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Another sun was falling to its death. Lowly it clung to the eastern skies, like a pale and bloody fist grasping at the jagged peaks of the Spine. Its light was blood and honey, beautiful to behold but empty of life’s warmth, and the vast stretches of valleys and hills that formed the Eastern Territories reeled from its touch.

Nine days since the first frost, and already the earth was beginning to shrink, leaving all its rooted children to wither and be drained of colour. Now the land took on the appearance of something half-formed, not altogether real but still palpable, still and yet not altogether lifeless, like something the gods might have dreamt of before creation.

But this half-world, too, would soon vanish with the wayward sun. And the world would know darkness yet again.

Somewhere on a dirt road between the Fringe Hills and the city of Ardour’s Rest, Horace Shaw paused and studied the sky, leaning heavily on his walking stick. It was about half-hour past the ninth. He had a keen sense of time, having been wound up, so to speak, by years of rigorous training by a pathfinder-sergeant’s hardened leather boots. It had been nearly a decade since he last wore the uniform, but he was still ticking. The body seemed to have a memory of its own.

He was a tall man in his forties, with wide shoulders and long arms. Though his temples had gone gray, his beard and hair were still mostly black, long and unkempt as they were. He wore a fraying coat belted at the waist and a pair of worn leather boots. A rucksack was slung over his shoulders.

Now that he had stopped, the toll of the day’s journey fell upon him all at once. His feet throbbed and his legs burned, and each indrawn breath was a small knife rattling inside his lungs. Seven long hours he had marched, without a moment’s respite, through the bleak and empty hill country while the sun declined in a world-encompassing spiral.

His body urged him to rest, pleaded him for a few hours of precious sleep. Almost he yielded, and would have gladly laid down by the roadside, were it not for the sight of the dying sun. Even as he watched, it sank partially below the mountains and cast immense pillars of darkness across the sky, which were gone in an instant. All his instincts and experience told him that the sun would not last much longer. Perhaps a week. Likely less.

He eyed the road ahead, a narrow path of packed dirt that wound and twisted between the folds of slumping hills. He had walked it before, and knew that Ardour’s Rest stood four or five days’ journey away. So he had better start walking.

They should have finished the job, he thought somberly as he started again. The men who had robbed him—Easterlings that had worked alongside him time and again in the camps—had beaten him near to death but not delivered the killing blow. They’d stripped him of his wages, but not of his water and food. Was that mercy? An act of conscience? Or had they simply wanted him to suffer more, knowing that his injuries would slow him too much to reach the city’s radiance in time? Languishing in a ditch as his body healed, he had cursed them for letting him live, whatever their reason. The anger was a hollow thing, but he’d allowed himself to feel it, welcomed it even, to keep himself warm as he dragged his bruised body belatedly through the countryside. He would find his robbers in Ardour’s Rest, and he would have vengeance.

Or would he?

Past stony hills and empty fields he walked, throwing himself singularly to the task and forgetting for a time the pains of his body and doubts in his mind. From time and again cold mountain winds picked up and whipped at him westward, though he had hardly needed to be lashed on. Then at long last he came to a halt where the road led him down into the valley’s mouth. There the hills widened and flattened into a sea of dying grass, gray with frost and pockmarked here and there by withered shrubbery and groves of short, naked trees. Hunger and silence, as far as eye could see. Night was stirring. He felt it inside him, all along his spine, a cold conviction growing like a tree of bones.

He was going to be late.

All the pretty

I am dying

Of all the pretty girls

all the pretty boys

all the pretty lips

and all the pretty hips

all the fit jeans

all the lit screens

all the lean meats

and all the thin eats

all the neat ads

all the chic fads

all the rad scenes

and all the mad memes

all the dim lights

all the grim sights

all the tight porn

and all the right corn

all that is wrong

all that is wrong

all that is sold & bought

for fuck’s sake

all that recklessness

all that heartlessness

all that disingenuous   

speaking in tongues

I love them all

I love them all

all the pretty things

all the pretty things

Dear Mr. Weatherman

We’re getting poorer

hungrier

and fatter all of the time.

I think Heaven is a mouth that does not speak

and this city has no ears, no eyes.

Dear Mr. Weatherman, please;

Tell us what the sky holds

and for whom the rain falls—

Falling forth,

falling

forth,

we hear its music

and do not understand.

The Eulogy (pt.1)

It is time. He steps up to the pulpit and adjusts the microphone. The eulogy is in his breast pocket. He shouldn’t need to have it out, he knows all the words, but he takes it out anyway, unfolds and flattens the pages on the pulpit. The first word is “I.” The second one is “loved.” He pronounces them in quick succession into the microphone, but the speakers put out a harpy’s shriek instead, an ugly electric cackle that makes everyone flinch. He takes a step back while someone from the funeral home fixes the soundboard. And when he steps forward again, he is suddenly aware of the quiet, the deadened calm, the reverent waiting. He searches out Emily’s face among those of family and friends and colleagues and other acquaintances, and finds her eyes unsympathetic. Yes. All she can do is stare inwardly at her own pain. She can do nothing for him, nor he for her, that which has bound them together all the long years is gone—their son is dead. But it’s not the same, he thinks, honey it’s not all the same, you’re not the one standing here expected to talk to all these people about Milton in the past tense, when he is lying just five feet away from me in the confined darkness of ash and oak, wearing the two-piece suit I had custom made for his eighteenth birthday, looking as though he’s just sleeping, except his complexion is all wrong, they’ve made him too pale, the morticians who worked on him in Seoul, they’ve turned him into an Irishman almost, when he had so much of me in him…

He opens his mouth, and his tongue is a fat ashen larva: when he speaks he will speak in moths, and they will flutter through the air and then fall dead on the carpet like last week’s rose petals.

He stares at the eulogy, all his words neatly typed out on five creased pages, single-spaced and back-to-back, written in the vacuum of time between the boy’s death and his body arriving at the airport, three weeks, three maddening, harrowing weeks that might as well have been three years. And it stares back at him, the eulogy, with all the sanctimony and indifference of Times New Roman twelve points. It is inadequate, woefully inadequate. Thirty years would not have sufficed, no amount of time would have, he might have tried until the end of time and still fallen short, miserably short, of doing his boy justice, of bringing him back to life, resurrected through language and love, language that is love, if only for the fifteen minutes that would take him to deliver the eulogy. It is one thing to talk about people through the miracle of fiction, through all its tricks and secrets and necessary falseness, but how to address a person whose sanctity you wish to preserve, is your duty to preserve, because that person is your son, and he has taken his own life at the beautiful age of twenty and three? How not to fall silent then, other than to utter utter bullshit?

So in the end he cannot bring himself to read from the page, or recite from memory, because it will be too painful to hear those words spoken aloud, because his heart is a wretched, fragile thing that can only kill him. So he wings it, delivers a meandering speech about how wonderful Milton was, how kind, athletic, smart, and visionary his son was, Milton he himself can no longer recognize, a Platonic Milton, expunged of all life’s shadows and delights, who is clearly not the same Milton that took his own life, because, how could he be, this perfect dead thing, his son? He was too good for this world, he tells the mass, though it was not pride, no, he was a humble person, always, since he was a child, but rather I think it was just a sense of… of unbelonging, a sense of being set apart, yes, you could say he was holy, in the biblical sense of the word, qadosh…

but words are more impalpable than bricks; reading is a longer and more complicated process than seeing.
Virginia Woolf, from “How Should One Read A Book?” in The Second Common Reader