That Constant Necromancy
Atomic light shone through the strange clouds of a burning sky, and all the fields on either side of the road were ashy dust and weeds; the still dun mounds showed where the cattle and horses had ceased their pasture to lay down and die. The cracked streets laid like an ancient empire, in whose fissures and potholes was built new kingdoms of ants and termites, vast series of mounds and structures raised up in the shadow of rusted street lamps blown over, houses knocked to kindling, their contents spilled and exposed to air and invisible fires that tanned and bleached and burned from the inside out.
A hush came and the wind died, as the audience before the song, and the baleful, bright sun darkened for a moment, and took on a softer flare.
There was something classical about the curve of the hood, the rounded headlamps, the strange face of the radiator grill; a perfect Euclidian parabola that had been realized on paper with blue pencil and drafter’s ink. It was the fresh-cut grey of dark, flat virgin stone, as if washed in the fresh-flowing wounds of granite mountains laid bare by pick and dynamite. Prim white gloves grasped the wheel, and the eyes that stared out from the windows were the antique blue of a long-forgotten sky.
The song hit the ruined town first.
There was something of a march in it, a military cadence as of a million men in step, shattered every now and again by thunderous percussion cannonades, and merged in with the rhythm were pieces and fragments of old anthems and songs, riffs and openings from tunes that had seen nations through war and peace and back again. The speakers of the ghostly grey car shouted and sang and blared, and it reverberated through air and wood and artificial stone, to be heard by whatever spirits there might be to hear.
A softer breeze picked up, and an empty swing began to sway again. Fallen telephone poles, street lamps, and trees righted themselves, to stand tall once more. The driving wind increased, and the skeletons of houses at the edge of town that had folded in on themselves from the blast put on again their ancient flesh of shingles and vinyl siding. Mounds of moldering, broken brick skittered over the vacant shell of the gas station, and the rust on the pumps blew off in a pale red dust to reveal a mirror shine.
In the street, the empire of the ants died in sudden cataclysm as old asphalt flowed as if new again, healing over the wounds where they had built.
By the time her tires hit the outskirts of town, the grass had fallen down as if it had been visited by the swathing blades of elder days. A thin thing with copper pigtails and a pink dress picked herself up from the earth and stepped backward into the waiting swing, to be carried again. Students emerged from beneath their desks to retake their seats, and men and women cowered no longer in basements and closets, or under beds. In the town jail a pickpocket stared out from behind stout bars, and across the tracks the black folk stirred and felt the familiar burden take them once again.
The music swelled as she drove through the old town square, with it small somber monuments of brass on cut stone, past two churches and a synagogue whose pews were packed but from which came no song, or sermon, or prayer. On the wall of the diner, two shadows broke a long kiss and stepped out into the world again.
As the music faded from the entrance of town, the weary cattle and horses laid down once again to their long rest. The rails fell from the fences and the weeds stood, as if waking from a strange delirium. A harsher wind followed on the soft breeze, and what had been the work of burnt years reclaimed the gas station in moments. The swing swished through the air, and a pile of old bones in faded and torn pink rags fell to earth, a small grey skull landing in a mound of copper pigtails.
A strange procession followed. Gaunt men and women with set faces rode thin horses that frothed at the mouth. A handful of automobiles lumbered in caravan; the leader a grim-faced man who clutched the wheel beside his silent, worried wife, their children in the back had ash-colored skin and receding black gums that revealed long toothy smiles. The front of the car was new, but long creeping tendrils of rust and dry rot streaked the back; the car behind it was worse. The last car in the line was a boxy thing on bicycle wheels that got caught in the spreading cracks in the road, the engine sputtered out a final cough and then the whole carriage collapsed as the music died.
The prisoner in the jail waited, and as the walls fell leapt free of the masonry; the hot breeze stripped him to bones within three steps, but this time they would lay outside his cell. Two lovers shared a kiss again, as their shared shadow etched itself onto the bricks of the wall behind them. The faces of the townspeople turned to the sky—the bright blue sky, as blue as the woman’s eyes—before the atomic sky returned again.