Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Slender City

Once upon a time, there was a kingdom ruled by a king who was tall and thin.

There is a city where the streets are paved in black and white stones, like a checkerboard. All the buildings are painted black and white and they are built tall and high and stretch into the skies. Men walk the streets, men in sharp business suits, with black ties and briefcases.

You are a stranger in this city, this city of black and white. You look at each building and notice they are made of wood - and have objects carved into the side. One building has a tree carved into it; the other has an apple; a third has a circle crossed out. Symbol after symbol adorn the buildings.

You stop one man on the street. "Excuse me," you say, "can you tell me what these symbols mean?"

"They are tributes to Him," he says nervously. "We carve them for the same reason we wear these suits. In tribute to the Thin King."

"He has a lot of tributes," you say, not noticing the hurried glances of the man you are talking to, the sweat on his brow. "Is he a good king?"

"He is the King," the man says, "and we pay tribute to him. Please, I must go." He pulls away and walks across the street, his footsteps pitter-pattering across the white and black stones.

You try to stop another man, but every one seems too busy to stop for you. Finally, you try following one man, but it seems like he is just walking in a roundabout way throughout the city. You follow another man and he, too, doesn't seem to actually be going anywhere. Finally, you manage to stop one man and ask him where he is rushing.

"Please," he says, "I need to go. If I stay in one place too long, He will notice me. He might want tribute from me or my family. Please."

"Fine," you say, "but where is this Thin King? I'd like to see him."

"The center of the city," the man says as he walks away from you. "Just go where we do not."

So you look at the man around and you see a direction they do not walk in. So you go in that direction, against the flow of men in sharp suits, and you see the buildings as they gradually grow bigger. They seem to reach farther and farther up into the sky and you wonder how they were built, until finally you come to the center of the city and you see the Thin King.

He is so tall, you almost don't see His face. You have to turn your head upward, upward so much that even at noon, His face would blot out the sun. And what a face: just a canvas of blank whiteness. You reel backwards, because the Thin King towers over every building, over everything, and you wonder how you could not see Him before. His fingers are larger than your entire body.

You trip and fall and suddenly His head turns toward you. He has noticed you. You get up and try to run, but it's useless. How could you outrun such a thing? You feel a strange fuzziness in your mind and a sickness in your stomach and you fall to the ground again and retch. Then your mind goes blank, blank as His face, and you descend into darkness.

When you wake up, the man who had talked to before is standing above you. He helps you up and you notice that you are now wearing a business suit. "He has spared you," the man says. "Now you must help us spread His symbols. You must help Him grow bigger. Or else He might ask tribute of you."

The man hands you a briefcase and, even though it's empty, it seems to contain the weight of the world.