A Voyage to the Deep, By Andrew Barclay – Part 3

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Zdzisław Beksiński

Part 1

Part 2


I woke at the first bell of day, a cacophonous din which launched me perhaps six inches straight into the air from where I had lain. I was dressed in bedclothes which someone (Brigitte, I think) had left folded beside my bed. A faint light filtered in from the window, which in a moments time became bright and white; one of the arclamps outside being turned on, it and all those like it bathing Jordan in artificial day.

I lay there a time, listening to the echoes of the the day’s first bell. I suppose I must have slept like a log, for when I rose I discovered my clothes had been laundered and laid out across the credenza at the foot of the bed. I dressed and went downstairs.

John Allison awaited me there, at his kitchen table. He was eating a hearty breakfast of much the same sort of things we’d eaten for dinner the night before, the company of the gaunt and spectral Sally. She looked on me with hateful eyes, and I turned my gaze away.

“Good morning, Mr. Barclay,” John Allison said, dabbing at the corners of his mouth with a napkin. “Are you hungry?”

And so I breakfasted with John Allison, under Sally’s watchful gaze.

#

John Allison arranged for us a tour. I did not at the time wonder at this, although I suppose that I should have. At the time, I think, I was set off balance and all too eager to fall into the waiting arms of charity, and did not question.

We went out into Jordan. The houses there are white-washed (I am told, at great expense) and made of timber, which John Allison informed me was brought down from Canada. THis sounded all well and good, until I thought back on my approach to the Avernian Way, and the frigid, sterile coastline I had seen from my post at the gunwale. When I asked, John Allison had smiled wanly.

“The timber is brought from far away, but many hands make light work.”

That, apparently, was that.

The spit of land which is now called Jordan was not always so; in the days before the coming of the Saints from Illinois, it was called the North Finger.

The south finger is long and narrow, and forms the northern bound of the Bay of Saints. The Bay is bounded again on the south by the South Finger, which was built up in some antedeluvian epoch and now plays host to the same lunatic assemblage of architectures as much of the rest of the city. THe north Finger, however, was barren, and it was here that the Saints built their town.

There are not streets, as such, but the stony ground is low and level. The houses rise above it on short stilts, and in places the doors are bridged by the same sort of wooden sidewalk so in vogue in the West.

All over Jordan is lighted by arclamps. The Saints have become remarkably adept at manufacturing the article, and I am told that their lamps are the finest in the world. I have no reason to disbelieve this, though my familiarity with the article is limited. In any case, the lamps are mounted at the peaks of roofs and at the tops of great, wooden trellises which rise at intervals from in among the houses – when all are lighted, as they were during our walk, Jordan is bathed in moonlight, though brighter by many degrees. The shadows cast by those lights are strange and knife-edged, and more than once I jumped near out of my skin upon seeing one in the corner of my eye; they look for all the world like skulking ne’er-do-wells, come out of the darkness with ill intent.

We walked the straight and narrow roads, in between New England style houses. We passed many Saints, who are all well-dressed and well-mannered folk – the men clean shaven and in suspenders and shirtsleeves, the women in prim, dark dresses.  They nodded to John Allison, and glanced curiously at me.

Jordan is arranged in a precise grid, but so thoroughly disorienting is the bright white light and the darkness beyond, and so similar do seem the houses, that i quickly became lost. Allison knew the way, and he chatted amiably with me about all manner of things as he guided me gently through this, his home.

Abruptly, the houses fell away and we found ourselves at the docks. The docks of Jordan are aswell-ordered and stately as all the rest to be found there, but to look upon them is strange. The haze of white arclamp light splashes out across the water for some little distance, before stopping completely. It is as if the docks are built at the edge of the world, and hang off the edge into void. Queer, in the extreme.

A ship awaited us; a little, iron-hulled thing, which I would learn in short order was equipped with one of the fine, fine engines which the Saints build. That engine, like most others in the Deep, runs on distilled spongeoil, and is both quicker and quieter than those which run on coal. Marvelous little machines, the Saintly engine, I must admit.

I was ushered aboard, and was met by none other than the three young men who had supped at Allison’s table the night before. I looked on them, and they on me, and though I am not sure what countenance I had, their own faces were flat and stern.

“Where are we going?” I asked of John Allison.

“We will go into the city for a time,” Allison said, standing on the deck with his feet widely spaced so as not to be unbalanced by the gentle rocking of the boat. I mirrored his own stance, and said:

“Anywhere in particular?”

Allison nodded.

“You have come to write about this place, have you not Mr. Barclay? I should think you’ll write it better if you’ve seen some of it. We will go to the Rue Oraculum.”

Here he paused, his gaze momentarily focusing on something elsewhere.

“It can be dangerous there,” he said. “And so my friends will join us.”

By friends, he of course meant the three young men.

The ones who I should have known for Legionnaires.

#

The engine started up with a low and not unpleasant thrumming, and the little boat maneuvered out of dock with alacrity which was not unremarkable. Young William was to be our steersman, and the other two went below.

The boat went out some distance into the Mer before turning slowly. From the gunwale I could see the whole of Jordan’s shoreline, and the edge of the settlement; the houses simply stop, and from there there is a long stretch of unbroken darkness unto the edge of the city proper. This I looked on, in wonder.

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Zdzisław Beksiński

They say the city is older than Rome. I have looked on some of the ancient stones in the Deep and do not disbelieve it. No one knows who it was the built this place, though I suppose it must have been the Indians. I mentioned as much to John Allison, who seemed to consider his words before he answered me.

“That,” he said at length. “Is not an unreasonable assumption.”

So. Whatever he knew, or thought of knew, as regards the city’s provenance he would not share. Still, I do not know why this would be.

At the end of the North Finger, beyond the egde of Jordan, there is a great, black pyramid. I have seen illustrations of those specimens to be found in the deserts of Egypt, and I suppose that this thing must be similar in nature – though it is made of basalt, and not sandstone. John Allison knew little of it when I queried him, saying only that the Saints seldom visited the place. As he had it, they had little call to do so.

Rising out of the center of the city (and the most obvious landmark when first a man looks upon it), as something not unlike the Coliseum at Rome. It is a great ring of arches, one atop the other, which extends many hundreds of feet into the air, and which is called the COlonnade. When I mentioned its likenness to the Coliseum to John Allison, he smiled and shook his head, and said no. He told me that the Colonnade has no floor, that the circle of arches enclose a shaft of unknown depth and unknown purpose, which plunges straight down into the earth. He told me that there is a small city of its own living in the walls of that shaft, where tunnels and burrows and stairways have been dug out in the course of uncounted centuries. We did not visit the COlonnade that day; I am sorry for it. I would have liked to see such a thing.

The city is in the shape of a great mound, all of which has been built up over the course of what I would suppose to be many thousands of years. Scarce is there to be found a peiece of raw rock in the whole of the place, with the exception of the the buffer which seperates Jordan from the rest. All else is cobbles and brickwork, inscribed with the runes of peoples whose names I do not know, adn whom have surely faded from being many centuries hence.

The buildings and archways and structures have been repurposed in these latter years. Here and about are the districts of the city, little pockets of light in among the darkness, and each separated from its neighbors by long stretches of dark, abandoned ruins. Some of them are made of bricks, some seem carved right out of the living rock, some are made of some variety of clay which lends a strange, unearthly grace to things; these latter specimens have the look of something grown, rather than something made.

Our little boat described a wide arc around the city, and John Allison pointed things out to me. There? That pocket of lights? That is Antioch, where the Raffa folk dwell. This word was new to me – they are a tribe of some description, as John Allison told it, vicious and unlettered and violent. We did not put in there.

There: a lonely pillar, rising out the sea, equal roughly in size the Vigil Keep, though made of dark rock and standing, lonely sentinel, and waiting for what I do not know.

There: ranks of windmills, constructed from the bones of dead ships and canvas, rising up out of the roofs. Pullman, this is place is called, and the winds blow there without ceasing.

Much I could not see for the darkness, but John Allison spoke of these things. He told me of roads which terminate in at cliffsides, and strange avenues filled with statues, and plazas where may be heard the whispers of what, no man knows. He told me of a gallery where may be heard a woman singing, eternally, and mausoleums where the dead of lost civilizations are interred. He told me of the islands out in the Mer, which sailors say move about when no one is looking. He told me many things, during our short voyage to Brighton.

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