Vale of Tears
Marie’s hand remained in Dan’s for the short trip to the edge of Metro City in the railcar, which they made after having their dinner at the pizzeria and performing the necessary duties of dishwashing and garbage disposal. Late was the hour, and the City lights did not have such the effect they had further in toward the capital where the Dome buildings were located, such that from Marie and Dan’s railcar window they saw, save for a street lamp here and a lamp burning in some office building there, a pitch black beyond, and beyond that a silver moonlight sheen on the desert floor toward the mountain range still further beyond.
“We’re coming to the end of the line, Marie,” Dan said solemnly. “We’ll have to foot it from here.” And both exiting the railcar, they made their way out onto the platform, which shone and reflected the midnight moon, and dim blue lamps about, and down onto the ground level to the sidewalk stretching toward the edge of the city limits.
Their walk through the industrial parks was short, but laborious. Pungent fumes from factory exhaust choked them, and made their eyes water. Bits of glass, plastic chips and so much various debris cracked and crunched beneath their shoes, that it was rather like walking on a gravel road than a sidewalk. And, whereas the evening air so enjoyed by Dan just a few hours before, and a few miles in, was cool and refreshing, this industrial air was stiflingly muggy hot.
“Lovely night, dear,” Dan said, “Lovely night for a stroll through hell!” Marie didn’t respond at first, but just sighed, as if she was holding something back. “Okay, now what? What did I say?”
“Nothing Dan. It’s just, you’ll think this place Heaven on Earth after the Guides show you what Hell on Earth will be like,” said Marie, desperately grave.
“I see, now, and I suppose, then, you’ve seen this? From the Guides?”
“No, not from the Guides. From the Lights themselves, before we crossed. I still can’t figure how you don’t remember a shred of our life in Aerlan. The majestic falls, Iceberg Peak, where we had our wedding! Crystal Falls Palace! Do you remember? The light, oh the light! Ah, what a night,” Marie went on dreamily, “How the clouds whipped up like foaming waves that threatened to crash against the high Palace walls, but then dispersed in a burst of a thousand rays of light diffused.”
“Sounds, nice, Marie. But I have no memory of all that. What did you mean by the Lights themselves?” Dan was intently listening, walking beside Marie the while.
“The Guides were written by the Lights. The Lights in Aerlan appear more real to you than here, though not as real as they are. I received my orders directly from them, as did you, with visions to guide me on our mission. Hell on Earth was one such,” Marie said, obviously wanting to discontinue the horrid topic of conversation.
“Visions, you say? Well, when I was knocked out on the side of that mountain,” here Dan gestured in the direction they were walking, “I had something more than a dream but less than a waking moment. Is that a kind of vision, you suppose?”
“Could be. Go on,” Marie said.
“Well, the dream, or vision, or whatever it was, was long, and full of details, but the general idea was that the Dome was trying to convince me of a falsehood, and that you had led me to a mountain cave, where I met these talking lights, and then I met my father––who, get this, was Goodman himself, the High and Good!––and he told me that there was a harvest or something, and that I had to help bring in the sheaves before they too were burnt in unquenchable fire. After that––and here it got weird––I descended from the mountain to find a sixty-year-older you and Metro City. You were running an antique shop, and by night a counter-intelligence operation and mission control center for my father’s ship! You, or rather your eighty-year-old self, said we had to try to get all who would go aboard before it was too late. Ridiculous, isn’t it,” Dan said with a self-critical chuckle.
“No, I’d say it is accurate. Fairly accurate actually, if you know how to decipher the images. Those ideas which would have been crystalline to your mind in Aerlan are here distorted by incredulity and human imagination,” Marie said in perfect sobriety.
“You mean to tell me I am a son of Goodman? Don’t be ridiculous,” Dan said with a snort.
“Yes, and I am his daughter. You don’t know your history very well, or else you’ve forgotten that, too. When Goodman flew from this land to escape the flood of water, he took all his own kindred. No one else survived the deluge. So, in point of stark fact, you are a son of Goodman, insofar as you are a member of the race of men, which you are. There are no other talking animal species,” Marie replied.
“Okay, well, that explains my father. What about this business about time? What is this eighty-year-old Marie stuff I dreamt up, fixing me tea?”
“That is the truest part about it all, Danny,” said Marie, and something in the way she articulated his name, made Dan shoot up his eyes at her, as if a spark had enkindled a memory.
“Why did you call me, Danny?” Dan asked.
“Because that is what I’ve always called you, dear,” Marie said warmly. “Why do you ask?”
“It’s just that, that’s what you kept calling me in my dream.”
“The part about me being eighty and calling you Danny is not a part of the vision. That was a part of your deep memory untouched by crossing over into this world from Aerlan. You see, Dan, I am eighty-years-old, though I know I don’t look it,” she said, completely calm.
“Oh, now I know this is a dream or you’re a figment of my warped imagination! Eighty, Marie. Don’t be such a…”
“I am! And you’re not much younger, kiddo. Pushing seventy-five, if memory serves,” she said very annoyed now at Dan’s incredulity.
“But I haven’t jumped through any wormholes, and, so far as I know, neither have you!” Dan shot back, trying to justify himself.
“Don’t be such a dweeb. Wormholes? That’s ridiculous! That’s like saying one could get to tomorrow by walking through the backdoor. It’s absurd,” Marie said, snorting a little herself.
“I’d never thought about that,” Dan said.
“I’m sure the wormhole and time travel business was just your imagination trying to account for a memory you had that your reason couldn’t explain,” Marie said. As they continued to talk, they walked steadily on toward the edge of Metro City, as the lamps decreased in frequency, the streets and side alleys became ominously darker. Marie, who was walking just beside Dan, asked for a hand, which Dan gave her.
“Okay, that makes sense. But eighty? Me seventy-five? Explain that, if you can!” Dan replied, holding her hand firmly if not affectionately.
“In Aerlan, unlike here, there is not what has commonly been called gravity. Well, I should say there is not as much, though what is called gravity is not a quantity. So I really should say as strong…”
“Oh, do go on, Marie! Just the facts, not the theory, too,” Dan interrupted.
“Well, the fact is you are seventy-five and I am eighty, because our bodies endure better in Aerlan than here, okay?” Marie said, and went into a kind of goodnatured sulk, from which she presently came out of when Dan gripped her hand very tightly, and turned her toward an alley just off the sidewalk. “What are you doing, Dan?”
“Shhh. I saw a form in front of us, not far from the avenue’s end. I think someone’s waiting for us,” Dan said, and hiding his body behind a building, he slowly peeked around the corner with his head, and tried to observe any more movement. The light having nearly vanished, but for a single lamp burning dark blue in the midnight air.
“Don’t worry, Dan. At least I didn’t forget my training. Let us go on. Unless they have blasters, I can handle them,” Dan thought about scoffing, but then remembered his dream-vision he had about Marie twirling around like a ballerina and annihilating a glider. That, and he also remembered the guards in critical condition.
“Wait, what training,” Dan asked, as Marie, still holding his hand, pulled him out onto the sidewalk again.
“You didn’t think the Lights would send us on this mission without proper preparation, did you?”
“No, I guess not. So how are you prepared?” Before she had time to answer, two dark and sinister forms came out from the shadows of a building. As Marie and Dan approached, the forms filled in with details by the dark blue hazy light of the last lamp of the city. “Commander Rutherford!” Dan shouted under his breath, “And Johnny! I knew he was following me! I should have stopped and confronted him!”
As they approached, their forms become visible to the Dome official and John smith, and one gravelly voice rang out and echoed down the empty street, “Where are you taking our star pupil, Jara?”
“Quiet, now, Dan. Leave everything up to me,” Marie said and the two walked up toward the Dome official and John Smith. “Where’s your troop of reinforcements, Commander?” Marie said, still holding Dan’s hand, and standing about twenty feet from the commander and Smith. Dan noticed a bandage on the commander’s temple where he had planted a steel chair leg earlier that day. “Not like you to come unprepared,” Marie said.
“I think our boy will come quietly, very quietly indeed, Jara.
“Your boy’s not the difficulty. It’s your girl,” Marie said, confident and strong.
“Oh, I think she’s well in hand, too,” said the commander, and motioned Johnny to walk toward her, as if to apprehend her.
“Stand back, fool. Your boss knows what I’m capable of. You don’t,” Marie said, looking dire into Johnny’s eyes, which could not really be seen, though Dan did see a grin, sickening to see, like the smile a nasty child wears when torturing a small, defenseless creature.
“I’m no fool,” and pulled out a small, metallic black light blaster, with little illuminated lights on the side, blinking in red, blue and yellow at different rhythms and intensities. After a second wielding it, Johnny pressed something on the gun, which made a power-up charging hum, and pointed the dread thing directly at Marie.
Before Dan knew it, Marie released his hand, and seemingly flew through the air, having leapt like a leopard with such quickness. With one leg and foot outstretched she kicked the blaster right out of Johnny’s hand, and with the other foot, twisting her torso violently fast, kicking him in the chin so hard his head flew back to his back. All Dan heard was a crack and a snap, and Marie landing on her feet, and Johnny’s body falling on the pavement, dead.
Before she could turn on the commander to face him, Dan saw a flash of light from behind Marie, and then her face fill with pain as she looked on Dan. “I’m afraid I won’t be able to keep that promise, Dan,” as a flaming hole was seen forming at her stomach, slowly forming a burnt circle ever widening, until all her body was consumed in light, and vanished, revealing a snickering commander holding a light blaster standing directly behind where she had been.
“No! My Marie! No!” Dan shouted running toward where she’d been just a moment before.
“She’s gone, boy. Now, it’s time we had our chat,” said the commander, in a cold, ruthless tone. Just as a sharp and sudden joy can bring distant memories of fond childhood to life, so too bitter pain can bring its kind. Dan’s grief had brought to memory not so much in his mind but his heart and body, the love, now gone, he once had in Aerlan, as well as the power he also wielded. With one fell fall he descended onto the commander like an avalanche, and broke his neck, back, and skull in the crash.
Dan looked up from his ruined enemy, bleeding on the pavement. Johnny’s body lay lifeless a way off. Marie was gone, and the sight increased that which unmitigated power and rage had dampened temporarily, and Dan fell to his knees and sobbed. Presently, sounds of sirens were heard in the not so distant streets behind, and Dan, with what power he could now muster, lifted himself from his grief and fled out into the desert night, wiping the pain from his eyes.
To Dan’s surprise, the night was not so dark. Whether it was because the moonlight or some awakened faculty of keener sight, Dan could make out all form and order of the terrain, even down to the pebbles on the desert floor. And, though his heart was heavy laden with grief, his feet were swiftly sweeping across the ground light and quick. Dan took advantage of his indefatigable and vigorous state, and proceeded toward the mountain cave in an accelerated pace.
Again, to Dan’s astonishment, as he began to jog along, he could no longer feel his feet hitting the floor every time he stepped, but more like every three or four strides. His astonishment changed to utter disbelief when he could see he would rise several feet higher, then fall lower to the ground, with every stride taken. “Was this what it was like on Aerlan?” Dan had the inspiration, or physical recollection, to ask himself. Finally, disbelief gave way to faith as Dan threw caution and care to the wind and dashed off into a full sprint, which, in his current state of forgetfulness, may not have been advisable. After all, one need know how to land before taking flight.
And fly he did. Not an earthly, heavy kind of flight, like with jet engines, metal wings or rocket boosters. Dan’s flight was free, like the way pollen floats free and lazily in a summer breeze, then, at an updraft is swept up into loftier currents. Just so was Dan now, skimming freely the low hanging clouds tipped by silver moonlight like a speed boat across a lake. Now, like a runway from these, taking off onto higher and higher nimbi.
Presently Dan looked down from his stratospheric height, and lessened his speed as he did so. He could see the mountain range where he knew the Guides were, now directly below him, below several layers of clouds, as though he were looking down at a lobby floor of a high hotel stairwell, with flights of stairs intervening. The sight was dizzying to Dan, but not near so much as the feeling that befell him next.
Falling! Dan fell with a quickness that nearly equaled the speed of his sprint, falling through floor after floor, layer after layer of moonlit cloud. As he fell, Dan looked out over the pale desert floor to see far off a glittering Metro City all alight with artificiality. To his eye, it was rising as he fell. Seeing Metro City so, he remembered Marie, the Dome, and his pain, and he half hoped his landing would be his last.
It turned out it wasn’t his first flight, nor his last landing, and Dan, coming down like a meteorite, crashed into the earth, creating a large crater three times his own diameter, and such an explosion of noise, a small desert rodent a mile away popped its head out of a hole to investigate it.
Dan lay in the bottom of the crater, smoking from the friction caused by the crash, his white uniform and shoes clean incinerated off his body. The bandage that was on his head was burnt up, too, his head wound healed somehow, his naked body without so much as a scratch on it.
“I get it. I get it,” Dan said, speaking into the empty night air at the foot of the mountain to the cave. “I’m dreaming, right? Okay, okay. Time to wake now,” and pinched himself. To his great displeasure, the pinch felt like a crab locking onto his flesh with terrible pincers, and he presently released himself. “Well, if I ain’t dreaming, what gives! I fall, oh, I don’t know,” Dan said, looking up, “like 25,000 feet to the earth, make a crater, and burn my clothes off my back, but a pinch to the arm hurts? Wake up Dan! Wake up!”
“Only one who is asleep can wake. The living are awake. And thou, dear Daniel, art alive and awake,” came a voice sweet and melodious, yet strong like an earthquake.
“What, who said that? Where, what?” Dan said, still standing naked in the crater.
“Arise, my son, arise!” came the voice again, and Dan did as commanded, and crawled up out of the crater. When he got to his feet, he was standing before a beautiful woman, a veil hung down over her hair, which sparkled in gentle flecks like twinkling stars, her body shrouded in a robe of shimmering moonlit, bejeweled by the same starlight, which contrasted against her feet, unshod in noble humility.
“Mmm, my Lady…”and kneeled low, to both shield his bare body, and show his respect. “I’m unworthy this visitation,” he said, his face nearly in the dust as he spoke. For he knew to whom he addressed himself: Tulu, Mother of the Light and Queen of the Stars.
“It is because you think so that you are,” the Lady gently replied. “I say, arise, my son,” and as he complied with her gentle command, he felt the moonlight about his skin grow soft and tangible, as if a garment were being woven therefrom before his eyes. As he stood, where only light and pale skin were seen now a like material, shimmering on the Lady, adorned his body as well.
“I have clothed thee in the raiment of the land whence thou hailed, that of Aerlan. A princeling thou wert thence. A princeling thou shalt be again. Thou hast come hither on a mission by me, though thou hast quite forgotten it. I have sons the same as thee, though they know it not. And daughters, too, like thy Marie, though they know it not,” said Tulu, and as she spoke the name, Dan teared up, and began to weep as she spoke, “This land will be destroyed in seven days time. ’Tis the day of the Sun. Sun’s day next my Son shall destroy this world to make way for another…” Tulu’s voice stopped and dropped low, and looking down on Dan, for she was taller than he by a whole hand, she spoke again, “Morn not now for Marie. She is well and awaits thee in my land. She sacrificed herself for thy mission, in the manner of my Son,” here fair Tulu’s voice quivered as she spoke, which had the force of a hurricane in it. “As a burnt offering to the Lord.”
“My Lady! My grief is joy compared to thine,” Dan said, and wept bitterly for Her and Her son. “I shall not morn her in thy presence again.”
“Thy mission, Daniel: preach the coming wrath in the streets of the city, where no harm shall come to thee for six days, and on the seventh, come here to the cave of Mount Olé, and await my coming with my Son on the clouds,” spoke the Lady Tulu once more, and vanished from Dan’s sight with a flash of lightning and an echoing thunderclap over the desert floor.