City of the Dead
Kiet shook her
head. Ferren put on his most persuasive voice.
'It's no use here. You said you'd take me to the City of the Dead.'
'I thought you meant more than this.'
Kiet scowled. But Ferren sensed a yielding.
'Please. This really matters to me.'
Suddenly, without a word, she turned and led the way. They followed
a narrow trail down to the valley floor.
The trail petered out when they came to the rubble of brick and
concrete. Kiet picked a route across the rivulets. Cold water splashed
against their ankles.
The trail started up again on the other side. They had to push through
clusters of lush flowering plants. Higher and higher they scrambled,
until they climbed up onto a kind of concrete platform.
Ferren stood gazing in wonder. The platform ran to the foot of a
massive wall. The wall was made of pre-cast blocks, all exactly
the same shape and size, all with identical mouldings and projections.
He couldn't even imagine the techniques behind such a construction.
The stony material of the blocks seemed to glitter in the moonlight.
Kiet stayed on the very edge of the platform. 'This is where the
But Ferren wasn't satisfied. 'Just a little further.' He pointed
to a place where the wall ended. There was a gap of a few metres
before another wall began. 'We could go in there.'
'I've already come a little further,' Kiet hissed indignantly.
'But I haven't heard the ghosts yet.'
'I'm not going in there.'
'Are you afraid?'
Her answer was contradicted by her wide staring eyes and the tension
in her body. But Ferren chose to take the answer he wanted.
'Come on then.'
He walked off slowly along the platform. Would she follow? After
a dozen paces, he heard her footsteps hurrying to catch up.
The gap turned out to be a kind of lane between tall buildings.
It was clogged with a tangle of thickly growing bushes. Ferren had
to get down and crawl on his hands and knees.
Kiet crawled after him. A snapping and cracking of twigs accompanied
their progress. For a while, it was even darker than in the tunnels.
When they finally emerged, they had left the lane behind. Now they
were in a wide street. They rose to their feet and looked around.
The sudden silence was overwhelming.
The street was as if transported from the time of the Ancestors.
Shopfronts and housefronts, doors and windows, pavements and gutters.
Almost all the buildings were still intact, in spite of the zigzag
fissures running across their facades.
Only the pavements and roadway were shattered. Whole trees had sprung
up, bursting through tarmac and concrete. Root systems had buckled
the surface and heaved up slabs like a sea of choppy waves.
Ferren walked along in a dream, trying to take it all in at once.
He felt he was actually living in the time of the Ancestors. He
could imagine crowds of people thronging the pavements, moto-cars
moving along the roadway, overhead electrics making the night as
bright as day. He hardly noticed how Kiet walked behind with lowered
head, holding herself in, clenched rigid.
He wondered what lay behind the windows and doors. Peering into
the glass of the windows, he could make out only a kind of grainy
'Let's see,' he said aloud.
He stopped at one of the doors, seized the door-handle and pulled.
It took him a minute to work out how to turn the handle.
Kiet uttered an inarticulate sound that might have been a 'No!'
But Ferren kept pulling. The door snapped suddenly off its hinges,
toppling outwards. Behind it was a solid mass of earth.
With a small avalanche, some of the earth slid forward and poured
out onto the pavement. Ferren jumped back. A dusty mouldy smell
filled his nostrils.
'Nothing but dirt!' he exclaimed.
He walked on again, thinking of the strange impenetrable rooms behind
the outer walls. Now when he looked at the windows, he could see
the texture of packed earth behind the glass.
He came towards a corner where the street opened out onto a square.
Then he realised that Kiet was no longer with him.
'Kiet?' He swung around. 'Why have you stopped?'
She stood as if frozen in mid-movement. She had advanced only a
few metres beyond the avalanche of earth.
Reluctantly, he went back to her. She was trembling all over, breathing
in tiny rapid breaths.
'What's the -'
He listened but heard nothing.
'It's them!' she gulped. 'The ghosts of the Old Ones!'
She pointed ahead, towards the square from which he had just returned.
Ferren listened again. Was that a faint sighing of the breeze? Or