The great castle-city of Merwin stands in the desert. It is a chambered city of sandstone and marble. Its clean, curving alleys open from each other, through ribbed arches. At certain times the streets seem entirely empty. I learn from a blind storyteller who sits enthroned above piles of coffee sacks that it is necessary to watch out for three kinds of beings that are dangerous in this otherwise peaceful city. Two of these appear human; the other has never been seen by anyone who survived its assault.
There are poisoners who can shoot their venomous thoughts, like darts, into the mind and body of their victims. There are shadow creepers whose shadows move with them but have different shapes and are not projected by the sun. These unnatural shadows shun the light, scuttling or slithering from one dark hole or crevice to the next. A creeper may have a dozen or more. They tire easily, and are drained when they are used in an attack, but re-grow their power when allowed to coil and congeal in the dark places. Typically, a creeper fires his shadows at the mouth and nostrils of his victim. They shut off the voice and steal the breath. Entering the body, they may spread the spores of madness.
The Equinoctial Gallavanders are the most deadly of the darker residents of Merwin. “I pray that I may never see them, for no man sees them and lives,” said the storyteller.
My skepticism is roused by the improbable name. “If no one has seen an Equinoctial Gallavander,” I demand, “how do you know they exist?”
“We hear them. Listen in the night for the crunching of bones. The gallavanders consume humans like chicken wings, leaving only the bones.”
I am wearing a green suit that has been loaned to me. I am surprised that it fits very well, since the man who gave it to me is a head shorter than me. I am setting out to explore the strange city of Merwin. It would be best to start by finding the blind storyteller, whose vision seems clear. On my way, I catch a glimpse of a train. This is unexpected, and seems to offer the chance of taking a tour of the whole locale.
The train is pulled by a green steam engine. As it puffs away, it sends up perfect little clouds of smoke. I walk briskly towards it, down a narrow street. The sand-colored street is very clean and entirely deserted. It ends at a high wall. I cannot see over the wall, and its surface is very smooth, quite impossible to scale. I turn left and walk along the wall, hoping that this will lead me to a train station or at least a railroad crossing. My path ends in a much higher wall, like that of an old warehouse.
I turn back towards my starting point. Far away, I see another train, with a blue engine. Maybe this is the way I need to go. I hurry towards the second train. Again, the streets are oddly silent and deserted. Again, my path ends at a wall. This wall seems to be part of the ramparts of the castle, with a sheer drop of hundred of feet to the plain below. I cannot see the tracks, but in the distance I see a great bald massif rising from the desert, with great dark birds titling and circling overhead.
The station is underground. This comes to me in a flash, but does not give me the directions I need. I understand that the trains of Merwin do not run in the normal way, not at all. Perhaps I will investigate further on my next visit. For now, the puffing engines behind the walls linger in memory like the trains of a de Chirico painting, tauntingly visible yet forever remote.
I find myself once again inside the castle-city of Merwin. As with previous visits, I cannot recall how I came here. I have no memory of passing through the gates, or climbing up from the underground railroad I am certain is under the city, though I have yet to locate an entrance. Have I been teleported here, and if so why? Is a court card in play? If I was called here by someone or something inside the city, they have yet to show themselves or reveal their agenda.
I check myself. I am wearing a linen suit that is familiar, but the leather sandals are not. The body seems to be its usual shape, but it is lighter. The skin of my feet looks darker than usual, but perhaps that is the effect of the darkness that now prevails in the city. The streets are lit by a kind of moonglow - though I see no moon - but above the sky is very black.
I come upon a convention of great black birds. I would call them a murder of crows, except that when hand carts arrive, pulled by men in sand-colored robes, I see that the birds are much larger than crows. They are almost as tall as the men. The faces of the men are concealed by their head-cloths. In silence, they dump human bodies from the carts. Some of the bodies twitch, as if they belong to people who are not quite dead. I understand this is the method for disposing of the bodies of the dead in Merwin. The pickers are fast and meticulous, stripping the bones of all that decays.
I notice now that the great black birds are eyeless, though when one turns its head towards me I have the impression of something glinting among the feathers at the place of the third eye. I think this is a charm, with raised lettering in a cursive script that may be Arabic or something older. Maybe it is a control device.
ADVENTURES IN STORYTOWN: These are unedited journal reports. #1 is a dream in the early hours of July 2 ; #2 and #3 are experiences in a half-dream state after waking on July 3 and July 4. My feelings, after the initial dream, were of pure delight, despite the weird monsters described by the blind storyteller. Some dreams are adventures in Storytown, and all that we want or need to do with them is to bring through more of the story.