The Fish vanish and the dumptrucks haul the scales to dump outside Anchorage. It takes a week or so to remove the scales, which if not, cover the city and the bay with a film, where it makes a potato chip crunch sound redundant, as feet shift about, sound recorded, crunching over sacrifice. Their sacrifice, they say. An urn for an ash.
She picks the sky clean. Right in front of us. In style, where life’s the part of wrinkles mapping faces for the name no one’s called, but seen drip, the river to sea into forced sacrifice. She leaves scales, piled magically—absurdly—high. All this when no one’s out and the world’s sheltered, even those hills—those ones.
She hasn’t got a name, no, but wings, everyone knows it—the kind of crowd that say they’ve seen such things. She’s not bound, like Linus, contained. But the way they talk, up here, Jack London Style isn’t a direction anymore, it’s steeped tradition like tea in England or a Russian Room—maybe Japan-like, but that would be north so’s North wouldn’t know North was north, and neither would me.
I heard this in one of the Gathering Spaces, nighttime. Coming from all directions. This time I chose to honor my hear. They said so, say that I’m faster than Linus, but the stairs are getting slick, slicker by the day, the cement. And the Architect, that guy’s never made the job so hard. The stairs shift. They’re all different sizes—everyday—changing constantly. There’s no mapping them, no code. The plans are locked in the Great Hall, and no one seems to know where the keys are or even what’s behind what door and if Linus has anything to do with it.
The Great Hall of Alligator Luggage was a name given to the building by the Architect. The four-story orange block was endowed with the latest in reptile care technology. Water, hoses, wires, recording and decoding devices, screens and scanners, prods, chicken coops, and the donation of detached human limbs. The hospital sends truckloads of coolers, especially during the logging months. The nurses say the Elk would rather wrap things up than re-attach them.
None of the Elk are Beavers. And it’s the Beavers that call what’s in the Luggage sacred, which is why they’re near Anchorage, housed in temperature-controlled comfort. Two alligators. One of them has a name.
The Architect’s provisions are what the Beavers say will fail them, everything being equal. They say, everyone’s in it together. And for a while there, the zippers that held the Great Hall together, well, their integrity was compromised. That’s when they called Linus by name. That was the only time they let on like they knew what they were looking for. As for the alligators, they ate pretty much everything tossed to them in the Great Hall.
That was, until I showed up.
Applesauce was in after that. Not for me. The alligators.
My entire expedition was to blame. It wasn’t just that I got lost—nothing but applesauce and dynamite-for-flares in case I fucked up.
My bags were big.
What wasn’t in my bag and on the map didn’t mean what I carried wasn’t needed. And after the Beavers looted my supplies, Linus wouldn’t eat anything else. There was training, of course, learning the way, the systematic preparation of the Uniform for feeding. The entering of the Great Hall.
I was getting fast, learning. They told me to fix the zippers somehow, in order to hold off the scales and keep my distance from Linus. The Beavers said just get us through another winter, and keep the entry to the Great Hall free from debris. The codes were written on the underside of the Uniform. Codes revealed themselves only when the garment was soiled, making what was necessary only through motion. The cleaning of the luggage happened too often—maybe, the Beavers said. They cut back. It’s what failed the zippers and allowed Linus to get to the Uniform.
I learned the feeding not from a body, but a voice, so it was like there was almost a body—a walkman of sorts. It’s sad that the name has changed, the device has changed and yet there’s still the lack. No man. Just you, walk.
No one was there, but another guide, something physically illustrating the preparation of the Uniform. There were pictureboards placed on my way to The Great Hall in the morning to prepare the Uniform. Set up practically, frames around each and every reproduction. Sometimes there were notes on the back. Penciled-in lightly, barely cursive, barely legible. Any question I was to have was answered explicitly. No corners were cut. I took some of the pictures back to return space
where I fashioned simple hangers, spaced randomly on what was a paint-covered vertical plane. There was no order fancied, determinants varied. It was the information count that made it so slow. Education through pictures, head voices and graphite instruction made for constant review. The drive to confirm or deny simple mechanical problems was doubled by the hanging of instructions in my return space
they said it was a rush job, but that was in one of the Gathering Spaces. It’s never too cautious to know or think of how wind distorts sound in such an arena; that unless it’s recorded, you can never trust your ears.
I never said yes or no, just prepared the Uniform, disrobed, robed, all the while thinking that royal blue’s not so royal as when they named it that way. I heard someone say something once, in one of the Gathering Spaces, about tradition. The traditional dress implied the use of the color. And the gold rimmed the Uniform—which was a robe before it was anything else.
Linus wasn’t taking well to the last of the applesauce—even with the supplements. I abandoned the initial dose, raided the emergency stores, ramped up the mix—a little shake up. The supplies all but vanished before I noticed how fast I moved. Linus would live forever, according to my calculations, and that’s not to say I was playing god. The Elk declared science possible. Playing with numbers seemed a good way to get Linus on my side. And I told him, I told him what they wanted me to tell him. But I also added in our conversations that it was me,
I brought the applesauce.
We should be friends.
And for a while there was agreement. And wearing the Uniform under typical surveillance, I fed Linus easily. The Elk told me not to worry about the one that wasn’t moving, that wasn’t what I was here for. I was finding my style, they said. I believed. It’s what the Elk said, too.
They weren’t fearful, just limited. The certificates made sure. There was certainty. It wasn’t electronic, digital, or analog. Those things didn’t matter, and the Beavers couldn’t make up their minds. Everyone’s idea—not just mine—was to keep Linus alive for as long as it took to read every movement and get those codes jotted down from off the soiled Uniform.
Linus got sassy during feeding. He was moving faster than anyone had seen, faster than I predicted, although the previous day’s tape, which was looked at precisely during the feeding on that day, this day—it was yesterday. The information tubed to both parties, measuring how much he took. The Beavers and the Elk. I was moving fast, too. Linus was thinking the applesauce stemmed from a source.
This is what Linus wanted.
Maybe it’s part of the repairs, leaving Linus alone. Everyone said wait it out. It wasn’t just the Beavers. I tried to tell them. The Elk first. Thought I’d fall back on the Beavers. Their spirit would save me.
So I went to the Elk, asked them,
have you seen the tapes?
They said, yes.
I said, he’s got three chunks of the Uniform, didn’t you see the tapes?
There were three of them, for sure. Different ones.
I said, we’ve got more codes than ever, so much—but he’s eating them. What about the ones he swallowed—swallows—we’ll never get those back.
We’re developing extraction methods.
With what? I said.
We’re dealing with it.
The Elk I spoke to were serious. I said this out loud.
They asked me what I was doing.
I told them.
Dripping they say, nowhere near Anchorage, except Russia. There’s more in hearing this than the speak of those that say Her wings drip rain, and it’s only when the fog’s settled in, and glass in the bay or not, there’s no rest for the rivers to wind and a mist—some kind of spray. She leaves the scales behind, dropping in as comforting—a measured respect. But something the Elk never explained: Her. They never gave a name to what scaled the city, what scales the city, will scale the city,
with what is believed is something else.