Article: 178418 of talk.bizarre
Newsgroups: talk.bizarre
From: (dhalgren)
Subject: FANTASY: amethysts and chrysoprase
Message-ID: <>
Summary: much of this is true
Organization: rough stone steps lead down the pit
Date: Thu, 1 Dec 1994 08:06:30 GMT
Lines: 246
Status: RO

      I had come to the party sad and tired, down on myself.  I'd 
spent all day in the fields, calling birds.  Calling them by name: 
none would come, and I passed through the red brick archway like 
coming home, though my dorm stood a little west of there.
      There was fire burning in the fireplace when I got upstairs.  
Men and women mingled.  The topic of conversation was the bar.  It 
was well stocked with whiskey, vodka, and rum; sour mix, fruit 
juices, and bubblies.  My friend Tox was there; apparently he'd 
arrived just before.
      "What're you having?" I asked him.
      "Irish iced tea."  He leered at me.  I watched in mild 
horror as he took a tall water glass, half-filled it with whiskey, 
added two jiggers each of vodka and rum, and topped it with sour 
mix -- just a little.  He stirred thoroughly, then offered me a 
sip.  "You can't taste it," he said.  This was true, but I refused 
his offer to mix me one.  Instead, I made myself a 50-50 
concoction: one part plastic-bottle vodka, one part grape juice, 
over ice.
      Tox is short for "toxic;" I presume you can see why.  Much 
later, an ill-advised drinking bout with him would leave me 
incapacitated for three days; it left him in an attic with someone 
else's girlfriend, tracing the trail of clothes back to the 
trapdoor that was his quick way out while she slept.  Tox was that 
kind of guy.  Years later, he grew dour; closed to me, to 
everyone. He wore a surplus East German army officer's cloak, and 
went into a world that he called "goth" and that I knew nothing 
about.  Only occasionally would he glance darkly at me, from what 
I presume were that world's depths.  I would like to say our paths 
diverged.  But it's not clear that that, or any concrete event, 
really ever happened.
      But tonight we were drinking, and Tox still graced me with 
his talk and smile.  We may have talked of old bones; they were, 
after all, his particular art.
      The party was like this: we were not complaining, but we all 
were troubled, and we had come to drink.  In half an hour we'd 
scared away the courtesy visitors, turned on the classic rock (a 
happy medium we'd channel) and settled down in front of the fire.  
The alcohol left the bar table as heat evaporated it into us.  It 
suffused us, solvated our troubles and bore them on a cloud of 
vapor to the fire where they burnt.  We grew together in orange 
light and warm brown air.
      Games and food happened, in and out.  There was one game 
with questions, and scraps of writing in a brown paper bag; 
another with dexterity, a bounce-or-throw type thing with coins, I 
think.  No "truth-or-dare", no "asshole"; we were not trying to 
shake ourselves from complacency, though I like that too.  This 
was a more comfortable scene.  Eventually I plonked down on a 
beanbag and gently tilted my head back.  I let it range, and 
dizzied myself in warm spirals.  Holly, a pretty young witch, 
nestled in beside me, on my sprawled arm.  I folded it around her 
and moved her tickly long blond hair from my eyes.  My hand 
wandered to her breast, and everybody in the room was together 
like us, with us.
      She slept that night between me and another Dave, stalwart 
pillar of me-ness only once (and barely that) removed.  Early, 
early, I awoke, still floating, and remembered I needed to catch a 
bird for this new day's assignment.  I drifted out through the 
floor, so as not to wake them; then outside, through the wall.  I 
had only to whisper their names, one by one, and the birds came, 
alighted on my arms and shoulders and the top of my head.  I bore 
them home on foot: an arduous and unaccustomed transport.  The day 
dawned grey.
      That morning, she called.  I was all prepared for 
awkwardness.  I had drank my water and was ready for voices.  She 
said she was coming over, that she would take me somewhere, that I 
must yield the day to her.  Bemused, I demurred; this was not the 
morning stranger I had feared and expected.  She insisted -- I 
complied.  [Moral: with a mastiff, manners may prevail.]
      I'd given my day to her, and so my head was down, on my 
walking.  She led me by the hand, out of the university and over 
the guard hills.  Her hand was warm, and she led past crossroads 
and junctions.  I saw pebbles, grey gravel rolling and crunching, 
spraying when my toe dug in.  Eventually even my downward gaze 
could not protect me from knowing something was new at hand.  The 
road began to sparkle, came alive, paved in amethyst and 
chrysoprase, jasper and beryl.
      "Do you know where we are?" she said, and I looked at her 
eyes, my witch, for the first time that day.  Her cornsilk hair 
was combed out straight down her back; her oval, earnest face was 
smiling; and she wore a dress of light sky blue that matched her 
      "You witch," I said, as drily as I could muster but without 
a trace of acerbity.  "This is the summer country."  Then a quirk 
crept up my lips, tugged one side and then the other skywise, and 
I straightened my back, threw back my shoulders.  Beryl and 
chrysoprase crackled and grated underfoot; new crystals were 
growing by the side of the road.
      Rocks skipped while Holly bounced, leaving the path to cross 
over.  Stepping high through goldenrod, she beckoned.  "Come on!"  
But when I saw goldenrod spilled on her dress, like essence of her 
hair splashed downward, I thought *no*, that I did not wish to 
touch and ground her, pour her energy through me and cage it 
sparkling in the stones below.
      "Onyx and chalcedon, chrysoprase, beryl, jasper and mica 
schist," she recited, exasperated.  "Come *on*!"  She daubed 
mustard seed on my cheek.  I sneezed; but I would not, and smiling 
we went, she bouncing and I following.
      The path wore on, out of the summer zone.  Vegetation gave 
way to black lava, a'a and pahoehoe a silent threat to all paths.  
The crystals grew vigilant at the edge here; away in the macabre 
distance, great rifts belched foul gases.  Through the mists shone 
an occasional gleam of red.  My eyes teared and Holly took my hand 
      "I'm taking you to meet a friend," she whispered; and green 
growing crystals marked the edge of the path.
      I think we climbed for a while - I remember we crested the 
lip of a hilltop crater and found it full of red, bubbling lava.  
Holly sang then, shrill and ululating.  This keening without words 
I recognized as a calling, like and not like what I did with 
birds.  The lava roiled and up from the depths burst her "friend," 
shaking cinder droplets off his scaly back.
      No common fire-bellied newt, which are known as newt-bellied 
newts when they eat their own; this was an olde Salamander, and 
his head twitched back and forth fast, alert like a bird, as he 
regarded me with first one, then the other eye.  It was hard to 
tell his color -- did he glow?  I think so.  His eyes were red and 
white and all fire to look into, his limbs were strong and muscles 
rippled under his alien skin.  If you have ever met one, you will 
know how they are hard to describe.  They mesmerize you while you 
are with them and when they go, they are more gone than other 
things which go.  If you thought that all things go eventually, 
you may be right; but meet a salamander, and you'll see about 
      "Talk to my friend Dave," Holly told the beast.  Then she 
danced away, her skirts twirling sparks as she leapt from rock to 
rock over a lava stream.
      "ssso," the creature lisped.  "why hass sshe brought you to 
Me?  what do you dessire?"  We spoke; and the world shrank to him 
and me as we did.  It is hard to remember exact words; but I told 
him of the greyness morning brings; of the mocking dust taste at 
the bottom of my cup; of the sorrow, plain and round, rough-
skinned like a slow-decaying cantaloupe that seemed to be at the 
center of things.
      "I sssee," the salamander hissed.  "tell Me, tell Me 
thisss...  have you ever drunk thiss againsst the darknesss, have 
you ever sssipped the juicesss of the living sstonesss?"
      "No."  What the hell was he talking about?
      "all jewelss... all pearls of wond'rouss price, drip juice, 
their fire's at the center.  that'ss why sshe brought you here...  
have you some jewelsss?"
      Now when the roads are amethyst and chrysoprase, as they 
often can be around the university, a man will pick up some real 
jewels.  I reached into my pack and pulled out a small leather 
sack which I emptied into my hand.  These were stones I'd tried to 
      "perfect.  let me ssshow you..."  His darting pad-foot 
reminded me of his alien-ness.  He touched here and there on my 
jewel-strewn palm, came upon a globe all alabaster sea and rose-
quartz landmass: a bauble-toy, our world in miniature.  I'd made 
it months before. 
      "obssserve..."  The salamander tilted his head back, raised 
the globe above his lipless mouth, and *squeezed*.  As I watched, 
drop by drop, the light dripped out of the rock onto a ready 
tongue.  When he was done he held a black husk; his tongue darted 
out, cleaning his mouth.
      "and casst the husskss into the firesss."
      "But I don't know how to squeeze."  He silenced me, placed 
his finger to my lips.  It was warm and flinty-smelling.
      "here, try thiss jade," said the salamander, and picked a 
piece from my palm.  "jade never changesss.  it iss alwayss the 
      He closed my fist around the stone, scattering the ten or so 
others I was holding.  They bounced; and suddenly I forgot about 
them.  The hot dry salamander fingers shaped mine and suddenly my 
fingers knew the logic; I was squeezing the lifeblood from the 
      The salamander released me and I raised my hand to my mouth.  
The milky green stuff flowed in and I was transported.  The taste 
of sap, a rush of sticky sweetness and I saw a tangled curtain of 
thick green jungle vines.  Parting, there were workers in the 
distance...  Masons labored long over white stone, their handiwork 
the future's ruin.
      The vision dissolved and I looked around.  Hard-shelled 
scuttling creatures were gathering the jewels I had just dropped.  
Their clacking mandibles!  Their awful claws!  Crabs, crayfish 
turned their compound eyes on me - a scorpion stood guard, his 
articulated stinger a good 2 feet off the ground and his pincers 
flexing menacingly.  As I watched, they collected what had fallen, 
all the while chittering an insect tongue.  Soon the ground was 
clear of jewels and the loathsome insects disappeared.
      "tosss the hussk back into the lava."  I did so.  "you have 
more jewelss?"  I nodded.  "good.  forgive me, I grow inssipid..."  
With a flick of his tail he propelled himself backward into the 
lava and vanished.
      I took a deep breath and dug into my pack.  Past the 
Powerbook, past the Magic Cap, down inside where the true jewels 
live:  (O not you, fist-sized, pulsing redly, cloaked in my gloom.  
I know better than to grasp for you, O jewel, for though you keep 
engrailed all my desire, you will not be held, O jewel my heart) 
...there.  At the center, an eighty carat raw diamond.  I drew it 
out.  Red lava glow refracted through it, split into a thousand 
prismatic parts.  I put my fingers around it and squeezed, cupping 
my other hand beneath as a catch.
      It gave up its essence readily; the thick fluid filled my 
cupped palm.  Milky white, opalescent; and was it glowing?  Yes.  
I raised it to my mouth, licked it off.  It was salty, bitter.
      As I was finishing Holly returned and licked the last few 
drops from my knuckles.  "So sweet," she sighed, "so sweet..." I 
was understanding her words, and how it was, when then it hit me, 
a blast of vital power from within.  My head, bowels, heart 
swelled, unfit vessels for the wash of it, and all around - yet 
still inside me - a fierce wind began to blow.
      "Hurry!"  Holly ran down and I followed, foot-polished 
amethysts our slippery guides.  The downhill trail was longer than 
memory - we passed a cave, and my wind churned a voice from its 
depths, one endless syllable from a tongue I never spoke.  We 
reached the black sand shore.  Nearby, lava dripped into the sea.  
The wind blew hard towards inland; the volcanic clouds dissipated 
as Holly's long golden hair blew back from her face.  Laughing, 
her arms spread skyward; the sun emerged and her hair was its rays 
while her blue dress melted upward, to the cerulean heavens.  She 
was gone, smiling on me still and my face warmed in it; I slipped 
into her, into her embrace and my thoughts rambled inchoate: "I 
never worshipped the sun before," though I knew it'd been done.  
Amethyst and chrysoprase crunched beneath my feet, but God! how 
had I failed to notice?  the *ochre* of the distant mountain sides 
called me, strata upon untold millions of strata, each with years 
and a voice in the strain that reached for me.  I whirled in
panic -- off-shore circled some twenty mermaids.  Their red locks 
trailed out over the kelp-green sea, beckoning fingers; "Come," 
they beckoned.  I groaned, raised my face skyward - Holly's 
teasing fingers caressed my cheeks hotly.  The clouds put down 
ropy streamers for me to climb, Jacob's ladders if I only would, 
if I only dared.
      Under my feet amethyst and chrysoprase waited cool, silent; 
expectant.  "You are ours," they seemed to say, "ours," a mouth-
soft phrase.  I still held the black husk of diamond in my hand 
and glanced at it then.  In an instant I knew its logic, knew in 
that one moment the way to transmute all coarse crystal to 
diamond, all base metal to gold.
      I flung that husk far into the sea, then dug into my pack 
for all my stones; and sent them splashing after.  Like so many 
dolphins, the mermaids turned tail flukes upwards and were down, 
gone.  Tears blinded my eyes and I stumbled off the Path, into the 
thick grey heather.  I knelt.  Curled downward into myself it took 
me like a bed and blanket.  And that was all.
      When I awoke, I knelt on fresh black asphalt, just rolled.  
A clear new double yellow line pointed my way to the city of men.  
I stood, made my way into this your city; slowly now, haltingly, I 
tell my story.

heard a cry for mercy / in the city of the damned