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     Ah, they were falling, all of them, from high in the sky. They were so many I couldnt count them. They passed the clouds and the mountain peaks, so graceful they took my breath away, so pink they were, and white, their clothes fluttering behind them. I hallowed into the air, but they couldnt hear me. But when they came closer I could hear them and they were singing; or perhaps they were screams I heard, I could not be sure. When they hit it was a glorious sight. They smashed against the snow-covered flanks like balloons filled with water. I loped over the ground. The sun made everything sparkle, the snow had frozen overnight, and the crystals of ice were joyous with light. When I came out of the forest and into the flat before the town I saw people shooting at each other, and a man with a huge mustache greeted me with the traditional salute. He had a twinkle in his eye and he twirled his gun around his finger where it folded and drooped as though tired. “Rest a while, friend,” he cried in his gruff voice, but I shook my head. Although he was smiling I knew he was evil. I could feel his eyes on me as I ran on into the streets of the town. The cardboard buildings grinned at me with empty windows. Doors swung on their hinges moaning with age. Another man welcomed me but I shook him off and went into the saloon where women were dancing on the tables. The place rocked with music and the sounds of voices singing at odds with each other. I sat down and opened my collar. After my epic run I was hot, and I could feel sweat crawling down my neck. I had evaded them after all. Not one of them had learned my secret. The pink sky relaxed. There came towards me a girl with pink tights and blonde hair that went cascading down below her waist, so far the tip of it swung between her legs. When she sat down she threw her head back, and the hair opened like a cape. As she drew it around her I saw that, perhaps, she hadnt worn pink tights after all. She asked me for a drink.
     “What’ll you have?”
     “What else?” she cried tossing her head back showing me her neck.
     “Two,” I said to the waiter who ran by trying to keep a monocle in place. He nodded, darting back and forth. After a while he started singing, but no one looked at him.
     “What’s your name?” I asked.
     “You guessed it.”
     “I’m very glad to see you. I dreamed about you two nights in a row.”
     “People always dream about me.”
     “That’s because youre so lovely.”
     “No,” she said, “because I havent got any teeth.”
     She drew back her lips to show me. Without teeth her mouth inside looked glistening and red as though painted. Before I could say anything—I wanted to congratulate her on the appearance of her gums—the waiter arrived juggling glasses of whiskey and squinting into his monocle. From this end, looking through the thick lens, his eye appeared huge and bulging as though trying to escape from the thin worried face. When he dropped the glasses onto the table he spilled all the liquid from hers, and as I started to protest she raised her hand from beneath her mass of hair and said, “That’s all right, I dont drink anyway,” so I let the man go. With a grateful gasp he disappeared. I held her hand before she could put it away. With my other hand I gulped down the amber whiskey feeling it slowly burn its way into my stomach. When I looked again I saw she had a glass twice the size of mine and was pouring a green liquid into her mouth. When she saw me staring at her she smiled prettily and put the glass somewhere deep into her hair, which, now that I studied it, seemed alive with small movements, as though strange things lived there in its curling mass. “You have pretty hair,” I said, and she shook her shoulders so the hair rippled glistening in the light, looking pleased and somewhat vain. “Yes,” she said, “it is rather nice, isnt it?” “I’ve never seen hair like it.” “It is a bit unique. Here,” she said, “feel it.” And she pushed some of it out with her other hand, the one I wasnt hotly holding, and I felt the hair and it was fine and light. I reached over the table patting it back into place feeling at the same time the soft warmness of her body. “Hmmm,” she said her eyes going soft. I patted her some more. “No,” she said abruptly. “Not now.”
     “It’s just as well youre not after my secret,” I said.
     “What do you mean?”
     “I mean, if you were after my secret, a girl as beautiful as you might be able to get it.”
     “Oh,” she said, eyeing me thoughtfully.
     “But youre not that sort of girl.”
     “Of course not.”
     “I could tell that the minute I saw you.”
     “Hmmm, youre nice.”
     Another man brought me some more whiskey and I had to pay him. As I tossed the drink down neat I saw from the corner of my eye the girl's free hand dart into her hair and emerge with the green glass tipping it furtively into her mouth. When I put my drink down hers had vanished. I smiled. I could see myself doing some good here. Before I could say or do anything more however another girl appeared, sweeping up her voluminous skirts and placing a long slender leg across the table. The leg was encased in a dark stocking and she wore a black high-heeled shoe with a sharp, dangerous point that gleamed as she moved her foot back and forth. The girl with the long burnished hair jumped back startled, and the new girl—whose name, I could see, was Mary, written across her forehead in bold green letters—winked at me and said, “How about a dance, big boy?” Before I could react the blonde girl her face contorting with rage started grabbing, both hands out from beneath her hair, at Mary, all the time howling in a high, keen voice more like a knife than anything else. But Mary dodged her and grabbed me. I was astonished at the strength in her arms. I was pulled upright and the last glimpse I had of the other girl was her hair flying out in all directions showing, as I had thought, that she wasnt wearing pink tights at all. In a minute Mary and I were whirling on the crowded dance floor surrounded by men in high stovepipe hats and long sideburns who danced stiffly holding their partners at arm’s length. I was immediately aware of Mary’s perfume which swung like a cloud around my head. I breathed it, deeply, and realized I would trade anything in the world to keep breathing that scent. She seemed to realize that and rubbed herself against me, smiling secretly. She pointed at the stiff people around us. “Stupid, arent they,” she said. “Not like us,” I answered. She shook her head slowly, her eyes dark blue, smiling at me.
     “Look at the women too,” I said.
     All of them dancing had sharp beaked noses and hair tightly swept up and prim lips compressed into bare lines.
     “Ridiculous.”
     “Not like us,” I said again and again she nodded. “If I told them I had a secret, they would try to get it out of me.”
     “I wouldnt,” she said nibbling at my chin.
     “No, not you.”
     We went around the floor once and then she danced me into a dark doorway. Immediately the music stopped and looking back, into the brightly lit room, I saw everyone stopped motionless all the bright colors suddenly static. But the darkness was very warm and when she kissed me I forgot about it. Her lips sucked at mine and I was pleased that she had teeth, I could feel them grating against mine. When the kiss ended she drew back her head and I saw the door had shut, and a faint light had been switched on. Trickling down the corner of her mouth was blood from where I had bit her. “Where are we,” I asked. “Youll see,” she said. She took my hand and led me into a small room. Sitting there at a tiny table was a big man with a round, blank face. He smiled humorlessly and extended his hand. It dripped with perspiration and I let go of it as quickly as possible. Mary dropped into another chair as though exhausted, and mopped her brow with the hem of her skirt, revealing bright green panties and the expanse of white thigh above her black stockings. She dropped the skirt back carelessly, spread her legs, threw her arms back, and in an attitude of complete abandon immediately fell asleep, snoring softly. The man with the round face shook his head smiling. When he moved his bulk stirred uneasily making the chair give vent to small exasperated noises. “Wont you sit down,” he said in a high pitched voice. There was no place else to go so I sat on Mary’s lap. She only stirred breathing into my ear. The man rubbed his hands together.
     “I understand you have a secret.”
     “I will never tell you.”
     “Ah, of course you would like to keep it to yourself. But I assure you, young man, that we have no other choice. I have the safety of my people to look after.”
     “I think they can look after themselves.”
     His hands rose helplessly.
     “I'm afraid not. You see, theyre only children.”
     “Nevertheless, you will never get my secret.”
     “I understand. But would you come with me? There are some things I’d like to show you.”
     He stood up, gesturing with his hand. His forehead was covered with tiny drops of sweat and he mopped it and the back of his neck with a damp handkerchief. “Foul weather,” he explained. His black suit was badly wrinkled and his huge body seemed ready to burst out of it, every time he breathed the buttons strained against their holes. I got off Mary’s lap and she promptly slid off the chair and lay in a disorganized mass on the floor. “Poor girl,” said the man; “she works too hard.” Taking my arm he led me into a corridor with fans turning slowly on its ceiling. I could see a black spider on one of them trying to build a web between one slowly revolving blade and the roof. Each time he established a strand, it would be stretched too far, and break. The tiny creature kept leaping back and forth, the fine white strands drifting lazily in the air. Towards the end of the corridor I could hear rapid typing from many machines, and when we entered the next room I saw row after row of desks, each with a huge black typewriter and stacks of paper. At each desk sat a girl, back to us, with finely coifed hair and long thin fingers. The man waved his arm. “My secretaries.” We passed among them. They all wore white blouses and tight black skirts, and they glanced at us with competent eyes that immediately returned to their work. On most of them their skirts had ridden up above their knees, and I couldnt help looking; some of their dresses nearly to their hips, so I could see shiny flimsy garments half hidden mysterious on their bodies. The man pulled my arm. His hand left a damp imprint on my shirt. “Hurry,” he said, “I want you to see this.” We passed row after row of desks. Dark eyes fleeted up momentarily as we went. Fine, slender legs caught my eye. “Come on," he said, “there’s no time for that.” None of them smiled at me or I would have stopped. Their work must have been important. On their hands glittered rings. “Where’s that door,” muttered the big man tugging at me. At last he found it and pulled me through, and slammed the door behind me; and immediately the noise of the typing stopped; and a sudden blast of heat staggered me, a huge wet glaring heat that drenched my body. “Ah,” said the man hoarsely the sweat streaming off his face. “But at least we’re here. Look at that.”
     Below me, beyond a thin railing, was a red glow pulsing like a great hot heart. Staring at it I saw a deep cavern, the walls black and twisted so there were caves and grottoes and strange shapes. Moving in the darkness were white figures. I started to exclaim, but the man went Hush, loudly. “Watch,” he whispered. “Only watch!” Crawling out of a cave, a long ways down, almost indistinguishable in the ruddy darkness, was the pale figure of a man. Slowly he edged over the rocks. Before him was a cliff, and below I could see its face, scattered with irregular ledges on which I thought I could see other white figures. The fat man's hand gripped my arm tightly. I saw the creature from the cave slowly let himself over the lip of the cliff, head first. Each movement seemed to take a long time. From deep in the pit steam rose into the air, a billowing mist that sometimes reached a great height. When the man was halfway over the cliff, he seemed to relax and I saw his body start the long tumbling fall to the bottom. Twice he hit a ledge and bounced. But there was no sound. In a moment he disappeared into the red glow. I slowly became conscious of the thin railing I was holding onto. It was cold steel and trembled as though very weak. Hastily I let go of it, but the fat man didnt seem to notice. He leaned on it, craning his neck. From elsewhere—I hadnt noticed her emerging from any cave—someone else fell, and I saw from the long hair and prominent breasts that this was a woman. She hit a ledge and stopped. She was very pale and tiny in the distance. Nearby was another cave, and I saw a man poke his head out and then grope for the woman’s body. He got her ankle and pulled her slowly up. I looked at the fat man. He was beaming at me.
     “You see?” he said.
     “What do you mean?”
     “What happens if you dont tell me?”
     “You mean that?”
     He waved his arms, his face contorting.
     “Not so loud, not so loud!”
     “To me?”
     “Oh,” he cried, jumping up and down. “Now you’ve done it! Oh, you would shout!” He pointed down into the depths. “Now look what youve done!”
     I peered over the railing. In the darkness, out of the hundreds of fissures and caves, around every angle of rock, appeared tiny white bodies illuminated by the red glow, and I could see them all naked, their bodies lean, women and children, big and small, all emerging silently and looking up at us. The fat man hopped up and down. At the front of his pants a dark stain appeared and he twisted his legs and hands as though in great pain, his forehead clenching down over his eyes. For a long time the white people just stared without moving. The red heart pulsed silently. Then they all lifted an arm; just one arm; and all at the same time, pointing at us. The fat man was in a frenzy and the thin railing trembled violently. I was afraid he would tumble both of us into the pit. But there was not a sound until, like the surf breaking on the sand, a low roar reached us, washed over us, and receded; and as it died away the next roar grew around us, coming from the black depths, floating upwards. The fat man staggered back. His hands clutched at his clothes. Down below they all roared. Women roared, children roared, men opened their chests with their roars; and each time it hit us, bellowing into our heads, then receded, only to return. Suddenly the fat man threw his arms up and tumbled back through the door behind him, grabbing me at the last minute, his grip powerful, so I stumbled and collapsed on the floor. Immediately there was silence and cool air. I didnt move. There was complete silence everywhere, and smells that were fresh and clean. Light gleamed into my eyes. Gradually I became aware of the fat man’s hoarse breathing. I got slowly to my feet. My clothes were drenched with my own sweat. Leaning against the door the fat man looked at me his eyes gleaming, his furry brows dripping water. Fire glowed from within him, shining through his red face, the ruddy neck, the fat hands that opened and closed. Behind me I noticed great rows of desks, each with a typewriter; but each empty, not a soul in the vast dusky room. I turned slowly on my heel, looking round. When my gaze returned to the big man he spoke.
     “All right. Now you tell me your secret.”
     “Then youll let me go free?”
     “Of course.” He glared at me. “I always keep my word.”
     I held my arm out wrist up.
     “What’s this?” he said.
     “Try to feel my pulse.”
     “What do you mean?”
     “I havent any. I’m dead. I’ve been dead.”
     He dug a finger into my wrist. When he couldnt find my pulse he nodded, took out a piece of paper and a stub of a pencil and wrote something. His hair flopped over his white wet forehead.
     “All right,” he said, stuffing the paper into his pocket. He stared at me hungrily. “You can go now.”
     I left him and wandered down between the empty desks. In each of these empty chairs a cool and competent girl had sat. Now they were all gone. Half finished work lay on the disarrayed tops. On the floor were scraps of paper, chewing gum wrappers, paper cups, empty cigarette cartons. The chairs were pushed back unevenly. Through the air nothing moved. My own footsteps loudly echoed around me. I touched things, feeling the smooth finish, the careful workmanship. I found a door and opened it. Immediately, behind me, all lights in the room went out, and there was darkness. Ahead of me was the lighted corridor. For a while I stared at the empty room I had left. Almost, I could smell something, perhaps the last trace of perfume from someone’s throat; almost, it seemed—as though if I cocked my ear, leaning forward with complete concentration—I could hear something, a last footfall, the click of a heel. But there was nothing. I shut the door and went down the corridor. The only sounds were myself. In the room where the saloon had been was only ruin. The great piano had tilted itself lopsided, the white keys hanging over the edges as though plastic that had run in the sun. Pictures on the wall hung at strange angles. I walked through the room kicking out of my way old boots and twisted hats and pieces of broken chairs and glittering remains of glasses. The air had been full of blue cigarette smoke but now there was nothing, the air was clear, as though never breathed before. I went through the door leading outside without stopping. I would have walked straight on but I heard a loud “Hsst!” and I stopped and looked. Coming out of the shadows was the girl with long hair wrapped around her body. She looked about furtively. The hair gleamed out of the darkness. Her bare feet tip-toed over the ground. “Hsst!” she said again as she came close. “I stayed behind, I had to see you. I could never resist secrets. Wont you tell me before you go? I thought you would never come.” I shook my head at her and she wobbled from side to side. "I havent got a secret any more." Her face fell. She chewed her lip petulantly. “Damn,” she whispered, almost in tears. “I knew it. It always happens.” She reached into the folds of her tresses and pulled out the glass full of green sparkling liquid. As she did so the hair all fell away from her body and I could see the open pink expanses and folds and curves that had been hidden. She threw back her head and poured the green stuff into her toothless mouth, and her body twisted like a snake, she murmuring and the murmur growing until it filled the distance. “What is that stuff?” I asked as she wavered her eyes growing dim. “Laxative,” she said. “I’m constipated.” She waved once with long fingers gathering her hair about her, melting into a small puddle on the ground which immediately evaporated, for a moment being a slight mist of gold and green. I waved at the air. Ahead of me were the bare hills. Sadly nothing grew any more. The wind had gone too. I lifted my feet and chugged off, making noises in my head like an old, broken down steam locomotive, the dust puffing at each silent step.

_______________

NOTES: This is another of my somnambulistic stories (see "The Master of My House"). I sat at my typewriter one evening—I was still a boy, living at home, going to high school—and began typing words and sentences. I had no idea of what I would write. Words, however, kept appearing, the typewriter keys whacking noisily at the paper. The story unfolded before me with no effort other than the effort to keep up. It was written very quickly. Not a word has been changed. Such stories, appearing out of nowhere, have always amazed me. I understand now, of course, that they arise from my unconscious, from the fluid depths of my mind. My unconscious, I always think, is my collaborator, and a necessary part of my work.




All material copyright by D.N. Stuefloten
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