an extract from the novel
From The Great Beyond
the Great Beyond she heard it, coming from the Deep Within. From the
Great Beyond the goddess heard it, coming from the Deep Within. From
the Great Beyond Inanna heard it, coming from the Deep Within.
She gave up heaven and earth, to journey
down into the underworld, Inanna did, gave up her role as queen of heavens,
holy priestess of the earth, to journey down into the underworld. In
Uruk and in Badtibira, in Zabalam and Nippur, in Kish and in Akkad,
she abandoned all her temples to descend into the Kur.
She gathered up the seven me into her hands,
and with them in her hands, in her possession, she began her preparations.
Her lashes painted black with kohl, she
laid the sugurra, crown of the steppe, upon her head, and fingered
locks of fine, dark hair that fell across her forehead, touched them
into place. She fastened tiny lapis beads around her neck and let a
double strand of beads fall to her breast. Around her chest, she bound
a golden breastplate that called quietly to men and youths, come
to me, come, with warm, metallic grace. She slipped a golden bracelet
over her soft hand, onto her slender wrist, and took a lapis rod and
line in hand.
And finally, she furled her royal robe around her
Inanna set out for the Kur, her faithful
servant, Lady Shubur, with her.
-- Lady Shubur, said Inanna, my sukkal who
gives wise consul, my steadfast support, the warrior who guards my flank,
I am descending to the Kur, the underworld. If I do not return then
sound a lamentation for me in the ruins. Pound the drum for me in the
assemblies where the unkin gather and around the houses of the gods.
Tear at your eyes, your mouth, your thighs. Wearing the beggar's single
robe of soiled sackcloth, then, go to the temple of the Lord Ilil in
Nippur. Enter his sacred shrine and cry to him. Say these words:
-- O father Lord Ilil, do not leave your
daughter to death and damnation. Will you let your shining silver lie
buried forever in the dust? Will you see your precious lapis shattered
into shards of stone for the stoneworker, your aromatic cedar cut up
into wood for the woodworker? Do not let the queen of heaven, holy priestess
of the earth, be slaughtered in the Kur.
-- If Lord Ilil will not asssist you, she said, go
to Ur, to the temple of Sin, and weep before my father. If he will not
assist you, go to Eridu, to Enki's temple, weep before the god of wisdom.
Enki knows the food of life; he knows the water of life; he knows the
secrets. I am sure he will not let me die.
Thick With Trees And Thunderstorms
North Carolina, where the old 70 that runs from Hickory
to Asheville cuts across the 225 running up from the South, from Spartanburg
and beyond, up through the Blue Ridge Mountains and a land that's thick
with trees and thunderstorms. It's on the map, but it's a small town,
or at least it looks it, hidden from the freeway, until you cut down
past the sign that says Welcome To Marion, A Progressive Town,
and gun your bike slow through the streets of the town centre with its
thrift stores and pharmacy, fire department, town hall, the odd music
store or specialist shop that's yet to lose its market to the Wal-Mart
just a short drive down the road.
She rides past the calm, brick-fronted architecture
that's still somewhere in the 1950's, sleeping, waiting for a future
that's never going to happen, dreaming of a past that never really went
away, out of the small town centre and onto a commercial strip of fast
food restaurants and diners, a steak house and a japanese, a derelict
cinema sitting lonely in the middle of its own car park--all of these
buildings just strung along the road like cheap plastic beads on a ragged
necklace. She pulls off the road into a Hardee's, switches off the engine
and kicks down the bike-stand.
The burger tastes good--real meat in a thick,
rough-shapen hunk, not some thin bland patty of processed gristle and
fat--and she washes it down with deep sucking slurps of Mountain Dew,
and twirls the straw in the cardboard bucket of a cup to rattle the
ice as she looks out the window at the road, hot in the summer sun,
humid and heavy. The sky is a brilliant blue, the blue of a Madonna's
robes, stretching up into forever, stretching -
- and she stands in front of the mirror in the
washroom, leaning on the sink a second, dizzy with a sudden buzz, a
hum, a song that ripples through her body like the air over a hot road
shimmers in the sun. The Cant. Shit, she thinks. She must be getting
close. She looks at the watch sitting up on top of the hand-dryer. The
second hand flicks back and forth, random, sporadic, like one of those
aeroplane instruments in a movie where the plane is going down in an
It's August 4th, 2017. Sort of.
Steady again, she studies her eyes, black with
mascara and with lack of sleep, and pushes her dark red hair back from
her forehead. Even splashing more water on her face she still feels
like a fucking zombie. Fucking zombie retro biker chick, she
thinks. Beads in her hair, a beaded choker round her neck, a chicken-bone
charm necklace over a gold circuit-patterned t-shirt. Shit, she looks
like her fucking techno-hippy mother.
She picks up her watch and slips it over her
wrist, reels out the earphones from the stick clipped to her belt and
puts them in, clipping them into the booster sockets in her earrings
so her lenses can pick up the video signals. The Sony VR5 logo flickers
briefly across her vision as she shoulders her way out through the door,
tapping at the datastick to switch it onto audio-only. She doesn't need
a heads-up weather forecast with ghost images of clouds or sunbursts,
or a Routefinder sprite floating at every turn-off to point her this
way or that. Not today.
She grabs her helmet from the handlebar of the
bike and puts it on as she swings her leg up over the seat, flicks up
the stand, zips up her leather biker jacket, kicks the engine into life.
The antique creature of steel and chrome growls
between her legs, and another antique creature--one of leather and vinyl--screams
in her ears.
-- Looooooooooooooord! howls Iggy Pop, and the murderous
guitar of the Stooges' TV Eye kicks in, as Phreedom Messenger
opens up the throttle on the bike and roars out of her pit-stop on the
way to hell.
Whore Of Babylon, Queen Of Heaven
And Inanna continued on her way towards the underworld.
She journeyed from ancient Sumer up the land between the rivers Tigris
and Euphrates, through the whole of Babylon and into Hittite Haran.
She travelled into Canaan with the Habiru who called her Ishtar. She
went with them into Egypt and they called her Ashtaroth when she returned,
leaving behind only a memory, the myth of Isis. She saw god-kings and
city-states rise and fall, patriarchs murdered by sons who took their
places and their names, armies and wars of territory and dominion. She
travelled with the armies, with the whores and the musicians and the
eunuch priests, offering solace in their tents, in tabernacles of sex
and salvation. She had bastard sons by kings. She washed the feet of
gods amongst men.
She saw villages burned and statues toppled.
She saw kingdoms become federations, federations become empires. She
saw whole dynasties of deities overthrown, their names and faces obliterated
from the monuments they'd built so, unlike them, she took new names,
new faces. Times changed and she changed with them. She never accepted
the new order that was tearing down the old around her but she knew
better than to fight it, watching the others stripped of honour, stripped
of reverence, stripped of godhood, still calling themselves Sovereigns
even as the Covenant shattered every idol in their temples. So she travelled
as supplicant, as refugee, with mystery as her protector rather than
force, cults rather than armies. She saw the seeds she dropped behind
her take root in the earth and grow only to be crushed by military boots.
She travelled with slaves and criminals.
She went from Israel, to Byzantium and Rome, this
Queen of Heaven, Blessed Mother, full of grace, her new name and old
titles echoing amongst the vaults of stone cathedrals, spaces as vast
and hollow as the temples left long empty in Uruk and Badtibira, Zabalam
and Nippur, Kish and Akkad.
She travelled in statues and pietas, painted in indigo
and gold in old Renaissance frescoes, Russian ikons; travelled to the
New World with conquistadors and missionaries, to plantations where
the slaves danced round the fires at night, possessed by gods, by saints,
by loas and orishas; journeyed across time to a New Age of carnival
mythologies and stars worshipped in glossy parchments sold at newsstands,
of rosaries and tarot cards and television earth mothers fussing over
the broken hearts and wounded prides of soft, spoiled inner children.
She journeyed on the road of no return,
to the dark mansion of the god of death, the house where those who enter
never leave, where those who enter lose all light, and feed on dust,
clay for their bread. They see no sun; they dwell in night, clothed
in black feathers of the carrion crow. Over the door and the bolt of
the dark house, dust settles, moss and mildew grow.
She stopped, this Whore of Babylon, this
Queen of Heaven. Inanna stopped before the entrance to the underworld,
and turned to look back at her servant who had followed her down through
the centuries, the millennia.
-- Go now, Lady Shubur, she said. Do not
forget my words.
-- My Queen, says Lady Shubur.
A Sculpture Of Time And Space
She shifts the engine to a lower gear, a lower growl,
swings low and wide around the corners, slower as the bike climbs the
steep, winding road into the mountains. White wooden churches stand
with bible quotes lettered on hoardings at the side of the road, and
shabby prefab houses perch in their little plots with leaning porches
and pots of dying flowers in hanging baskets. They nestle in amongst
the deep trees of bear and deer; this is hunting territory, a place
of pickup trucks and men in armoured vests with high-powered rifles
and coolers filled with beer. Stars and Stripes on every house. On a
dirt track coming off the road at her right-hand side a rustbucket of
a car sits up on bricks, the legend #1 Dawg scrawled in paint
across the battered panels of its side.
The bike swings left and right in wide curves round
the tight corners and she leans down into them, following the flow,
the rhythm of the constant turns and twists. The road snakes on right
up into the hills and she snakes with it, like a cobra reared up ready
to strike but swaying side to side, charmed by the music in its contours,
switching gears, from growl to roar and back again. Slow and wide. Fast
and tight. Left. Right. Left. Right. Sunlight flickers blinding white
through the canopy of trees like the end of an old celluloid film rattling
through a projector.
The road cuts deep into the sharp-carved shadows of
tall trees for a second, slices between dark juts of moss-slicked rock
and through a concrete underpass; and she takes the circling slip road
off to the right and turns and turns, and then she's up and out and
on the Blue Ridge Parkway, riding the wide road that runs from mountain
spine to mountain spine along the length of the whole range. And the
sun is hot but the air is clear and crisp as a cool spring and she can
look out to her left and to her right and see the world on either side,
the hills in the beyond, the valleys in between, the vast, green, rough,
soft sculpture of time and space, of earth and sky.
It's places like this that you can't tell where
the world ends and the Vellum begins, she thinks. For all its asphalt
artifice, for all the wooden mileage signposts scattered along its way,
for all that you can look down into the valleys and still see the houses
and churches, schools and factories of small towns cradled in the folds,
up here reality, like the air, is thinner. The road is just a scratch
on the skin of a god; if you came off it, she thinks, if you smashed
straight through one of the low wooden fences and shot out into the
air, you might crash right out of this world and into another, into
a world empty of human life or filled with animal ghosts.
But those aren't the kind of world she's looking for,
not by a long shot.
...continues in the print edition
© Hal Duncan
Hal Duncan's Vellum is published in August 2005 by PanMacmillan.
Order online using these links and infinity plus
... Hal Duncan's Vellum at Amazon.com
Elsewhere in infinity plus:
Elsewhere on the web: