Zamilon in Waiting

Entry #4

No one has talked about XXXXXXXX during our journey. It is as if he never existed in the first place. Is this how real spies deal with their losses? If they kill me, will I not even be an absence but a non-existence? No. This cannot happen, for this journal exists now. I take it out late at night when they rest are asleep and Bosun is prowling around the other side of the encampment.

But I cannot say they talk much at all, except in a kind of cryptic shorthand that alludes to events in their pasts I have no knowledge of. Sometimes Ash will make a joke, but Danzler just glares at her. Sometimes I cannot guess what binds them all together except for having been spies for so long. I gather that once there were more of them—trained together, assigned together for the greater glory of Morrow. Now they are only four and, I believe, deserters. If no one talks of XXXXXXXX, then, it must be because his fate (if not his condition) could befall any one of them.

In Ambergris when a condition like XXXXXXXX’s occurs, the person affected has three choices: he may find a surgeon (if the condition is not too far along), he may turn himself over to the mercy of the gray caps, or he may attempt to leave the city, to live out the remainder of his life with the knowledge he is as good as dead anyway.

Danzler, of course, was the first to spot it.

“XXXXXXXX,” he said on the fifth day. “XXXXXXXX,” he repeated when XXXXXXXX, walking ahead of us, did not answer. “I think you have something in your eye.”

“No. I have nothing in my eye,” XXXXXXXX said.

“Are you sure?” Danzler asked. The glances he exchanged with Ash, Bosun, and Gransvoort told me he did not believe XXXXXXXX. Bosun perked right up, as if a jackal scenting blood on the horizon. For their part, Ash and Gransvoort did not seem particularly concerned. I’ve never met anyone as calm as them. I believe they could be burned to death and not utter a sound.

“Yes, I’m sure,” XXXXXXXX responded, in a voice that told us he did not believe his own words.

The next day, we could all see the thing in XXXXXXXX’s eye. It was not the sort of thing that would ever come out. Whether his filter had failed him or he had kept a contaminated article of clothing no longer mattered.

The seventh day we woke to find that Danzler had disarmed XXXXXXXX. Bosun killed them shortly thereafter. I am not sure I would call it murder in the strictest sense of the word. Danzler could have let XXXXXXXX go, but if I were in Danzler’s position, I am not sure I would have let XXXXXXXX go, especially knowing that he would die anyway. Eventually.

Entry #5

There are other reasons not to speak of XXXXXXXX, or of anything: this wretched land we travel through, which cannot decide if it is scrub or desert. For all my accumulated knowledge about the world from hoplessly out-of-date books, I did not know that the flooding of Ambergris may simply be a symptom of some greater disease: the River Moth to the north of the city has completely dried out. All that remains to mark the corpse of its course are the already-eroding outlines of its banks, the myriad skeletons of fish, picked clean of flesh, and those few pockets of water—never deep or wide—in which ever more desperate river creatures swim and crawl as the noose closes in on them. Otters, muskrats, turtles, snakes, salamanders, crocdiliads, puffer frogs: all consigned to gradual extinction if they cannot travel South. The smell of death is as pervasive as a carnal house. Most horrible of all: in the deepest, ravine-like portions of the former river, lie the enormous gleaming white beaks of dead freshwater squid, always permeated by an acrid, almost medicinal smell evident even through our filters. These beaks stand as tall as a man—memorials to commemorate their own passing. Bosun likes to stand between those jaws and pose for us.

It was against this backdrop that we today came into contact with other travelers for the first time. Danzler had just listened in on the airwaves again with the tiny radio in his pack and, satisfied with whatever he heard, decided we would continue on our present northwesterly course for another day.

At first this other party was just a smudge of black on a smudgeless, much-too-precise horizon littered with squid parts and uneven hills. Then the black coalesced into five mules carrying bodies behind them on wooden rafts, led by five dessicated, toothless old men who wore black Menite robes and in whose obsidian smoothness, skin seamed and riven and tan, I recognized the streamlined beauty of death.

“Priests!” Danzler spat.

“Maybe,” Gransvoort said.

“We hope,” Ash said.

Bosun said nothing but pointed his gun at them. Who could say what permutations religions had undergone in this place? Truffidians might be transformed into Manziists.

Danzler laughed at the five men, at the bodies wrapped in rags that followed behind, dried out by the arid climate so that they all possessed a certain similarity, a new equality created by death.

As we passed them, they seemed oblivious to our presence—to them we were no doubt just another patrol encountered, which would either kill them or let them continue on their strange journey.

Danzler hailed them and asked them where they came from, where they were going. The five men brought their mules to a halt. They stared at Danzler, their mouths set in permanent frowns. For a moment I thought that they too had been overtaken by XXXXXXXX’s curse. But they were just men driven to an extremity of silence by the burden of their endless task, their continual navigation of the wastelands with the barges of the dead. Still, their ceaseless appraisal of us, the way their eyes took us in and evaluated us made me uneasy.

The rider of the first mule was the leader and he said to Danzler, “We have come from Zamilon.”

Gransvoort snorted with laughter for no apparent reason and Ash met his gaze and snickered, as if someone had lost or won a bet.

“What did you find in Zamilon?” Danzler asked.

The priest turned to his fellows. They laughed, a dry, cruel laughter, like the wind that blows across these hills. He said, “We found them,” and gestured to the wrapped up corpses.

“Already dead?” Danzler asked.

“There’s dead and then there’s dead,” said the priest.

Gransvoort snorted more loudly. For some reason he found this macabre little troupe of priests funny.

Danzler ignored Gransvoort and the priest, said, “Where are you headed?”

The priest smiled but did not reply. He kicked his mule and the five of them started forward once again, headed somewhere, I fear, incomprehensible to any of us.

{Katherine: I would have given one of them a letter to give to you, but Danzler stopped me, took away the letter. He said any communication would betray us to our enemies, but there was nothing in the letter that would have done that. There was nothing in the letter but me.)

Entry #6

We have veered away from the river’s dry bed. We travel west now, I think, into land that once was jungle but now is a dry scrubland cancred with foul drying marshland from which the smell of brine and decay attaches itself to our clothes, our skin. More vultures fly over this land than I have ever seen before. Danzler curses the radio—it only works at intervals and does not tell him what he wants to know. Somehow he seems to think that XXXXXXXX is responsible—complains that XXXXXXXX replaced one wire with another, twisted two wires together. At times he seems to have gone mad with this idea.

The sky here is orange tinged green and reminds me of Ambergris. At the horizon, I often imagine, through the heat shimmers, that I can see a subtle movement, as of vast forces gathering against us in a wave.

At night, although we are not far from Ambergris, the stars seem strange—too large, too varied, too bright. Across the expanse of night we hear the sound of something running. On two legs or four? It makes Bosun nervous, which makes the rest of us nervous as well.

9 comments on “Zamilon in Waiting

  1. Tess @ Work says:

    Oooh. I don’t recognise this. Ta.

  2. James says:

    Was this something that turned into Finch?

  3. James: No, this is stuff that didn’t get devoured by Finch. Although “Bosun” was completely conscripted into Finch and thus must be airlifted out of Zamilon. Zamilon probably now takes places a thousand years after the events in Finch, and must be completely retooled. What you see in this draft will probably be almost unrecognizable in the finalized Zamilon. Zamilon is probably a novella of about 20-30,000 words. I don’t plan on starting it until 2010, and it’ll be a kind of “coda” to the series.

    I also have a series of notecards I want to turn into an interactive art installation called “Fragments from a Drowned City”. It would supposedly be an underground art piece created by an exiled artist when the gray caps rise and occupy Ambergris. But that’s probably 2012, since it’ll require working with 20 or 30 artists. And includes sculptures. (Which means it’ll probably never happen…)


  4. James says:

    If not an actual exhibition, perhaps a catalog of what it could have been. Which, combined with Zamilon, starts to look like a novel-length book . . . .

    Either way, it’s cool to see the glimmerings of these notions so far in advance. You’ve got a pretty good track record of turning ideas into finished products, so we’ll trust and wait until 2012 or however long it takes.

  5. Yes–actually, that’s a pretty cool idea, James! Thanks for suggesting that.

    I probably shouldn’t mention this, but it is possible that an upcoming project for a very cool boutique publisher will revolve around a map of the Southern Islands mentioned in the Ambergris books. It would include the map, done in the old style, and a card describing each, which would of course tell stories as well as provide descriptions.


  6. James says:

    Would this be a very cool boutique publisher based in my neck of the woods that’s put out work by Clute and Disch, by chance? Sounds like their kind of thing.

  7. Samuel says:

    Excellent! After finishing Shriek (and re-reading bits of City of Saints and Madmen), I’ve really been looking forward to more Ambergris related stories. By the way, why not publish entries #1 – #3, and maybe #7 – #9 as well, to make the waiting for Finch less painful?

    Ps. My signed copy of Secret Lives arrived in the mail today. Yay! Ds.


  8. sinema says:

    At first I thought you told Google to call the library, and it did, and that blew my mind.

    Then I realized that you actually called the library, and my mind became unblown.
    I’ll get back to work…
    If you ask my opinion about this topic I really like. Thank you for sharing your friends. Hope to see you another day.

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