Beams Stop Falling

Day 6,143

The ocean has risen to swallow the city below me, a warm rush of amniotic fluid covering the first three stories of every building. I am high and dry in my lofty rooms, but there is a pungent salt tang to the air now, the sharp smell of rot and decay. And yet somehow life goes on, as above so below; my daily rituals are uninterrupted, and, so far as I can tell, the rhythms of the city barely paused. Cars have been replaced by boats, and pedestrians spider their way between blocks using spindly, makeshift bridges now, but still they move.

It was not a quick flooding, this one, in human terms, I suppose — the work of years and months rather than minutes. First came the warnings, then came the levees and the seawalls, themselves the work of years, then, when the waters rose and overtopped even those, resignation. A thick cable of cars dragged its way up to the hills, at first, as people evacuated, and for a while only the Dofleini and I remained. I lived off my hoarded food; I don’t know what they ate, but now and again a blossom of blood would unfurl in the water, so I assume they weren’t starving.

As time wore on and the water stayed high, people came trickling back, sealing off what they could and living with the rest. Life, like the sea, rolled on.

Something Novel

Day 5,408

After fourteen years, I do not miss people, but there are times my skin hums with the reverberation of a long-forgotten handshake, some impossibly distant clasp of flesh. I have begun dreaming of crowds, of bodies pressed together on the sidewalk and subway platforms, of some smell of humanity I cannot quite recall. Some tang of sweat, blood, hair, piss; I remember the city seeming so dirty, so unconquerably filthy, when I left. The particulars elude me, but dreaming I remember.

A plague, it seems, has come to the city below. Separated as I am from the world, the specifics are as distant as the trains I dream of, but the roads are empty, the bars fallen silent. The few people that brave the streets roam listlessly, circling each other warily, beads of oil shoved across the surface of a dishpan by a fallen drop of soap. It has never been so quiet, and I have never felt so alone; it is only the wailing of the ambulances that says the city is still alive, still working.

An earthquake shook my rooms this morning, a fairly minor tremor that nevertheless knocked the books off my shelves and rattled the dishes in my cupboard. I have begun to hoard my food, no longer so certain of the deliveries I have relied on summer, fall, winter, and spring for over a decade. Even now, even in this eternal retreat, I am as bound to the world as ever, as tied to the city, as reliant on the invisible work of humanity. My loneliness is self-imposed, illusory; a comforting dream of control.

E. Dofleini

Day 3,210

The water they pulled themselves out of was murky and cold, I am told. Even after thousands of generations spent in that murk, they can do no more than detect flickers of movement, our shadows passing above and their food passing below. Their changing, elusive environment has left them subtle and canny but forever near-sighted.

It can be hard to tell them apart from other people in the city. A turn of the voice, a sudden flash of light in their eyes as they stand in a pool of lamplight beneath my window… Their genius is for camouflage; they do not see far, but they see much. They blend. They tell the same jokes the others do, join with them in insulting themselves, pretend themselves slow and stupid and shallow. Each of them has many hands, many faces, many voices.

What do they want? Some say they want the country to be more like theirs. Some say they are weakening it against some unknown future destruction. It’s a tricky question, and not one anyone asks them. The very question bleeds mistrust. Myself, I believe that the sea could no longer hold them. What could they possibly want from anyone? What do the people want from the city? There is no answer to that, only a shifting light playing on the waves.

Five Summers in the Tower

Day 1,906

Summer is the season of betrayal. The long, sweltering days; the torpid nights; above all, the inescapable heat of the season; all combine to sap the will and deaden the conscience. Then, too, when all the city wriggles in the crushing velvet fist of August the dead zone of winter seems impossible, unbelievable. In such an atmosphere anything can happen.

Couples pass before my window in the evening, squabbling. Their voices, when they have crossed the long height to me, are tiny and incomprehensible. Alien, perhaps, save that I have seen the same argument a hundred times, a thousand, and move my lips to their fighting.

They are never clean, these summer endings: they trail a dozen grasping, hairy roots behind them, shrieking like mandrakes. Life is too fully lived in the summer for precision; in the winter the same dissolution would end quietly, in privacy and silence. The heat pulls their poison to the surface like a poultice.


Day 1,356

From my window I can just see the trains passing behind the trees. At night when I cannot sleep — which is often; I am insomniac, I fear — it is a small pleasure to lie there in the dark and know the ceiling is low overhead and that the trains will soon be passing. Their whistles, so long and so mournful, the bleating of a lost industry… they soothe me. Though I do not sleep, though my forehead is no less dry and crackling, I find some rest there, some munificence.

In the daytime they do not seem so real as at night. That they are large and dangerous I do not doubt; from my window I have seen two men shattered by the juggernauts, seen the red ruin of their bodies taken away in the slow white vans. But even the mystery of death is small compared to what shape bulks behind the whistles and the track-clatter in the dark.

Other nights I sit beside my window and look across the city, my eyes unfocused, my mind vague. Across the bay shines a red light that I like to watch, though by daylight I have never found the lamp.