Lethe

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Chapter 33

Chapter 33: Zion

Full sail, seams holding, we creep around the point, heavy in the water despite my tireless bailing.

“Shoulda fixed those cracks,” says Sabonis. “Good thing we ain’t got far to go.”

“How far are we going?” I say.

Sabonis stands and points at an indentation in the hills, as if a giant thumb had descended and squashed the bedrock like dough. “That far,” he says. The pocket valley, barely two stone throws wide, at first doesn’t impress me, but its headwall abuts a mountain face that seems to climb straight to the summit of Mt. Abdiel—a stairway to heaven, if ever there was.

And then I notice the buildings. Not rude stone huts like Sixwing’s, but solid, orthogonal structures arranged in blocks around courtyards, with roofs both flat and peaked. Many even have spires like churches.

“Wow, it’s like a city here,” I say.

“Don’t let looks fool you. This place is just as fucked up as Gihon. Squatters beggin’ to get in, thinkin’ it’s Heaven’s gate or somethin.’ But Squatters are Squatters. Folks here Shade out as quick as anywhere else.”

I resist his derision. Zion seems tons nicer than Gihon. The town has a quaint, Scottish, Isle of Skye feel. The wind swirls the reeds lining the harbor. Swaths of red wildflowers spatter the heights behind.

My gawking interferes with my bailing. Water sloshes halfway up my calves. I get back to work.

The sail strains. Threads pop. One of the newly reinforced seams threatens to split. Sabonis drops it and takes up oars. He steers us towards a dock crowded with little papyrus dinghies surrounding a sleek, twin-hulled, twin-masted dugout.

“Oh yeah. We got him now, kid. Got that fucker cornered. Dead to rights.”

“That’s your boat?”

“Yup, and the sooner we dump this piece of shit for that one, the better.”

I see now why Sabonis was so distraught to lose his boat. This cat is no mere canoe. Its hulls have the sleek lines of a dolphin, as if evolution, not a craftsman designed them. They’re carved from a waxy, resinous wood that seems naturally water repellent. Sturdy cross braces wide enough to walk on. The central platform supports a covered shelter that looks cozier than most of the huts I’ve seen on land.

Twin masts angle forward and diverge from a confluence of braces in front of the platform. An upended rudder rests on the stern-most bracing, sticking up like a dorsal fin.

Sabonis struggles to pull us to the dock. A trio of men brandishing spears swarm out to meet us. Another climbs out of the catamaran holding a machine pistol with a skeletal stock. One man shouts at us in French, another in a language I can’t identify.

“We speak American, assholes,” says Sabonis.

“You can’t dock here,” says the man with the gun, an Aussie, from the sounds of it. “This mooring is reserved.”

The outrigger bumps a piling and makes the man stumble.

Sabonis’ face purples. “That’s my boat, you bastard, and you know it.”

“Pope’s decree,” says a man with a spear. “No one ties up until the visitor leaves.”

“Fuck that shit,” says Sabonis, tossing an algae-encrusted line around a post.

The machine pistol erupts. Bits of wood spray off the hull of the outrigger. “You heard him,” says the Aussie with the gun. “Bugger off.”

Sabonis sighs and pulls the line back in. “Fine. We’ll beach her,” he says, through gritted teeth.

He pushes off the dock and hauls us into the shallows. We hop out and lodge the outrigger against a graveled beach beside a creek that blends its muddy, murky waters into the pellucid harbor, like cream into coffee. Tiny orange crabs scurry across the hard mud of the bank.

People emerge from a line of closely-packed stone houses at the head of the beach and gather to stare at us. Unlike the residents of Gihon or Sixwing, most people here seem to be clothed, mostly with coarse homespun loin cloths and wraps, but some wear Brazil football jerseys over ratty blue jeans or gym shorts. Delgado had left his mark on the local fashion.

Sabonis runs his hand over the bullet-riddled prow of the outrigger. The men with the spears run onto the beach and peer into the empty bilge of the outrigger. The Aussie remains on the dock, guarding the cat.

“What you bring?” says a black man with a French accent.

“I bring you bupkis,” says Sabonis, striding off across the gravel.

Another man, an Asian, lowers his spear. “You cannot go that way. You must have the authorization to enter.”

“What is this bullshit?” says Sabonis. “You fucking know me Teng. And you know the Pope’s a friend of mine, for Chrissakes.”

“Tings change, Marco,” says the man. “The registrar hasta clear you first. We got big security problem. The heat is coming down on Mr. D from the high places.”

“Yeah, well, tell him to join the club.”

The Asian leads us to a little, round house like a walled gazebo at the head of the docks. Sabonis glares over his shoulder at the burly Aussie guarding his precious cat. The Aussie glares back, the machine pistol braced on his folded arms.

A small, rotund man in a voluminous, yellowed white shirt reclines on a wicker chaise outside the gazebo. He watches us approach, looks me over from head to toe, but his eyes linger on my bosom. He makes a notation in a thick ledger, but makes no attempt to budge from his chaise.

“Hey Petraglia, how ya been?” says Sabonis.

The registrar nods. “Can’t complain,” he says, his inflections clearly American. “We can let you in, Marc, but don’t expect to see the Pope.”

“Why the fuck not?”

“He’s busy.”

“With Delgado?”

“That’s none of your business.” The registrar can’t seem to take his eyes off my chest. “Who’s this? Got a new girlfriend?”

“His name’s Dan. Daniel Tompkins.”

The round man snickers.

“Yeah, I know,” says Sabonis. “He’s one of those.”

The round man swings his short legs off the chaise and rises up languorously. “T for Tompkins,” he mutters to himself as he enters the gazebo. “T for Tompkins.”

We follow him inside. Shelves lining the walls are filled with spineless books with wooden covers, bound with strips of rawhide. He pulls one down and drops it on the table that occupies most of the interior, flipping through pages of inked parchment as thin as onion skin.

“You ain’t gonna find this twerp in any of those,” says Sabonis. “He just floated up a couple days ago.”

The round man flips through to the back of the book to where the pages are mostly blank.

“Full name?”

“Just Daniel Tompkins. No middle name.”

“City, Province, Country?”

“Cortland, USA. It’s in … Cortland County, New York.”

“Birth date?”

“April 1, 1988.”

“A baby,” says Sabonis. “You were just a little thing when I passed.”

“Death day?”

“Um, it was a Monday. May … May 17, 2010.”

“Sign here and you can enter.” The round man dips a beveled reed in a crock of sticky brown ink and hands it to me.

I look at Sabonis. “What am I signing?”

“It’s a registry of souls, not a contract,” says the man.

I sign my name. The round man takes the pen and hovers over the page, blowing on the ink to dry it, daubing with a scrap of ink-smudged chamois.

“Welcome to Zion. Please check your weapons at the armory.”

“Don’t really have any … worth checking,” says Sabonis.

“You hear him,” says an oriental man with a spear. “All weapons must be check. All!”

Sabonis lifts his shirt and pulls a slender knife from his waistband. “Ah, screw the armory. Here. You can have it.” He slams its point into the table top and turns to leave. “C’mon, Dan. Let’s go find our buddy Hector. Don’t need no knife … for what I plan to do to him.”
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