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     It  is  the  story  of  John  Auden and the Faioli, and no one knows it
better than I. Listen--

     It happened on that evening, as he strolled (for there  was  no  reason
not  to  stroll)  in his favorite places in the whole world, that he saw the
Faioli near the Canyon of the Dead, seated on a rock,  her  wings  of  light
flickering,  flickering,  flickering and then gone, until it appeared that a
human girl was sitting there, dressed all in white and  weeping,  with  long
black tresses coiled about her waist.

     He  approached her through the terrible light from the dying, half-dead
sun,  in  which  human  eyes  could  not  distinguish  distances  nor  grasp
perspectives properly (though his could), and he lay his right hand upon her
shoulder and spoke a word of greeting and of comfort.

     It  was  as  if  he  did  not  exist,  however.  She continued to weep,
streaking with silver her cheeks the color of snow or  a  bone.  Her  almond
eyes looked forward as though they saw through him, and her long fingernails
dug into the flesh of her palm, though no blood was drawn.

     Then  he  knew  that  it  was  true,  the  things  that are said of the
Faioli--that they see only the living and never the dead, and that they  are
formed  into the loveliest women in the entire universe. Being dead himself,
John Auden debated the consequences of becoming a living man once again, for
a time.

     The  Faioli  were  known  to  come  to  a  man  the  month  before  his
death--those  rare  men who still died--and to live with such a man for that
final month of his existence, rendering to him every  pleasure  that  it  is
possible  for  a  human  being  to know, so that on the day when the kiss of
death is delivered, which sucks the remaining life from his body,  that  man
accepts  it--no,  seeks  it--with desire and grace, for such is the power of
the Faioli among all creatures that there is  nothing  more  to  be  desired
after such knowledge.

     John  Auden  considered  his  life and his death, the conditions of the
world upon which he stood, the nature of his stewardship and his  curse  and
the  Faioli--who  was  the loveliest creature he had ever seen in all of his
four hundred thousand days of existence--and he touched  the  place  beneath
his  left  armpit  which  activated the necessary mechanism to make him live
again.

     The creature stiffened beneath his touch, for suddenly  it  was  flesh,
his  touch, and flesh, warm and woman-filled, that he was touching, now that
the last sensations of life had returned to him. He knew that his touch  had
become the touch of a man once more.

     "I  said  'hello,  and don't cry,'" he said, and her voice was like the
breezes he had forgotten through all the trees that he had  forgotten,  with
their  moisture  and  their  odors  and their colors all brought back to him
thus, "From where do you come, man? You were not here a moment ago."

     "From the Canyon of the Dead," he said.

     "Let me touch your face," and he did, and she did.

     "It is strange that I did not feel you approach."

     "This is a strange world," he replied.

     "That is true," she said. "You are the only living thing upon it."

     And he said, "What is your name?"

     She said, "Call me Sythia," and he did.

     "My name is John," he told her, "John Auden."

     "I have come to be with you, to give you  comfort  and  pleasure,"  she
said, and he knew that the ritual was beginning.

     "Why were you weeping when I found you?" he asked.

     "Because  I  thought  there  was  nothing upon this world, and I was so
tired from my travels," she told him. "Do you live near here?"

     "Not far away," he answered. "Not far away at all."

     "Will you take me there? To the place where you live?"

     "Yes."

     And she rose and followed him into the Canyon of  the  Dead,  where  he
made his home.

     They  descended and they descended, and all about them were the remains
of people who had once lived. She did not seem to see these things, however,
but kept her eyes fixed upon John's face and her hand upon his arm.

     "Why do you call this place the Canyon of the Dead?" she asked him.

     "Because they are all about us here, the dead," he replied.

     "I feel nothing."

     "I know."

     They crossed through the Valley of the Bones,  where  millions  of  the
dead  from many races and worlds lay stacked all about them, and she did not
see these things. She had come to the graveyard of all the  world,  but  she
did  not realize this thing. She had encountered its tender, its keeper, and
she did know what he was, he who staggered beside her like a man drunken.

     John Auden took her to his home--not really the place where  he  lived,
but  it  would  be  now--and  there he activated ancient circuits within the
building within the mountains, and in response light leaped forth  from  the
walls, light he had never needed before but now required.

     The door slid shut behind them and the temperature built up to a normal
warmth.  Fresh air circulated and he took it into his lungs and expelled it,
glorying in the forgotten sensation. His heart beat within his breast, a red
warm thing that reminded him of the pain and of the pleasure. For the  first
time  in  ages,  he prepared a meal and fetched a bottle of wine from one of
the deep, sealed lockers. How many others  could  have  borne  what  he  had
borne?

     None, perhaps.

     She dined with him, toying with the food, sampling a bit of everything,
eating  very  little.  He, on the other hand, glutted himself fantastically,
and they drank of the wine and were happy.

     "This place is so strange," she said. "Where do you sleep?"

     "I used to sleep in there," he told  her,  indicating  a  room  he  had
almost forgotten; and they entered and he showed it to her, and she beckoned
him toward the bed and the pleasures of her body.

     That night he loved her, many times, with a desperation that burnt away
the alcohol and pushed all of his life forward with something like a hunger,
but more.

     The  following  day,  when the dying sun had splashed the Valley of the
Bones with its pale, moonlike light, he awakened and she drew  his  head  to
her  breast, not having slept herself, and she asked him, "What is the thing
that moves you, John Auden? You are not like one of the men who live and who
die, but you take life almost like one of  the  Faioli,  squeezing  from  it
everything  that  you  can and pacing it at a tempo that bespeaks a sense of
time no man should know. What are you?"

     "I am one who knows," he said. "I am one who knows that the days  of  a
man are numbered and one who covets their dispositions as he feels them draw
to a close."

     "You are strange," said Sythia. "Have I pleased you?"

     "More than anything else I have ever known," he said.

     And she sighed, and he found her lips once again.

     They  breakfasted, and that day they walked in the Valley of the Bones.
He could not distinguish distances nor grasp perspectives properly, and  she
could not see anything that had been living and now was dead. So, of course,
as  they  sat  there  on  a shelf of stone, his arm around her shoulders, he
pointed out to her the rocket which had just come down from out of the  sky,
and she squinted after his gesture. He indicated the robots, which had begun
unloading  the  remains of the dead of many world from the hold of the ship,
and she cocked her head to one side and stared ahead, but she did not really
see what he was talking about.

     Even when one of the robots lumbered up to him and held out  the  board
containing  the receipt and the stylus, and as he signed the receipt for the
bodies received, she did  not  see  or  understand  what  it  was  that  was
occurring.

     In  the  days that followed, his life took upon it a dreamlike quality,
filled with the pleasure of Sythia and shot through with certain  inevitable
streaks  of pain. Often, she saw him wince, and she asked him concerning his
expressions.

     And always he would laugh and say, "Pleasure and pain are near  to  one
another," or some thing such as that.

     And  as  the days wore on, she came to prepare the meals and to rub his
shoulders and mix his drinks and to recite to him certain pieces  of  poetry
he had somehow once come to love.

     A  month.  A  month,  he knew, and it would come to an end. The Faioli,
whatever they were, paid for the life that they took with the  pleasures  of
the flesh. They always knew when a man's death was near at hand. And in this
sense,  they  always  gave  more  than  they  received. The life was fleeing
anyway, and they enhanced it before they took it away with them, to  nourish
themselves most likely, price of the things that they'd given.

     Sythia  was mother-of-pearl, and her body was alternately cold and warm
to his caresses, and her mouth  was  a  tiny  flame,  igniting  wherever  it
touched,  with  its  teeth  like  needles and its tongue like the heart of a
flower. And so he came to know the thing called love for the  Faioli  called
Sythia.

     Nothing really happened beyond the loving. He knew that she wanted him,
to use  him ultimately, and he was perhaps the only man in the universe able
to gull one of her kind. His  was  the  perfect  defense  against  life  and
against  death.  Now  that  he  was  human  and alive, he often wept when he
considered it.

     He had more than a month to live.

     He had maybe three or four.

     This month, therefore, was a price he'd willingly pay for what  it  was
that the Faioli offered.

     Sythia  racked  his  body  and  drained  from it every drop of pleasure
contained within his tired nerve cells. She turned  him  into  a  flame,  an
iceberg,  a  little  boy,  an old man. When they were together, his feelings
were such that he considered the _consolamentum_ as a thing he might  really
accept at the end of the month, which was drawing near. Why not? He knew she
had  filled  his  mind  with  her  presence,  on  purpose. But what more did
existence hold for him? This creature from beyond the stars had brought  him
every single thing a man could desire. She had baptized him with passion and
confirmed  him  with  the  quietude  which  follows after. Perhaps the final
oblivion of her final kiss were best after all.

     He seized her and drew her to him. She did not understand him, but  she
responded.

     He loved her for it, and this was almost his end.

     There  is  a  thing called disease that battens upon all living things,
and he had known it beyond the scope  of  all  living  men.  She  could  not
understand, woman-thing who had known only of life.

     So  he  never  tried to tell her, though with each day the taste of her
kisses grew stronger and saltier and each  seemed  to  him  a  strengthening
shadow,  darker and darker, stronger and heavier, of that one thing which he
now knew he desired most.

     And the day would come. And come it did.

     He held her and caressed her, and the calendars of all  his  days  fell
about them.

     He  knew,  as  he abandoned himself to her ploys and the glories of her
mouth, her breasts, that he had been ensnared, as had all men who had  known
them,  by  the  power of the Faioli. Their strength was their weakness. They
were the ultimate in Woman. By  their  frailty  they  begat  the  desire  to
please.  He  wanted to merge himself with the pale landscape of her body, to
pass within the circles of her eyes and never depart.

     He had lost, he knew. For as the days had vanished about  him,  he  had
weakened.  He  was barely able to scrawl his name upon the receipt proffered
him by the robot who had lumbered toward him, crushing ribcages and cracking
skulls with each terrific step.  Briefly,  he  envied  the  thing.  Sexless,
passionless,  totally  devoted to duty. Before he dismissed it, he asked it,
"What would you do if you had desire and you met with a thing that gave  you
all the things you wished for in the world?"

     "I  would--try  to--keep  it,"  it  said, red lights blinking about its
dome, before it turned and lumbered off, across the Great Graveyard.

     "Yes," said John Auden aloud, "but this thing cannot be done."

     Sythia did not understand  him,  and  on  that  thirty-first  day  they
returned  to  that place where he had lived for a month and he felt the fear
of death, strong, so strong, come upon him.

     She was more exquisite that ever  before,  but  he  feared  this  final
encounter.

     "I  love  you,"  he  said finally, for it was a thing he had never said
before, and she stroked his brow and kissed it.

     "I know," she told him, "and your time is almost at hand,  to  love  me
completely.  Before  the  final act of love, my John Auden, tell me a thing:
What is it that sets you apart? Why is it that you  know  so  much  more  of
things-that-are-not-life  than  mortal  man should know? How was it that you
approached me on that first night without my knowing it?"

     "It is because I am already dead," he told her. "Can't you see it  when
you  look  into  my  eyes?  Do  you not feel it, as a certain special chill,
whenever I touch you? I came here rather than sleep the  cold  sleep,  which
would  have  me  to  be  in a thing like death anyhow, an oblivion wherein I
would not even know I was waiting, waiting for the cure  which  might  never
happen,  the  cure  for one of the very last fatal diseases remaining in the
universe, the disease which now leaves me only small time of life."

     "I do not understand," she said.

     "Kiss me and forget it," he told her. "It is  better  this  way.  There
will  doubtless  never  be a cure, for some things remain always dark, and I
have surely been forgotten. You must have sensed the death upon me,  when  I
restored my humanity, for such is the nature of your kind. I did it to enjoy
you,  knowing  you to be of the Faioli. So have your pleasure of me now, and
know that I share it. I welcome thee. I have courted thee all the days of my
life, unknowing."

     But she was curious and asked him (using the  familiar  for  the  first
time),   "How   then  dost  thou  achieve  this  balance  between  life  and
that-which-is-not-life,  this  thing  which  keeps  thee   unconscious   yet
unalive?"

     "There  are  controls  set within this body I happen, unfortunately, to
occupy. To touch this place beneath my left armpit will cause  my  lungs  to
cease  their  breathing  and  my heart to stop its beating. It will set into
effect an installed electrochemical system, like those my robots  (invisible
to  you,  I  know)  possess.  This  is  my life within death. I asked for it
because I feared oblivion. I volunteered to be gravekeeper to the  universe,
because  in  this place there are none to look upon me and be repelled by my
deathlike appearance. This is why I am what I am. Kiss me and end it."

     But having taken the form of woman, or perhaps being woman  all  along,
the  Faioli  who  was called Sythia was curious, and she said, "This place?"
and she touched the spot beneath his left armpit.

     With this he vanished from her sight, and with this also, he knew  once
again  the  icy logic that stood apart from emotion. Because of this, he did
not touch upon the critical spot once again.

     Instead, he watched her as she sought for him about the place where  he
had once lived.

     She  checked  into  every  closet  and  adytum,  and when she could not
discover a living man, she sobbed once, horribly, as she had on  that  night
when  first  he  had  seen  her. Then the wings flickered, flickered, weakly
flickered, back into existence upon her back, and her face dissolved and her
body slowly melted. The tower of sparks that stood before him then vanished,
and later on that crazy night during which he  could  distinguish  distances
and grasp perspectives once again he began looking for her.

     And  that  is  the  story  of John Auden, the only man who ever loved a
Faioli and lived (if you could call it that) to tell of it. No one knows  it
better than I.

     No cure has ever been found. And I know that he walks the Canyon of the
Dead and  considers the bones, sometimes stops by the rock where he met her,
blinks after the moist things that are not there, wonders  at  the  judgment
that he gave.

     It  is that way, and the moral may be that life (and perhaps love also)
is stronger than that which it contains, but never that which  contains  it.
But  only  a  Faioli  could  tell you for sure, and they never come here any
more.


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     Last modified 10-7-98

Популярность: 26, Last-modified: Wed, 14 Oct 1998 16:02:53 GMT