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Under the Green Sun of Slormor

by Bertil Falk

Table of Contents
Chapter 1, part 1
appears in this issue.
Chapter 1: The Heavy City

part 2 of 2

When I tried to get to know more about them, she shrugged her shoulders, if one could call the places shoulders where shoulders should be shoulders. Her neck passed into her arms without any actual transition.

“They’re far beyond the place where the canals meet by the heavy city. The dead spot!” she whined and lost herself in her usual apathy.

In any event I had learned that there existed some kind of beings called Invaders and that they had the power of invading the minds of other beings. She was the one who revealed to me that the road back was where the Invaders were.

When I once more experienced that scanning as I walked across the open fields towards the longish valley, the strength of the scanning was stronger than before. Perhaps the Invaders found my mind alarming. Maybe they perceived me as a threat unlike the worn-out inhabitants. But they let go and ceased scanning my mind.

After having walked many miles across the fields, I reached the edge of the valley that stretched far beyond the horizon. I stood on a cliff. Down below me spread the heavy city. From it, canals issued in all directions. The canals were filled with brown liquid. It may have been dirty water. Perhaps it was something else. In the canals, occasional boat slowly moved to and from the heavy city. The canals had probably once constituted veins of a lively system of trade.

The city itself seemed to be in a state of decomposition, but it had nevertheless withstood the ravages of time in a totally different way than the ruins I had left behind me. The worn building fronts went in waves, as if Gaudi had influenced the architects of the city, or — the thought hit me — as if Gaudi had found inspiration for his Barcelona in the heavy city. Irregular black towers and white squares made the city look like a contorted chessboard from above.

A slimy haze covered the valley, a moist rose-colored lid, which the emerald-green sunshine penetrated and gave a sickly tinge of death. I stood there for a long while and saw how the few small boats slowly moved in the canals, which meandered across the boundless valley in a complicated network that looked like a labyrinth. Parts of this system seemed to be abandoned. On only a few winding stretches of canals were there signs of shipping.

I turned around and looked back at the edge of the forest. It was like a black mourning border where the fields ended. The sun dipped tired like a green corpse towards the skyline. Soon the long night would fall. I contemplated camping up here on the field but finally decided to try to get down to the heavy city to find lodging.

I walked along the edge of the cliff and found at last a spiral staircase carved out in a slack whorl down through the rock in the shape of a narrow tunnel, reminiscent of the stairs of a medieval church tower.

A spiral tunnel staircase!

I walked carefully, since I was a stranger in this part of the universe. A nasty smell curled up through the staircase. Strange patterns that were not cobwebs were affixed in corners here and there. It took me a long while to get down to ground level, but suddenly the stairs came to an end, and the path continued in the shape of a twisty alley into the heavy city.

Not a sound was heard, not a soul was to be seen, but the nasty smell was strong. I had not had a shower since I fell into this crack in the universe and I felt dirty.

The sun had fizzled out and the poison-paled light from the faint moons trickled down musty greenish colors between the rows of houses. Lights flickered in one or two windows. The alley ran into a square, where some kind of trading was going on.

The beings reminded of the people I had left behind me. They were more mobile without emanating any kind of efficiency. Obviously, they reacted when they saw me, but exactly as with their kinsmen, this reaction abated almost immediately and they returned to their business of selling and buying. Or was it barter? Or free distribution?

Now I saw that it was a vegetarian market: black bread and turnip-like fruits. I continued my walk along narrow alleys and reached a canal, where boats were moored. The stench was now nose-splitting and I understood that it was the dirty liquid in the canals that stunk.

At that moment small beings dressed in Spanish cloaks set upon me. I had not been sufficiently on my guard and reacted instinctively. Someone seized me by the throat. With both my hands I seized the forearms of the perpetrator — slim, slender, thin forearms, like sticks — and then I pulled.

A cheerless scream was heard and the grasp on my throat loosened. With lightning rapidity, I swung myself around, caught hold of a cloak and snatched it. A deadened howling rattled, and the being I had pulled down fell on its back.

Now the other perpetrators were on the run. I hauled home the cloak with both my hands as if it were a rope. When I reached the throat, I lifted up the being and dangled it in the air in front of me.

It was a child. A gang of snotty-nosed kids had attacked me. There was obviously more life in them than in the adults, which in a way was promising.

“Who are you?” I said to the girl in the language I had picked up.

She shook like a leaf, where she hung in the air from her cloak. “Parvrin,” she whined.

“And why did you attack me, Parvrin?”

“To get that!”

She extended her hand to get my ball pen, but I stopped her. “Do you know what it is?” I asked.

She shook her head, and now I noticed that she had calmed down considerably.

Exactly as when the adults got interested and immediately became indifferent, this child’s fear had disappeared almost instantly.

Carefully, I put her down on the ground and let the cloak go.

I had expected that she would run away, but she stood there staring at me. It was characteristic that her neck went directly into her arms without discernible shoulders. Her black eyes were not lively, but they were nevertheless the most living ones I had seen since I slipped into this slice of life. Her face was grayish and dumb.

“Are you not afraid of me, Parvrin?”

“Not any more,” she said. “I thought you were an invader.”

“Am I not?” I challenged her.

“No,” she replied. “Everybody knows that Invaders can be overpowered. You cannot be overpowered. And you didn’t scan me. Invaders scan us.”

“Have you attacked many Invaders?”

“No, never. They keep in hiding, but you feel when they’re searching you. When we saw you, we thought that we at last had surprised an invader.”

Her eyes had not gone numb, which was a good sign.

“I need somewhere to stay,” I said. ”Do you know where I can live?”

“Oh yes,” she said. “Come with me.”

I saw her friends peeping out from alleys and nooks. They may have been biding their time. And they looked, probably puzzled, when I left the quay, walking by Parvrin’s side.

She guided me through streets of dried clay, where I could read footprints, wheel tracks and odd big imprints, probably of paws and claws.

A cart pulled by a six-footed animal the size of a donkey rattled past in splendid isolation without a driver. The cart had two axles, and the wheels fit perfectly into the solidified ruts. Simply a kind of streetcar line.

At last, Parvrin stopped in front of a round opening almost two metres wide. It had no door. The opening was in a stone building jammed in between two other stone buildings in a narrow by-lane.

Parvrin entered and I had to bow to follow her. Inside was a long passage, and the ceiling height was about one and a half metres, so I, who am almost two metres tall, had to walk with my head bowed. Parvrin pushed aside a curtain and we entered a room with bare walls and benches fixed to the walls.

“You can stay here,” Parvrin said. “ The place belongs to my gur Deradivel, but my gur is gone.”

I looked around. The room was five metres long and three and half wide. It was illuminated by a purple light from a strip running like a loop around the room where the walls met the ceiling. Unhealthy moisture filled the place.

“Do you live here?” I asked.

“No,” Parvrin replied, “but I can stay here and keep watch if you want.”

Amazed, I looked at her. “Keep watch? Against what?”

“Invaders,” she said.

“Invaders?” I repeated.

“By now, they must’ve understood that someone has arrived who has power. Everyone knows that the weakness we carry — and which will be more apparent the older we get — emanates from them. They’re always scanning us. If someone shows signs of not falling into decay, then they step in and see to it that... we fall into decay. They must regard you as dangerous. Have you not felt that they scan you?”

“Oh yes, I have,” I said, “but I don’t know if they have noticed me specially.”

“I’m sure they have,” the girl said.

“But what about you?”

“I’m only a child. The Invaders know that children are unspoiled, but they rely on us becoming apathetic in the long run. They don’t think that we’re capable of anything else but catching them. Therefore they stay away from us. They scan and lie low.

“But if they notice that there’s someone among us who can match them, then they take to violence and don’t hesitate to kill. Some of us who have grown up and remained strong have been hunted down and murdered. I’m sure your life is in danger.”

“But why should you care?” I asked, somewhat anxiously.

“You may be the one who will save us, the one the legends talk about, the one promised long ago. But the legends also say that the Invaders will do everything in their power to destroy our savior. It rests with us to protect our savior.”

“But if I’m not your savior?”

“It would be worse if you were the promised one and we didn’t protect you.”

“Are all children here like you?”

She looked at me and her childish face got a sad line. She lowered her eyes. “No, I’m not like the others. They say I’m precocious.”

That’s the least one can say, I thought, but I did not say it aloud. “It seems to me that you’re as one should be, child or not,” I said, and she beamed with happiness and that gave me a good feeling.

“Where am I? What’s the name of this world?”

“Slormor,” she said. “You’re under the green sun of Slormor.”

Parvrin brought a feather bed, which she put on the floor. Then she lit a fire in a bowl hanging from the ceiling. Soon, the heat from the flames dispersed the humidity. The vapid smell that permeated the city and which also was inside the room dissolved and disappeared.

Then she guided me through a passage. Inside a big room, luminous water bubbled out of the floor. I hesitated for a moment, felt the pungent scent of sulphur, undressed and spent a long while caring for my neglected body.

The greenish water was hot and steaming. I had nothing else to scrub myself with except my fingers. I pressed them against my body and scrubbed until scales of dead skin rolled off my body.

When it was done I was freezing and shivering. I looked around to find something to dry myself with. There was nothing. I had to shiver and dry by myself. On the floor were garments that looked clean. One was a pair of rosy trousers of the Oriental apple stealing kind, reminding me of the plus-fours golfers who, long ago, used to match them with checkered socks.

I put them on and found that they adjusted to my long legs in an elastic way. A pair of slipper-like Aladdin shoes likewise formed themselves around my feet, and the jacket sewn with a silk lining, moulded itself across my chest and back in a kind of instant tailoring.

I took my sweaty clothes and washed them as well as I could in the glittering water that streamed out of the floor and drained away through a hole in the wall. At last I hung my laundry over a railing and returned through the passage to the room.

There, Parvrin motioned to me to lie down on the bed. I did as she said. Immediately, the edges of the bed bent in over me, and I found myself inside a pleasing embrace. The heat of my own body filled the sleeping-bag shaped nook with warmth. I realized I would be too warm in my clothes; I got up, took them off, and lay naked inside the delightful hug.

I immediately perceived a fatigue I had not permitted myself to notice and within a few moments I was sound asleep. And the dream continued...

To be continued...

Copyright © 2007 by Bertil Falk

Proceed to Challenge 273...

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