BEYOND THE ADVANCED PSYCHIATRIC SOCIETY- A COLLECTIVE RESEARCH/ OLTRE LA SOCIETA' PSICHIATRICA AVANZATA- UNA RICERCA COLLETTIVA


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venerdì 6 aprile 2012

Ray Bradbury: "February 1999: YLLA" ['The Martian Chronicles', 1954 (1950)]



They had  a  house  of crystal pillars on the planet Mars by the edge  of  an  empty sea, and every morning you could see Mrs.  K eating  the  golden  fruits  that  grew from the crystal walls, or cleaning  the  house  with  handfuls  of  magnetic dust which, taking all  dirt  with it, blew away on the hot wind. Afternoons, when the  fossil  sea was warm and motionless, and the wine trees stood stiff  in  the  yard,  and  the little distant Martian bone town was  all  enclosed,  and no one drifted out their doors, you could see  Mr.  K  himself in his room, reading from a metal book with raised  hieroglyphs  over  which he brushed his hand, as one might play  a  harp.  And  from the book, as his fingers stroked, a voice  sang,  a  soft  ancient  voice, which told tales of when the sea  was  red  steam on the shore and ancient men had carried clouds of metal insects and electric spiders into battle.

Mr. and  Mrs.  K had lived by the dead sea for twenty years, and their  ancestors  had  lived  in the same house, which turned and followed the sun, flower-like, for ten centuries.
Mr. and  Mrs.  K  were  not old. They had the fair, brownish skin of  the  true  Martian,  the  yellow  coin  eyes,  the  soft musical voices.  Once  they  had  liked  painting  pictures  with chemical fire,  swimming  in  the  canals in the seasons when the wine trees  filled  them with green liquors, and talking into the dawn together  by  the blue phosphorous portraits in the speaking room.
They were not happy now.
This morning  Mrs.  K  stood  between the pillars, listening to the  desert  sands  heat,  melt into yellow wax, and seemingly run on the horizon.
Something was going to happen.
She waited.
She watched  the  blue  sky  of  Mars  as if it might at any moment grip  in  on itself, contract, and expel a shining miracle down upon the sand.
Nothing happened.
Tired of  waiting,  she  walked through the misting pillars.
A gentle  rain  sprang  from  the  fluted  pillar  tops, cooling the scorched  air,  falling  gently  on  her.  On hot days it was like walking  in  a creek. The floors of the house glittered with cool streams.  In  the distance she heard her husband playing his book  steadily,  his  fingers  never  tired  of  the  old  songs.  Quietly she  wished  he  might  one  day again spend as much time holding and  touching  her  like  a  little  harp  as  he did his incredible books.
But no.  She  shook  her  head,  an imperceptible, forgiving shrug. Her  eyelids  closed  softly  down  upon  her golden eyes.  Marriage made people old and familiar, while still young.
She lay  back  in  a chair that moved to take her shape even as she moved. She closed her eyes tightly and nervously.
The dream occurred.
Her brown  fingers  trembled,  came  up, grasped at the air.
A moment later she sat up, startled, gasping.
She glanced  about  swiftly,  as  if expecting someone there before her.  She  seemed  disappointed;  the  space  between  the pillars was empty.
Her husband  appeared  in a triangular door. “Did you call?” he asked irritably.
“No!” she cried.
“I thought I heard you cry out.”
“Did I? I was almost asleep and had a dream!”
“In the daytime? You don’t often do that.”
She sat  as  if  struck  in  the  face  by  the  dream. “How
strange, how very strange,” she murmured. “The dream.”
“Oh?” He evidently wished to return to his book.
“I dreamed about a man.”
“A man?”
“A tall man, six feet one inch tall.”
“How absurd; a giant, a misshapen giant.”
“Somehow”—she tried  the  words--  “he  looked  all  right.
In spite  of  being  tall.  And  he  had—oh, I know you’ll think it silly—he had blue eyes!”
“Blue eyes!  Gods!”  cried  Mr.  K. “What’ll you dream next?
I suppose he had black hair?”
“How did you guess?” She was excited.
“I picked the most unlikely color,” he replied coldly.
“Well, black  it  was!”  she cried. “And he had a very white skin; oh,  he  was  most  unusual!  He was dressed in a strange uniform and  he  came  down  out  of the sky and spoke pleasantly to me.” She smiled.
“Out of the sky; what nonsense!”
“He came  in  a  metal  thing  that  glittered  in the sun,” she remembered.  She  closed  her  eyes  to  shape  it  again. “I dreamed there  was  the  sky  and  something sparkled like a coin thrown into  the  air,  and  suddenly it grew large and fell down softly to  land,  a  long  silver  craft,  round and alien. And a door opened  in  the  side  of  the  silver  object and this tall man stepped out.”
“If  you   worked  harder  you  wouldn’t  have  these  silly dreams.”
“I  rather   enjoyed   it,”  she  replied,  lying  back.  “I never suspected  myself  of such an imagination. Black hair, blue eyes,  and  white  skin!  What  a strange  man,  and  yet—quite handsome.”
“Wishful thinking.”
“You’re unkind.  I  didn’t  think him up on purpose; he just came in  my  mind while I drowsed. It wasn’t like a dream. It was so unexpected  and  different. He looked at me and he said, ‘I’ve come from  the  third  planet  in  my  ship. My name is Nathaniel York—‘”
“A  stupid   name;  it’s  no  name  at  all,”  objected  the husband.
“Of  course   it’s   stupid,  because  it’s  a  dream,”  she explained softly.  “And  he  said, ‘This is the first trip across space. There  are  only  two  of  us  in  our ship, myself and my friend Bert.’”
“_Another_ stupid name.”
“And he  said,  ‘We’re  from  a  city on Earth; that’s the name of  our  planet,’”  continued  Mrs. K. “That’s what he said.
‘Earth’ was  the  name  he  spoke.  And he used another language.
Somehow I understood him. With my mind. Telepathy, I suppose.”
Mr. K  turned  away.  She  stopped  him  with a word. “Yll?” she called  quietly.  “Do  you  ever  wonder  if—well,  if there are people living on the third planet?”
“The third  planet  is incapable of supporting life,” stated the husband  patiently.  “Our  scientists  have  said there’s far too much oxygen in their atmosphere.”
“But wouldn’t  it  be  fascinating  if  there were people?
And they traveled through space in some sort of ship?”
“Really, Ylla,  you  know how I hate this emotional wailing.
Let’s get on with our work.”
It was  late  in  the day when she began singing the song as she moved  among  the  whispering  pillars  of  rain. She sang it over and over again.
“What’s that  song?”  snapped  her  husband at last, walking in to sit at the fire table.
“I don’t  know.”  She  looked  up, surprised at herself. She put her  hand  to  her  mouth,  unbelieving. The sun was setting.  The house  was  closing  itself  in,  like  a  giant flower, with the passing  of  light.  A  wind blew among the pillars; the fire table bubbled  its  fierce  pool of silver lava. The wind stirred her  russet   hair,  crooning  softly  in  her  ears.  She  stood silently looking  out  into  the  great  sallow  distances of sea bottom, as  if  recalling  something,  her  yellow  eyes soft and moist, “Drink  to  me  only  with  thine  eyes, and I will pledge with mine,”  she  sang,  softly,  quietly,  slowly.  “Or  leave a kiss within  the  cup,  and  I’ll  not  ask for wine.” She hummed now, moving  her  hands  in  the  wind  ever so lightly, her eyes shut. She finished the song.
It was very beautiful.
“Never  heard   that  song  before.  Did  you  compose  it?” he inquired, his eyes sharp.
“No, Yes.  No,  I don’t know, really!” She hesitated wildly.  “I  don’t   even   know  what  the  words  are;  they’re  another language!”
“What language?”
She dropped  portions  of  meat  numbly  into  the simmering lava. “I  don’t  know.”  She  drew the meat forth a moment later, cooked, served  on  a  plate  for him. “It’s just a crazy thing I made up, I guess. I don’t know why.”
He said  nothing.  He watched her drown meats in the hissing fire pool.  The  sun  was  gone. Slowly, slowly the night came in to fill  the  room, swallowing the pillars and both of them, like a dark  wine  poured  to the ceiling. Only the silver lava’s glow lit their faces.
She hummed the strange song again.
Instantly he  leaped  from  his  chair  and  stalked angrily from the room.
Later, in isolation, he finished supper.
When he  arose  he stretched, glanced at her, and suggested, yawning, “Let’s  take  the  flame  birds  to  town tonight to see an entertainment.”
“You don’t mean it?” she said. “Are you feeling well?”
“What’s so strange about that?”
“But we haven’t gone for an entertainment in six months!”
“I think it’s a good idea.”
“Suddenly you’re so solicitous,” she said.
“Don’t talk  that  way,” he replied peevishly. “Do you or do you not want to go?”
She looked  out  at  the  pale  desert. The twin white moons were rising.  Cool  water  ran  softly  about her toes. She began to tremble  just  the  least  bit.  She  wanted  very much to sit quietly here,  soundless,  not  moving until this thing occurred, this thing  expected  all  day,  this  thing that could not occur but might. A drift of song brushed through her mind.
“I----“
“Do you good,” he urged. “Come along now.”
“I’m tired,” she said. “Some other night.”
“Here’s your  scarf.”  He  handed  her  a phial. “We haven’t gone anywhere in months.”
“Except you,  twice  a  week  to Xi City.” She wouldn’t look at him.
“Business,” he said.
“Oh?” She whispered to herself.
From the  phial  a  liquid  poured,  turned  to  blue mist, settled about her neck, quivering.
The flame  birds  waited,  like  a  bed of coals, glowing on the cool  smooth  sands.  The white canopy ballooned on the night wind, flapping  softly,  tied  by  a  thousand  green  ribbons to the birds.
Ylla laid  herself  back  in  the canopy and, at a word from her husband,  the  birds  leaped,  burning,  toward the dark sky, The ribbons  tautened,  the  canopy lifted. The sand slid whining under; the  blue  hills  drifted  by,  drifted  by, leaving their home  behind,   the  raining  pillars,  the  caged  flowers,  the singing books,  the  whispering floor creeks. She did not look at her husband.  She  heard  him  crying  out  to  the birds as they rose higher,  like  ten thousand hot sparkles, so many red-yellow fireworks in  the  heavens,  tugging  the  canopy  like  a flower petal, burning through the wind.
She didn’t  watch  the dead, ancient bone-chess cities slide under, or  the  old canals filled with emptiness and dreams. Past dry rivers  and  dry  lakes they flew, like a shadow of the moon, like a torch burning.
She watched only the sky.
The husband spoke.
She watched the sky.
“Did you hear what I said?”
“What?”
He exhaled. “You might pay attention.”
“I was thinking.”
“I never  thought  you  were  a  nature  lover,  but  you’re certainly interested in the sky tonight,” he said.
“It’s very beautiful.”
“I was  figuring,”  said  the husband slowly. “I thought I’d call Hulle  tonight.  I’d  like  to talk to him about us spending some time,  oh,  only  a  week or so, in the Blue Mountains. It’s just an idea—“
“The Blue  Mountains!”  She  held to the canopy rim with one hand, turning swiftly toward him.
“Oh, it’s just a suggestion.”
“When do you want to go?” she asked, trembling.
“I thought  we  might  leave  tomorrow morning. You know, an early start and all that,” he said very casually.
“But we never go this early in the year!”
“Just this  once,  I  thought—“  He  smiled. “Do us good to get away.  Some  peace  and quiet. You know. You haven’t anything else planned? We’ll go, won’t we?”
She took a breath, waited, and then replied, “No.”
“What?” His cry startled the birds. The canopy jerked.
“No,” she said firmly. “It’s settled. I won’t go.”
He looked  at  her.  They  did  not  speak  after  that. She turned away.
The birds flew on, ten thousand flrebrands down the wind.
In the  dawn  the  sun,  through the crystal pillars, melted the fog  that  supported  Ylla  as  she  slept. All night she had hung above  the  floor,  buoyed  by  the  soft  carpeting of mist that poured  from  the walls when she lay down to rest. All night she  had  slept  on  this  silent  river,  like  a  boat  upon  a soundless tide.  Now  the fog burned away, the mist level lowered until she was deposited upon the shore of wakening.
She opened her eyes.
Her husband  stood  over  her.  He looked as if he had stood there for  hours,  watching.  She did not know why, but she could not look him in the face.
“You’ve been  dreaming  again!”  he said. “You spoke out and kept me awake. I really think you should see a doctor.”
“I’ll be all right.”
“You talked a lot in your sleep!”
“Did I?” She started up.
Dawn was  cold  in  the room. A gray light filled her as she lay there.
“What was your dream?”
She had  to  think  a moment to remember. “The ship. It came from the  sky  again,  landed,  and  the tall man stepped out and talked  to   me,  telling  me  little  jokes,  laughing,  and  it was pleasant.”
Mr.  K  touched  a  pillar.  Founts  of  warm  water  leaped up, steaming;  the  chill  vanished  from  the room. Mr. K’s face was impassive.
“And then,”  she  said, “this man, who said his strange name was Nathaniel  York,  told  me  I  was  beautiful and—and kissed me.”
“Ha!”  cried   the  husband,  turning  violently  away,  his jaw working.
“It’s only a dream.” She was amused.
“Keep your silly, feminine dreams to yourself!”
“You’re acting  like  a  child.”  She  lapsed  back upon the few remaining  remnants  of  chemical  mist.  After  a moment she laughed  softly.  “I  thought  of  some  more  of  the  dream,” she confessed.
“Well, what is it, what is it?” he shouted.
“Yll, you’re so bad-tempered.”
“Tell me!”  he  demanded.  “You can’t keep secrets from me!”
His face was dark and rigid as he stood over her.
“I’ve never  seen  you this way,” she replied, half shocked, half entertained.  “All  that  happened  was  this Nathaniel York person told  me—well,  he  told  me  that he’d take me away into his ship,  into  the sky with him, and take me back to his planet with him. It’s really quite ridiculous.”
“Ridiculous, is  it!”  he  almost screamed. “You should have heard yourself,  fawning  on  him,  talking  to him, singing with him, oh gods, all night; you should have heard yourself!”
“Yll!”
“When’s he  landing?  Where’s he coming down with his damned ship?”
“Yll, lower your voice.’
“Voice be  damned!”  He  bent  stiffly  over  her. “And in this dream”—he  seized  her  wrist—“didn’t  the  ship land over in Green Valley, didn’t it? Answer me!”
“Why, yes—“
“And it landed this afternoon, didn’t it?” he kept at her.
“Yes, yes, I think so, yes, but only in a dream!”
“Well”—he  flung   her   hand   away   stiffly—“it’s  good you’re truthful!  I  heard  every  word  you  said in your sleep.  You mentioned  the  valley  and  the  time.”  Breathing  hard, he walked between  the  pillars  like  a  man blinded by a lightning bolt. Slowly  his  breath returned. She watched him as if he were quite  insane.   She  arose  finally  and  went  to  him.  “Yll,” she whispered.
“I’m all right.”
“You’re sick.”
“No.” He  forced  a  tired  smile.  “Just  childish. Forgive me, darling.”  He  gave  her  a rough pat. “Too much work lately.
I’m sorry. I think I’ll lie down awhile—“
“You were so excited.”
“I’m all  right  now.  Fine.”  He exhaled. “Let’s forget it. Say, I  heard  a  joke  about Uel yesterday, I meant to tell you.  What do  you  say  you  fix  breakfast,  I’ll  tell the joke, and let’s not talk about all this.”
“It was only a dream.”
“Of  course,”   He  kissed  her  cheek  mechanically.  “Only a dream.”
At noon  the  sun  was  high and hot and the hills shimmered in the light.
“Aren’t you going to town?” asked Ylla.
“Town?” he raised his brows faintly.
“This is  the  day  you  always go.” She adjusted a flower cage on  its  pedestal. The flowers stirred, opening their hungry yellow mouths.
He closed his book. “No. It’s too hot, and it’s late.”
“Oh.” She  finished  her  task  and  moved  toward the door.
“Well, I’ll be back soon.”
“Wait a minute! Where are you going?”
She was  in  the  door  swiftly. “Over to Pao’s. She invited me!”
“Today?”
“I haven’t  seen  her  in  a  long  time. It’s only a little
way.”
“Over in Green Valley, isn’t it?”
“Yes, just a walk, not far, I thought I’d—“ She hurried.
“I’m sorry,  really  sorry,”  he  said, running to fetch her  back,  looking   very  concerned  about  his  forgetfulness.  “It slipped my mind. I invited Dr. Nlle out this afternoon.”
“Dr. Nile!” She edged toward the door.
He caught her elbow and drew her steadily in. “Yes.”
“But Pao—“
“Pan can wait, Ylla. We must entertain Nile.”
“Just for a few minutes—“
“No, Ylla.”
“No?”
He shook  his  head. “No. Besides, it’s a terribly long walk to Pao’s.  All  the  way  over through Green Valley and then past the big  canal  and  down, isn’t it? And it’ll be very, very hot, and Dr. Nile would be delighted to see you. Well?”
She did  not  answer.  She  wanted  to  break  and  run. She wanted to  cry  out.  But  she  only  sat  in  the chair, turning her  fingers  over  slowly,  staring  at  them  expressionlessly, trapped.
“Ylla?” he murmured. “You will be here, won’t you?”
“Yes,” she said after a long time. “I’ll be here.”
“All afternoon?”
Her voice was dull. “All afternoon.”
Late in  the  day  Dr.  Nile  had  not put in an appearance.  Ylla’s husband  did  not seem overly surprised. When it was quite late he  murmured  something,  went  to  a closet, and drew forth an evil  weapon,  a  long  yellowish tube ending in a bellows and a trigger.  He  turned,  and  upon  his face was a mask, hammered from silver  metal,  expressionless, the mask that he always wore when he  wished  to  hide  his  feelings,  the  mask which curved and hollowed  so  exquisitely  to  his  thin  cheeks and chin and brow. The  mask  glinted,  and  he  held  the  evil weapon in his hands, considering  it.  It  hummed  constantly,  an  insect hum.  From it  hordes  of  golden  bees  could be flung out with a high shriek. Golden,  horrid  bees  that  stung,  poisoned,  and  fell lifeless, like seeds on the sand.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“What?” He  listened  to  the  bellows, to the evil hum. “If Dr. Nile  is  late,  I’ll  be  damned if I’ll wait. I’m going out to hunt  a  bit.  I’ll  be  back.  You be sure to stay right here now, won’t you?” The silver mask glimmered.
“Yes.”
“And tell Dr. Nile I’ll return. Just hunting.”
The triangular  door  closed.  His  footsteps faded down the hill.
She watched  him  walking  through the sunlight until he was gone. Then  she  resumed  her  tasks  with the magnetic dusts and the new  fruits  to be plucked from the crystal walls. She worked with energy  and  dispatch,  but on occasion a numbness took hold of her  and  she  caught  herself  singing that odd and memorable song and looking out beyond the crystal pillars at the sky.
She held her breath and stood very still, waiting.
It was coming nearer.
At any moment it might happen.
It was  like  those  days  when  you  heard  a  thunderstorm coming and  there  was  the waiting silence and then the faintest pressure of  the  atmosphere  as  the  climate blew over the land in shifts  and  shadows  and  vapors.  And  the change pressed at your ears  and  you  were  suspended  in  the waiting time of the coming  storm.   You  began  to  tremble.  The  sky  was  stained and coloured;  the  clouds  were thickened; the mountains took on an iron  taint.  The  caged  flowers  blew  with  faint  sighs of warning. You  felt  your hair stir softly. Somewhere in the house the voice-clock  sang,  “Time,  time,  time,  time  .  .  .” ever so gently, no more than water tapping on velvet.
And  then   the   storm.   The  electric  illumination,  the engulfments of  dark  wash and sounding black fell down, shutting in, forever.
That’s how  it  was.  A  storm  gathered,  yet  the  sky was clear. Lightning was expected, yet there was no cloud.
Ylla moved  through  the  breathless summer house. Lightning would  strike   from   the   sky  any  instant;  there  would  be a thunderclap,  a  boil  of  smoke,  a  silence, footsteps on the path, a  rap  on  the  crystalline  door,  and  her  running to answer. . . .
Crazy Ylla!  she  scoffed.  Why think these wild things with your idle mind?
And then it happened.
There was  a  warmth  as of a great fire passing in the air.
A whirling, rushing sound. A gleam in the sky, of metal.
Ylla cried out.
Running through  the  pillars,  she  flung  wide a door. She faced the hills. But by this time there was nothing.
She was  about  to  race  down  the  hill  when  she stopped herself, She  was  supposed  to stay here, go nowhere, The doctor was coming  to  visit,  and her husband would be angry if she ran off.
She waited in the door, breathing rapidly, her hand out.
She strained  to  see  over  toward  Green  Valley,  but saw nothing.
Silly woman.  She  went  inside.  You  and your imagination, she thought.  That  was  nothing but a bird, a leaf, the wind, or a fish in the canal. Sit down. Rest.
She sat down.
A shot sounded.
Very  clearly,   sharply,  the  sound  of  the  evil  insect weapon.
Her body jerked with it.
It came  from  a  long  way off, One shot. The swift humming distant bees.  One  shot.  And  then  a  second shot, precise and cold, and far away.
Her body  winced  again  and  for  some  reason  she started up,  screaming,   and screaming,  and  never  wanting  to  stop screaming. She  ran  violently  through  the  house and once more threw wide the door.
The echoes were dying away, away.
Gone.
She waited in the yard, her face pale, for five minutes.
Finally, with  slow  steps,  her  head  down,  she  wandered about  the  pillared  rooms,  laying  her  hand  to  things,  her lips quivering,  until  finally  she  sat  alone in the darkening wine room,  waiting.  She  began  to wipe an amber glass with the hem of her scarf.
And then,  from  far  off,  the sound of footsteps crunching on the thin, small rocks.
She rose  up  to  stand in the center of the quiet room. The glass fell from her fingers, smashing to bits.
The footsteps hesitated outside the door.
Should she  speak?  Should  she  cry out, “Come in, oh, come in”?
She went forward a few paces.
The footsteps  walked  up  the ramp. A hand twisted the door latch.
She smiled at the door.
The door opened. She stopped smiling.
It was her husband. His silver mask glowed dully.
He entered  the  room  and  looked at her for only a moment.
Then he  snapped  the  weapon  bellows open, cracked out two dead bees, heard  them  spat  on  the  floor  as they fell, stepped on them, and  placed  the  empty  bellows  gun  in the corner of the room as  Ylla  bent  down  and  tried,  over  and  over,  with no success, to  pick  up  the  pieces  of the shattered glass. “What were you doing?” she asked.
“Nothing,” he  said  with  his  back  turned. He removed the mask.
“But the gun—I heard you fire it. Twice.”
“Just hunting.  Once  in  a  while you like to hunt. Did Dr. Nile arrive?”
“No.”
“Wait a  minute.”  He snapped his fingers disgustedly. “Why,
I  remember  now.  He  was  supposed  to  visit  us  tomorrow afternoon. How stupid of me.”
They sat  down  to  eat.  She looked at her food and did not move her  hands.  “What’s  wrong?”  he asked, not looking up from dipping his meat in the bubbling lava.
“I don’t know. I’m not hungry,” she said.
“Why not?”
“I don’t know; I’m just not.”
The wind  was  rising  across  the  sky;  the  sun was going down. The room was small and suddenly cold.
“I’ve been  trying  to  remember,”  she  said  in the silent room, across from her cold, erect, golden-eyed husband.
“Remember what?” He sipped his wine.
“That song.  That  fine  and beautiful song.” She closed her eyes and  hummed,  but  it  was not the song. “I’ve forgotten it.  And, somehow,  I  don’t  want to forget it. It’s something I want always to  remember.”  She moved her hands as if the rhythm might help her  to  remember all of it. Then she lay back in her chair.  “I can’t remember.” She began to cry.
“Why are you crying?” he asked.
“I don’t  know,  I  don’t know, but I can’t help it. I’m sad and I  don’t  know  why,  I  cry  and  I  don’t know why, but I’m crying.”
Her head  was  in  her  hands; her shoulders moved again and again.
“You’ll be all right tomorrow,” he said.
She did  not  look  up  at him; she looked only at the empty desert and  the  very  bright  stars  coming out now on the black sky, and  far  away  there  was  a sound of wind rising and canal waters stirring  cold  in  the  long  canals.  She shut her eyes, trembling.
“Yes,” she said. “I’ll be all right tomorrow.”

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