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Bewildering Stories

Elana Gomel, A Tale of Three Cities


A Tale of Three Cities
Author: Elana Gomel
Publisher: Dark Quest, LLC
Date: April 2013
ISBN: 1937051269; 978-1937051266

A thousand years ago humanity rebelled against its animal masters and slaughtered their four leaders: the Lion, the Tiger, the Seal, and the Bear. Now men live in the dismal overpopulated City, torn between the remorse for their ancient sin and skepticism that insists that the entire story of the Rebellion is a fairy tale. Mara Raven has the unique ability to journey to the dream-sea, which is a place of unparalleled beauty and terror, holding clues to the crimes committed in the City. But is it a real place? What is its connection with the secret history of humanity? Are there other cities hidden within its depth? When Mara’s husband disappears and her mother is savagely killed, Mara has to venture deep into the dream-sea to find the shocking answers.

Darkness, pierced with the sickly orange light of street-lamps and repaired with rain. Riding by Adrian Sparrow’s side in his car, Mr. Seal felt that the fabric of reality had worn so threadbare that he could tear it apart with a single mental effort.

Adrian was silent and glancing at his profile against the darkness, Mr. Seal felt again the tug of ambivalence that was almost painful in its intensity: hatred, visceral revulsion, and yet an equally powerful sense of familiarity.

“Here we are,” said Adrian, killing the engine.

They got out. At this hour some of the windows in the Animal House were still lit. Mr. Seal was familiar with the atmosphere of impotent and evasive desperation that infested the City’s center of secular power. There would be bureaucrats, working feverishly in order to convince themselves that they were doing something. But there would also be armed policemen and after the Edna Lynx affair, they were ordered to shoot on sight.

“We can’t go any closer,” he said.

“No need,” said Adrian. “We can see from here. The statues of the Four. They are supposed to be their most realistic representation. Not like the pious junk in the Temple.”

The facade of the building was floodlit and they could clearly see the four towering figures on the crest of the roof.

As usual, something softly flopped in Mr. Seal’s chest when he looked squarely at the Slaughtered Ones. He had no problem with the carved images of lesser animals that clung to the walls of the building like swollen ivy: hares and lizards; moles and snakes; ravens and gazelles...They neither frightened nor attracted him. But the Four...

The Seal, his namesake, was a giant shapeless bulk, distended and bulging, as if rotting from within and pumped up with the gases of decay. Its tapering upper part reared into the air, slug-like. The tiny hands - or were they flippers? - seemed squashed by the weight of its creased flesh. And there was no head. The body came to a point, at which it was surmounted by a disproportionately tiny face perched at a wrong angle, like a hat. The face was human but blank and grimacing, the face of an idiot child.

The Lion was a mass of painfully straining muscles, a flayed image of frustrated strength, its clawed feet digging into the tiles of the roof, every convolution of its vaguely cat-like body screaming its rage. As opposed to the Seal, its most prominent feature was its huge face. Surrounded by a streaming mane, it was a face fretted and eaten by leprosy: a flat squashed nose with gaping nostrils, thin torn lips stretched over broken fangs, empty eyes staring into the night as if their lids were cut off.

The Tiger was an articulated four-legged skeleton, whose tail wormed its way in and around its barrel-like ribcage like a fat caterpillar. But its abdomen was a sagging sack, filled - according to the legend - with live coals and ashes, for there was an undying flame within the Tiger that burnt it to madness unless it was fed with precious offerings and human lives. Its head was the most animal-like of the Four: an elongated, empty-eyed skull, its maw gaping as if choking on its own all-consuming appetite.

And finally, the Bear who, according to the secret Temple writings that Mr. Seal knew well, was the leader of the Four. As always, his eyes only reluctantly focused on the naked crouching mass. An animal is never naked; and if the Bear appeared as such, it was only because it was indeed on the opposite end of the scale from the Tiger: the most human-like of the Four and the most repulsive. It looked like a deformed baby, unfinished and soft, its lumpy upper limbs desultorily growing both fingers and claws, the folds of its bare flesh seeming to hesitate whether to form human pectorals or to cover themselves with a pelt. Its face would be intolerable to see, thought Mr. Seal, were it visible. It was not. It was veiled by a piece of stone drapery, masterfully rendered by an ancient sculptor. But Mr. Seal knew it was not supposed to be drapery. It was supposed to be a piece of flayed human skin.

Copyright © 2013 by Elana Gomel

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