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Cities of Men
The world's top scientists couldn't say exactly how or when it happened, or even agree what had happened. These were the same scientists who swore that sasquatch, UFOs and ghosts didn't exist solely because accepted scientific theory said they couldn't exist. Having been a professor of astronomy for over fifty years, I've learned that if your eyes tell you a thing exists and your science tells you it doesn't, don't get new glasses: Get a new science.
I believe it all started early last March, when what appeared to be a comet or meteor lit up the night sky. I saw it myself with the telescope on my back porch. Since I came down with severe anemia three years ago and had to retire from the astronomy department at the university, I've had a lot of time to sit and watch the sky. Whatever this was, it didn't act predictably: It was too bright, too close to the earth, and stayed in orbit long enough to be seen around the whole world, and then just disappeared.
I remember I was still on the porch puzzling over it at one o'clock one morning when my wife, Dori, came out to check on me.
I told her about it and she said. “Jake, maybe they'll name the comet after you.”
I laughed, but I felt uneasy. The star gazers at the observatory would have made an approaching comet “old news” long before it got anywhere near earth. I hoped this wasn't another of those anomalies the scientists would ignore.
The next month, I went in to see Dr. Benson for my checkup. He said that the iron level in my blood had risen for the first time in three years. It wasn't normal yet, but it was encouraging. I mentioned the increasing pain in my joints.
“You're no spring rooster, Jake. I'm not either. My bones have also been aching more lately. I'll prescribe something for it.”
“Dori is worse off than I am. She's never been bothered with arthritis before, but it's getting more difficult each day for her to get around. But if I were you, Doc, I wouldn't tell her it's old age.” The doctor chuckled as he handed over my prescription.
Over the next few weeks it seemed like the the whole world was slowing down. People weren't running to catch buses. They weren't rushing down the street to get to appointments. Even children in the playgrounds weren't running.
Then I noticed that people began to slowly wander off into the arid lands outside the city, as if driven by some strange instinct. They never came back and, strangely, no one seemed to have the energy to go searching for them.
I had my own problems, though. Dori just wasn't her normal, lively self. When she bothered to get up at all in the mornings, she would sit on the couch for hours without moving or talking. Sometimes she just stood in one place, like a living statue.
Except for the increasing pain in my joints, that Dr. Benson's pills didn't help, I was feeling better: The severe fatigue associated with my anemia was improving. Still, it was an awful time.
Dori had been my wife for fifty years. Every couple has occasional disagreements, but we had that rare kind of marriage that allowed us to be a couple, but also be ourselves. She was the brightest star in my night sky. When my head was up in the heavens, she grounded me to earth. When I started to make science my god, she reminded me who the real one was. I could only watch as the woman I loved slowly faded away.
And then one day she was really gone. I'd gone to the store to pick up a few things and when I got back she wasn't there. I searched for her all that day and the next. On the third day I ventured out of the city. Nostalgia and hope took me to a place I had visited many times with my telescopes and sky charts, yet I was utterly shocked by what I found. There were clusters of four to six foot tall buildings everywhere. There were buildings that resembled skyscrapers, apartments, offices, factories, you name it. It looked like someone was building an entire city in miniature.
Some were perfectly formed, some were rounder, lumpier, like unfinished sculptures. I looked up towards a knoll were I used to bring Dori on warm summer nights to watch stars and do some romancing. On top of it, I saw an odd, yet familiar shape.
I scaled the knoll as fast as my ever aching bones would allow. There was Dori. She couldn't move, nor talk and she seemed to be “melting” down into a low, squarish lump. She was barely recognizable and I doubt there was any of my Dori left. Under these circumstances, I hoped not. I noticed that where she touched the ground, she had melded with the earth to form a foundation. There was no way of taking her home. Although I could hardly bear to leave her, I had to go for the night. I don't think that Dori was even aware of it, but I put my jacket over her before I left.
I knew then, that I was also changing. I spent that night, probably my last as a man, sitting on the porch next to my telescope. Eventually my mind settled enough for my somewhat non-linear thinking to kick in and come to conclusions the “pure” scientists could not even consider. I figured out that the object seen in the sky that March was not a comet or meteor. It must have been an alien probe, sent ahead of a colony on its way to earth. It's purpose was to somehow use the metals naturally occurring in the human body as “starter” to grow a world full of ready-made cities for the colonists when they arrive. The human body contains a wide mix of metals. Among others, iron, copper, zinc, chromium, strontium, even gold. Perhaps my mind is fading, but I don't feel terribly angry at the colonists. Maybe they don't consider us to be all that intelligent, and thought no more of it than our ancestors thought of clearing out a herd of bison. The size of the “buildings” indicate the aliens must be little larger than insects; maybe we just happened to be the right size and mass to make cities. Maybe their scientists have as much trouble thinking creatively as ours did. If so, I fear they too, will eventually be doomed.
The next morning I was back by Dori's side. I lifted my jacket off her and saw that she had transformed into an exquisite little temple. She was shining silver with a bright bronze colored roof. Sharp, clean, damascene steps ascended from the ground to a row of classic white columns. The wide entrance was edged by a scrolling of golden ivy. Yes, there was horror at seeing my wife like this, yet this was quintessential Dori; clean, neat, beautiful, functionally elegant and with spiritual purpose. I sat down beside her to await my own transformation into...what, an observatory? I am guessing that I was not transformed as quickly because of my anemia. The depleted iron levels in my blood slowed the process and the buildup actually made me feel better for a while. I unpacked the knapsack I'd packed the night before. I had food, bottled water, a small telescope and a note pad and pen. I will never leave again. We will remain here, side by side, for hundreds of years, complimenting each other in our new forms as we did as humans. I, a place to look across the void of space to see the stars whose dust forms all things, and Dori, a place to look across a different void to see God, who shaped and breathed life into that star dust.
mark211 - This is a really simple yet beautiful story, though it is also one that I felt was spoilt slightly for me by the paragraph explaining why what has happened to the people has happened. The dream like quality and the love of the narrator for his wife (and Dori's eventual fate) is a tender metaphor that I found very touching indeed. The only other comment I'd make is that in retrospect, the first paragraph seems a little misleading in relation to the whole story. It does seem odd that someone who has worked as an astronomer in a university seems to talk about 'science' as a non-scientist might, though this is only a very minor point. Other comments are below.  The world's top scientists couldn't say exactly how or when it happened, or even agree what had happened. [Intriguing first line – got my attention for sure]  … don't get new glasses: [G]et a new science. [I think the G should be lower case; also elsewhere e.g. "… it didn't act predictably: [I]t was too bright …" ]  … But if I were you, Doc, I wouldn't tell her it's old age.” The doctor chuckled … [This is quite a sweet exchange in the dialogue, made me smile!]  Over the next few weeks it seemed like [the the] whole world was slowing down. [Extra 'the']  Then I noticed that people began to slowly wander off into the arid lands … no one seemed to have the energy to go searching for them. [Very spooky – this paragraph caught my attention – one minor detail though is that, from the narrator's perspective, shouldn't he say something like 'wander off in the direction of the arid lands'? In other words, in terms of the logic of a first person narrator, how is he aware of what their actual destination is and how does he come to know whether or not they actually returned? Was it on the news? Presumably not if nobody could be bothered looking for them. Perhaps this calls for a scene in which he has a conversation with someone passing by his porch looking for someone, a family member say, in the arid lands and who, although he keeps a look out for this person, notices that they never come back in the reverse direction? Just a thought.]  Dori just wasn't her normal, lively self. … she would sit on the couch for hours without moving or talking. Sometimes she just stood in one place, like a living statue. [Really creepy!]  Except for the increasing pain in my joints, [that] Dr. Benson's pills didn't help … [ 'those pills of/from Dr Benson didn't help'? either way, that is in the wrong place here]  There were clusters of four to six foot tall buildings everywhere. There were buildings that resembled skyscrapers, apartments, offices, factories, you name it. It looked like someone was building an entire city in miniature. [Super creepy – you've done a really good job of building up a weird atmosphere in this story]  I figured out that the object seen in the sky that March was not a comet or meteor. It must have been an alien probe, sent ahead of a colony on its way to earth. It's purpose was to somehow use the metals naturally occurring in the human body as “starter” to grow a world full of ready-made cities for the colonists when they arrive. [I'm loath to say this as I have really enjoyed the build-up to the story that you have created so far, but this denouement feels a bit like an anti-climax to me – you've built this incredibly dream-like and creepy scenario which feels to me as if it's been spoilt by being given a mundane and prosaic explanation, i.e. this line has the quality of 'and then I woke up and it was all a dream'. I think that's a shame.]  The next morning I was back by Dori's side. I lifted my jacket off her and saw that she had transformed into an exquisite little temple. [In relation to the previous point, I think this is absolutely beautiful – the tender love of this elderly man for his wife. The futility of covering his wife with his jacket under these circumstances reminds of those photos of faithful dogs that lay asleep on their master's graves. I think again this suggests to me that I would avoid giving a 'factual' explanation as to why what is happening is happening and leave it as more of an implied hint.]
micheledutcher - jbaumgartner13 wrote: The main character is very well developed and the side characters are developed enough. I love the relationship between the narrator and his wife though I imagined them younger than 70 as the their 50 years married would suggest.
micheledutcher - tobiash wrote: An interesting and original concept. I like the idea of humans transforming into buildings. I think our natures determining what type of building is a bit of a stretch. What kind of personality would you need to be an apartment building? Anyway the concept is good and the length is perfect to convey the idea without surplus verbiage.
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