Merlin’s Keep

here is an old foundry a few minutes from here. He grasps her wrist, battle-scarred like his, and walks out of the back door and across the street. They stumble down the grassy hill behind his house, their bodies vertical, the earth inclined, and they reach Pleasant Street on the other side.

This way, he says, his voice obscuring the empty pop of the tub in his pocket, and he lets her hand fall to her side.

Outside the foundry there is a sign, staked into the ground and splintering. A large horizontal gash splits the wood in two and nearly runs for the full length of the sign. On it, still legible, are the words: Merlin’s Keep.

When Yuri was a child, Merlin’s Keep had still been in business. It billowed mile-wide, inky clouds across the sky as it forged beams and girders, car panels and corrugated roofs. The Tobin Bridge had been built here; the train cars for the new Yellow Line subway. He remembered how it towered over the Square downtown.

Now the sign stands abandoned, much like the foundry inside, pointing jaggedly at a ninety degree angle to the ground. Yuri recalls online news clips of a stars and stripes flag being planted firmly in the red Martian soil.

They go inside. A cube-shaped space, steel beams still delineate the walls at intervals, rising around them for two stories. The roof is gone. In the far corner, the one nearest the river, there is a coal-covered, metal contraption.

One of the forges, Yuri whispers to Sandra. She smiles weakly and her mouth creases like a dolphin.

Reeds as brown as the sign outside perforate the stone floor, peering up through the cracks at the two foreign bodies in their midst.

Yuri creases into a cross-legged position on the floor, pushing aside the twigs in his way, and Sandra sits opposite with her knees bent toward her chest. He reaches into his pocket and takes out the small plastic tub, and the pills tip and tap against the side. The label is worn off, though even if it had remained legible, it would have been incorrect.

Are you sure? he asks. Sandra nods. In another time, before the Pulse, she would have been beautiful. White, lank hair now hangs around her face; and though her lips are full and alive, the creases under her eyes are as blue as her irises and exponentially wider. Yuri hadn’t looked in a mirror since then either. He couldn’t blame Sandra for neglecting her appearance.

Like Yuri, Sandra is an archivist at the Bradbury Library. It is a strange word, Yuri thinks.

Ok, he says, and twists the cap off of the bottle in his hand.

They are not archivists, he thinks; they are reconstructive surgeons. Pulling from memory the lost words, sentences, serifs. Rebuilding page for page and line by line the books which ought to fill the brownstone building’s shelves.

In his palm he holds out two pills: one white, the other half blue, half red. Sandra takes them nervously, opens her full mouth, and then gulps them dryly.

It might take some time, Yuri says. Her eyes close… Slowly, like honey smearing from a spoon. She slips into unconsciousness, and he lays her down on the cracks and between the reeds.

chug, train-like and unmistakeably mechanical, echoes against the ghost walls of Merlin’s Keep. It crescendos, then stops. Yuri hears footfall and stays perfectly still, leaning as he has for the last fifteen minutes against the dusty forge in the corner of the old foundry.

Outside, rushes and brushes. Breath crisps against the afternoon, and a figure appears like a mirror image at the opposite end of the Keep.

Hey. Yuri, he says. The man is bearded and thin, wears a plaid sweatshirt with holes near the wrists. This her? he asks.

Yes. She needed to get out. She’d transcribed her last, and the Library was under pressure to get rid of her, Yuri replied.

Your goddamn eidetic memory is all that’s keeping you in your job, the man says.

Yuri leans down and the remaining pills make distant popcorn noises inside his jacket pocket. He reaches under Sandra’s arms and lifts her from the ground to the sound of crackling reeds. Since the Pulse, there has been no electricity, and even the slightest noise bounces manically against the eardrum. He drags her over to the man, and takes one last glance at her before placing her carefully into his outstretched arms.

Pretty, the man says.

The man’s voice is dull. Yuri nods and tells him: Be sure to wake her as soon as you get there.  We have three more coming next week, all Fed escapees.

I’ll take as many as I can handle, the man says, and jerks his head in the direction of the water running quietly behind the husk of a building. Outside, in the river, Yuri knows that the boat is tied to the splintered, wooden sign, as usual. In it, others like Sandra lie unconscious.

As the chug resumes, Yuri leaves Merlin’s Keep and canters up Pleasant Street as far as the yellowing grass. He crouches at the apex of the incline and looks through the leaves of the trees to the Foundry.

A tiny puff of smoke emerges from behind the steel outline further down the street. Far below and headed for the Atlantic, a small tug boat struggles against the rough wash of the Charles River, and Yuri wonders if it will ever be his turn to sail away. [ends]