You’re walking through the ancient city of Carcosa. Grey dust swirls around your feet in the wind. The neighbourhood dates to medieval times, but it was extensively refurbished in the late 17th century. The street is narrow and crooked - in some places the houses lean so far over the street that it’s completely enshadowed.
You leave the shadow of the neighbourhood streets and step onto the boulevard. Wide, lined with trees, it is cobbled with dusky grey-blue stones, rounded and weathered. You come to a café with colourful awnings of golds and blues. Round tables crowd the sidewalk in front, white tablecloths fluttering in the warm breeze and held in their proper places by small vases of pink flowers. You can hear the echoing clatter of horseshoes on cobbles and creaking wagon wheels and the mournful strains of a cello.
The boulevard isn’t crowded. Singles and couples and small groups gather at the café tables clutching tall glasses and smiling at each other with their eyes and lips. An old man, hair thin and silver, hunches over a chessboard. Is he waiting for his opponent, or reliving past glories?
Nearby, there’s an old stone fountain in the middle of the small square where the boulevard intersects a slightly narrower avenue. Young women in floral dresses sit on the side of the fountain, chatting and laughing with each other under the pretense of filling tall narrow buckets with water.
Across the avenue, a young man in tweeds and cap plays a mournful cello in the fading sun.
You’ve come into the boulevard from one of the crooked little side streets. You sit at a café table, alone with a newspaper. The headline, small and discreet, claims “Burial Mound of Genghis Khan Found in Altai”.
The waitress is a tiny, pretty little thing with a delicate face, bones fine as a sculptural study. Her hair is short and dark, and her wide eyes are a pale, pale blue like glacial ice. Her lips smile wide and red, but her eyes are studying, questioning. You raise your thumb, and she nods once, slowly, and her eyes finally smile. She comes back a moment later with a tall glass of emerald.
Your hand gently brushes hers, briefly, as you take the glass from her.
She snatches her hand back, astonished. She looks at it, cocking one eyebrow. It is calcifying, becoming a crumbly grey stone-like texture. The grey spreads quickly. As a perfect red wondering “oh” escapes her lips, first her hand, then her entire arm, turns to stone. Within a breath, her whole body becomes a statue of itself.
And then she crumbles. First at the edges of her fingers, but soon great sheets of dusty grey plaster are shedding from her body, until she collapses into rubble and dust at your feet.
Fear and panic rise in your breast. You look around at the other people at the café tables. Has nobody noticed?
You rise from your table, convincing yourself that it hadn’t happened, couldn’t have happened. You brush past a friend sitting nearby.
He looks up, as if to say hello. He grabs for your arm to get your attention, but his fingers calcify the moment he touches you. He looks puzzled as he sits, immobile, while the grey washes over his body, leaving him a statue crumbling into dust.
His companions stare at you, mouths agape and eyes wide. You back away from them, apologizing over and over. It won’t happen again, you promise, “I won’t touch anyone”.
You turn around to see the old man with his chessboard. He shyly asks if you play. You smile at him and move a knight. Check. As he smiles up at you, his eyes frost over. The grey starts in his eyes and lips, and before you can do much more than open your mouth, his head tumbles from his shoulders and shatters on the chessboard, scattering the pieces. The worst, though, is the sound of it, the soft crunching like crumpling paper as the grey races over his skin. And now he is nothing more than a gargoyle, dissolving into plaster dust.
You hadn’t even touched him.
You’ve got to get away from these people. They’re not safe with you around them. All around, you can hear the sound of the calcification, that horrible crunching, echoing softly around you from every corner of the boulevard, surrounding you, washing over you like waves.
The women at the fountain are piles of grey dust and rubble before you even pass them. The cello totters, then falls onto the cobbles a discordant clattercrash. All around you the calcifying sound, and that grey dust that once was people clinging to your shoes as you’re running, running down the crooked little empty side streets.
Eventually, exhaustion overcomes you and you slow to a walk. You’re walking through the ancient city of Carcosa. Grey dust swirls around your feet in the wind.
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