Although none of us had yet reached the age, while only a few were even nearing it, champagne was the drink in our glasses. Scattered about the dining hall, we stood upon marbled floors of eggshell brown, enclosed by spotless white walls, spaced around a cascading chandelier dressed in platinum and diamond, holding vibrant flames of a thick, gold color. Gray marble sculpture appeared unevenly throughout the hall, of Pagan gods in gallant poses and contrapposto stances, with features illuminated by recycled light that had danced its way from surface to surface. A solitary, proud, immovable wooden table held reserve glasses, iced bottles, and a panorama of foods including two entire roasted pigs, chickens, puddings, caviar, pies, lobster, sauces of the richest texture and much more, many pieces defying description. The room was too large for the few dozens of us. The space was so large that between the gulfs separating all the spaces filled with matter, one could hear the wind blowing.
Many of us were dressed for the first time in the elegant style of black-tie suits and dresses of a description escaping me; our hair greased and straight and combed; curled, styled, and washed. Every inch had been gone over.
There were two entrances into the hall. The front door by which we all had entered, and its twin on the opposite wall, which happened to be the least populated part of the hall. Both were of a tall, grandfatherly, rustic oak, with loops of iron handles instead of doorknobs. We congregated in groups of rarely more than half a dozen, some of us alone, and a spare few, including myself, hovering between throngs of conversation. And though we seemed to be making sufficient conversation, it was of trivial and desperate matters, which is a popular form. The prevailing sense of the evening was one of numerous questions and, as of this very moment that I sit and recount my story to you, no answers.
The most popular question posed was why we had been amassed in such a place, at such a time, and in such a style. Everyone had a theory, except for myself apparently, as my type has no use for theories. They ranged from mundane to fantastic, popular to derided, terrified to excited. I drank my champagne at a rate, as I remember (it being hazy), of one marginal sip for each new group I fell upon, each stocked with some amount of theories; I registered dozens of opinions and speculations and predictions, weighed them disinterestedly, and finished my drink, holding a few ideas tentatively apart from the rest.
I rarely spoke, and am sure that I was barely noticed. That night happened to be one that I had no interest in filling with my words, as I had begun to believe that words hold only as much weight as the thoughts from which they issue, and my thoughts on that night were spare and sensitive; reflective. Though one thing held me in its grasp, strangling and tightening my breath with its presence. She stood among them though apart from them, all her weight rested onto her right leg (periodically shifting back and forth between her legs), her pale arms crossed upon her chest, her pale face showing signs of emotions, though nothing of the matter concerning fear or excitement, only love and youth. The light seemed to collect and shine upon her only. She would glance in my direction as I moved, and I would watch her as I moved, though our eyes would never meet, the consequences of such a transpiration being indefinite and uncontrollable. She seemed to sit at the back of my mind and at the top of my heart, as she always had, with a slight degree increase of intensity. It was probably the way her dress blended with her hair, dancing in the light, shining with ecstasy and youth.
One particular exchange, voiced between two peers that I now know are destined to become politically involved, each representing a side of the quote on quote spectrum, has stuck with me: the first said I don’t like this at all, I’m a bit concerned to be honest, it’s just that something isn’t right; to which the other answered that the former worried too much, and that he should enjoy the party. My own opinion would be considered radical, insensitive, and simply wrong by each of them, so I simply withheld it and moved on.
The champagne had run out, as had the collective patience of my peers. Personally, I was tired and as interested as ever. As the candles began losing their vibrancy and shadows creeped upon the corners of the hall and beneath our eyes, a nervous, agitated, and annoyed rumble began to issue from select places among us. Basic complaints were stated, including we should just leave and why are we here and I’m tired take me home and the already all-too-familiar I don’t like this one bit, of course answered with you worry too much enjoy the party. Personally I’ve never had too much use for complaining – never had much to complain about.
But just as our suspicious peer had abandoned his glass and reached for the handle of the front door, a gothic bellow ushered from the opposite side of the room. The hinges of the ancient oak door rattled, and filled the dying hall with a light that shined as if it had been held captive for ages, its various rays strapped to cold, cellar stone floors, and fed rats for dinner every night.
An appropriately dressed and austere black man stepped into the room with lanky, confident, baroque strides of an aristocratic nature. Tall, with legs that reached to the ribcage of average men and cheeks that extended like ancient cliffs brazen with the assault of heavy waves and massive winds; his eyes fixed, yet dynamic, that followed you around his entire head, shaved. When he spoke he revealed white, practically translucent teeth and a tongue that seemed plastered to the roof of his mouth; he spoke in a lucid manner, his words trailed by esses that were silent but dominated and danced with the air about him.
You worry too much for such a young man my friend, you must not leave and enjoy the party which has only just begun – he said, with an inflection in his neck that implied he was attempting to shout across a vast canyon, though his voice sounded as if it had been floated past the rich, mahogany of a desk top. Our friend (at this moment I took to calling our peers our friends) took his hand off the door knob, abandoning any thought of desertion, as we all must have. The door from which the black man came was gently shut by ghosts, and we drew in a convoluted, sporadic mass about him, in what most likely resembled a semi-circle, though at proportions of dozens of feet.
He surveyed along us with his eyes and tapped his glass with fingers that seemed to extend on for ages, like royal strips of mud, flowing downhill with the torrential rains. He held the glass not with his fingers or hands, but as if with some magnetic field emanating from his fingertips. Well, he said, as he tilted his head downward, with his shoulders springing into the air, you all have obviously had a long and stressful evening, and I believe I owe you an explanation. He took a final sip of his champagne, tilted his head back, and with a precise motion placed the glass onto the table beside him, and paused, as if he had forgotten what he had meant to say.
First things first, I hope that you all have been sufficed by this setting: my mansion, my dining-hall, my commodities; I assure that they are all the finest you may ever see. I hope that your experience here, other than the mystery and delay, of course, has been a pleasant one. I hope that as the private cars used to ferry you each individually up through the forests of this mountain and across the dilapidated bridge separating you from I, and that every detail, down to the sealed envelopes bearing your personal invitations, has been no less than exquisite. I imagine you traversed the low, long steps of the staircase outside with guarded as well as interested steps up to my front door, and that your transition from that world of concrete and stone into this one of marble and gilding has been enjoyable. And I hope that as you all stand before me bearing faces of patience and apprehension, a few of you young men with brows of sweat, no doubt due to a combination of these lights and the material of your suits, while others, chiefly the ladies, bear pallid expressions of shiver, as this hall is empty and austere, and the skin of your arms is vulnerable or your fabrics are light, that you are prepared to bask in the events of what you shall all remember as defining moments of your lives.
It’s as if he had been observing us, not in secret, through some space in the wall, but from before us (or more appropriately, us before him), grading us with a criticism parallel to that accumulated by generations of the most venerated botanists and their papers studying a single plant. He straightened, stuck out his chin and placed his hands behind his back, and took a sidelong glance in my direction. He then placed his eyes back into their orthodox position.
But no more waiting. Of course I am the man who invited you each here tonight; dozens of you, so young and, though you like to imagine to the contrary, innocent and unproven. That is why you are here – because you are young. And you are also each unique and though many of you have yet to notice, promising. But you are also fragile, impressionable. That is also why you are here.
Our skeptical friend had visually grown impatient, and demanding answers, protested the black man’s vanity. Again, my young friend, you must try to relax. Your ability to recognize danger is valuable, but you must learn to harness and control it, or you shall be delineated to the more extreme traces of your kind. My kind? he answered, growing red in the face, his hands and fingers extended and gesticulating in an accusatory manner: what is my kind? what do you mean by all this? who are you?
The black man took a length of strides, whether they were two or twenty I can’t possibly recall, toward our friend. He clasped his shoulders with two magnanimous, commanding hands. Friend, you are too young for such tones and colors, you are safe with me. They met eyes, and with that our friend was appeased for the moment. Showing us his back, the man returned to his place beneath the chandelier and our semi-circle grew tighter. And our breaths began to form outlines of vapor in the air, though they appeared at marginal rates of time.
Like I said, you are all young and promising, though impressionable, and that is why you are here. Each of you has a great mind, or a great resolve, or is brave, or observant; you have been gifted with many faculties that I share with you. As you can tell, I am a rich and successful man; I have traveled and seen this world more times than you have all seen each other’s faces. I have amassed artifacts and artworks of the most vibrant cultures, and spoken in private quarters with the greatest men of our time. And like you, I was once young, promising, and innocent. And due to this, I wish to make an impression upon you all.
I grew out of disconcerting and unprivileged circumstances. But I was different. The things that happened around me were terrible, and have left scars.
With that he took off his suit jacket and placed it upon the table. He undid the top half buttons of his shirt, after first loosening his tie. He spread the top of his shirt in each direction with his hands, and revealed a deep, violent scar that burrowed into the chest above his heart. The things that I saw, he said as he began to redress himself; the things I saw were of a terrible nature of which you are all unfamiliar. I was surrounded by undesirables, the kinds of people that you have only seen on the television news. And what separated them from me, was that I had a desire and dreams, and I was self-aware.
I was surrounded by undesirables, and I was different.
But not tonight. He extended his hands like a priest offering boundless bounties of blessing unto us all and the nations that should follow us. Tonight I am surrounded by those like me – we, my friends, are the same. Again we tightened about him, the closest of us within an arm’s distance of him; myself, elbows to elbows with our previously suspicious, now seemingly speechless friend, near the back, within direct sight of his eyes, if he should perform a slight degree turn to his left. My hands were clasped behind my back. Stoic.
Like I once was, you are all young and gifted. And you are diverse. Some of you are young men, some of you are young women, and I believe that there is not one race left unrepresented in this hall in some numbers, and for that I am most happy. Some of you believe in science, some in God, some in both, a very few, in neither. Some of you are practical, some of you are artistic; some are social, some introverted; some are cautious and others are wild. Some of you are ugly, while others are beautiful; some of you are sad, while others are jubilant. Some of you have dreams of conquering nations, while others among you have dreams of building new ones or even restoring old ones.
Tonight I am surrounded by engineers, architects, musicians, teachers, leaders, mothers and fathers, philosophers, chemists, physicists, psychologists, therapists, businessmen, and soldiers. I am in the presence of promising young beings, which have yet to discover their potential as well as the negative aspects of discovering such things. In short, you have all yet to grow up and become what you have always been meant to be; you are all innocent.
Except for you. His body had shifted those few degrees in my direction, and his eyes had met mine. My reaction was nonexistent. While others would have been startled or frightened, or would have been expecting attention and basking under the guise of it, I was focused on the scene, and have always detested praise and attention, which is the most destructive drug of my kind. Nevertheless, all eyes had been placed upon me.
You – so spare, so solemn. Somehow so interested and yet so displaced; so enraptured by the beings and their trials around you, and yet so unconcerned with their pettiness. You, with your inexhaustible supply of ink and notebook, are the writer and the historian. You are the source. It is your pen and your mind and your biases that hold the key to the eternal recognition of our deeds, both large and small and good and bad, and we are at your mercy. A toast, to the judge of our legacies.
And with that he reclaimed his glass, still empty, and rose back into the light, tilted it still higher, and set it back down again. I hope that you will write agnostically and with the concern of a chimp studying a blade of grass, for the opinions of future generations are laid upon you; history is of your making. Be not tempted by the gold and smiles that surround you, because you know that they will melt away with time.
Now, enough with the pragmatism, and on to the reason that you are all here – my impression. Your respective faculties are infinite and raw, and yet alarmingly unconcerned, not including our humble observer – he said, returning to the mass of us, or them, as I was just an observer, to be used by the future and tossed playfully aside by technologies and fads, for infinite revolutions of fire. You must all be made to understand the figure of the world you are about to enter, so that when you come across it, you may recognize it, and conquer it, before it conquers you, and you are lost with your promises. I grew up in that world, and had bested it by the time I was half your age. But I lost many of my peers by then, and practically all of them by the time I was your age. Their promises had been stolen from the world, which is at a greater disadvantage as a result. But the same will not happen to you.
The mass had begun to return outward, their brains temporarily seized by their instincts, their feet forcibly moving them away from what must have felt like danger. The tight semi-circle that had coalesced now disbursed, back into segregated groups, with all heads twisted into every manner; all eyes still zeroed upon the man. Still next to the paranoid one, I had not moved and was now the one nearest to the black man. Her pale arms stricken with dumb down at her sides and her cheeks drained white as sheer, had for some specious reason drew within my grasp, and with a tilt of her head summoned my hand around hers.
There is one among you who is more innocent and peculiar than the rest. Unscarred and bearing no marks of chisel, like the marble that supports your feet was thousands of years before it was drawn from its quarry. The world demands this one; it cannot stay. In moments, the candles above my head will extinguish, and the light of this great hall will die. When this happens all will become black, and the most innocent among you will die, and hopefully the scar you all shall bear will be enough to suit the world to the greatest purpose that you can provide collectively. A jangled cacophony of screams gushed forth, vast, yet barely audible enough to fill the void that was this great hall. They all believed that they must have been the one, and began scrambling for the door. I was not concerned for them, as I have no use for vanity.
My friends, do not fear, the door will not open, and if it is you, then you will be missed.
We (my love, the paranoid one, the black man, and I, the bard) were the only stationary pieces on a great vacuous chessboard. My grip tightened upon her hand, I felt our hearts live a thousand lives in a few moments, and I saw the whites of her eyes enlarge and her face as it stretched outward. I saw her lips curl back and tears fall slowly down her cheeks. I did not say a word, but merely let her know with my hand that I loved her, and she would be treated with only love and regret by my pen, apparently destined to be a vital one. Honestly I don’t think any of us were worth the trouble, if the world is weighed down with so many promises, then many will have to be broken. As for myself I seem to have been betrayed to an impaling sense of ruthless cynicism that will undoubtedly pervade my consciousness for years guaranteed to come.
The lights died at what must have been sometime past midnight, and it was over. I believe she wanted to be a dancer. Her hand was gone, and he was gone. I have never tried, because I know that I will never be able to locate him or his mountaintop mansion again. Its great stone spires and golden masks of windows juxtaposing in the night, its winding roads whispering secrets to passersby. Its faceless gargoyles invading my dreams and screaming into my nightmares.
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