As everybody with a sense of celestial geography knows, purgatory’s capital is the magnificent City of Anglarnir, in the heart of which sits was a vast and beautiful city square. It’s a square mile, so they call it the Square-Mile Square. Tall skyscrapers buzzing with industrious economic activity surround it. Soaring minarets and towers line its edges stretching towards the sky and twisting as they rise. Street cars rush along the outskirts of the square, dipping in and out of the skyscraper jungle beyond, picking up and dropping off, delivering the busy to their business. In fact, the city enveloping the open square is like any other major city in the afterlife. Except here, almost every man-made piece of landscape is as white as the pearly pavers that make the smooth, open place so antiseptically striking.
In the very middle of the Square-Mile Square stands the Fountain of Youth; highly coveted and sought after by the living, but barely noticed by the dead, except as a receptacle for coins and the odd chewing-gum paper. It’s an enormous chandelier-like fountain of sparkling silver and turquoise water tinkling in a basin the size of a small reservoir, so deep that entire ecosystems have evolved in its belly and fish are regularly seen leaping out of the water and sometimes landing, gasping, on the sculpture of a lion, bull, eagle and man entwined in a sort of bizarre bestial embrace. The man-statue has an arm reached out, pointing solidly toward the far west side of the piazza.
There rises a pair of spectacular cast-iron gates set in front of neatly maintained lawns that stretch for yet another mile, all the way to the magnificent, alabaster City Hall, also known as the Office of Transition Headquarters. From the summit of the bell tower above the entrance a pole rises to meet the sky, and a flag waves in the breeze. The flag’s powder blue background twinkles behind its white skull-and-crossbones motif.
But any mayor of any town in any world would boast that it’s not the award-winning cutting edge architecture that makes a place great, nor the well-managed public facilities such as the widely celebrated Square-Mile Square. It is its people. And there are millions of people in this great city. The Square-Mile Square is full of them. Accountants, government officials, orange juice stall owners, passers-by, pedestrians, pick-pocketers, witnesses, street sweepers, cyclists, lamppost inspectors, guardian angels, restaurateurs, and, as in any major city, another ten thousand people to support the day-to-day activities of any one.
The people make a city what it is. And the Mayor of Anglarnir and Surrounding Districts would say the same. Sitting in his City Hall offices, far more opulent than those of his bureaucratic colleagues, he’d say it in a thick, gloopy voice following which he would stub out a cigarette and say “my filthy little lambs are bringing this place to its scabby knees.” And then he would slurp a lukewarm coffee, splashing some down his front as he set the cup down too heavily.
He is a plump man with dramatically thinning hair wound into tight curls. The thickness of his hair is for the most part irrelevant, except for the fact that, every so often, a very thin, very light strand of barely existent hair will float down from his increasingly deserted scalp and anchor itself, by the follicle, to the forming layer of slime on the surface of his coffee. He’ll slurp it anyway.
On this day he sucked a cigarette, delighting in the crackle as the glow inched its way closer to his fat fingers. He took a deep, grey breath.
“Office of Transition, Mayor’s Office, this is the mayor, Honorable Mr. Jagger T. Fleisch speaking.” The cigarette smoke poured out of his nostrils and his plump, lipsticked lips as he spoke.
(An excerpt from Ascension Denied by E. A. A. Wilson. For more, visit E. A. A. Wilson’s website.)