June 15, 1996
He opened the door and stepped out into the bottom of the dry wash. It was late afternoon. Shadows had already consumed the sandy wash bottom and were advancing up the canyon wall. He looked up at the wall and complicated installation of spillways and catwalks beneath the bridge that towered overhead. It was dizzying.
Suddenly, his concentration was broken by the sound of laughter. A couple of children played hide-and-seek among the rocks and bushes across the wash, a boy and a girl of about 8. He watched them for a moment and then started toward them, but turned after a few steps, compelled by a wide marble staircase that materialized on his right. It reminded him of the broad front steps of a World War II era Post Office, with a shallow angle of ascent and the last few steps angling at 90o at either end to reach the canyon floor in opposite directions. The doorway he had emerged from opened beneath it at one end, from a chamber that was for the most part hidden by the cascading stairs.
He studied the staircase. It was massive. He turned and started upward. Shortly he found himself standing at the center of a wide marble veranda that had been completely invisible from the wash bottom. It was strikingly wide -- probably over 100 feet, and at least 50 feet across -- and there was another staircase at one end that seemed almost as massive as the first. He paused for a minute at the marble rail, looking down at the area where the two children had been playing, but they were not within view.
He crossed the veranda and started up the second staircase. Presently, he found himself on a terrace of immense size. A horn blew from some unseen location somewhere far above. It was a lonely, mournful wail, a hand reaching inside his body and grasping him by the heart. For half a minute he stood there, motionless, unthinking; and then it was gone. It awakening in him an urgency, but for what? He felt a curious surge of emotion. It went up, down, up, and then swung down again, a roller coaster ride that ended where it had begun -- on the flat. He shook it off and looked around. The terrace was, unbelievably, somewhat larger than the veranda. The floor was a checkerboard of concrete squares of alternating textures set at an angle to the edges, and there was a third staircase. It was somewhat narrower, although still probably thirty feet wide, made of concrete, and set at a 45o angle to the terrace, parallel to the checkerboard floor.
He turned again and looked back toward the canyon floor, but it was completely out of site. The canyon was wider at this level than he would have expected. His curiosity now growing about the purpose of all of this marble and concrete, he strode spritely across the terrace and quickly climbed the stairs. It didn't take a minute. From there, a narrow walkway along the stairhead lead to an equally narrow steel catwalk at one side which crossed a spillway toward a rusty steel stairway that led upward again, turned, and went out of sight between granite boulders. The awkward part of the design seemed to him to be the narrowness of the catwalk as compared with the generous width of the concrete stairway he had just traversed. He crossed the catwalk and hurried up the rusty stairs, passed between the boulders, turned again, and finally reached another level, a small concrete balcony from which more stairs ascended.
Taking two steps at a time, he bounded upward, the metal structure clanging loudly with each step. The climbing wasn't easy, but he felt exhilarated. Ever-steeper stairways blurred with longer catwalks, a steel spider web strung across a backdrop of massive concrete spillways. He was a grain of sand in an endless concrete jungle.
Suddenly, there was Linda. She was just standing there, and he nearly ran into her. It was strange, finding her this far from her library. He stopped.
"I supposed you're wondering why I'm here . . .," she began.
"Well, yes," he responded, "but I suppose I'm wondering why I'm here, as well."
Ignoring the question in his response, she continued with urgency in her voice.
"The horn you heard means they're going to test the installation. We must get to safety before that happens. Follow me."
She turned around without any further explanation and hurried away. He followed closely behind, afraid they might get separated. They raced the clock, clambering across the suspended metal web, their steps vibrating the structure and echoing like church bells from the depths of the endless spillways.
It was getting very hard to keep up with her. As he tired his thoughts turned to the precariousness of their situation. He wasn't sure it was really any safer to hurry like this and fall over some infernal railing than to be a little more deliberate and risk getting out of harm's way a few minutes late. What could be worse than loosing his footing? He glanced downward momentarily toward the bottom of the canyon. He could see it clearly now. It was like being in an airplane; the trees in the wash bottom looked like specks along a single beige thread. He decided that he might die of old age before hitting the bottom anyway, and turned his attention back to the task of keeping up.
Suddenly, there were the two children he had seen at the bottom of the wash, lollygagging at an intersection of two catwalks. Surprising, he though, how they might have managed to get here ahead of him in such a short time. Linda stopped abruptly.
"Children, you must follow me!" she commanded in her harshest librarian voice.
The children gave no response, but took off in another direction. She hollered after them.
"Children! It is very important to your safety that you return immediately and stay with us."
But shrinking in the distance, the children quickly disappeared in the rusty maze. It was apparent they were not returning.
"We're running out of time," Linda said, resigning herself to the situation.
She began running now, and he followed, unable to see neither the beginning nor the end of the journey.
"How far are we going, anyway?" he yelled at her from behind.
"Time is short and our situation urgent," Linda responded over her shoulder, "we will be killed unless we reach the device in my care. It is designed to help trapped individuals through the procedure. It has enough bedding for seven people besides myself."
They continued, climbing, running, climbing, running. Finally taking to a narrow ledge, they approached a small passageway set into a vertical concrete surface and stepped inside.
They had arrived. It was her safety device, a large flat wheel built into the deck at an angle of about 10 degrees from horizontal. It looked a little like a merry-go-round that he had ridden in Hillcrest Park as a child. It was about the same size and had a similar structure of steel tubing anchored firmly to the face of the wheel as if for hanging on while standing up; but there were large sleeves embedded in the surface that opened around the outside and were lined with thick padding like a sleeping bag, each deep enough for a person to slide into feet first at a shallow angle toward the center, in a turbine-like pattern. There was a thick leather strap across each opening to ensure the occupant's safety.
"It will spin fast enough that the strap must be firmly affixed, or you will shoot out of it as if shot from a cannon," Linda explained.
They squirmed into two of the safety sleeves opposite each other on the wheel and strapped themselves in.
Suddenly the little boy and girl appeared in the passageway. Linda called for them to hurry. As the boy approached she freed herself from the device. She helped him into one of the safety sleeves and drew the strap securely into place. But the little girl would not come any closer than the passageway entrance. Linda tried coaxing her with gentle reassurance, but it seemed useless. She tried approaching her, but the little girl backed away, always maintaining a safe distance. Time was running out.
Desperately, she tried one last effort to reason with the child.
"You're trying to decide whether to trust me? Listen," she said, "This is a raw artifact relationship. The kind of relationship you're looking for only exists at a true artifact level.1"
June 15, 1996
1Reference A Shadow Encyclopedia: 06/15/1996.
Copyright (c) 1996-2011
Larry K. Fox
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