We drove through the city, which was dark and deserted, all the colors smudging together into a palate of dirty deep blues, rusty browns, not quite grey blacks. The old brick and stone apartment buildings sat menacingly quiet, there were no signs of life, no noises. The only flickers of light came from the streetlights, which were old and dusty, the light they gave off was like candlelight. If the electricity that ran my own city was the result of fiery modern combustion, then this city was fueled by the smoldering remains of a campfire. I crouched low in my seat, and tried to not let him see my face, my fear and confusion. All the physical locations of my city were the same, the streets and landmarks were familiar, but it was so very dead, it stank of rotting ruination. I hadn’t even liked my own city that much before, it was just a place I lived. But seeing it brought to such destruction made my heart swell with echoing desperation, as if evil persons had ripped a child from my arms. I bit my lip hard, to distract my body and not cry, I was so close to crying.
The car came around a corner, and he stopped suddenly. I looked at him first before looking around, he was staring through the windshield and there was a bright sunshine glow lighting up his face. I had never seen him look so handsome before, maybe that first moment at the party where I had been high on the vapors and saw him across the room talking to another group of people and my eyes had gone straight to him and I think I may have actually stopped breathing that night, he had been so lovable. That does happen to people sometimes. But this moment was entirely different – he looked like he was gazing at something he loved very much, like a shipwreck survivor might look at a rescue boat, or a child might gaze at a family pet who had gone missing and then come back magically. It was only a second, but for that second he was the most beautiful man in the world, scars and dirt and all.
I turned to look myself, and there in between two crouching old tenements, was a glowing tower of glass. It was the sun, or all the stars collected in one cascade of delicate filigreed corners and niches so bright you could barely make out the details, and in this dead landscape it drew in every bit of loveliness left in the world and reflected it bright and strong and spectacularly beautiful, a supernova of the purest white light. It burned itself in my retinas and when I finally blinked I could see it on the insides of my eyelids just as clearly. Bobby was still gazing at it, I shook his shoulder hard.
“Close your eyes! Close your eyes now!”
He blinked and looked at me. The glow was etched in his skin, I could see the skeins of it in his veins, soaking into his capillaries like some sort of heavenly disintegration. I pulled his head to mine and quickly kissed him, hoping that the filthy of me and my reality would snap him out of it. I was mildly disappointed when it did. We sat there silently a moment, catching our breaths.
“What is it, Katie?”
“I don’t know. I have no idea. I don’t know what we should do. I want to get out and take some pictures.”
“No, I don’t think that’s a good idea. This is not a place we should stop, it's not safe.”
“Bobby, there’s no one around. And it will just be a few minutes, I promise. What are we supposed to do, just drive away? We don’t even know what we’re looking for in this place, what if this is it?” I was already unpacking the camera and got out of the car. I left the car door open. “Give me just a minute, promise. I’ll be quick.”
The asphalt under my shoes was crunchy with glass and debris. It looked like the scene of an explosion, and I imagined for a minute that this Tower of Light had in fact burst through the facade of whatever dreary building had been there before, had been gestated inside the real world and then banged out like Athena smashing through Zeus’s skull. So that what I was actually stepping on, grinding under my clumsy boots, was a shell, an exoskeleton. And if that was true, then one of these things could be living inside of every ugly place in this world, a whole ‘nother world of white gold hiding just below the surface of this reality.
I ventured as close to the glow as I could stand, and snapped away, not looking in the lenses, I was afraid it might damage my eyes actually, though that wasn’t logical. Funny, that I kept trying to resort to logic anymore. Logic was so obviously not the law here.
The Light was warm once you got close enough, not hot or burning, but like slipping into a hot shower. When you peered closely and squinted, the light was actually moving in the tower’s walls, you could see it coursing through infinitesimal cracks in the glass, just like it had in Bobby’s face. I reached out to touch it, and realized that somehow I was closer than I had thought, I had been moving towards it the whole time. In only a few more steps I would be able to put my hands on the side of the tower. The rest of the world was blanked out around me, enveloped in the gold fog, and somewhere in the distance I heard a car door slam but it was muffled by the most delicate hum, the beating of a million tiny wings or a billion little heartbeats. I felt my fingertips reach the warm glass wall, and then it was inside me, the gold was flowing up my arm, it was traveling and winding around my veins. I looked up above me at the great expanse of the tower. It was bigger than it had looked from the street, the walls rose up 20, 30, 40 stories, I couldn’t see the top. I peered even closer to the glass, and thought I glimpsed, beyond the light , a dark pointed face peering at me. We locked eyes, this shadow and I, and when it smiled at me, the lights sparkled on its rows of pointy tiny teeth.
I gasped and jumped back. The connection was broken, but my mind was still clouded, I was vaguely aware that I was terrified, but the gold calm didn't want to give me back. I backed up quickly and turned to run to the car, but my eyes couldn’t adjust, the rest of the world was so black and dark. I stumbled back to the car. There was a dark crumpled thing lying on the ground next to my now closed door. There was no one in the car.