The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Refugees Of The Lost Kingdom

Posted by BigWords on August 3, 2010

by Gary James

In the torrid dreams filled with flickering embers came the vision, unfocused at first – as if seen through a heat haze – soon clearing to reveal the indescribable, unmentionable terror which burned eternally far beyond knowing. Mensinus woke each morning drenched in sweat and fear, and – following his carefully set routine – tried as best he could to shake off the feeling that something terrible was soon to occur. Awakening from such dreams day after day was beginning to take its’ toll on the academic. The tumbling, turned-around and swept away reality he had comfortably accepted was a horrifying thought, but as a tangible and all too real nightmare it was unbearable – for ten thousand years the splendor and opulence of the city had been a magnet for the brightest lights in the sciences from across the globe. Representatives of the council had been sent out across the globe to bring together peoples of all cultures to the heart of humanity, but if the flickering sparks of destruction portended in fitful sleep were accurate, then all would be for naught.

In his alcove, Mensinus tried valiantly to concentrate on the scrolls of texts laid out before him. Maps and descriptions of foreign lands spread across the table pointed at the existence of so much he had yet to experience for himself – strange beasts and exotic vistas, wondrous plateaus and beautiful oases… So many experiences to be had, and yet the awful dreams encroached on even his fancies of travel. The flames of destruction were always present out of the corner of his eye, a constant source of perspiration to his brow. The Great Hall which had seemed so cavernous to him as a boy now felt unbearably close, and from his vantage point on the second floor appeared no less than a massive kiln from which an awful smoldering terror would creep, catch and engulf all. His hand swept at the maps, billowing dust into the air from the ancient works. “And here be dragons,” he sighed softly, aware of the implications his words held.

A deep rumble echoed through the hall, followed swiftly by a tremendous shake of the ground. Vases toppled, people fell, and sprawled against the marble floor lay still – expecting, hoping and praying to their gods. Time seemed to crawl interminably slowly as the quake held tight its’ grip on Mensinus. The maps he was studying had flown across the floor into small groups. More chaos beyond the grand doors, those outside (caught, he supposed, in a more serious predicament) were screaming and wailing their torment to any who would listen. The doors to the Hall swung open and an excitable youth brushed past the scholars on the corridor, papers flying in all directions. “Flee. The city is burning, all is lost.” Mensinus raised himself carefully, steadying himself on the table, his heart pounding a tattoo of fear through his entire body. His dream was fulfilling itself.

A sound not unlike thunder took hold in the distance, and the building around him shook more violently than before, great cracks appearing in the granite where faults lay hidden deep within the stonework. It took all his composure to descend the stairs to the ground level, eyes blinking through the sweat of fear – Mensinus’ nightmare enveloping him once more, the horror of untold fears now weighty on the soul. His hands shaking, grasping at the walls as he made his way, one foot unsteadily placed in front of the other, to the reassuring firmness of the street. The sight which greeted him was one of complete disarray. Houses had toppled in on themselves, caged animals had broken free and scattered to the reaches, the elements of civilization had been thrown into tumult.

“Save us. Oh great ones…” Mensinus sank to his knees, “Save us.”

A great cacophony drew his attention to the far shore. The city’s merchant fleet, believed by the to be the greatest and most advanced in the world, had been dashed against rocks as if nothing more than the playthings of children. The scattered timbers looked so small from such a distance that Mensinus couldn’t tell if the sailors had been able to flee for their lives in the disaster. On land also, the tragedy had entangled citizenry in the hitherto unbelievable – the end of all that was. Flames licked the skyline in long, flickering trails, its’ errant embers falling from the inferno to engulf more in the chaos.

As if through a blanket of heat, Mensinus could see someone approaching. Not running, nor perturbed by the encircling flames, but calm and composed – striding forth through the madness as if unconnected to it all, the thin golden-bearded figure remained a focus of intensity. Mensinus held his hands out, “Can you save us, I beg of you?”
“From the fires of hell there is no salvation. But this I speak – there is time enough to flee, for the seas remain open, and far we must spread.” The stranger held out a hand. “Come with me and we will voyage forth.”
“My maps. I must retrieve my maps, for the entirety of lands are documented within them. The world has been charted and is known. They must be saved”
The stranger nodded.

With maps tucked under each arm Mensinus rushed to the shore, through the falling, burning logs and scattered masonry of dashed buildings, to find vessels spared the earlier destruction. The stranger stood proudly upon the bow of the elegant craft, unfazed by the movement of so many peoples from their homes.
He turned as Mensinus boarded. “We must depart quickly, for our time on these shores has come to an end. The heavens will soon shift against our favor.”
Mensinus nodded, “We will make haste for the pillars of Heracles, and on to Athens.”
“Very well.” The bearded man spoke softly, carefully, his eyes focused on things not readily apparent.
The ship broke free of its ropes, and the scattering of the remaining peoples took place. Some by fishing vessels, others by grand sloughs, and a handful of hearty souls dared all in one-man canoes better suited to the inner rivers.

A full day passed on the open sea, and an eerie quietness had overtaken the ship. Mensinus felt the dream heavily upon his heart again, the burnt red skies on the farthest skies – his homeland gone. The stars above him the only constant. The skies… Staring at the firmament he was possessed of the belief that he had witnessed the heavens move in sympathy with his predicament. Then sure enough, again. A prayer fell from his lips as night slipped dramatically and suddenly into day, the sea beneath him wrought with fury, and he knew – deep within his heart – that the city would never burn again. It would be forever frozen as is, eternally held in its’ final moments.
________________________________________________

Sometimes the ideas which come to me are slow in forming, taking shape only after extensive thought has been expended on nurturing the concept to fruition, though at other times I am compelled by some strange force and manage to wade through the normally difficult elements of story craft. This particular piece is of the latter description, and is something of an accompaniment to the numerous fire-based flash pieces which AWers have been posting…

There’s a couple of healthy genius bonuses if you are at all familiar with the alternative history books of recent years.

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