To the Low Church by AN Grace (Lucent Dreaming Issue 13)

  1. Ódáðahraun, Iceland – The old Land Rover 90 is dug fast in black sand, green shell bleached by light: a giant turtle adrift on a far-flung planet. I twist the rings on my fingers, ignoring the scar from the cannula that hovers above them. “It won’t take long, Dr. Corta,” he bellows, working away on his knees somewhere below me. “You can’t compete with nature, Magnús” I whisper to the wind. I’m resilient. My thick orange shawl knitted by grandmothers and hot soup. My hair grey now like theirs, pinned so tight that not a plan can fall from its place.
  2. Life of Anthony, Athanasius of Alexandria: in the Middle Ages, a bible for ascetics. I want people to turn back when they come here. For the low sun to blind them. For volcanoes stuffed with history to scare them away. Send them running for last chances. Oh! Contemplate your gods with eyes wide open.
  3. I was a naturalist. I am a naturalist: a Sisyphean task of organising the living, the dead, the beautiful. The diagnosis shrieked through our lives like an uncontained temper. John was thirty-four. We were thirty-four. For much of the time I just watched, thinking that an ending shouldn’t be sordid, or grubby. It might be difficult. It should be magnificent.
  4. We’re moving again, kicking up fine dust that will settle in our wake. One could easily become disorientated here, but Magnús feels the primordial landscape. Still, my heart rides in my stomach until I spot gleaming doors in the distance: a monolithic lodestar dragged up from the earth below.
  5. Hanna Corta, Ph.D., is a founding member and senior scholar at the Élan Foundation, where she directs professional ethics. She is a fellow of the Institute for Behavioral Biology, and alongside her late husband, Dr. John Kean, she is a past nominee for the Longshall Prize. Dr. Corta has authored numerous publications.
  6. I look back to see Magnús retreating in the dust as I wait for the elevator to take me below like thousands before me.
  7. Q: What is the maximal dynamic pressure that a human body can withstand? In the 1940s, Colonel John Stapp began experimenting with the outer reaches of human tolerance. The first run on his rocket sled took place in 1947 on a purpose-built track. Encountering forces up to 38g, he sustained bleeding retinas, broken ribs, and lost fillings. His body continued to tolerate him for many years after.
  8. Below: a white room. Gerten rises from behind a pale wood desk at its center. We come together, my hands clinging to the stiff wool of her tweed blazer. “Thirty years,” I say. “Thirty years since we started. Who could believe it?” She takes my hand. “We could,” she says, leading me towards the tunnel – a 1000-meter-long donut below the Earth’s surface. A counterweight to all above.
  9. The Garden of Death, Hugo Simberg; the fresco at Tampere Cathedral hangs in my mind. Life, tended to carefully by Death – a cessation of all biological functions that sustain an organism. Permanent. Irreversible. A simple fact remixed and repurposed a thousand times over, through towering centuries and in village vignettes, as oblivious children play on grounds primed for ritual and tradition. One day, they understand, or perhaps they just acquiesce. Tradition is almost as irreversible as death itself.
  10. She straps me piece by piece into a leather-bound chair, mounted upon steel rails. An ambient glow illuminates the tunnel, curving away ahead of me into the distance. She whispers into my ear, places the headset gently over my head , plunges me into darkness. I’m moving. The tunnel appears again now, muted colours and half-formed images flicker along the sides and up above my head. Sound washes the walls – excerpts, memories, the algorithm, a composition: Glassworks/Floe, Philip Glass, 1982. It was John’s, and somehow it was also mine. Specially mixed for your personal cassette player.
  11. The tunnel flares in brilliant light and I see magnificent frigatebirds and velvet ants, red-lipped batfish and leafy sea dragons and lilac-breasted rollers…faster…rough heat blazes the back of my throat and the engine oil on my father’s hands soothes like balm as I reach out helplessly for the dying butterfly I cradled as a girl…faster…a leopard gecko, so perfectly created its eyes dare me to say by chance, and I dare back as synapses sparkle and dim and my mother says I think I forgot my medication dear as her car thumps into a red post box…faster now…forever is nothing but a momentary lapse, I’m lightheaded in the preternatural pull of time, blood rushing on its final journey and it curses me and loves me and sends heartbeats vibrating in discovery, lucent life forms dreaming of incorporeal beings, and John’s hand on my shoulder stops me from running as our lips touch for the final time at the hospice in Rheinsberg.
  12. Now shadows sink in fallen trees and a train steams into the station tracks aglow with white hot sparks, as unknown creatures hide in the darkness ready to emerge as myths and wonders, when the sun’s energy flashes once again.

AN Grace lives in Liverpool. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Another Chicago, North Dakota Quarterly, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and others.
T: @isthisboring

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