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The wind whipped across the cold gray pavement in front of the old library. Nolights shone from behind the cracked panes, and the aged brick walls looked stonegray under the midnight gleam of the lone street light. Papers blew around theabandoned stoop, swirling in the December air, and one caught upon a board whichwas wedged up to cover the hollow under the steps.
While the board keptthe wind out, the frigid air still crept in, and the single flickering candleunder the steps provided little heat, even to the body wrapped in torn, stainedclothes. And even now the candle was almost gone - with the worst hours yet tocome. There would be many more nights, too, and some worse than this; just thethought of this was a torment. She hugged herself tighter under the thin blanket,as she silently screamed for food and warmth and tried, so hard, not to cry...
The southern sun beat down mercilessly on the city. Thousandssweated, even in this late afternoon, and he joined them in cursing the Floridaweather as he glanced around the alley nervously and quickened his stride. Onlytwo more blocks and he'd be at the apartment and with his wife and children,having survived yet another day and only beginning to dread the next. Only agrocery clerk's wages balanced against this daily fear: was the meager moneyworth it?
He hated the city, and the daily murders and nightly screams ofhis "neighborhood," where drugs ruled minds and lives no longer seemedto have meaning. He knew he couldn't get away, for he needed his job and lovedhis family but hated them both for keeping him here. And he hated himself, forhis poverty which shackled his dreams and for his leaving high school which heknew was a mistake and for the color of his skin which others saw and neverlooked beyond and, most of all, for his having so much hate withinhim . . .
Day in and day out, the scenery was the same: rows uponrows of identical machines, all for the same purpose. Next to each one sat aperson, sixty-four in all, eight rows and eight columns of individuals thatworked toggle switches and reported to her at the end of the day. She was theChief Superintendent, a position of responsibility, and could be proud to be apart of Amalgamated, Inc. Complete responsibility for exactly five percent of theworkers in the Minnesota division was hers, along with a company car and anapartment and an extra vacation each year. Yet she still wasn't, well,happy.
Somewhere inside her she wanted the missing parts. Outside of thecompany, she wanted someone to spend that vacation with. Even within Amalgamatedshe wanted more, and felt that she might have it if the Board of male chauvinistspassed her over for a sales manager position because she " lackedimagination." The important thing is that I work hard, she thought, and I dowhat I'm supposed to do, live out my life according to the Amalgamated plan. Soit must be someone else's fault that I'm not enjoying it ...
Thesoft rain pattered onto the windshield as he smoothly guided the Honda along thewinding ridgetop road. The windshield wipers rhythmically swept the water away asthe car sped along, and the lights of Los Angeles glittered below like thefar-off stars they seemed. He sighed as his thoughts raced onward, like the car,they travelled a familiar and well-worn road.
Each day it irked him,nagged at his senses. A weird but now characteristic nagging, which began as heentered the building at 8: 00 sharp (always punctual) and lasted all day, untilhe left (always late) at about 7: 00 p.m.. All day, as he worked efficiently(admirably smoothly) in his corner office with the little window, typing away atthe computer keys. He was the sole member (director's salary) of the accountingdepartment for the small and profitable biotech firm, and represented his companyin the best way possible (sharp dresser, the latest in ties).
His life wascertainly desirable, the model of moderate success (Mom would be proud). Maybehis education wasn't Ivy League (very expensive, though), but he was certainlymore than competent and respected by all. That's what mattered - he and hisfamily were prosperous, had all the best in life. Each night he returned to theirbeautiful home to kiss his wife and put Tiff to bed, then eat a quiet dinner andrelax with a paper (check the market) until 11: 00, when he and Denise went tobed. But the next morning when he drove off (always the same road) he wondered ifthere were any real reason to go, or even to stay . . .
The view,when seen for the first time, was absolutely stunning. Three huge bay windows,side by side, arcing to take in the whole of the city skyline and the vast lakebelow. At noon on a sunny day the entire picture was dazzling in sapphire andsilver - for that reason he held his few inner-office meetings at about noon, andcancelled them if it wasn't very sunny. He could do that.
Just anotherprivilege in being the CEO of an incredibly prosperous bond and tobacco company.He made money on the greed and vices of others and found that incredibly amusing,as he had never smoked or speculated in his life. Life, for him, was a surething, and as he stood gazing out the window he reflected that he loved the cityand smiled when he considered that he could probably buy the damn thing . ..
He had whatever he wanted - clothes, houses, cars, women - but he wasalready planning how to get more. Politics was the next step in the plan. Hefigured that a wealthy, influential, good-looking guy like himself should fitright in. And maybe someday -who knows? - he could wind up in the best positionof all. That is power, he thought, that could make me happy, even happier than Iam now. That would be something truly big . . .
The tranquility ofthe softly falling snow in the district gave it a deceptive feeling ofrelaxation. However, each building that looked so quiet and peaceful against themidnight blue sky was in a flurry of activity. The work day in Washington, D.C.never stops . . .
At first the continuous energy of the place hadinvigorated him, encouraged him, pushed him to work harder. Now it merely tiredhim - after three long years he knew that little actually happened, and ifanything did, it pleased a few and annoyed many more. Critics everywhere - thenewspaper reporters, television interviewers, public speakers - all with personalaxes to grind. The long term result was inconsequential, unimportant, paled incomparison to the immediately gratifying.
He grumbled softly as he leanedback in the tall, creaking leather chair and lit his fine cigar - the only badhabit he permitted himself. He needed a cigar, once in a while, when he ached toomuch and felt inextricably entangled. For he, too, was forced to concentrate onthe immediate - the public view, the media interpretation, the upcoming electionyear - in order for his long term plans to have a prayer of working. But toimplement these plans he needed others on his side, and just to survive in thechaos of the dog-eat-dog political world, he spent nearly all of his time onfoolish publicity activities. The jaws of this particular paradox were closingfarther and farther, and he, the President, could only watch and despair . ..
Molten lava hissed through huge mountains and valleys at hercore, steaming and moving at a pace that seemed interminably slow even as eonsticked by. Far, far above her rivers trickled, choked by unnatural barriers.Trees fell by the thousands each day, forests and valleys and bays and mountainsground under the inexorable wheel called civilization . .
The very air inthe vast skies was gray and foul, and the rays of the sun seemed too hot and toomany as they beat down through the slowly diminishing atmosphere. The very warpof nature above seemed twisted, wrong, even down to the individual molecules intheir shape and form ... as countless lives silently expired everyhour.
Each moment it felt a little worse, and the red-hot fires belowflared a little higher. She was in pain, under incessant attack by a myriadice-cold needles that bore in deeper with every passing second. It was all sosudden, when compared to her long, peaceful past - almost like a dream, now. Thepain reached her very core, as she silently began to die . .
Slowly, in a corner infinitely far away, a tiny flame flickered,then caught. Even more slowly, as if being fed with fuel at an infin-itesimallytiny but steady rate, the flame burned brighter. Lamp-like, it shed a soft glowupon its own microcosm, an essential but minute part of the impossibly large webwhich extended in all directions.
Elsewhere, in another corner, a giganticscarlet star was abruptly extinguished, as if a huge hand had snuffed it out. Thevast, incredibly black reach of space nearby became just a little darker for aninstant, as if under the blanket of an immense shadow.
And slowly, in yetanother corner even farther away, another tiny flame flickered, then caught . ..