Persephone spent the weekend re-evaluating every last detail about her life. Friday, after that momentous trigger event, which she alone knew about, but for the one who had sent her the video - she exaggerated the symptoms of her illness; Gerald her boyfriend hastily assuring her, he had meetings to attend all weekend, that he wouldn't be around. She smoked illicit cannabis all weekend, alone in her apartment, to try to cut to the core of how to deal with her predicament, or to forget.
Saturday morning she received another email, with another video attachment. She saved it but didn't open it. In the evening she received another, which she did not save, which was gone when she opened her email again – then to watch, as it appeared on her screen. Someone was following her, observing her, manipulating the Net. It was another video, to make three. She still hadn't looked at the second video, for the horror of the first. Sunday morning there was a fourth email, and she thought she would lose her mind.
Sunday night she watched all four videos: cases she had worked on, with a similar result. She was sleeping with a liar, and working for murderers. It didn't matter the dead were sicklies, that they might be diseased, zombies. They had been killed, ruthlessly, without mercy, and she had led the killers to them. She wanted to die. She wanted to be raised from the dead.
“Hello”, the man said, as he sat next to Persephone at the bar.
She was spending a lot of time in bars. She was not performing well at work. Gerald was suspicious. She endured, but it was horrible. Even the plants in her office seemed to sag, as if they knew. She didn't want to die, but she wanted out, yet there was no 'out'; there was no life anymore beyond the city, the world was a wasteland, a ruined, toxic menagerie of hidden poisons, lurking disease, and crazed survivors. Here in the city she had been somebody, a black kid raised by her grandmother in the fringe, who had ascended the hierarchy to a comfortable level, inside the Institution. She had felt as free as she thought anybody could be in this world. Now she felt like she was in a prison, gilded hell, a coffin. In her rawest moments, she thought acidly, if she had the clearance to climb to the top of any of the Institutional buildings, she might have jumped. At the same time she wanted to burn the Institution to the ground, tear it down piece by piece, make a rubble of it to spit on. Every time she thought about it though, she heard her grandmother, talking about the beauty of her garden, about the beauty of life. There had to be a way out.
“You look like you had a tough day,” the man said, smiling, friendly. Persephone said nothing, offering nothing.
He added, “The sky is sometimes white, sometimes gray and always blue, and always many colored,” casually, as if anyone talked like that, as he sipped his beer and looked at Persephone's reflection in the bar back. He was dressed like the mid-level techie, plain, conservative, but he acted more like management, as if his clearance were greater than hers. Which was strange, because he was darker-skinned, like her. He reminded her of her Grandmother. She observed this, and then cast it aside as a symptom of her increasing madness. But she couldn't. For a brief moment, she felt suddenly, inexplicably, at ease, as if she had never been more herself. Before the fears and anxieties rushed back in and the feeling dissipated, like a dream.
“The sky was darker today, and every day the last week, than it ever has been,” she said to her drink, and then she turned to him and held his gaze.
“Perhaps if you danced the sky might open for you,” he said, holding her gaze.
“I don't dance for strangers.”
“And I am not the sky.”
Some hours later, in a booth, laughing for the first time in more than a week, she said to him, teasing, “nice tie, by the way.”
“It pleases Party leadership.”
“What leadership,” she scowled, a little drunk.
“The one that isn't exiled, yet.”
She looked at him, sober, the way he said that.
“Exile sounds like death,” she said.
“Shall we talk about rebirth then?”
It was like a warm breeze blew through her. She felt light, almost weightless. Like the cells of her body were suddenly filled with effervescent light.
“Rebirth?” she said.
“What kind of offer?”
“A new life.”
“Don't lie to me.” She thought she should be afraid of him, but she wasn't.
He held out a chocolate chip cookie in each hand. Chocolate was harder to find than gold. “The cookie on the right has mushrooms in it. The cookie on the left has cannabis. Your boyfriend Gerald is going to come through that door, in about twenty minutes,” gesturing to the front door. There were only two other patrons, in separate places at the bar, contemplating their drinks. “Of course you do not have to eat either cookie. Whatever way, you can come with me, or not. If you come with me you can never go back to this life. If you stay, you might not ever see me again.”
Persephone looked at him for awhile without saying anything. She reached out, taking both cookies, wrapping them in a cloth she pulled from a pocket of her coat, and put the package in that pocket, as she rose to put the jacket on.
“Where are we going?” she said.
In a studio loft, safe house above a garage in the Seward neighborhood, they made love on a rocket stove bed, and then in the sauna, and then again in the solar shower.
“We are still in the city,” she observed.
“We leave the city tonight, in the early morning before the sun. There are more cookies if you want them.”
“I'll stay sober, thanks.”
“Do we really have to be buckled in?” It was darker than a womb.
“Do you want to hit the wall of this box truck if we have to stop suddenly?”
“No,” she said, stressed but not harsh. “I'm just restless. I don't like enclosed spaces, particularly ones so dark that I can't see my hand in front of my face...and the outside, outside the city is a toxic, diseased wasteland. I've never left the city.”
“There are toxic, diseased places, and there are others that are vigorous, abundant and beautiful, as you will see.” Persephone wanted to believe him. Then she couldn't.
“I tracked those people they killed,” she said, nothing left to lose, here in the dark.
“I know. I came to kill you.”
“I don't want to die.”
“It is better if you are not afraid to.”
“Are you going to kill me.” She shuddered in the total darkness, the void.
“I already did.”
“I am not afraid.”
“Which is why you will live.”
Persephone awoke in a plush bed, the sheets somewhat damp. Her dreams were as cloudy as the memory of how she came here. She remembered kissing a luminous being, in total darkness; everything after, a blur.
The room was plaster, tan walls like dry grass, embedded tile mandalas; live plants abundant and streaming sunlight. She could hear birds calling through the open window, the leisure of leaves in a light wind. She thought she had never been in a more comforting bedroom. Through the second story window, she saw extensive gardens, abundant flowers, a greenhouse, a pond and a creek, distant woods, a valley, a ridge, cattle grazing in lush grass. Water seemed to flow from under the house, and she wondered for a brief moment if she were on a boat. But the house was above ground, it felt firm, immovable, almost eternal, like it was always here and always would be. Likewise, she felt the insecurity of her place in it, the Institutional killer in paradise. Wherever she was. She couldn't tell where she was, in relation to the city, in what direction; when she closed her eyes she felt like it was in the north/west. She opened her eyes suddenly, when the large, handcrafted door opened; A red-headed woman in a light gown entering, with a plate of food and carafe of water. Eggs fried, hashbrowns, Kale and peppers, sliced mushrooms, cranberry spread on toast, a braised, blackened cut of fish. An apple. Apples were above her pay grade. She had eaten one she had stolen as a child.
“We thought you might be hungry,” the woman said, with a bright smile like the room. “My name is Deme.
Persephone was startled by the food. Rarely had she seen such in the city. Food outside the city was presumed to be practically non-existent. Outside the city was supposed to be a toxic wasteland. The discontinuity of the gardens and greenhouses, the fresh air, the clear waters, rushed in, and she swooned, blood rushing to her head.
Deme poured some of the water from the carafe, onto a clean cloth napkin. “May I sit next to you?” she asked. Persephone nodded. Deme sat down and rubbed Persephone's forehead. “Your hair is wet. Bad dreams last night?”
“I don't remember,” Persephone's gold curls, darkened, clinging to her scalp, laying flat. Deme put her firm fingers into Persephone's hair and fluffed it out, airing it out. “I will draw a bath for you. Did you sleep well, otherwise?”
“Yes,” Persephone said, absently. “Where am I.”
“You are in the longhouse of the Sun Waterstead, a farm. About 200 miles from the city.”
“200 miles!”Persephone gaped, stunned. Deme looked at her, inquiringly, without responding. “I've never been outside the city. It's not at all like I was told it was. We were always told it was a toxic...” She paused, as she let this sink in. “Where is the man who brought me here, David.”
“I am House Mother,” Deme said. “This farm is run almost entirely by women, many of whom are disabled. As far as the Institution is concerned, we are a home for disabled women. 'David' is working on one of the fish tanks, I believe.”
“Who is he?”
Deme looked Persephone in the eyes. “He is the Rain King.”
“The Rain King?”
“Of the Waterbearers.”
“The Rain King of the Waterbearers?”
“He was raised by bears,” Deme said, as she laughed, mirth in her auburn eyes.
Persephone didn't ask more, but for the bath and a change of clothes. She hadn't been able to bring any of her things with her, but what she wore and had with her, in the bar, which clothes were hardly appropriate for a farm. That and the androgynous, industrial pants and shirt she had changed into, in the safehouse in Seward. She wore a thin sleeping gown, naked underneath, the gown clinging to her uncomfortably. Deme helped her out of bed and walked with her down a balcony hallway, a plush greenhouse garden on the floor below them, past a hand wrought, wood-limb railing. They walked over hand-woven, hemp rugs, over hardwood flooring, to a central, round, open room, and washrooms beyond that, in the back of the second floor.
Deme plugged the drain of a large, hand-tiled bath, and opened the faucet. Steaming water rushed out, heated by the sun. The wash room was considerably cooler than the bedroom, which was welcome. She climbed into the tub. Deme brought her a change of clothes: a light shirt and drawstring hemp pants, sandals. She left Persephone alone. Persephone lingered a long time in the waters, until they were cool.
Stepping out of the tub, after it had drained, she lingered a long time in her towel, observing the washroom. It was illuminated by two electric lights, a few candles, and light refracted from mirrors in the greenhouse, over an opening between the wall and the ceiling. The ceiling sloped down, away from the wall. The entire room, floor to ceiling, was elaborately tiled, light reflecting off a raised pool in the middle of the room, reflecting off the walls like opalescence. There was something underwater-like about it, like being able to breath under water in a dream.
She dressed, and lingered a long time again, in the round, open room outside the washroom, round and open to the glass of the south wall, fringed by the hand-wrought railing, and tall potted trees. Most of the floor here was an elaborate, tiled mandala. The walls were colored glass and tile murals, as if by the hand of many artists, some narrative immortalized over time. The whole was such a stark contrast to the severe lines and controlled monotony of Institutional architecture, or the dingy make-shift of the city fringe, she had nothing like a reference. It seemed to open up channels in her mind she hadn't known existed, or were even possible.
She walked down a hand-carved spiral stair, to similar tile work on the main floor, more trees in big pots, a wall on her right open to the kitchen, where several women worked. They looked up at her, and then down again at whatever they were doing, without acknowledging her. Deme walked out of the kitchen, with a warm smile, her fringed and embroidered apron covered with vegetable stains. “How was the bath?”
“Glorious. But I think I spent about as much time in the water as I did, just looking at the washroom, and then that open circle room above us. This house is amazing,” she said, with genuine enthusiasm.
“It is one of a kind. And not so different from many like it.”
“There are more places like this?”
“Hundreds,” Deme said, to Persephone's astonishment. “Though this is perhaps the oldest, that we know of, ten generations old.
“Feel free to look around. I'd give you a tour, but we are a little behind schedule in food preservation, and we need all the hands available. When you've satisfied your curiosity about the farm, come to the kitchen and help out. There will be someone working there, all day into the night.”
Deme smiled. “Look for him in the first greenhouse you come to, on the way to the creek. If he's not there, they will tell you where he is.” She walked back to the kitchen.
Persephone walked toward the glass, the sun high so that it could not be seen, shining only on a thin band of floor near the glass. There were citrus and avocado trees, kiwi vines, plants she had read about in books but never seen nor tasted or smelled, all close to the glass. There were scattered tables, as elaborately crafted as anything she had seen elsewhere in the house. A pool of water with fish, floating and hanging plants; and then doors to the outside, big wooden doors, a foyer, and all the doors open, a breeze flowing in.
Out into the courtyard, gardens like a fractal pattern, looping out this way and that, a kind of perfect symmetry. There were flowers and pollinators in abundance. Women scattered, tending to the plants, who like the others in the kitchen, looked at her without acknowledging her. Some appeared to limp, some were observably misshapen; all seemed capable, dressed in hand crafted clothing as differentiated and elaborate as any of the architecture she had seen. Their coolness, compared to the warmness of Deme, was unnerving, and she didn't linger long, heading for the greenhouse, past grazing chickens, rambling ducks.
He wasn't in the green house. The women there told Persephone to look to the sacred pool - follow the creek. Persephone wanted to linger, to learn about the fish tanks, but the women's treatment of her was rote, cold like the techies in the city and their verbal commands to their computers. The women didn't seem like cold people, just cold to her. She thought they knew more about her than she wanted them to know. It was a harsh feeling, in the midst of such extraordinary beauty. She thanked them graciously, and walked to the creek.
The creek was four feet wide, maybe a foot deep, winding through a wildflower meadow on it's way to a river cutting through the valley, bluffs on either side a half mile. About halfway down the meadow, there was a grove of trees, giving the appearance of a circle. The meadow was a cacophony of bird sounds, and insects buzzing. A light, warm breeze flowed down from the ridge above, little winds cutting through the wildflowers, making them sway gently, not even disturbing the pollinators, drunken pollinators covered with pollen. As she neared the grove, her heart fluttered like a bird, her feathers standing on end. Goosebumps rising on her cocoa skin. She felt the presence of her grandmother. She paused, before she entered the grove.
He was seated on a stone patio circle, in the east of a stone ring around the pond, which pond seemed to have no bottom. The air here seemed ten degrees cooler, and she shivered. He stood when he saw her, walking to her.
“You look well,” he said.
“Thank you. I feel good. The farm is amazing.” She was watching the pond, the bottomlessness of it.
“It is amazing. A great gift. How were you treated?”
Persephone looked at him, not sure what she could say to him. This...”Rain King”.
“Deme was very kind. I had the best breakfast I've ever had, and a nice long bath in the most gorgeous bathroom I've ever seen.” She hesitated. “Everyone else was cold to me. What do they know?”
“They know I brought you from the city. They know what you did for the Institutionalists.” Persephone tensed, crossing her arms over her bosom, dropping her head.
“So they think I'm a killer?” Water gathered in her eyes, the intensity of her circumstances weighing heavily; she wished for a moment she had stayed in the city, never saw the farm. She held close to her fear, then lost control. “So they wonder why their “King” would bring home an Institutionalist killer, and fuck her!” she sneered. She wanted to run, anywhere away.
He reached out his hand. She looked at him, breathing hard, wondering, then took his hand, and let him lead her to a wooden bench. They sat down facing the pool.
“They are confused. They wonder how their “king” could choose an Institutionalist.”
Choose? Persephone went quiet, looking at him. He was dressed not very differently than she was, a simple shirt, drawstring hemp pants; though he wore some ornament, which seemed more like tokens, like the “amulets” her grandmother used to make, from her garden. He seemed perfectly at ease, compared to the sea of emotions crashing against the shores of her self. The waters of the pool rippled, swirled, a whirlwind dropping down into the circle of trees. She felt like she could see it, imagining it pulling her fear and confusion away like a ghost.
“You chose me? I don't understand.”
“I first saw you when you were nine, the first day I ever saw the city, only a year after I was brought from the north woods to this farm. I was 15. Your dark skin so much like mine; your copper curls, your golden eyes. Who couldn't notice you? You were in the market, with your grandmother, who was an extraordinary sight too. You were very observant. You looked right at me, holding my gaze, and then you looked away and forgot me. I've been following you ever since.”
This was too much. The whole of the last two weeks swept into her consciousness and overwhelmed her. She choked, trying to stay above water.
He put his hand on her shoulder, and a kind of light seemed to fill her body, bright light like air filling up the flesh, releasing tension. She breathed more evenly, deeper. Tears streaming down her face.
“Why didn't you take me from the city before I...” she cried harder, like a stream from her eyes to the bottomless pool.
He took his hand away. “Would you have come? You became like a true believer. Like most people in the city, you believed the Institutional story because it seemed the most secure, based on circumstances as you understood them. I nearly gave up on you. For awhile,” he said, cold as a glacier, “I thought I had seen you as a kid in that market with your grandmother, so I would know I would have to kill you.”
She tensed, turned and looked at him, wary as a cat. He said, “I think now you are the Rain Queen, and you will help me take back the city.”
Her feet seemed to suddenly cling to the earth like roots. Her back went straight like a tree trunk, her arms like limbs, her head the crown. It was like the whole of her life had led her to this moment.
“You want to take back the city from the Institutionalists?”
“I am the seventh Rain King. The first Rain King built this farm, the house, and many more like it in the region. The third Rain King used these farms as a base, to take control of the city. The fruit and nut orchards, and gardens you knew there, only available to Institutional elite, were first planted by him. He reigned there for 40 years. When he died, the city was lost to reconstituted, Institutional control. Every Rain King since has lived in exile.
I am the last Rain King. It is now the time of the Waterbearers; they will soon need no King. But it is my task, while I am here, to take back the city. To restore what the third Rain King started.”
“What, another eternal tyranny?”
“To restore the Bill of Rights, of the old American Constitution, Habeas Corpus, the rule of law. To facilitate a care and concern for the health of the earth. To heal the waters.”
“And what about the Institutionalists? What are you going to do to them?”
He paused. “The same thing I did, that caused the Waterbearers to declare me king. Capture and rehabilitate them, like your General Hustlebury.”
“What!” She was credulous. “General Hustlebury was like everybody's grandpa. They said he was captured by the northern tribes, tortured and eaten alive!”
“He was a murderer and a rapist. And he is very much alive. A very gentle soul. Samuel: he chops wood, carries water,” laughing.
Persephone laughed at him, not believing him. “So were you really raised by bears? That is what Deme said.”
He laughed, sadly. “That is Deme, reminding me I am human.” He smiled as if pained. “My entire tribe was murdered. I alone survived. I was 5. That first night, I climbed into a cave, and slept with a momma bear, between her two cubs. That one night. I lived alone in the forest, that next night until I was 14.”
“Your tribe was killed, like the tribes I tracked?” Persephone asked, quivering.
“All of them, my mother, father, brother, sisters, friends; everyone but me.” He looked away at the pool and the abyss.
Persephone quaked. She pondered him. He was a man like any other, but otherworldly some how. “So how can I help you take back the city?”
“You were their most gifted techie, the whole of your time at the Institution.”
“They treated me like my work wasn't worth a promotion!”
“That is because they were never sure about you. It was your grandmother's influence. They suspected if you knew what was really going on, they would have to kill you.”
It all made sense, somehow. She felt relieved, even if she didn't fully understand. “So what is going on?”
“The Institutionalist's are feeling their weakness, and they are lashing out. The northern tribes are very effective at disabling northern mining operations. The Insitutionalists, when they find a tribe, they wipe them out. They track them and then they kill them. The woodlanders are hard to find, though,” and he gave her a sly, if sad smile.
“And now you want me to turn my tracking skills against my former employers?”
“I want you to use your skills to pursue the path you believe true to yourself, in relation to the world as you understand it. Like all waterbearers are taught from birth.”
“And what is a 'Waterbearer'?”
“It is the Aeon of Aquarius, the Time of the Waterbearers. All living things are waterbearers. To be a human Waterbearer is to be conscious of the water that flows through all things. According to the precession of the equinox, the last 2200 years, has been the Aeon of Pisces, the Fish. The fish ignorant of the polluted waters it swam in, but not immune. The Institutionalists are remnants of the Aeon of fish.”
Persephone smiled at the idea, looking at the pool. “Speaking of fish and waterbearers, is this pool for swimming?”
He smiled. “It is a pool of water. Rather chilly. The river is better for swimming.”
“So how am I going to use my skills against the Institutionalists, on a farm,” she asked, changing the subject but getting to the point.
“What makes you assume our technology is less than that of the Institutionalists?”
Persephone looked at him, and she thought she understood him. Pondering, “Isn't a “Rain Queen” in need of a consecration?” She took off her clothes and dived in. He followed; they made shivering love in the waters of a seemingly bottomless pool.
The baby of another man stirring inside her.