They Only Fear the Sea
When Quarantine Was Declared in the City of Eternal Night
A Chapter From the Nocturnus Notebooks
Entered and Notated Up by Jedediah Elysdir Hartman
(written 5/7/93; Webbed 10/12/95)
“I wish brightness would fall from the air,” J.G.D.F.C. whispered once during that long night. We called him that because he wouldn’t tell us his real name. “I’ve only known you for fifteen years,” he would say when we pleaded with him to tell us. “How do I know you all aren’t space aliens intent on gobbling me up?” We had to admit he had a point.
We were all getting a little tired of the night game there in the City, and nothing anyone could say would convince little Tomas Thomas not to go off in search of a light. Yeah, there was a dame involved—isn’t there always? In this case, a lame tame crane dame. But I’m getting ahead of my story.
I suppose it all started when Ursula The Bear joined our little literary circle—oh, about eight years before the time I’m talking about. Or maybe it started when Terry plunged eighty stories to his or her death from a first-floor window, out there on the edge of town. At any rate, by the time the hydrophobia plague began we all knew something was up, we were all edgy. But that’s not what I’m here to tell you about.
I’m here to tell you about the night that Tomas found the rose out by Lincoln’s Grave.
It’s not really a grave—notice the capitalization. Miss Zelda said that was a good Literary Device, to use capitalization effectively. I miss Miss Zelda.
Anyway, we just call it Lincoln’s Grave ’cause we know he’d be rolling over in it if he were buried there. It’s where the slaves live, and a more retching hive of slums and villas you’ve never seen.
J.G.D.F.C. says that Lincoln didn’t really free the slaves, or anyway only did it because he had to. J.G.D.F.C. says when he was in School he once saw an old copy of something called the Declaration of Immanencipation, and in it Lincoln said, “Oh, for Chrissake, all right, if we really have to, you guys can go free now.” But J.G.D.F.C. is always trying to tell us about stuff he saw in School. If Miss Zelda was still around, we could ask her.
But I personally don’t believe there is any such place. School, I mean; I know Lincoln’s Grave is there. I was there the night Tomas found the rose.
(Now when I say night, I mean this was in the City of Eternal Night, and night went on for a long time. So it was always night. But this was one particular part of that night.)
It was a funny little thing, the rose was. All yellow and waxy and vertebrated. Tomas came running over to us, asking the way he always does: “J.G.D.F.C.! Ursula The Bear! Argon Indonensius!” That’s me, Argon Indonensius. He always calls my name last. Before Terry died, he always called Terry’s name last.
And we all said, what is it Tomas Thomas, what is it?
The way we always do.
And he said, “Looka what I found, looka looka!”
So we lookad.
And Tomas Thomas said, “What is it?”
I just kind of shut up about then, because I hadn’t no idea what it was. But J.G.D.F.C., just like always, looks around and makes sure nobody else hadn’t no idea what it was, and then says, “It’s a rose, Tomas Thomas.”
Okay, so we didn’t know then what was going to happen later. How could we? We were all a little kind of edgy, a little insecure, that’s the way it was in the City of Eternal Night in those days or rather nights or rather that night.
So Tomas Thomas goes all excited and squealyvoiced, and he said, What’s a rose?
And J.G.D.F.C. said: “A rose is a rose is a rose. I learned that in School.”
But what does he know, anyway? So Ursula The Bear said, “Tomas Thomas, a rose I think is a flower.” She always says I think, Miss Zelda used to say it was a mark of high qualify. So she says, Ursula The Bear says, “A flower is something you grow and maybe too something you grind up also.”
Tomas Thomas looked up all bigeyed and roundnosed and he said, “How do you grow it?”
And something clicked in the back of my braincase where the stem part connects to the back part and I don’t even know how I knew but maybe it was something Miss Zelda told us oh so long ago before I even remember, maybe back before, when she was a slave, and I said, “When you grow you gotta have the sun.” And I said it mysterioso and importunate, like J.G.D.F.C. goes with his voice when he talks about School, and everybody shut up and looked at me.
And Tomas Thomas said smallmouthed and tongulated, “What’s a sun, Argon Indonensius?”
And that was how it all started, because once Tomas Thomas gets his brain curled up snug around an idea there isn’t no way nohow he’s ever going to give up on it even if it bites him to death. And that was how Tomas Thomas got started off on his crackbrained harepot idea to go off and save the sun and bring back light to the City of Eternal Darkness, and that’s when—right then, like the Over Lords and Masters were listening to us even though everyone knows they never bother to listen in on proles, right then was when the quarantine hit.
End of Chapter One.
Mykle Hansen’s ’zine Eyeheart started out as more or less an APA, with contributors sending material in to be printed. All three titles to this piece come from phrases used by various others in Eyeheart and SWAPA in early 1993, though I’ve misplaced the exact sources. This piece was originally printed in Eyeheart. The style is somewhat akin to that in my “Crystal Terraces” piece; it’s a sort of free-associating, malapropping style that I enjoy writing but that doesn’t garner high praise from my friends.
The phrase “brightness falls from the air” is the title of both a short story by Idris Seabright and a novel by James Tiptree; turns out that it’s a quotation from “A Litany in Time of Plague” (c. 1592), by Thomas Nashe.
I always intended to go back and write more “from the Nocturnus Notebooks,” but never got around to it.