|When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the
night hed reach out to touch the child sleeping beside
him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each
one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma
dimming away the world. His hand rose and fell softly with each
precious breath. He pushed away the plastic tarpaulin and raised
himself in the stinking robes and blankets and looked toward
the east for any light but there was none. In the dream from
which hed wakened he had wandered in a cave where the
child led him by the hand. Their light playing over the wet
flowstone walls. Like pilgrims in a fable swallowed up and lost
among the inward parts of some granitic beast. Deep stone flues
where the water dripped and sang. Tolling in the silence the
minutes of the earth and the hours and the days of it and the
years without cease. Until they stood in a great stone room
where lay a black and ancient lake. And on the far shore a creature
that raised its dripping mouth from the rimstone pool and stared
into the light with eyes dead white and sightless as the eggs
of spiders. It swung its head low over the water as if to take
the scent of what it could not see. Crouching there pale and
naked and translucent, its alabaster bones cast up in shadow
on the rocks behind it. Its bowels, its beating heart. The brain
that pulsed in a dull glass bell. It swung its head from side
to side and then gave out a low moan and turned and lurched
away and loped soundlessly into the dark.
|If he is not the word of God God never spoke.
Father, about his son.
|Can I ask you something? he said.
Yes. Of course.
Are we going to die?
Sometime. Not now.
Conversation between boy and his father.
|He lay listening to the water drip in the woods. Bedrock,
this. The cold and the silence. The ashes of the late world
carried on the bleak and temporal winds to and fro in the void.
Carried forth and scattered and carried forth again. Everything
uncoupled from its shoring. Unsupported in the ashen air. Sustained
by a breath, trembling and brief. If only my heart were stone.
|He pulled the boy closer. Just remember that the things you
put into your head are there forever, he said. You might want
to think about that.
You forget some things, don't you?
Yes. You forget what you want to remember and you remember what
you want to forget.
|It took two days to cross that ashen scabland. The road beyond
fell away on every side. It's snowing, the boy said. He looked
at the sky. A single gray flake sifting down. He caught it in
his hand and watched it expire there like the last host of christendom.
|He thought if he lived long enough the world at last would
be lost. Like the dying world the newly blind inhabit, all of
it slowly fading from memory.
|From daydreams on the road there was no waking. He plodded
on. He could remember everything of her save her scent. Seated
in a theatre with her beside him leaning forward listening to
the music. Gold scrollwork and sconces and the tall columnar
folds of the drapes at either side of the stage. She held his
hand in her lap and he could feel the tops of her stockings
through the thin stuff of her summer dress. Freeze this frame.
Now call down your dark and your cold and be damned.
Narrator remembers his bride.
|And the dreams so rich in color. How else would death call
you? Waking in the cold dawn it all turned to ash instantly.
Like certain frescoes entombed for centuries suddenly exposed
to the day.
|In those first years the roads were peopled with refugees
shrouded up in their clothing. Wearing masks and goggles, sitting
in their rags by the side of the road like ruined aviators.
Their barrows heaped with shoddy. Towing wagons or carts. Their
eyes bright in their skulls. Creedless shells of men tottering
down the causeways like migrants in a feverland. The frailty
of everything revealed at last. Old and troubling issues resolved
into nothingness and night. The last instance of a thing takes
the class with it. Turns out the light and is gone. Look around
you. Ever is a long time. But the boy knew what he knew. That
ever is no time at all.
|On this road there are no godspoke men. They are gone and
I am left and they have taken with them the world. Query: how
does the never to be differ from what never was?
|Dark of the invisible moon. The nights now only slightly less
black. By day the banished sun circles the earth like a grieving
mother with a lamp.
|They stood on the far shore of a river and called
to him. Tattered gods slouching in their rags across the waste.
Trekking the dried floor of a mineral sea where it lay cracked
and broken like a fallen plate. Paths of feral fire in the coagulate
sands. The figures faded in the distance. He woke and lay in
|No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself.
The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace
and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common
provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes. So, he whispered
to the sleeping boy. I have you.
|I should have been more careful, he said.
The boy didn't answer.
You have to talk to me.
You wanted to know what the bad guys looked like. Now you know.
It may happen again. My job is to take care of you. I was appointed
to do that by God. I will kill anyone who touches you. Do you
He sat there cowled in the blanket. After a while he looked
up. Are we still the good guys? he said.
Yes. We're still the good guys.
And we always will be.
Yes. We always will be.
Conversation between father and son.
|In the morning they came out of the ravine and took to the
road again. Hed carved the boy a flute from a piece of
roadside cane and he took it from his coat and gave it to him.
The boy took it wordlessly. After a while the man could hear
him playing. A formless music for the age to come. Or perhaps
the last music on earth called up from out of the ashes of its
ruin. The man turned and looked back at him. He was lost in
concentration. The man thought he seemed some sad and solitary
changeling child announcing the arrival of a traveling spectacle
in shire and village who does not know that behind him the players
have all been carried off by wolves.
|He walked out into the gray light and stood and he saw for
a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless
circling of an intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind
dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum
of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling
like ground-foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed
world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.
|Nobody wants to be here and nobody wants to leave.
|There is no God and we are his prophets.
|Years later hed stood in the charred ruins of a library
where blackened books lay in pools of water. Shelves tipped
over. Some rage at the lies arranged in their thousands row
on row. He picked up one of the books and thumbed through the
heavy bloated pages. Hed not have thought the value of
the smallest thing predicated on a world to come. It surprised
him. That the space which these things occupied was itself an
expectation. He let the book fall and took a last look around
and made his way out into the cold gray light.
|He walked out into the road and stood. The silence. The salitter
drying from the earth. The mudstained shapes of floating cities
burned to the waterline. At a crossroads a ground set with dolmen
stones where the spoken bones of oracles lay moldering. No sound
but the wind. What will you say? A living man spoke these lines?
He sharpened a quill with his small penknife to scribe these
things in sloe or lampblack? At some reckonable and entabled
moment? He is coming to steal my eyes. To seal my mouth with
|And perhaps beyond those shrouded swells another man did walk
with another child on the dead gray sands. Slept but a sea apart
on another beach among the bitter ashes of the world or stood
in their rags lost to the same indifferent sun.
|Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains.
You could see them standing in the amber current where the white
edges of their fins wimpled softly in the fl. They smelled of
moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their
backs were vermiculite patterns that were maps of the world
in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not
be put back. Not to be made right again. In the deep glens where
they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of
Last lines of novel.