I've had many restless nights this term, disturbed by odd dreams and peculiar notions. The few opportunities I've had to sleep have been disquieting.
Wandering through cyclopean, desert labyrinths. Chasing misty lights through impossible forests. Being eaten.
I have trouble in the morning. When my alarm clock rings I almost instinctually generate a new dream in which I've gotten up. I walk to the kitchen and make coffee, and before I know it I'm halfway out the door before I truly wake. It's troubling, how they fade together so easily.
London lay like a corpse before the march of dawn. It’s lanes and alleys ran like rivers of blood in the murky orange glow of street-lamps and the hazy brilliance of the rising sun. The suburbs swam with silence, where once one could hear the stirrings of life and love in the little hours of morning. But the fog seems to have stolen that, swallowed it up in its great gaping maw.
It was mustard yellow, and had a sulphurous stink to it. I could even smell it through the tinted glass of the limo’s window. The Matriarchs issued an early warning the previous morning, and most of South and South Central London was deserted. The majority of the populace had simply barricaded themselves in their homes as opposed to an evacuation. A mass exodus wasn’t considered an acceptable Sunday morning pastime.
So despite the quiet cadaver stink of the capital, a keen eye could still pick out the glow of lit rooms behind heavily curtained windows, and the faint humming murmur of prayer from the more degenerate neighbourhoods. The partisan patricians had not yet come out to pray in great wailing masses of stinking, half-naked barbarity, baying for the blood of lamb and the imminent death of the Soul of Man.
I almost tripped over a loose stone as I passed the King's Church on Skinner Street. The cold was almost enough to keep me awake, but I needed more. A coffee, yes, two coffees, that's it. And a handful of 'vitamins'. I still have work to do and I cannot afford to fade now.
It's good with something warm in my belly. I feel clear, like my head is filled with styrofoam. I get as far as the College on cotton legs before everything loses its texture.
We arrived shortly at the chapel. The Temple of St. Ayon glowed faintly in the foggy morning, regal red granite peering out from a stoic perch above the blackened bosque. It was an ancient edifice, and had been repurposed many times to suit the whims and wishes of religious dilettantes. Its walls were unmistakably gothic, laden with angels of marble, yellowed with age, and innumerable arches and frescoes depicting the trials of forgotten saints. The roof was a great golden dome, echoing the majesty of the Hagia Sofia, from which a gleaming gilded spire erupted. St. Ayon’s sacred fire blazed at its peak, eternal as the Soul of Man.
The trees almost seemed to lean towards the Temple’s guiding light, gnarled arms arching up like black lightning to smite the bearers of stolen fire. The flame burned on, undaunted, in the great glass chamber capping St. Ayon’s gilded central spire. The wails and moans of organ music issued forth from four oaken double doors, daring any who would desecrate this holy site with a dire warning of swift retaliation.
I might as well have brought a mattress with me. The Medway Building is unremarkable at night, but I can still remember all the nights I sat on those stones, glowering over a cigarette into the night. I was so sharp then.
I am glad I brought my blanket. It's cosy sitting under this desk in the newsroom with my flashlight and the Book. I didn't think it could be so quiet, with the generators down.
The war hadn’t been easy on our family, and we had many enemies. It wasn’t uncommon for Sacrum Mater agents to bomb temples, and they made sure it never got into the news, but I had a feeling they had more pressing matters to attend to.
I almost miss the war. At least we could fight them out in the open and on equal terms back then. Back when a man could still stand up for what he believed in, and fight for his family. I wonder how many of those muffled lights in the smog smothered houses of London burned still for that same truth.
The security guards came by every now and then when they were hungry. I gave them what little I was, but I didn't have much meat on my bones to begin with. It didn't matter now. The malaise had set in, like it had for everyone else. All I could do was lay there in that bombed-out building and rot.
Once the guards were satisfied, they led me into the temple’s crowded main chamber. The great room was octagonal, and the pews descended into the floor like great steps, in a similar fashion to the amphitheatres of hellenic Greece. There were six rows of pews, and each one was packed full with cloaked and shrouded figures. Candles lit the walls of the chamber with an amber glow which cast wavering shadows across the paintings, murals and mosaics that decorated the windowless amphitheater, and left the rows of attendees in a shifting miasma of darkness.
The middle of the chamber, however, was lit from above. A series of mirrors reflected the light of St. Ayon’s Flame, burning in the temple’s golden spire, into a circular spotlight. It fell upon a marble plateau, upon which stood a figure in crimson robes. He cradled an urn with his right arm in much the same way a father would cradle a newborn babe.
The doors shut behind me with a low boom. A few shrouded figures cast glances towards me, their eyes glinting in the candlelight. The crimson priest raised his head to look directly into my eyes.
They were eight billion, wasting away in the shade of the real. I couldn’t help but smile.