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PRELUDE

Mikel Smith



At the cliff's edge I saw a procession of torches flowing down the deep valley beneath me. Though the people who thrust them high against the night were hidden both by darkness and the miasma of the flames, I knew they must be there to carry the torches, descending slowly, like a glacier of lava, down from the glassy heights on my right hand, down toward the sea. These moving lights in the gloom beneath my feet reflected on the brooding surface of the onyx sky, creating constellations I did not recognize. And I heard the people chanting, joined together in a song that surged spasmodically from a deep groan to wails of pity or perhaps of pain, echoing off the cliffs between which they descended.

Something within me wanted so to join them, though I knew fulfillment of the wish would only lead to despair. But the bile of bitter desire kept mounting up in me, threatening to explode out of me like the urge to vomit.

Unexpectedly, shaking with cold sweat, my body lurched into action, thrusting and scraping through the bushes, with their thorns dragging at me like broken nails, to the edge. Looking over, seeing the people far down, directly below me, oblivious to my agonized observations, I found myself now close to being overcome with the irrational determination to jump.

But I found there was a way down, a rough-and-tumble slope where apparently a section of the cliff had given way, or perhaps a stream once had blindly fallen down to the cold valley below. I wrung purchase from the broken rocks, slipping on their cold faces, unsteady on my bare feet, gasping at the air for breath. Several times on that perilous descent I wondered at my nerve if not my sanity.

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