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Untitled - Chapter 3 pt. 2 (The Golden City)

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posted on Mar, 14 2005 @ 11:44 AM
The sign read “THC The Holy Church.” The church looked old in the daylight, WAS thought as he walked by. Its power was turned off, leaving the ghostly grey tubes of the sign hollow and dusty. The throngs who usually milled about after hours, high on salvation, walked beside him, dutifully to work.

WAS would have liked a quick prayer before work, just a sip from the cup, but there was no time. He would have to wait for the regular mass in the evening. WAS gave it one last look and turned away, to the buildings where he worked. The pearl inside him grew with every denial. He was hungry, thirsty, tired, and suffering from unexplained hallucinations, and the day had just begun.

The office buildings grew exponentially in size as the men drew nearer to their bases. As majestic as the towers looked from Sin City, they were positively awe inspiring when one stood by their front doors and looked straight up. Tower 3, the closest, rose several thousand feet straight up into the sky. It was a dizzying bridge of subdued golden light that arched into the upper reaches of the low, grey sky. A sunbeam flashed between fast moving clouds, lit the golden windows, and for a moment WAS remembered much.

Someone jostled him in passing and broke his concentration. The faceless stranger quickly nodded his apology and slipped away into the crowd. WAS stood, heavy and empty, like a ghostly boulder in the river of souls that flowed around him. Soon he remembered that he had to get to work, like everyone else. People hustled past him at a rapid pace, WAS took a deep breath, rejoined the stream of people, and let it carry him through the wide, open doors into the lobby. His feet barely touched the ground.

Beneath the cerulescent marble floor, sensors recorded the passage of thousands upon thousands of seemingly identical workers. Fifty feet above them the lobby ceiling watched their passing with multitudinous eyes, and recognized every individual. The ceiling was a dome of blue tiles that matched the color of the marble floor, and it was inset with hundreds of glittering stars.

WAS walked up to the line for the elevator marked '200-215.' 20 people at a time filed into the elevator, which beeped when it was full, immediately shut the doors and began its ascent. While WAS waited in line, he looked around the column studded perimeter of the lobby where thousands of people stood, all waiting impatiently in front of differently marked elevators. Countless tapping feet sounded like distant applause to WAS's ears as he tapped his own foot, nervous that he had forgotten something important. WAS stepped on the elevator with 19 other people whose destination was close to his, none of whom he recognized or even saw clearly. WAS worked three floors below the roof, on the 213th floor. The elevator never seemed to move, but seconds later the doors were opening and several people got off.

When they eventually the doors opened at 213 two people in front got off first, one stayed in the elevator beside him. To WAS’s surprise, when he glanced over he realized the only other person in the elevator with him was a woman. Her white shirt stood out among the tens of thousands of blue ones WAS saw every day. WAS waited for her to get off, wondered to himself what she was even doing there, but she didn't move, just watched him with a smile, so WAS excused himself and darted around her. As he passed, WAS felt something brush the back pocket of his pants.

WAS turned and looked at the woman as the steel doors began to close. She was neither young nor old, her eyes were clear and her dark hair shone, she was beautiful. Her small mouth was turned up at the corners in a subdued smile, her hands were clasped behind her back. There was no patch above her left breast. That meant she was a foreigner, maybe an ambassador. WAS couldn't place the woman, but he was sure he knew her, that face was so strangely familiar his eyes couldn’t let go. (Elizabeth? Your hair, it’s changed, but it is you isn’t it? My God, it is. Elizabeth, can you hear me? Elizabeth!) WAS stared, mouth agape and mind blank until the woman slowly ceased to smile, then sadness advanced over him without warning, like an early frost.

(You fool, damned, detestable fool. That woman is more important than a legion of angels! How could you not know her? What’s happened to you man?)

WAS wondered if he had seen her in Sin City, but thought it unlikely, all the women there disgusted him. The mystery woman bit her lip nervously and before the closing doors eclipsed her, began to reach out to him with one hand. She seemed on the verge of tears, but the doors sealed in an instant and she was gone.

(Wait, don’t go! Don’t let her go!)

WAS turned away and scratched his head. "Where do I know her from?" he said to himself as he stood alone outside the door to his section. He shook his head to clear his thoughts, then opened the door and stepped into work, only slightly haunted by the woman’s remarkable eyes, her familiar face.

(Where are you going? Go to her! Do you hear? Don’t let her leave! You have to follow, you have to! Why aren’t you listening to me? Wake up you fool!)

The entire office was devoted to a maze of cubicles, hundreds of octogonal plastic wall dividers with thin corridors between. Each was occupied by two workers, back-to-back. WAS walked past his coworkers who didn't so much as raise their heads in greeting. He turned and headed down one of the rows, which took him near the center of the maze. He entered his cubicle and found another man already hard at work.

WAS sat down and looked at his work load for the day. Seventeen forms for change of marriage already filled out, to be reviewed and signed by him, then forwarded to the Bankers Union for verification of financial viability. Eventually they would be returned to him for another review, before forwarding to the Doctors Union. WAS had never met a banker or a doctor. He sometimes wondered where they lived and worked. There were also thirteen requests for change of adress to be signed and forwarded to the Citizens Security board for approval. Two applications for religious exemption, which WAS would stamp DENIED and send back without reading. WAS reasoned that anyone who wanted exemption from salvation wasn't thinking straight.

At the bottom of the stack of paperwork, his evaluation. Sealed along one edge and perforated, it had his 'WAS' designation, cubicle number, and date-of-exam printed on the front in blocky black letters. None of the numbers made any sense to him, he couldn’t even remember taking the test, but regardless he tore the envelope open and discarded the perforation into the trash bin beside him, then pulled the form out and layed it with great ceremony down onto the desk top. WAS took a deep breath and unfolded the creased paper to see his results.

Dear Candidate,
Your efficiency evaluation has been completed and you have been found by all inspecting officers to be a sound thinker and a thorough worker. Your competence has been an asset to the sector in which you are currently employed, so you have been granted a promotion that you might transplant said effort and conscienciousness to another sector in which assistance is required. Report to your Office Manager for transfer authorization.

The letter was signed by four men, all of whom shared a flare for unreadable signatures. WAS didn't know how to feel. He had worked hard, and now he would be rewarded. He had just been given a promotion, but he felt no elation; he felt nothing. Something was wrong, and he had no idea what it was. He felt like he should be upset, about what he couldn’t remember, but at least it seemed to be fading. (Wake up! Wake up! You have to do something!)

Numb and shaken, he folded the piece of paper up and tried to slide it into the back pocket of his pants. There was something in there, the paper jammed up against it and wouldn't budge. WAS switched the evaluation to his other hand and pulled out the obstruction. It was another piece of paper, another letter he found out as he unfolded it and began to read.

Dear Michael,
You've forgotten your name. You've forgotten everything. I'm going to help you remember, but we haven't much time. I'm going to try to get you out of here, but it won't be easy. I can get everything back for you. You're just going to have to trust me. There's no time to say more, meet me on the top floor as soon as you can. Don't do anything out of the ordinary, accept your promotion and go to work, I'll be there.

He recognized the name, it brought back a trickle of memory. The woman in the elevator, of course, it had been Elizabeth. His..wife? No, his love. (Yes! You’ve got it, now stop #ing around and go find her!) He cursed the gaping wounds in his memory, grit his teeth and closed his eyes, trying to conjure up her face again, but his mind’s eye was all static, no reception.
(How could you..forget? She’s everything to you, everything!) WAS opened his eyes and gazed hard at the name, the handwriting, the words, trying desperately to remember something, anything.

WAS felt like he was trying to recall things from his infancy, because though only months or years had passed (How long?), the entirety of his memory before the Golden City was an impenetrable haze. WAS furrowed his brow and thought hard. Who had he been? It was impossible; the only images he could call up in his mind were familiar and recent, and they wouldn't make way for the others.

Elizabeth had been his friend, of that he was sure. They had shared..something. WAS remembered with fondness the smile he had seen on the elevator. He was sure he had seen it before, hadn’t he? Elizabeth would know who he was. (Yes, now go find her!)

WAS got up from his desk and walked briskly to the very center of the maze of cubicles. He was furtive and jittery, but did his best to hide it from the weasel eyes of the office manager.

"Good morning," WAS said after he had cleared his throat.

"Good morning," replied the man in a thick accent. "You want a cookie?" He held up a tray of pastries and cocked his head to one side with an expressionless look.

WAS hesitantly reached out and took one of the white cookies. He hadn't eaten breakfast, right. He took a bite and chewed. Flaky suger-coated pastry with strawberry jam filling. Delicious. WAS's stomach rumbled, either in appreciation or protest, WAS didn't care. He handed over his transfer notice. It was signed and returned.

"Thank you very much," WAS managed with a mouth full of jam and white powdered sugar.

"Go to the top floor, they explain everything," the other man replied, then returned his eyes and his attention to his desk. The cookies were placed out of reach, and though WAS was gnawing at his cheeks with hunger, he didn't ask for another. Instead, he nodded and left. Clutching the paper in his left hand he shuffled nervously through the office towards the door, thinking at any moment someone would leap from a cubicle and, and what? He had no idea what they did to people like him. What was left to do? When he reached the door and went out to the elevators, he saw two large men in black suits already waiting. It took every remaining scrap of courage, but WAS walked up and stood next to them, glancing as casually as he could at the patch on the double breasted suit of the man beside him, which was at eye level. His patch was a black raven on a field of white. (No fear, have no fear. They can’t harm you. Think about Elizabeth.) Citizens Security, but were they there for him? WAS tried to think of how to act inconspicuous.

The men paid him no mind, but stood like statues until the elevator arrived, while WAS wrung his hands and alternately wiped sweat from his face with his sleeve and his shoulder. When the doors opened both men stepped in and turned around to face him, their small dark eyes, like watermelon seeds, gave them the appearance of looking far, far, in the distance. WAS got on and turned briskly. The doors closed, and he stared at his watery reflection in the metal doors, and at the men who stood behind him. They looked like shadows in the metal. A chime sounded and the doors opened again. He stepped from the elevator and began to walk down the hall. The two security guards got out and stood in the lobby behind him, he felt them watching as he walked away. The hallway seemed longer than it should have been, and might have been getting longer, but WAS couldn't tell. With every step he was more sure he would stumble, or faint, or otherwise give himself away. (Steady yourself for God’s sake, she’s coming! I can feel her!)

Then, down the hall a door opened and Elizabeth headed towards him. She started to smile upon seeing Michael, until she saw the men behind him. She became afraid, and a wave of terror swept out from her like a supernova. Michael caught it full blast and shook like a leaf in the breeze.

WAS stood still as he pissed his pants, terrified, embarassed, frozen to the floor as the two guards passed him by and walked briskly down the hall. (No, No, No! Do something! Do something you coward!)

"There she is!" grunted one of the guards, pointing to Elizabeth.

The other guard spoke into the microphone pinned to his lapel, "We have the escapee sighted, advise, over." The earpiece that trailed from his suit crackled with a far away voice and then the guard nodded. "Copy. Take her down," he said.

(You have to help her, you have to go to her, what are you waiting for? Why won’t you do something? What’s wrong with you?)

Michael watched helplessly as Elizabeth’s eyes widened in shock, and a tremor ran through him when he heard her cry out.

"Help me, Michael!"

The two men in black broke into a run. Elizabeth turned and fled down the hallway.

Urine, stinking of fear, drained down his right pant leg and created a warm waterfall that spilled over his ankle and down the side of his loafer. (Coward! Worthless stinking coward! You are nothing, do you hear me? Nothing!) WAS suddenly remembered everything. He was Michael. He had been married, to another, had fallen in love with Elizabeth, she had gone away, somewhere, he had followed. Everything was all mixed up, like overlapping radio stations garbled and making no sense.

Michael / WAS watched as Elizabeth was brought down by the two men in black. (You have to help her!) He felt he should run over and tear them off, help her up, then what? The two could escape, could run away. (Yes!) No, there was no chance of that, they would both be caught and everything would be lost. (You have nothing to lose, nothing but her! There is nothing but her, do you understand? With her you can leave!) He couldn't leave. He had to stay, finish his mission, but what was his mission? (It’s her you fool! She’s the reason you’re here, don’t you understand? Help her!)

Elizabeth yowled in pain as her arm was wrenched back. One of the guards drove a black leather boot into her midsection as she lay on the floor. Then they drew their stun batons.

(Damn you! Damn you! You coward, you worthless #!) Michael felt his head pounding; his blood was hot. How could he have forgotten everything? He had to remember!

Elizabeth spat blood and rolled to his knees. "Run, Michael!" she shouted before the guards struck her with their batons, and lightning arched in her open mouth, off the fillings in her teeth, and smoke rose from her blackened lips. Her breathing was ragged and shallow. (Elizabeth, my God, I’m so sorry. I tried, please..)

Michael didn't run. He could have, but he stayed. He stood still and watched as the guards dragged Elizabeth’s limp body towards the elevators. (You can still save her. You can make them go away! Wake up!)

One of the guards eyed him suspiciously, particularly the stain on his pants leading to the stain on the carpet, and he spoke after pushing the call button on the elevator.

"Are you Michael?" he asked.

Michael shook his head. "WAS," he said, pointing to his name tag. (Not Michael, something else. You’re not him. He would have helped her. He would have destroyed them. I know he would have. You’re not him. You can’t be him!)

The guard grunted. "Come with us Citizen."

WAS nodded dumbly. The elevator arrived and the officers dragged the still unconscious Elizabeth inside. The officers turned toward the door and waited for WAS. Though he was shivering uncontrollably, WAS made it onto the elevator and turned to face the doors.

Then he looked down at the trickle of Elizabeth's blood that ran in a rivulet between his shoes.

“Is there a problem citizen?” One of the men behind him grunted. When no answer was forthcoming, the officer followed up with “Get back to work.”
He could imagine the two Security Officers behind him, watching his every move. He wanted to kill them, wanted so badly to hurt them like they had hurt her, but he didn't. Michael wanted to growl and throw his fists around, damn them and their sneers, and their weapons, he wanted to wring their necks, but his pants were stuck to his leg with his own cowardly piss, and the guards were too big, too dangerous, so he pushed a button, went down two floors, got off, and went back to work, leaving Elizabeth unconcious at the feet of her captors.

When he returned to the Office Manager and told him what happened, the man couldn't hide his surprise, his sick curiousity, or his disdain for WAS's accident. He demanded descriptions of the beating until WAS relented.

Underneath the blue cotton shirt that stifled him like a straightjacket WAS could feel sweat trickling from his armpits down his ribs. He was terrfied that someone would pick up on it, know somehow that he was connected to the woman in the elevator.

The Office Manager turned back to his desk and scribbled something on a scrap of paper then handed it to WAS. “I’m transfering you to the Industrial Sector, Bridge District, effective tommorow.”

“What? Why?” It was all WAS could manage to say.

“Because I was told to.” The man replied curtly, then shooed him away.

Michael spent the day hyper-sensitive to his surroundings, harrassed by the nagging voice in his head that he had forgotten was his own. He jumped every time someone passed his cubicle. He whirled every time the man next to him coughed. It was so draining that when the day was over, Michael thought he might pass out before he could even make it home. As he stepped out into a steady downpour, he felt as though his body might melt and flow down and away with the rain, down into the sewers. (Coward.) He wanted nothing more. His sweat stained shirt stifled him, his piss stained pants were starting to reek, and his shoes shlupped with every step.

His mind whirled as he shuffled home in the torrential rain. He had left Elizabeth for dead. (Coward.) He had abandoned her. How could he forgive himself for that? He had to save her, but first he had to get out of the city. (Coward!) He thought about breaking Elizabeth out himself, but the idea seemed so ludicrous he refused to entertain it for long.

As he was reaching the edge of Sin City, the neon lights of the church that straddled its perimeter drew his gaze across the street and up to the cathedral doors. He drifted towards the giant neon pink cross above the entrance-way like a moth towards a dangerously inviting, flickering candle. He needed time to think, he told himself.

Michael had to shove to wade through the throng waiting outside. They were more than willing to stand in the rain for salvation. The government church was so widely attended, it boasted over 95% market control, a clear knockout. Favorite of the people.

Michael's clothes were soaked by the time he reached the front doors of the church. Outside, a monk stood on an old wooden pulpit. His head was shielded from the rain by a deep hood. The man's eyes shone like polished coal from within his cowl, and he spoke with the fanaticism of a true believer.

"Come all unto me ye faithful, for in the house of our Lord you will find your salvation; your comfort, peace everlasting!" His voice was sonnerous and deep, as though he spoke from within a cave. The monk tilted his head and looked Michael in the eyes. "You, Brother, have you come to be relieved of your burden?"

Michael looked up from behind the curtain of rain drops that dripped down from his hair. He opened his mouth weakly, but no words would come out. (I curse you to suffer and die, again and again. You’ll know her before the end.) The rain tasted like ash. The monk leaned down and layed his hand on Michaels shoulder.

"Come inside, Brother. Let the Lord receive your burden. Your shoulders are tired from bearing it, you are weary and in need of a rest. Our Lord will bear the weight of your sins, if you allow it. Salvation awaits."

Michael sobbed a little in the downpour. He looked up and saw the rain falling down on top of him. He thought of Elizabeth, that beautiful woman who was now probably gone forever. He had failed. Elizabeth had come to find him, had put herself at risk. Michael had let her down. What was left of that name and that man anyway? "Nothing. He should be dead," thought WAS. (I am dead.)

WAS looked at the hooded man, whose strong hand held him by the shoulder, and nodded slowly. He felt the rain in his bones, like the world was crying for Elizabeth, for him. The church doors looked so welcoming, so safe and the candlelight inside leaking out was so warm he wished he could curl up on the stone doorstep and sleep in the gentle heat. He pushed through the crowd outside and into the cathedral.

The crimson and gold carpet that ran down the central aisle between the pews led his eyes to the alabaster altar at the other end of the large room. It was pristine, even seemed to glow with the same golden light as his beloved office tower in the morning sun. The whole place had such an aura of cleanliness that WAS became self conscious of his sopping footprints. The monk led him by the hand now, beside a line of people kneeling on the carpet of the aisle, waiting for their salvation. The monk took him up to the front.

Behind the altar on the marble wall there was a statue of a woman. She held a shawl around her, the gentle line of her jaw was tilted slightly to the side, and her eyes were red as rubies. They leaked tears of shining crimson that slid down her immaculate face and off the subtle roundness of her chin. The red stream fell into a font below. It captivated WAS and he walked towards it, thinking only of kneeling before it and knowing that was all he would have to do.

He walked up to the foot of the dais and knelt before the altar. A priest in gold-striped purple robes approached, a golden goblet in hand. He dipped the cup into the sparkling font and withdrew it. The sacrament shimmered as it fell from the rim of the cup back into the pool of wine. The priest held it out to WAS, who took it and brought it to his lips. He prayed for forgiveness. Then he drank.

"Drink brother and be saved!" The priest's voice was jubilant but far off, muted by the high ceiling and distant walls of the huge cathedral that felt so different than the closeness and the warmth of the cup and its blood. The gold sparkled with reflections from the hundreds of candles scattered around the altar.

WAS looked into the deep red of the wine and thought he could feel the spirit of the Lord in him, giving him the power he needed; all the sorrow in Michael's heart had melted when the liquid lapped against his thirsty lips. The wine was hot on his tongue and down his throat as he swallowed. It was sweet and bitter both. He felt a tingling in his extremities, an electric bliss that spread through his muscles and eased the stress from his sinews. He could feel the wine coursing in his blood and through his brain. Then, before he could stop or grab ahold of them, his thoughts floated up, far up, and away from him. He felt his body get up from the altar and walk down the aisle. Then through the door and into the streets.

"Peace be with you," the monk called out as WAS floated out with a vacant expression and a curious, languid smile, past others who watched him with jealousy.

The world sparkled at the edges, like a dream. The rain shimmered and softened into a veil, a mist that turned everything it touched into a prism of dazzling light. The people nearby melted into shadows and then were gone. His knees rose and fell, taking big angular steps into the puddles that were connected by splashing and falling water all the way up to the sky. WAS saw only light around him as he floated down the streets, atop his high stepping, puppet-body. A scintilating mirage, like a lake broken into splinters by the sun, became overlaid on everything. The whole world as he saw it seemed to bounce and sway to a phantom orchestra. The whores who had braved the rain, that stood shivering and pale in their ragged clothes, appeared to him like wonderfully faceless angels made of silk in a world underwater. Their edges were soft and flowing through the air, they danced in the invisible wind and undulated to the pulsating rhythm of their blood, which WAS could see coursing beneath their ghostly skin.

WAS looked from one to the other, all lovely, all fragile, all hot blood under spectral flesh. Their laughs sounded like tinkling silver bells. He thought of nothing, only walked among them and watched with the naive adoration of an infant. He forgot all about love, for it became him, forgot about his duty to Elizabeth, and the name Michael that had meant so much. He walked and basked in the radiance of the angelic whores for hours, without thought or care, until his salvation wore off and left him confused, disoriented, and nauseous. He could think of nothing other than making it home, to his bed, and lying down in it.

He eventually did made it home, though he was more than a bit unsteady on his feet. He walked up the front steps of his building with the intoxicated swagger of a sailor returning to his ship after the excesses of shore leave. The elevator stood open, and he got on and turned to look out at the street. The crowds were gone, only a select few stragglers weaved their way home. WAS watched them for a while as the elevator ascended. Then he saw the banner that the workmen had been struggling to raise in the morning. It hung vertically, dangled limp from one distant building, the words "SYSIPHUS TOWERS, Opening Soon" were white against the red and yellow background of the banner. Its end fluttered soundlessly in the wind as WAS watched it from the glass cage of the elevator.

For the first time all day, a wry smile crept across his face and he snorted out half a laugh, an embryonic chuckle, and it felt good.

(This is what you’ve always wanted?)

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