The Infinite City
By Chris Griglack
She drifts about the city, as if in the midst of a dream, but she's not. Rather, she wanders somewhere between memory, hallucination, and reality, never knowing one from another. Dreams are born in such a place, but elsewhere. Where she walks reality is thin, not the suffocating cocoon which prevents glimpses of what lies beyond. Other beings, other places, other times, and other realities all cross her path as she walks wonderingly down the streets of the Infinite City.
When she at last arrives at her destination, a small, tinny sounding bell rings to alert the shopkeeper. The store is full of a thick, flowery smoke, gently drifting about, giving the air the same consistency of the Mist of Minds outside, but with a more pleasant smell. An elderly oriental man, thankfully human, tentatively pokes his head up from behind the counter. His grin upon seeing her threatens to split his face apart and his eyes become swallowed up by crow's feet and wrinkles. “Shoppa Ereyting, washu need?” He asks, possessing far more energy than any man his age had a right to.
“I need a guide,” Impossibly, his grin widens. The few teeth he has left are all on display to her as she waits for his answer.
“No nee guide,” he replies. “City go erewhere. Jus wok.”
“I need to find a man I've never met before.”
His smile vanishes, a look of understanding replacing it. He nods sagely before he says, “Ahhhhh. You nee guide.” She crosses her arms and frowns at him. Under her glare of disapproval he continues, “Whosis man?”
“His name is Ranga. He was once a world explorer,” her words are almost a snarl through her gritted teeth.
The shopkeeper studies her carefully, under which scrutiny she maintains her glare to show she means business. Without warning, his entire body is overcome by something between laughter, crying, and an asthma attack. Her eyes widen in horror until she realizes that he is not, in fact, dying of laughter. The glare returns, twice as disapproving as before, but his mirth deflects it. “You no nee guide,” he finally replies when he recovers, “Ranga work fo me. He at utter store.”
He emerges from behind the counter, taking her by the hand and leading her outside, “Clossa eyes.” She does, and follows the man half a dozen steps into the mist without looking at all. When he says, “Here a go,” she opens her eyes to view an identical building before them. She digs in her purse for her wallet, but the elderly man shakes his head and says “No charge!” before disappearing into the mist.
When she enters the shop, a small tinny sounding bell rings to alert the shopkeeper. The air is clear in this shop, and a very different man stands behind the counter, ready to assist her. He wears a pair of baggy white pants and a blue vest embroidered with strange patterns in golden thread. The vest lays open, showing off his bronze, muscled chest and stomach, but what attracts her attention is the white turban studded with a giant emerald. “Shop of Everything, how can I assist you?”
She looks him over again, comparing him with the descriptions her mother had given her. Physically similar, but she needs to check his temperament, too. “Nice headgear, Aladdin.”
A pouty look crosses his face as he rips the turban from his head and throws it into the corner. “Hey, it's not by choice,” he snarls, building up to a full-blown rant. Apparently she was not the first to insult him at work. “Management makes me dress like this. I'm supposed to look as “mysterious” as possible. Like all brown-skinned people in turbans look mysterious. They told me I could bring my hookah to work, then laughed when I said I didn't have one.”
She smiles at his frustration, but says nothing as he continues. “Y'know they have another location with a golem tending shop? Like a real, eats rocks and shits diamonds golem. I can't compete with that! So ya, if it'll make you buy a magic carpet, I'll dress up like Aladdin, or even Hadji.”
She claps sarcastically as he picks up and dusts off the turban, all the while taking deep breaths to calm himself. “What do you want, lady?” he asks when he finally regains his composure.
“I came looking for you.”
“Well here I am. The finder's fee on that is gonna be...” he shrugs and throws his right hand up in a gesture of indifference, “50 of whatever currency you have.”
She places a single grubby coin on the counter, which he raises to his face to study. The engraving is hard to make out, partially faded from years of being carried around. It was last spent nine months before her birth, on her unwilling mother. He squints down at the coin, up at her, then back down again. “Oh. Shit,” he finally manages.
“Ya,” he clutches his chest where her bullet goes through, dropping the coin to the counter, “The same coin for both our lives.” The last thing he hears is the small, tinny sounding bell ringing as she exits the shop.
She is enveloped by the Mist of Minds, the stuff from whence dreams are made, among other things. Ubiquity is its nature, but so too is the void. It is the nothingness from which everything arises. Timeless, formless, and above all, reasonless. For reality's hold is thin in the Infinite City, but the mist weaves a thick blindfold of its own. If you close your eyes for even a moment in its midst, there's no telling what you'll open them to. You can never get lost, though. No matter how far they've wandered, an enigmatic old Chinese man always sends the lost back home.
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I'm a Senior English writing major at UMASS Dartmouth, and I prefer to write a sort of slipstream or weird tales type of story that doesn't really neatly into any genres. My website isn't updated nearly as often as it should be, but it has some brief fiction, poetry, essays, and even a few reviews.
Labels: Chris Griglack