Some people see things that others cannot. Tales of Mystery and Imagination. “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” (H.P. Lovecraft).

Greg Bear: Petra

Greg Bear, Petra, Tales of mystery, Relatos de terror, Horror stories, Short stories, Science fiction stories, Anthology of horror, Antología de terror, Anthology of mystery, Antología de misterio, Scary stories, Scary Tales, Science Fiction Short Stories, Historias de ciencia ficcion

"God is dead, God is dead .
. . . Perdition! When God dies, you'll know it."
-Confessions of St. Argentine

As near as I can discover, Mortdieu occurred seventy-seven years ago. Learned sons of pure flesh
deny that magic was set loose, or even that the Alternate had gained supreme power. But few people
could deny that God, as such, had died.
All the hinges of our once-great universe fell apart, the axis tilted, cosmic doors swung shut, and the rules of existence lost their foundations. I have heard wise men speak of the slow decline, have heard them speculate on the reasons, the process. Where human thought was strong, reality's sudden quaking was reduced to a tremor. Where human thought was weak, reality disappeared completely, swallowed by chaos.
With the passing of God's watchful gaze, humankind had to reach out and grab hold of the unraveling fabric of the world. Those conscious beings left alive those who had had the wits to keep their bodies from falling apart with the end of the useful constants became the only cohesive force in the chaos. Imagine that time, if you will: When every delusion became as real as solid matter. Blinding pain, flaming blood, bones breaking,
flesh powdering, steel flowing like liquid, the sky raining amber. Crowds in the shifting streets, gathering at intersections, not knowing what to do, trapped by their own ignorance. Their weak minds could not grab hold. And where human thought gave way, gradually the ancient order of nature returned, with its own logic, its own way of adapting. People watched, horrified, as city blocks became forests. When they tried to stop the metamorphosis, their unorganized mentality only confused things further. With the first faint suspicion that they had all gone mad, the first crack in their all-too-weak reserves of will, they projected their nightmares. Prodigal crows perched atop the trees that had once been buildings. Pigs ran through the streets on their hind
legs, pavement rushing to become soil behind them. The forest prevailed over most of the city.
Legend has it that it was the arch existentialist Jansard crucifier of the beloved St. Argentine-who, realizing his error, discovered that mind and thought could calm the foaming sea of reality. Most humans were entirely too irrational to begin with. Whole nations vanished or were turned into incomprehensible whirlpools of misery and depravity.
It is said that certain universities, libraries, and museums survived, but to this day we have little contact with them.
Our Cathedral survived. Rationality in this neighborhood, however, had weakened some centuries before Mortdieu, replaced only by a kind of rote. The Cathedral suffered. Survivors-clergy and staff, worshipers seeking sanctuary-had wretched visions, dreamed wretched dreams. They saw the stone ornaments of the great church come alive. With someone to see and believe, in a universe lacking any other foundation, my ancestors shook off stone and became flesh. Centuries of rock celibacy weighed upon them. Forty-nine nuns who had sought shelter in the Cathedral were discovered and were not entirely loath, for (so the coarser versions of the tale go) Mortdieu had had a surprising aphrodisiacal effect on the faithful. Conjugation took place. No definite gestation period has been established, because at that time the great stone wheel had not been set twisting back and forth to count the days. Nor had Kronos been appointed to the chair, to watch
over the wheel and provide a baseline for everyday activities. But flesh did not reject stone, and there came into being the sons and daughters of flesh and stone, including me. Those who had fornicated with the gargoyles and animals were cast out to raise their monstrous young in the highest hidden recesses. Those who had accepted the embraces of the stone saints and other human figures were less abused but were still banished to the upper reaches. A wooden scaffold was erected, dividing the great nave into two levels. A canvas drop cloth was fastened over the scaffold, to prevent offal from raining down, and on the second level of the Cathedral the more human sons of stone and flesh set about creating a new life.

I'm an ugly son of stone and flesh; there's no denying it. I don't remember my mother.
It's possible she abandoned me shortly after my birth. More than likely she is dead. My father-
ugly, beaked, half-winged thing, if he resembles his son-I have never seen.
The moment my memory was born is very clear to me. It was about thirty years ago, by the
swinging of the wheel, though I'm sure I lived many years before that-years lost to me. I squatted
behind thick, dusty curtains in a vestibule and listened to a priest intoning Scripture to a
gaggle of flesh children. That was on the ground floor, and I was in great danger; the people of
pure flesh looked upon my kind as abominations. But it was worth taking the risk. In time I was
able to steal a Psalter and learn to read. The other books I stole defined my own world by
comparing it with others. At first I couldn't believe the others existed, only the Cathedral. I
still have my doubts. I can look out a tiny round window on one side of my room and see the great
forest and the river that
surround the Cathedral, but I can see nothing else. So my experience with other worlds is far from
No matter, I read, but I'm no scholar. What concerns me is recent history.
I am small-barely three English feet tall-and I can run quickly through most of the hidden
passageways. This lets me observe without attracting attention. I may be the only objective
historian in this whole structure.
Like any historian, however, I have my favorite subjects within the greater whole.
Naturally enough, they are events in which I played an important role. If you prefer history in
which the historian is not involved, then look to the records of larger communities.
At the time my history begins, the children of stone and flesh were still searching for
the stone of Christ. Those of us born of the union of the stone saints and gargoyles with the
bereaved nuns thought our salvation lay in the great stone Celibate, who came to life, as all the
other statues had.
Of smaller import were the secret assignations between the Bishop's daughter and a young
man of stone and flesh. Such assignations were forbidden even between those of pure flesh; because
they were, of course, unmarried, their double sin was interesting to me.
Her name was Constantia, and she was fourteen, slender of limb, brown of hair, mature of
bosom. Her eyes carried the stupid sort of divine life common in girls of that age. His name was
Corvus, and he was fifteen. I
don't recall his precise features, but he was handsome enough and dexterous. He could climb
through the scaffolding almost as quickly as I. I first spied them talking when I made one of my
frequent raids on the repository to steal another book. They were in shadow, but my eyes are keen.
They spoke softly, hesitantly. My heart ached to see them and to think of their tragedy, for I
knew right away that Corvus was not pure flesh. And Constantia was the daughter of the Bishop
himself. I envisioned the old tyrant handing out the usual punishment to Corvus for such breaches
of level and morality-castration. But in their talk was a sweetness that almost blanketed the
powerful stench of the lower nave.
"Have you ever kissed a man before?"
"My brother." She laughed.
"And?" His voice was sharper, he might kill her brother, he intimated.
"A friend named Jules."
"Where is he?"
"Oh, he vanished on a wood-gathering expedition."
"Oh." And he kissed her again. I'm a historian, not a voyeur; so I discreetly hide the flowering
of their passion. If Corvus had had any sense, he would have reveled in his conquest and never
returned. But he was snared and continued to see her despite the risk. This was loyalty, love,
faithfulness, and it was rare.
It fascinated me.
I have just been taking in sun, a nice day, and looking out over the buttresses. The Cathedral is
like a low bellied lizard, and the buttresses are its legs. There are little houses at the base of
each buttress, where rains pouters with dragon faces used to lean out over the trees (or city or
whatever was once down below). Now people live there. It wasn't always that way-the sun was once
forbidden. From childhood, Corvus and Constantia were denied its light, and so even in their
youthful prime they were pale and dirty with the smoke of candles and tallow lamps. The most sun
anyone received in those days was obtained on woolgathering expeditions.
After spying on one of the clandestine meetings of the young lovers, I mused in a dark corner for
an hour, then went to see the copper giant Apostle Thomas. He was the only human form to live so
high in the Cathedral. He carried a ruler on which was engraved his real name-he had been modeled
after the Cathedral's restorer in times past, the architect Violletle-Duc. He knew the Cathedral
better than anyone else, and I admired him greatly. Most of the monsters left him alone-out of
fear, if nothing else. He was huge, black as night, but flaked with pale green, his face creased
in eternal thought. He was sitting in his usual wooden compartment near the base of the spire, not
twenty feet from where I write now, thinking about times the rest of us never knew:
of joy and past love, some say; of the burden that rested on him now that the Cathedral was the
center of this chaotic world, others say.
It was the Giant who selected me from the ugly hordes when he saw me with a Psalter. He
encouraged me in my efforts to read. "Your eyes are bright," he told me. "You move as if your
brain were quick, and you keep yourself dry and clean. You aren't hollow like the rains pouters.
You have substance. For all our sakes, put it to use and learn the ways of the Cathedral."
And so I did.
He looked up as I came in. I sat on a box near his feet and said, "A daughter of flesh is
seeing a son of stone and flesh."
He shrugged his massive shoulders. "So it shall be, in time."
"Is it not a sin?"
"It is something so monstrous it is past sin and become necessity," he said. "It will
happen more as time passes."
"They're in love, I think, or will be."
He nodded. "I-and one other=were the only ones to abstain from fornication on the night of
Mortdieu," he said. "I am-except for the other-alone fit to judge."
I waited for him to judge, but he sighed and patted me on the shoulder. "And I never
judge, do I, ugly friend?"
"Never," I said.
"So leave me alone to be sad." He winked. "And more power to them."
The Bishop of the Cathedral was an old, old
man. It was said he hadn't been Bishop before Mortdieu but had been a wanderer who came in during
the chaos, before the forest had replaced the city. He had set himself up as titular head of this
section of God's former domain by saying it had been willed to him.
He was short, stout, with huge, hairy arms like the clamps of a vise. He once killed a
spouter with a single squeeze of his fist, and spouters are tough things, since they have no guts
like you (I suppose) and I. The hair surrounding his bald pate was white, thick, and unruly, and
his eyebrows leaned over his nose with marvelous flexibility. He rutted like a pig, ate hugely,
and shat liquidly (I know all). A man for this time, if ever there was one.
It was his decree that all those not of pure flesh be banned and that those not of human
form be killed on sight.
When I returned from the Giant's chamber, I saw that the lower nave was in an uproar. They
had seen someone clambering about in the scaffold, and troops had been sent to shoot him down. Of
course it was Corvus. I was a quicker climber than he and knew the beams better; so when he found
himself trapped in an apparent cul-de-sac, it was I who gestured from the shadows and pointed to a
hole large enough for him to escape through. He took it without a breath of thanks, but etiquette
has never been important to me. I entered the stone wall through a nook a spare hand's width
across and wormed my way to the bottom to see what else was happening. Excitement was rare.
A rumor was passing that the figure had been seen with a young girl, but the crowds didn't know
who the girl was. The men and women who mingled in the smoky light, between the rows of open-
roofed hovels, were chattering gaily. Castrations and executions were among the few moments of joy
for us then; I relished them, too, but I had a stake in the potential victims now, and I was
My worry and my interest got the better of me. I slid through an unrepaired gap and fell to one
side of the alley between the outer wall and the hovels. A group of dirty adolescents spotted me.
"There he is!" they screeched.
The Bishop's masked troops can travel freely on all levels. I was almost cornered by them, and
when I tried one escape route, they waited at a crucial spot in the stairs-which I had to cross to
complete the next leg-and I was forced back. I prided myself on knowing the Cathedral from top to
bottom, but as I scrambled madly, I came upon a tunnel I had never noticed before. It led deep
into a broad stone foundation wall. I was safe for the moment but afraid that they might find my
caches of food and then poison my casks of rainwater. Still, there was nothing I could do until
they had gone; so I decided to spend the anxious hours by exploring the tunnel.
The Cathedral is a constant surprise. I realize now I didn't know half of what it offered. There
are always new ways to get from here to there (some, I suspect, are actually created while no one
is looking) and, sometimes, even
new theres to be discovered. While troops snuffled about the hole above, near the stairs-where
only a child of two or three could have passed-I followed a flight of crude steps deep into the
stone. Water and slime made the footing and handing difficult. For a moment I was in a darkness
deeper than any I had experienced before-a gloom more profound than mere lack of light could
explain. Then below me I saw a faint yellow gleam. More cautious, I slowed and progressed
silently. Behind a rusting, scabrous metal gate, I set foot into the lighted room. There was the
smell of crumbling stone, a tang of mineral water, slime-and the stench of a dead spouter. The
beast lay on the floor of -the narrow chamber, several months j gone but still fragrant. I have
mentioned that spouters are very hard to kill, and this one had been murdered. Three candles stood
freshly placed in nooks around the chamber, flickering in a faint draft from above. Despite my
fears, I walked across the stone floor, took a candle, and peered into the next section of tunnel.
It sloped down for several dozen feet, ending .1 at another metal gate. It was here that I
detected an odor I have never come across before-the scent of the purest of stones, as of rare
jade or virgin marble. Such a feeling of lightheadedness passed over me that I almost x laughed,
but I was too wary for that. I pushed aside the gate and was greeted by a rush of the coldest,
sweetest air, like a draft from the tomb: of a saint whose body does not corrupt but, rather,
pushes corruption away and expels it a
miraculously into the nether pits. My beak dropped open. The candlelight fell across the darkness
onto a figure I at first thought to be an infant. But I quickly disagreed with myself. The figure
was several ages at once. As I blinked, it became a man of about. thirty, well formed, with a high
forehead and elegant hands, pale as ice. His eyes stared at the wall behind me. I bowed down on
scaled knee and touched my forehead as best I could to the cold stone, shivering to my vestigial
wingtips. "Forgive me, Joy of Man's Desiring," I said. "Forgive me." I had stumbled upon the
hiding place of the stone Christ.
"You are forgiven," He said wearily. "You had to come sooner or later. Better now than
later when . . . " His voice trailed away, and He shook His head. He was very thin, wrapped in a
gray robe that still bore the scars of centuries of weathering. "Why did you come?"
"To escape the Bishop's troops," I said. He nodded.
"Yes. The Bishop. How long have I been here?"
"Since before I was born, Lord. Sixty or seventy years." He was thin, almost ephemeral,
this figure I had imagined as a husky carpenter. I lowered my voice and besought, "What may I do
for you, Lord?"
"Go away," He said.
"I could not live with such a secret," I said. "You are salvation. You can overthrow the
Bishop and bring all the levels together."
"I am not a general or a soldier. Please go
away and tell no-"
I felt a breath behind me, then the whisper of a weapon. I leaped aside, and my hackles
rose as a stone sword came down and shattered on the floor beside me. The Christ figure raised His
hand. In shock, I stared at a beast much like myself. It stared back, face black with rage, stayed
by the power of His hand. I should have been more careful-something had to have killed the spouter
and kept the candles fresh.
"But, Lord," the great beast rumbled, "he will tell all."
"No," the Christ said. "He'll tell nobody." He looked half at me, half through me, and
said, "Go, go."
Up the tunnels, into the orange dark of the Cathedral, crying, I crawled and slithered. I
could not even go to the Giant. I had been silenced as effectively as if my throat had been cut.
The next morning I watched from a shadowy corner of the scaffold as a crowd gathered
around a lone man in a dirty sackcloth robe, I had seen him before; his name was Psalo, and he was
left alone as an example of the Bishop's largess. It was a token gesture; most of the people
regarded him as barely half-sane.
Yet this time I listened and, in my confusion, found his words striking responsive chords
in me. He was exhorting the Bishop and his forces to allow light into the Cathedral again, by
dropping the canvas tarps that covered the windows. He had talked about this before, and the
Bishop had responded with his usual statement-that with the light would come more chaos, for the
human mind was now a pesthole of delusions. Any stimulus would drive away whatever security the
inhabitants of the Cathedral had.
At this time it gave me no pleasure to watch the love of Constantia and Corvus grow. They were
becoming more careless. Their talk was bolder:
"We shall soon announce a marriage," Corvus said.
"They will never allow it. They'll cut you."
"I'm nimble. They'll never catch me. The church needs leaders, brave revolutionaries. If no one
breaks with tradition, everyone will suffer."
"I fear for your life-and mine. My father would push me from the flock like a diseased lamb."
"Your father is no shepherd."
"He is my father," Constantia said, eyes wide, mouth drawn tight.
I sat with beak in paws, eyes half-lidded, able to mimic each statement before it was uttered.
Undying love . . . hope for a bleak future . . . shite and onions! I had read it all before, a
cache of romance novels in the trash of a dead nun. As soon as I made the connection and realized
the timeless banality-and the futility-of what I was seeing, and when I compared their prattle
with the infinite sadness of the stone Christ, I went from innocent to cynic. The transition
dizzied me, leaving little backwaters of noble emotion,
but the future seemed clear. Corvus would be caught and executed; if it hadn't been for me, he
would already have been gelded, if not killed. Constantia would weep, poison herself; the singers
would sing of it (those selfsame warble-throats who cheered the death of her lover); perhaps I
would write of it (I was planning this chronicle even then), and afterward, perhaps, I would
follow them both-having succumbed to the sin of boredom.
With nightfall, things become less certain. It was easy to stare at a dark wall and let dreams
become manifest. At one time, I've deduced from books, dreams couldn't take shape beyond sleep or
brief fantasy. All too often I've had to fight things generated in my dreams, flowing from the
walls, suddenly independent and hungry. People often die in the night. It was-is-a hard world we
live in.
That night, falling to sleep with visions of the stone Christ in my head, I dreamed of holy men,
angels, and saints. I came awake abruptly, by training, and one had stayed behind. The others I
saw, vaguely, flitting outside the round window, where they whispered and made plans for flying
off to heaven. The wraith who remained was a dark shape in one corner. His breathing was harsh. "I
am Peter," he said, "also called Simon. J am the Rock of the Church, and popes are told that they
are heir to my task."
"I'm rock, too." I said. "At least in part."
"So be it. You are heir to my task. Go forth
and be pope. Do not fear or even reverence the stone Christ, for a Christ is only as good as He
does, and if He does nothing, there is no salvation in Him."
The shadow reached out to pat my head, and I saw his eyes grow wide as he made out my
form. He muttered some formula for banishing devils and oozed out the window to join his fellows.
I imagined that if such a thing were actually brought before the council, it would be
decided that the benison of a dream person is not binding. I did not care. This was better advice
than any I'd had since the Giant told me to read and learn.
But to be pope, one must have a hierarchy of servants to carry out one's orders. The
biggest of rocks does not move by itself. So, swelled with power, I decided to appear in the upper
nave and announce myself to the people.
It took a great deal of courage to appear in daylight, without cloak, and to walk across
the scaffold's surface, on the second level, through crowds of vendors setting up the market for
the day. Some reacted with typical bigotry and sought to kick or deride me. My beak discouraged
them. I clambered to the top of a prominent stall and stood in a murky lamp's circle, clearing my
throat to announce myself. Under a hail of rotten pomegranates and limp vegetables, I told the
throng who I was, and I told them about my vision. Jeweled with beads of offal, I jumped down in a
few minutes and fled to a tunnel entrance too small for most
men. Some of the boys followed me, and one lost a finger, trying to slice me with a bit of colored
I recognized that the tactic of open revelation was worthless. There are numerous levels
of bigotry, and I was at the very bottom of any list.
My next strategy was to find some way to disrupt the Cathedral from top to bottom. Even
bigots, when reduced to a mob, can be swayed by the presence of one obviously ordained and
capable. I spent two days skulking through the walls. There had to be a basic flaw in so fragile a
structure as the church, and, although I wasn't contemplating total destruction, I wanted
something spectacular, unavoidable.
While I thought, hanging from the bottom of the second scaffold, above the community of
pure flesh, the Bishop's deep gravelly voice roared over the noise of the crowd. I opened my eyes
and looked down. The masked troops were holding a bowed figure, and the Bishop was intoning over
its head, "Know all who hear me now, this young bastard of flesh and stone-"
Corvus, I told myself. Finally caught. I shut one eye, but the other refused to close out
the scene.
"-has violated all we hold sacred and shall atone for his crimes on this spot, tomorrow at
this time. Kronos! Mark the wheel's progress." The elected Kronos, a spindly old man with dirty
gray hair down to his buttocks, took a piece of charcoal and marked an X on the huge
bulkhead chart, behind which the wheel groaned and sighed in its circuit.
The crowd was enthusiastic. I saw Psalo pushing through the people.
"What crime?" he called out. .
"Violation of the lower level!" the head of the masked troops declared.
"That merits a whipping and an escort upstairs." Psalo said. "I detect a more sinister
crime here. What is it?"
The Bishop looked Psalo down coldly. "He tried to rape my daughter, Constantia."
Psalo could say nothing to that. The penalty was castration and death. All the pure humans
accepted such laws. There was no other recourse.
I mused, watching Corvus being led to the dungeons. The future that I desired at that
moment startled me with its clarity. I wanted that part of my heritage that had been denied to me-
to be at peace with myself, to be surrounded by those who accepted me, by those no better than 1.
In time that would happen, as the Giant had said. But would I ever see it? What Corvus, in his own
lusty way, was trying to do was equalize the levels, to bring stone into flesh until no one could
define the divisions.
Well, my plans beyond that point were very hazy. They were less plans than glowing
feelings, imaginings of happiness and children playing in the forest and fields beyond the island,
as the world knitted itself together under the gaze of God's heir. My children, playing in the
forest. A touch of truth came to me. I had wished to be Corvus when he topped Constantia.
So I now had two tasks that could be merged, if I was clever. I had to distract the Bishop
and his troops, and I had to rescue Corvus, fellow revolutionary.
I spent that night in feverish misery in my room. At dawn I went to the Giant and asked
his advice. He looked me over coldly and said, "We waste our time if we try. to knock sense into
them. But we have no better calling than to waste our time, do we?"
"What shall I do?"
"Enlighten them."
I stomped my claw on the floor. "They are bricks! Try enlightening bricks!"
He smiled his sad, narrow smile. "Enlighten them," he said.
I left the Giant's chamber in a rage. I did not have access to the great wheel's board of
time; so I couldn't know exactly when the execution would take place. But I guessed-from memories
of a grumbling stomach-that it would be in the early afternoon. I traveled from one end of the
nave to the other and, likewise, the transepts. I nearly exhausted myself. Then, crossing an empty
aisle, I picked up a piece of colored glass and examined it, puzzled. Many of the boys on all
levels carried these shards with them, and the girls used them as jewelry-against the wishes of
their elders, who held that bright objects bred more beasts in the mind. Where did they get them?
In one of the books I had perused years
before, I had seen brightly colored pictures of the Cathedral windows. "Enlighten them," the Giant
had said.
Psalo's request to let light into the Cathedral came to mind.
Along the peak of the nave, in a tunnel running its length, I found the ties that held the
pulleys of the canvases over the windows. The best windows, I decided, would be the huge ones of
the north and south transepts. Then I made a diagram in the dust, trying to decide what season it
was and from which direction the sunlight would come: pure speculation, of course, but at this
moment I was in a fever of brilliance. All the windows had to be clear. I could not decide which
was best.
I was ready by early afternoon, just after sext prayers in the upper nave. I had cut the
major ropes' and weakened the clamps by prying them from the walls with a pick stolen from the
armory. I walked along a ledge, took an almost vertical shaft through the wall to the lower floor,
and waited.
Constantia was watching from a wooden balcony, the Bishop's special box for executions.
She had a terrified, fascinated look on her face. And Corvus was on the dais across the nave,
right in the center of the cross of the transepts. Torches illuminated him and his executioners,
three men and one old woman.
I knew the procedure. The old woman would castrate him first; then the men would remove
his head. He was dressed in the condemned's red robe, to hide any blood. Blood excitement
among the impressionable was the last thing the Bishop wanted. Troops waited around the dais to
sprinkle scented water in order to hide the loathsome smell.
I didn't have much time. It would take minutes, at the least, for -the system of ropes and
pulleys to clear and allow the canvases to fall. I went to my station and cut the remaining ties.
Then, as the Cathedral filled with a hollow creaking sound, I followed the shaft back to my
viewing post.
In three minutes the canvases were drooping. I saw Corvus look up, his eyes glazed. The
Bishop was with his daughter in the box. He pulled her back into the shadows. In another two
minutes the canvases fell onto the upper scaffold with a hideous crash. Their weight was too great
for the ends of the structure, and it collapsed, allowing the canvas to cascade to the floor, many
yards below. At first the illumination was dim and bluish, filtered perhaps by a passing cloud.
Then, from one end of the Cathedral to the other, a burst of light threw my smoky world into
clarity. The glory of thousands of pieces of colored glass, hidden for decades and hardly touched
by childish vandals, fell upon upper and lower levels at once. `A cry from the crowds nearly
tossed me from my post. I slid quickly to the lower level and hid, afraid of what I had done. This
was more than simple sunlight. Like the blossoming of flowers, the transept windows fixed all who
saw them.
Eyes accustomed to orangey dark, to smoke and haze and shadow, cannot stare into such
glory without drastic effect. I shielded my own face and tried to find a convenient exit.
But the population was increasing. As the light brightened and more faces rose to be
locked, phototropic, the splendor unhinged some people. From their minds poured contents too
wondrous to be accurately cataloged. The monsters thus released were not violent, however, and
most of the visions were not monstrous.
The upper and lower naves shimmered with reflected glories, with dream figures and
children clothed in baubles of light. Saints and prodigies dominated. A thousand newly created
youngsters squatted on the bright floor and began to tell of marvels, of cities in the East, and
of times as they had once been. Clowns dressed in fire entertained from the tops of the market
stalls. Animals unknown to the Cathedral cavorted between the dwellings, giving friendly advice.
Abstract things, glowing balls in nets of gold and ribbons of silk, sang and floated around the
upper reaches. The Cathedral became a great vessel of all its citizens' bright dreams.
Slowly, from the lower nave, people of pure flesh climbed to the scaffold and walked the
upper nave to see what they couldn't from below. From my hideaway I watched the masked troops of
the Bishop carrying his litter up narrow stairs. Constantia walked behind, stumbling, her eyes
shut in the new brightness.
All tried to cover their eyes, but none succeeded for long.
I wept. Almost blind with tears. I made my way still higher and looked down on the roiling
crowds. I saw Corvus, his hands still wrapped in restraining ropes, being led by the old woman.
Constantia saw him, too, and they regarded each other like strangers, then joined hands as best
they could. She borrowed a knife from one of her father's soldiers and cut his ropes away. Around
them the brightest dreams of all began to swirl, pure white and blood-red and seagreen, coalescing
into visions of all the children they would innocently have.
I gave them a few hours to regain their senses-and to regain my own. Then I stood on the
Bishop's abandoned podium and shouted over the heads of those on the lowest level.
"The time has come!" I cried. "We must all unite right now; we must unite-"
At first they ignored me. I was quite eloquent, but their excitement was still too great.
So I waited some more, began to speak again, and was shouted down. Bits of fruit and vegetables
arced up. "Freak!" they screamed, and drove me away.
I crept along the stone stairs, found the narrow crack, and hid in it, burying my beak in
my paws, wondering what had gone wrong. It took a surprisingly long time for me to realize that,
in my case, it was less the stigma of stone than the ugliness of my shape that doomed my quest for
leadership. This knowledge was painful.
I had, however, paved the way for the stone Christ. He will surely be able to take His
now, I told myself. So I maneuvered along the crevice until I came to the hidden chamber and the
yellow glow. All was quiet within. I met first the stone monster, who looked me over suspiciously
with glazed gray eyes. "You're back," he said. Overcome by his wit, I leered, nodded, and asked
that I be presented to the Christ.
"He's sleeping."
"Important tidings," I said.
"I bring glad tidings."
"Then let me see them."
"His eyes only."
Out of the gloomy corner came the Christ, looking much older now, almost like a prophet. "What is
it?" He asked.
"I have prepared the way for you," I said. "Simon called Peter and told me I was the heir to his
legacy, that I should go before you-"
The stone Christ shook his head. "You believe I am the fount from which all blessings flow?"
I nodded, uncertain.
"What have you done out there?"
"Let in the light," I said.
He shook His head slowly. "You seem a wise enough creature. You know about Mortdieu."
"Then you should know that I barely have enough power to keep myself together, to heal myself,
much less to minister to those out there." He gestured beyond the walls. "My own source has gone
away." He said
mournfully. "I'm operating on reserves, and those none too vast."
"He wants you to go away and stop bothering us," the monster explained.
"They have their light out there," the Christ said. "They'll play with that for a while, get tired
of it, go back to what they had before. Is there room for you in that?"
I thought for a moment, then shook my head. "No room," I said. "I'm too ugly."
"You are too ugly, and I'm too famous." He said. "I'd have to come from their midst, anonymous,
and that's clearly impossible. No, leave them alone for a while. They'll make me over again,
perhaps, or, better still, forget about me. About us. We don't have any place there."
I was stunned. I sat down hard on the stone floor, and the Christ patted me on my head as He
walked by. "Go back to your hiding place; live as well as you can," he said. "Our time is over."
I turned to go. When I reached the crevice, I heard His voice behind, saying, "Do you play bridge?
If you do, find another. We need four to a table."
I clambered up the crack, through the walls, and along the arches over the revelry. Not only was I
not going to be pope-after an appointment by St. Peter himself! but I couldn't persuade someone
much more qualified than I to take the leadership.
I returned to the copper Giant. He was lost in meditation. About his feet were scattered scraps
of paper with detailed drawings of parts of the Cathedral. I waited patiently until he saw me. He
turned to me, chin in hand, and looked me over.
"Why so sad?"
I shook my head. Only he could read my features and recognize my moods.
"Did you take my advice below? I heard a commotion. "
"Mea maxima culpa, " I said.
"And . . . ?"
I slowly, hesitantly, made my report, concluding with the refusal of the stone Christ. The Giant
listened closely, without interrupting. When I was done, he stood, towering over me, and pointed
with his ruler through an open portal.
"Do you see that out. there?" he asked. The ruler swept over the forests beyond the island, to the
far, green horizon. I said that I did and waited for him to continue. He seemed to be lost in
thought again.
"Once there was a city where trees now grow. One of the finest cities in the world," he said. "It
was called Paris, and it was old even then. It was famous for a peculiar kind of thought and a
peculiar kind of passion. Artists came by the thousands, and whores, and philosophers, and
academics. And when God died, all the academics and whores and artists couldn't hold the fabric of
the world together. How do you expect us to succeed now?"
Us? "Expectations should not determine whether one acts or not, should they?"
The Giant laughed and tapped my head with the ruler. "An age ago, before I was born or repaired
the Cathedral, the Christ and what He represented stood tall in the city of thought, much as this
spire rises over the forest. But everything grows old. Maybe we've been given a sign, and we just
have to learn how to interpret it correctly." He shook his head.
I leered to show I was puzzled.
"Instead of God's death, we're faced with another process entirely. We have long bathed in God's
milk, in His rules and creativity. Maybe Mortdieu is really a sign that we have been weaned. We
must forage for ourselves, remake the world without help. What do you think of that?"
I was too tired to really judge the merits of what he was saying, but I had never known the Giant
to be wrong before. "Okay. So?"
"The stone Christ indicates His charge is
running down. If God weans us from the old
ways, we can't expect His Son to replace the
nipple, can we?"
He hunkered next to me, his face bright. "I wondered who would really stand forth. It's obvious.
He won't. So, little one, who's the next choice?"
"Me?" I asked, meekly. The giant looked me over almost pityingly.
"No," he said after a time. "I am the next. We're weaned!" He did a little dance, startling my
beak up out of my paws. I blinked. He grabbed my vestigial wingtips and pulled me
upright. "Tell me more."
"About what?"
"Tell me all that's going on below, and whatever else you know."
"I'm trying to figure out what you're saying," I protested, trembling a bit.
"Dense as stone!" Grinning, he bent over me. Then the grin went away and he tried to look stern.
"It's a grave responsibility. We must remake the world ourselves now. We must coordinate our
thoughts, our dreams. Chaos won't do. What an opportunity, to be the architect of an entire
universe!" He waved the ruler at the ceiling. "To build the very skies! The last world was a
training ground, full of harsh rules and strictures. Now we've been told we're ready to leave that
behind, move on to something more mature. Did I teach you any of the rules of architecture? I
mean, the aesthetics. The need for harmony, interaction, utility, beauty-within-science?"
"Some," I said.
"Good. I don't think making the universe anew will require any better rules. No doubt we'll need
to experiment, and perhaps one or more of our great spires will topple. But now we work for
ourselves, to our own glory, and the greater glory of the God who made us! No, ugly friend?"
Like many histories, mine must begin with the small, the tightly focused, and expand into the
large. But, unlike most historians. I don't have the luxury of time. Indeed, my story isn't
even concluded yet.
Soon the legions of Viollet-le-Duc will begin their campaigns. Most have been schooled pretty
thoroughly. Kidnapped from below, brought up in the heights, taught as I was. We'll begin
returning them, one by one.
I teach off and on, write off and on, observe all the time.
The next step will be the biggest. I haven't any idea how we're going to do it.
But, as the Giant puts it, "Long ago the roof fell in. Now we must push it up again, strengthen
it, repair the beams." At this point he smiles to the pupils. "Not just repair them. Replace them!
Now we are the beams. Flesh and stone become something much stronger."
Ah, but then some dolt will raise a hand and inquire, "What if our arms get tired holding up the
Our task will not soon be over.

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Tales of Mystery and Imagination

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