by Bestia Mortale
Something woke me — I think it was a sound, a throbbing of some sort, or an infant’s cry. Waking was like coming into focus, as if I was an image in a lens. I sat up and looked around, a little alarmed, but it was a dream. I was lying in a field in the mist, among a crowd of sleepers. Others were stirring.
I glanced at the people near me. They were so beautiful. I tried to examine them more closely and became aware that until I considered walking, they had no legs. Until I thought of hair, they were hairless. Until I remembered about men and women, they had no gender. And yet, as it turned out, they had everything but age.
Someone was moving among us, chatting and laughing, a beautiful woman. I realized we all were naked. She came up to me, smiling. I smiled back a little shyly as she offered a hand to help me up. Her breasts were large and small, all different shapes, every sort of nipple. It occurred to me that she had countless arms and legs as well, and heads.
I walked beside her through the mist, leaving the crowd. I became aware in the strange light that it was not so much mist as an intricate pattern of swirls, as if a cloud of colored dust had been frozen in time. The colors were disturbing, hard to identify. At first I thought there was something wrong with my vision, but everything had a clarity I was unused to.
As we left the field, the mist cleared somewhat and we walked through a deserted city of strange windowless fortresses, down the middle of streets like shallow troughs. On either side, instead of sidewalks, there were sunken channels six or eight inches deep in which were planted twisted, leafless bushes, some so large they almost blocked the street.
The whole effect was disturbing and would have been unpleasant but for the sky. The sun — though not the sun — was vast, and not so bright or hot as normal. Yet its warmth was full of comfort, its light rich and deep. The cloud formations — not clouds, either, exactly — towered layer upon layer, an intricate landscape of unaccustomed color, depth, striation and structure. Unlike normal clouds, the closer you looked at them, the more detail you could see. Their beauty in the strange light was so intense as almost to be painful.
Far in the distance, the land rose away from us. For a while, I thought we were in a valley of some sort, but then I realized that there was no horizon — the mountains and sky were one.
It was the colors that were most haunting — bright, saturated hues, like certain stones in water that grow ordinary as they dry — but not reds, greens, blues, or anything I could put a name to.
“Where are we?” I asked her. “What is this place?”
She paused, facing me, her face so many faces. “This is the underside,” she said.
“Of your city, your world.” I could not understand. “Come, I will show you.” She led me down a side street to a little park, full of the enormous leafless bushes. In the center was a peculiar silvery translucent mound. When we came to it, my feet sank in it as if it were liquid, yet without a ripple.
“Here,” she said, standing beside me. “Look.” She pointed to my feet.
I saw that the mound had a mirror-like underside in which was perfectly reflected the chthonic sky above my head.
“Look deeper,” she said, taking my hand and squatting down. I squatted beside her and peered carefully through the substance. At first I could see nothing, but gradually I made out tiny pinpoints of light beneath the mirrorlike floor. “There,” she whispered, pointing, “My sister.” I saw, inexplicably far below me, familiar and remote, the moon.