Thursday, March 1, 2012

Chapter Two

“The Giantess”

The village that had once been known as the city of Zanzibar was perched, like a clinging barnacle on the side of a great vast stone, upon the edge of a desert which overlooked the vast ocean. The remains of the city spread out, in a slight crescent, around the city’s central district, the main feature of which was Greeves Institute, a hideous fist of black marble, mined from the nearby cliffs. It was here wherein the majority of Zanzibarbarians were employed, busying themselves with the duties of research and maintenance of the Greeves family.
Around this edifice was the rest of the city, consisting of progressively smaller buildings of stone, which suddenly shifted to brick a few blocks away, which in turn gave in to weathered wooden structures, never more than a single story in height. These wooden buildings, painted greys and dusty blues by tradition, were themselves in a persistent and perpetual state of decay. The Zanzibarbarians who lived in them were called the “carnies”, as their fathers had once been the entertainers and workers which had built the Greeves amusement facilities. The “carnival” district had once been the marvel of the city. It drew thousands of eager visitors to see the “sights”, sights which had long since stopped being of interest to anyone anywhere.
The carnies were now a partially feral race, subsisting on crabbing and the harvestation of various kinds of lichen native to the cliffs, and were they even infinitessimally self-aware of their state, they’d have long realized that they were owed certain privileges from the Greeves Institute, which had brought them to this horrible city on a dreadful continent. Among these privileges, perhaps fairly, should have been the right to improvement of their ancestral homes. As the years passed, the Greeves family had removed the metal entertainment structures, the pipes leading to long empty fountains, the nails in the benches lining the boardwalk, and, in the most pathetic of betrayals, the rails to the shuttle train which had once ferried the tourists to and from the carnival district itself.
Among the many recycled uses for this metal was the fabrication of a gigantic steel cage, positioned near city’s central park, next to a large stone structure known as the “Hall of Opportunity”, where the many “opportunities” granted by the Greeves regime were made available to the locals, few and far between. The word “opportunity” in Zanzibar meant a sort of unstated indentured servitude to the Greeves. To “volunteer” for an “opportunity” was the carnie’s last resort, after all other options had failed. Few opportunists, as they were called, returned from their duties in the desert.
The cage was intended to harbor one of the native beings of the nearby desert: the giants. Once, the elder Greeves boy, Gibney, saw a giant across the dunes in his spyglass, and so afraid was he of it’s possible arrival that a counsel was convened. It was decided that a lesson must be made of the offending beast, and, with much pomp, the opportunists were put to work reclaiming the “redundant” metals in the city. Naturally, nothing within the Greeves Institute was declared redundant, but such was the usual method of the Greeves family: everything mattered, except that which they had. It was a curious mixture of humility and hypocrisy, the state religion of Zanzibar, the Janus-headed belief that virtue is attainable but only by others, and the individual had the freedom to behave without virtue, as everybody else was assumed to be an easy mark.
On this day, just as the hurdy-gurdy man died, and all went silent along the beach, the grim shadow of a giantess appeared across the horizon. Nobody paused to analyze the likely correlation. Nobody had that level of analytical capability left.
The alarms were the first to sound, followed by the bells of the sentinel carts and the whirring hiss of the defense machines. As the status of carnie was dependent upon not accepting the status of opportunist, the carnies hid in their wooden houses. Those few opportunists allowed to serve in the Zanzibar guard were quickly dressed and hustled out to the city limits, each carrying a large wooden cudgel, tipped with a piece of rusty iron.
Behind the opportunists were the sentinels... the class of mercenary that had long since stopped expecting payment other than food and shelter. They were the descendants of the few who came to Zanzibar looking for a reason to shed blood, found they had little chance of leaving the settlement, and accepting the Greeves copper as reward in the almost-hope of redemption and return to the real world. The copper was shortly thereafter demanded back to be melted down and made into bolts for the latest Greeves project, whatever it was. As the train from Zanzibar hadn’t left in nearly twenty years, this was, by now, almost a death cult, and the sense of nihilism the sentinels all held to their breasts was numbly covered by repetitions of the hope to one day leave.

The giantess had long thought about the settlement of the tiny people. She had thought about the smell of their burning fires. She had spied on them on moonless nights, far enough away that their torches could not see her or her one, giant, pupilless eye. The giantess had no ill will toward the little people, nor much curiosity, just a desire to communicate. She had tried bellowing across the desert. She had tried singing her deep, sad giant songs.

They had built something.

A false giant, a shiny brass icon had risen from their city.

She could see it from her perch behind the rocks, this false giant.

“They seek to forage with us,” she said, to her husband.

“They seek to kill us,” her husband replied.

For years, they thought about the false giant, for giants are slow and introspective beings. They returned to wandering the desert, hand in hand. The giants were in the truest love, the love that requires nothing but presence, and for nearly ten years, they whispered their deep, sad giant poetry to each other.

Then, one day, when the moaning music of the little people had stopped, the husband had gone. The giantess knew not where. She turned toward the city of the tiny people, and hoped to see the false giant. It was there, tarnished, blackened, no longer what it was the first time she had seen it. Next to it was a cage. And, suddenly, a swarm of the tiny people was upon her legs, crawling, biting her with little points and tapping her with little clubs.

“Ropes!” shouting the Soldier With One Eye, the “leader” of the mercenaries. Ropes with hooks attached flew up at the flailing giantess. The cannons shot into her breast. With a great roar of sadness, the giantess closed her eye and fell to the ground, where the opportunists made quick work of her, wrapping her in ropes and chaining her legs together.

From the desert, a wail of windy terror could be heard. The husband-giant, returning from his forage, had discovered his wife missing. The giantess could not return the wail, as her mouth had been stuffed with bale upon bale of old, dirty rags, and the soldiers of Zanzibar made a great effort at once to carry her to the cage. The entire affair took less than twenty minutes, as it had been practiced and trained for for nearly a decade.

Gibney Greeves looked on from his porch, on one of the towers of his family’s palace. The servants were ordered to pop the cask of port which had been laid up specifically for just this occasion. Another man, identical in appearance, refused to drink.

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