First one bell, then another two harmonically arranged for waking up gently, some time later. After a while, the rhythmic chimes stimulate Nathan to wakefulness. He stretches on the bed, enjoying the chimes for a second before getting up. Turning off the alarm clock, Nathan moves to the East wall. Standing before his altar he performs three Sun Salutations. After the last one he lights the twin candles on the altar; kneeling, he gives thanks to the Lord and Lady for the blessings of the day to come.
Thomas’ alarm is deafening “SKREEEE SKREEEE SKREEEE” at some inappropriate hour of the day. He rolls over, attempting to find the snooze button on the damn clock so that he can try and get more sleep. Not finding it in its usual position, he raises his head off the pillow and looks towards where the clock should be. His eyes focus, remembering putting the clock across the room, forcing himself to get up.
Nathan spills his seed before the altar in honor of the Lord and Lady, showers and gets dressed. He grabs his things and heads to the café up the block and across the street. The barista sees him, waves, and begins pouring Nathan’s drink.
Having jacked off the night before, Thomas hops into a lukewarm shower and gets ready for the day, intending to try out the coffee shop he passes by every day since he moved here. He sleepily scratches his head, locks the door behind him, puts on sunglasses, and heads down to get coffee.
While he crosses the street, Nathan is overwhelmed by the weight of pregnant possibilities. Despite his concern over the acolyte that disappeared after the last healing, Nathan feels closer to the deity than he has recently. He is contented for now, and thinking on what he has planned for the day, he decides to stay at the café. Why not? When he enters, the barista motions to a ready cup and says “Namaste” to him. Nathan responds, alert but still sleepy with a “Namaste” of his own. He takes the cup offered to him and heads over to a table by the window. Unfortunately, Nathan’s plans are interrupted, as he vanishes while contemplating his reflection.
Thomas, reading the latest headlines on his iPhone, is troubled by the latest story of people disappearing. Now that his theoretical notes are as complete as they’re going to get, he plans on going through them for the rest of the day in an attempt to derive a procedure proposal. So engrossed in thoughts about the disappearances and his experiments, he almost steps into traffic, before a kindly woman calls out to him shrilly. He looks at the old woman, grumbles: “Thanks” Before bouncing at the edge of the curb, lost in his iPhone. When he gets to the coffee shop he orders a double shot, no foam, still reading. It is when his coffee is ready that he looks around, glancing for a place to sit; just in time to watch Nathan vanishes by the window.
Feeling around himself and encountering only the comfort of nothingness, Nathan allows his sentience to recede into the surrounding oblivion.
Everyone who was looking at Nathan when he disappeared is shocked, and Thomas is not an exception. A tattooed woman sitting by the door immediately starts praying the Lord’s Prayer, apologizing for her sins, asking to be taken in this Rapture. Thomas rolls his eyes, but stops short of snorting. He quickly looks around the shop. “Did anyone happen to get that on film?” he calls out.
Everyone shakes their heads. The barrista, seemingly unfazed by all of this looks up. “We have security cameras, but why would you want the film?”
This man, probably early 30s, full-sleeve tattoos, smiling gently despite the fact that someone just vanished in front of everyone, baffles Thomas. His left eyebrow rises up his eyebrow slowly. “I’m a scientist, I may have an experiment to figure out where they’re going. But I need all the data I can get.”
The man nods, “I can make you a copy. Come by tomorrow. Fair warning though, you may not like the answers your experiment gives you.”
Thomas pulls his head back as though avoiding something. He shakes his head. “Thank you.” He leaves.
Rousing himself, dividing himself away from the timeless darkness, Nathan feels a disturbance, something he has forgotten. The thought provides a brief flash of focus to justify leaving oblivion, but Nathan returns to its eternal embrace.
The lab is stark white everywhere, bleached outer marrow holding delicate innards; even the people within are dressed in white shirt and pants. Standing light-pillars fill the corners of the lab like ancient braziers filled the mystery temples long past. In the center of the room, a modern day wizard stands before the tools of his trade. The syncretism between two points in time echo, refracting off into other times and places.
Before the pot-still Thomas stands, watching the distillation process. He bends before the flame as time bends into him, following the lines of heat into the glass and liquid. A collection of chemicals, mostly vegetative in nature along with their respective vegetable parts float around. The base water bubbles here as it did once in the past, linking into itself. Its essence, vapor, travels up, entering into the condenser, and cooled by near-freezing water, drips into the reservoir on the bottom. The scientist-magician follows the coiling tube with his eyes. He shivers, the room cooled artificially as by the hour of night.
A feeling of having ignored something pulls at Nathan. The disturbance returns, something wrong. In order to appease himself, Nathan casts out into the void surrounding him, feeling nothing. But the sense of forgetting does not dissipate. Nathan thinks, and in thinking, becomes. He feels the nothing and knows it should not be.
At the bottom of the dripping spigot his latest research on the proposed psychic properties of various concoction of entheogens alchemical refinement of sacred plants stands. The combination of plants sacred to a variety of cultures could kill him, though he hopes it won’t. His research for several years has directed itself towards a recent spate of witnessed bodily dimensional shifts bodily into the astral. By everything he has learned in his research, consultations with holy men and scientists alike, he should be ready. All of his long preparations have come down to this. He carefully pricks his finger with a specially prepared glass slide dagger that allows the blood to drip into a spectrograph chalice. He stares into his informational vehicle, waiting for the data to materialize. The contents of his blood will help to determine his purity, his suitability to the mixture still being concocted.
Nathan focuses, first on his self, on being. He separates from the void now, telling himself its embrace is cold, still, yielding. Nathan is Nathan, and the void is Not. Nathan is aware of the power of Not however, the raw creativity that comes now. He has read enough of the creation myths. Driving his thoughts once more, Nathan focuses ever more on his body, on every cell, every organ, every vein and artery, every fiber of muscle. He drives himself to focus harder, more encompassing.
The machine beeps water swirls, and this cross-temporal figure sees at once the answer to his question: he is pure. His body’s contents are all within normal ranges, their composition healthy without being disruptive to the processes that must come, without the certitude of killing him. Even that does not rule out the possibility of the mixture causing his death. He annotates this in his notebook, assuring himself that those that come after will know that he was not impure. He takes one more look around the room, walking and touching everything, going over its role and what it will be recording in this endeavor. Unconsciously his path is dictated by the past-presence into being circular, clockwise. He will tell himself that it is simply the way of habit.
Nathan feels once more, but he knows this only by the definitive sign of sentience: pain. He continues pushing, folding and contracting his focus into himself. The further he goes, the more he focuses, the more he feels. The pain of creation ricochets through Nathan’s nascent form, contorting it to its own ends. Nathan focuses to keep the process going, and also to keep the distortions to a minimum. It feels like he screams, but there is nothing in the void other than what is made in the void. In a brilliant flash of pain though, Nathan hears his scream echo and reverberate.
Returning to the center the scientists-magician picks up his notes, reading themselves over to him out loud. He trusts that a camera spirit will witness the words he speaks, lending their purposes to what he is doing. Turning off the spigot over the bottle, he pulls the bottle forward and adds a precisely measured amount of anti-purgatives. The theory runs that by keeping these chemicals essences within himself, he will encourage his body to adapt or be destroyed, as one does with all physical conditioning.
The circle is cast, the mixtures prepared, Deity invoked. I place my future into their hands and I will watch and listen, wait and learn. If it be my time to leave this moral coil then I will leave it and enter into a realm of bliss and reverence. If it is not, then may the betterment of my fellows come from this. By my will… Bottom’s up.
The procedure is much simpler than Nathan’s, but eventually Thomas rises up from the desert floor. He is naked, and a few yards away, so is Nathan, still asleep and apparently covered in sweat and sand.
Golden curtains of light seemed to rise out of the desert; solid sheets scrunched like fabric danced across the multi-colored sands that go on forever and ever. The darkness of the moonless night only makes these dancing djinni even more obvious, but does nothing to reveal their trajectories. For a people that had lived underneath these sands, protected by the darkness, these beautiful curtains were a death sentence.
Thomas knows this, but he still leans over Nathan. Eventually Nathan awakens screaming, looking around and making Thomas fall over from surprise. Neither can say how they know of this place.
“You’re the person who disappeared from the coffee shop. My name is Thomas.”
“Nathan.” He looks over himself, feels the air around him from each of his senses, the division easy. “Where is here and how did you arrive?”
Thomas shrugs. “No idea. I was doing an experiment designed to take me where the people who disappeared went. Seems like they’re here.”
“No. I did not start here, I arrived here.”
“Then where did you start? And why are we naked?”
“I started in the void.” Nathan stands. “I’m of the belief that we’re still in the astral somewhere. But getting here… it’s an act of will to leave the void. Did your experiment work?”
“Uhhh… within the parameters of the experiment, yes. We’re a little beyond those parameters however.”
“There is something pulling average people from the physical world here, and the void is stopping that. But the strong make it through. We need to find what is here.” No sooner had the words left Nathan’s mouth than the scenery around them shifted.
It is not to say that these under-sand dwellers had not had beauty of their own: the multitude of earth tones provided by the sand was their paints; the rocks their canvas. The mountains that provided the most entrances to their cities were sealed with gold-plated lead (just in case). Once within, the walls glowed of their own accord, the bioluminescent moss shining through thin layers of quartz-rich sand, carefully mosaicked along the walls. Sand-stained-rock for underground cathedrals built as monuments. Some time ago, these marvels were admired every day by the dwellers within these caves, now the moss had overgrown around the sand. Instead of images, now the walls were a sea of ochre and russet constellations; jewels worked into an irregular surface of light.
The tunnels did not go far into the mountain range; whatever civilization had built these complexes had chosen to dwell only under the desert sands. The strange part was the smell of the place. Instead of the unhindered smell of the earth (moist, yet neutral) here the monuments had been left with a riot of fragrances. Several floral scents mingled with the cloying stench of rotted fruit, mixing again with the scents of various woodsy incenses. Cedar and cypress mingled with exploded peach and melted plum.
Thomas gagged around the smell. “Why does it smell like that?”
The storerooms, pocketed within the communal markets and homes, had been left untended, and even though the fruits were just piles of dust covering the remnants of their juices, there was no sound in this underground mausoleum, no movement to carry wind.
The travellers emerged onto a communal porch, providing a vista to the rest of this ancient, abandoned city.
“I minored in anthropology but I don’t recognize any of this architecture.”
“If you were not here I would say that I made this place. But since you are, I could not have. But something did. Some primeval intelligence must have carved this place out of the Void.”
“But if something did, and now people are disappearing because… it’s what, calling them?”
“Perhaps… and the Void is protecting the people who vanish… unless they will themselves to be. I’m going to assume you didn’t think of a way back?”
As if to qualify their assessment of an intelligence responsible for all of this, Thomas pointed out across the city. In the center of this underground, timeless, ruin was a massive construction of made from sheets of the superheated sand of the deserts just above. A ziggurat of opaque, colored, glass rose in seven tiers above the base of the cavern. The lights from the walls at the edges of the cavern danced over the surface of the glass, revealing and retracting imperfections and variances. In some places, the moss that had been cultivated on the other side of the glass still glowed, revealing interrupted scenes of worship… or so it appeared. Several scenes were indecipherable without being lit from behind, perhaps for the best.
Inside, pulled by alien laws to witness, the Temple extended as many tiers downwards as it did upwards, reaching towards the center of the planet. At the very base of it the pressure of everything that was above it weighted heat into the air. Thomas and Nathan found it hard to breath, to stand. A dais, its edges curling upwards to indicate a lectern in the middle of it, held the treasure of this ruined place: the edges of an unholy book turning slowly in this windless tomb. Before it the pair could do nothing but fall to their knees, feeling its presence caress their skin and slowly seep into their every pore. Screaming became pointless, the air too heavy to transmit sound.