The Subject

This is about a large lot in the heart of a mad city, where an imposing building stands, to which most people are strangers. The lot, more a field, is near the middle of the city.

Strewn around the perimeter of this field are rip-rap, splinters, chunks of old materials, fragments of understanding.

Fused slag from the heat of construction is found around in abundance, as though lasers had carved the native stone and left flows of liquefied residue in their wake, long ago, which had since hardened. People sometimes wander in to the lot, bring in garbage, carry bricks from other buildings. Some pick up scraps of stone or cold magma and carry them off to use in some mish-mash construction elsewhere. The field is not clean, mostly because it lies in the heart of an insane city.

It is not polite or sympathetic to call the city mad. But it is accurate, compassionate, and fair. On every side of the field you see its noise, its dust, its trash and its failures: burned out lives, hollow eyes in desperate faces, grim separatenesses between men, defenses against ordinary help and communication which exhaust the defenders.

If you do not believe the city is mad, consider the volcano. A remote, scarred shell, long cold, it shadows the horizon on the city's limit to the east. Its gray flanks are scarred with various religious carvings, some small and some acres wide -- a circle, a cross, a crescent, a star cut into the unfeeling sides of dead slag. To it the mad citizens often repair carrying images, sticks, pleading notes, numerological calculations, incantations, and garbage which they throw into the cold maw of the cinder cone. They turn and walk back down toward their mad city, glancing furtively toward the volcano, hoping for some miraculous beam of help, or hope, or incinerating energy to transform their unhappy existences.

The city's insanity is not intentional. Each man or woman who lives it out, adds to its sum daily, lives in regret of his own resignation, despairing of her own agreement with it and unable to conceive of anything else.

All this grim entropy of life is enough; it soaks up the attention like a blackened sponge in some stagnant, grimy alley puddle. The grimness feeds on its own stench; and fed, it uses its flickering energy to stink more.

But in the field itself, squared to the corners and measured plumb and fine, stands the Subject -- a rising, strong-backed, square-shouldered pyramid of rising levels, steps, high viewpoints, escalators, gardens and shiny windows which twinkle when the sun touches them.

It rises toward the sky from deep foundations. It climbs headily: from any of its many broad avenues, leveled on the flanks of every layer of giant stone, one can scan upward and lose perspective, the mind out-stripped by the building's height.

People with their backs to it stand idly around its base and flanks, offering post card pictures of the huge structure, and poorly reprinted copies of the building plan. Others approach the parking ramps and wander down to the subbasements, calling their friends to join them. Rarely, occasionally, you make out a solitary man or woman up in the main levels of the pyramid, tentatively exploring one of the nearer echelons, testing an escalator timidly, or trying to scale the outside faces between levels with their fingers and toes slipping on the gold-tinted stone.

The doors are open, but none seem to enter, Often, those who venture toward them are discouraged by their mad friends, who disparage them for their curiosity. Perhaps these friends are fearful -- something might be learned inside that would show them to themselves in their insanity, their failures, or even their crimes in life. For whatever reason, they discourage each other from thinking anything might be gained or discovered within.

So, aside from the rare bird, the building stands much ignored in itself. Pictures of it, discussions of its existence, copies of its floor plans, badly mis-drawn, are occasional commodities of social exchange. In itself it is largely unknown to the citizens of the mad city.

Those who designed it and built it have gone, generally unknown except in rumors in the warren at large outside its field. Veterans of its construction exist in the sad insanity of the city, who have returned somewhat different for their efforts on the building of it, and again succumbed to the wearying entropy of their kind. Many of them keep fragments of the building stone in a place of honor on their mantels. Some keep small match-stick models of the building as they remember it in their offices. They are looked on by their fellow citizens as eccentrics, but no-one has the energy to complain about it.

Visitors to the city are drawn occasionally toward the great pyramidal building, moved to find out more. Usually they get intercepted by self-styled experts from the shameless populace e, who lure strangers with promises of complete revelation of the building's secrets, delivering instead, at great expense, visits to shabby lounges where they are given wild-eyed mish-mashes of incomprehensible tales, offered bad drugs at high prices, and shown boring dirty pictures. The visitor who escapes these penny-hungry weirdoes is rare, and those who escape do not usually head back toward the building, their interest evaporated by the abuse.

Yet the building itself does not age, weather, or succumb to the foul atmosphere of the mad city. By design or fortune, it is always cleaned by the west wind and the dawn dew. It is built in its own way, and seems to effortlessly resist the undermining effects of time which have reduced most of the buildings to shabby memories of their own designs. Those few who are madder than the rest in the insane city sometimes move that the citizenry band together to tear it down. Somehow this never occurs, the impulse lost in the general apathy and ineptitude of the sorry citizens.

None of this matters, much, to our story, except perhaps as background. Our story is with the building, the delicate perspectives and towering structures within it, the broad stairways and effortless escalators and shining windows. There is the real tale, the long story.

It goes like this...

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