I know what little boys like. Little boys like monsters.
I have a recurring dream that goes something like this. I am lying naked on my back in the midst of an endless field of poppies, staring up at a blue sky. It is dead quiet, the way it is never quiet in the world anymore, now that machines are everywhere. Even when you think a room is quiet, theres always some damned machine in it, making some kind of noise: plumbing; an air conditioner; a fluorescent lamp. But in this endless field of poppies its dead quiet, as it must have been when the world was still young.
Then the virgin queen comes. I can tell shes coming because, although I still have my gaze fixed on the sky, I have also shifted it to look at the queen as she leisurely walks across the poppy field with their retinue trailing behind her, in that way in dreams that you can look at two things at once and see them both with crystal clarity. The queen is wearing a crystal crown that glitters in the sunlight, and an intricately embroidered dress shot through with threads of gold and silver. She is accompanied by several small boys. Some are naked; some are clothed. Some are dressed like girls with long dresses and two pigtails tied with red ribbons. Some have human torsos, but haunches and horns and hooves, like creatures out of myths.
Then the queen stops walking and sits in the midst of the poppies and crosses her legs and smiles and laughs, and the boys assemble in front of her and begin to enact some complex kind of dance, taking slow steps, moving in interlaced circles, swaying their bodies to a rhythm that only they can hear. Then the queen turns to look at me, and its just before I see her face that I wake up.
Waking up from the dream is the worst part. It always takes a few seconds. Its like . . . suppose you were underwater and naked and running out of air, deep down where all the lights gone, and you have to come up for air. And you spend every last precious ounce of your lifes energy in the effort to rise to the surface and take that badly needed breath, and just as your head breaks from the water you remember, too late, to your horror, that you are a fish.
Why dont you just let me off here. Ill walk the rest of the way.
In the morning, when the sun is rising, the building that houses the Xeroville Greeting-card Works is eclipsed by the long, yawning shadow of the Taligent Tower. The Tower is the uncontested dominant piece of architecture in the city, the defining element of its skyline, and it is owned by Prospero Taligent, reclusive genius, the richest person in the known world, the inventor of the mechanical man.
Prospero Taligents tale is one of the last real entrepreneurial legends of the twentieth century. Not many people that anyone knows have actually been inside the Tower, a forbidding monolithic place with obsidian walls rising straight up to the sky, but it is said that Prospero endlessly walks the darkened corridors inside, that he never sleeps, that he has knowledge and talents that border on wizardry, and that miracles are commonplace within the Towers walls. That there are manufacturing devices with tolerances so small that they can be used to make gears and pulleys and cranks that are nearly invisible to the naked eye. That Prosperos mechanical servants are so intricately and ingeniously constructed that they can play chess competently with masters of the game. That, at this moment, on the top floor of the Tower, a team of engineers and mechanical men under Prosperos direction are at work on the largest zeppelin ever made, a fantastic flying craft that will have a motor the size of a childs fist, and that this motor will be powered by the worlds first and only perpetual motion machine.
And, of course, everyone knows about Prospero and his beautiful daughter, Miranda. How one of Prosperos servants found the toddler crawling about naked and grime-covered in a street in the red-light district and, moved to tears, brought her back to sanctuary in the Tower to sue for Prosperos help. How the never-married, childless Prospero fell in love with the girl on sight, used his considerable legal muscle to rescue her from her biological father, an abusive alcoholic semipsychotic schizophrenic gruel salesman, and adopted her to raise just as surely as if she were his own flesh and blood. How Mirandas playroom takes up an entire floor of the Tower, and that it contains creatures for her playmates of all kinds, both human and animal, both living and automatic, including, as the playrooms centerpiece, a breathing, warm, real, magnificent white unicorn.
Excerpted from The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer. Copyright © 2010 by Dexter Palmer. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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