby. "You don't just call yourself Racketeers for no reason."
"They call themselves Ratcheters," Bobby pointed out.
Sluter shook his head. "When you've been around the block as many times as I have, and seen all I've seen," he told Bobby, "you look through what's in front of you to try and see what's really going on. I'll keep an eye on them, that's for sure. Ratcheters is too close to Racketeers not to be connected somehow. Mark my words."
Gradually the music grew louder as the Ratcheters set up and tuned their equipment. They had chosen a strictly musical venue for their performance; no singing, much to the disappointment of the lead vocalist, Beatie Graves, who in fact was the most accomplished member of the band. The whole while they played, and they played the entire dig, Deputy Sheriff Sluter watched them from a discrete distance.
This time AM did the bulk of the digging, at a pace much less frenetic than Bobby's had been when he finally uncovered a piece of the New City, as the site below the Lost City had been officially dubbed. And sure enough, once the first traces had revealed themselves, others followed suit, dig after dig, until finally so much had been revealed that Bobby was advised by both his parents to put a stop to the digging down from above in order to try and create an entrance from somewhere below the Lost City, just as an entrance to the Lost City had been located beneath Colpen itself - a suggestion which came as a great relief to Bobby, who was beginning to grow weary of the menagerie his dig had become.
Unfortunately, Bobby's entourage trailed along day after day even after the digging gave way to a more studied search for an entrance. Clown shows, musical performances, ballet sequences, skateboarding displays plus an ever increasing range of specialized activities, as one after another person, group and class joined the fray, took place every time Bobby commenced his search for an entrance. All of which kept Deputy Sheriff Sluter constantly vigilant for signs of incipient criminal activity.
Till one day Sol suggested Bobby leave off looking below ground to undertake a topside search. Bobby was skeptical; but because he regarded Sol as something of a guru - or, more precisely, given his assumption that Sol was an Indian, a totem or a shaman - he chose to follow the suggestion.
On the seventh day, he noticed something odd about one particular slab of sidewalk. It was not blank, yet it had no inscribed names. Instead, it had a sequence of numbers - zeroes and ones. He immediately ran home to tell his parents about his find; but when he returned with them, he found the slab completely blank.
"I know this was the spot," he insisted.
Elizabeth was skeptical, and suggested he had been working too hard. Brisbane took him exactly at his word, suggesting they return tomorrow to look again.
On his way home from school, Bobby detoured past the slab; and, sure enough, found the same markings. But when he returned with his parents, the slab once more was blank. The next day the same thing happened. And the next, and the next, until, on the seventh day of his discovery, he brought AM with him straight from school.
"There!" Bobby excitedly directed AM's attention to the slab.
AM took one look. Then let out a desperate sigh and fell to his knees crying. He remained crying as he knelt for an hour without moving. When he got up, he turned to Bobby and whispered in a frightened voice "It's him. It's Moozie. It's his face." Then he turned and walked away.
Bobby sought out Sol and told him what had happened. "How can that be?" he pleaded. "I know what I saw - it was the same symbols we found on the New City's spire. But AM saw his friend Moozie. And mom and dad didn't see anything. How can that be?"
Looking down, Bobby again noticed something odd about Sol's feet; but couldn't quite identify what it was.
"It can't be," said Sol. "It can only be what you saw."
"But why didn't they see it?" Bobby asked.
"They did. They just weren't ready to recognize it, so they saw what they wanted to see."
"You mean like it's something different for everyone who sees it?"
"No. Not quite like that. It's just something other than what it is. It could be anything, or nothing. How did you find it?"
"I was running home and something caught my eye, so I stopped, and there it was."
"You see: you had no preconceived notion what it was; so it revealed its true form to you. But only you."
"So I have to have mom and dad run past and just catch it out of the corner of their eyes," Bobby concluded.
"Or wait till they're ready to see it."
"I don't know how much longer Eddie can hold out."
AM told his grandmother about the slab of sidewalk. She asked him where it was.
"Sounds like the same place I wrote your father's name," Mrs Crenshaw mused.
"Why would you write his name?" AM asked.
"Something just told me he never would. Lizzie was the only girl he ever thought about growing up. But he could never get her to write her name over his. I just knew he'd never write his name - and every child should have that one little monument to their lives. So I wrote it myself: 'Baby Nuni Loves Everyone.' That's what I wrote. 'Baby Nuni Loves Everyone.'"
"It must have been somewhere else, grandma. I didn't see anything like that," AM told his grandmother.
Bobby pleaded with AM to accompany him again to look at the slab; but AM refused.
"I can't" he said. "I just can't."
The next day, Bobby invited his girlfriend, Callie, to come look at his slab. Bobby once again clearly saw the binary symbols - this time even more of them. Callie saw something round, like a ball, and something straight, like a stick - but only one of each.
"I wonder who drew that?" Callie mused. "Maybe someone on the baseball team. That must be it."
Finally, after a second week of searching above ground, Bobby decided it was time to return to the Lost City to resume his dig. He entered the Lost City to a big round of applause. "Here he is! Here here!" the group that had grown up around his digging exclaimed. "We've been waiting! We've kept your New City warm for you, so to speak! Hip hip hooray!"
Bobby noticed quite a few new faces among the group; several new classes and even a few Colpen officials had joined the dig while he was topside.
"Don't worry," Deputy Sheriff Sluter assured him, "no one did any digging till you got back. Everyone just passed the time, that's all they did."
But something was different. It wasn't until he commenced digging that he realized what it was. Though Deputy Sluter assured him no digging had been done while he was absent, he was forced to conclude the opposite. An immense area of the New City now lay uncovered, easily ten times the area when he had left off digging. But it was another development that puzzled him most; his mother seemed to have taken charge of not just the dig but the entire operation.
Perceiving her son's consternation, Elizabeth informed him that this was now becoming an official archeological site; and as such the digging that had been going on since Bobby first began looking for his friend would have to cease.
"But mom I have to find him - that's what this is all about!" Bobby insisted. "I have to keep digging!"
"I'm sorry, Bobby, but we can no longer leave this site to chance. It's simply too risky. As you see, a whole section has opened; it might easily have fallen in upon some of the structures. It's just pure luck it didn't."
"When did this happen?"
"When you were investigating the stretch of sidewalk."
"Maybe there's a connection," Bobby mused. "I'm going back up there again - then I'll be back!"
With this, Bobby took off running. He met Sol and Sol's companion on the way.
"Something's happening!" Bobby told them as he ran past.
By the time they caught up with him, he was already kneeling beside the slab, running his hands over all the new circles and sticks which had appeared since he last looked.
"I know you can't see them, but they're here! Dozens of them!"
"We see them," Sol's companion told Bobby. "The round objects and the straight objects. Binary code."
Bobby stopped running his hands over the symbols. "If I'm right," he said, "even more of the New City'll be uncovered!"
"Not uncovered," Sol corrected him, "but created."
"Come see!" Bobby called to them as he took off running again.
He ran all the way to the Lost City, to the site of his dig. And there, before him, not only had more of the New City been revealed: a stairway leading down to it had been uncovered. He started down.
"Wait!" said Elizabeth. "This has to be done carefully. We need to plot a strategy for getting down."
"I've got to find Eddie before it's too late!"
While this exchange between mother and son transpired, the group of diggers was taking sides, half suddenly cheering Bobby on, half cheering for his mother. The half cheering Bobby was led by AM; the other half by Tony.
Then in the midst of the incessant din of a fourth of Colpen taking sides walked Sol and his companion. Sol raised his hand; the cheering stopped.
Sol made for the dig, looked down, shook his head and turned to Bobby and his mother.
"It isn't finished," he told them.
"But Eddie -"
"Eddie isn't there yet."
"There won't ever be anyone there," Elizabeth noted.
"Not yet," was all Sol would say.
In the end, everyone agreed to hold off further investigation until Sol declared the site ready.
"Oh if I could only get my hands on that New City of yours," Miss Colpen thought to herself, "I'd rip all those symbols off and crash all those spires you all swoon over. I'd make that New City old before its time if only I weren't bound to this one spot of universe, this one time and place. If only."
"Way I see it, you got two choices," Mr Brown told a group of passers-by including Bobby and his grandson AM.
"What are they?" AM asked.
"Don't know," Mr Brown admitted. "But there are two. There's always two. Always two choices, you can count on that."
"What if they're both wrong?" AM asked.
"They're always wrong," Mr Brown assured his grandson. "Never known there to be any two choices, any time or place, where both weren't wrong."
"Then what do you do? How can you ever know which to choose?" asked Bobby.
"You can't - you just go with the lesser of two evils. That's what life is. Two evils, and you have to try and pick out the lesser."
"I think I always pick the greater," AM told his grandfather.
"That's my boy. Just like your mother. Chip off the old block."
Bobby was accosted on his way home by two separate groups seeking to join the dig.
"We're the Orange-Yellow Jacaroons," the spokesperson of the first group introduced themselves. "We're the History and Rugby Class. We want to join the dig. We think we can add a much needed perspective. But we're hearing the dig's been recessed. When will the recess be over?"
"I don't know yet," Bobby answered with a slight irritation in his voice.
"We'll just hang out till then," the spokesperson said.
Bobby was almost at his front door when the second group made its appearance.
"No doubt you've heard of us," their spokesperson said by way of introduction. "We're the Glowworms. As I'm sure you know, we're the Politics and Macramé Class. We're being groomed to fill the management positions when the current managers retire."
"Or until they all die," Bobby noted.
"So true. We'll be joining the dig after its hiatus. It's impossible to overestimate how beneficial our presence will be. We'll see you then."
"This is becoming a nightmare," Bobby told his parents the moment he entered his home. "Mom, dad: you've got to do something. Put up a barrier or something to keep everyone from overrunning the site."
"I don't think we can stop them," Elizabeth admitted. "This project has engaged the entire community. I've never seen anything like it. You'd almost think everyone's planning to move to this New City once it's uncovered."
"They can't mom! They just can't! Something terrible would happen, I just know it!"
July 21st the rain came, a heavy rain threatening to interfere with the evening's activities. Bobby put on his raincoat and snuck out; he didn't want to be seen leaving, but was.
"He's probably going to the site," Elizabeth said. "I'm going to have to follow him. I can't let him disturb the excavation."
"Leave him be," Brisbane countered. "The site can stand one small disruption. No one else'll be there. Not with a rain like this."
Bobby half feared the rain might flood his New City. He could almost picture his friend Eddie floating face down on a deserted street deep within the New City. Luckily no rain had gotten into the Lost City or found its way into the New City. Not knowing quite what to do now that he was here, he decided to descend the staircase into the New City. Once down there, he sat down on the ground and, for no reason, started crying.
A moment passed. He thought he heard steps. Looking up, he saw a little black fuzzy dog, which came to him and lay its head in his lap.
"Did you follow me?" he spoke softly to the dog. "But you're not wet, you couldn't have followed me. Who are you anyway?"
A moment later he heard another set of steps. He again looked up. This time he saw standing before him a beautiful young woman with black hair and wearing a long spring green gown.
"Who are you?" Bobby asked.
"Miss April," the woman said.
"Have you seen a little boy, like me, around here?"
"You mean Eddie? No, not yet."
With this, the woman turned and started to walk away, calling back to the dog.
"Come on Tai," she called.
A moment later they were gone.
Bobby for some reason didn't get up and follow Miss April and her little dog; and it puzzled him why he didn't. All he could come up with was it seemed somehow inappropriate, as if it would be intruding where he didn't belong. He wondered, though, how she knew he was asking about Eddie. Finally, he shrugged and dismissed the entire incident as a dream.
When he got up, he wandered through the New City, going street by street toward what appeared to be a central square, to stand there a moment before moving back to the staircase and leaving.
Music From Across The Way
The rain had let up somewhat, and by evening had stopped entirely. Under a huge canopy at the end of July Court stood a pavilion of fifty-six columns fabricated from a composite of stone, metal, fabric and paper, each slightly different from all the others in width, depth and thickness of its outer layer.
When everyone was seated, five men and three women entered from behind a golden curtain, bowed to the audience and bid everyone welcome.
"Music From Across The Way," one of the men announced. "Music from Vijaya Vitthala Temple, across the world in India, ancient Hampi."
"Ah but so much more," one of the women added. "Music of the Spheres. A Harmony of the Spheres."
"Music drawn from the vastness stretching between worlds," said another.
"From the darkest matter," said a fourth.
"From the place we know nothing is," said a fifth.
"Yet everything is," said a sixth.
"For everything goes there in the end," the seventh said.
"To dwell in the Center of Time," the eighth finished up.
Without further ado, the eight spread out amongst the auditorium, each going to a certain column. When all eight were positioned, they began rhythmically tapping against the eight columns, eliciting from each column a sound which in harmony with the other seven produced a melody. While this harmony reverberated, the eight musicians went to another set of eight columns, again eliciting sounds which conjoined to each other to blend with the melody still ringing. Five more times they moved to another set of columns to extract eight more sets of sounds which joined the chorus of columns to finally produce a dynamic clap of perfect harmony before it all went still.
When the quiet completely filled the auditorium, the eight musicians began again, reversing the order of columns, each set leading away from the perfect harmony they had established their first round to a final cacophony of sound as discordant as the first had been harmonious.
"The music returned from where it began," the eight musicians announced in unison when the last discordant note ceased. The audience applauded; the presentation was over. A fight broke out but was quickly broken up.
"Wonder when he's going to start crying?" Tony said loudly enough for AM to hear.
"That wretched music made me want to cry!" Johanna exclaimed.
"AM always cries," Tony pointed out. "He misses his boyfriend - who dumped him and ran off with a traveling gigolo!"
AM came up to Tony with a threatening gesture. "Don't ever talk that way about Moozie again!" he demanded.
"Or you'll wish you hadn't!"
Tony began laughing; AM punched him in the jaw; Tony punched him back. In a flash Deputy Sheriff Sluter pulled the two apart, saying "That's enough!" The fight was over. Everyone went home.
The next day Elizabeth, Brisbane and Bobby visited the New City, making sure they weren't followed by the usual throng of people.
"We've got to cordon this off," Elizabeth told her husband and son. "I want to find a sample of something I can have carbon dated. This surely can't be all that much older than the site above it. It actually looks newer. I just don't know what to make of it."
"How extensive do you think it is?" Brisbane asked.
"It's too soon, and too dark, to tell," Elizabeth replied. "I need to get lights set up."
As Elizabeth searched for something to carbon date, she commented on how dry the site was, considering how recently it must have been flooded, expressing concern that it could flood again.
"Bobby," she cautioned her son, "I don't want you down here by yourself in case it does flood again. Is that understood?"
"Yes," Bobby agreed.
Once a suitable piece of material was collected, Elizabeth and her family returned topside. Old Miss Colpen watched them go past her Sycamore on their way home.
"What you got there?" she wondered. "A piece of tomorrow, do you? We'll see. I'd like to tie that brat of yours to it and watch it spin around like a centrifuge till he explodes into a sea of atoms. That's about all kids are good for, adding atoms to the time-space continuum. My poor Sycamore could use a few more, poor thing is dying; it may not even make it to the end. What a shame. A worthless child lives while my precious tree slowly dies. What fool said life was fair? or God just? or time and tide wait for no man? Show me the fool and I'll yank his tongue out."
Since Bobby promised not to return to the New City just yet, he spent his afternoons at the sidewalk slab working with the symbols, which would suddenly disappear whenever anyone else passed too closely, then reappear once the coast was clear. Even Sol and his companion drove the symbols underground.
"I would have thought they would have stayed for you guys," Bobby told them.
"No," said Sol, "they're only there for you. Only you can work them, just as only you can finish uncovering the New City. They showed themselves to us only once, no more."
"Mom is going to carbon date it," Bobby told them.
"She's in for a very big surprise," Sol warned.
Bobby told of his encounter with Miss April and her little dog.
"So they've already begun moving in," Sol's companion observed.
"She said she hadn't seen Eddie yet," Bobby reported.
"He may be too far ahead of her," Sol explained.
"I'll find him though," Bobby promised.
"Or create him," Sol's companion said.
As Sol and his companion went their way, Bobby again watched the way Sol walked, still cognizant of some peculiarity but still unable to put his finger on it.
Everyone in the group was milling around, patiently awaiting the green light to again go down below. Elizabeth had cordoned off both entrances to the Lost City to make sure the city beneath it went undisturbed. No one seemed to mind the restriction, they simply took it in stride; even the latest to join the Diggers accepted that when it was their time they would be admitted. Bobby alone found the wait almost too restrictive; but he too accepted his mother's right as Colpen's archeologist to establish the conditions of entry. He sat moping; AM came and sat beside him.
"Some of the Math students got together, over there, with some of the Science students. They're talking about how everything in the universe can be reduced to equations, even living beings. I'm sure they're right. I just hope everyone has their own equation. Grandpa was talking about how everyone would one day be given a number, and that's the only way they would know each other. There'd be no names. Now not even numbers but equations. I like that; it reduces our identity to the same as every other thing in the universe. We're not who we are or even what we are but only our mathematical equivalent. They were talking about how difficult that would make it to find each other; but it wouldn't. If we were equations, I know I could pick out Moozie from among a hundred billion others, just like that."
"Not everyone would be an equation," said Bobby. "Sol and his friend wouldn't, no matter what. Neither would Eddie. Nor Miss April's little dog. Some things just can't be equations. They can't."
"Be careful what you equate," Sol's companion added to the conversation he and Sol had caught the tail end of. "The question you must bear in mind is whether equations represent what something is or what it does. It's easy to reduce actions, any action of anything in the universe, to a mathematical formula. But not so easy with the thing itself."
"Unless of course the thing and what it does are one and the same," Sol then added to his companion's distinction between a thing and an action.
"All I know is Moozie is an equation, and so am I," AM said.
"And I know Eddie isn't," said Bobby.
"What about yourself?" asked Sol.
"I don't know," said Bobby.
"And why wouldn't Miss April's little dog be?" AM asked.
"The way she laid her head in my lap, I know she wouldn't fit into an equation -"
"Or an equation into her," Sol's companion said.
When the others had gone, Bobby returned to working with the symbols in the sidewalk, moving them into varying patterns. He noticed that some patterns increased their presence while other patterns did nothing and some actually reduced the quantity of symbols; but he had no idea what to make of it.
While he worked, his girlfriend Callie came and sat down beside him and asked what he was doing.
"Moving those symbols around," Bobby told her.
"How many times can you move those same two symbols?" Callie asked.
"You see them?"
"I see those two. Are there more somewhere?"
"I see hundreds, sometimes thousands," Bobby admitted.
"Then you see all of us," Callie concluded. "All I see is mom and dad. When will your mom allow us back down?"
"She may never," Bobby answered. "She doesn't understand. To her it's just an archeological site. But it's more than that, so much more. It's where Eddie is, and maybe everyone else who goes missing. And AM's friend Moozie - maybe."
"So when we grow up and get married, do you want to have lots of kids?" Callie asked.
"We don't know even where we'll be," Bobby answered. "Maybe in the New City; or maybe in an even newer city beneath it where we'll all fall down to."
"If it's beneath it, wouldn't it have to be much older? Just like the New City is much older than the Lost City - right?"
"That's what mom thinks, that it's much older, so she wants to carbon date it. I'm not sure though that it is older. It may be newer. Besides, I wouldn't trust Miss Colpen not to try and eat the kids we have."
"That's right," old Miss Colpen thought aloud. "I just might finally find a way out of this musical chair I've been tethered to forever; and when I do, no child will be safe, I'll eat them all, and spit out what few bones there are. Then maybe I'll eat your liver while you're both boo-hooing 'Oh my babies, my precious babies, how could you, how could you? It's unspeakable!' Then we won't speak of it, we'll just do it and be done with it. Right, my precious Sycamore?"
Colpen's Sycamore lifted its branches high overhead. And as it did, half the Music and Gardening Class, on its way out of town for a field trip, slowly sank into the sidewalk, the other half soon joining them.
"We're coming back!" their teacher, watching aghast, cried. "We're not trying to leave for good! We're coming back!" The teacher's name was imprinted on no sidewalk. No one had ever joined their name to hers. She alone could have completed the field trip.
The Diggers assembled by the entrance to the Lost City this time everyday, hoping today might be the day the site was once again open to them. Word had already spread throughout Colpen when the Music and Gardening Class all disappeared on their way to a field trip; and though they had yet to join the dig, they were missed none the less. So when Jonesy showed up in his clown suit crying like a baby, those who did not take his tears for part of a new clown show he was trying out assumed his crying was over the Music and Gardening Class's disappearance.
"Just goes to show you how sensitive clowns really are," Electra observed.
"Ah yes," Lulu agreed, "laughing on the outside, crying on the inside. Or in this case vice versa."
But as it turned out it was something far more personal.
"We were on our way here - me and my uncle Jones - when I turned around and he was gone. He was walking down the sidewalk - on his hands - I was walking ahead - then I looked back - and he was gone - he was just gone! He disappeared!"
"I thought only magicians disappeared," Johanna felt it important to point out.
"Jonesy," Tony offered, "maybe he got in one of those little clown cars they have, and got entangled -"
"Like a quantum entanglement!" someone from the extemporaneously formed Science and Math Class blurted out.
"No," said Jonesy. "He never had a clown car - he hated the very idea of cars! He just disappeared, while he was walking on his hands!"
"What a way to go!" said Lulu.
The Diggers decided to go look for Jonesy's uncle, since it was clear there would be no dig again today.
"Right here!" Jonesy pointed to one particular stretch of sidewalk.
Though Bobby had forsaken his special slab of sidewalk to join the Diggers today, he had kept quiet during this business about the clown's disappearance. He resolved, however, to go underground to look for Jones; but said nothing to any other Digger. Rather, he slipped away unnoticed and made his way to the Lost City; from there, to the New City, avoiding the cordoned off areas. Returning to the place where he encountered Miss April and her little dog, he sat on the ground and just waited.
In time, a very faint image appeared. Approaching Bobby, this image asked "Have you seen my nephew? He'd be wearing a clown suit. We got separated."
Bobby acknowledged he had seen Jonesy and Jonesy was looking for him. In turn, Bobby asked if Jonesy's uncle had seen a boy about his age. Jones shook his head and said "Everything is too faint. I can't see anyone."
"But you see me," Bobby said.
"No. I know you're there, but I don't see you." Then the image vanished. Bobby waited a while then got up and went home.
"When is the New City going to be ready?" Bobby asked his mother.
"I can't say," Elizabeth told her son. "I've just sent off a few samples to be carbon dated. That'll take at least a month, maybe longer, depending how old the site is. When I get the site dated, I'll be better able to determine how to proceed."
"Why does that matter?"
"Establishing how old the site is helps determine how fragile its composition is likely to be."
"But, mom, you can see it looks newer than the Lost City, so it must be sturdier!" Bobby reasoned.
"We can't always go by that," Elizabeth explained. "Being under another site has slowed the effects of weathering; but wouldn't necessarily strengthen the structures themselves."
"People are already turning up there - Miss April, her little dog - it laid its head in my lap - and now Jonesy's uncle. But none of them have seen Eddie. Not yet anyway."
"So you have been going down there?" Bobby's father asked.
"I had to!" Bobby insisted. "But I made sure no one else followed me."
"Maybe they did though," Brisbane offered. "Maybe those you thought you saw were some of your Diggers playing a trick on you - did you ever consider that?"
"Jonesy's uncle was so faint he was barely visible."
"Then maybe you had fallen asleep and were dreaming," Elizabeth suggested.
"It wasn't a dream," Bobby insisted.
"Just be careful if you go down there," Bobby's parents cautioned. "The whole area could be unstable."
"And there may be an even earlier site beneath this one," Elizabeth noted.
Late in the day August 21st, Elizabeth Calister received the results of the carbon-14 dating. She left it on the bureau though, to be inspected after the evening's performance. The day had been hot; but by the time August's performance was ready to start, a cool breeze had filtered its way through Colpen.*
Was Ich Dir Sagen Will
"Was Ich Dir Sagen Will" was the name of August's performance, which was given by none other than the Racheters, all of whom lived on August Court. It was a musical composition they had taken from an old tune, updated, added vocals and visuals plus even a little story.
"Was Ich Dir Sagen Will. What I Want To Tell You. What I Want To Tell You," the lead singer belted out a slow, dirge like rhythm. And as he sang, a shadow show commenced behind his band. A mass of shadows spilled across the backdrop, heading stage left toward stage right. Suddenly a barrier sprang up, turning all the shadows around, stage right back to stage left. Then at stage left yet another barrier of tall black arose, blocking their exit, trapping shadows on a barren stage behind a band, forcing them continually back and forth seeking a way away from the ever darkening backdrop closing ever closer. And as they moved frantically to and fro, the music, lyrics and band itself grew louder, heavier, accelerated and desperate, ever more desperate. "What I Want To Tell You," the singer kept belting out. "What I Want To Tell You. What I Want To Tell You." The shadows seemed to be listening, following every note back and forth against the backdrop, following, listening, frantically seeking a note to leap upon to escape the ever closing barriers. "what i want to tell you. what i want to tell you." Till finally the barriers had come within a heartbeat together and nowhere remained to harbor a host of shadows, one hair's breath from crushing all dark matter from the backdrop. When suddenly a note so high was hit it took hold of the shadows and lifted them up and over the backdrop, disappearing them against the darkened sky overhead.
The music, the notes, the lyrics all stopped. Silence, darkness. Then the lights came up, the band took a quick bow, and left.
Lightening suddenly accented the horizon; a few peels of thunder sporadically harkened the storm's approach. Everyone hurried from the pavilion at the end of August Court to get home before the storm broke. Everyone just barely made it in time. The storm was fierce, the rain heavy, the lightening criss-crossed the sky, occasionally jabbing at the ground in an almost blinding flash.
Elizabeth opened the carbon-14 dating report and studied its contents, her silent evaluation accented by an occasional "Hmm."
"So how old is this New City?" Brisbane asked.
"Very old apparently," Elizabeth answered. "Unless the test somehow got skewed."
"These tests are pretty standard," Brisbane reminded his wife. "I've never known a case where the dating was way off from what was expected. How old does it say the site is?"
"That's just it: it doesn't say. The test couldn't date the material - presumably the material's too old to have retained any carbon-14. The result is inconclusive. I just don't see how something that looks so much newer, so less weathered than the site above it could be so much older. It just doesn't add up. This would have to be ancient beyond anything ever unearthed - at least 50,000 years - and that can't be possible. I'm going to have to get another sample and have it re-tested. The site will have to remain cordoned off indefinitely."
"That's going to put a real damper on the Diggers," Brisbane said.
"They'll just have to return to their normal activities."
Returning to their normal activities proved ironically far more difficult than Elizabeth Calister could even begin to imagine. The Diggers could not clearly recall what they had done before Bobby began digging for his friend Eddie; it felt to them that gathering this time every day, after school, had gone on almost as long as they had been alive. They could no more conceive of any other possible activity filling their afternoons than of ceasing to gather, even if their gathering were merely perfunctory and no longer included anything even remotely related to the dig that had brought them all together these several months. Even with the dig itself on hiatus, they looked forward to gathering as eagerly as when they were actively seeking some trace of Bobby's lost friend; and the gathering continued growing as fervently as when it all began.
They rarely went to the Lost City any more; they just milled about close by, as if proximity had become a kind of simulated dig. Even Bobby gave up wishing his Diggers would disband and go home; he had come to almost ignore them - so much so that when they began gathering, rather than near the Lost City, at the slab of sidewalk where he spent most of his afternoons now, he paid little to no attention to them.
A Computer Science-Tap Dancing Class, the color purple its motif, joined the dig one Tuesday afternoon early in September. They had heard about Bobby's slab and decided to put their talents to the task of deducing a pattern in the continually modulating flow of binaries. Of course they couldn't really see anything; they went entirely by Bobby's description. As they tapped their way around the slab they tried various password paradigms, thinking if they could perhaps encompass the binaries within an ID, they could coax them into a more orderly pattern - all to no avail. Bobby kept shaking his head no matter what they tried.
"This may call for artificial intelligence," the chief Computer Wiz proclaimed, and at once set about designing and adapting such a thing to the task at hand.
AM was the only Digger reluctant to approach Bobby's slab. His previous experience with Moozie had alienated him from the binaries; so on the days when the Diggers came to this stretch of sidewalk, which was most days now, he hung back or else stayed away altogether.
"What are you so scared of?" Lulu, noticing AM's reticence, asked.
"I saw an image -"
"Let me guess: it was your buddy Moozie."
"Yes, it was. But there was something about it that made me think when Bobby's friend Eddie and the others become situated in the New City, Moozie won't be among them, not ever."
"Once you know you'll never see him again, there's nothing more to be afraid of," Lulu told AM. "Knowing it a second time has no further significance."
"I still don't want to go over there," said AM. "I hate that piece of sidewalk for making me see I'd never see him again. I'd take a sledgehammer and break it apart if it weren't for Bobby."
"At least let's watch from a distance," Lulu prompted. "Today's the day the Purple Class unveils its artificial intelligence machine to try and read the data Bobby says he can see but no one else can."
AM reluctantly agreed. He and Lulu arrived just as the Computer Science-Tap Dancing Class was finishing their latest tap dance routine.
"Now for the AI," the Chief Computer Wiz announced as he uncovered a small computer sized piece of equipment, battery operated. He turned it on and set it squarely in the middle of Bobby's Slab. On its screen a host of bars, lines and text ran every which way.
"Wow!" exclaimed the Chief Computer Wiz, "AI is going nuts!"
The Purple Class all laughed at this, so everyone else joined in and laughed too, except for AM, Lulu and Bobby. Everyone's attention was riveted on the AI machine, except for Tony, who stepped slightly away from his new fiancé Johanna to get a better look at Lulu and AM in the distance. He raised his fist to AM in a threatening gesture.
"They must slow down!" the AI machine insisted, surprising everyone with the knowledge that it could vocalize. "They must slow down!" it repeated. "Cannot analyze! They must slow down!"
Momentarily the AI device ceased all activity and shut itself off. Everyone heaved a sigh of disappointment. The Chief Computer Wiz apologized to everyone as he collected the AI device.
"Still got a few bugs I guess," he noted.
"How about another tap dance?" someone suggested.
"Now that we can do!" the Wiz assured everyone.
Seeing that Jonesy was off by himself sulking, several Diggers coaxed him into joining the tap dancers, turning the program into a clown routine, which nobody begrudged him.
Bobby spent the next seven afternoons at the huge game board for Go To The Cold Places, not so much studying it or working on a strategy for winning as simply getting a feel for it. Sol and his companion watched six days, as Bobby lounged about the granite game board built into several dozen adjoining slabs of sidewalk in the town square; then, on the seventh, approached.
"Have you gotten the essence of it?" Sol asked.
"Yes, I have," Bobby answered.
"You still plan to play?"
"Yes. And to win."
"So you've worked out a game plan?"
"Don't need to. I'll play it exactly as I see it."
"You know you'll be bringing about something that can't be stopped," Sol predicted.
"You'll be creating more time than this community can possibly produce," Sol's companion warned. "It can't go anywhere, so it'll fill up the New City."
"Then there'll be enough time for bringing everyone back that's fallen through the sidewalks," Bobby told him.
"Or sending everyone else through the sidewalks," Sol suggested. "By the way: did your mother get back the results of the carbon dating?"
"She's going to do another one," said Bobby. "They couldn't date the sample she sent."
Sol smiled. "They won't be able to date this one either," he assured Bobby.
As Sol and his companion walked away Bobby's face lit up. "That's what it is!" he exclaimed. "I knew it was something! Now I know!"
Bobby ran home to tell his parents of his discovery.
"Mom, dad!" he called out the moment he was halfway through the door. "I knew there was something odd about Sol - I knew it! Now I know what it is: next time you see him, take a good look at his feet! He's not an Indian like we thought! He can't be! He's not wearing moccasins! He's wearing Jewish shoes! He's the Wandering Jew - not an Indian: the Wandering Jew! That's what it's got to be! How neat is that? The Wandering Jew! That is too cool!"
"And his companion?" Brisbane asked.
"He must be one of those guys they call a golem - you know: that tag along out of nowhere! From magic!"
"So it would seem," Brisbane agreed.
"He may be Jewish," Elizabeth acknowledged, "but that doesn't mean he's the Wandering Jew."
"Ah!" Brisbane corrected his wife, "his shoes give him away! He must be the shoemaker of legend!"
"Alright," Elizabeth feigned agreement. "It's two against one, so he must be this Wandering Jew. Although it's no particular honor."
"His time will never come," Brisbane remarked.
Mr Brown had his eye on Colpen's Sycamore. "Yeah, you!" he pointed. "I'm watching you. I've got your number, don't think I don't. I'm wise to you, so don't try and pull a fast one. You go trying to scrape the sky and I'll be on the phone with Sluter quicker'n you can say 'sap.' Get it: sap."
The Sycamore's leaves began blowing in a breeze; but there was no breeze. Only old Miss Colpen blowing breath against her front window. "Don't you be threatening my tree," she said. "I'll throttle you and set your new brown doilies, your blankets, your curtains, maybe even your hair on fire. That's a promise, Mr Brown. By the way: you've got a lovely daughter. Though it should have been said to your missus, till she ran off with a sidewalk shadow. Maybe she'll turn up in Bobby's New City; but I wouldn't hold my breath. On second thought: do hold your breath. You'd be doing us all a favor."
Jenny Jenny - Dreams Are Ten A Penny
On September 21st night and day held each other in perfect alignment: the Autumn Equinox had come once again upon Colpen; at the appointed hour time for a split second would stand perfectly still. Everyone flocked to the grand auditorium at the end of September Court for a very special event. A single song was being sung by Colpen's most beloved, and universally recognized as its finest, singer. He arose on stage to a thunderous applause, bowed, began at once singing. He sang a cappella a song filled to bursting with sprightly music, yet no one minded or barely even noticed the absence of accompaniment. He wore his usual blue gray shirt and slacks and heavy black shoes, along with his blue gray cap.
"When we were children
We played in your backyard
And we pretended
Whenever times were hard
We built a house up in a tree
And dreamed of how our lives would be
But now the tree has died
So I gotta say to you
Dreams are ten a penny
Leave them in the Lost and Found
Dreams are ten a penny
Get your feet back on the ground
Woe oh woe oh woe oh
You dreamed of heroes
Riding across the sea
In shining armor
But all you had was me
But all the time you never knew
All I could do was dream of you
And still I do today
So I gotta say to you
Dreams are ten a penny
Leave them in the Lost and Found
Dreams are ten a penny
Get your feet back on the ground
Oh oh woe oh woe oh woe
Dreams are ten a penny
Leave them in the Lost and Found
Dreams are ten a penny
Get your feet back on the ground
Woe oh woe oh woe oh
Woe oh woe oh woe oh
The a cappella ended with a burst of applause and a standing ovation.
"Thank you, thank you."
"Sing it again!" the entire audience shouted in unison.
So Deputy Sheriff Sluter sang it again.
This was followed by another standing ovation and cries for yet a second "Encore! Encore!"
"Careful what you wish for," Sluter cautioned his audience. "I might just sing it in German. Two's enough - three's a crowd! So let me just give credit to the composers before I go: Gillian Irene Shakespeare and John Carter - though by singing a cappella I may have shortchanged Mr Carter. Good night, and thank you again!"
On his way back to the Sheriff's Office, Deputy Sluter encountered Sol and Sol's companion, both of whom had attended September's concert.
"How did you come by such a magnificent tenor?" Sol asked.
"They taught us well at the Police Academy," Sluter assured his interlocutor. "We'd better have had an artistic ability or we'd have been booted from the Academy."
"Two more to go, then the big one," thought old Miss Colpen watching the audience disperse. "Still time to sabotage that monstrous red beam. If only I could get my Sycamore to extend its roots all the way to December and coil around it; but I could sooner crawl beneath the sidewalk and do it myself as get my precious tree to spread so far. Still, there's time yet to think of some way to disrupt it. Or maybe this New City everyone's so keen about may end up stopping my having to draw my curtains a second time this year."
Bobby snuck once again past the cordoned off entranceway into his New City. It seemed to him to have grown since he last saw it. "Or maybe I've shrunk!" he quipped. He wandered through the streets, occasionally peeking into one of the buildings, hoping, even half expecting, to encounter someone again. And he did, much to his surprise.
"Mr Crenshaw!" he called; but got no answer from the figure moving along one of the streets. He ran after him. "I'll tell AM I saw you!" he told the figure in the jogging suit. "Do you have anything you want me to tell him?"
The figure stopped, turned, looked directly at Bobby; then turned back and kept on walking.
"Have you seen a boy my age down here? His name's Eddie. He has short red hair, big green eyes, and freckles. Have you seen him?"
"There's no one here," the figure said as it walked.
"You missed a really good show last night," Bobby told him. "Deputy Sluter sang this neat song called 'Jenny Jenny Dreams Are Ten A Penny.' And he did it without music. It was awesome."
The figure kept walking until it disappeared into the space where there was no more city.
Later that day, when Bobby met up with AM near his slab of sidewalk, he told of meeting Mr Crenshaw.
"Has he seen Moozie?" was all AM asked.
"He said there was no one there," Bobby reported.
"He wouldn't have told you if he had seen him," AM concluded.
"It's just the way he is."
"I wish I could find Moozie for you. I think I'd know him if I saw him," Bobby suggested.
"It's okay," said AM. "I know I'll never see him again. You might wonder why I even care so much. Tony thinks he was my boyfriend; but that's not it. I turned my back on him; then he just vanished, into the sidewalk, and was gone. It's like my turning away from him made him disappear -"
"Like I did with Eddie," Bobby interrupted.
"That was different," AM told Bobby. "You and Eddie both liked the same girl -"
"- but Moozie and I both agreed who my girlfriend should be. Only I got mad at him for knowing who my girlfriend should be. I didn't want anyone to know, least of all him. I hated him for knowing. I didn't hate him; I just hated that one thing he did, knowing what I wanted only me to know. So I turned my back on him; and he disappeared. And I'll never see him again. That's what even one minute's hate does: it poisons all your minutes, till the end of time. It keeps the person from ever entering your timeline again. That's what it does."
"I didn't hate Eddie," said Bobby.
"You'll see him again. You didn't poison your time like I did."
Elizabeth Calister sent another sample from the New City to be carbon dated. It garnered the same result as the first sample: it could not be dated.
"I just don't understand how it can be that old," she told her husband at supper.
"Maybe something happened to it to cause it to lose all its carbon 14," Brisbane suggested. "I know that's virtually unheard of; but there's no other possibility. Something caused it all to decay."
Bobby was following their conversation, and decided then and there it was neither a case of his New City being too old nor losing its carbon 14; but rather of being too new to be dated. That was all it possibly could be: too new.
Every day, Bobby spent time at his concrete slab with its ever growing number of binaries. Every few days, he slipped past his mother's cordoned off barriers to visit his New City. Each time, just as each time more binaries had appeared on his slab, more apparitions appeared in his New City. He even saw someone he was sure was AM's friend Moozie.
He ran after him and told him of AM's concern; but Moozie just turned and walked away. He caught sight of a family he thought might be Eddie's; but they weren't. He never saw Miss April and her little dog Tai again; nor did he see Jonesy's uncle Jones, the clown; nor Nunevah Crenshaw; nor in fact did he see anyone a second time. But he thought nothing of it.
When Bobby told AM about seeing Moozie, AM nodded as if this was expected.
"I wish you'd been with me," said Bobby.
"I wouldn't have seen him anyway, so it didn't matter," AM told him. "He's no longer in my timeline, like I told you. He's gone from where I am or anyplace I'll ever be. You only get one chance to see someone, then it's gone forever. He and I could be standing right next to each other, side by side, and we'd neither one see the other. My time and his time have gone to different parts of the universe. His dark matter: maybe it's near Andromeda; mine is maybe surrounding the Crab Nebula. We can never meet again. By the way: In Re was the girl Moozie and I both knew should be my girlfriend. Only she hates me because I looked at her sister first. That's how I knew, and how Moozie knew, she should be my girlfriend. It's just the way it is."
The next time Bobby was at his New City, he heard someone crying, very faintly, very distantly. He looked around till he finally found Jonesy the boy clown sitting on the ground holding a flyer advertising a clown show. On it was a likeness of his uncle Jones.
"No one's supposed to be here," Bobby told him.
"I just had to come and see if I could see him," Jonesy said, holding up the flyer. "I thought if he saw me he'd let me know, and maybe we could do one of our routines, like the one where I sniff the flower in his lapel and a buzzer sounds, instead of squirting water like everyone expects to see happen. But he's not coming around. Maybe I need to be sunk into the sidewalk like he was first. Maybe that's what I need. Maybe if I go for a long walk - off a short sidewalk - maybe I'll sink in and then I'll see him."
"I don't know," Bobby shook his head. "Everyone I've ever seen down here - even your uncle Jones - all said the same thing: that there was no one else here, just them, they were all alone. So I don't know, maybe you stand a better chance seeing Jones if you're still you."
"But I'm not me - how can I be me if there's no one left on earth who understands what being a clown means? I feel like I'm the last man alive. I'm all alone. The only clown left standing. It's just me."
"But everyone likes you," Bobby assured Jonesy. "They all like your clown shows. They're your friends."
"I know," Jonesy admitted. "But it's not the same. Not even mom and dad understand - only my uncle Jones understood. Because he too was a clown. He knew what it meant to put on a clown suit and go out there and perform. He understood how alone you are once you put on your clown suit. The sheer terror of being a clown. He understood."
For awhile nothing further was said, till Jonesy expressed his resolve to remain here, in Bobby's New City.
"I was never prepared for life," he told Bobby. "Wearing my clown suit meant I'd never have to get prepared. My uncle Jones understood that too. We were planning a performance for maybe November, where we'd sing a duet to that old song 'The Three Bells.' Everyone knows that old song. All about Jimmy Brown; only it was going to be about Jonesy Brown. And everyone would laugh. Then when we came to the end and Jonesy Brown winged his way to heaven, everyone would cry. Being a clown isn't about making people laugh - it's about making people cry. Only my uncle Jones understood that. I'll never make people cry without a partner. I can never truly be a clown again. So why would I ever leave this place again?"
"What about your cousin?" Bobby asked.
"Jake? What about him?"
"Don't you want me to tell him where you are so he can come visit you once in a while?"
"No, don't tell him. He's a nice guy; but he's not an understander. He thinks everything's fine with the world when it's not."
"Won't he miss you?"
"For awhile. Then he'll say it's probably for the best. Everything's for the best with him. And for the worst with me."
A few days later, Bobby encountered Jonesy's cousin, Jake Spraight, who asked if he'd seen Jonesy lately.
"He seems to be missing - I'm sure he's not, he just seems to be."
"He said he's somewhere for the best," Bobby answered.
"Oh, good," Jake Spraight seemed relieved. "As long as it's for the best, that's all that matters. He's kind of strange, you know - but he makes me laugh sometimes."
"Does he ever make you cry?"
"You mean like when we were kids and he pushed me down the steps for laughing all the time? No, he doesn't make me cry. He's way too nice for that anymore - especially when he's got his clown suit on."
Bobby spent less time at his sidewalk slab. He felt somehow his being there, maneuvering the ones and zeroes, was causing ever more people to go missing - this because he had noticed a correlation between the moving digits and the sidewalks opening to absorb people. Yet he couldn't tell anyone other than Sol and his companion since it all seemed too vague to be related; and even Sol had his reservations.
"It's more likely the digits move as a result of people disappearing rather than the cause," Sol suggested.
"But if it's me who's creating the New City - as you say it is - then maybe it's me making them disappear," Bobby, in turn, suggested.
"Oh it is," Sol agreed. "But not because you're moving the binaries around."
"You've created a city; now you've got to populate it. A city is for people."
"But I don't want them to all go there."
"You can't stop it once it's started," Sol told the boy.
"Oh boy. What have I done?"
"You did what you had to do to move Colpen to a new location," Sol's companion said. "The process can't be reversed."
The Air That I Breathe -
Men In A Mineshaft
October's presentation seemed drawn from the events surrounding Bobby and his New City.
A big jagged sign at the end of October Court proclaimed:
Red is Black, Black is Red
On a glass plane in nowhere.
Today is Yesterday, Yesterday is Tomorrow
In a glass filament in space.
A shadow show of sorts emerged from within the sign's lettering, wandered back and forth, from letter to letter, as if attempting to spell out the sign or to read it. They became visible when moving past a letter, only to shadow themselves once more upon encountering the next letter. Something about the lettering affected their movement, more even than opacity or translucence. When they reached "a glass filament in space," they seemed to stick, first to the lettering then to each other. They could be seen trying to pull apart, becoming more and more shaded with each pull, until, at last, they disappeared completely; finally re-appearing where the glass filament in space ended. But they had nowhere farther to go, only the jagged edges of the sign itself; so they started back, getting again stuck in space, struggling once more to get free of the glass filament. Only this time they could not free themselves. They stood stuck to "a glass filament in space" and finally disappeared altogether within its opacity, their very last motion a vain attempt to warn the next batch of miners, just starting out, away from the letters, the new miners only seeing their movement as a waving that all was clear and they could now proceed. The scene played out a second time with the new miners ending up hopelessly stuck and disappearing into the sign as they vainly attempted to warn the next batch of miners just starting out. Again it played out, and yet again.
When it was over, and no one in the audience was quite sure when it was over, the creators of this show stepped in front of the sign and took a bow. After the show, Lulu and her boyfriend Jake Spraight were roundly congratulated by almost everyone.
"That's the dumbest thing I've ever seen in my life!" Tony made his way through the crowd to tell Lulu.
"Ah, so you've never looked in a mirror, I take it," Lulu retorted.
"What's a mirror got to do with anything?" Tony asked.
AM had walked up just as Tony was asking his question; and answered for Lulu. "A mirror shows us who we might have been," he said.
"No one's talking to you!" Tony said to AM.
"On the contrary," Lulu intervened. "Anyone capable of forming an intelligent opinion is entitled to speak up."
"Are you saying I'm not?" asked Tony.
"How would I know?" Lulu asked. "You've never tried."
"You're just jealous I'm marrying Johanna and not you!" Tony threw out as he turned and walked away.
"Why does Tony think you're in love with him?" Jake Spraight asked.
"Tony thinks everyone's in love with him," Lulu explained.
"Well I'm sure not!" Jake Spraight emphatically proclaimed.
"Me neither," AM added.
"Ditto," said Lulu.
When Bobby next made his way to the New City, he saw no sign of Jonesy, concluding that the exigencies of real life proved stronger than his resolve never to leave this place. He did, however, see someone he never expected to see here: the man who was crushed to death when the sidewalk closed around him. Bobby had come to suppose that only those who were completely absorbed by the sidewalk could ever show up in his New City. So he immediately made for the man to ask how he came to be here; but the man held up his hand.
"Do not approach," the man told Bobby. "I am not here. I am still within the sidewalk. I will never leave the sidewalk, not ever again. All my time has hardened into concrete; it can never extend to the place time built. It's been used up. There is none left for here."
With these words, the man disappeared forever.
Bobby quickly made his way topside to seek out Sol and tell of his encounter; but Sol was as mystified as Bobby was.
"I have no idea what to make of it," Sol admitted.
The exchange occurred within earshot of Mr Brown, who piped in with "His head wasn't on straight, that's all! His body was stuck inside the sidewalk, his head wasn't. Pure and simple. A case of unmistakable identity - you never want that. No siree you don't."
Old Miss Colpen was listening; so was her tree. They both surprisingly agreed.
The result of Elizabeth Calister's second carbon dating of the New City only confirmed the first: the city could not be dated. As before, the result mystified her.
"How can it be older?" she asked Brisbane. "I realize it's beneath the other site, which normally does indicate an older site. But it's clearly not older - and certainly not so old it can't be dated. I simply can't account for it. It violates every known tenet of archeology. There must be something about the material that makes it impervious to carbon dating."
Bobby had been listening patiently to his mother considering everything but the obvious.
"Mom," he finally said, "it's like Sol said: it won't date because it's from the future. It hasn't even been built yet."
"Then it can't exist," Elizabeth pointed out.
"But it can," Bobby insisted. "The idea of it caused it to appear." He stopped short of saying it was he who made it appear.
"Ah," Brisbane interjected, "my son's been hitting the Plato, I see. The Idea created it. But it was your idea, wasn't it? to find Eddie?"
"It was, yes," Bobby eagerly agreed with his father.
"So you're saying Bobby made the whole thing up," Elizabeth noted.
"Could be," said Brisbane.
The Diggers still met every day after school. They were all there except Jonesy, who had secured a space within one of the houses in the New City and who would sneak back into Colpen, unnoticed, every evening to get supplies and use the bathroom - unnoticed except by old Miss Colpen regularly and Mr Brown if he happened to be up late. The only other absences from the Diggers' ranks were Bobby and AM, but only occasionally: Bobby felt a certain responsibility to make an appearance as often as possible since the whole thing began with him. And though AM would have preferred removing himself from the Diggers completely, he too felt a need to stick it out to the bitter end.
"Saw the little clown again late last night," Mr Brown told his grandson.
"What was he doing? Everyone wonders what happened to him."
"Thought maybe he was coming to entertain Miss Colpen; but no, he snuck on past. Sad sad life, being a clown. My grandpa used to threaten to send me off to the circus to be a clown whenever I acted up. They said I hid for almost a week once so he couldn't find me. Sad sad life."
"Jonesy won't ever find his uncle," AM told his grandfather. "Just like I'll never find Moozie."
"Just as well," Mr Brown said. "They'd be all shrunk up and wrinkled and skinny as a rail. That's what happens when you fall through time into your future. Yes siree: skinny, wrinkled and shrunk: the two S's and one W - they'll get you every time."
In the midst of another meeting of the diggers, as they were variously displaying their particular skills, an idea struck Bobby with such force it compelled him to run home and tell his parents.
"Mom, dad!" he called with great excitement, "I've finally figured it all out about old Miss Colpen! Forget everything I've ever said about her being a witch or an alien or anything else - because it turns out she's none of those things! She's a music box, or at least the top part of it - a music box dancer! And that's why she just sits there all day long watching everyone until the music starts playing and she gets up and starts dancing! Is that scary or what?"
"So you're saying she's not a real person?" Brisbane asked.
"No, that's right, she's not - she can't be real, not if she's a music box."
"Don't forget: a music box eventually winds down," Elizabeth pointed out. "And there's no one there to wind it back up."
"Doesn't need to be! There's probably a generator in the basement! We all thought - everyone did - she was old Mr Colpen's daughter he left here to look after his town when he left. But she's not - she can't be!"
"Hmm. Interesting theory," Brisbane noted.
"Sure is," Bobby agreed.
The next time he met up with Sol and his companion, Bobby told them of his discovery. Both Sol and his companion mulled it over a moment.
"I'm inclined to agree with you," Sol concluded, though his companion reserved judgment on the matter.
As it happened, the Diggers' meeting for that day had just broken up and Deputy Sheriff Sluter was passing by at the opportune moment to overhear Bobby's conjecture.
"A music box, eh?" he pondered. "Life sized at that. Hmm. I'll have to do some digging, see if it needs a permit to operate something like that. And all along I thought old Miss Colpen had taken a fancy to me!" he added with a chuckle.
"She'd kill you as quick as look at you," Bobby warned.
"Now that would put her squarely in the crosshairs of the law," Sluter remarked. "Oh by the way: the little clown Jonesy's gone missing. Sure hope there's no foul play."
Bobby said nothing, not wanting Deputy Sluter to know Jonesy was trespassing in the New City. Sluter moved on.
Jake Spraight, once he learned where Jonesy the Clown had gone, took it into his head that his cousin ought to be rescued from the darkness and the humorless perils of the New City. Jake was the one person who had failed to be impressed with Bobby's unearthing the city: in his mind it was a place whose time of discovery had not arrived and therefore should be left alone. He most definitely disagreed with Bobby's assurance that Jonesy was in the best possible place. He told Lulu of his plan to rescue his forlorn cousin.
"He'll die down there," Jake predicted. "I don't mean he'll starve because his mom says he comes up for food. But he will die nevertheless. When we were kids we played in his back yard -"
"Just like Jenny Jenny," Lulu observed. "Bet you even built a house up in the tree," she surmised.
"We tried to; but no one told us how hard it would be or how sturdy a foundation you needed. When it was done and we went up in it, it fell down. I couldn't stop laughing; only Jonesy got mad at me and said it wasn't funny - but it was!"
"I'll come with you," Lulu decided. "At least till it becomes a bore trying to rescue someone who believes life's better in the company of ghosts."
It took Lulu half an hour to become too bored to remain longer in the New City. Jake Spraight managed to stick it out almost a week, all to no avail. He couldn't find Jonesy. It struck him funny that he ever imagined he could find his cousin. He told Lulu, later, that when they were kids and played hide and seek, Jonesy always eluded him, hiding way too well for anyone to ever find him.
"Ah," Lulu noted, "that explains how he gets in and out of his little clown car so easily."
"It wasn't really his car," Jake explained, "it was his uncle's - well, not his uncle's exactly: Jones hated clown cars, but someone gave it to him. Now it just sits there, just waiting. Sometimes it looks like it's crying."
Where Jake Spraight could find no trace of Jonesy, Bobby encountered him now every time he entered the New City. This time he found the clown as he had never seen him before: smiling. Knowing how Jonesy equated fun with sadness, Bobby asked if something was wrong.
"No," said Jonesy. "I just had a pleasant surprise. Someone placed a bowl full of porridge - my bowl full of my porridge, with my favorite bent up tarnished spoon sitting on a birthday napkin - on a table in one of the houses. It had to have been my mom, 'cause she left it out sitting on the kitchen table ever since I left home. Maybe I should go thank her."
"That's a good idea," Bobby agreed.
The next day Bobby found Jonesy sitting with a most perplexed look on his face. Again Bobby asked what was wrong.
"I went home to thank mom. But the minute I walked in the back door, there was my bowl of porridge and spoon and napkin right where I left it. How can that be?"
Bobby shook his head. "I don't know," he said. "Next time I meet up with Sol I'll ask if he knows."
Later the same day Bobby encountered Sol and his companion near his slab of sidewalk with the ones and zeroes moving about and told them of Jonesy's dilemma.
"It's already starting," Sol told him. "Your New City is readying itself for its new residents."
"So Jonesy's the first," said Bobby. "When will everyone else get there?"
"That depends on you," Sol answered.
"And the Cold Places," Sol's companion added. "It's still not too late to turn back."
But Sol shook his head. "It was too late the minute Bobby set his mind on winning the game."
"Then don't play," Sol's companion advised.
"I have to," was all Bobby said.
What Now My Love
On November 21st a single spotlight shone upon a single casket being shut, the hand shutting it alone visible.
"What now my love," was whispered, followed by an even softer "what is now my love."
The spotlight moved horizontally to illuminate a second casket being shut. A second time was whispered "What now my love" followed by "what is now my love."
The spotlight then moved vertically to shine upon a third casket, a third hand shutting its lid, followed by "What now my love" then "what is now my love" yet a third time too.
And again the spotlight moved, again precipitating the same sequence. Over and over this same scene played out until every casket on stage had been put to rest.
"What is now: now, what is now? where is now?" a chorus of ghostly voices arose from somewhere. "Now is nowhere now."
Then the spotlight lifted to reveal a ceiling filled with dark jagged things dangling, coiled, oozing, congealed, coalescing into a convoluted sky covering the entire expanse of space above. Bits of sky sparked and hissed. Then all sound, all movement ceased.
The spotlight returned to the stage to reveal every casket open. Above, the sparking and hissing began again. One by one the closing of caskets played out all over again. When the last casket closed, all sound, all motion above stopped again.
"Now where did I put my watch?" a voice asked. Then the voice quieted and another casket lid shut. A watch appeared, but it stopped on the exact moment the lid closed.
The lid opened from within, a voice asked "What have you done with my watch?"
"Nothing," came a reply.
"Why has it stopped?"
"You made it stop."
"By going inside your casket."
"It pulled away from me!"
"No: you pushed it away from you. It never controlled you: you controlled it."
The lid closed for good. The watch free floated to the ceiling to spill its innards into the convoluted mass.
Then another watch appeared. Another lid opened. Another voice asked for its watch. Then that lid too closed and that watch too floated skyward, opened, poured its contents into the mass. And another and another.
"What is now my love? Where is now?"
- "Wherefore are't thou, now" -
An electrical storm was simulated. A late November storm, like which there can be no other anytime. More watches appeared, hurling lightening back into the storm. More casket lids were open, one by one shutting until the last lid shut out the last flash of lightening and the last watch rose, opened, emptied.
Finally no more caskets opened on stage. All the living were dead. No more watched appeared. No more sparks flew, no more hisses sounded.
"No more living left to generate time," a disjointed voice proclaimed.
"What now my love." "What is now become, my love."
The stage went black. The troupe made their way in the dark. The stage lights came up. Colpen's oldest residents bowed before their audience. The show was over. Only December's remained.
Ben's Device was left at the reception. The biggest, most elaborate wedding Colpen had seen in years, held at the non-denominational church on Colpen's main intersection. Tony and Johanna vowed their eternal love for each other on November 30th before a city wide congregation that included all the Diggers except Jonesy the Clown. The wedding took place at seven in the evening. Tony had pleaded with and finally convinced Lulu to be his bride's maid. Tony took her reluctance as a sign she still carried a flame for him from the days they wrote their names in cement.
"As long as I don't have to wear pink," Lulu stipulated. "I know how partial the little woman is to pink, and frilly, and ruffles and all that."
"No," Tony assured her, "there won't be pink, I promise you."
However, there was indeed pink, so Tony had to plead with Lulu all over again till finally she agreed a second time. When the ceremony was over and everyone made for the Colpen Community Center, Lulu breathed a sigh of relief upon spotting Ben's Device sitting on a table next to the buffet.
"What's wrong?" her date Jake Spraight asked.
"Just the opposite," Lulu answered. "There's Ben's Device. So if this pink monstrosity becomes too unbearable I can walk it over and have it cured of its hue."
"I don't know if it works on fabric," Jake cautioned.
"Then what good is it?" Before Jake could explain, Lulu said "Oh look! There's Anton. Come, let's have a word with him."
AM was escorting In Re and her twin Re also, arm in arm with each.
"I simply cannot see you without thinking of poor Moozie," Lulu told Re, who had dated AM's friend a time or two. AM turned pale as a ghost.
"He was a charming boy," Re replied coldly.
"Who evidently didn't live a very charmed life," Lulu retorted.
Tears began welling up in AM's eyes. Just then he saw Bobby and excused himself, saying he needed to see how Bobby's search for Jonesy was going.
"I'll go with you!" said Jake Spraight.
"I guess I will too," said Lulu.
"We shall also go," In Re announced for both herself and her sister.
The party made for Bobby. Jake at once asked if he had found Jonesy. Bobby said yes, he had.
"Is he coming home?" Jake asked.
"No, he's staying in the New City," Bobby told him.
For some reason this response struck Jake funny and he began laughing.
"Darling," said Lulu, "there's a device over there that can hopefully cure you of your laughter. Shall we?"
It seemed to work.
"Third time's a charm!" Brisbane noted.
"Yes," Elizabeth countered, "but three strikes and you're out!"
With this, Elizabeth opened the envelope, removed the communication, and silently read.
"Strike three," she told her husband. "They're still unable to date Bobby's New City. We simply have to accept the city being much older than it looks."
"Or, as Bobby insists, much newer than seems logical," said Brisbane. "Are you going to submit another sample?" he then asked.
"At some future date I will," Elizabeth answered.
An unusually cold early December drove the Diggers from Bobby's slab, where they had been congregating since being restricted from the old dig site, back into the Lost City, to mull around its outskirts, careful not to get too close to the dig site itself.
Deputy Sheriff Sluter continued his self imposed task of monitoring the Diggers for any signs of criminal activity, a near impossibility with the ranks continually growing despite a complete lack of the very activity that had drawn them together in the first place. Sluter estimated almost half of Colpen's residents were now involved in this New City Project, as it had been formalized by Colpen's City Managers. Someone had even made a sign naming this entire area "New City Project." A dispute was brewing whether to leave the sign here, in the Lost City; or place it in the New City itself - with Elizabeth Calister's permission.
"Hey, I have an idea," Brisbane told Elizabeth, "send a piece of this New City Project sign to be carbon dated."
Bobby joined the Diggers a couple times before December warmed back up enough to return them to his slab of sidewalk across town.
"Too bad we can't all go down into the New City," Jake Spraight observed on their last foray. "Maybe we could cheer Jonesy up."
Bobby shook his head no. "He's a clown because he doesn't want cheering up," he told Jake.
AM readily agreed. "Cheering up is for those who think being down is bad," he noted.
"God he's crazy!" Tony whispered to Lulu, who happened to be standing next to Johanna.
"I second that," said Jake Spraight.
"All in favor?" Tony raised his voice to ask. Everyone answered "Aye!" without much of an idea what they were voting on.
"The motion is carried," Tony announced. "AM: you're a creep - by public proclamation!"
"I could have told you that and saved you having to count so many more than seven people," AM observed.
"What's with the seven?" Tony asked.
"Crows can keep up to seven objects in their minds at the same time," AM explained. "And everyone knows you're a bird brain!"
Tony lunged at AM; they fought a couple moments before Deputy Sluter broke up the fight.
"It's a good thing we're down here or you'd be in violation of City Ordinance 93747 and I'd have to take you in," Sluter told the boys while holding them apart.
Once everyone had returned to Bobby's slab to resume their vigil topside, Bobby slipped away unnoticed and made for his New City. As he wandered its streets, he encountered a tiny car, which stopped a few feet from him. Jonesy's uncle, Jones the professional clown, emerged from this tiny car and bid Bobby hello.
"Where'd you find the car?" Bobby asked.
"It was just here," Jones told him.
"Did you know your nephew's down here looking for you?" Bobby asked.
"I've seen him," Jones replied.
"Have you spoken to him?"
Jones shook his head. "I stood as close to him as I'm standing to you right now. But he never saw me. I called his name too; but he never heard me."
"But I can see you, I can hear you," Bobby observed.
"I can't explain it," Jones the Clown confessed. "Just as I can't explain my sudden fascination with this car, when all my life I hated clown cars." Then he waved goodbye, got in his tiny car, and drove off.
Bobby turned and started for the way back to the Lost City, unaware he was being followed. Soon he disappeared up top, as Miss April's little dog watched. Then she turned and made her way back to where she had taken up residence. Momentarily, Miss April could be heard calling "Taia! Taia! Come here girl!" The little dog came running to Miss April. "One day very soon," said Miss April, "you won't come to me when I call, will you? You'll keep following the boy, and I may never see you again."
Bobby encountered Sol and his companion upon exiting the Lost City. He told them of his encounter with Jones the Clown and how Jonesy, his nephew, could not see or hear him yet Bobby could.
"You created the conditions that brought them both to your city, so naturally you would see and hear both," Sol explained.
"I guess they'll meet up soon enough," Bobby conjectured.
"They may never," said Sol's companion. "Remember: Jones fell into your New City; Jonesy walked into it on his own. They occupy two separate timelines."
"You mean, like parallel universes?" Bobby asked.
"No, not parallel universes: two separate timelines. Parallel universes can be breached. Timelines cannot."
"So you're saying I'll never see Eddie either - or AM'll never see Moozie?"
Sol's companion nodded yes, that was exactly what he was saying.
"I'll find a way," Bobby swore.
A chill ran down Sol's spine. "Perhaps you will," he said.
Every day Bobby staked out the game he had vowed to play and win on his birthday, devising bits and pieces of his strategy with each visit.
Every day his comings and goings were observed, carefully scrutinized. "I know what you're up to," old Miss Colpen said over and over, ever more agitated until one day she called out "Strangle him! When he comes by, reach down one of your branches and strangle him! The little brat is determined to disrupt my world, the world my father made so long ago I can barely remember him carrying me across the threshold to my brand new chair, and the first time he played my special music, and I danced around for the very first turn about, and everything was perfect and wonderful and promised to always be. But now that little brat with his devilish plan to beat the game my father created that no one would ever win. If he wins it, my world will crumble and disappear before my very eyes. So strangle him, my precious Sycamore: strangle him before he brings my world to an end."
Blocks away someone was watching old Miss Colpen watching and plotting the end of Bobby Calister. Old Mr Brown sat on his front porch rocking slowly, contemplating what might be going through his uptown neighbor's head.
"She's up to something," he spoke aloud, "and it don't involve just moving doilies or changing living room decor. Oh no siree, it's more than that, for sure. And knowing what I know about the lady, I'll wager it involves Master Robert Calister and his daily visit to those Cold Places. Yes siree, I'll wager every stick of furniture in my house that's what's going on. And that tree too, I'll wager. She's somehow got that tree to be part of her scheme, looking all sinister and madcap even more than usual. Yes siree, I wouldn't trade places with that young Master Robert even if it meant getting my wife back, or my grandson getting his friend back who paired him up with Miss In Re no less, as if I hadn't seen that pairing a mile away. No siree, I wouldn't want to be in Bobby Calister's shoes for nothing, not with Miss Colpen and her tree breathing down his neck."
Bobby studied every angle, every twist, every turn. He even dreamed about the game. He saw himself, one night, standing at the North Pole, reaching out so every snowflake that fell on the South Pole landed on his outstretched hand. Next night he saw a world bereft of all mathematical equations. On the third the sunset turned blue. The fourth night he saw a flock of birds fly away from a Sycamore tree. The fifth night was filled with electrical charges. On the sixth night five words emblazoned across the sky that told him The First Shall Be Last. And on the seventh night transpired one last chance. One last chance.
"Of course," he heard himself saying as the eighth day dawned, "tomorrow comes before yesterday is gone. Today disappears." One last chance.
AM endeavored to be with In Re as much as possible whenever the Diggers congregated, whether it was near the entrance to the Lost City or just at Bobby's slab. He knew she didn't really like him and would never consent to being his girlfriend; but that didn't matter to him. His being near her brought something of Moozie a little closer, even if she had been the cause of their falling out.
"It wasn't a falling out," he kept reminding himself. "I turned away from him for knowing In Re and I were best suited for each other. Maybe I'll ask her to marry me. That was when I turned on him, when he asked if he could be my best man. That was when it hit me that he knew and wasn't just teasing me. It was too intimate, too much like he had gotten inside my life. I hated him for it. I wished him dead, gone forever. Now he is. Only it's like I'm the one dead and gone, and he's still alive somewhere but I can never get there."
"Will you marry me?" AM proposed one afternoon early in December.
In Re was there with her sister Re. They both asked, at the same time, "Who do you mean?" The sisters laughed and clasped least fingers.
AM blushed and muttered some unintelligible answer, which prompted another round of laughter from the sisters.
Lulu was watching and sent Jake Spraight to find out what was going on. Jake reported back that no one knew; it had been just one of those inexplicable things.
"Oh," said Lulu, "Anton proposed to In Re again. Never mind."
Colpen was laid out on a circular grid, its twelve courts like the spokes of a wheel, or the cusps of a horoscope. Except it constituted a semi-circle, not a full circle, going clockwise from an eight o'clock to a five o'clock span, the remaining five to eight an open walkway. It was said its builder lived in dread of creating an actual twelve sided town, presuming so exact a replica of the universe augured badly for his creation and would render it an abandoned wasteland. When it was done, he went away, to watch it fill up with people from a distance, leaving his heir, Miss Colpen, to watch up close. She became his eyes and ears; it was said she reported back to him every time she got up to dance in place in front of her window. It was said too that he would return one day to oversee his town's eventual evacuation, and that this would happen on a special winter solstice when a great red beam of light shot up into the sky just after sunset.
On December 20th, Ben's Device was set up in the town square, just below and in the shadow of the game board for Go To The Cold Places. By dawn, people were already lining up to see if it really did affect their aches and pains.
Music sprang continuously from the Device; everyone thought it a lovely touch intended to calm and relax them, not realizing the music was not an accompaniment but rather the mechanism through which the healing properties of the Device operated. Electrodes were attached to the spinal column which carried the essence of music directly to the brain. No one was present, or needed to be, to operate Ben's Device. Each person sat on a bench and leaned back against a column, activating the vertical row of electrodes, each person given five minutes before the electrodes shut off.
The Device was housed in a small Kiosk heated against the December air and shielded from outside view if those using it chose to remove their shirt or blouse. It worked with or without undressing, but worked better in the latter state. At the end of the day, everyone who lined up was accommodated; everyone accommodated was healed of whatever ailed them. When the last person left the kiosk at 11:59 P.M., the Device ceased its music and shut itself off, in anticipation of tomorrow's great events.
AM left the kiosk exactly at 11:59 P.M. He was last to use it. He was purposely alone. He wandered the courts of Colpen, crying as he went, for wont of a cure. He had come to find solace from his pain at abandoning then losing his friend. He found nothing but soft music and a slight tingling up and down his spine for five minutes. He had undressed completely, even his southern necessary, but to no avail.
"I will never know peace," he repeated throughout his wandering, his refrain like a chant to the winter solstice. He had no idea he was being followed everywhere he went. Only Sol's companion, out alone for a late night stroll, saw his stalker, and smiled, and whispered "The things we never care enough to see."
AM finally stopped crying, went home, lay down, fell asleep, and dreamed Moozie had been following him all night long, when in fact it wasn't his friend at all.
A cold chill ran down Bobby's back, from neither the winter cold nor the brief snow squall that rained down at dawn as he stood before the game board looking down from its northern side; but from Sol's warning to him to leave this game alone.
Bobby shook his head and muttered "I have to, I just have to. It's the only chance I have to ever see Eddie again. I have to tell him I'm sorry. I have to see him again. I have to."
The sun arose. Its first rays struck a place across the board from Bobby before heading to the western side to sit one instant on one particular square. Everything the sun did was set in Bobby's memory, as was everything it did not do; every action it took in reality indicating an equal and opposite illusory reaction. Those, the four points, two real, two illusory, were the Cold Places Bobby must touch to win the game. He must arrange to land on those four spaces while avoiding the trap set on either side of each space. To land on any of the eight traps was to see his token slip beneath the trail and disappear down the game board. Beyond these traps were other dangerous spaces, any one of which would send his token hurtling directly into one of the traps: the eight beside each trap; the sixteen diagonally placed; the sixteen guarding each diagonal; plus one lone space hidden from view altogether until it was activated.
Bobby took it all in, then left, to return at noon, his moment of birth, to play the game. Before returning home he made for his New City to see who, if anyone, was there. To his surprise he encountered Lulu.
"Have you too fallen into this place?" he asked.
"No," she answered. "I came the old fashioned way: same as you. I think we'll all be here soon. I shall rather hate it here, even if Anton makes it. Will Sol and his friend be here, do you think?"
"No," said Bobby. "They have to resume their travels. Sol and his Jewish Shoes."
"Ah, so that's his secret. Well, I must go, get ready for this evening's show. It should be interesting. You coming?"
Bobby shook his head. When Lulu had gone, he walked around a while then he too left.
At 11:59 A.M. Bobby stood at the apex of the big game board, its North Pole. It stretched before him like a living topographical map, with land, sea, mountains, jungles, deserts; and, passing throughout, a checkerboard path mixing roads, bridges and tunnels. There was nothing to throw, nothing to guide the player, nothing marking pitfalls, and no escape route, no way back, no way around. To move was to go forward.
Bobby could begin moving in any direction. He could take a safe, flat path or a narrow bridge or a mountain pass, or he could chose a desert full of moving sands and distant mountains. He reached out first one way then another until at last he felt something wet against his palm. Taking up his token, he headed for the desert, a hot and cold place criss-crossed by many paths. He kept his hand outstretched waiting for the next, then the next, then the next wet tingle, moving in the direction of each tingle, arriving at a ridge of mountains, across and around which a marked pass beckoned; instead, he burrowed his way beneath the mountain, emerging at the other side, onto a plateau, his hand still outstretched. A host of paths stood before him. He started to calculate how many traps were among these paths, only to realize he could not; each calculation fell apart before he reached its sum, so he set mathematics aside and let intuition place his token on the correct square.
He chose correctly; but in choosing prompted a lake to surround his token, drowning every path. A sunset overlooking this lake turned it a deep blue; he sought out the deepest blue he could find and set his token into it and watched a path clear. He made his way along this path till the lake left and a great vast plain spread before him, filled with paths in every direction, each path ending in a gnarled Sycamore, each tree holding a nest save one, isolated in a vast jungle. To this empty tree he moved; the tree, once reached, re-positioned its branches to point a way through the jungle into a land filled with lightening, striking down on every square of every path.
Bobby stood watching, first for which path had the fewest strikes, then for the path with the most strikes. All seemed the same; except one held the lightening longer than the others, holding each strike till the next hit, as if creating something out of lightening, turning itself into an electrical component. This was the square he chose to set his token upon. His token set still amidst the lightening until finally the storm quieted and another landscape opened before him, this one jagged with black basalt peaks casting shadows across every traversing path. No path stood out from the others, no one square drew his attention. He stood there surrounded by jagged peaks and shadowed paths. A ray of sunlight suddenly shone upon one single square. Bobby shook his head, muttered "The first shall be last," and turned away from it to seek out, instead, the darkest, most inaccessible square he could find.
A third of the way through this field of black peaks he almost stepped upon a path half hidden beneath a meeting of peaks casting a night over it nearly bereft of light altogether. He surveyed this path from its beginning to its end for the darkest square, fixed upon one he could barely see, and set his token down on it. Slowly the square, then the whole path, brightened; the peaks vanished; and a final landscape opened, of pure ice tinged with blue and green separated by white flakes of snow reflecting the sun's light. There were no paths. In the distance lay the South Pole. Bobby knew he must get to the green first to reach his goal.
He started for it then stopped dead in his tracks before reaching the blue. One last chance. Blue was yesterday, green tomorrow. Tomorrow was the key to winning: his one last chance. But the sunlit flakes stood in his way.
Tomorrow comes before yesterday is gone...today disappears. Bobby knew what he must do: he must destroy tomorrow. Instead of making for the green, he made a missile of his token. Taking it up, he hurled it with all his might and shattered the green. And as the green shattered and disappeared, the ray of sun moved back onto the blue, together making green and, in doing so, propelling Bobby's token, buried deep in ice, the rest of the way to the Pole.
Bobby had won. He had gone from Cold Place to Cold Place. His token had not been swallowed up by the game board. He had done what no one had before done. He had won.
The entire community had come around the big game board to watch; first the Diggers then as the game progressed more joining in, until by the end everyone was there. By the time it was over and Bobby had won, the sign announcing this evening's presentation had been erected. Sol alone, at a distance, noticed that no one had put the sign in place; it just appeared.
"It's started," he said.
"We Go On," the sign read. A presentation by newlyweds Tony and Johanna, with a little help from Electra and the twins, Re and In Re.
"We Go On," taken from a theme park, turned into a foray into the future, culminating in a towering beam of skyward shooting red.
Miss Colpen's drapes were drawn the instant Bobby's token stood at the South Pole.
"You'll pay for this!" she swore. "You just watch."
"Welcome to our show!" Tony announced as the winter sun set.
Bobby returned his token to the hopper he had gotten it from.
"Tonight we will touch tomorrow!" Tony let the audience know. "We will be dazzled by all the wonders we'll see."
There was no prize in winning. No one had ever envisioned anyone winning, or imagined what a win would look like, or thought of a prize appropriate to the occasion. Though someone did commence a round of applause; everyone joined in.
"Thank you!" said Tony. "Let us begin."
Some called for a speech; but Bobby declined. His eyes were fixed on Sol, standing beyond the crowd. The look of resignation on Sol's face told Bobby everything he was slowly beginning to discern watching the evening's presentation taking place at the same time in the same place as his victory celebration.
"They'll all going to go," Bobby whispered and Sol nodded back.
All it needs is a flash of light.
The show must go on. We go on. On a red beam skyward; but back to its beginning, not to its ending. To begin all over again.
Everyone left off what they were doing to come witness Bobby's victory and see the evening's presentation. All at once.
Even Mr Brown. He joined the others streaming past Miss Colpen's Sycamore, except that he, unlike the others, saw its movements, carefully calculated to represent swaying branches in a breeze, but without a breeze; saw these movements for what they were; saw them as the outward expression of its owner, Miss Colpen's agitation.
"Wishing someone'd strangle that boy, aren't you? Thinking it'd undo what's happening if he was dead. Too late for that now."
Along the way, Mr Brown was joined by his grandson, AM.
"Thought I saw dad for a moment," AM told his granddad.
"He was first to go," Mr Brown told his grandson. "Wouldn't of come back just to go again, not likely."
Lulu came alongside AM and said to him "The world must be going to end if Tony's in charge of the biggest event of the year. He wouldn't know where to start."
"He took his idea from a big theme park he read about," said AM. "At least that's what In Re said."
Lulu thought a moment about that explanation. "Tony is a big theme park," she acknowledged. "It fits."
Brisbane and Elizabeth Calister came to congratulate their son on winning the game no one was ever supposed to win.
"You know it wasn't so much that it was designed so nobody could win as it was that nobody was supposed to try and win," Brisbane noted. "It was old man Colpen himself who designed the game, they say. It was said to be a kind of safety valve to keep the community he built from ever splitting apart or relocating anywhere else."
"It was a glue," Mr Brown was telling his grandson at the same moment Brisbane was telling his son about the game's development. "Yes siree: a great big tight glue, that's all come loose now and flowing in every direction."
"We Go On!" the big sign in Colpen's main square proclaimed.
No one had actually gotten ready for the evening's event. Instead, they all came as they were. They got up and walked out the door and headed for December, leaving whatever they were doing as it was, all streaming past the big game board on their way to December's pavilion, stopping long enough to watch Bobby playing to win before continuing on.
They had almost reach the pavilion and Tony's show when they all turned in unison and headed back down the sidewalk, from there onto the main sidewalk framing all twelve courts, continuing along the main sidewalk on its way out of town.
Bobby could see them disappearing into the horizon. He marveled at the awesome power of perspective, until remembering his own higher vantage point and realized they were not disappearing into the horizon but into the sidewalk, one by one, row after row. He ran after them.
"Mom, dad!" he called. "Get off the sidewalk!"
"Your mom wants to make sure they don't damage the new site," Bobby's dad called back.
"No, please! Please don't go!" Bobby pleaded. But they kept walking, ignoring his pleas.
"We'll be right back," Bobby's mom assured him.
Bobby spied AM and Lulu not far behind his parents and ran up to them.
"You've got to stop them!" he cried. "My mom and dad: you've got to stop them!"
"Can't," was all AM said. "Maybe I'll finally find Moozie."
"You won't," Bobby promised. "He's gone forever!"
"I've got to try," AM answered back.
Just then Tony broke free of his new bride Johanna and ran ahead to where Lulu was talking to Bobby.
"I love you !" Tony called out as he took Lulu by the arm.
"Oh, it's you," Lulu observed upon looking around. "I thought maybe it was Anton grabbing me."
"But I thought you loved me!" Tony said.
"You thought a lot of things," Lulu replied. "It would have been better had you not thought a single thing your entire life. But that's okay. It's the thought that counts."
"I thought Electra and AM were an item."
"There you go thinking again. Electra and Beatie have a thing."
"Beatie Graves? Of the Racheters? Not AM?"
All of a sudden Tony began crying. By this time Johanna had caught up to her husband. He reached out to her. He whispered "I'm sorry." But she just kept walking, as if he wasn't there.
AM put his hand on Tony's shoulder. Together the two of them kept pace.
Somewhere way back, near the end, Hieronymus Brown-Crenshaw stood a moment staring down till she knew everyone had streamed past her. Then she leaped headlong into the sidewalk.
Bobby stood perfectly still and said nothing as he watched the last citizens of Colpen slowly disappearing into the sidewalk.
Sol and his companion approached.
"We'll be leaving soon," Sol told Bobby. "Our work is done - undone, therefore done. We couldn't stop you from sending them away. But, the universe will carry on without them."
"Just not as long," Sol's companion added.
Bobby looked puzzled.
"It's all about time," Sol's companion elaborated. "The only reason any of us exist is to create time. If inanimate matter could do it, there'd be no life in the universe. But it can't. The universe got tired of everything happening all at once - tired of sitting still. It needed to expand; but only time can push the boundary - only time can create space beyond what already is. And only living entities can create time. So it created the living. Now they've taken all their time and moved it into the future. And it's no more to be had. By moving it, it ceases to exist; it no longer pushes the boundary. And the universe will end sooner for your people's exodus from the present to someplace that doesn't yet exist."
"And this all happened because I won a game that was never supposed to be won," Bobby acknowledged.
Both Sol and his companion nodded yes.
"We have to go now," said Sol.
"The Wandering Jew," quipped Bobby.
Sol smiled. "No one wanders," he told Bobby. "Every move everyone takes, they know exactly where they're headed."
Sol and his companion started out and eventually left town the same way they had entered.
Old Miss Colpen opened her drapes and looked out onto the town square. Dusk was settling.
"It's just you and me now kid," she called to Bobby.
In the kiosk sat Ben's Device at the spoke of December.
Bobby sat down in the middle of the town square.
Miss April's little dog came and laid her head in Bobby's lap. He petted her.
"I made them go," he said. "I can bring them back."
Nunevah Crenshaw was last to go.