Yes, in fact, it has been a long time since the year began in April.
~ * ~
This is the year of clod and clown.
This is the year when the sky falls down.
A huge bloody glob fell in front of Valery Mok with a smash and a splash. It was no small thing. It was at least a thousand pounds of flesh: raw, red, bloody flesh.
gAnd human,h Valery said. gOne can always tell human flesh.h She tasted a bit of the blood on her finger. gType AB,h she said. (Yet there were those who never believed that Valery could identify blood groups by taste.) gAll right,h Valery said then, gwhofs the joker?h
There was no sound or vapor trail overhead. There was no high building near enough to be the source of the big bloody glob, not if it had fallen normally. And there was no near person who was powerful enough to have hurled such a thing. There were people of a sort there, thatfs true. These people were calling gHappy New Year!h to each other, but they werenft people capable of heaving thousand-pound hunks of flesh about.
It was early morning of the first day of April. And the year was one that was coincident in several numerations.
gItfs been many a time since the year began in April,h Valery told the town. gApril, the opening, the beginning. But the beginning was tampered with long ago. How could these people know that this was really New Yearfs? Most of them werenft even born in those old centuries.
gDo any of you know of any giant who has disappeared or been slaughtered?h she asked in a louder voice.
gNot us,h the people said. gWefd slaughter no giants ever. We like them.h
The people formed a mad-eyed crowd of mixed types. They seemed under the influence of something, probably the chorea, for they danced along instead of walking. They were good people. One of them was dressed as St. Vitus, and several of them were holy.
gIf no giants, then what is new, kids?h Valery asked them.
gTherefs a lady at the lying-in shop who has just given birth to thirteen children,h one of the mad-eyed young women said, gand shefs not near finished with it. They say that it looks as though she could go on all day without stopping. Theyfre not very big children yet.h
gThatfs nice,h Valery said.
gThe oldest ones of the children are already walking and talking,h another of the young women said.
gThat seems very early,h Valery mumbled. gEven after a full day it would seem a little early.h Valery didnft know much about children.
She left the dancing people. She left the bloody hunk of flesh, though she was still puzzled by it. She continued on her way toward the Institute for Impure Science. She was a member of the Institute, and there was an early morning meeting called by the director, Gregory Smirnov.
Valeryfs unoutstanding husband Charles Cogsworth was likewise approaching the Institute, but on a street parallel to that taken by Valery. Charles would not walk with his wife Valery in the mornings. There were always early morning kids abroad, and kids are often kidders.
gHey, mister, walk your dog for you!h theyfd offer. Well, Valery was just unkempt enough in the mornings to be referred to as a dog. Such offers amused Valery, but they embarrassed Charles, so they always walked separately. This morning there was a variant, however.
gHey, mister, walk your cow?h one of the morning kids offered.
gHoly cow!h another kid whistled with amazement.
gClank, clank,h went a sound somewhere behind Charles.
gNow that is unfair,h Charles protested. gMy wife has not put on that much weight. Besides, she isnft even walking on this street.h
gI wasnft talking about your wife,h the kid said. gI was talking about the cow.h
gClank, clank,h went the cowbell. gCan you tell me the way to the Cow Palace?h the cow asked, or else she didnft: this point remains in dispute. She was a big black-and-white cow, a Holstein or Dutch Belted or some such, and she had been following Charles.
gVeer off to the left,h Charles said in common politeness, gtill you come to a street called Droversf Road. Follow Droversf Road to the right till you come to the Cow Palace. Itfs about a mile and a half.h
gClank, clank,h went the cowbell as the cow took the side street to the left. Cogsworth was not absolutely certain that the cow had spoken to him in words, but he had understood her meaning, and she had understood his. She must have been a simple-minded creature, in any case. The Cow Palace was a slaughterhouse, and no good could come to her there.
~ * ~
Glasser also was going to the Institute. He had to go several blocks out of his way. There was a steamship in the middle of
Fourteenth Street; it had the whole thoroughfare blocked. And there was not near enough water to float it, though it had rained a bit during the night.
~ * ~
And Aloysius Shiplap was going to the Institute for Impure Science. He was probably the most impure of all the scientists who belonged to the Institute. Aloysius looked back over his shoulder as he walked. gI wonder whatfs keeping that fellow?h he asked. He went another two blocks. gHefs late,h Aloysius declared, gbut therefs nothing I can do about it.h
Aloysius was almost to the front door of the ramshackle Institute when a flaming duck plunged out of the smoking sky and smashed itself dead on the stones at his feet.
gHe was more than a minute late,h Aloysius said.
~ * ~
And then they were met in formal meeting and were in the middle of words. Gregory Smirnov, the director of the Institute, was outlining a study, or a notion, or a subject to be investigated. It really didnft seem important enough for the calling of an early morning meeting, but most of their studies at the Institute had had such very small and notional beginnings.
gClock-keeping is a murderous business,h Director Smirnov was saying. gHowever it is arranged and corrected, the annalist will find that he has burned some of his years behind him.h
gAnd the annalistfs analyst may find that his ears are burning, as well as his years,h Valery gibed as she shuffled her cards. gReally, do you believe there is as much insanity among any tradesmen as historians?h Valery and Aloysius Shiplap and two of Epiktfs extensions were playing Pape Jaune, the old French card game (the game was named Scrat in fourteenth-century Scotland).
Those extensions of Epikt: one of them looked like Johnny Greeneyes the cosmic gambler to a pip; the other was got up as the Ancient Scribe with black skullcap, flowing white beard, and goose-quill pen behind one ear.
gHave you been losing some years, Gregory?h Aloysius asked the director. gI believe that I have lost one or two myself along the way.h
gSomeone has been careless with the years,h Gregory said. gWe know that either four or six years have been lost out of the count since the beginning of what common people call the Common Era. Thus, the birth of Our Lord was probably in 4 b.c., possibly in 6 b.c. Yet it was not just a mistake in the calculations. These missing years were not missing at all. Astronomical backtracking tells us that they really happened, even if they were somehow left out of the numbering, even if the annalists have left them blank of any happenings, even if we are not sure just which years they were, not sure just where their location was in time or space.h
gCanft Epikt discover these things?h Charles Cogsworth asked. gWhy do we keep the scatterbrained machine if he canft find out things like that?h
gOr play cards either,h Valery said. The Johnny Greeneyes extension of Epikt looked pained at this gibe. After all, he had created himself to look like a gambler and a card shark, and he was plugged into the most brainy and most rational calculator in the universe. But he wasnft doing very good at the Pape Jaune game: there are unbrainy and unrational elements to Pape Jaune; it is one of the few games at which humans can beat intelligent machines.
gYes, I trust that Epikt will be able to find the answers,h Gregory said, gwith the help of all of us. Our project, though, will be research on one year that is included in the numbering, and yet we must record it rationally as the Year That Did Not Happen. We will call it the Year of the Double Bogie or the Year of the Double Fool; or the Year of the Double Joker. I also find the name the Year of the Yellow Joker pushing itself into my mind; likewise, the Year of the Yellow Dwarf. There is superstition involved in contemporary attempts to leave it out of the counting, and I believe that it was left out for several decades. For a parallel, you will recall that this great Institute Building does not have a thirteenth floor.h
gNo. It has a cellar, then two stories, then an attic,h Valery said. gIt doesnft have any thirteenth floor, and I am sure that superstition is the cause of its not having one.h
gLetfs consider a taller building then,h Director Gregory said, gone that possibly has twenty floors, but with the thirteenth floor left out of the numbering. Now then, a curious thing happens, hypothetically of course, since this is a hypothetical building. It is discovered one day that it does have a thirteenth story after all, one not built by the builders, one that is only entered by accident, one that is a crazy jumble of insane things and happenings, one that isnft measurable in normal space. And yet this thirteenth level is discovered again and again. It is occupied by odd tenants who pay rent irregularly and in most odd specie. It is used. And finally this story is restored to the numbering by the building owners, even though it cannot always be found. Such is the year which we will now make the subject of our study.h
Valery drew the Queen of Wands card. It winked at her. The face of that queen looked somehow familiar.
gWho does she look like?h Valery asked, showing the card to Aloysius Shiplap.
gShe looks like you,h Aloysius said. gI hadnft noticed that before.h Knowing that Valery held the Queen of Wands, Aloysius played the Judgment card. This, of course, is not the same as the Final Judgment card (many persons do not play much Pape Jaune and so may not be clear on this subject). gScrat,h Aloysius called. He had won that merlon and so was ahead in the game.
gWhat is the number of the doubtful year, Gregory?h Glasser asked, gand what are some of the insane things and happenings that clutter the rooms of it?h
gItfs hard to give a direct answer to anything about it,h Gregory said. gIt has to be slipped up on. Epikt has been receiving a few hints accidentally. There is great subliminal folk interest in this doubtful year and considerable folk memory of it. There are many references to it now that are appearing in selected copies of old books, references that were not to be found in them when the old books were first printed. Thus, there is preternatural tampering. Well, we can do preternatural tampering ourselves. Here is a communication from a certain Polydore Smith:
g eEpikt, are you aware that in the year 1313 something happened to the Devil? He was compelled, by St. Michael and St. George and for a joke, to wear motley or clown suit for one entire year. This was frustration and humiliation to him. He found the propagation of all conventional evil impossible to him when he was dressed in that thing. He did, however, effect one year full of the most outrageous pseudo-evil ever. That whole year is absolutely incredible and is best forgotten: that is why I thought you might want to remember it and reconstruct it. The year was a lustrum year, not a calendar year. Well, down the hatch, kid! Oh, I forgot; you havenft any hatch.f g
gOdd letter,h said Charles Cogsworth. gAnd just what is a lustrum year?h
gThe year from one Tom Foolfs Day to the next,h Gregory said.
Aloysius had just drawn the Tom Fool card. This is not the same as the Fool card (many persons do not play enough Pape Jaune to know this). The Tom Fool was in motley, but he sure wasnft in it willingly. There was something world-deforming, world-splitting in the sulfurous fury of the Tom Fool in the year of his shame. He was a card almost too hot to handle. Yes, he was the Devil in bonds worse than chains, and he would force the incongruity of his position onto the world and rub the worldfs face in it. Aloysius had never noticed the intensity of the Tom Fool card before, had never noticed that Tom Fool was the Devil in an awkward predicament. (There is a regular Devil card in the Pape Jaune pack, but that shows a Devil who is rather pleased with himself.)
gHerefs another one that Epikt received from an uncertified person,h Gregory said. gItfs signed Damn or Dumb, an odd name in either case. It was mailed from the West or Improbable Coast of Florida. (The best of belief today is that Florida never had a West Coast.)
g eEpikt, this is from Guttmacherfs Pregnancy and Birth. gIn 1313 Lady Margaret, Countess of Hagenau, was laid in with three hundred and sixty-five children, one hundred and eighty-two females, all baptized Elizabeth by the bishop of Utrecht, one hundred eighty-two males, all baptized John, and one escratf (hermaphrodite), who remained unnamed and unbaptized.h I thought you might be able to do something with the above.f g
gWhat in blue hell would I do with three hundred and sixty-five children and me a bachelor?h the Johnny Greeneyes Epikt extension growled. This extension had just put down the Scrat card itself and he recognized it. gUnbaptized maybe,h the extension said, gbut it took a name to itself. It walked and talked the day it was born, and it reigned in Rome for one year.h
gThe use of the word escratf points out loud to eighteenth-century Oxford,h Glasser informed them. gIt was something of a century of jokers in that place then, and many of their spoofs were intruded into serious books.h
gHerefs another one,h Gregory said. gIt also is from an uncertified person, a Cargo Repsky (why do all these names sound so Biercean?), and it reads:
g eEpikt, if you have ever heard of me, you have heard of me as the Mad Professor. But to the point of information. In certain fourteenth-century paintings there is an intermediate layer that is unaccountable; it is a sort of reverse burlesque of the painting itself. But the fundamental layer of the painting and the surface layer are valid and rational, and they are identical. This tricky intermediate layer can only be picked up by middle infrared light of about one hundred and thirty thousand angstroms, the so-called foolsf frequency. It really seems as if the old paint of the picture had been split and another picture accomplished between. These ghost or joker pictures are very salty burlesques, but they can be seen but once. After being brought out by the foolsf-frequency light, they fade away forever, and the painting becomes a single-layer thing. Fortunately I have been able to get good photographs of a number of these out-of-place paintings.
g eAnd in certain statuary of the same fourteenth century, there may be seen smaller contrary forms within the solid true forms. The marble sometimes becomes transparent to reveal these inner carvings or moldings. The objects move, they writhe, they seem alive, and they are horribly funny (I choose my words carefully here). Then the marble will opaque itself again and the writhing inner images will vanish.
g eI have dated these inner images. They were not carved or cut. They were molded by hand in a somehow softened marble. They were molded by the hands of lepers, and the flaked-off flesh of the molders allows me to get a carbon date on them. All were done in the year 1313, the lustrum year, not the calendar year.f g gEpikt has guys write to him who are nearly as far off as some of the guys who write to me,h Valery said.
There had been for some time now a heavy thumping on the roof of the Institute Building and in the roads outside. It was a rainfall of flaming ducks. They were dangerous: the roof of the Institute building wasnft in very good shape anyhow.
gHerefs another one,h Director Gregory Smirnov was saying. gItfs to Epikt and itfs from a certain Father Gassalasca Jape. It goes:
g eEpikt, do you know that in the year 1313 there was a complete turnaround in the empire city of the world, Roma in Italia? This turnaround was for one year. Even the name of the city was turned around and was spelled Amor, or love, for that year. It was a fishy kind of love, though, and with a Babylonian sort of fishiness. The falsified view of the city was true for that one year, and it was the Whore of Babylon who sat on the seven hills. This was the mystery woman whose roots go down to Hell, and part of the mystery about her was that she was not really a woman. But she did rule in Roma; she did set up a court of love, of false love, in that city that was the city of the world. Epikt, I wonder if you could bring your great mechanical and animal and ghostly talents to bear on this, to draw back the veil from the mystery? The effect of it still lingers in the world as a miasma. It must be dispelled.f g
gWe do get some odd correspondence,h said the Epikt extension that was got up as the Ancient Scribe. gAre you running them through our main brain, Gregory?h This Epikt extension had just drawn the Whore of Babylon card and was studying it with some wonder. No, she was not quite a woman, not as she on the Queen of Cups card was, not as she on La Grande Mere card was.
gOh yes, wefre running them through your main brain, Epikt,h Director Gregory said.
(For those who came in late, Epikt, or Epiktistes, was a Ktistec machine, the most marvelous one in the world, the only one in the world so far. The Institute for Impure Science was mainly built around the stupendous mechanical brain of Epikt, the many thousands of cubic meters of it. For conveniencef sake, Epikt usually maintained a few mobile extensions of himself, being sessile in the main part of his apparatus. These mobiles might be in any form from the clownish human to the hangdog canine. They could talk and get about; they could carry on their functions; they were droll, and sometimes they seemed a little stupid. Well, which of us does not?)
gThere is a warning that should be given here,h Director Gregory Smirnov was saying. gWe must recognize that this year which we are going to study is a recompensing year, a lefthanded year (a sinister year in the real sense of the word), a contorted year. It is my own belief that one cannot enter a contorted year, even vicariously and experimentally, without himself becoming contorted.h
gWith us, who can tell?h Valery asked. That was true. They all had that look about them as if their faces and bodies had, just for a moment, melted like wax and then set again. They of the Institute had always had a little or a lot of that look; this day they had it a lot.
gI win!h Valery cried triumphantly, and she played the Wheel of Fortune card resoundingly. The wheel on the picture card was actually turning, and this was more than optical illusion. When it came to rest, the pointer of the fortune wheel pointed to the name Valery (nobody had noticed before that the names of all of them were printed fine on that card), so Valery had won.
gI will have to discover the old rules and find out how this game was really played,h Aloysius Shiplap said with a touch of sourness. gThe game seems to make up its own rules as it goes along.h
gThe old rules say that I am always supposed to win,h Valery declared, gand that is the way it is really played.h She overturned the card table, and it was like clattering thunder. It was a very heavy table, not really a card table at all. None of the rest of them except the gigantic Director Gregory would have been able to overturn that weighty thing. The Johnny Greeneyes extension of Epikt gathered up the valuable pack of Pape Jaune cards. Pape Jaune, the Yellow Joker or the Yellow Dwarf, but who was Pape Jaune really?
gItfs too nice a day to be inside this stinking Institute,h Valery announced. gOh, Ifm sorry, Epikt! Thatfs almost the same as saying that itfs too nice a day to be inside that big stinking brain of yours, and really I like your big stinking brain. But letfs be outside for a while.h And they burst out like a cloud of April flies. (Some of the rare April flies are people-sized; do not forget that.)
gI wonder if the record-setting lady in the lying-in shop has had her scrat yet?h Valery asked the world.
gIfll go see,h said the Ancient Scribe extension of Epikt.
gOh, springtime, springtime!h Valery cried, catching hold of both Aloysius Shiplap and her own unoutstanding husband Charles Cogsworth. gOh, to be young and foolish in the springtime! I wish that it might last all the year.h
gOf course it will,h Aloysius said. gI thought you knew that.h
And Gregory and Glasser walked on that unkempt ridge that rises above the Institute, and talked about various business while the flaming ducks still pelted down.
gWhat they are,h said Gregory, gis pieces of the sky. They break off and fall and catch fire. Ultimately the sky is made up entirely of ducks, though scripture mistranslates them as quails. It is because of this composition that we often hear the term educk sky.f g
gI sure never heard such a term,h Glasser said.
gBut scripture does not mistranslate,h the Johnny Greeneyes extension of Epikt said. gQuails they are, the quails of the flesh-pots. Huge, itfs true, but quails. We have the holy words for evidence: eWe loathe our manna, and we long for quails.f g
gThatfs Dryden. Hefs not scripture,h Gregory admonished.
gHe is to me,h the Epikt extension said, gand I speak ex cerebro, from the brain itself.h (But Epikt had, from the human viewpoint, odd literary tastes.)
gEverybody accepts the blasted burning birds,h Glasser said querulously. gNobody questions them at all today. But I never saw such a thing as this shower of flaming ducks in all my life. What can possibly cause such a phenomenon?h
gAh, the fellows flew too close to the sun,h Director Gregory explained it.
~ * ~
This is the year on the end of the rope.
This is the year when Joan was Pope.
g eClement V was pope from 1305 to 1314,f g Gregory read from a tape spewing out from a section of Epiktfs brain, from the correlating section. g eAnd he was pope in Avignon, not in Rome. There was no pope in Rome in those years.f g
gAnd John xxii did not become pope till the year 1316,h came another tape from another section of Epiktfs brain, from the explicatory section.
gHefd have been three years old then,h Valery mumbled. gSo he matured quite early, but not as early as some members of his family did.h
gProject the whole disputed year of 1313, Epikt,h Director Gregory ordered.
gImpossible,h the machine groaned from its depths. gYou donft know what youfre asking.h
gProject it in the context of only one city then, the town of Amor which had been and would be Roma,h Director Gregory said.
gOh, all right,h the machine Epikt agreed glumly. gIt will be sketchy, though, and not from any fault of mine. There is something inherently sketchy about the persons and events themselves. Whether they were real or not, the things that happened didnft have much depth to them.h
This is Epiktfs account of the disputed year in the context of the city of Amor.
The year itself was subjectively much longer than one year. The subjective sun rose and set several thousands of times during that compensating year. Indeed, though it was all one unmomentous moment, it was half a dozen decades on its own, less real level. Yet it can be measured, from one All Foolfs Day to the next, and it takes the place of only one objective year.
Of the ruler in Amor during the disputed year, there was less than met the eye. She was small; she was insignificant. She warred against significance and meaning.
Joan Hedge-Green was born on All Foolfs Day (sometimes called New Year Day) of the year 1313. She was but one of an exceptionally large birthing. She was not baptized, although an attempt was made. The water boiled or vaporized away on her approach, and the salt turned to putrid flame: thereafter she was not touched by either salt or water in all her short life. Her brothers at the same birthing had all been baptized John, and she took for herself the equivalent name Joan. She had nothing whatever to do with her sisters of the birthing.
Though she was grammatically feminine, she was a perfect hermaphrodite, a jape, a scrat. She was sometimes called the Pape Jape or the dwarfish jape on account of her small stature. She had deformities, but their nature is not known. She walked and talked on the day of her birth, but in no other way was she remarkable.
She left her hometown on the afternoon of her birth. She left by diabolical conveyance or vehicle, the black-wing express over the randy roads of the low sky. By one account she went to Roma in Italy. By another, she went to the town of Amor, gbetween the Germanies and Spain.h By a third account, the two towns were the same. She went there, and she set up an antirule or an an-tireign.
But she did set up court there. She issued coin of the metal known as foolfs gold. The sovereign coin was the sannio, and the system was tredecimal (to the base thirteen).
Joanfs forecourt was known as the Fleshpots of Egypt. (The Egyptian was but one of the motifs of the court; there was also the Babylonian and the Phoenician and others.) She fed her folk on fowl flesh; this was the roasted flesh of giant quail (all of them capons) that fell flaming from the low sky. She fed them on false-fish from that part of her court called the Rivers of Babylon. She fed them on a cheese so rank that it stood by itself, and came on command. She fed them on holy cow; and on unborn calves and colts, on unborn lambs and kids, on unborn cubs and children, all of which were roasted in that part of her court called the Ovens of Moloch.
She gave her folk break-bone bread, and maid bread, and giant bread, and love loaf. She gave them wasp honey and hornet honey. She gave them blood pudding and offal (gLove each other and eat offalh was one of her high mottos) and bad wine. A visitor in Amor Town that year (there was no such town in any other year) reported that most of the courtiers did know the difference between good wine and bad wine, and that they preferred the bad. Joan gave her people sulfur for condiment, salt being forbidden to them. She gave them heifer milk.
And Joan provided her people with hemp and with hoppy-poppy, with gobbling mushrooms and with ragged dream-weeds, with all the unreality seeds and substances and oils, with the aromatic and reason-wrenching plant known as smoke-poke the anti-incense; and the anti-incense raised its smoke not to heaven but to the low sky. These things were dispensed in that part of Joanfs court known as the Ships of Tarshish.
The visitor to Amor, the one just mentioned, had asked several of the courtiers, gDo any of you know of any giant nearby who has disappeared or been slaughtered?h gYes, there was one,h the courtiers told him. gOur Papess Joan had him blown up with the new blowup powder from China. There may have been others, but now there will be no more giants. Pieces of them will smash down from the low sky whenever the weather is right. These are what we call giant bread.h
So the courtiers had plenty to eat and drink and smoke and inject. They had more than enough, for they finished nothing at all. They were grinning, nervous, ecstatic, jerky courtiers, robust of ear, but somewhat deficient in all other parts.
The city of Amor was built lightly, loosely, insubstantially, unpattemed and unstructured. It had solved the cursed necessity of having buildings and such materialities, for its buildings were very short on material. They were false-front and false-middle erections. The buildings were built of cardboard.
(gBut they didnft have cardboard then,h the avid annalist said. Had they not? Disputed years are not in sequence. They have what they have. But no, the annalist was correct. They didnft have cardboard in Amor.)
The buildings, the whole town, was built of bark and willow withies. They were tricky, and they were almost grand. It was an architecture almost without weight. White and gray clay was smeared on the bark, and behold! there was the appearance of regal marble. All were gilt with foolfs gold in whorled design, and at the same time all were in motley. Yes, the buildings, the buildings were in clown-suit getup of all light colors, with their own rakish royalty about them, and their precociousness. There was no maturity about them: they did not desire maturity. And at the same time there was nothing of the childlike: they sure did not desire children. There was the taut interruption, the jerk back from the momentous. (gThat no thing come to term!h was another of the high Amor mottos.)
And many of the buildings were no more than burlap cloth new out of China (so many things were new out of China, the feeble tea, the sleepy poppy, the tuneless music, the lack of giants) and tent poles. But these buildings showed their own solidity without weight (the sleepy poppy was partly responsible for their showing of solidity), and their own dazzle. In the presence of this dazzle, burlap is almost sunshine-color, it is almost gold, almost yellow, almost rich brown; and it is made out of the holy hemp and the unholy jape-jute.
These near-weightless buildings were peculiar in their horned domes, in their toadstool towers, in their lacelike pillars. Burlap shapes much more easily than stone, though its strength is less. The buildings would have blown down in a good wind, but for the long, disputed year there was no wind at all, no hint of a storm, not even a breeze.
Itfs true that in one region there was a semblance of a breeze now and then, and little bells (like sheep bells or goat bells) seemed to tinkle in this breeze. But it was all masquerade. Close examination would have shown that each bell was shaken by a small worm to cause the tinkling. They were woolly worms, caterpillars really. And a very close examination would have revealed that each of these caterpillars had its head notched in an inhibiting incision: the thing would never come to term; it would never be more than a caterpillar.
And also there was something wrong with the tinkling of the small bells. Fine examination would have shown that each of them was cracked, as was their sound. In this region also there were trees with leaves too green, and meadow flowers with blooms too yellow and too red. There was sodded grass that was not true grass. There was a rank goatishness over everything, but it was not the whiff of honest goat. This false breeze and false greenery were in the region of the court that was called the Groves of Arcady.
St. Peterfs looked distorted and deformed. But St. Peterfs was not built yet? It may not have been, as you know it; but it was built of bark and burlap and lashed poles. It was a burlesque of what it later became. There is no law that a burlesque of a thing may not appear before the thing itself.
The afore-cited traveler to Amor in the disputed year has written that the tongue of the people was langue dfoc and that the ears of the people were assesf ears. Others have said that the ears more resembled goatsf ears. The people could waggle their strange ears, and many had painted them motley colors, one yellow and one red. But there was nothing artificial about the strangely mutated ears. They were well rooted, and they were robust, the only robust things about those folk. And they had to be. The noise there was loud. Even the great mutated ears often bled bright red blood from the overpowering sound. And the sense of balance which lives in the inner ear was often destroyed. This accounts for much of the eccentricity of the chorea or St. Vitus dancers. They were the wobblies. The shattered and shattering noises also deformed other wavicles: those of light (for they made all colors into a crooked dazzle, and they manufactured colors where there could not be colors); the olfactory wavicles, so that the cloying bloodiness of giant bread, the sky-scorching feather smell of flaming ducks or quail, the burning pine knots of the steamboats, the rotten-roses floweriness of the court were all blended into a tall symphony of smell; the radio wavicles that mutated till they brought programs from the distant past (gThis is station alex, Alexandria, Egypt, bringing you the Year One Wondersh) and from the distant future (gStation kvoo, Bristow, Oklahoma, bringing a program sponsored by Johnny Horany the Hamburger Kingh). But it was the sound wavicles that predominated, that had made the ears become the highlights of the heads.
There was amplification for the electrical guitars and other instruments. This amplification had been made possible by the insoluble genius of Sparky McCarky. That wandering man, the Unholy Fool of the Hebrides, had brought, in jugs, from his native Benbecula Island, a quantity of the spectacular lightning that nests in the crags there. He had brought this jugged lightning to Amor Town; he had installed plug-ins where it might be tapped, and so his lightning had been turned into amplified sound.
The music and the lyrics werenft much. One couldnft hear them for the sound. There was a sort of projection in midair of the musical scores and the words of the lyrics. Some say that they were projected as on a visual screen; others say that it was a multi-media screen. Some of those poets werenft bad. Dante was there for part of the year. Others of the great ones were there for a while, but finally the bad poets drove out the good ones.
In one central part of Amor Town, the sound reached such a strength that it sustained itself thereafter. When hands were removed from the instruments, the instruments still dinned on. When singers left, their voices remained. There was no stopping them. And when, beyond this noisy centrality, in the other fun spots—(The Gory Ox, The Calamity Howl, The Whoop Coop, The Gayety Gate (where Gayety Unrestrained sang with her sinewy voice)—the sound died away during the rare sleeping hours, that sound could be glightedh again at the great, self-sustaining noise center, and it could be carried on a vibrating string to any of those bistros, there to rekindle the dead sound.
~ * ~
The technology of Amor Town in the disputed year was anachronistic and atrocious. There were the steamboats which could not have been if that were a proper sequence year. But the steamboats were there and, especially in the mornings, were always blocking dry and rubbled streets. It is believed that they steamed out on the morning dew and were stranded when the dew dispersed. The steamboats, old sternwheelers or sidewheelers, had names like Hierophantfs Show Boat, April Queen, Joaniefs Show Boat (the show girls on that one were named Joanie, Janie, Jeanie, Junie, Johnny, and Ginny), The Big Casino, Fruity-Tootiefs Show Boat, and Five Card Charleyfs River Rag-Tag. It seemed that these steamboats properly belonged to some other place and time (improperly, all places and times belonged to Amor Town in the disputed year).
~ * ~
And then there were the automobiles (if you will permit our coining an illegitimate word from one Greek and one Latin root). These were machines: they ran on Wheels and were powered by smoke. They were also called the Clown Cars, and they ran around on the green grass of Love Plaza. They ran erratically, in circles and in loops. They exploded so as to shake the whole town. They buckled in the middle and left droppings, sometimes a pile of clowns who untangled themselves and ran in pursuit of their vehicles, sometimes a pile of camel excrement steaming and fragrant, sometimes a roaring lion who soon burst into flames, showing himself to be only a paper lion. Sometimes the clown cars reared up on their hind wheels and honked terrifying horns.
But, besides the steamboats and the clown cars, there wasnft much real technology in Amor Town.
(Here a tambour makes drumming sounds.)
I love with every orifice,
I love each dampish channel red,
I love all flesh alive and dead,
I love the bottomless abyss.
—Joan Hedge-Green (Papess at Amor)
(Here the drumhead of the tambour splits.)
(Here a ramfs horn sounds.)
Nor guessed the situation bit,
Nor found the Lord so dull a lover,
Nor used the love-as-catchword kit
A multitude of sins to cover.
(Here the ramfs horn cracks.)
(Here a percussion triangle rings gting, ting.h)
The eternal triangle.
(Here the broken triangle sounds gtunk, tunk.h)
(Here a postboyfs horn blows three notes.)
Do not go about as a demagogue, encouraging triangles to break out of the prison of their three sides. If a triangle breaks out of its three sides, its life comes to a lamentable end.
(Here the postboyfs horn blows three more notes, but far away.)
Love was the theme of Amor Town, and the triangle was the symbol and shape of that contingent society; the triangle, and its solid form, the tetrahedron. The sound of it was triangular, the groupings were triangular, and its prismatic light was triangular. Joan Hedge-Green herself formed an immediate love triangle with her two lovers, the Clown-Devil and the Maid of Wands. (gGlory, love, and love some more for Babylonian Janeh as Rud-yard said, but not quite.)
Every person in Amor Town was a ravening lover. (gSo I move mountains and I love them not, then I am nothing,h as Paul said, but not exactly.) Each lover had its own Ares and its own Aphrodite, and each was by turns Ares and Aphrodite to others. This was the triangle repeated over and over again in the love plane, the interlocking loving that is not accountable ever. (gBlessed be that love that shatters all its offspring on the stones,h as the Psalmist said, but not precisely.) But the plane does not go up far enough, and it sure does not go down far enough.
But, in addition, each lover had its masked lover or Hermes. This additional masked lover placed each lover in three love planes instead of one. This worked to construct the love pyramid, or love in depth. It was a nesting, close-fitting form, and it multiplied endlessly. It was the most simple crystal possible, and it propagated itself forever. It filled, or would fill, or might fill all the worlds and all the universes. (gAnd, for your love of love, lead apes in hell,h so Will the Bard said, or almost said.) (gI love the jupe, I love the jape, I love the Tartarusian ape,h so Joan of Amor said.)
This was the inward-turning construct that had no limits, and it had very few needs beyond itself. There was food in the Flesh-pots of Egypt district of the town; there was other food in the Rivers of Babylon district; and there was very strong food in the Ovens of Moloch purlieu.
There were all the turn-on and plug-in devices in the Ships of Tarshish neighborhood. There were all attractive falsities in that barrio named the Groves of Arcady. There was music, and when the music failed, there was noise that failed not forever. Municipal arrangements were excellent. Law had been dissolved in love. (gLove, and let the law go hang,h as Austen said, or very nearly said.) The garbage collectors had been dismissed as being un-needed (if you love it, it isnft garbage). The police had been disbanded. The firemen had been dismissed (if it burns, it is love, and should not be quenched). There were no magistrates; there were no officials at all; there was no thought for the morrow. There was the year that could not end, for it was self-contained and inward-turned. There was love and love alone, and it went on and on and on.
~ * ~
(gItfs the longest year I ever did see!h Valery Mok, observing from another place and time, swore. gThere has to be an end to it.h Valery drew the Shining Man card. She was not doing badly, but she was disgusted.)
~ * ~
The thing wrong with perfection is not that it repeats itself, but that it stands still in its first instance and freezes time. The thing wrong with love is that the false will so often supersede the true. The thing wrong with that town was that it was introverted and backwards: there are those who will live in it forever, but there are also those who will break out of it. The thing wrong with that year was that it began to come apart before the first week of June.
~ * ~
(gWhat, what, why are they climbing over the walls to get out of that town?h Charles Cogsworth asked in amazement. gMalcontents,h Director Gregory Smirnov said. gThere are always some. Continue with it, Epikt.h gMight I not go on automatic?h Epikt asked from the great department of him that was under their feet. gAnd I could leave a couple of my extensions to monitor the thing.h Not those two extensions, though: the Johnny Greeneyes extension was quickly over the hill and far away. The Ancient Scribe extension became so inconspicuous that he was invisible.)
~ * ~
That was the year that lost its luck.
That was the year of the flaming duck.
And then there was a sort of explanation that Epikt dredged up from the depths of his data banks: gSatan, in his person of Lucifer, was the first of the Flaming Ducks, and he is the father of them to this day.h
The author of that is unknown except to Epikt. But the flaming ducks continued to rain down on the Institute Building and on the ridge above and beyond. You got tired of those ducks, but these were poverty days with the Institute and its members. The members were eating a hard-times lunch of bloody giant bread and flamed duck.
gI hear there will be a new giant moving into the neighborhood,h Gregory said.
gOh, thatfs good,h Valery beamed. gIt made me feel pretty uneasy to be all out of giants.h
gI just donft know what causes a lustrum year,h Glasser said crankily.
gI believe they happen because people are ordinarily so good that provision must be made in some place apart for even the shadow of evil that is in them,h Valery said happily. gSo that toy evil must be vented in a toy year. Thatfs all there is to it.h
gI wonder when there will be another lustrum year?h Aloysius Shiplap asked, somewhat worried.
gNot right away, I donft believe,h Director Gregory Smirnov assured them all. gNone of the signs of it are present. And the people, while very good in these last few decades, are not quite good enough that it spills over, not so overpoweringly good as to require being counteracted by a toy evil in another time and place.
gAw, feather dusters!h Gregory swore suddenly. gIfm getting mighty tired of eating flaming duck. And it doesnft help as much as it did to call it quail or swan.h
gWe must all be careful not to be too good, lest we precipitate the thing,h Valery warned. gIf only we could have salt with the damned duck! But the doctors all say that we should forego salt in favor of sulfur. Here, Greg, Ifll make you a good hard-times sandwich, break-bone bread, holy cow, flamed—ah—grackle, blood pudding, offal—no, really, they say itfs good for you— yellow sulfur, and that good new Moloch mustard. Here, eat it hot, Greg, eat it hot.h
gOh, all right,h Director Gregory Smirnov said glumly.
~ * ~
The stranded riverboat was hooting mournfully over on Fourteenth Street. It would have to wait many hours yet before being able to float on the morning dew. And the dew was never near as drenching as it should have been. In one week, the steamboat had been able to move only two and one-half blocks on the morning dews: no more than eighty yards a day.
There were many people dancing the chorea in the streets. One of them was dressed as St. Vitus, and several of them were holy. And always there was the towering noise behind it all, a noise that had once been music.
There were a few discouraged-looking holy cows, inquiring of people (somehow or other) the way to the Cow Palace. There was a person who said that he was the son of the Pied Piper. He was piping the children into following him, and they were being drowned in the reservoir.
There was a newly appeared, sad-looking person in motley or clown suit. He had mean-looking mustaches; he had a little spike beard; he had red-rimmed eyes. He was unkempt. He looked like the Devil.
The children of the large birthing of the week before (they who had walked and talked on the day of their birth) had now taken over most of the city offices. And there was one of them in particular—ah, well, never mind, there is one like that in every large birthing.
There had been further huge, bloody globs falling from the low sky. It was believed, however, that they were the last remnants of some old giant, that they were not from the new giant who had not indeed arrived yet.
gScrat!h cried Valery as she played the Strange Lover card.
~ * ~
And still there were the flaming ducks, all of them capons, stenchy and outrageous, thudding, thudding, thudding to earth day and night. One does get tired of burnt duck.