Ariel’s Story #6 – Return

by MW Cook

     You cannot notice how foolish a smile looks when you first see it. But think, for a moment, and picture a smile in your mind’s eye. The lips are pulled tightly back and up, intruding on the cheeks. The eyes are wide. The teeth show forth in a manner not so dissimilar to a snarl. It is strange, when you dwell on it. Almost grotesque.
     But those are things you never notice. For when you see someone smile you find a similar smile is forced upon you. And with that smile comes those motions of joy that cry down your ever self-conscious reason and say “Hush now! I’ll not allow your base inhibitions and arbitrary judgements stand in the way of this joy I feel! You say I am silly? Foolish? Those words have no meaning to be now that I am in the throes of joy. So stand back while I pull tight these muscles in my face and show my teeth to the world. For I am happy and all is right.”
     And so at the feast I did not notice the sweaty, red-faced foolishness in the smiles of my peers. I did not notice the many chunks of food stuck in the mouths and beards of those who ate with me. For we were all happy. We rejoiced in the Bride and in her Husband and we felt, with a calm, violent certainty, that a new age of light and love was being ushered in. An age in which the fetid pool would be drained and done away with. An age in which all the buildings would be cleaned and opened for all to dwell together in peace and love and laughter. An age to end the ages. An age after which nothing could follow, for if things are ever truly and completely made right there can be nothing left in the cosmos to set them wrong.
     And so, with my head flung back in laughter at some happy jest I’ll never remember, I was pulled out from my dream and found myself alone and awake in bed.
     It hurt to be pulled from such a happy dream, I don’t mind telling you. And I tried, as we all do, to fall back asleep to pick up the dream where I left off. But that never works, as we all know. And so I rose and entered the grey world.

     It was many years before I slept again.

     I knew at once where I was. It was the air that gave it away. The air in that place is thinner than ours. But not thin in the same high altitudes are thin. More like the quality of being ethereal. But I cannot convey it rightly.
     I stood by the gate and nostalgia washed over me. There were the apartments. There was the road. There were the people walking to and fro, just as I recalled. Though, not quite as I recalled. There were many more people than before. Indeed, I was tempted to call the place a town, though the word seemed to die in my mind, as though it did not belong.
     But though I could not call it a town, it seemed to have grown many of the trappings that come with the success of urbanization. For one, there were police. Police are easy to spot no matter what culture you are in or what uniform they wear. It’s the way they look at the people around them. A look that searches. A look that tests to see where you are deviant and whether that deviancy is enough to make you delinquent.
     For another, there were ads pasted in every place ads could be pasted. Everywhere from large billboards up on the sides of the high-rises to the smaller posters pasted to the side of construction walls. And, wonder of wonders, each and every one of them was themed after that wonderful girl and amazing moment so long ago: Sume el Raj.
     I imagined that much more time had passed in Isht Drowl than it had in my world. This was not very surprising, really, because I had read many a fantasy novel and knew that sort of thing was to be expected. And since I had already adjusted to this idea I took as my next task the examination of what great blessings her crowning and ruling power had given to the town.
     I stopped a man working in the street. He greeted me with a smile so wild I thought it must be fake. But, of course, that was wrong of me. For this was the land of Sume, and there was no reason for me to doubt the sincerity of the good fellow.
     “Excuse me, sir,” I said, “but I’ve been away for a very long time and I am wondering where I could find Sume el Raj. And, perhaps, if he is still here, her husband.”
     “Both Sume and her beloved are still in town,” he said. “But you’ll need to meet the one before you can become part of the other. Do you know the fountain in the centre of the park?”
     “Fountain? No. I remember only a broken, fetid cistern there.”
     “Ah, but that was before the marriage, no? Today that cistern has been taken down and a glorious fountain has been erected in its place, kept pure for those who enter on Sume’s terms.”
     “A fountain?! How wonderful! Thank you, sir, I’ll go to it immediately. Will Sume be there?”
     “Aye, she’s there. But take care you enter by the right gate. The gate with the true symbol of Sume on it.”
     I paused. “What symbol is that?”
     “The bread, of course. Symbolic of the bread of life the beloved gave to Sume. And that she now gives to us. Godspeed to you!”
     And so I went.