Monday, September 12, 2005

Sleeper, Awake

He was dreaming and then he stopped and woke up. The curtains were moving, a strange roaring on the creosote wind. He rose and looked out the window. He was high up, staring at a black sky, and large boxy machines thundering low over a burning black city. Hundreds of smokestacks torching the limit.

He put out a hand and leaned against the wall. Thick flaking paint, old enamel. A gritty floor, covered with cinders. He was wearing dirty blue pants, cinched at the waist. No shoes, no shirt. "What happened?" he muttered.

The door behind him opened, and a thin man stood in the doorway, steel clipboard in hand. "Come."

The woman behind the desk was wearing a crisp white coat. He hair was smoothed across her forehead. Her eyes were large and grey. She was peeling them away. She rubbed the top of her cheek, and rolled the second eye out, leaving two fleshy sockets. In the back of each slick socket was a small plug. "Basic cybernetics," she smiled blindly. "Don't be frightened, Irving."

He swallowed. "I don't believe it."

"Believe it, sir."

"No, they're just prosthetics."

The woman sighed and thumbed an eye back in. "Raoul," she called. The thin man stuck his head in the door. "He won't listen," she said.

"Have you shown him the city?"

The helicopter was a clutching black hand. They sat in the palm and whirled over the city. No roads, he noticed, no streets. And no houses either, or apartment buildings. Not unless those black glass pyramids were apartments. But endless sidewalks and endless conduits disgorging an endless host. The helicopter tilted and swept over a great metal bridge, the crowd ceaselessly flowing over it. Each person with his eyes fixed before his feet. Not a single grey face looked up.

"What's the matter with them?" he shouted over the engines.

"Nothing," said the woman.

All around lay a brilliant desert. He remembered mountains, but could not see them. Far to the east, the land was melted and black. Not a single road left the city. He closed his eyes and wept.

"A mention in the archives, a reference number. We felt it was our duty to wake you."

"You were curious."

"We were curious, sir."


"The creature always wants to see the creator. You are the first, the only. We've scoured the archives for mention of more. Just you, Irving. Stored in an underground warehouse in the easternmost sector. We found your dormitory quite by accident. It's been five hundred years and you're the last man on the planet."