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Authors: Ray Bradbury

From the Dust Returned

BOOK: From the Dust Returned
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FROM THE DUST RETURNED
Ray Bradbury

 

 

To the two midwives of this book:

Don Congdon, who was in at the beginning in 1946, and Jennifer Brehl, who helped bring it to completion in 2000. With gratitude and love.

Prologue
The Beautiful One Is Here

In the attic where the rain touched the roof softly on spring days and where you could feel the mantle of snow outside, a few inches away, on December nights, A Thousand Times Great Grandmere existed. She did not live, nor was she eternally dead, she … existed.

And now with the Great Event about to happen, the Great Night arriving, the Homecoming about to explode, she must be visited!

"Ready? Here I come!" Timothy's voice cried faintly beneath a trapdoor that trembled. "Yes!?"

Silence. The Egyptian mummy did not twitch.

She stood propped in a dark corner like an ancient dried plum tree, or an abandoned and scorched ironing board, her hands and wrists trussed across her dry riverbed bosom, a. captive of time, her eyes slits of deep blue lapis lazuli behind thread-sewn lids, a glitter of remembrance as her mouth, with a shriveled tongue wormed in it, whistled and sighed and whispered to recall every hour of every lost night four thousand years back when she was a pharaoh's daughter dressed in spider linens and warm-breath silks with jewels burning her wrists as she ran in the marble gardens to watch the pyramids erupt in the fiery Egyptian air.

Now Timothy lifted the trapdoor lid of dust to call into that midnight attic world. "Oh, Beautiful One!"

A faint pollen of dust fell from the ancient mummy's lips. "Beautiful no longer!"

"Grandma, then."

"Not Grandma merely," came the soft response.

"A Thousand Times
Great
Grandmere?"

"Better." The old voice dusted the silent air. "Wine?"

"Wine." Timothy rose, a small flagon in his hands.

"The vintage, child?" the voice murmured.

"B.C., Grandmere."

"How many years?"

"Two thousand, almost
three,
B.C."

"Excellent." Dust fell from the withered smile. "Come."

Picking his way through a litter of papyrus, Timothy reached the no-longer Beautiful One, whose voice was still incredibly lovely.

"Child?" said the withered smile. "Do you fear me?"

"
Always,
Grandmere."

"Wet my lips, child."

He reached to let the merest drop wet the lips that now trembled.

"More," she whispered.

Another drop of wine touched the dusty smile.

"
Still
afraid?"

"No, Grandmere."

"Sit."

He perched on the lid of a box with hieroglyphs of war-riors and doglike gods and gods with lions' heads painted on it.

"Why are you here?" husked the voice beneath the serene riverbed face.

"Tomorrow's the Great Night, Grandmere, I've waited for all my life! The Family,
our
Family, coming, flying in from all over the world! Tell me, Grandmere, how it all began, how this House was built and where we came from and—"

"Enough!" the voice cried, softly. "Let me recall a thousand noons. Let me swim down the deep well. Stillness?"

"Stillness."

"Now," came the whisper across four thousand years, "here's how it was … "

Chapter One
The Town and the Place

At first, A Thousand Times Great Grandmere said, there was only a place on the long plain of grass and a hill on which was nothing at all but more grass and a tree that was as crooked as a fork of black lightning on which nothing grew until the town came and the House arrived.

We all know how a town can gather need by need until suddenly its heart starts up and circulates the people to their destinations. But how, you ask, did the house arrive?'

The fact is that the tree was there and a lumberman passing to the Far West leaned against it, and guessed it to be before Jesus sawed wood and shaved planks in his father's yard or washed his palms. The tree, some said, beckoned the House out of tumults of weather and excursions of Time. Once the House was there, with its cellar roots deep in Chinese tombyards, it was of such a magnificence, echoing facades last seen in London, that wagons, intending to cross the river, hesitated with their families gazing up and decided if this empty place was good enough for a papal palace, a royal monument, or a queen's abode, there hardly seemed a reason to leave. So the wagons stopped, the horses were watered, and when the families looked, they found their shoes as well as their souls had sprouted roots. So stunned were they by the House up there by the lightning-shaped tree, that they feared if they left the House would follow in their dreams and spoil all the waiting places ahead.

So the House arrived first and its arrival was the stuff of further legends, myths, or drunken nonsense.

It seems there was a wind that rose over the plains bringing with it a gentle rain that turned into a storm that funneled a hurricane of great strength. Between midnight and dawn, this portmanteau-storm lifted any moveable object between the fort towns of Indiana and Ohio, stripped the forests in upper Illinois, and arrived over the as-yet-unborn site, settled, and with the level hand of an unseen god deposited, shakeboard by shakeboard and shingle by shingle, an arousal of timber that shaped itself long before sunrise as something dreamed of by Rameses but finished by Napoleon fled from dreaming Egypt.

There were enough beams within to roof St. Peter's and enough windows to sun-blind a bird migration. There was a porch skirted all around with enough space to rock a celebration of relatives and boarders. Inside the windows loomed a cluster, a hive, a maze of rooms, sufficient to a roster, a squad, a battalion of as yet unborn legions, but haunted by the promise of their coming.

The House, then, was finished and capped before the stars dissolved into light and it stood alone on its promontory for many years, somehow failing to summon its future children. There must be a mouse in every warren, a cricket on every hearth, smoke in the multitudinous chimneys, and creatures, almost human, icing every bed. Then: mad dogs in yards, live gargoyles on roofs. All waited for some immense thunderclap of the long departed storm to shout:
Begin
!

And, finally, many long years later, it did.

Chapter Two
Anuba Arrives

The cat came first, in order to be
absolute
first.

It arrived when all the cribs and closets and cellar bins and attic hang-spaces still needed October wings, autumn breathings, and fiery eyes. When every chandelier was a lodge and every shoe a compartment, when every bed ached to be occupied by strange snows and every banister anticipated the downslide of creatures more pollen than substance, when every window, warped with ages, distorted faces looking from shadows, when every empty chair seemed occupied by things unseen, when every carpet desired invisible footfalls and the water pump on the back stoop inhaled, sucking vile liquors toward a surface abandoned because of the possible upchuck of nightmares, when all the parquetry planks whined with the oilings of lost souls, and when all the weathercocks on the high roofs gyred in the wind and smiled griffin teeth, while deathwatch beetles ticked behind the walls … 

Only then did the royal cat named Anuba arrive. The front door slammed. And there was Anuba.

Clothed in a fine pelt of arrogance, her quiet engine quieter, centuries before limousines. She paced the corridors, a noble creature just come from a journey of three thousand years.

It had commenced with Rameses when, shelved and stored at his royal feet, she had slept away some few centuries with another shipload of cats, mummified and linen-wrapped, to be awakened when Napoleon's assassins had tried to gun-pock the lion icon Sphinx's face before the Mamelukes' gunpowder shot them into the sea. Whereupon the cats, with this queen feline, had loitered in shop alleys until Victoria's locomotives crossed Egypt, using tomb-filchings and the asphalt linen-wrapped dead for fuel. These packets of bones and flammable tar churned the stacks in what was called the Nefertiti-Tut Express. The black smokes firing the Egyptian air were haunted by Cleopatra's cousins who blew off, flaking the wind until the Express reached Alexandria, where the still unburned cats and their Empress Queen shipped out for the States, bundled in great spools of papyrus bound for a paper-mashing plant in Boston where, unwound, the cats fled as cargo on wagon trains while the papyrus, unleafed among innocent stationery printers, murdered two or three hundred profiteers with terrible miasmal bacteria. The hospitals of New England were chockfull of Egyptian maladies that soon brimmed the graveyards, while the cats, cast off in Memphis, Tennessee, or Cairo, Illinois, walked the rest of the way to the town of the dark tree, the high and most peculiar House.

And so Anuba, her fur a sooty fire, her whiskers like lightning sparks, with ocelot paws strolled into the House on that special night, ignoring the empty rooms and dreamless beds, to arrive at the main hearth in the great parlor. Even as she turned thrice to sit, a fire exploded in the cavernous fireplace.

While upstairs, fires on a dozen hearths inflamed themselves as this queen of cats rested.

The smokes that churned up the chimneys that night recalled the sounds and spectral sights of the Nefertiti-Tut Express thundering the Egyptian sands, scattering mummy linens popped wide as library books, informing the winds as they went.

And that, of course, was only the first arrival.

Chapter Three The High Attic

"And who came second, Grandmere, who came
next
?"

"The Sleeper Who Dreams, child."

"What a fine name, Grandmere. Why did the Sleeper come here?"

"The High Attic called her across the world. The attic above our heads, the second most important high garret that funnels the winds and speaks its voice in the jet streams across the world. The dreamer had wandered those streams in storms, photographed by lightnings, anxious for a nest. And here she came and there she is now! Listen!"

A Thousand Times Great Grandmere slid her lapis-lazuli gaze upward.

"Listen."

And above, in a further layer of darkness, some semblance of dream stirred … 

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